Monday, 8 April 2013

Installing an SSD into an old ThinkPad X61

A while back I installed a Solid State Drive (SSD) into my old ThinkPad X60, and although the machine was noticeably snappier I wasn't convinced that it made sense. The X60 has a SATA I bus, which hobbles the SSD. Luckily I also have an X61, which is generally faster and has SATA II. After swapping the drive and cloning the X61, here's what it's like:

Music by myself there. The X61 was launched in 2007, and introduced the 64-bit-capable Core II Duo to the ultraportable ThinkPad range. The Core II Duo is one of the classic modern CPUs and overshadowed the short-lived, original, 32-bit-only Core Duo. As of 2013 a Core II Duo machine with sufficient memory and a good graphics card is good enough for almost any purpose, which might be one of the reasons why the PC market is rapidly being overhauled by the tablet market; there's no compelling reason for Mr Joe Average to junk his perfectly-functional five-year-old PC in favour of a new machine that does the same stuff, but fractionally quicker.

Officially the X61 had 150mb/s SATA I only, but on a technical level it was fully compatible with 300mb/s SATA II, it's just that for some reason Lenovo decided to disable it in the BIOS. It can be turned back on, but the procedure isn't for the faint of heart; you have to install a custom BIOS. In theory this is just a matter of downloading the file, clicking on the installer, and waiting, but as with anything involving flashing the BIOS there is the potential for great harm if (say) a nuclear explosion in the upper atmosphere temporarily cuts the power.

Speed-wise Crystal Disk Mark says that the 840 reads at 251mb/s, which at least means that the custom BIOS works. I would really need to run something that involves reading one large chunk of sequential data to truly appreciate the SSD's benefit, but operationally the X61 is (as with the X60) distinctly snappier. It's not so apparent from the video, but there's less jerkiness, fewer pauses. The experience of using the machine feels smoother. Economically the upgrade is still iffy - X61s are limited by their screens, which can't easily be replaced or upgraded.

It has to be said that SSDs do not, on a rational level, make economic sense for the typical consumer or individual, at least as a need rather than a want. They're polish. On a financial level their depreciation is awful, because of their finite lifespan and the possibility that the previous owner used his SSD to feed a 24/7 torrent server. As a consequence I think of an SSD as something that ends up wedded to its host unto death, in which case you might as well marry it to the best machine you can afford.

Still, the X61 meets my needs for the time being and so the SSD can stay inside it. 'twould be interesting to stick it in my Asus 1005HA netbook - netbooks were harbingers of the SSD revolution, before they grew fat - but it still has XP on it, which is trickier to configure for SSDs.

Boxout: Ten Three-Letter Abbrevations that begin with SS

1. Super-Sonic Transport (SST)
2. Sigue Sigue Sputnik (SSS)
3. SSS (I'm a snake)
5. 55555555555
6. S5S5S5S5S5
7. SSF (Soup? So Fine)
8. SSN (Succullent, Silky Nougat)
9. SSK (Stinky Submarine Kid)
10. SSL (Spatula, Spoon, Nife)

For some variety, in the next post I will try installing an SSD into (a) an old pair of boots (b) some hot cross buns (c) former head of the UN Kofi Annan (d) Europa, mysterious and possibly life-harbouring moon of Jupiter. Attempt no landings there.