How to safely optimize your solid state drive

When it comes to getting the best performance out of your computer, nothing can beat a Solid State Drive (SSD). Right out-of-the-box they are extremely faster reading / writing data than a Hard Disk Drive (HDD). But there are a few things that you have to do differently with an SSD. Here's how to safely optimize your solid state drive.

The definition of tweak

There are plenty of articles out there that will give you a ton of different tweaks you can use to speed up the SSD access time. From turning off disk indexing to disabling Prefetch and Superfetch. Some may work for you, some may not. Generally speaking, if you're running Windows 7 or higher, the operating system should recognized the SSD and modify its behavior accordingly. The following tweaks are completely safe and will not harm your system in any way.

General SSD maintenance

SSD's operate differently from HDD's and there are a couple of things you should never do to an SSD. Since SSD's have limited read / write cycles, any program that intensively accesses the SSD could shorten the life span of the drive. Running a disk defragment program on an SSD is definitely not recommended. And as far as Check Disk (CHKDSK) is concerned, you'll need to contact the manufacturer of your SSD to find out if they recommend it or not.

Microsoft started building in support for SSD's in Windows 7 / Windows Server 2008 R2 and has expanded on it in Windows 8 / 8.1 & Windows Server 2012. Since low-level operation of SSD's is different from HDD's, the Trim command was introduced to handle deletes / format requests. To verify that Trim is on, you'll need to open an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

You can verify that Trim is enabled by typing the following into an Administrative Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify

If the command returns a 0 then Trim is enabled. If it returns a 1, then it is not. To enable Trim, just type the following into the Admin Command Prompt:

fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0

SSD free space maintenance

SSD's do have one down side; their capacity is smaller than HDD's, so maintaining an adequate amount of free space is necessary. Now there are two scenarios for setting up computers with SSD's: Single-drive (SSD only) and Multiple drives (SSD + HDD). Laptops are usually single-drive and desktops are almost always multiple-drive. Here's a few ways to maintain free space.

Single-drive (SSD only)

The options here are limited. To free up space you could store your personal files like documents, photos and music to an external drive or to the cloud. Here are a few more ideas.

Turn off Hibernation.
With the speed of an SSD, boot times will be quite faster than with an HDD. You'll find that you can boot your computer just as fast as if you brought it out of hibernation. And since hibernation writes the system memory to disk, you'll free up the same amount of disk space that is equal to the total system memory. And if you have a lot of memory, this can free up a big chunk of space on your SSD.

Disable Windows hibernation and free up disk space

Turn off the virtual memory / pagefile.
Use this with caution! Technically, virtual memory is used when all of the system memory is full. If you have a large amount of system memory (16GB or more) and you don't run memory hog software like Photoshop, you should be alright disabling it. And you'll free up a few GB's of drive space in the process.

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 7 (same for Windows 8)

Clean up drive on a regular basis.
Temporary files and browser caches are a few items you'll need to keep an eye on. Using a program like Piriform's CCleaner or Disk Cleanup that comes with Windows will take care of these files. Disk Cleanup can also be run as a scheduled task too.

Free up more disk space with Windows 7 Disk Cleanup
Clean up your hard drive in Windows 8 with Disk Cleanup
Clean up and optimize your computer for free with CCleaner

Multiple-drive (SSD + HDD)

This is the optimal setup. Everything under single-drive scenario applies here. Windows and program files need to be on the SSD. Almost anything else that Windows doesn't require for normal operation can go over to the HDD.

Move the virtual memory / pagefile.
Instead of turning it off, just move it to the HDD (see link above).

Move personal files to HDD.
Your documents, photos and music can take up a large amount of space on your drive. Get them off of the SSD and over to the HDD.

Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 7 (same for Windows 8)

There are plenty of other tweaks you can do, like moving location of your browser cache and temp folders to the HDD. You can find all of that information and more with a quick search on Google.

Create great graphics with Paint.NET 4.0

One of the things I like to do besides repairing computers is creating graphics. Over the years I have used many different image editing programs, including Photoshop and CorelDraw. Recently, one of my favorite freeware image editing programs, Paint.NET, released a new version. Let's take a look at what's new in Paint.NET 4.0.

The improved user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0
The improved user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Paint.NET was originally created in 2004 to be a replacement for the Paint program that is included inside Windows, but has evolved into much more since then. It now includes such features as layers, effects, transparency, blending and best of all, plugins. With hundreds of plugins available, you can really expand on the out-of-the-box graphic capabilities of Paint.NET. Since I have a digital camera that will take photos in RAW format, I found a plugin that opens that type of file. I also use Photoshop and have found a plugin to open those files too.

Paint.NET 4.0 now has a brand-new rendering engine (asynchronous and fully multi-threaded) and supports hardware acceleration via the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Selections are now anti-aliased and selected outlines are rendered with 'dancing ants' animation, greatly improving the contrast between selection and image. And the user interface has also been revamped to include a Settings dialog box for easier configuration.

The new Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4.0
The new Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Now the only down side to Paint.NET 4.0 is the system requirements. Since this version of Paint.NET is built with the .NET Framework 4.5, it will only run on Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. It does not run on Windows Vista or Windows RT. Here are the complete system requirements:

  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer is now required.
  • .NET Framework 4.5 is now required, and will be installed if needed.
  • A dual-core (or more!) processor is highly recommended.
  • Hardware acceleration (GPU) via Direct2D is now supported.

For more information on Paint.NET, just follow the links below:

Get Paint 4.0
What's new in Paint.NET 4.0

How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive

Most computers (laptop & desktop) nowadays come with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as standard equipment with a Solid State Drive (SSD) as an option. Each drive type has its pros and cons: HDD's are cheaper and have more storage, but SSD's are extremely fast (especially when connected to a SATA3 port). So if your existing computer has a HDD, odds are you could replace it with a SSD. Here's how to upgrade your computer hard disk drive to a solid state drive.

How to upgrade your computer's hard disk drive to a solid state drive

I wrote an article not long ago on how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer and will be referring back to it often. It describes how to clone a smaller drive to a larger one of the same type. Since SSD's normally have less storage than HDD's, this time I'll have to shrink the existing HDD (80 GB) partition(s) down below the capacity of the target SSD (64 GB) before I can clone it.

As in the aforementioned article, the first thing to do is a Checkdisk of the existing HDD. Doing this will assure there are no errors that may prohibit the cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista
Running Checkdisk in Windows 7
Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

Now we have to start cleaning up the drive. Windows has a built-in tool called Disk Cleanup (cleanmgr.exe) that works pretty well at getting out the clutter. Try using it from an admin command prompt, that way you'll get more options.

Disk Cleanup Windows 7 / Vista
Disk Cleanup Windows 8

Since we are trying to get the maximum amount of free space we can, we will have to delete some files, which may include documents, photos, videos, etc. Doing a backup right now will insure we have a copy of all of the files if we need to recover some later.

Windows Vista Backup
Windows 7 Backup
Windows 8 Backup

Next thing I have to do is find out what is taking up the space on the existing HDD. For this I'll use a copy of SpaceMonger. After quick view, I see I can free up several gigabytes of space by permanently removing the hibernation file and temporarily deleting the swap file. Windows will warn you about having no swap file, but we will be recreating the swap file once the drive cloning is complete.

Disable Windows hibernation
Disable Windows swap file

The next thing we need to do to the drive is to defragment it. I'll use Defraggler from Piriform for this task. Once the drive is defragged, it's time to shrink it. To do this, open Computer Management, expand the Storage section in the left column and select Disk Management. In the right column, right-click on the partition marked as Boot (usually C:) and select Shrink. Remember to take the size down at least 10-15% below the capacity of the new SSD.

Shrinking a partition down in Windows 7
Shrinking a partition down in Windows 7

Once the partition has been resized, it's time to clone the drive. The following article has all of the details on how to clone you hard drive, including links to the cloning software.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Note: An issue not addressed in the article above is the form factor; the existing HDD is 3.5" form factor and SSD's are normally 2.5" form factor.
A desktop hdd and an ssd with adapter brackets
This can easily be resolved by using a pair of 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets.

Once the drive cloning is complete and the system is running again, we need to expand the boot partition to use any free space that may be available. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section in the left column and select Disk Management. In the right column, right-click on the partition mark as Boot (usually C:) and select Expand. Once the boot partition has been resized, you can now enable Windows swap file.

Clean up your Internet browser with AdwCleaner

I've been doing virus / malware removal for a while now and have seen allot of different types of infections. The latest trend is to target your Internet browser. Whether it is Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, it can get compromised. One of the best programs I've found to clean up Internet browsers is AdwCleaner developed by Xplode.

The main screen inside of AdwCleaner
The main screen inside of AdwCleaner

AdwCleaner works great for removing adware, PUP's (Potentially Undesirable Program), unwanted toolbars and home page hijacking. It's a stand-alone program (requires no installation) except for the quarantine folder and a few registry entries it creates. Just download it to your desktop and you are ready to go. And you can uninstall it right from the main user interface. Best of all, it's free.

The multilingual AdwCleaner terms of use screen
The multilingual AdwCleaner Terms of Use screen

Browser exploits have been around for a while now. Who hasn't had their home page changed or have a mysterious toolbar appear when they opened up their browser? AdwCleaner is the perfect tool for getting all of that junk out of your browser(s). The developer, Xplode, is located in France, so some of the menus are multilingual (English / French).

For more information on AdwCleaner, just follow the links below:

AdwCleaner on ToolsLib
How to use AdwCleaner

How to spot a piece of spam e-mail

E-mail has really changed the way we communicate over the last couple decades. The days of pen and paper letter writing are gone. But e-mail does have a negative side: the unwanted e-mail know as Spam. Billions of pieces of spam are sent every day. Do you know how to spot a piece of spam?

When it comes to spam, I like to break them down into two groups: Junk, just plain advertising, and Malicious, which is meant to deliver some kind of payload. Malicious spam can deliver its payload two different ways: either opening the e-mail itself or any attachment(s). I've had quite a few clients that got infected that use Outlook. If you use Outlook and have either the Preview or Reading Pane options turned on, Outlook is opening your mail to generate those views. So, even if you don't open the mail, Outlook still is.

So how do you tell if an e-mail is spam? Here are some tips on how to spot a piece of spam:

The From: field
This field can be easily faked. Do you know the sender? Do you now or in the past done business with that company? If you answered no to both questions, it may be spam. Also, look out for e-mail addresses that come from domains that provide free e-mail addresses (gmail.com, yahoo.com, etc.) or end with a two-letter extension (@com.uk, @com.ru, etc.). Two-letter extensions are for domains outside America.

The To: field
This field should contain just your e-mail address. If there are multiple e-mail addresses listed, do you recognize any of the other e-mail addresses? If you don't, it could be spam. And if this field is blank, the odds are its spam.

The Subject: field
When it comes to the Subject field, if it doesn't sound right, it's not. Spam from other countries is quite often full of grammatical errors. Always remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Odds are that e-fax, scan from a Xerox WorkCentre (notice the spelling) or notice to appear in court that is attached is just a virus.

The bottom line is if you question the validity of any e-mail from a person or company, don't open it. Pick up the phone and call them to confirm they sent the e-mail.

Professional Service + Affordable Prices = Geeks in Phoenix

Like Geeks in Phoenix on Facebook
Follow Geeks in Phoenix on Twitter
Watch Geeks in Phoenix on YouTube