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Using a drive adapter or docking station to access a drive

When it comes to repairing computers, there are times when I have to be able access Hard Disk Drives (HDD), Solid State Drives (SSD) or CD/DVD drives outside of a laptop or desktop case. That is when I need to use a drive adapter or docking station. So here are some of my favorite drive adapters and docking stations.

Using a drive adapter or docking station to access a drive

Having a power supply or motherboard fail can be a real pain in the butt. Not only can you not get your computer to start up, but you cannot even get to any of your documents or settings. That is when having a second computer and a drive adapter or docking station comes in really handy.

Using a drive adapter or docking station can convert a HDD or SSD drive to a USB device. And if you use a drive adapter, you can actually connect a CD/DVD drive to a ultra-thin laptop and use it a record or playback CD's or DVD's.

Now I have several different drive adapters and docking stations that I use for different uses. The majority of them are USB 3.0 but I do have a couple that are USB 2.0.

The easiest one to use is a drive adapter that attaches directly to the back of the device. This is the type I use to connect a CD/DVD drive to ultra-thin laptops that do not have CD/DVD drive. I also use it with desktop computers with CD/DVD drives that do not work.

Photo of a single drive adapter
Photo of a single drive adapter

Now the majority of drive adapters and docking station can only work with Serial ATA (SATA) drives. The one pictured above not only works with SATA drives, but also with 2.5" or 3.5" Parallel ATA (PATA) for those 'old school' drives.

And the cool thing about this drive adapter is the power supply for it uses a standard Molex connector. You can use it to power up any older device that has a Molex connection.

Photo of a single drive docking station
Photo of a single drive docking station

The most common docking station is for a single SATA drive. The nice thing about docking stations is they have power buttons, so you do not have to disconnect the USB connection first before disconnecting the power supply.

Photo of a multiple drive docking station
Photo of a multiple drive docking station

You can also get docking stations that can hold more than one drive. These come in handy if you are cloning one drive to another. They can also be used to recreate failed RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) arrays.

The down side to docking stations is you can only connect 2.5" or 3.5" HDD's or SSD's to them. If you want to connect a CD/DVD drive, you will need to use a drive adapter.

Using either a drive adapter or docking station is just like using an external drive. Just attach it to a USB port and power it up. Most computers will automatically install a driver and assign it a drive letter. From there you are ready to go.

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
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

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
Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 8
Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows 10

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 Windows 10 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
Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 8
Modifying the default locations of user files and library properties in Windows 10

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.

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.

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

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