Tag Archives: Hard Drives

You Probably Don’t Need to Optimize Your SSD Anymore

You Probably Don't Need to Optimize Your SSD Anymore

When solid state drives were first becoming commonplace, most sites (our own included) suggested ways to optimize your SSD. With the exception of very rare cases, this just isn’t necessary anymore.

As tips site How-To Geek points out, most SSD optimizations involve reducing the number of writes you make to your drive. SSDs have a limited number of writes, so the more you use it, the more likely it is to fail. However, most modern SSDs have such a high write capacity that you’ll likely never reach that point before you need an upgrade anyway. As Tech Report puts it after an 18 month long stress test:

Over the past 18 months, we’ve watched modern SSDs easily write far more data than most consumers will ever need. Errors didn’t strike the Samsung 840 Series until after 300TB of writes, and it took over 700TB to induce the first failures. The fact that the 840 Pro exceeded 2.4PB is nothing short of amazing, even if that achievement is also kind of academic.

The one optimization that truly matters, enabling TRIM, is automatically handled by most modern versions of Windows, as well. If you’re running Windows 7 and up, the OS should automatically detect your SSD and enable TRIM. If you want to be absolutely sure, you can check out our guide here. However, it’s very unlikely that this won’t be enabled. If you’re using an SSD on anything older than Windows 7, TRIM isn’t supported and you should probably upgrade anyway. In short, most of the downsides to using an SSD aren’t as bad as they used to be and you don’t really need to stress if you never “optimized” your drive. It’s already pretty optimal. Check out more info at How-To Geek’s post below.

Don’t Waste Time Optimizing Your SSD, Windows Knows What Its Doing | How-To Geek

Photo by Laineema.

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

A substantial PC upgrade, or even a better workspace, doesn’t have to be a huge project that drains your time and energy. If you can order the parts, there are several worthwhile improvements you can make that’ll pay off big when it’s time to work (or play). Here are some of them.

10. Switch to a New, Better Case

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

This one’s for the PC builders out there. Even if you keep all of the same components, there’s nothing like a brand new case to give your computer—and your desk—a new lease on life. Maybe you’d like some more easily accessible USB ports, or maybe you bought a huge case back in the day and now you’d rather have a space-saving model.


As long as you buy smart and don’t let a new case spiral into building a new PC, you can have your cake and eat it too. If you need some suggestions, we have our favorite PC cases here, and our favorite small form-factor PC cases here to get you started. You can (and should) also check out what the folks at Logical Increments suggests based on your budget, and what’s popular over on PCPartPicker.


9. Upgrade Your Display

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

A new display, bigger display, or additional display can make all the difference in your productivity (or not, but it’ll definitely make your desk cooler.) Whether you’re rocking an old 22" display you’ve had forever, don’t even have an external display, or could use the screen real estate that a 4K display could offer, now’s a good time to upgrade.


Even if you don’t want to go full 4K, there are plenty of affordable, large panels that could give you more room to work. You could always go with an ultrawide display instead of multiple panels, or you can pick up a large, solid budget LED display to give your desk a facelift and a utility boost.


8. Get a New Keyboard and Mouse

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

You use your keyboard and mouse every day, and there’s no easier way to give yourself that “new computer” feeling than to upgrade them both. Sure, your PC’s innards will be the same as they’ve always been, but new peripherals, especially ones you’ve had your eyes on, can make a huge difference.


If you’ve been using the keyboard and mouse that came with your computer, now’s a good time to upgrade to a new one. Maybe give a mechanical keyboard a try (we love them around here), or pick up a sleek new gaming keyboard (and mouse). They’re fun for play, sure, but they can also help you get real work done. If you need some mouse suggestions, we’ve always been big fans of Logitech’s Performance MX, but the new MX Master is a fitting successor to it. It’s not your only option, though!


7. Upgrade your Graphics Card

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Again, this is for the desktop PC owners (and builders) here, but a graphics card upgrade can be a big improvement for a PC that’s starting to show its age (or slow down when you try to unwind and play some video games!) Of course, it’s not always a smart investment, so you should make sure you think hard before rushing out to buy whatever card everyone’s shouting about these days. Still, if yours is due for an upgrade and you’ll actually benefit from the upgrade, it’s easy to find even budget-friendly cards that will make the most of that new display we mentioned earlier, and speed up your system’s performance in your favorite games.


6. Give Yourself the Gift of Better Audio

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Whether you like to listen to music, or you record audio for podcasts, streams, or just do the occasional Skype call or Hangout with coworkers, a new pair of speakers or headphones (and we have some suggestions in the headphone department,) and a microphone can go a long long way toward making sure your audio is crystal clear. Best of all, they don’t cost a fortune, and installation is easy enough to do in a couple of minutes.


We’re big fans of the Blue Yeti, but if that’s not your style, here are some of our other picks. If you’re still not sure, check out our guide to choosing the best microphone for you, or check out some of our favorite headsets with attached microphones if that’s more your speed.

When it comes to speakers, you have plenty of options, from simple bookshelf speakers you can connect to anything, great desktop speaker systems designed for PCs, to full 5.1 surround systems. Choose what works for you and your space, but anything will be an upgrade over the speakers that came with your PC, or whatever’s built into your laptop.

5. Add a New, HD Camera

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

If you’re thinking about doing video streams, or just want your visuals to match the crystal clear audio you got from that last upgrade, a new camera is in order. Odds are whatever camera is built into your laptop may not be the best, and certainly isn’t adjustable. A new, HD-capable camera will make sure everyone can see you clearly and you’re not a fuzzy blob on-screen when you fire up a Skype call, or try to do a Google Hangout with friends or coworkers when you work from home. Worst case, if you don’t have a camera at all, you probably have a good one on your phone. We have guides to turn your iOS device or Android phone into a PC-connected webcam.


4. Add More Convenient Power (Strips)

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

When you set up your desk the first time, odds are you didn’t include all the power you’d need to connect everything you have now. Maybe you added some power strips later, or worse, you’re daisy-chaining power strips together for some reason. Stop that and get yourself a good surge protector, or better yet, a good UPS to protect your gear. Then tack on a long, server-style power strip to connect to it and give you all the power you need for all your gear. It’s a better solution than big, bulky power strips hanging off the walls, and your cables will be easier to manage.


3. Upgrade Your Power Supply

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

Now we’re getting serious. Upgrading your power supply may take a little time (no more than transplanting all of your gear to a new case, however!) but if you’re rocking the one that came with your case when you built your PC, one that’s way too underpowered for the gear you’ve crammed into your build, or you’re experiencing strange and quirky problems with your system, it might be time for an upgrade. Don’t expect to save money on energy though, that’s not what this is about—it’s about stability and giving you enough juice to run everything you want to run. Get thee to a power supply calculator and make sure the one you buy can support your system.


2. Add more RAM

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

We’ve said before that most modern systems probably won’t benefit from more than around 4GB of RAM, but that doesn’t mean that yours won’t be an outlier. If you don’t have that much, or you do memory intensive tasks, high-end gaming, or use virtualization software to test software or experiment, you’ll need more—a lot more. For everyday use though, 16GB is the new ceiling. Plus, while RAM isn’t as cheap as it used to be, it’s still cheap enough that in some cases it makes more sense to just max out your motherboard and call it a day.


However, just make sure you’re not spending more on RAM than you would on other, better and more valuable upgrades to your system. More RAM isn’t a silver bullet to better performance, but if your system is hurting for memory, you probably know it already, so full speed ahead.

1. Install an (or Upgrade Your) SSD

Top 10 PC and Workspace Upgrades You Can Do in an Afternoon

If you have a computer built at all in the past few years, your boot drive is probably already an SSD. That’s great! You may want another one—bigger SSDs are cheaper now than they’ve ever been, and even if you already have one, if it’s super old and slow, there’s nothing wrong with upgrading to a newer, faster one. Even if you have a laptop, your drive is probably easy to swap out and replace, and the benefits will show themselves the first time you reboot your machine.


If you need some help picking a good one, here are some suggestions, and of course, you can always find some good picks at Logical Increments and make sure they’re compatible with your gear at PCPartPicker. When it comes time to actually do the installation, make sure you take your files and settings with you, and optimize it for performance.


Lifehacker’s Weekend Roundup gathers our best guides, explainers, and other posts on a certain subject so you can tackle big projects with ease. For more, check out our Weekend Roundup and Top 10 tags.

Illustration by Fruzsina Kuhári. Photos by TJStamp, Brett Morrison, Kevin Pham, Matthew Keefe, yoppy, Murat Tanyel, danrock, Yutaka Tsutano, and Intel Free Press.

Back Up Your iPhone to an External Hard Drive with a Terminal Command

Back Up Your iPhone to an External Hard Drive with a Terminal Command

If you have a large storage iPhone, you might not have the space to back it up locally on your hard drive, especially if you’re working with a laptop’s SSD. OS X Daily points out that with a little Terminal magic, you can set up iTunes on your Mac to back up your iPhone to an external hard drive.

While a lot of us just back our phones up to iCloud, that’s not exactly the best option, especially if you want control of those backups. So, locally is the way to go. For local backup, you use iTunes, which somewhat obnoxiously decides the folder it’ll use for the back up without your input. Thankfully, you can get around this by using a symbolic link in OS X:

  1. On your external hard drive, create a new folder where you want the backup to go. Name it something you’ll remember, like “iPhoneBackup.”
  2. Open a new Finder window, then tap Command+Shift+G. Enter this in the box that pops up ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/ then find the folder named “Backup.”
  3. Copy the “Backup” folder to the folder you made in Step 1. Then, rename the original Backup folder “Backup-Old.” If you need to conserve space, you can delete the “Backup-Old” folder once you verify your backups are working in iTunes.
  4. Now, launch Terminal and type in the following command, replacing the “ExternalHardDriveName” with the info for your external hard drive: ln -s /Volumes/ExternalHardDriveName/iPhoneBackup/Backup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync
  5. Go ahead and open up iTunes, connect your iOS device, and back up your iOS device as you normally would. The backup file should now be on your external hard drive.

From here on out, iTunes will always back up and restore your iOS device from that external hard drive, so make sure it’s connected to your computer when you’re doing a back up. Head over to OS X Daily for a bit more detail about the backup process as well as another method for doing so.

How to Backup an iPhone to External Hard Drive with Mac OS X | OS X Daily

Make Every Friday the 13th Verify Your Backups Day

Make Every Friday the 13th Verify Your Backups Day

Your backups are only good if you can restore your data from them, but all too often we don’t test our backups to make sure they actually work. One way to remember: Set aside dates during the year to do the verification. Let’s say Friday the 13th.

It’s a memorable date tinged with superstition, so it’s perfect for making sure you won’t be unlucky if you ever need to use your backups. Adam Engst, who came up with this fun holiday, says:

If you’re reading this article on some other day, I’d encourage you to verify your backups right away and then continue with the Friday the 13th schedule.

Take a few minutes to identify some critical files and see if you can restore them successfully from your backups. If a bootable backup is part of your backup strategy, make sure you can actually boot from it. (If you don’t have a good backup from which you can restore right now, allow me to recommend the latest edition of one of our most popular ebooks, Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac.”)

That’s it. No costumes are necessary, there’s no obligatory greeting, and you aren’t expected to make a special meal. If you feel the need to honor your successful verification, well, a little celebratory imbibing of your favorite beverage is never inappropriate.

In 2016, the next Friday the 13th happens in May, and then in 2017 in January and October. You could set a more frequent verification schedule, such as each change of season or when we have to set the clocks for Daylight Savings. Either way, don’t forget that verifying your backup is the most important part of backing up your computer.

International Verify Your Backups Day | TidBITS via Katie Floyd

AOMEI OneKey Recovery Creates a Custom Windows Recovery Partition

AOMEI OneKey Recovery Creates a Custom Windows Recovery Partition

Windows: Most Windows computers these days have a recovery partition built in, but it contains all the crapware that came with your computer. If you’d like to create your own recovery partition, AOMEI adds that backup function to any PC.

Programs like Steady-State protect a PC by letting you undo any recent changes, but this is different. It creates an image of your hard drive on another partition (you’ll need the space) or external hard drive. When your system gets hosed, you can return it to the last image from the Windows boot menu. Unlike Windows System Restore, this will overwrite any existing stuff you have on the drive. For nasty viruses that you can’t get rid of, this is another tool in your arsenal.

AOMEI OneKey Recovery | AOMEI via Into Windows

Consumer Drives Might Be More Reliable Than Enterprise Hard Drives

Online backup service Backblaze uses the same hard drives most of us use to store our data—which means they have almost 35,000 consumer drives housing our data. Their latest report claims that consumer hard drives are actually slightly more reliable than expensive "enterprise" style drives.

We’ve covered their analysis before, and they still rank Hitachi/HGST drives the most reliable. This time, they discovered that the drives designed for corporate server use—that is, so-called "enterprise drives"—actually failed more often than consumer drives. If you’re buying enterprise drives because you think they’ll last longer, it may be worth looking into that decision further.

Your mileage may vary and this is just one company’s analysis, but it’s an interesting stat. Check out the link and decide for yourself which drive is the most reliable.

Hard Drive Reliability Update — Sep 2014 | Backblaze

Consumer Drives Might Be More Reliable Than Enterprise Hard Drives

Test a New External Hard Drive by Doing a Secure Erase

Test a New External Hard Drive by Doing a Secure Erase

External hard drives are great for all sorts of things, but sometimes you get a bum drive. Doing a secure erase of the drive gives it a stress test before you put it into service.

Over at TidBITS, they have a variety of suggestions for maintaining hard drives, but this one’s easy: do a secure erase on it before you use it. This writes data to the entire drive and verifies that it can read and write data on every sector. If it survives the secure erase, then it’s good for holding data. Check out this guide for details on doing a secure erase.

The Care and Feeding of External Hard Drives | TidBITS

Photo by Karen.

USB Disk Ejector Safely Ejects USB Drives with a Hotkey

USB Disk Ejector Safely Ejects USB Drives with a Hotkey

Windows: To safely remove USB drives and memory cards from Windows, you have to mouse over to the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon in the taskbar. USB Disk Ejector will do the same thing, but with a quick keyboard shortcut.

USB Disk Ejector is a portable program that runs in the taskbar and let’s you set hotkeys to safely eject removable drives. It supports ejection by drive label, drive letter, drive name, and mount point. If you regularly use more than one drive at a time, USB Disk Ejector supports multiple hotkeys, too. Even if you don’t use the hotkeys, USB Disk Ejector’s list of drives is larger than the one built into Windows, so it’s easier to see and eject.

USB Disk Ejector is free, open source software and works on all versions of Windows from XP on up.

USB Disk Ejector | Quick And Easy Software via AddictiveTips

Instantly Find Space Hogs on Your Mac with a Spotlight Filter

Instantly Find Space Hogs on Your Mac with a Spotlight Filter

We’ve covered programs dedicated to analyzing what files are taking up the most space on your Mac, but if you want a quick and instant way to find those large files, Apple’s Spotlight is the answer.

From any Finder window, press Cmd+F to bring up the Spotlight search field. After clicking "This Mac," click on the drop-down menu for Kind and select Other. Among the long list of search attributes will be File Size (type "size" to find that attribute quickly). Click the checkbox to search by that attribute and change the middle drop down from "equals" to "is greater than." For the File Size, put in a number such as 2 and select GB from the drop down menu on the right.

Instantly, Spotlight will find those files 2 GB or larger. To find the biggest files taking up the most space on your hard drive, click on the Size Column to sort results. Again, there are some great programs that do a better job, but if you just want to find a big file quickly—without installing anything new—this is a useful trick. If you’ve disabled Spotlight or restricted search areas in the Privacy settings, this tip won’t work, so make sure it’s enabled!

Spring Cleaning: Use Spotlight To Find Huge Files | Cult of Mac

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

Ever wanted a copy of Windows you can take with you wherever you go, to use on any computer you want? It’s possible: here’s how to install a portable version of Windows 8 on a USB hard drive that you can take anywhere.

The Enterprise version of Windows 8 has a feature called Windows To Go that lets you install a portable version of Windows on a "certified" flash drive. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the Enterprise edition of Windows 8, nor a certified flash drive. However, there is a tool called WinToUSB that can essentially do the same thing, no matter what version of Windows you have. Here’s how it works.

(Note that this is different from installing Windows from a USB drive, which allows you to install Windows on a computer that doesn’t have a CD drive. Here, we’re actually installing Windows on a USB drive so we can run it from a drive on any computer you want, and take it with you for troubleshooting, remote work, and so on. If you’re a Mac user, check out this post for more info on how to do this with OS X.)

What You’ll Need (and What You’ll Get)

You only need a few simple things to make this work. They include:

  • A Windows installation disc or ISO image. We recommend using Windows 8. Windows 8 will allow you to use your portable installation on any computer, but Windows 7 is not as portable and may have driver or activation issues if you use it on other computers. (If you must use Windows 7, this alternative method may be preferable).
  • A USB drive. An external hard drive is preferred over a flash drive, since it will run significantly faster. USB 2.0 will suffice, but if you have a USB 3.0 drive, we recommend using it (though it will only work if you’re installing Windows 8, not Windows 7).
  • WinToUSB. This is the simple program that will walk you through the installation process.

As you can see, there are a few caveats. We tested this using Windows 8.1 on a USB 2.0 external hard drive, and the results were quite satisfactory. It ran at a reasonable speed, automatically installed the drivers it needed, and worked on multiple computers. But your mileage may vary if you try to use Windows 7 or a flash drive.

Step One: Install WinToUSB

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

First, download WinToUSB and install it on your system, just like you would any other program. Note that you’ll need to be an administrator on the computer you install WinToUSB on.

While you’re at it, find your Windows installation disc or ISO and get it ready, because you’re going to need it in the next step. If you don’t have one, you can download one from Microsoft.

Step Two: Create Your Portable Drive

Next, you just need to start up WinToUSB and follow it’s (short) wizard to create your portable installation. There are only a few steps involved:

1. Select Your Installer Media

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

When you start WinToUSB, you’ll be prompted to choose your ISO file or disc. Click the browse button to find it, select the operating system you want to install, then click Next.

2. Select Your Hard Drive

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

Next, you’ll be asked to select your hard drive and choose the system and boot partitions. You can find more information about this here, but with a USB hard drive you should just be able to select the first partition as system and the second partition as boot, as shown above. Make sure your drive is formatted as NTFS.

3. Start the Installation

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

When you click next, the installation will begin. I found it only took a half hour or so, though your mileage may vary depending on the speed of your hard drive.

Step Three: Boot From Your Portable Drive

How to Run a Portable Version of Windows from a USB Drive

That’s it! It’s actually a very quick and easy process, and when it’s done, you can start running your portable installation on whatever computer you want. To do so, just plug it in, restart the computer, and boot from the drive just like you would a CD or flash drive (on my computer, that meant pressing F11 at boot and choosing the drive from a list).

The first time it starts, it’ll install the necessary drivers and take awhile to boot, after which you can set up your machine just like you would a new Windows 8 PC. You may have to manually adjust some things like screen resolution, but once you’re done, you can shut it down, move it to another computer, and run it from there. It may go through the driver installation step on each new computer (which means it’ll take awhile to boot), but I found it moved between my two PCs quite well. Enjoy!

Title image remixed from grebcha (Shutterstock).