Schoen Desktop MK IV: What to do with this SSD?

Howdy folks,

It’s a momentous occasion: my fourth system build.  This post is more personal than my others, so if you’re looking for some hard facts, check out TomsHardware or the plethora of Youtube vids about DIY systems, overclocking, and the like.  Hindsight being 20/20 it would have been nice to take som photos, but I’m writing this post-build and I’m not about to pull this sucker apart.  If anything begs a photo, it’s the monster heatsink I got: a Thermaltake Frio.  Lots has changed since I first took the plunge and built my own rig, and I must say the experience so far has been superb.  I do have some words of warning, so read on.  TL;DR?  If you’re going to try to be stingy about space on an SSD drive, and you’re tempted to fuck with the registry and change the default location for Program Files… Don’t!

For a little backstory, I built my first PC back in 2001, a week or so after my twelfth (man, that word has a weird spelling) birthday.  This was the third computer I purchased (with my own money, thankyouverymuch) and was by far the cheapest.  The first was a 333Mhz PII-era Celeron-based Compaq which ran me ~$1700 with a 15″ CRT, and the second , a 733Mhz PIII with a 17″ CRT, also ~$1700.  This rig blew the others out of the water at $900, recycling only the monitor and an old CD-ROM drive.  It was based on an AMD Athlon XP 2100+, with an Epox motherboard and a Geforce 3 Ti200 card.  And it had a 3.5″ floppy drive.  I did my research on SharkyForums and bought all the parts from Newegg.

Epox has since gone under, Nvidia has gone through quite a few Geforce generations, CPUs have gone multi-core, AGP is dead, PATA is dead, and WTF 3.5″ floppy disk?  I’ve gone through two more iterations since then, and 10 years later, this build marks #4 (get it? MK. IV?).  One thing remains the same, however, and that is that Newegg kicks ass.  I’ll go over the specs below, along with the mind-blowing prices, but better than their prices is their service.  I put the order through at around midnight on Sunday, and was happily building away Thursday afternoon.  And that’s with the cheapest shipping option (~$13 for parts, case, and 3 monitors!)  I got this rig for my new home away from home at my girlfriend’s house in North Carolina, so that I could spend more time with her while still getting some serious work done.  Sorry, laptops just don’t cut it in my experience, then again I never got one of those “desktop replacements” with a dedicated video card.

Here’s the Newegg wishlist (coming soon)

One of the most novel things for me about this build was the SSD drive.  I actually totally overlooked the fact that it was a 2.5″ drive, and wouldn’t fit into the normal 3.5″ bay. Thankfully for me, someone at Antec anticipated my folly, and put some special mounting holes on the floor of the case, specifically for a SSD.  In fact, the SSD is the reason I was prompted to blog about this build.  We are currently in an awkward period where traditional disc-based drives are far cheaper per GB than SSD, but the speed advantage offered by SSD compensates for the limited size in the eyes of many consumers.  Then of course there are the early adopters who will buy the latest and greatest no matter how much it costs, but I’m not one of those guys.  It’ll take a very compelling reason for me to spend more than $200 on any one part, and as far as I can recall, I still haven’t.

So sticking with that rule of thumb I ended up going with a 96GB SSD.  I haven’t used a single drive with less than 100GB since my second build (which started out with one 80GB drive), so I knew this would be tough for me.  I set out to be as anal as possible about saving space on the system drive, and as you’ll soon find out, I ended up going a bit too far.  So fast-forward the build process to installing Windows.  I was a little disappointed in how long the process still takes, even with a screaming bus and an SSD drive.  I didn’t time it, but the “Extracting Files” step took at least 5-10 minutes.  Of course, compared to my early experiences of installing operating systems (*cough* Windows 95 on 13 floppy disks *cough*) this is still a breeze, but I was really hoping for that holy-shit moment having the whole process finish while I went to grab a drink.

So, Pepsi in hand, I patiently waited for the install to finish, completed the first-boot process, and began installing drivers, updates an the like.  Generally, I’m all for software updates, and try to be as up-to-date as I can be, but I must say that even with its improvements, Windows Update still leaves a bit of automation to be desired.  Thank god the normal boot time with an SSD drive is under 10 seconds, because I ended up having to go through 6 cycles of updates.  4 were immediately installed on first boot, asking for a restart almost immediately (at least before being able to download and install the graphics drivers).  Then another 93(!) drivers, hotfixes, etc. on second boot.  As an aside, here I’d like to point out a nice little improvement on the update system from Vista to Win7, which has to do with the language packs.  I’m not sure why these are considered “updates,” except maybe because there was no other place to put their install options.  Back in the Vista days, these would constantly show up as uninstalled optional updates, which is annoying because it makes it easier to miss a legitimate new update among the list of language packs.  You could hide updates on Vista, but you had to select them one at a time and hit hide, which was a pain in the ass for the 30-odd language packs.  Now if you click the header, all of the packs are selected, and you can hide them all with two clicks.  But I digress, back to the updates: On this second round, while installing the driver for my Microsoft mouse, I got one of those hilarious errors: “Error installing Microsoft Error Reporing.”  Then of course, there was SP1 and four more.  It seems as though this round installed only SP1, ignoring the other four updates, because after the reboot, I was still asked to reboot in order to install four hotfixes.  Oddly enough, even though I had hidden all of the language packs, they decided to unhide themselves at this point.  Two more and a reboot after those puppies, and then one more still, .Net 4 Client Profile.  Thankfully, this one didn’t require a reboot, but it did bring on four more, which also didn’t require a restart.  After those four, one more.  Whew! 6 reboots and 110 (or 114… not sure) updates later, we’re finally done!  Now it’s time to install the crap I actually need.  Honestly, though I’m only complaining because I’m up on this soapbox.  I generally don’t mind a process that you only have to do once at set-up, and would only ask that there be a “take care of this shit until it’s done” option.  Next I went about installing all of the various software I need.

Like many Windows users, throughout my experience, I have taken the “start from scratch” approach to fixing most serious problems, which I’m finding is less and less necessary as the system matures.  Any Linux nerd you talk to will say that the only time you need to reboot is for a kernel update, and the only time you need to reformat is never.  While I consider myself a Windows and Linux power user, I’m not comfortable enough with their internals to actually pull this off so, long story short, when I’m stumped about a problem, I back up my data and wipe the disk.  Over the years, I’ve refined the process more and more and now I actually keep a spreadsheet in Google docs with all of the software I generally have installed, along with links to the installers.  It’s pretty handy and if I have the time to front-load my install work, I can get back to a previous state in a few hours, excluding a few of the longer installs like Visual Studio or Adobe products (damn you, Adobe!).

It was at this point that I started getting really nervous about the space on my system drive.  I had already moved the user data folders (Desktop, My Docs, Downloads, etc.) to the larger drive as per the plethora of guides for doing so (I found this one), but that wasn’t enough.  The whole reason behind getting an SSD is so that programs can jump from disk to memory very quickly.  Logically then, a program with a really long load (like everything Adobe puts their hands on) should be stored on the SSD.  However, these are also usually the biggest programs on your disk (hence they take a long time to load into memory).  True to my usual ADD-driven style, and the fact that Deus Ex 3 had just come out, I haphazardly started installing things wherever I felt like at the time.  It was only the next day (time of writing) that I decided to try and figure out how to trim absolutely every last piece of fat from the SSD in order to save space for some programs.

This was a bad idea.  Einstein said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and boy was he right.  Basically, I wanted to see if I could switch the program files folder over to the other drive in a similar manner to moving those user data folders, which was a very quick and painless process.  After a quick google search, I found the registry keys that control the location of the program files folders and blissfully set them over to the larger drive, expecting that nothing bad would happen.  Well, at first, nothing did.  But then I noticed that a bunch of shortcuts were broken.  Apparently a lot of applications use the registry key to point to their installation folder, and when I changed it without moving the actual program files, the shortcut didn’t work anymore.  “That’s fine,” I thought, since I did want to move the majority of the programs over to the larger drive, but quickly ran into problems with programs like WinRar and Notepad++, which use explorer extensions that are locked while the system is running.  Many of the programs I was interested in moving, as well, were Windows programs, some of which as it turns out can’t be removed through the Control Panel.  After a few minutes of poking trying to figure this out by myself, and looking around online, this guide was the most promising find, but was ultimately more involved than I really wanted to deal with.  I wasn’t prepared to carve out such a large chunk of my day for this.  Worse still, with all of my futzing with program files and uninstalling/reinstalling I had somehow confused Win7 enough that it started asking me what kind of program it should use to open .exe files.  For lack of a logical solution (don’t ask me why I thought this would work) I said “well, go ahead and open it with Windows Explorer!”  That was dumb.  Now Explorer would try to open Explorer with Explorer, and… yo dog, I heard you like Explorer processes…

So, sadly, here I sit, waiting for SP1 to install for the second time in 12 hours, paying the price for my own stupidity.  I guess I’ll blog about it.  Tune in next time to see what happens when I try my hand at overclocking for the first time :)  Hopefully it won’t include any refernece to Newegg’s stellar return policy!

P.S. I kept track of my free space at various points along the way.  Immediately post-install, the disk had 30.1GB used, leaving 59.1 free (as you all know, an advertised 96GB drive doesn’t actually have 96GB of storage).  The update process added something like 5.8 GB (I installed a few small programs like Chrome and the ATI driver suite while I was waiting), bringing me up to 35.9GB used.  However, the hibernation and page files take up a HUGE chunk of space on this system with its 12GB of RAM, so once I turned off hibernation and pared down the page file and system restore allocations, I was down to a cool 15.8GB used on the system disk.  Now I have room for all sorts of heavy programs!  Honesly, again with hindsight being 20/20, I probably could have just ignored the Program Files altogether, since at this point they only account for about 1GB.  However, my main motivation behind switching the registry keys over was largely due to certain installers like Visual Studio which dump a good amount of data on the system drive, no matter what you tell it to do.  Mostly I let my curiosity get the better of me, taking my mission to its absurd and problematic conclusion, rather than actually considering how much space I was saving.

P.S.S.  It turns out that Visual Studio, and many installers (like np++) just don’t even care about that registry key and use C: as their default anyway.  So that idea was doubly retarded!  Learn from my mistakes, kids, don’t be retarded!

~ by Schoen on August 26, 2011.

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