ANALYSIS: Normal practice in most companies is to plan for a three to four year lifespan for computers, but suppose you don’t need to replace them?
By the time your employees have had their laptop computers for a few years, you’re bound to start hearing complaints that they’re too old to use productively.
Too old usually means that your employees think they’re getting too slow, that they’re tired of waiting for the computer to start up, for programs to execute or for files to save. And of course, they want a new laptop to make things work better.
They may even have a point. By the time users start complaining about their laptops’ performance, they usually have been using them for a few years, they’ve added files to their laptop’s hard disk; they’ve been through an uncounted number of operating system updates, application updates and other events that have loaded up the hard disk.
Worse, the updates and files have resulted in a certain amount of randomness in the way the data is stored and it takes a while for the hard disk to the right data and load it.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to buy new computers for everyone. It may only mean that you need to do something about their data storage. That something may be as easy as swapping out the laptop’s hard disk for a solid state drive.
Initially, the idea of swapping out a drive may sound intimidating—something that’s too much trouble to be worth it. But the fact is, the process is easy, inexpensive, and has virtually no risk. More to the point, the results are impressive and your employees will have a computer that performs like a new one.
To see just how much of a problem it might be and to determine whether the performance improvements were worth the expense, I tried it myself on an old computer that was serviceable, but old and slow. The laptop in this case was a Lenovo ThinkPad T430, which is a five-year-old laptop. The particular machine had 8 gigabytes of memory and an Intel i7 processor.
Replacing this laptop with a similar new machine, such as the Lenovo T470 that I reviewed in 2017, could cost $1,500 or more. If I could save money by swapping out the storage, then it might make sense.
First, I confirmed that the hard drive in the laptop was physically accessible and that it was the right size to be swapped out. In the case of the T430, the hard disk is behind an easily removed cover, which when opened allows the drive to slide out. The power and data connectors in most laptops are standardized, which means that any swapping should be uneventful.
I ordered a Micron Technology Crucial MX-300 525 GB solid state drive. While I was at it, I also ordered an external USB 3.0 SATA drive enclosure. I included the drive enclosure because I knew I needed a way to clone the existing hard drive to the new SSD.
I chose the Crucial SSD drive because I’m familiar with Micron’s reliability. But I could have chosen an SSD from Western Digital, Samsung, SanDisk or other makers at a similar price. Note that if you plan to make this a company-wide practice, you can negotiate bulk pricing that will cut down the price per drive.
Once the SSD and the external enclosure arrived, I installed the SSD into the enclosure, and ran the Acronis True Image cloning software that Crucial includes with its drives. This transferred the data stored on the hard drive to the new SSD in a process that took about 20 minutes.
After the cloning, I removed the SSD from the enclosure, removed the hard disk from the laptop, and slid the SSD into the space left by the hard disk, then replaced the cover. The total time was about a half-hour. After I finished the swap, I turned on the laptop and watched it boot and run Windows 10 almost instantly. The laptop acted almost like a new machine.
The total cost for the SSD was under $150. The price will vary slightly depending on where you buy it and how many you buy at one time. The external drive enclosure cost less than $30, but you only need one of those. The cost of labor is a half-hour of staff time. The other costs would include secure disposal of the old hard drive, and that will vary depending on how secure you need it to be.
In a small to medium sized company, the drive swap could be accomplished during the time when you bring your laptops in for routine service, such as applying patches and updates, so there may be little extra downtime.
In my case, the total cost of the swap was less than $250 to get what was effectively a new computer. Buying a new laptop would cost six times as much.
Before you commit to this course of action, you need to determine a few things. First, you need to confirm that your company laptops will accept this type of drive swap. Second you need to confirm that the cloning process will work on your typical laptop. Third, you need to make sure that your typical laptop has at least one USB 3.0 port, because if it doesn’t the cloning process will be much slower.
Finally, it’s important to realize that not every laptop is a candidate for this kind of renewal. Some laptops lead a difficult life in the overhead luggage compartment, and they may have other problems including physical damage that don’t lend themselves to the swapping of storage.
But for most business laptops, swapping the hard disk for an SSD offers some real advantages in performance. It extends battery life, and depending on the SSD, may improve security. Crucial, for example, encrypts the data on its SSDs.
The result can ease your budget pressures, improve the performance of your company’s computer assets, and in the process, provide a boost for morale. Your employees will appreciate their new faster laptops.
Originally published on eWeek