Thursday, December 10, 2015

So I installed an SSD with Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 on my computer - here's how I did it

I finally did it. I installed an SSD on my computer, the computer I use everyday to get stuff done. I did a lot of shopping, read the reviews, the comparisons and checked out the benchmarks. Eventually I settled on the Samsung 850 EVO 500GB. It just has the right price, speed and capacity combination for what I needed to do.

To make sure that I was going to end up with an operating system and file system well below 75% of capacity, I went with the 500GB model. The reason for this is that SSDs slow down considerably when they fill up. Keeping them light means keeping the speed that comes with the drive.

Just before I did the transition, I did a lot of soul searching. Should I move everything lock stock and barrel or should I do a new install and then move my data? The consensus among the articles I've read is to do a new install and then move the data. That adds more time, but it is worth it. The reason for a new install is to allow the installation routine to automatically set up the hard drive according to best practices. The latest versions of Ubuntu do just that. They automatically recognize the disk type and configure accordingly so I don't have to spend hours in the forums to figure it out.

I have a family and a life so I had to wait until the coast was clear before I could start work on this project. I had to be sure my kids were asleep, lest they be around to "assist" me. I picked a night before a 3 day weekend and went to work.

I was using Ubuntu Gnome 14.04 LTS because I just didn't want to run upgrades every six months to keep up. But then I read this very cool article on Ubuntu Gnome15.10 at Tech Republic. The summary: Ubuntu Gnome15.10 is everything an operating system should be. It should boot and get out of the way so that I can work.

With some experimentation, I got a USB drive working with an Ubuntu Gnome 15.10 boot image and tested it on an older computer, and a laptop. I used Unetbootin to create the boot drive, which worked great on the newer USB drive, but not on the older one, so be sure to use a newer USB thumb drive if you plan on doing the same. Both of the other computers now have the latest version of Gnome ready to go when needed. They will will make good failback computers if I need them. Now I have a nice boot disk on a USB stick if I ever need it in a pinch, you know, to demonstrate Gnome or to recover files from a Windows computer that doesn't boot anymore.

With time, tools, USB boot disk, and the new SSD in hand, I got to work. I did one last copy of my home directory to an external USB drive and watched another episode of Jessica Jones while I waited. I used Beyond Compare to do the file copy. If you haven't used Beyond Compare, it's worth it just to see how to consolidate redundant files on your computer. It's really good for file copy tasks, too. BC provides a nice two-pane view of your source and destination directories so you can easily sync folders together. Once the copy was done, I was ready for the next step.

I shut everything down, removed the old disk drive and installed the new one. Looking back, I probably could have kept the old drive in there, remove the boot flag from the OS on the old drive and booted with the new drive, but I just wanted to err on the side of caution. I wanted to leave that disk intact in case something didn't go well.

Once the new SSD was installed, I booted with the USB drive and installed Ubuntu Gnome 15.10. On a normal drive, this would take about 15-20 minutes. With the SSD, it took about 5 minutes to get to a prompt from the installation routine to reboot the computer. Once the operating system was installed, I rebooted and ran updates until there were no more to find.

Then I copied all my files back. I started by installing Beyond Compare again and used my external disk drive as a source to copy everything from my old computer to my home directory. I was able to copy all my settings very easily because the settings are in configuration files. It's not like Windows where you have to manually work to recreate your settings. Anyway, I don't use Windows at home anymore, and I'm never going back.

After all is said and done, here's the quick summary. this computer cold boots in about 22 seconds including the splash screen. On reboot, the time from end of splash screen to login prompt is 11 seconds. On the old disk drive, boot times were closer to 30 seconds.

But the most noticeable difference comes after login. With spinning disk, loading Gnome took minutes to load. With an SSD, Gnome loaded instantly. LibreOffice loads instantly. Google Chrome loads instantly. Even the GIMP. a really big picture editing program (think Photoshop) loads instantly. This SSD reads 531MB per second, almost 5 times faster than my spinning disk. This trip was worth it.

I hope you find this article helpful. If you have any questions, post them below. I'm happy to help.
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