Save your SSD: Boot Windows XP from a RamDisk
Solid state memory has come a long way in the last few years. So while flash memory modules (including SD cards, Compact Flash cards, 2.5″ SSDs, and the chips that are soldered onto Eee PC, Acer Aspire One, and Dell Inspiron Mini motherboards) still have a limited number of write cycles, the number of times you can write to a disk is pretty high. It’s likely that you could run some rather disk-intensive tasks and still not wear out your SSD for a couple of years. Under average daily use, your SSD will probably last even longer.
But there are some people who are still concerned that frequent use will wear out the SSD units that come with their netbooks. There are a number of ways to reduce the number of write cycles your operating system uses, thus prolonging an SSD’s life. If you’re using Windows, you can disable the system restore feature. If you’re using Linux, you can choose not to use any swap space.
A Ramdisk utility basically lets you treat installed RAM as a hard drive. Most Ramdisk utilities need to be launched from within an operating system. But Diskless Angel is a commercial app (with a free trial available) that actually lets you boot directly into a Ramdisk. So you can install Windows or another operating system to an SD card or other removable media and use Diskless Angel to load the operating system without writing to your internal SSD at all. Sure, the SD card could eventually fail, but that will be easy to replace, while the internal SSD will not. As an added bonus, RAM tends to be much faster than either an SSD or a hard drive, so you get rather zippy performance.
There are some down sides. The biggest is that Proche has yet to figure out how to save any changes. Unlike hard drives and solid state memory, RAM requires a constant supply of power to remember data. So as soon as you turn off the power to your PC, all of the data is erased. You need to reload everything from scratch the next time you boot. If he can figure out a way to use the Windows Volume Shadow Copy utility to save changes to the source image, Proche says it would be possible to treat the Ramdisk like any hard drive, capable of saving changes.
There are a few other problems. For one thing, the Diskless Angel doesn’t seem to work well with hyperthreading, so Proche had to disable his Intel Atom processor’s hyperthreading features in the BIOS. And some Windows services seem to crash within a few minutes of booting.
I’m still not convinced that you really need to avoid writing to the SSD. Sure, it’s possible that your computer will stop working in a few years. But what do you expect from a $400 computer? I’m not sure I’ve ever gone three years without buying a new computer anyway. If you’re a bit more frugal than me though, keep this in mind: it’s not likely that your entire SSD will stop working one day. If you’ve got a 12GB SSD, it’s possible that three years from now, one data sector may stop working properly due to frequent writes. But that still leaves you with 11.99GB of useable space. It’ll take an awful lot to make the whole disk go bad.