The Best Method for Gaming with SSDs Safely
I recently built a new rig. It was time and I hadn’t ever treated myself to “modern” hardware. I assembled as many SSDs as I could scavenge from the numerous attempts to upgrade underpowered and ancient laptops laying around the house, all of them upgraded that year and then promptly abandoned. After configuring 4 120GB SSDs into a RAID0 and discovering that, not surprisingly, Samsung Magician, the software used to monitor and troubleshoot these amazing drives, does not recognize them in RAID. This isn’t generally a problem until the first time you decide to patch a drive with a new firmware release promising higher IO or increased longevity, then it’s a tragedy as you discover that you’re going to need to break apart the RAID to patch each drive individually, and to do this, you’ll need to wipe each drive and format it to be readable in Windows in order to run the patching utility, or Samsung Magician. Yikes! I decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. You may have other needs.
Here is my humble recommendation for OS and drive configuration in order to ensure future happiness for your gaming rig:
1. Buy an OEM or system builder version of Windows. At the time of this writing, Windows 7 Home Premium OEM 64bit is still a viable operating system. I’ve seen many forum posts by folks concerned about RAM limitations with Windows Home. They’re likely referring to Home Basic. As the title would suggest, it’s Basic. Don’t buy this version. I don’t even know if they make a builder’s version of Basic. Either way, Basic in 64bit will utilize 8GB or RAM. Per Microsoft, Home Premium 64bit utilizes 16GB of RAM. If you need more than 16GB, you’re not building a gaming rig, you’re folding proteins and saving us all from cancer or mining for Bitcoins and devaluing the American dollar. Splurge on the >$100 OS.
NOTE: You can only activate Windows 7 OEM twice but don’t less this deter you. My configuration ensures this is a non-issue for your currently-configured system. Obviously, if you change the motherboard, your system is going to require activation again, which will count against your 2 attempts.
2. Use a mechanical hard drive when you first assemble your computer. Do your entire OS installation and configuration using the mechanical drive and do not install any SSDs. Install any software that you consider a major part of your system, like Steam, Origin, Nvidia driver software or a fan controller or benchmarking software. Do not install software that you use once and then wish you were without, like iPhone transfer wizards and desktop randomizers. Don’t install anti-virus or anti-malware software or office suites either. This software is problematic at best. Run updates for the OS and all of your applications but don’t install any games yet. DO NOT activate Windows yet. You have 30 days. Use them to ensure your configuration is working correctly. If you continually get BSODs or install malware, you can always rebuild. 30 days is plenty of time to make these mistakes; that’s why they give them to you.
3. If you’re using a Samsung SSD, install Samsung Migration Assistant, shutdown the computer, install the SSD on any available SATA and reboot. Run the assistant and it will make a bootable copy of your C: partition. Shutdown, unplug your mechanical drive but leave it in it’s installed bay and reboot. If you’re using a different drive or manufacturer which doesn’t provide migration software, use Clonezilla to create a bootable USB thumb drive which you will use to image the mechanical drive onto the SSD. Please note that this method is not foolproof and you may instead want to create a bootable USB thumb drive of GParted to clone your C: partition. If you’re concerned about this procedure, I strongly recommend the Samsung Evo 840 or 850. Note that the Migration Assistant will not copy the recovery partition to the SSD. This isn’t something to be concerned about because we will always have the mechanical drive available.
4. Install additional SSDs. I recommend using smaller drives because they’re cheaper and drive failure will result in less loss, yielding easier data recovery. For my build, I have 4 120GB drives. Mount your drives and boot into Windows. These will be used to store game installations so label each drive according to the game management software associated with that drive. Examples are “Steam1” or “GameDrive1,” etc. Go to Steam > Settings > Downloads and click on “Steam Library Folders” under Content Libraries at the top and you will be presented with a window to add Steam Libraries. Create a folder on each additional disk and name it something obvious, like “Steam” or “Steam Library,” then add it to this window. From now on, when installing a game with Steam, you will be presented with a selection window to select your installation directory.
For Origin, go to Origin > Application Settings > Advanced and click on “Change…” under “Downloaded Games.” Origin does not currently permit multiple libraries but you can dedicate an entire disk to the software. I recommend this over installing games on the same disk as Windows.
5. If you would like to keep backups of your games, install a large mechanical hard drive. If not, I hope you installed all of your games from DVDs or have a dedicated T3 to your house. To backup installations on Steam, go to Steam > Backup and Restore Games and select next. I suggest backing up each game individually so they’re easier to handle and restore. Select a game and click next, then browse to the large mechanical drive and watch your backup fly. You’ll use the same method to restore your game should you lose a drive or uninstall a game to create more space.