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CompactFlash as SSD in a laptop

RonenRonen Registered User regular
Ok, so I've got an old ThinkPad X22 (P3 800MHz, 384MB RAM) that I'm looking to bring back to life as a full time laptop. So far I've purchased it a new battery and wifi card, but I wanted to do something about its HDD, a 20GB Ultra ATA drive (the one that originally came with the machine). I'm not looking for this thing to do any heavy lifting: it already runs a slimmed down XP Pro really really well for what I need it for (web browsing, word processing via Google Docs).

I was looking into 2.5" solid state drives seeing as I don't need a ton of space on this machine (8GB will more than suffice) and I'd like it to be fairly shock proof when I was hit with an idea: just get an Ultra ATA to CF converter and use a high capacity CF card instead.

Now, the X22 has a dedicated CF slot, but as far as I can tell you can't boot from it, so there goes the simplest method. Instead, I'd probably get a 4GB high speed CF card to replace the HDD and a slower 8GB card to leave in the CF slot for storage. All in all, the way I've priced it out it would cost me about $20 more to get two CF cards for 12GB of storage than to get a single 8GB 2.5" SSD.

I'd imagine the CF card would be slower than a dedicated SSD, but for what I'm doing with it I don't think the performance hit would be that bad. Has anybody replaced a laptop drive with a CF card or have any opinions on the matter? Is this a terrible, terrible, earth shatteringly bad idea?

Go play MOTHER3

or Brawl. 4854.6102.3895 Name: NU..
Ronen on

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    zanetheinsanezanetheinsane Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    If you get a USB 2.0 flash drive almost all modern laptops support booting from that. Here are some possible options from easiest to hardest:

    SLAX: based on Slackware Linux, you'll never find an easier version of linux to install. Simply unzip the files to the flash drive and run the included batch file (in windows) or shell script (in linux). Getting things installed and drivers working can be a bitch if you don't have a lot of linux experience. SLAX is more oriented towards advanced linux users.

    Ubuntu 8.04 Persisntent USB install: A long tutorial but mostly fullproof. If you modify the instructions a bit you can do all of that from inside the LiveCD without needing to already have Linux installed. Ubuntu is slightly easier to get around in and install programs in for those that don't use Linux as much.

    Full Windows XP installed to a Flash Drive: There are lots of problems with this install, including actually having to have a hard drive for it to work properly (otherwise you get a 0x0000007B BSOD when trying to restart to finish the installation). Tutorial requires a lot of extra work (cabsdk, iso editor, ability to make an ISO from your windows disk, etc).

    I've also seen a lot about "Windows XP Embedded" being able to run on flash drives maybe, but due to the legality and availability of it I'm not sure where to find information or even that we should be discussing it, so research on your own might be needed.

    For the most past USB 2.0 drives can be just as fast as a hard drive (I use one alot to boot my laptop whose hard drive has died).

    zanetheinsane on
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    EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    It's unlikely a P3 era laptop will boot off a USB device. I also find that it stinks having USB devices always sticking out of your laptop, though this can be somewhat mitigated with a little USB extender so you aren't always at risk of breaking your USB device. Just IMO.

    Modern CF cards don't have much issue with wear, so a CF card loaded into the IDE slot with an adapter like you plan should work just fine. You might notice things load slower, but high speed CF is fast enough to act as a primary hard drive. I wonder if you'll notice the power savings.

    I'd consider topping out your memory (if you haven't already) and tweaking the OS for lower memory consumption if you're using XP. While seek time to CF is great, burst speed is considerably lower for high-speed CF than a 2.5" platter drive, and applications will take a hit whenever they dip into virtual memory. Also set your virtual memory to a specific amount if you're installing 9x or xp so that it sits on a specific chunk of flash real-estate.

    IF you like linux at all, consider puppy linux, I tossed it on a very similar laptop to what you've got (mine has a little less memory;)) and was just kind of stunned by the speed. It's very RAM conscious and generally speaking doesn't need to touch virtual memory at all, which makes it incredibly quick.

    Ego on
    Erik
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    GrimReaperGrimReaper Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    If you wanted to use a cf ide adapter then it'd have to be able to fit inside the laptop and the ide connector type would have to be 2.5".

    This seems to be something along the lines of what you'd need.

    You'd probably want to tweak the OS slightly for some things, for example you may want to consider disabling virtual memory and other things that will frequently read/write to the hard drive.

    GrimReaper on
    PSN | Steam
    ---
    I've got a spare copy of Portal, if anyone wants it message me.
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    RonenRonen Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    Thanks for all the advice. I'm probably going to stick with XP on this machine (despite knowing that Linux would serve my purposes fine... what can I say, I'm a glutton for punishment), and despite being so old it actually has a number of USB booting options in the BIOS, so I think I'm covered there.

    I understand what (collective) you're saying about disabling virtual memory and upping the RAM. The only problem I have with upping the RAM is the expense (PC133 RAM doesn't come cheap these days).

    I found this tutorial which seems to cover what I want to do perfectly. A little issue I have to deal with in regards to my X22 is that the HDD slides out from the side of the machine, so I don't have easy access to insert a smaller device (like CF card plus adapter). Nothing a pair of long tweezers won't fix, I'm sure.

    Ronen on
    Go play MOTHER3

    or Brawl. 4854.6102.3895 Name: NU..
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    RonenRonen Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    Alright, so my parts came in today and I whipped up my Frankenlaptop. In the end I went with exactly what I listed, a 4GB SanDisk Extreme IV + CF to Ultra ATA adapter for my boot drive and an 8GB SanDisk Extreme III for my laptop's CF slot for extra storage. Set it all up today and so far I'm impressed.

    The performance difference of my nLited is really fantastic and overall I must say I'm sorta... creeped out. Has anybody else felt weird using a speedy laptop without the feeling of a drive spinning? It's a strange sensation.

    I will say that the battery life on this thing has improved dramatically. With the screen at half brightness, I'm getting a full hour of extra usage after switching out the old 20GB HDD (for a total of 4 hours).

    Ronen on
    Go play MOTHER3

    or Brawl. 4854.6102.3895 Name: NU..
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    EgoEgo Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    Glad to hear it worked well. Given your results with battery life I'm tempted to try it on a couple old laptops now.

    Ego on
    Erik
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    zanetheinsanezanetheinsane Registered User regular
    edited July 2008
    My hard drive died on my laptop so I use a USB install of SLAX. The thing is super quiet and since it was a pretty small low-power usage model to begin with the battery life is ridiculous. It really makes a big difference taking that thing out.

    zanetheinsane on
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