How to install an SSD in a Dell D430 laptop

Speed up your laptop with a solid-state drive
You may know from elsewhere on my blog that I have a tiny Dell D430 laptop that I use for portability when I'm out and about and want more power than just a tablet alone.

I'd been looking at ways to speed the laptop up and started to look specifically at replacing the 1.8" 4,200rpm 60G Toshiba hard disk with something a bit faster.  The Toshiba drive is tiny and very low powered, but it is sloooow.  Indeed, it is so slow that it ranks 3189 out of 3192 - literally fourth from the bottom - of Passmark's November 2014 Hard Disk benchmark!

No prizes for guessing I need to replace this to get some performance out of this laptop. The obvious direction is to install an SSD - or a Solid State Disk. The question is - How?  The Dell D430 hard disk sits under the battery and is shown outlined in red in this photograph.  You can see that there's no room for a physically larger hard disk.

Add to this the fact that the hard disk interface on the Dell D430 is a PATA or IDE interface and that would normally rule out any SATA devices too.

The only options we have therefore is to replace the disk with a purpose-made SSD that is designed to fit a 1.8" format or to seek an alternative format.  There are a few 1.8" SSDs available (there are a few shown here) so an easy approach would be to buy and install one of these. However, I was looking for something that would likely outlast the Dell, so I looked at using an mSATA SSD and running it using an mSATA to ZIF Adapter.  Not only is the mSATA SSD cheaper to buy, it's transferable and usable in other computers and laptops should the Dell die in the future.

Here's how I did it.  To start, I wanted a clean build of a new OS, so I took a backup of my data from the old hard disk before I started this procedure.  The old disk had Mint 13 on it but I wanted to move to Mint 17 with the new disk and this is best done with a clean install on the new disk.  I'm therefore going to assume that you won't need my help to manage your data or your OS - just the procedure for swapping the old disk for an SSD.

You'll therefore need:

a small cross-head screwdriver
possibly a wooden toothpick and a wooden coffee stirrer.

An mSATA Solid State Disk (I chose a 120G Crucial m4 mSATA SSD like this)

An mSATA to ZIF adapter card

Start with the laptop powered down and the battery removed

Step 1 - Undo the two screws on the disk caddy

Step 2 - Lift and slide the caddy so it is freed from the plastic clips on the base of the laptop

Step 3 - Gently lift away the disk caddy and put it somewhere safe - with the two screws.

Step 4 - Locate the pull tape on the disk plug. Gently grip and pull this straight up to disconnect it

Step 5 - Lift the old hard drive clear

Step 6 - Ease the rubber case away from the old hard disk. Don't stretch it and don't use anything metal to loosen it.  If necessary use a wooden stirrer to ease the rubber free of the drive.

Step 7 - When the rubber case is loose, gently pick open the ZIF connector lock (it should just flick up, but don't force it)

Step 8 - Here the lock is free and the ZIF connector is ready to have the cable removed.  Slide the rubber case over the connector so you can remove the drive.

Step 9 - Gently pull the connector from the drive.  Use a toothpick to ease it out if it is sticky. Put the drive somewhere safe.

Step 10 - Start to assemble the SSD and the adapter.  Undo the two screws on the adapter

Step 11 - The SSD and adapter are ready - now to connect it up.

Step 12 - Pick open the ZIF connector on the SSD adapter and offer it to the cable.  Make sure the cable goes into the connector and not under it.  Note that here I have inadvertently put the cable in the wrong way round.  More on this later.

Step 13 - Here is the SSD with the cable connected the right way round.  The cable should sit so that it curls or wraps over the top of the SSD.

Step 14 - curl the cable loosely over the top of the SSD and place the SSD top-down in the rubber case.  It will be a loose fit.  Don't worry, it will be fine.

Step 15 - Offer the SSD in the case to the Dell laptop and connect the blue plug to the disk connector on the laptop, pressing it gently so that it clips into place.

Step 16 - Re-attach the disk caddy to hold the SSD in place.  Don't forget to do up the two screws.

Step 17 - Re-connect the battery

That's it, done.  Now turn the laptop over and turn it on.  If you enter the BIOS while the laptop is booting, the new SSD should show itself by advertising its capacity on the Device Info screen as shown here.  If you've managed to get the cable the wrong way round (see Step 12 above) you'll know because there would be no disk found by the BIOS!

For me, I next inserted a prepared USB stick with the install ISO of Mint 17 Cinnamon on it and set about installing a clean, fresh copy of Mint 17.  When this was complete, I then tweaked it from the guide here and tuned it for an SSD using this guide.

Two months after I completed this upgrade I experienced a little problem.  my laptop died.  Well, more exactly, I'd let the laptop go to sleep as I was busy elsewhere.  When I resumed the laptop the system didn't come back to life.  After a power off/power on the system still did not boot.  A view in the BIOS showed no hard disk found.

The SSD had died on me.

Slightly worried by this (my British stiff upper lip here...) I began to search Crucial's web site for a Returns page for SSDs when I chanced upon this article:

Why did my SSD "disappear" from my system?

It turned out that my SSD had suffered from a bug in its firmware and had apparently 'died' as a result of this bug. After following the steps in that article I once again had an operational SSD.  In that article you are also advised to update the firmware of the SSD and this I completed from following the instructions in the SSD Support page

I once again have a fully working Dell D430 with a 120G SSD on board.

Well?  How fast is it?
Let's be clear. You won't get the full speed from your new SSD with the old 100MB/s IDE disk interface on the Dell!  That said; the performance of the Dell is greatly improved by the addition of the disk.  For me, the laptop now boots from power-on to the log-on prompt in a little over twenty five seconds (the BIOS alone takes 8 seconds of this).  And then, from entering my password, it takes a further twenty or so seconds until the desktop is operational. Not bad!

As you'll see from the comments below I was asked what the measured speed differences were.  I must admit, when I first installed the SSD I didn't measure the performance, but I've since popped the old disk back in and run before-and-after speed tests.

The two tests I carried out are simple but indicative. The first uses the Linux dd command as described in Systembash's post to measure write speeds:
$ dd bs=1M count=512 if=/dev/zero of=test conv=fdatasync

When this is run it produces an output like this (this was run on the old Toshiba hard disk)
512+0 records in 512+0 records out 536870912 bytes (537 MB) copied, 36.4651 s, 14.7 MB/s

and the second test uses the hdparm command from Unixcraft's post
$ sudo hdparm -tT /dev/sda

This produces an output like this (again, for the old disk)
/dev/sda: Timing cached reads: 1090 MB in 2.00 seconds = 545.34 MB/sec Timing buffered disk reads: 32 MB in 3.07 seconds = 10.43 MB/sec

If you run the dd test above, don't forget to delete the test file when you've finished testing - it's 512MB in size!
$ rm test
The results for the Toshiba 60G hard disk and for the Crucial SSD on my laptop are shown in the table below:
ComputerBoot timedd write speedCached Read speedBuffered Read speed
D430 with Toshiba disk
14.7 MB/s
545.34 MB/s
10.43 MB/s
D430 with Crucial SSD
27.4 MB/s
775.91 MB/s
77.20 MB/s

You can see that the SSD is distinctly faster that the older Toshiba disk, but not by as much as you would expect.  This is due to the restrictions in the D430 design.  Dell built the D430 laptop around Intel's low-power 945GMS chipset and, while the chipset supports both SATA and IDE interfaces, Dell decided to use the much slower IDE interface rather than the SATA interface in the D430 design.  It is this IDE interface that is holding back the performance of the SSD in this laptop.

If you have an old Dell D420 or D430, why not try this upgrade on it rather than just throwing it out.  My costs for this were around £75 (about $120 or €95) (you can click on any of  the orange text in this blog post as they each link to suitable products and articles that back up the points I make).  You can even buy a Dell D430 to do this yourself - a good D430 can cost as little as £50/$80 on ebay.

Running Mint, it is still plenty fast enough for Internet browsing, simple office work and light picture editing.  I'm even coding on it, running IntelliJ while I learn Java.  The device does get a bit warm (I'll get round to improving the cooling later on (using the same approach as I did in this Blog post)) but the battery lasts two and a half hours and it's so light.  the casing is magnesium, so it's very strong and the keyboard is plenty big enough even for my fat fingers.