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Secure Erasing / Resetting Intel G1 SSDs

The first-generation Intel SSDs have a known issue where the performance degrades over time. While there was a firmware update originally released around December 2009 which partially addressed this issue, if like me, you've had one of these drives since before the firmware update, or you're frequently using disk-intensive applications, the G1 SSDs still suffer from performance degradation.

The G2 drives (34nm) do not suffer from this problem to the same extent because they implement TRIM, which is supported by Windows 7, and the Intel SSD toolbox software has provided the “Optimizer” feature for some time to assist with the performance issues generally. Intel for some reason completely left TRIM out of the G1 drives, and also disabled the Optimizer feature of the SSD toolbox for G1 drives, making it useless.

The well-known workaround is to perform a “secure erase” of the drive, and reformat the drive or use disk-imaging tools to restore your operating system. Unfortunately, performing the secure erase was not a simple process until recently. The suggested techniques required using Linux boot CDs and tools such as hdparm. I was completely unable to get it to work on two separate Dell laptops, and gave up on my first attempt at resetting the drive a few months ago. There are compatibility issues with the BIOS on many systems and the technique usually requires hot-plugging devices, and appears generally risky from the number of warnings accompanying the procedures.

The fantastic news is that Intel quietly released an update to the SSD Toolbox software in December 2010, which enables the secure erase feature on G1 drives and provides a supported secure erase technique which works from within Windows. No messing about with Linux boot CDs or hot-plugging drives. What you need to do is put the drive into another system as a non-boot drive, and you’re good to go. I am pleased to report a reasonable performance improvement after doing the secure erase with this method.

Despite the above issues with the Intel SSDs, I would like to point out that I have still found it to be an absolutely fantastic product and I will be buying one of the new 320 series SSDs as soon as they become available in Australia. Even with the performance issues, they still easily out-perform regular laptop drives, plus their operation is virtually noiseless, heat is greatly reduced, and you don't have to be worried about damaging the drive by moving or bumping the machine while it's running. This fact alone is why I could never go back to a regular drive in a laptop after using an SSD.

In another drive-related tip, if you need drive imaging/cloning software, there are some great commercial tools available, such as Acronis, but unfortunately these are rather expensive if you only occasionally need to do a simple drive clone and don’t need the full set of features offered by these products.  What many people don’t know is that Seagate offer an OEM version of Acronis True Image for free called DiscWizard. Note that the licensing conditions state that “The Software is licensed and distributed by Seagate for use with its storage products only, and may not be used with non-Seagate storage product”. People have reported that it requires either the source or destination drive to be a Seagate-branded drive. Seagate drives are popular enough that I have encountered the Seagate-to-Seagate migration scenario a number of times, and I’ve had good success with this product.

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