Upgrading the Dell Mini 9 SSD
Our Dell unit came from the Outlet equipped with an 8 GB STEC mini-PCIe solid state drive (SSD). Some units, especially those designed for use with Linux rather than Windows XP, even ship with only 4 GB SSDs, while Dell equips others with 16 GB. Aftermarket upgrades of up to 128 GB are readily available and usually cost between $2.50 or so per GB of storage ($330 for a double-wide 128 GB model) and $3.20 or so per GB ($50 for a 16 GB model). Switching out an old SSD for a new one in the Dell Mini 9 is trivially easy—it’s very much like swapping a memory module as described in the preceding section. But before you can undertake such an action, there’s some very important work to do first.
Create an image of the old drive to transfer to the new one
Whether you use a commercial program like Norton Ghost or Acronis TrueImage or a freeware offering such as the DriveImage XML Backup software, you must burn an image of your current drive before you can even think about removing an existing SSD. The drill works something like this:
- Make an image of the existing drive and create a bootable UFD, CD, or DVD from which you can restore that image to another drive
- Swap out the old SSD for the new SSD
- Boot your system from your bootable UFD, CD, or DVD, then restore the image from the old drive onto the new one
Unless you know how to build a bootable UFD that includes your chosen backup utility’s restore program, the easiest way to do this is to use a USB-attached DVD burner along with an external USB-attached hard disk. You’ll use your backup program to write the image from the old SSD to the external hard disk, and then burn yourself an optical disc that knows how to find that external hard drive to restore the image backup it contains. Alas, if you can’t beg or borrow a USB-attached DVD burner, you’ll have to buy one (expect to pay $50 to $70 for such a device, and don’t forget to buy some blank DVDs).
Swapping out the Mini 9 SSD
After all that preparation, the actual swap is incredibly easy. Here’s how:
- Remove the machine screw that holds the SSD down level with the motherboard. It’s in the upper right or left corner of the device on the opposite edge from the mini-PCIe slot.
Remove the old SSD and seat the new one (like the SO-DIMM module, it has an off-center notch to prevent you from inserting it upside down). Slide it all the way in the slot, then press gently down on the far edge until the module is flush with its mounts. Replace the screw and tighten it until it’s snug.
- After you reboot your Mini 9, you’ll need to change the boot order in the BIOS to boot from your UFD or external optical drive. Then, plug in your external HD with the backup and restore the drive image from the old drive to the new one.
That’s it, you’re done. Surprisingly, our performance testing using HD Tach showed us data read rates of only 35-40 MB/s (average 36.5 MB/s) for the SuperTalent 32 GB drive, while we observed read rates slightly more than twice as fast at 70-76 MB/s (average 73.6 MB/s) for the 8 GB STEC. This tells us you’ll want to seek out the fastest possible Mini 9 SSDs if you want to make a replacement. Here’s another thought: keep the current SSD and spend $80 on a 30 GB Class 6 SDHC card. The Tom’s Hardware SDHC Memory Card Charts show average read speeds at just under 20 MB/s and average write speeds from 15-17 MB/s for Class 6 SDHC devices. It may be a better move to leave your Mini 9’s SSD alone and to augment it with a sizable and fast SDHC card instead.