Matthew Ammann

Student, Programmer, Flash Enthusiast

ThinkPads and SSDs Part 1: Preparation

Hello, everyone! I just bought a new ThinkPad W520, and I’d like to give a provide a guide of sorts for people wondering how to get the best performance from their ThinkPad. This is also meant to demonstrate a number of things you can do ahead of time, while waiting for your laptop to be built/shipped.

Disclaimer: I am not liable for any damage or problems that come about as a result of following this guide. I highly doubt anything negative will result, but I like to have my legal bases covered.

The guide is split up into three parts. The first part is about all the stuff you can do before your laptop gets here, so that you can jump right in with more important things when it arrives. The second part is about Windows 7 Installation, and physically installing your SSD or replacement hard drive. Part three will be Windows 7 configuration and creating a profile for your SSD in the Lenovo Power Manager.

Part 1: Preparation
Part 2: Hard Drive Swapping and Windows 7 Installation
Part 3: Windows 7 Config and Power Settings

Abbreviation Guide:

  • SSD = Solid-State Drive
  • OS = Operating System

UPDATE (5/30/11) – Added a section for creating a Bootable USB Installation. I also added a link to Part 2, which is now available.

It’s time to prep for our new arrival!

Additional Accessories

  1. Do you want to use the hard drive that comes with the ThinkPad, instead of a CD/DVD drive? If you do, you’re looking for an Ultrabay hard drive caddy.
  2. Do you want to be able to view your laptop on an HDTV? ThinkPads don’t have HDMI ports, but they do have a DisplayPort port. If you have a tv with HDMI ports, you’re looking for a DisplayPort to HDMI adapter. You’ll also need an HDMI cable, as well.

Download a Legal Windows 7 Image

  1. Download the appropriate version of Windows 7 from the links in this thread. As is mentioned in the thread, the source of the download is Digital River, a Microsoft distributor. If you would rather get recovery disks from Lenovo for a fee, go to this link.
  2. [OPTIONAL] Before installing, I recommend that users installing Windows 7 onto a SSD slipstream Service Pack 1 into their installation. This will reduce the amount of writes going to your drive and cut down on the time you spend installing the OS. NOTE: If you are unable to access a 64-bit Operating System,  you won’t be able to slipstream Service Pack 1 into a 64-bit ISO, because of a requirement in the program. If you don’t want to slipstream SP1 into Windows 7, skip to the next section.
  3. Follow the step-by-step instructions (with screenshots) in this tutorial: Slipstreaming SP1 into your Windows 7 ISO using RT Seven Lite.
  4. If you have a USB flash drive greater than 4 GB, go to the “Bootable USB Flash Drive with Windows 7” section. Otherwise, go to the “Burn Your Windows 7 ISO to DVD” section.

Create a Bootable USB Flash Drive with Windows 7

  1. Follow the easy steps outlined in this tutorial and go to the “Verify your SSD Firmware is Current” section when finished. If you get “Invalid ISO File” errors in the USB Download Tool, use the fix outlined in this post.

Burn Your Windows 7 ISO to DVD

  1. Download and install the freeware program ImgBurn.
  2. Run the program and click the “Write Image file to disc” button.
  3. Click the folder icon and navigate to where you downloaded your Windows 7 ISO.
  4. Insert a blank disc into your DVD writer.
  5. Make sure you’ve got the desired settings. I usually use max speed and tick the Verify checkbox. This gives you both speed and accuracy ;)
  6. Click the big “Write” button to start the burn

Verify your SSD Firmware is Current

  1. Plug your SSD into a spare computer with a separate OS.
  2. Start the computer and enter the BIOS (F12)
  3. Change the SATA storage option to AHCI mode. If it’s already in AHCI, restart the computer and skip to step 8.
  4. Restart the computer. If it boots into windows, skip to step 8.
  5. If you get a “Windows failed to start” message citing File: \Boot\BCD, you need to do a repair installation to install the AHCI drivers for your hard drive.
  6. Insert a Windows installation CD into your dvd drive and restart the computer. Make sure the dvd drive has a higher boot priority than your hard drive (usually set in the BIOS).
  7. Proceed with the repair install as usual for your OS. Here’s a thorough guide on doing a repair install on Windows 7. After you’re done, restart the computer.
  8. Log in to the OS, and search the internet for a firmware updater/utility for your brand of SSD. Manufacturers’ websites will almost always have this.
  9. Download and run the utility as instructed.

Download Drivers to Flash Drive

  1. Navigate to the ThinkPad device driver matrix and click the link that includes your ThinkPad model.
  2. Download the following drivers and put them on a flash drive:
    • ThinkVantage System Update
    • The appropriate Wireless LAN driver
    • Storage Controller, a.k.a. Rapid Storage Technology driver. Here’s the link for the 64-bit RST drivers.
    • “Windows install supplements”–>Chipset driver (W520 is Intel 6-series)

Download Software Tools to Flash Drive

  1. Check out ABR (Activation Backup and Restore). If downloading for Windows 7, choose ABRbeta.exe. This standalone program allows for a quick and easy way to backup/restore your Windows 7 product key and activation certificate. I’ll share more about how to use these programs in Part 2.
  2. Download SSD Tweaker. This program is a quick way to optimize Windows 7 registry keys and settings for solid-state drives.

Well, I hope that was useful to you! Let me know if there’s anything I missed. Feedback is always appreciated!

5 responses to “ThinkPads and SSDs Part 1: Preparation

  1. Pingback: ThinkPads and SSDs Part 2: Hard Drive Swapping and Windows 7 Installation « Matthew Ammann

  2. Pingback: ThinkPads and SSDs Part 3: Windows 7 Config and Power Settings « Matthew Ammann

  3. cog August 7, 2011 at 7:32 am

    Very well written guide. One minor detail I found was that if you put the ISO on a USB 3.0 flash drive in a USB 3 port, while your system may boot during the installation phase, when the installer tries to find prompt you for drivers, the flash drive doesn’t show up in the list. To work around this issue, simply plug your USB3.0 flash drive into a USB2.0 port and Windows will be able to see it ok and allow you to load the appropriate driver.

  4. Bai Chan September 10, 2011 at 1:59 am

    Thanks so much for this guide.

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