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My girlfriend's three years old Sony Vaio laptop is getting really slow so I will perform a clean Win7 install on it in a couple of weeks. While at it, I'm considering getting her to upgrade a component or two. I'm suggesting her to buy a 120 GB SSD, but she is reluctant to spend $100 so I'm thinking of suggesting 8 GB of RAM for $50 instead and then use 1-2 GB with FancyCache. I have tested this a little myself on both my SSD and HDD, but my system is already quite snappy so I can't notice much of a difference, if any.

So it comes down to:

  1. $100 - A decent 120 GB SSD (I don't think she has room for a secondary drive, but maybe I can remove the CD bay).
  2. $50 - Going from 2 x 2GB/800MHz to 2 x 4GB/1333MHz RAM of which 1-2 GB would be used with FancyCache.

Here is the GPU and CPU in case there are some more obvious upgrades that I have overlooked:

  • CPU - Intel Mobile Core 2 Duo T6600 @ 2.20GHz
  • GPU - NVIDIA Geforce 230M
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I've not used FancyCache so I can't speak to that but I can speak to the dramatic improvment an SSD makes. I've switched all of my computers (including my HTPC) to using a SSD as the boot drive with traditional hard drives storing the bulk of the data.

Don't just take my word for it. From CodingHorror:

Trust me, you will feel the performance difference of a modern SSD in day to day computing. That's far more than I can say for most of today's CPU and memory upgrades. The transition from magnetic storage to solid state storage is nothing less than a breakthrough. It's already transformative;

An Linus Tovald from that same blog post:

I can't recall the last time that a new tech toy I got made such a dramatic difference in performance and just plain usability of a machine of mine. The whole thing just rocks. Everything performs well. You can put that disk in a machine, and suddenly you almost don't even need to care whether things were in your page cache or not. Firefox starts up pretty much as snappily in the cold-cache case as it does hot-cache. You can do package installation and big untars, and you don't even notice it, because your desktop doesn't get laggy or anything.

And those posts are from 2008-09. Things have only gotten better since then.

One additional point as I noted I've not used FancyCache but from their product page I read this:

As always, we highly recommend that you test out the beta versions on a non-production machine. We are quite confident that the current build is stable, but it is always best to wait for a final release version. Beta testers should also make sure that they generate backups of the files and databases before testing.

Just something to keep in mind.

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We should remember that those testimonials are from fast systems that were bottlenecked by slow hard drives. If a old-ish laptop is cpu and memory deprived, it will still be cpu and memory deprived after installing a SSD - even if a bit faster. Constant pagefile hits can ruin an experience, SSD or not. Op should check usage patterns on that laptop to determine what is the bottleneck. – mtone Mar 27 '13 at 14:45
    
I personally don't think a three-year old laptop with 4GB RAM is that old. I've installed SSDs on an older laptop that I have and still been happy with the performance boost. You are correct that usage patterns matter but as a general rule for improvment I am very happy recommending SSDs. – Brad Patton Mar 27 '13 at 14:49

4 Gig is too weak for most modern desktop/GUI OS, and I predict you will be happy doubling it to 8 G.

Usage patterns vary widely of course, but I don't think it unreasonable in the 21st century to have a couple "thick" apps such as a wordprocessor or spreadsheet running, plus a web browser with a dozen or so pages open. Those combined are enough to cause many 4-gig machines to swap-to-disk. Not to mention a rich/streaming multi-media player running "in the background."

I agree with the earlier comment that the glowing endorsements of SSD boosts are from developers who may have already maxed out their RAM and/or have atypical usage patterns.

In summary: do the cheap RAM upgrade first.

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