Info An experiment: daily driving Windows 11 installed on an HDD

What is this?
This is an experiment to see what the experience is like running Windows 11 installed to a hard drive.

Why do this?
This is mostly in response to the conversation that Microsoft wants to forbid having a hard drive be the boot drive for Windows 11 based machines. This is likely to push the performance bar up.

But since I’ve ran Windows since Windows 8 from an SSD on my daily drivers, I wanted to know what it would be like to run the latest version of Windows on a hard drive as a daily driver. I’ve installed Windows 10 on a hard drive before, but this was for a secondary computer that wasn’t really doing much more than being a game server. Once it loaded, it didn't really need to touch the hard drive.

This is also inspired by other my experiences using Windows Vista, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 as the popular opinion are these versions were terrible (They weren’t for me), along with LGR’s video on using Windows Me (which the conclusion is it wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be, but there were quirks and other things that made 98 more preferable)

How am I doing this?
I’m using my daily driver, a computer with the following specs:
  • CPU: Ryzen 5600X
  • Motherboard: ASRock B550 Steel Legend
  • RAM: 4x8GB DDR4-3200 Corsair Vengeance
  • GPU: EVGA RTX 2070 Super
  • Soundcard: Creative SoundBlasterX AE-5
  • Storage:
  • 512GB Samsung 970 Evo
  • 1TB Crucial MX500
  • 2TB Samsung 970 Evo Plus
What I’m doing is replacing the Samsung 970 Evo, which is my OS drive, with a 2.5” 1TB Seagate Barracuda Pro drive (model ST1000LM049) that I used to use for data storage.


As far as its performance goes, well…



Sequential Read (Q= 32,T= 1) : 155.311 MB/s
Sequential Write (Q= 32,T= 1) : 152.318 MB/s
Random Read 4KiB (Q= 8,T= 8) : 1.071 MB/s [ 261.5 IOPS]
Random Write 4KiB (Q= 8,T= 8) : 2.179 MB/s [ 532.0 IOPS]
Random Read 4KiB (Q= 32,T= 1) : 1.108 MB/s [ 270.5 IOPS]
Random Write 4KiB (Q= 32,T= 1) : 2.430 MB/s [ 593.3 IOPS]
Random Read 4KiB (Q= 1,T= 1) : 0.652 MB/s [ 159.2 IOPS]
Random Write 4KiB (Q= 1,T= 1) : 1.888 MB/s [ 460.9 IOPS]
When will this experiment last?
I’m planning on doing this for at least one month, covering at least one patch Tuesday cycle. Depending on how things are by then, I’ll stretch it further.

What applications will I be installing/using on the OS drive?
I’m installing the following:
  • 7-zip (archive utility)
  • BlueStacks (Android emulator)
  • Discord (messaging app)
  • Firefox (web browser)
  • HWiNFO (Computer health monitoring utility)
  • Logitech G-HUB (peripheral utility)
  • Microsoft Office
  • MPC-HC (video play) with MadVR
  • MSI Afterburner (Video card tweaking utility)
  • NZXT CAM (Fan controller utility)
  • Paint.NET (image editor) with BoltBait’s plugin pack
  • SoundBlaster Command (sound card utility)
  • Speedcrunch (calculator app)
  • Steam (Game launcher)
  • Visual Studio Code (plain text editor)
  • Winamp (music player)
  • WinDirStat (storage drive analysis)
Things I’m not installing:
  • GeForce Experience (I don’t use it)
  • Games, though any dependencies they rely on will have to be installed in the C:\ drive.
The day 1 experience so far
Installing Windows took a lot longer than usual. Give or take it was about 45 minutes to an hour from the time I initiated the install to when I got to the desktop. Though to be fair, I allowed Windows to grab updates.

However, further installing all the drivers and applications too a long time as well. Normally I can get “up and running” within an hour. By the time I was able to finally settle down and use the computer, it took about 3 hours. I did find out that even though the hard drive appeared to be busy, I could install other apps. But I only pushed it to about two installs at once.

Afterwards I did have a Windows update waiting, so I installed that as well. The process took about 10 or so minutes for the update to be staged, then another 5 minutes for the reboot and install process to go through.

As far as the actual usage experience goes, yes it’s clearly noticeable that applications take longer to load and sometimes they have a noticeable amount of time before they’re actually usable. Sometimes they freeze when they show up, but become responsive later. However, once things are up and running, there’s no real appreciable loss of performance. Heck this whole post was typed up in Word just to get some use out of it. The only times the applications do get hiccups or whatnot that people might be expecting with the hard drive experience is if something else is using the hard drive, typically something that’s installing or updating. But essentially, so far I don't feel any aggravating issues doing what I normally do.

But it’s day one, we’ll see how things go after a few weeks.
 
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Colif

Win 11 Master
Moderator
Jun 12, 2015
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And to put it in perspective, you using a 7200 rpm drive, not the 5400rpm like I have. So install time could be longer still.

Its possible MS want to remove fast startup from WIndows 11, and if everyone is on a ssd/nvme they won't notice its gone.

Did you look in control panel
set to large icons
power options
Choose what the power button does
is fast startup enabled?

if its not, click Change settings that are currently unavailable
tick Turn on Fast Startup
save changes

It would at least speed up startup a little.
 
  • CPU: Ryzen 5600X
  • Motherboard: ASRock B550 Steel Legend
  • RAM: 4x8GB DDR4-3200 Corsair Vengeance
  • GPU: EVGA RTX 2070 Super
  • Soundcard: Creative SoundBlasterX AE-5
  • Storage:
  • 512GB Samsung 970 Evo
  • 1TB Crucial MX500
  • 2TB Samsung 970 Evo Plus
You should limit your cores to 4 threads max and 3Ghz since that's the type of OEM systems that wouldn't come with an SSD.
Higher end systems would have at least a normal ssd drive if not a nvme one.
 
And to put it in perspective, you using a 7200 rpm drive, not the 5400rpm like I have. So install time could be longer still.

Its possible MS want to remove fast startup from WIndows 11, and if everyone is on a ssd/nvme they won't notice its gone.

Did you look in control panel
set to large icons
power options
Choose what the power button does
is fast startup enabled?

if its not, click Change settings that are currently unavailable
tick Turn on Fast Startup
save changes

It would at least speed up startup a little.
I already turned off hibernate. And while it's a 7200 RPM drive, I doubt it has enough IOPS to make an appreciable difference compared to a 5400 RPM drive.

You should limit your cores to 4 threads max and 3Ghz since that's the type of OEM systems that wouldn't come with an SSD.
Higher end systems would have at least a normal ssd drive if not a nvme one.
I'm only changing one variable here, otherwise any perception of lower performance is going to be a question of "was it switch to the hard drive or the switch to a lower performing CPU?"
 
Oh ok, that's fair. It's just pretty irrelevant to what MS is trying to do.
MS is forcing SSDs because OEMs don't put them into CHEAP systems.
Well I can tell you that running Windows 11 on my Dell XPS 13 which has an NVMe SSD wasn't that pleasant of an experience. At least when compared to switching over to Zorin OS.

It's also important here to establish some sort of baseline anyway where only the hard drive can be a factor here. Maybe I'll consider nerfing my computer once I've done this long enough, but I can already tell you that install, updating, and loading times (at least from the OS drive) are already noticeably affected.
 
so you going for worst case scenario as at least with fast startup on, it may not have taken as long to boot each day.
I'm not sure how relevant that will be for my use case because I rarely shut down the computer. I just put it to sleep.

Also another thing to add for @TerryLaze , Dell's cheapest desktop with an HDD uses an i3-12100. Assuming we were going to go for newish computers, that gives me a 4C/8T CPU with >3GHz of base speed to work with if I decide to lower the CPU's performance.

EDIT: I don't know how far I'd want to go down this performance nerfing rabbit hole. Because at some point I may as well run Windows 11 at something simulating the minimum requirements.
 
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Oh I couldn't do it lol.

I've played and installed windows 10 on a HDD both 7200rpm and 5400rpm drives and its painful, I mean the most basic clean install its not bad once it does its caching and updates but once you install drivers that need to load during boot and have a browser that likes to run in the background, and you open steam and Discord, its kinda painful lol.

All the computers I resell I usually keep the HDD in them and just add a cheap 120gb sata SSD for a boot drive, and I don't care to own the HDD unless its a 1TB or more anyway so I just leave it in there and hook it up just in case they want to use it that way.

I got a stack of HDD's, Too many 250GB's and 500GB laptop drives its nuts...
 
So I lied, I said I wouldn't install games on my HDD but that seems kind of cheating since I do play games a lot. But I don't want to throw on everything, so as a compromise I threw on Red Dead Redemption 2 since I've been dabbling in Red Dead Online. If there's one thing I can give Rockstar credit for, they know how to optimize their games around a spinning platter. Sure the loading times are longer (especially the initial loading), but once you're in the game, I don't see any real difference compared to playing on an SSD.

I also noticed in another game I play that I presume auto-saves once in a while, it hiccuped regularly. Though that's more of an application design problem than running on a hard drive (hiccuping is a sign that saving is blocking)

Things are still painful if I'm doing large file operations on the OS drive. The hard drive also doesn't seem to get much of a break, though I've also started learning that just because the activity meter is spiking up, it doesn't necessarily bog down the system.
 
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It's been a week. How has the experience been?
  • Restarting is still noticeably slower of course, and the few times I timed it, it was about 2.5-3 minutes before I could get a web browser up with Google's home page displayed. For startup apps, I only have Windows Defender, NZXT CAM, and SoundBlaster Command.
  • I went through at least one round of Windows updates since the initial install. It took about 5 or so minutes to get through the process
  • Initial loading for anything is still pretty slow, but if the app was open, it usually opens back up relatively quickly.
So basically, things are still only really painful if any initial loading has to be done. Otherwise just using the computer doesn't seem too bad still.
 

NightHawkRMX

Polypheme
Ambassador
Initial loading for anything is still pretty slow, but if the app was open, it usually opens back up relatively quickly.
This might be Windows caching commonly used programs into ram at idle to boost load speed. I would imagine using a modern 7200RPM desktop drive helps a lot in this test.

I still see some Windows 11 laptops shipping with 2.5in mechanical drives. In general I have found 2.5in mechanical drives to perform significantly worse than their 3.5in counterparts. Additionally, any new laptop still featuring a boot mechanical hard drive is doing so to cut cost in any way possible, so there is a good chance the drive used is an especially cheap and low performance 5400rpm "slim" drive. I would be interested to see how the performance on Windows 11 would be on such a drive.


Here is an example of such a device:
https://www.hp.com/us-en/shop/pdp/hp-17t-cn000-laptop-pc-3t000av-1

Intel® Core™ i5-1135G7
8 GB DDR4-3200 SDRAM (2 X 4 GB)
1 TB 5400 rpm SATA
Windows 11 Home
Pairs quite a competent CPU and a decent ram config but with molasses for storage.
 
Part of me is tempted to call this experiment off early because as far as the experience has gone, it hasn't really changed after the initial install. But I'll trudge along until at least July 12th. And supposedly that's when the next Patch Tuesday is scheduled.

I've taken in consideration of the hard drive speed since I'm using a 7200 RPM drive and laptops typically ship with 5400 RPM drives (please note I am using a 2.5" drive: https://www.amazon.com/Seagate-Barracuda-2-5-Inch-Internal-ST1000LM049/dp/B078TJ17QF). While I do have a 5400 RPM drive, I'm also not sure if it'll make the experience any worse than where the pain points of using a hard drive now are.

There's also the consideration of also nerfing the rest of the specs of my computer to better match a cheap, commodity computer or laptop. Maybe I'll try that for a week.

In summary the overall points are still:
  • Booting into Windows does take a lot longer. At least until the OS is more responsive to things. In this case, I have to wait about 2.5-3 minutes total before I can open up a browser and get to a page.
  • If something starts using the hard drive a lot, like copying a bunch of files, updating Windows, or installing something, anything that isn't already loaded in will stutter or degrade in performance.
  • Applications launch perceptibly slower, but for the most part, it's usually within seconds.
  • Anything that was already launched or loaded, like say closing the web browser and starting it up, it will load a lot faster
    • I've noticed that Microsoft Office apps launch a lot quicker than I expect, but I do have some "Microsoft Office Click to Run" background process that may be shoving things in RAM.
I rarely notice any hitches, hiccups, or outright unresponsiveness otherwise.
 
Since it's the middle of week 3 and I still can't find anything meaningful to report, I decided I'll go ahead and end this part of the experiment early. However, in its place I'll try a worse setup just to see how bad things can be. Though I'll only do this for a week (or until the next Patch Tuesday), if only because I don't want to switch over to my laptop when I want to play a game :D

This is what I plan on doing:
  • Replace the hard drive I'm using with a 5400 RPM model.
  • Reduce the amount of RAM to 8GB by physically removing the RAM sticks, as opposed to setting msconfig to use 8GB.
  • Change the processor config to 4C/8T from 6C/12T. If I can't through UEFI changes, I'll modify msconfig.
  • Disable turbo boost
  • I'll clone the drive instead of reinstalling Windows (I'm not that much of a masochist)
I'll start this phase of the experiment this Sunday/next Monday, since I'll be out of town for the rest of the week.
 
I almost forgot about this being a thing. I guess that says something about how uninteresting this experiment got after a while.

Switching over to the specs in the previous post and using the computer in day-to-day tasks was still very much usable, at least by my standards. I did do a Windows Reset as I thought the clone I did didn't go so well, but it did show that yes, it still sucks and the process will appear stuck at times. But if you give it like 3 hours, it'll finally go through and you'll be back in the desktop. And of course, installing everything else still took a while (though for some reason Paint.NET really loves to hang up the storage drive when installing). But like before, once you get over the installation and initial loading, using the computer isn't really that bad. Yes objectively things can take longer and in my experience, things did hiccup or appear stuck. But I could still do things like browse the internet, put on YouTube on the side, bring up and work in VS Code. Most apps still were brought up within a handful of seconds, at least if something wasn't grinding away at the hard drive. I also went through a Patch Tuesday and much like before, while staging the update takes a while, once it's ready, it goes through in around 5-10 minutes.

Of course I'm not going to claim that my experiences are going to be everyone's experiences and it's not like I'll stop buying SSDs. And I won't say Microsoft shouldn't be pushing OEMs to stop putting HDDs in computers.

So if you're hoping for some sort of fun conclusion here, honestly I can't think of anything that isn't boring sounding. Because really, it was a pretty mundane experience. :D
 

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