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Using Compact Flash Cards As An SSD For IDE Based Laptops and Desktops

Updated on April 15, 2015

Compact Flash Card Used As An SSD

An 8GB CF card
An 8GB CF card | Source

Using Compact Flash Cards As An SSD

If you’ve got an older laptop or desktop that can only use IDE hard drives rather than SATA, you probably know that most SSDs available from online retailers use SATA connectors, and not only that, the few IDE hard drives available aren’t many in number and prices are rising. What is anyone to do when their hard drive is on its last legs? Maybe you aren’t looking for an upgrade and would like to keep using your older desktop or laptop. Maybe you’re just trying to get an old machine up and running for nostalgic purposes. Whatever the reason, if you’ve got an older computer that uses IDE drives, your options are slim.

Compact Flash Card Installed In An Adapter

CF card installed in an adapter
CF card installed in an adapter | Source

Compact Flash As An SSD

One option for replacing your old hard drive is to use a compact flash card with an IDE adapter. While you might not get the blazing read and write speeds of a commercial SSD, you will be able to benefit from fast seek times and quiet operation. For older operating systems such as Windows 2000, XP as well as Mac OS 8, 9 and X, you should use at the very least an 8 GB compact flash card. If you plan on installing several applications, then go for a 16 GB or larger card.

To connect your compact flash card and use it in your laptop, you need an adapter. For laptops, you want a Compact Flash to 44-pin 2.5” IDE adapter. For desktops, you need an adapter that connects to the 40-pin IDE bus. Here, you have a few more options in terms of what kind of adapter you can use. There are a few types available such as adapters that fit in a hard drive bay, a PCI slot (however it isn’t connected through a PCI slot) or a direct insertion adapter (which plugs directly into the IDE port on the motherboard).

What Type Of Compact Flash Card To Buy

There are many types of Compact Flash cards available, in terms of brand, size but more importantly, speed. You can find many Compact Flash cards online of a sufficient size to use as an SSD, however if you don’t look for one that is reasonably fast, then performance will suffer and you will experience slow boot times, application launches and file transfers. Look for one that is listed with a speed of 266X or greater.

Windows XP Booting From A Compact Flash Card

Putting Everything Together

After installing the card adapter with the Compact Flash card in your laptop or desktop, simply boot up with your installation CD and install your OS. No drivers are necessary to use the Compact Flash card as it appears as a normal hard drive.

Simply enjoy the quieter operation of your cheap IDE SSD!

What About Replacing SCSI Hard Drives In Older Macintosh Computers?

In older Macs, like the Macintosh Classic, SE/30, and older PowerBooks like the PowerBook 520/540 family, PowerBook 160/180, etc...these computers use SCSI hard drives which are a little bit different compared to IDE hard drives but since compatible SCSI hard drives aren't being manufactured anymore and prices creeping up for the fairly meager sizes you'll find on eBay.

There is an alternative, you can find SCSI adapters on eBay that allow you to connect a compact flash card and use that as a replacement for a SCSI hard drive. The adapters are really meant for those who simply have to keep their old Macintosh going as long as they can or for hobbyist collectors who want to restore these machines to operating condition for display as part of their vintage computing collection.


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    • jesimpki profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremiah Simpkins 

      9 years ago from Pulaski, VA

      Performance varies with how fast of a flash card you use. For older laptops, there can be a significant improvement in performance. There are YouTube vids of side by side boot comparisons of the same model booting a regular hard drive and a compact flash drive.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Any idea what how the performance compares to IDE? I have SSD in my google chromebook and it's ripping fast for boot/resume. If I stuck one of these in an older laptop - would I see a noticeable difference in performance?

    • jesimpki profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremiah Simpkins 

      9 years ago from Pulaski, VA

      That's pretty cool Sherry! I've thought about setting up different OS's on SD cards for my netbook.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      9 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I'm currently running Easy Peasy on an SD card in my little Intel Classmate laptop. The hard drive burned out a long time ago, and I was using Xubuntu from an SD card till the card finally failed (after about a year of use). So now I have Easy Peasy on my 8g SD card. My laptop boots off of it straight from the SD card slot. It seems to run pretty snappy.

    • jesimpki profile imageAUTHOR

      Jeremiah Simpkins 

      9 years ago from Pulaski, VA

      Its amazing how far prices for solid state memory have fallen in the past few years.

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 

      9 years ago from SE MA

      I didn't realize how much the cost had dropped on these! I also never thought of looking for an adaptor like that - thanks!


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