If your PC is feeling a bit slow these days, taking longer than you would like to open applications, boot up, and do general tasks, a solid state drive (SSD) could be just the upgrade you are looking for.

Over the last couple of years these drives, which are similar in concept to USB thumb drives but are much larger and installed inside your PC, have come down in price to a point where it makes sense for most people to try them out. In most cases, you’ll be able to drastically increase your computer’s perceived performance for under $200. Your computer will boot faster, applications will open faster, and it will feel like you have a new computer when in reality you only added one part.

1. Pick the SSD you’d like to use

There are a few factors you’ll want to consider when buying an SSD, mainly the brand and the size. Keep in mind that you will only be installing your OS and Applications on this drive, so there’s no need to buy something gigantic (you’ll also quickly find that they jump in price pretty quick after 100gb). Most people can get away with 50-100GB drives for their OS, but make sure you know how much space you need.

Then, you’ll want to buy a model that has all the current-gen features, mainly TRIM support. TRIM is a technology that will make sure your drive stays optimized over long periods of time, and it’s imperative that your drive supports it. Otherwise, you’ll notice significant performance degradation over long periods of time (6mo-1yr). Popular drives that support TRIM are the OCZ Vertex 2 and the Intel  320 Series. Both of these drives will be excellent for SSD newbies.

2. Install the drive in your PC and Install Windows on the new drive

Your next step after installing the drive inside your PC is to get Windows loaded on the new drive. There’s no need to backup your existing files here, as you are simply installing Windows on a new drive rather than writing over your old one.

The one thing you’ll want to do before starting the install process is to configure your SATA ports to AHCI mode rather than IDE mode if you haven’t already. AHCI mode brings performance increases for your drive controller as well as allows for the advanced SSD-based features like TRIM. You’ll have to look in your BIOS for this setting, the screenshot above shows what it might look like, but your motherboard’s exact setting may vary. Poke around until you see an option to configure the SATA ports and make sure they are set to AHCI mode.

Next, simply boot up your Windows installer disc and install a fresh copy of Windows to the new drive. Once it’s done, you may need to visit your BIOS again to make sure the SSD is the first-priority boot drive to ensure that you are booting Windows from that drive and not your old hard drive.

3. Install the Intel SSD Tools and AHCI Drivers

Finally, once you’re  in your new Windows install, you’ll want to install the Intel Solid State Drive Toolbox (even if you’re not using an Intel drive), and any AHCI drivers that your motherboard manufacturer provides. Check your motherboard’s drivers Web site to find the AHCI drivers; they are generally needed for optimum performance.

After you install these tools, restart, and you’ll be able to see the performance increase immediately. Basic hard drive-based tasks just fly. Programs open immediately after clicking their icons. Your computer boots faster than it’s ever booted before. Enjoy the speed!