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The drives will take a performance (and possibly endurance) hit when AHCI and TRIM is not available, but they will still be vastly faster than spinning drives and should last long enough. But we are talking older machines anyway, so I guess absolute top utilization of the drives is not the priority. I have run X25-Ms in non AHCI/TRIM-supporting computers for more than a year without problems.
What you can and should do is to make sure the partition is properly aligned on the drives (only applies for Windows XP. Vista and up has SSD-friendly default partition alignment). More info on that here: Intel 330 60GB SSD with Windows XP ?
Note that, depending on the controller type and bios limitations, you may not be able to manually TRIM the drives using the Intel SSD toolbox. But don't worry too much about it if you can't, they will chug along at a fair pace regardless.
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If any of the PCs you are updating have Intel chipsets, and if the BIOS has a RAID mode option, then you can have NCQ operating as it would in AHCI mode, at least on the Windows 7 and 8 PCs.
You don't need to create any RAID volumes with the SATA mode set to RAID, and the TRIM command will be received by all non-RAID array SSDs. RAID has all the features of AHCI, so checking for a RAID option in the BIOS, if the PCs use Intel CPUs (and thus Intel chipsets), is well worth it. That is really the only workaround if the BIOS does not have an AHCI setting. With WIndows 7 and 8, you won't need to install a RAID driver during the installation.
Windows 8 has a SSD optimizer built into it, so that can be used to manually TRIM SSDs if necessary. Otherwise as oken said, using the SSD Toolbox will manually TRIM Intel SSDs, on compatible PCs.
Your might want to check if the older PC's hardware is Windows 8 compatible. You can download the Windows 8 Upgrade assistant, which will check for compatibility. The distance between old and new PCs is becoming larger all the time, I would not suggest putting very much money into an old PC platform, unless the hardware can be used on new PCs, like your SSDs can.
Oops, I said upgrading "old XPs" when I meant to say "PCs." One was XP, the others were Win7 (former Vistas.)
Thanks for the detailed replies, oken and parsec, that helps clarify things a good bit.
Two of the PCs I'm working with are Dell Inspiron 530s, near identical (Intel chipsets, but crappy locked down BIOS.) I set one to IDE and one to RAID to test (didn't notice a performance difference, but I'm sure that's more of a long term issue, and I'm not exactly benchmarking here), but I'm glad for the clarification--I'll get that IDE one switched over to RAID.
And yes, top-end utilization is certainly not my aim here... (at fire sale prices, it was worth rejuvenating these old things.) But of course I don't want to unintentionally handicap them, either. They'll all be running Win8, so no alignment issues, which is nice. And the old HDDs will stay as secondary drives of course, keeping the SSDs just for OS/programs.
With the deadline for the cheap Win8 upgrades (and WMC addon), I rushed to do it all at once, and didn't really anticipate some of the potential issues. I'll continue to read up on this stuff--between being a while since I did a build, and my propensity for frugality, I'm quite a bit behind in this area. So thanks for the assist, fellas, it's very much appreciated!