Friday, December 10th, 2010
I recently decided to forgo getting a new computer and give some new life to my now 3 year old 2.5 ghz MacBook Pro. SSDs (solid state drives) have come down in price enough so that putting one in is an option and because an SSD has no moving parts it’s faster, quieter and cooler than a mechanical hard disk. It’s still not as cheap per gigabyte of space as a hard disk but the price is low enough now so that it’s a possibility if one wants to get more speed out of an older machine instead of upgrading to a new machine just for the faster processor.
The drive I bought is the Mercury Extreme Pro SSD from Other World Computing. 120 gigabytes is a sweet spot for price but I wanted to replace the 250 gigabyte drive in my computer so bought the 240 gigabyte SSD.
I’m running off the SSD now and it’s extremely fast, silent, and makes a lot less heat than the hard disk I replaced. I’m happy and this should give me at least another year on this machine before Apple eventually comes out with solid state MacBook Pros.
Solid state drives or, given what Apple has done with the MacBook Air and the iPad, solid state storage (not necessarily in drive form) is the future and I’ve decided not to buy another machine with a hard disk if I can help it.
The Install Process
The SSD install is the same as a regular hard disk which I did on an older machine, documented in detail here: MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement.
Rather than copy my internal hard disk onto a backup hard disk, installing the SSD, then starting from the backup and cloning it onto the SSD, I saved a step by copying the internal hard disk directly onto the SSD and then installing it. This way I could test the SSD by starting from it as an external drive to make sure it worked and once installed the machine is ready to go with the latest backup of my hard disk in one step. The next few images show taking apart an external firewire drive so I can use its chassis to hold the SSD and connect it to my computer via firewire 800.
External firewire hard disk drive to be taken apart and used to hold SSD for initial backup.
External firewire hard disk drive taken apart.
External firewire hard disk drive taken apart with hard disk removed to expose chassis.
250 gigabyte hard disk (left) and 240 gigabyte SSD (right).
SSD in firewire chassis for initial backup. It’s not screwed in, it’s just got the power and data buses connected.
Before backing up I used Disk Utility to partition (GUID for Intel) and format the SSD. Then I used SuperDuper to copy/clone the internal hard disk on my computer onto the SSD.
I use SuperDuper daily to back up my hard disk (now SSD) onto an external firewire drive which lives in the basement in a fireproof box. SuperDuper is one of the single best pieces of software I’ve ever used on any computer, period.
MacBook Pro with top deck off. Top deck holds keypad and touchpad. Hard disk to be replaced on left, optical (CD/DVD) drive on right. Opening is battery compartment. Most of the screws that need to be removed are used to hold the top deck in place.
Quick and dirty diagram to hold screws for MacBook Pro case. Excuse dysgraphic handwriting but hey, it works for me. There are only two torx screws and a multitude of small and larger phillips screws. If one did this for a living one could put them all in a bowl and fish out the right ones for each step. I need to keep them separated to know which ones go where.
Hard disk removed from MacBook Pro, SSD ready to put in. This step was different from my earlier hard disk replacement experience with an earlier version of the MacBook Pro. The hard disk bracket and the ribbon cable on top and its tape made getting the hard disk out a bit more difficult as I was nervous about crimping or breaking the ribbon cable which is stuck to the top of the hard disk. With patience it came out and the SSD went in easily.
MacBook Pro with SSD installed. All that’s left is to replace top deck and all the screws.
I got it all back together easily and it booted relatively quickly the first time. It takes a bit of time for Spotlight to reindex a backup and as it gets more indexed things move faster. As I write this the entire SSD is indexed and boots extremely fast. Launching applications like Safari or MarsEdit (what I’m using to write this post) is near instantaneous.
I used Lightroom to process these images, not because they were shot in RAW but because I somehow set the S90 to 3200 ISO and I wanted to get the noise out of the images in Lightroom rather than iPhoto. Lightroom launched incredibly fast and working with the images felt like I was using a quad core MacPro.
The SSD is a very worthwhile upgrade or replacement for an internal drive on a MacBook Pro and while a MacBook Pro with an SSD installed not as light as a MacBook Air, it’s ultra quiet, has a very long battery life, has a faster processor, has a CD/DVD drive, a large 15″ screen and hopefully this upgrade will keep me computing for another year at which point we’ll see what Apple has come out with.