New MacBook Pro with SSD

I just bought a new 15″ MacBook Pro with 2.0GHz i7 quad-core processor, 8GB memory, 512GB SSD, Hi-Res Antiglare (matte) screen. I didn’t want to buy it but my granddaughter forced me to. (wink)

Backstory
As some of you know I upgraded my 3 year old 2.5GHz MacBook Pro with the addition of an OWC 240GB SSD in December. It was the best upgrade I’ve ever done on any computer and to this day it has worked flawlessly.

In our house we subscribe to the “trickle down” rule when buying new computer hardware: I get the new computer, Anne (my wife) gets my old computer and if anyone “under” her needs her computer, they get it.

However, I’ve been so happy with my SSD-equipped computer that I was in no rush to get a new one and given that Apple didn’t upgrade the new 2011 MacBook Pro with as many solid state features of the new MacBook Air models as I wanted, I was hoping to wait for the next generation.

My granddaughter Erin’s ancient trickled-down iBook started to fail and my stepdaughter Bonnie’s old MacBook isn’t doing all that well so instead of push trickle down we decided to do “pull trickle down” with me getting a new computer, Anne getting my SSD-equipped MacBook Pro, Bonnie getting Anne’s unibody MacBook (a great computer, like a 13″ MBP sans Firewire) so that Erin could get Bonnie’s 13″ MacBook. I’ll take back Erin’s old iBook and recycle it with Apple.

What to get
There are two models of 15″ MacBook Pro with a small processor speed and graphics card speed and memory difference between them. I tend to buy the higher end of any particular model so it will last longer so I ordered the top end 15″ MacBook Pro with the “low res” standard glossy screen, 8GB of memory and a 500GB 7200 RPM hard disk. I knew I’d miss the SSD but figured the rest of the machine would be so fast that I’d miss it less than on older hardware.

The machine came, I set it up, migrated my stuff over and I knew I’d made a mistake within the first two hours of using it.

I’ve never been a fan of glossy screens but I also have a hard time seeing the smaller text on the glossy or matte HD screen. I thought given that I use a glossy screen on both iPhone and iPad I could get used to it. For an hour all I could focus on was my reflection in the screen. Not good.

Two things happened: the fan came on because of this now known graphics card hardware issue (fixed with the 10.6.7 system update) and no matter how fast the new MacBook Pros are with a fast hard disk, they’re not as fast as my old machine with an SSD in booting, running almost any application, and moving around in the system. In short, I really missed the SSD.

I swore that I would not get a machine with a glossy screen and a hard disk again if I could help it. I thought I’d sworn that before but Apple hasn’t made getting a solid state MacBook Pro very accessible or affordable and I have problems reading the high resolution matte screen.

One option I had with this machine was to replace the hard disk with an SSD myself as I’d done on my older machine. Had I not wanted a matte screen I might have considered this but I had to unload the machine to get a new screen. And, frankly, I feel odd about spending all this money and then doing my own upgrade. Ideally I wish Apple had folded more solid state options into these new MacBook Pros, but, they didn’t so there you have it. In the end SSD is still an expensive proposition, from Apple or from a third party like OWC.

So, I called Apple, told them what I’d decided and true to form they were amazing on the phone, saying they understood my indecision and that they’d send a pre-paid fedEx label and all I had to do was box it up and return it for a full refund. They cancelled the AppleCare and that was that. To be safe, I erased the hard disk and reinstalled the system on the new machine before boxing it.

What to get, part 2
In the process of buying the wrong machine I’d learned two things:

1. I wanted to get a matte screen although was concerned about readability of text on the higher resolution screen that would make text and all screen elements smaller. This is why I took a chance on the glossy screen. I knew from prior experience that changing screen resolution to something lower res for easier readability might adversely affect anti-aliasing making things not only tough to read but ugly. My feeling was that I needed to be able to read the screen in its native resolution.

2. I wanted to get an Apple-supplied SSD if possible.

I decided to make a visit to a local Apple store to see about the screen, which I did and in the process found that the 17″ MacBook Pro with matte HD screen was readable at its native resolution although tougher but that it had a lower resolution setting that didn’t kill the anti-aliasing on text.

The 15″ MacBook Pro was also readable at its native resolution although again, like the 17″ screen elements and text were smaller and a bit tougher to read.

However, the matte screens on both models were beautiful.

In the end, what tipped me toward going with the higher resolution matte screen was the fact that in a browser (Safari) and in each of the applications I use to deal with text I could easily bump text size up a bit to make things easier to read and if this would solve the readability issue then having more screen real estate would actually be a good thing in that I’d be able to see more of a web page or a document.

The 17″ model, while attractive with its large screen just seemed a bit too much like a cafeteria tray and while I now use an iPad on planes and wasn’t worried about size there, in the end I settled on the 15″ model because it’s a size I’ve had for many years and I’m comfortable with it.

As far as I can tell, Apple doesn’t stock SSD-equipped MacBook Pros in their retail stores so there’s no way to test one before buying. Using the 13″ MacBook Air is the closest you can come in a store to feeling what an SSD feels like to use. I highly recommend doing this for anyone who hasn’t. It will change the way you think about computing.

The two SSDs I was considering were the 256GB and the 512GB. The 250GB is what I had in my old machine and while I hadn’t quite outgrown it yet no doubt I’d have the drive more than 3/4 full in a year or so and even on an SSD things slow down as a storage device gets close to full. OS X needs some scratch space to do various tasks.

The 512GB SSD put the higher end MacBook Pro over my budget so in the end, I decided to go with the lower end 2.0GHz i7 15″ model with 8GB of memory and the 512GB SSD and matte HD screen.

I ordered it, it came today and I’ve migrated my information onto it which went very quickly from one SSD to another.

There have been a few bumps today as I dealt with a bluetooth mouse, mobile me, reconnecting apps to the new App Store and my iTunes account but those got ironed out and I seem to be up and running.

The 10.6.7 update must have solved the graphics processor hang/fan problem because this machine hasn’t hung at all and the fan hasn’t come on once. The machine is dead silent and cool as a cucumber.

And, most important, it’s as fast or faster than my old machine with its OWC SSD. The SSD in this new machine is labeled: APPLE SSD TS512C. I don’t know if anyone can discern brand from that, I’m thinking maybe Intel but I have no idea really.

I’ve not tested sleep yet but the machine boots almost instantaneously, applications run and quit instantaneously and web pages, even complex ones load as fast as I’ve ever seen them load on any computer. In short, this new machine is a dream and I have absolutely no reservations about having bought it.

I’ve also prepared my old computer for my wife, erasing the SSD and migrating her files onto it and have prepared her MacBook for my step daughter. This entire process went very smoothly thanks to a few external hard disk drives and SuperDuper.

I can now say with little doubt that an SSD rather than a hard disk (HD) is the single most important upgrade for an older computer or hardware decision when putting together a new computer. Many people focus on processor speed or how much memory the graphics co-processor has and these are no doubt important but the addition of an SSD will make everyday computing as silent and fast as a MacBook Air.

Solid state is the future, and if you can swing stepping into the future now you will not regret it.

31 Comments

  1. It is bad that I don’t have any grandchildren yet. ;) I think I have to wait that our sons are graving for a Mac so I can give my MacBook to them and be “forced” to buy a new one for myself.

    Congrats for the new Mac, Richard!

  2. Your article has been very innformative! I’m shopping the new macbook pros and you’ve confirmed my desire for the ssd option and also, possibly swayed me towards the matte screen. I had just assumed the glossy would be okay and only a limited set of users who work outdoors need the matte, but I just realized my santa rosa mbp is matte. Anyways, good review! Hope to hear more as you break it in.

  3. Jonne, hopefully you won’t have to wait for your sons to get married and have kids of their own. Your MacBook will be running rather slowly by then. Thanks, the new machine feels quite amazing although the old one did too.

    Brian: I highly recommend checking out the new matte screen in an Apple store because the resolution difference between it and your current machine may bother you. It bothers me for sure but I’m going to learn to live with it. However, if you’re younger than I am and have good vision it probably won’t be an issue. The reflectivity bothers me both indoors and out, there’s something calmer about matte vs glossy and I’m ADD so need all the calmness I can get.

    The SSD option, while extremely expensive at this point in time is the best way to get a very larger performance boost out of a machine. Whether you do it through Apple as a build to order option or put one in yourself, you’ll be amazed at the performance boost and the pleasure it is to boot your machine in 10-20 seconds from cold. Again, go mess around with a MacBook Air if you can for the best approximation of what it will be like.

    If you lived close to me I’d invite you over for a beer so you could see and try this machine. I’m in the NW corner of Connecticut. You?

  4. Hi Richard
    Thanks for a really great article, it really sets out your thinking and experiences well. I’ve got a 3 year old iMac that i’ve been really pleased with (photos look amazing!) but it is going to need replacing soon and I really don’t know what I’m going to do. I miss having a portable device, but do I get another iMac and get an iPad too or go straight for a MBP and then there is thet fabulous looking Macbook Air. Just too many choices!
    Cheers.

    Jason

  5. Jason: I feel your indecision, I’ve gone through something similar:

    http://www.richardsnotes.org/archives/2011/01/21/the-journey-is-the-reward/

    When faced with a transition like this the best thing to do is make a list of the things that are important to you and then reorder the list in various ways to see how they affect the computer you might get. For example:

    Does increased use of the cloud enable you to be a multi-device user (iMac and iPad, etc.)? If so that’s important.

    How do you feel about the idea of a desktop machine forcing you to go to one specific place to do your heavy duty work (work that requires your most powerful device)? This was one of the things that swayed me against an iMac which is a much better deal than the machine I ended up with. I like to have my primary computer with me. However, as I use my iPad more for things that may change by the next generation of whatever I get.

    Do you need horsepower (RAW image processing, Final Cut, etc.) or can you get by with moderate processing power and a fast hard disk or SSD?

    How good are your eyes? Can you read an HD screen easily?

    Maybe you should look into what it would be like to put an SSD into your current iMac so you can keep it and get an iPad2 as your portable device. Since you already have a machine you love it might be that an SSD would give you another year or two which might then afford more choices for new machines with solid state.

    I wish I’d had another year, it would have been my preference. However, I’m happy (and poorer) now.

    Let me know your thinking on this stuff, it’s all interesting to me.

  6. Hi Richard

    Thanks for such a detailed reply, it’s appreciated. I have to say that before reading your previous posts about solid state drives I never would have considered them but you’ve given me some food for thought on that front. I’ll check out the costs.

    I’ve just spotted a macrumour about a new iMac being imminent so I’ll at least wait and see what that has under the hood before making a decision.

    I’ve reasonable vision I think so not sure that is a factor yet. I use lightroom to process RAW files quite a bit so some power for that would be good. As I said above the large screen is fabulous and I do wonder if I would miss it if I went to a laptop? As I type this I can see that my preferences are for a iMac/iPad combo (I already have an iPhone 4). Time for a think.

    J

  7. Edward: It’s never too late to put an SSD in your MacBook Pro. If you need help with that I’m happy to oblige. It will blow your mind.

    Jason: You have lots of options but one thing to keep in mind, you can add an SSD to your current iMac and if you buy a new iMac you can buy it with SSD installed from Apple, either on its own or with the addition of a hard disk. If I were buying a new iMac I’d buy one with a small SSD and a large hard disk putting the system and applications on the SSD and data on the HD. I know a few developers who use this kind of setup on the current 27″ iMac and love it.

    Another thing to consider on new iMacs is that the higher end models can act as a screen for laptops and maybe even an iPad2 with video out (I’m not sure about the later).

    If you’re not adverse to a desktop machine the iMac is the best deal going and like you I’ve heard that a new one is coming so it’s no doubt best to wait. You’ll be waiting on the iPad2 anyway, they’re 5 weeks out at this point.

    While you wait you can investigate the current iMac/SSD options and see what people think of that.

  8. Hi Richard,

    Congratulations on your new purchase! I’m waiting on work to send me a similar system, but with the 2.2 GHz Core i7 and a 256 GB SSD. While the 512 GB SSD would give me some breathing room, I wasn’t going to push my luck :-).

  9. Scott: Either way, a great machine. If you’re not using an SSD-equipped machine now you’re gonna flip, it’s the way these machines are supposed to feel and work.

    Reminds me of what it was like to get an SE/30 after using a Macintosh Plus for a year. Sportscar!

  10. Hi Richard,

    Congratulations on the new machine – sounds great! I’ve been following your SSD posts with much interest as I’m thinking of putting one in my unibody MBP. Haven’t quite made my mind up as to whether to move the current drive to an Optibay though…

    Couldn’t agree more with the SSD speed improvements. My limited exposure to them has been through my Dell Mini9 which I run as a Hackintosh in my workshop (which makes it a superb machine!) and has a 16GB SSD. It consistently out performs machines ten times its price!

    Enjoy it!

  11. John: Thanks for following along. There’s no doubt, SSD or flash storage in one form or another is the future. If they were less expensive it would be easier to just jump in but as you know, once you’ve experienced an SSD for daily tasks on a computer, you’re willing to spend money to get that performance. I highly recommend doing the upgrade on your MBP. the question is, how big and which brand.

  12. Richard:

    Thanks for the reply and the reconnect via my twitter post.

    I did take a look at the high-res. matte screen at the apple store, and I really do like the added real estate and I think my eyes are in good shape to handle it. I’m really not sold on the usability of any glossy screen, my work laptop and phone (and the old tube TVs and CRT monitors) have always been a cause for frustration.

    I feel that the SSD is not a choice for me anymore – just after reading users’ reviews, I plan to get just the 128 SSD though, with the plan to move much of my archival photos, and my music to an external (thunderbolt :)) drive as needed.

    My current debate for what I’ll get, is whether the upgraded video card (256 to 1 gig) and the top level processor spec vs. the base for the 15 incher is worth basically a $435 difference in my case.

    I’d love to stop by for a beer and a test drive of your MBP, but I’m not really down the street… I’m in So. Cal.

    Keep blogging, you and others who share their experiences are really making the internet a priceless resource!

  13. Brian: I get to So. Cal (West LA) monthly, my 95 year old mother lives there. My next trip will be in 2-3 weeks.

    My advice would be to not sweat the higher end video card or extra small bump in processor speed but get the biggest SSD you can afford. The SSD will be the biggest influence on speed, bigger than the processor and graphics card.

    I’m sure that in certain processes the graphics card and extra memory on it will help but my guess is that the SSD will have the biggest impact on speed.

    I’m still loving this new machine and no doubt you’ll love whatever configuration you get.

  14. My daughter is getting a 15″ MacBook Pro with 2.2GHz i7 quad-core processor, 4GB memory, Hi-Res Antiglare (matte) screen. Based on your blog post, I decided to spring for a 128 GB SSD ($90 educational pricing). The 128 SSD is a little small, but I figure that we can buy a 128 GB SDXC card in the future for keeping her documents. See: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/digitalcameras/lexar-releases-the-first-128gb-sdxc-memory-cards/4830
    Is this actually a workable solution?
    Also, do you recommend that we get 8GB of RAM vs. 4? That is another $180 educationally priced. Will the extra RAM make much difference is speed for programs like Photoshop?

    Thanks for the advice,
    Michael

  15. Michael, I’m not sure what your daughter will be doing with her computer but you might consider (as I did) backing off on the processor and graphics processor speed and getting the lower end 15″ model to save some money and put that money into more memory and a bigger SSD.

    While 4 gig of memory is enough for many people, 8 gigs is useful for not only running larger applications but also running many applications simultaneously. I got 8 gigs in mine and I’m glad I did.

    The smaller SSD will be fine if all of her things will fit on it. The SD card storage solution is not a good idea though as the speed with which you can read and write to these cards is very slow compared with hard disks and SSDs.

    If you think she’ll need extra storage beyond 128GB then get it up front. Remember, both SSDs and HDs don’t work all that well when they’re near full. If possible, you want to operate with a storage device that is less than half full so the system can have some breathing room.

    I have no regrets about the configuration of computer I bought and I’ve been working with it for a while now: processing RAW images in Lightroom, building magazines in Pages, and doing all the things we normally do throughout a day on a computer. It’s working spectacularly well.

    Let me know what you end up getting Michael or if you have more questions or comments let me know.

  16. We ended up getting our daughter a 15″ MacBook Pro with 2.2GHz i7 quad-core processor, 8GB memory, Hi-Res Antiglare (matte) screen and 1GB video card. We carefully considered the SSD. However, we wanted 500 GB worth of storage and just couldn’t afford that much in the SSD model. So, we opted for the 500 GB 7,200 RPM hard drive. Her iTunes library alone is 150 GB, so the smaller SSDs would not work. Thanks for the advice. I hope that this computer lasts for years to come.
    Michael

  17. Thanks for this very informative article. My son is a musician who uses his MacBook Pro in live performances. Last week, he was on a stage that moved enough to choke the read from his hard disk. Very embarrassing, as you can imagine. So we’re in the market for an SSD. Your post has a helped tremendously, so thank you very very much!

  18. Andrew: Some hard disk brands choke on seeks (moving the head on reads) as they calibrate themselves. You’re right, this is a perfect application for an SSD with no moving parts. Hopefully his sound, midi, or whatever files he’s using aren’t so big that you have to get a really large capacity SSD at this point as they’re expensive. Let me know what you decide to go with and how you have it installed. Thanks.

  19. Has anyone experienced any problems with using SSDs with the new Macbook Pros 2011? I’ve heard that some SSDs are causing problems with the new MBP’s.
    I was interested in buying the 15″ 2.2Ghz i7 quad core with a particular SSD (haven’t decided which brand or size yet..) But with this rumour, I wasn’t sure whether to get a SSD anymore… Can anyone enlighten me with some positive news?

    Also I heard that the SSDs provided by Apple are slower and overpriced compared to other makes. Is this true? If so, how much difference does it actually make? Thanks.

  20. Hiro: As I’ve said above, I originally had an OWC 240GB SSD in an older MacBook Pro and it was fantastic. That machine is now my wife’s.

    I now have a 2011 2.0Ghz 15″ MacBook Pro with an Apple 512GB SSD and it has worked flawlessly since I got it.

    I think people who look at speed differences on various brands of SSD are missing the point: Any SSD is going to be much, much faster than even a 7200 RPM hard disk on startup and launching application that the differences in speed between SSD models may be less important than you think.

    Yes, Apple charges a bit more for their pre-installed SSDs but if you get AppleCare on your computer like I do, the SSD will be covered for three years. To me, this is worth the extra cost.

    I advise you to not over think the small differences between brands and get what you want and enjoy it. Any SSD will make your MacBook Pro feel like a MacBook Air.

  21. Thanks for the reply Richard!

    Sorry forgot to mention that I was thinking about the new SATA III SSDs. So far, Crucial M4 seems to work ok but some people are already claiming that the 2011 MBP’s are experiencing problems with them too (something to do with the SATA cable or something..?)

    I know I can resolve the situation by going for the SATA II SSDs (Faster than any HDDs out there) but I thought I might as well as go for the lastest ones if possible.
    Interesting to hear about the 3 year AppleCare warranty. Completely forgot about it! Will consifer buying the Apple SSD’s but would prob leave it as a last resort (also to answer your previous question to what SSDs they use – I think it’s a SSD provided by Toshiba.. I think….).

    Even Intel’s new 510 SATA III SSD is a problem with the MBP 2011 series. Considering that the new lineup is an Intel based notebook (and Intel claiming that “All Intel Mainstream Solid-State Drives are tested and validated on the latest Intel-based notebook and desktop platforms” is rather concerning…

    I’m probably being too paranoid about all this SSD stuff so perhaps I should just move on and buy a reliable SATA II SSD. But it’s a shame considering the new ones are out there!

  22. Hiro: I have an intel SSD in my MacBook Pro and it seems as fast as the OWC/Sandisk one I had in my older computer.

    If you’re going to get a new computer and not buy the SSD from Apple, are you going to be installing it yourself? It’s not hard, but know what you’re getting into if/when you do this.

    I love AppleCare, it has saved me more than once with problems and to me its well worth its cost just as a nice piece of insurance. And, if I find that the SSD in this computer is causing problems I’ll simply back it up and let AppleCare take care of it, either by replacing the SSD with a new one or one of another OEM.

    I do think you’re probably splitting too many hairs on this stuff, any SSD is going to be extremely fast. And, reliability is much more important than speed in my opinion. Apple is not going to put SSDs in their computers that have a high failure rate.

  23. I think I’ll order the OWC Extreme Pro 6GB/s SATA III SSD. I know how to install the SSD and the memory so shouldn’t be a problem.

    I almost thought about giving in and going for the Apple SSDs but saw this: http://blog.macsales.com/9548-mercury-extreme-ssd-makes-fast-new-mbp-even-faster

    Then I read this: http://blog.macsales.com/9754-owc-offers-fix-for-2011-17-mbp-sata-problems

    OWC have tested their new SSD with the new MBP lineup and have concluded that the problem only lies with the 17″. Since I’m looking at getting the 15″, it shouldn’t be a problem (I hope!).

  24. Hiro: Sounds great. Just know that I’ve experienced none of the problems they mention with Apple brand SSD drives, not a single problem at all.

    There is no downside in putting the SSD in yourself of course and if you have a use for the HD you’re pulling out that makes it an even sweater deal.

    Go for it and let me know how it goes.

  25. APPLE SSD TS512C
    TS = Toshiba = not the best brand for SSDs, as Apple is already replacing the ones in the Macbook Air with Samsung ones.

  26. Amusha: Ah, good to know, I have a “dreaded” Toshiba SSD. Seems to be working well for me. I was under the impression that they were not “replacing” the SSDs in Airs but moving to a new vendor and model because the new one is faster. So, maybe new Airs will have the Samsung models going forward. Right? Or, are you saying that Apple replacing existing Toshiba SSDs? If that’s so, Applecare will do that for me.

  27. Finally got the MBP 15″ 2.3GHz 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 memory 750GB 5000rpm HDD Hi-Res Anti-glare.

    I’ve replaced the memory with OWC 8GB 1333MHz DDR3′s and the HDD with an OWC SATA II 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro SSD ( ended up going for the SATA II due to reliability and pricing compared to the SATA III.

    The MBP is up and running and I cannot believe how fast and responsive it is (also no sound or heat coming from the drive)! Absolutely amazing!! Haven’t got round to using CS5 photoshop and illustrator yet but look forward to the results from this darkhorse!

    So far I’ve experienced no problems with the new MBP and hopefully it will stay that way. “Touch wood”

  28. Hiro: This is great news, thanks for the report on what you got. I doubt you’ll have any problems at all with the computer or the SSD, they’re both excellent.

    If you think of it, please come back here and report on your experiences with Photoshop and other disk instensive applications. I’d love to hear what your expeirence is there.

    Thanks again and congrats on a great new computer and SSD.

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