For All Mindkind

Going SSD On Your Mac

Those who follow me on Twitter know that a couple of weeks ago I upgraded my MacBook Pro (15-inch model, late 2008) to the new generation of hard drives: I bought a Solid State Drive, also simply known as SSD. Many have been asking and sending emails about the best tips to follow while changing a MacBook’s internal drive and upgrading to SSD, but the truth is there is no real “guide” or “tutorial” to follow. Yet another list post of must-read tips would be useless as my experience and setup is different than yours, and I’m not forcing anyone to follow steps and procedures that might just waste time.

So instead of putting together a tutorial, here’s the story of what I did.

I bought a 120GB Patriot Inferno SSD on eBay for 220 Euros. It was a pretty good deal, a trusted seller and the drive I really needed. As I mentioned many times in the past, I don’t really need much space on my MacBook. I’m trying to store everything in the cloud, and even while Dropbox requires you to sync items back to the desktop (see the iTunes Library) the selective sync features allows me to save space by not syncing other files in my Dropbox. I try to keep everything somewhere else not because it’s trendy or I’m a cloud-obsessed nerd, but because I find it useful. Every time I have to get a new machine up and running, it takes 20 minutes. I don’t have to move huge libraries of files around. So space wasn’t a problem, and I went with the 120GB model.

The day the SSD arrived, I had prepared myself for the idea that I had to open my MacBook and do manual stuff with screwdivers and such. But I didn’t have to do much: in 5 minutes, I took 4 screws away, replaced the old drive and inserted the new one.

So where’s the trick with the operating system? You may be wondering what measures I actually took to ensure that my installation of Snow Leopard could move properly and easily to the SSD. Well, I did something that I don’t recommend (looking backwards) – but I have to admit it just worked. Basically, I ran a SuperDuper session and created a bootable copy of Snow Leopard on my external FireWire drive. If you don’t use SuperDuper, go download it now. I’m serious. Now that you’ve downloaded the app, you have to know that SuperDuper is a simple and powerful tool whose main purpose is to create a bootable copy of the OS to another drive. You can boot from that copy at any time, and I suggest you run SuperDuper every night so you’ll be sure you’ll never lose anything again. Yes, drives fail. So it’s better if you take precautions.

After SuperDuper finished its session, I told Snow Leopard to boot from the FireWire drive at the next reboot. I rebooted, and I was running the same OS on another drive, with all the files I opened 30 seconds earlier. Here’s when the SSD comes in action. I closed my MacBook’s screen, turned it over and opened it. The computer was running via the FireWire drive. I swapped the drives, and put the old SATA drive into my desk’s drawer inside a plastic enclosure. Once I saw the SSD was correctly installed, I closed everything and opened my MacBook again. Snow Leopard came to life from the FireWire disk, and it immediately recognized the new drive. I fired up SuperDuper, started a restore session, copied the OS back to the SSD, and in 13 minutes I was using my MacBook with a new internal drive. Not the most elegant method, but it worked.

The SuperDuper restore session told me a lot about the advantages of SSD over “regular” hard drives: ridiculously fast write times. This thing is fast, it screams. Metaphorically of course, it doesn’t make any noise or weird clicking sound. Put simply, SSDs make your computer faster. Every app starts up faster, the OS boots faster (18 seconds shut down to login screen), everything feels snappier and more responsive. I don’t see myself ever going back to a regular drive, and I’ve been using this SSD for less than 3 weeks. Are SSDs expensive? Yes. Are they absolutely worth it? God, yes. I’m bothered by the slowness of my girlfriend’s computer, and she’s running a 2009 MacBook Pro. To sum up: don’t watch the SSD videos on Youtube, try a computer running a good one. Then buy a good one. Best choice you’ll ever make (together with purchasing a FireWire external drive to use with SuperDuper).

As for the tips you find on the internet to “optimize” your SSD for better performance and lifetime, you won’t really need them. They don’t have any “visible” effect, they’re mostly aimed at reducing write times by removing OS X features you don’t usually care about such as the “last access” to every file. I followed some of these tips just to play around with the Terminal (and because it was a boring Saturday without beer), so head over here, here and here if you have 30 minutes to spare.

Do I need to write anything else about my experience with SSD until now? Not really. It just works, and it’s better than ever before. I can almost stand iTunes now that it doesn’t bounce eight time in the dock before displaying anything. Seriously though: SSDs are a little expensive and I don’t suggest you go buy a cheap one just for the sake of having it, but if I were you I’d buy one for Christmas.

The only problem with SSD is that once you try it, you’ll want to put one on everything.

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