At Shedworx we've started buying our MacBook Pros with SSD storage rather than the old fashioned spinning hard drives. The SSDs are just so much better on all fronts (except price!) and we're really happy with them. But what about upgrading a MacBook Pro to SSD? Should you do it? Is it worth it? Read on to see how Brett figured it all out...

A month before Mac OS 10.7 aka "Lion" was released, my laptop started feeling sluggish. The timing was suspect; I joked that it was a conspiracy by Apple to slow my machine down somehow, thereby forcing me to throw cash at one of those beautiful MacBook Airs. July 20 came and went, and a week later, after checking with Roaring apps that my applications would actually work under Lion (surprising yes!) I took the plunge and upgraded via the Mac App Store.

With Lion the machine felt faster, no doubt. But it was an old machine. Cold booting took over a minute to get to the Finder. Java apps were eye-stabbingly slow. It was time for an upgrade.

Crucial M4 256GB SSD

The Patient

My laptop is a "Late 2008" MacBook Pro, the first of the unibody manufacturing process. Processor is a 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo, with 4GB RAM and a 320GB Hitachi Travelstar drive at 7200rpm.

The Parts

I'm replacing my hard drive with a Crucial M4 256 SSD. It had good reviews on Newegg, and I had read anecdotally that it worked well in my specific model MacBook Pro. It supports TRIM, although Mac OS since 10.6.8 has TRIM suport for Apple-branded SSD's only. The M4 has Garbage Collection for this situation, which apparently does the same thing. The M4 suports SATA III (6GB/s) but is backwards compatible with my MacBook's SATA II (3GB/s) connection for the hard and optical drives.

The late 2008 MacBook Pro is advertised as having a RAM ceiling of 4GB, although it can address 6GB with no problems. I bought a single 4GB module of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, to replace one of the 2GB modules. Putting different size RAM modules means no interleaving, but the tradeoff is negligible. This article on Bare Feats has all the juicy details on putting more RAM than advertised spec in this MacBook Pro.

Solid State Drives: fast!

The Surgery

I backed up my drive (doesn't everybody?) to my external USB drive, which has 2 partitions, one for Time Machine and another for SuperDuper! to make a bootable image of my drive if things really go bad. Changing the drive was simple, in fact it was easier than replacing the RAM, which was unusual. Stark contrast to replacing a hard drive in a clamshell iBook -- that was a nightmare.

These first unibody MacBook Pros come with an removable cover on the bottom of the machine, exposing the battery and hard drive. A phillips and mini-torx screw driver are all that is needed to replace the hard drive -- its amazingly simple. The remander of the case must be removed to insert the new RAM module.

The next revision of the MacBook Pro would see this easy access to the drive and battery removed from the case design. Maybe people are not upgrading to justify the extra step in the manufacturing process? Only Apple knows...

Prognosis

Its faster. A lot faster. Its the kind of "no-brainer" upgrade I wish I had done 6 months ago. I installed Lion from a bootable DVD, and all other applications and start up items on the new SSD so my environment was similar pre-SSD. Using a free disk speed test app from Black Magic showed the SSD's capability to be significantly faster than the Hitachi:

  Read Write
Hitachi 320GB 7200rpm Travelstar 56.7 MB/s 54.8 MB/s
Crucial 256MB M4 SSD 263.5 MB/s 202.1 MB/s


This is using a SATA II connection typical of this model. 2011 MacBook Pro's have been upgraded to SATA III and I would expect read/write throughput to be even faster -- Crucial claim up to 415 MB/s read speeds.

Here are some application launch times:

The times for Finder 10.7 refer to a cold boot until I saw the icons on my desktop. I was expecting this to be faster with the SSD especially compared to the differences with other applications. Still, a saving of almost 30 seconds when starting up is great. Shutting down and waking from sleep has also improved greatly I have noticed.

The biggest gains are obviously from the applications I use daily. I could not believe the speed differences with the "bloated" apps that Photoshop and Word have become. They pop up almost instantly! No more hesitation to open up that PSD or Word document...

Final Thoughts

No doubt the actual drive is faster, but I believe the SATA connection is also running at a higher (read:maximum) speed. In the system profiler, the Serial ATA information showed the Travelstar connected at a Negotiated Speed Link of 1.5GB/s. This new Crucial M4 is using the full 3GB/s bandwidth which is welcome. Im unsure what real world differences installing more RAM has had, although giving more to RAM hogs like Photoshop will undoubtedly be beneficial.

There is a tradeoff with these SSD's of speed versus space, especially being expensive compared to traditional hard drives. I've lost 64GB in space which means ill have to be more diligent in deleting and archiving files I no longer use.

Overall I extremely happy with the upgrade and highly recommend it.

Can I upgrade to say for an

Can I upgrade to say for an example my macbook pro old fashion HD is 160gb and i buy a 80gb SSD and then clone my drive on Superduper (as long as the files and system files ect is below 80gb)

The question is would it still work even deo the SSD drive is a lot smaller than my old fashion HD?

If I understand you correctly

If I understand you correctly that should not be a problem.

8Gb RAM

You can even upgrade the Mbp late 2008 to 8Gb Ram.
Apple made it possible with a "silent" firmware upgrade..
I did it on mine (1067 MHz DDR3) and it works like a charm!

That certainly is interesting

That certainly is interesting John! Judging by the published date of articles covering this, it's a relatively new discovery.
This article details how to reapply the firmware:
http://9to5mac.com/2011/03/05/did-apple-release-a-secret-macbookpro-firm...

Thanks John, with RAM prices so cheap I'll be sure to do this upgrade!

SSD + HDD is the Mac world haven

I fully agree with your observations, but there its one thing further possible:

Because IMHO a builtin optical drive is rarely necessary (and if it becomes, it can be used from external), I have plugged an Optibay to where the standard Superdrive was, have moved my Apple SSD into that, and have plugged a Terabyte HDD into the MBP's standard slot.

Now this gives the enormous speed of your description plus big capacity for always having the media files on board, at total additional cost of app 200 USD.

Falk Kuebler

HDD + SSD upgrade

Thanks Falk - great idea. SSD into the DVD drive slot and a 1TB drive internal. I'll give that a go on my old MBP :)