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An SSD in a 4 year-old MacBook

Dec 22010

Intro

I recently swapped out the HD in my 1st-gen 1.83GHz MacBook (read my original review ), and thought others might be interested in the experience of going from a 60GB hard drive to a 40GB SSD. It might seem odd to buy a smaller hard drive, but it’s been well worth it.

Reason & Motivation

“Imagine if nearly every computer slowdown vanished. That’s what it’s like using a good SSD.” This post by Marco Armet is why I couldn’t stop thinking about a hard drive upgrade. My MacBook was 4 years old, and showing it’s age. But after reading that I wondered if an SSD could stave off the purchase of a new machine.

Impetus

Once I saw an 40GB Intel X-25V for around $80, I decided to take the plunge. The X-25V sounded very close in performance to the highly regarded X-25M, and I thought I could make do with 40GB, even though it was smaller than my (currently full) hard drive. The price was right, and a similar 80GB drive was almost $200.

Losing Weight

Once the decision was made, now I needed to make everything fit on a 40GB drive. I really only use my MacBook for my web design work, and I don’t work with terribly large files. All our photos, videos, music, and other media are on our iMac, so I figured I could go lean and mean on this machine. I also decided to put the old drive into an enclosure and move any large, non-essential work files onto it. A nice bonus is that I’m also able to use the old drive as a Time Machine backup, which adds some redundacy to my backup routine.

I trimmed down my music collection, deleted programs that I don’t use, used Monolingual to remove unnecessary language files, and generally tidied up. OmniDiskSweeper was invaluable for identifying where space was being used up. Prior to replacing the drive I was around 35GB used.

Install process

Installation was quite easy, I just did the following:

  • Popped out the battery
  • Removed the three screws holding the cover for the HD and RAM
  • Slid the old HD out
  • Removed the screws holding into the caddy
  • Placed the new SSD into the caddy and replace the screws
  • Slid the new drive in
  • Replaced cover
  • Replaced battery

Before removing the old hard drive, I cloned it to an external with SuperDuper . Once the new one was installed, I booted off the external and cloned it to the new one. After a reboot,it was the computer I remembered, but so much snappier. I wasn’t able to find any details on how much of a difference an SSD upgrade would make on such an old machine. So I grabbed my iPhone and did a few before & after tests. Nothing is exact, but it gives a good idea of what a difference an SSD can make.

Task HD SSD
Boot 2:47 0:58
Open Safari 1:21 1:06
Load tabs 0:38 0:07
Open multiple apps* 0:26 0:07
Load Pages 0:14 0:02

Comparison Chart

*Firefox, Gmail & Harvest Fluid apps, iTunes, Transmit

Living Within 40GB

While 40GB is somewhat constraining, it is something I can work with. The biggest headache has actually been the OS updates. The last one was a 7GB download, and I don’t usually operate with that much free space.

Conclusion

Overall I love the extra speed, and it has breathed new life into a machine that I was seriously considering replacing.

Les Reynolds

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Comments

  1. Is it likely that your SSD will slow down over time? I read somewhere that OS X doesn’t support the TRIM operation with SSDs … I’d be interested in you doing a follow-up piece in 6 months, then a year.

    Cheers.

    — Lachlan · Dec 3, 07:51 PM · #

  2. I read that the Intel drives are less prone to slowing down, not sure how much though. I’ll do another test at 6 months and 1 year and update the post.

    Les Reynolds · Dec 3, 10:14 PM · #

  3. I was reading that older macbooks have a SATA 1.0 interface, and that they won’t gain as much performance as a newer mac with a 2.0 interface. I have a 2007 macbook with the 1.0 interface and I’ve been thinking about getting a SSD. Would you still suggest getting one, even though the interface is 1.0?

    — Mason · Dec 4, 07:50 AM · #

  4. Thanks Les – the more info about SSDs out there the better as it seems to be the logical direction Apple is moving in.

    Cheers.

    — Lachlan · Dec 4, 08:36 AM · #

  5. Thanks for the post. I bought a SSD for my 2008 MacBook Pro. The first OWC drive was blazing fast, but had a firmware issue preventing hibernation on power loss.

    I returned it and picked up an Intel 120GB Black Friday deal from Newegg for $160. Sweet deal. Installing it this weekend. I’ve decided to do a clean install rather than a clone.

    I’ll share my review link here. Overall, though, it’s a great, fairly inexpensive way to massively overhaul an older machine. On newer machines, it’s like Marco says, it removes a huge barrier to performance, the mechanical hard drive.

    Brian Dusablon · Dec 4, 08:52 AM · #

  6. Thinking of doing the same to my 1st gen white MacBook. I was hoping it would reduce the operating temperature a bit so it doesn’t burn my leg. Any comments – is yours cooler?

    — JF · Dec 4, 02:29 PM · #

  7. I haven’t necessarily noticed a temperature difference, but I mostly use it at a desk.

    Les Reynolds · Dec 6, 02:24 PM · #

  8. Did exactly the same.

    jholster · Dec 7, 04:25 PM · #

  9. Wish I’d found that before I did mine. At the time I wasn’t sure how big a difference it would make in such an old machine. But now I know.

    Les Reynolds · Dec 9, 11:29 AM · #

 
 

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