I Warp Speeded my MacBook Pro!
After using “tower” (or “desktop”) computers for my main workstation for over 20 years (since the Mac IIci!), I made the switch a couple of years ago to using a 17″ MacBook Pro for my main editing + everything else machine.
(This is the model I have)
It’s great to have the portability, and though it was slower than my Mac Pro, it’s been a great workstation. At my office it drives a 30″ Cinema Display, but by itself it’s quite usable with its 1920×1200 17″ screen.
But, because Apple beams secret slowdown messages from the Cupertino Mothership to their computers so they run slower and slower in advance of a new product announcement (okay, maybe that’s just a paranoid conspiracy theory) my 2011 MacBook Pro has been seeming more and more sluggish in the last few months.
<rant>By the way, “MacBook Pro” is such an awkward brand name, they really should have kept the “PowerBook” brand, even though the chips aren’t “PowerPC” anymore, who cares? PowerBook is such an awesome brand name!</rant>
Anyway, along with many of you, I eagerly awaited news of amazing, new, speedy 17″ MacBook Pros from WWDC. But alas, the 17″ was discontinued!
While the Retina Display MBP has higher resolution than even my 30″, to me it’s not that helpful if you need a magnifying glass to read the fine print. (I like big screens and I cannot lie…)
And, many of the speed gains of the Retina Display MBPs seem to be due to the superfast SSD drives, and not the processors, which aren’t that much faster than my 2011 MBP.
So I decided instead to trick out my MBP, with the following agenda:
- Replace the old 500GB boot drive with a 512 GB SSD drive
- Replace the optical Superdrive (what is that for, anyway?) with a new 750 GB “hybrid” SSHD drive
- Upgrade the RAM from 8 GB to 16 GB
SSDs (Solid State Drives) are awesome!
SSDs are way faster than platter-based magnetic HHDs. For one thing, hard drives often “go to sleep” to save power and to reduce wear and tear. When you need data from them, they need to spin up to speed, and this is time you spend waiting instead of working. But even when a hard drive is spinning at 7200 RPM, an SSD drive will be many times faster, not just much faster access times to small pieces of data, but much greater throughput (meaning more and better streams of video, for example) and way faster loading times.
Here are some other benefits:
- consume less power, meaning longer battery life
- run totally silent
- no moving parts, so much less susceptible to damage from drops
- do not heat up like HDDs (so less fan use = longer battery life & quieter)
- more reliable then HDDs
- will not have the data erased if your laptop is placed on an 18″ subwoofer! (long story)
Crucial 512 GB m4 6 Gb/s SSD boot drive
The SSD drive I settled on was the Crucial 512 GB m4 6 Gb/s drive. Great reviews, fastest overall in speed tests, good reputation.
(By the way, if you buy any of these products from the links herein, you still get the great deals I found after a lot of searching and researching, but DVcreators.net makes enough to fund a Subway run for the whole office! So if you decide to follow my suggestions, please use these links, as that new Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sub is surprisingly good.)
Seagate Momentus XT 750 GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s media drive
For the secondary (“media”) drive, I bought a Seagate Momentus XT 750 GB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s 32 MB Cache 2.5 Inch Solid State Hybrid Drive. If you are not familiar with these “hybrid” drives (I wasn’t, before some research), Seagate invented something they call “FAST” (flash-assisted storage technology). (Am I a sucker for clever acronyms!) At any rate, they say “Momentus XT drives boot and perform like an SSD, up to 3x faster than a traditional HDD”.
Apparently they have specific technology that makes it fast for booting, which I might use if I ever need a dual boot system, but also faster for data access, with a sort of smart caching capability:
“Adaptive Memory technology delivers SSD-like response from the applications and files you use the most. It lets the Momentus XT drive selectively tackle frequently used data, copy it to the flash, track its relevancy and keep the flash current. You get the instant response experience you need to perform at your best.”
Caddy for media drive
In order to mount the secondary drive where your optical drive was, you will need a drive “caddy”.
Check out the one I got from Amazon on the right (it’s for unibody MBPs):
RAM upgrade to 16 GB
Although Apple lists the specs on my MBP (Early 2011 model) as handling a maximum of 8 GB RAM, some crafty geeks found it could indeed address 16 GB, the first MBP to be able to do so, luckily.
If your MacBook Pro was made in 2011 or later, you can upgrade to 16 GB. If you’re not sure, check your model identifier, which is in the format “MacBookProX,X. The first number must be an “8” or “9”.
At that time, just over a year ago, the cost of two 8 GB chips was about $1599! Thankfully, the price of this RAM upgrade has dropped 90%!
I got a matched kit of two 8 GB RAM chips to replace my two 4 GB chips. They weren’t the cheapest, but seemed to be the best rating/reputation for the money. Most of the time, we buy our RAM at Crucial.
Click their logo to go to their site.
Even though there are plenty of movies on YouTube showing how to replace drives in MacBooks, after getting the parts I decided to take it to Andy at New World Mac and he did a great job at installation, and even insisted on sticking to the original quote even though we added a few tasks to the job along the way.
Plus, Andy has an amazing collection of Macs through the years!
So I turned my MBP on for the first time, and bingo! Within about 10 seconds, it was on and fully booted up! This used to take well over a minute.
After installing apps, I started launching them, and trying them out, and I have only 6 words to say about the speed increase:
UN BE FREAKIN’ LIEVE A BLE!!!
It’s like going from a Geo rental car to a Lamborghini!
Premiere, Motion and Final Cut Pro X all boot in under 8 seconds. iPhoto, with 5,261 photos, launches in 10 seconds and scrolling through pictures seems instant. Things like showing a folder of video clips in the Finder in icon mode seems instant, proxy images generate within a second or two.
I’ve upgraded my main computer dozens of times over the years, and each one has felt zippier and faster, but I don’t ever remember such a drastic difference.
And, in the past, it seemed like I got used to the zippiness in the first few days, and then it just seems normal. But it’s been a week since my SSD/16 GB RAM upgrade and my laptop still feels like its warp drive is engaged. I can’t wait to get to work every morning! Everything I do seems more fun, and I’m inspired to tackle some projects I’ve been putting off just because I feel like I can attack them with the power of super speed.
Here’s My BlackMagic Disk Speed Test Results:
Holy crap! 510 MB/sec reads! That’s blazing!!
(Download the free BlackMagic Disk Speed Test app here to see what your results are – use the download link right under the title at top left)
I can’t say for sure exactly what aspects of the speed boost are due to the SSD and which the extra RAM. But with the RAM under $150 (at the time of this writing) it seems like if you have a model that can accomodate 16 GB, it’s a no-brainer. If you don’t, the SSD drive alone will make a big difference.
So, I must say, if you want to give your laptop a warp speed upgrade, I highly recommend this selection of items. If you have any questions or want me to do any tests, post them in the comments!
Here’s the three items I got in one place: