MacBook upgrades: now with SpeedyQuick

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've always just accepted it as a fact that computers start to feel slow after a couple of years. My mid-2009 13" MacBook Pro has been showing its age lately, and I thought it might be time for some more RAM. Then, I saw this article about the miraculous speed increases brought on by SSDs. With some reasonable prices on low-end SSDs these days, I decided to go all out and do both the RAM upgrade and the SSD.

The drive I ended up picking up from Canada Computers is an OCZ Vertex Plus. There's plenty of reports of these things failing like crazy in the first few months, but I don't have anything mission critical stored on just the laptop, and at $120 for 120 GB, it seemed worth the risk. Plus, it comes with a cute sticker:

As suggested by the Ars Technica article, I stuck the SSD into an external case temporarily, and used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone my drive. I only have about 24 GB of data on my new Lion install, so despite the USB transfer speeds, this process took less time than an episode of Stargate Atlantis. I then rebooted from the external drive to make sure all was well, though this prudent behaviour went downhill later on in the process.

To open up the case and install the goods, I followed the guide at ifixit.com. I didn't have a precision screwdriver set (you need a Philips #00 and a Torx T6), so I picked one up at RadioShack The Source on my way home. This was a mistake, as the bit would shoot into the holder when the least amount of pressure was applied. I persevered, but this set is going back to the store.

The dysfunctional screwdriver

The ifixit guide included an entire step for removing the aluminium cover, as apparently there are supposed to be mounting tabs to look out for. My computer didn't seem to have this, but what it did have was a considerable amount more dust than the ifixit photos:

All those white specks are dust

The actual removal of the hard drive was easy. One thing that's kind of clever about this version of the MacBook is the mounting system - the screws on the hard drive are used to secure it in place, instead of having a whole separate sled. I'm guessing this keeps the weight down and perhaps encourages more air flow. In any case, it seems silly to remove screws from one drive and put them on another, but they're important for keeping it in place.

Perhaps operating on a laptop in a cat-hair-filled home isn't a great idea

Next up was installation of the RAM. Going from 2 GB to 8 is pretty awesome, and remarkably cheap and easy. I wonder why I didn't do it earlier.

MacBook RAM pops out at a funny angle

Satisfied that all was well, my earlier prudence of double-checking the clone job disappeared, and I painstakingly screwed in the ten screws with the world's worst Philips #00 screwdriver. I flipped the machine back into its normal position, plugged in the power, and heard a beep. Then another beep. Beeeeeeeeep.

Rule #1 of taking things apart: don't put them back together until you're sure they work. Since the machine didn't even try booting up, I figured it had to be the RAM and not the SSD (Rule #2: don't make two changes simultaneously). I yet again unscrewed the bottom plate of the case, re-seated the RAM, and hit the power button (without screwing the plate back on). This time, a happy Mac symbol appeared, and I was at my desktop in under 20 seconds.

In my impatience to actually do this, I didn't run any benchmarks prior to swapping drives and memory. However, the new machine is noticeably faster, and that's really what's important. Even Mendeley, which runs with typical Java slowness, launches within a bounce of the dock icon. Aside from number crunching, this new and improved MacBook feels just as fast as a new computer, minus the new computer price tag.

Now, all I need to do is cross my fingers and hope that I don't fall victim to the OCZ SSD failure that appears to have hit so many people.

SpeedyQuick is the name of the new drive, because all drives need names. The MacBook's name is Holly, after the dumb computer on Red Dwarf, because Macs are dumb.

4 comments:

  1. Even if it does crash on you, time machine is magic.

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  2. Excellent article. I use my macbook pro for app dev and run into all manner of performance issues when running IDE, several VM, etc...RAM upgrade always felt justified, but maybe now with the low cost of SDD, I might go down this road in the near future...thanks Charlotte

    P.S. I'll stay away from Radio Shack when grabbing tools...Thanks in advance for that.

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  3. I just updated my mid '09 MB Pro (15) with a 240 GB SSD, and 8 GB or RAM. It's Lightning Speed over my old setup. Carbon Copy Cloner was genius too, made life easy to install new drive with existing volume. My IDE starts in under 8 seconds, which is a HUGE improvement over my previous HDD.

    The SSD I chose was Corsair's Force 3 drive, hopefully it runs like a charm without fail, but just in case I'm going to keep my backups on the NAS for the time being...

    Anyway, definitely owe you a beer or 3 for helping me both in terms of technical savoire faire, and a little kick in the A$$ to actually attempt this.

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  4. Denis, that's awesome! Glad I could provide some inspiration.

    Mine *seems* to be running without a hitch, though I get the impression that my battery life is worse than before. This doesn't make sense, as I would expect an SSD to be better than an HDD, but it could also just be an aging battery that I'm paying more attention to now.

    A beer to celebrate macbook upgrades sounds very appropriate :)

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