Last week, I finally pulled the trigger. Convinced that my 2010 MacBook Pro had seen better days and unimpressed with the arrival of more spinning umbrellas of death in Mavericks, I knew I had to make a decision. Either buy a new laptop or upgrade the internals.
The latest MacBook Airs with its 10+ hr battery life made me yearn for something better than the 4-5 hours I was seeing. Combined with the speedy SSD, how could I go wrong?
One night, while perusing the Apple subreddit, I came across a post by someone who had recently upgraded their MacBook Pro with more RAM and a new SSD. Inspired by his experience, I conducted some additional research. To my surprise, SSDs have become more affordable since I last checked. A 250GB SSD could be bought for around $200. Why pay five times that amount with a new rig when I can simply replace the one part that can provide the biggest benefit?
With that said, this is what I did:
Crucial M500 240 GB SSD – I ordered this off of Amazon for $155. This is one of the more inexpensive models out there. I went with the 240 GB capacity since I was replacing the current HD on my Mac which had a similar capacity. Other SSDs that I had considered included the Samsung 840/Pro and Crucial M4.
Phillips #00 and Torx T6 screwdrivers – These are required for opening the case and removing the screws on the HD. The bits are very small so you will likely only find them in computer repair toolkits. I ended up buying this screwdriver set from Lowe’s for $10 which contained a variety of bits including the two I needed.
Bootable Mavericks Install Drive – Since I was planning on doing a clean install of Mavericks, I needed to create a bootable install drive. Macworld had a nice writeup about the various options for this process. I went with the createinstallmedia method as it was the simplest approach to follow.
Performing the transplant
Thanks to Youtube, there are a plethora of video tutorials walking through the steps required for replacing a hard drive on a Macbook Pro. Here’s one I really liked:
iFixit also has a detailed guide for removing the hard drive from a MacBook Pro that includes plenty of high-resolution photos.
Step 1: Backup data, Run Disk Utility
As always, when performing any major changes on a computer, back up your data. I use a 1.5 TB WD external hard drive for backups via Time Machine.
I also like to run Disk Utility to repair any permission or disk problems but this is not required.
Step 2: Swap out the hard drive
First off, unplug the power, remove any USB devices connected to your computer, and set up a clean, open space with plenty of light to perform the work.
There are a total of ten nails at the bottom of the MacBook Pro. Here, you will need the Phillips #00 screwdriver to remove them. It should be noted that three of the nails nearest the battery are about double the length from the rest. One way to keep track of their location is to arrange the nails in the exact position as you remove them and place them aside.
Lift the metal back plate gently and behold! Dust everywhere! At least that’s what I found coating the insides of my MacBook Pro. Bring out some compressed air and do a much needed cleanup. Remember: you don’t need to shake the can, avoid pointing it downwards as you spray, and hold the fan with your finger as you clear out the dust near the CPU.
Using the Phillips #00 screwdriver once again, you will need to loosen the two nails securing the metal black hinge that holds the hard drive in place. Remove the hinge and place it aside. Next, gently lift your hard drive out of the chassis by pulling by its plastic pull tab. Then, disconnect the power and SATA cable from the hard drive.
With the old hard drive completely removed from your computer, it’s time to bring out the Torx T6 screwdriver. There are two nails embedded on each side of the hard drive that you will need to remove. Remove the screws and then transfer them to your new SSD.
Remember that plastic pull tab on your old hard drive? Put it to good use and stick it onto its successor! You will probably never need to use it but it might come in handy again one day.
With the SSD in hand, attach the power and SATA cable back and place the drive gently into the chassis. Don’t forget to secure it with the metal hinge you had removed earlier!
Do one final checkup to make sure everything is in order and then place the metal back plate on again. Then, simply screw the nails back on and you should be good to go!
Step 3: Turn it on, format the disk
It’s important to remember to breathe at this point. You’ve finished swapping out your old hard drive and are about to turn on your machine for the first time. Will it turn on? What if I forgot something? Did I just break my computer?
Just turn the damn computer on already. You’re embarrassing me.
Apple boot up chime.
See! It works! Pat yourself on the back!
The first thing you need to do once you boot up your Mac is to format the new hard drive so that it can be used as your Mac’s startup drive. Once again, I followed a guide from the reliable folks at Macworld which provides all the directions you need to do it right. It should take 5-10 minutes at most.
Step 4: Install Mavericks
With your SSD properly formatted, you can now install Mavericks. Attach the bootable USB installer, and restart your Mac while holding down the option key. You will be presented with a list of drives to boot from at this point. Select your USB drive and then follow the prompts to start the installation.
Once it is finished installing, create a new user account with the same username you used on your old hard drive. This will be important in the next step.
By the way, did your MacBook Pro just boot up in under a minute? I know right! Awesome! Stop drooling though. You’re embarrassing me again.
Step 5: Transfer data from Time Machine backup with Migration Assistant
Now that the Macbook Pro is fully functioning, it’s time to transfer your data from your old hard drive. To accomplish this, I used Migration Assistant to transfer data from the Time Machine backup I created at the beginning. The app in located in your Utilities folder. You can find detailed instructions on the Apple help page.
The only thing you should know is that since you created a new user account on your SSD with the same username as your old hard drive, the transfer process will need to overwrite that user account. Migration Assistant should tell you this and then you simply confirm that you want this to happen.
Depending on how much data you have, the time it takes for the entire transfer to complete will vary greatly. I had about 100 GB of data and left the house while the transfer was underway. It may be best to have this done overnight so you don’t end up locked out of your computer for a long period of time.
Once the transfer is finished, the Macbook should restart, and that should be it! You have successfully upgraded to an SSD! Woot!
There are a number of additional steps you should take in order to maximize the performance and improve the health of your drive in the long run. I recommend these two sources for detailed explanations:
Here are the three configurations I did end up following:
Enable TRIM – According to Crucial, all of their SSD’s have built-in garbage collection. If your SSD does not have this feature, it is generally recommended that you enable TRIM. However, Crucial shares this rather interesting tidbit:
Garbage collection only works when your Crucial SSD is idle, so make sure to configure your system so it doesn’t go to sleep when it’s idling. Garbage Collection takes time to do its job, but as long as it gets time to idle every now and then, your Crucial SSD will maintain its high level of performance over time.
That was rather vague. How often is “every now and then”? How long do I have to leave my machine idle for the SSD to complete garbage collection? Subsequent Googling led me to this blog post with the answers:
You restart your Mac every couple of weeks, holding down the Option key during the reboot, then let it sit at the boot menu for 24 hours as the firmware cleans the SSD.
Forget it. Not gonna happen.
To enable TRIM on your Mac, download a free utility called Trim Enabler. It also comes with additional features such as tools for monitoring your disk health if you purchase the Pro version for $10. Once you download it, simply toggle the setting to activate TRIM, and that’s it! You will have to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. To verify it is running, go to System Information > SATA/SATA Express and look for the line that says “Trim Support.” If it says “Yes” next to it, then you are good to go.
It should be noted that you will need to re-enable TRIM with every OS X update – both 0.1 and 0.0.1 updates. If you’re using Trim Enabler, the app has a setting you can enable that will check for Trim support on system boot.
Disable sudden motion sensor – SSDs have no moving parts so you can disable the sudden motion sensor with this Terminal command:
sudo pmset -a sms 0
You can verify the changes with:
sudo pmset -g
Turn off hibernation – If you’ve ever noticed after closing your MacBook’s lid and wondered why it took a couple more seconds before the Apple logo light dims, it’s because the computer is writing out RAM to the hard drive. The more RAM you have, the more data it writes. It does this because it helps ensure that if your MacBook ever loses power while in sleep mode, you can recover your current state the next time you boot up your computer.
The main argument against hibernation is that is contributes to greater wear on SSDs. Since SSDs are more susceptible to degradation in performance from write operations, leaving hibernate mode on would exacerbate this problem. To disable hibernate, use the following Terminal command:
sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0
You can also delete the sleep image file to free up some space on your hard drive:
sudo rm /var/vm/sleepimage
The results: It’s fast!
The simplest way to quickly test the performance of the new SSD is to reboot your Mac. Previously with my old hard drive, rebooting took around 5 minutes! I’m not counting until the time I can actually see my desktop, but rather when I can actually launch my browser and actually start doing something. With at least 5-7 login items combined with Dropbox doing its usual indexing at startup, there was plenty of room for improvement.
With the new SSD, my Mac now reboots in about 60-70 seconds.
When I first installed Mavericks on the day of its release, the installation took about 1.5-2 hours while running on my old hard drive. With the new SSD, the whole process finished in under an hour.
Best of all, the frequency of rainbow umbrellas of death have been reduced to very rare occasions and last only seconds. I used to launch Microsoft Word, Chrome, or Photoshop and leave my room to get a snack to give the apps enough time to finish loading. Now, it takes just seconds for it to open. The days of waiting are mercifully over.
One final task awaits: checking the read/write speeds on the new disk.
I used an app called BlackMagic Disk Speed Test. Previously on the old hard drive, I registered read/write speeds ranging in the 30-45 MB/s range.
With the new SSD, it topped out at 265.5/207.8 MB/s read/write. That is about a six-fold increase!
To say that I am very pleased with how this all went is an understatement. I cannot recommend it enough.
The cost of the upgrade is cheaper than it has ever been. The actual process is not as painless as you might think. Watch a bunch of video tutorials on Youtube and see for yourself. It will absolutely be worth your investment.