Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Maxing out your White 2009 2010 MacBook for Performance and Longevity

Even in the later half of 2016, the 2009 & 2010 white MacBook can be a fantastic laptop if upgraded with modern parts.   Here's the deal.

I am responsible for maintaining a small fleet of these MacBooks, and have found that it is very easy to upgrade these MacBooks to perform in a manner competitive with a new, $1000+ laptop.

2009-2010 "A1342" white MacBook

The upgrades I typically perform on these MacBooks are Memory, Storage, and Battery.  Depending on your needs, this can typically cost from $25 to $125 if you buy and install the parts yourself.   This is a great way to get another 3 or more years out of your MacBook.

Let me be clear:  I am talking about the white plastic unibody polycarbonate MacBook from 2009 and 2010, as exactly pictured above.  Check out "About this Mac" under the Apple menu of your Mac to verify that you have a "Late 2009" or "Mid-2010" MacBook.

Here are the details of the upgrade parts I usually use:

Memory Upgrade: Typically about $35 ($25 - $35 depending on your budget)
  • 8 GB RAM - $35 (Recommended)
  • 4 GB RAM - $25 (Cheaper option, for those on a budget)
The MacBook was typically delivered with 2 GB of memory.  Today, 2 GB of memory is below the minimum amount of memory recommended for the smooth operation of modern Mac software.  I recommend upgrading the MacBook's memory to 8 GB of memory.  If your budget is tight, I recommend upgrading to 4 GB of memory, at a cost of about $25.

The MacBook only likes specific memory chips, namely PC3-8500 DDR3 SO-DIMMs.  That sounds complicated, so I'll make it easy:  I have had excellent results with RAM from Amazon, such as these: 8 GB Memory Kit, 4 GB Memory Kit.

SSD Solid State Drive Upgrade: Typically $70 ($45 - $125, depending on your needs and budget)
  • 250 GB SSD - $70 (Recommend for most)
  • 500 GB SSD - $120 (Recommend for those low on space)
The MacBook was typically delivered with a 250 GB hard disk drive.  Today, laptop hard disk drives are near-obsolete.  Instead, modern laptops are delivered with much faster "solid state disk" (SSD).  I advise upgrading the MacBook's hard disk drive with a 250 GB SSD, at a cost of about $65.

If you are using more than 200 GB of hard drive space now, you may want to upgrade to a 500 GB SSD.

I have had good experiences with most (but not all) SSDs.  I have had issues with the very cheapest SSD, so I recommend staying away from the "bottom of the bargain bin".  I have been very happy with the SanDisk II SSDs, which has good price, performance, and reliability.

New fast 240 GB SSD (top) versus old, slow 250 GB Hard Drive (bottom)

Battery Upgrade: Typically $35 (only if your Mac's current battery bothers you)

Many MacBooks have a 5+ year old battery.  If your battery is OK, or if you always use your MacBook plugged in, then I wouldn't replace the battery.  If your battery is no longer holding a reasonable charge AND you use the MacBook while disconnected from the wall, then I would replace the battery. 

Make sure you get the right battery, such as this one for the White MacBook 2009-2010

Tools and stuff

When upgrading the memory and hard drive, one needs some tools to do the work.  In particular I  use the following tools, which can be found for under $2 each:
  • Phillips "00" (small) head screwdriver - for removing the back of the computer and the hard drive
  • Torx "T6" head screwdriver - for removing the hard drive mounting pins
  • Tri-wing screw driver - for removing the battery.  This is often included with the purchase of a new battery.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Using Teflon to silence noisy heating system pipes

Fixing My Noisy Heating System on a budget
My home has a hot water baseboard heating system, and the noise the heating system made had been driving me nuts for years.  Each time the boiler came on the pipes started to click, snap, and tick as they heated up and cooled down.  It was loudest in the master bedroom, to the point where I could not sleep at night.

These clanky heating system pipes let no one sleep.
The problem wasn't with the boiler, and the problem wasn't with air in the pipes.  The problem was with the installation of the heating system plumbing.  Whoever drilled the holes through the walls and joists for the heating pipes drilled them in an uneven way.  The heating pipes rubbed against many of the holes, so as the pipes heated up and expanded they would "click" loudly.

The clicking, tapping, and clanking could be heard throughout the house.

Some Expensive Suggestions

One home improvement expert suggested that, for $800, I install heavy insulation around the plumbing to try to reduce the noise.

Another expert suggested that I get a plumber to properly route the heating pipes - which would cost several thousands of dollars.

Stopping the Clicking

Then I had an idea - what if the holes that the pipes traveled through had very low friction, like a slippery Teflon pan?  Then the pipes wouldn't snap, click, and pop as they rubbed against things.  Instead, the pipes would glide through the holes.

And so that's what I did.

The 15 Minute, $20 Fix
  1. I bought a sheet of Teflon from Amazon.  A sheet of Teflon looks a bit like a sheet of smooth yellowish paper.   It is very inexpensive, and it can withstand very high heat.
  2. With scissors, I cut the Teflon sheet into 4 inch by 4 inch squares.
  3. Wherever I could see a heating system pipe moving through a hole, I would wrap the pipe with the Teflon square, and then push the Teflon into the hole.  I wiggled the pipe a bit to make sure that I insert the Teflon square fully between the rubbing surfaces.
Teflon Sheet: Low friction, low cost!
I swear to God that within minutes I realized that my 15 minutes of labor stopped the noise that had been bothering me for years.  I also swear to God that I installed these Teflon squares at 4 AM because I wasn't sleeping.

Now my heating system is totally silent and I have been sleeping like a baby!  I am very happy every day I think about my fix.  I only wish I did years earlier.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Q&A: Installing an SSD in a MacBook

I've installed many SSD drives in MacBooks.  Here is a set of questions asked:

Q: Should I bother to install an SSD, or just get a new MacBook?

I have found that replacing a hard drive with an SSD results in a substantial increase in performance. 

I estimate that a MacBook with an SSD "feels" more than three times faster then a MacBook without an SSD.

Q: Which SSD drive do you buy or recommend for a MacBook?

I think that most any good laptop SSD will do.

These days, I have been buying SSD drives that are about 250 GB, as they are often under $70.  In particular, I have installed these SSDs with great success:
Q: What tools do you use to remove/install an SSD drive in a MacBook?
I feel that one needs to use the right tools or not do it at all.  And so when dealing with any laptop, that means using the correct phillips-head and torx head drivers.

Generally I only need one small phillips-head screw driver to upgrade a MacBook hard drive, but it is important to use an appropriately-sized driver.  If I were starting from scratch I might get a driver set like this $12 kit.

You might find this hard to believe, but screw drivers do wear out.  It is dumb to strip a screw head with a worn driver, as such an occurrence can turn an easy project into an expensive and time-consuming nightmare.  Use good drivers, and retire worn drivers to less-critical duties such as "nail punch" or "lever".

I also use an ice cube tray to organize any screws I removed, so that I can always put them back in their home. 

Q: What tools do you use to transfer data from old drive to new?

When dealing with laptop drives, I use a small USB to SATA adapter cable that I keep in my tool box.  I currently use a USB 2.0-based adapter, but these days I would definitely get a faster USB 3.0 device like this Startech USB 3.0 to SATA Adapter.  Under $12 is amazing for a tool that can be used for years.

When dealing 3.5 inch desktop drives, like those found in an old iMac or Mac Pro, I use a USB to SATA drive dock.   A dock is heftier and uses an external power supply to power those big drives.  A dock like this Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA External Hard Drive Docking Station looks good to me.  Oh, and note that these docks can also accept 2.5 inch laptop drives.  Nice!

Each of these devices should last at least a decade, so having one or both in my toolbox is a great investment.

Q: What other software do you use to migrate data?

I exclusively use the "free" built-in tools: Disk Utility, Migration Assistant, and Time Machine.  Other people swear by CCC and Super Duper.  Those are great tools, but I find that built-in tools do a great job for me.

Q: What about TRIM support?

TRIM is an SSD firmware feature that helps keep SSDs fast.  Unlike traditional hard drives, SSD storage locations must be cleared before they are reused.  TRIM helps speed this process considerably.

TRIM is not required, but it can only be enabled by the operating system.

Mac OS X v 10.11 (El Capitan) will use TRIM if you enable it.  To enable TRIM, this command must be entered into the Terminal:

sudo trimforce enable

Not running El Capitan?   It's a free upgrade for all modern Macs.  All my Macs now run El Capitan, because El Capitan is faster, more efficient, and more reliable.  See it at Apple's Mac App Store.

Afraid of TRIM?  No problem.  I haven't enabled TRIM on all the Mac's I manage, but the SSDs still seem to be running very fast.