Saturday, July 04, 2015

Q&A: Installing an SSD in a MacBook

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

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 drives that are about 250 GB, as they are well under $100.  In particular, I have used these SSDs with great success:
Q: What about TRIM support?

I think that modern SSD's built-in garbage collection makes TRIM irrelevant.   So I don't worry about TRIM.

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 precision phillips-head and torx head drivers. 

Generally I only need one or two different drivers to replace a MacBook hard drive, but it is important to use an appropriately-sized driver.  I amassed my driver collection over the years, but 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 non-critical duties such as "nail punch".

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 for moving data around?

When dealing with laptop drives I use a small USB to SATA cable that I keep in my tool box.  I currently use a USB 2.0-based device, but these days I would definitely get a 3.0 device, like this Innogear USB 3.0 to Sata Adapter.  Under $10.

If 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.

All 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?

I just use the "free" built-in tools like Disk Utility and Time Machine to copy data around.  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.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

LanceJ's Ultimate Mac Boot Stick

After a few years of fooling around, I decided to make up my own ultimate Mac Boot USB stick.

My goals:  When I administrate computers, I want to have most everything I need on a single boot device so I don't have to fool around downloading, installing, or searching.

My boot stick includes what I most frequently need.  It isn't that complicated, but it took a while to actually figure it all out.  Best of all, you can easily make your own!

Required Stuff:

I find a USB 3.0 "thumb drive" to be ideal.  These devices are inexpensive, portable, fast, and readily available.  I bought something like this PNY USB 3.0 stick that has been working great for me.

What not to use:

  • Small thumb drives.  You may be able to get away with a 16 GB device, but anything less than 16 GB will limit your flexibility. 
  • Hard disks or SSDs.  They're more expensive, bulky, and HD's are less reliable
  • SD Cards.  An SD card is an option, but the truth is that a standard USB 3.0 thumb drive is more universal.  They work on just about all Macs produced over the past 10 years or so.
I use the following four partitions:
  1. Yosemite Installer (6.5 GB)
  2. Lion Installer (6.5 GB)  (if you deal with 1st generation Intel-based Macs)
  3. Memtest Partition (50 MB)
  4. Installable Software Partition (Remaining Space)
For very old Macs (like a 2004 PowerBook) , I still lug around a Leopard DVD.  Oh well, old school is old school!

iMac and MacBook Upgrade Tips

I'm the type that tries to get the most bang out of a computer - where many consider a 3 year old computer "end of life", I can easily double that lifespan.

A lot of people ask me what I've done for upgrades to the Macs I manage.  Here are some examples of what I did.

2009 MacBook (6 years old)
2009 MacBook Pro (6 years old)
  • 250 GB SSD (originally a traditional 250 GB drive) 
  • 4 GB of memory not upgraded.  I find 4 GB to be plenty powerful.
2010 MacBook (5 years old)
  • 250 GB SSD (originally a traditional 250 GB drive)
  • 8 GB memory (originally at 2 GB)
    • G.Skill DDR3 RAM 
    • Although 4 GB is powerful enough, I was upgrading it from 2 GB.  So using the principle of upgrading as few times as possible, I moved it to 8 GB.
2011 iMac (4 years old)
  • 8 GB memory (originally at 4 GB)
    • This iMac had two empty memory slots, so I was able to re-use the 4 GB pulled from my 2011 MacBook Pro to bring the iMac from 4 GB to 8 GB.
  • 4 TB Hybrid drive (originally a traditional 500 GB drive)
2011 MacBook Pro (4 years old)
  • 1 TB Hybrid Drive (originally a traditional 750 GB drive)
  • 8 GB memory (originally at 4 GB)
    • G.Skill DDR3 RAM

My Upgrade "Rules"

There are generally two components that I upgrade in an older computer:  Memory and Drive Storage.

  • Upgrade if memory is less than 4 GB
  • Do nothing if memory is at least 4 GB
Memory used to be very expensive, but now it is quite affordable.   DDR3 memory is about $8 per gigabyte.  If I encounter a computer with less then 4 GB, I generally upgrade to 8 gigabytes.  If a machine already has 4 GB I generally leave it alone.

I generally buy G.Skill memory because I have had good luck with it.

Hard Drive Storage
  • Upgrade if poor performance, and/or less than 50 GB of space available.
  • Do nothing if performance is good and there is at least 50 GB of available space.
Hard drives have more to do with performance than ever before.  All of the search engine indexing and visualization puts more demand on drive performance than ever before - and so a fast drive can make a real difference.

  • Typical Storage Needs:  I think most people would be best served by a 250 GB SSD drive, about $100.  SSDs are blazingly fast, but a bit more expensive on a per-GB basis (about 40¢ per GB)
  • Very Large Storage Needs: If you have an large storage need (multiple user accounts or tons of music, video, and photos), I'd go with a "hybrid" drive, which provides very good performance with a lot of storage for about $80.  This technology combines an old-school magnetic disk technology with a tiny SSD (about 8¢ per gigabyte).
I wouldn't go with a traditional disk unless you are happy with performance.  The price/performance differential, at 6¢ per gigabyte, isn't worth it.


I use the following tool set for my upgrades.  Having the right tools is key to success.  I would never use the wrong tool.
Why USB 3.0?  It true that few of the devices I work on use USB 3.0.  But soon they will all have USB 3.0, and USB 3.0 is much faster than USB 2.0.  Given the negligible price difference, I go with USB 3.