2015-07-04

Q&A: Installing an SSD in a MacBook

I've installed many SSD drives in MacBooks.  Here are some answers to about the best approaches for a MacBook SSD upgrade:

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

New Macs can be mighty expensive, so I suggest you look into an SSD upgrade if you have a traditional hard drive.

I have found that replacing a hard drive with an SSD results in a substantial increase in performance.  I guesstimate 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 well under $70.  In particular, I have installed these SSDs with great success:
When shopping around, look for bargains.  I found a special deal and bought this great SanDisk 1 TB SSD for about $165. I'm using that SSD right now!


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 philips and torx head drivers.

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 damage 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 screw 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 the trick 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.  Some people think that TRIM is bad, and historically it was problematic.  But quality, modern SSDs have reliable TRIM support.

TRIM is off by default, and is not required.  Mac OS X v 10.11 and 10.12 (El Capitan and Sierra) 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 or Sierra?   They're a free upgrade for all modern Macs. I recommend the latest operating system for most Mac users.

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.






2015-05-16

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 the software that I need most frequently.  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:

A 32 GB (or larger) USB 3.0 "thumb drive".  These devices are inexpensive, portable, fast, and readily available.  I use something like this PNY USB 3.0 stick.

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.
Partitions:

I created four partitions to on my Ultimate Mac Boot USB stick:
  1. El Capitan 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 2005-vintage PowerBook) , I still lug around a Leopard DVD.  Oh well, old school equipment demands old school procedures!


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.

Memory
  • 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.

Tools

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.

2015-03-04

Easy 2011 iMac Memory and Hard Drive Upgrade

My iMac (2011, 21.5-inch model) was feeling down.  It was running out of disk space and everything was slowing down to a crawl.

So a about six months ago I decided to upgrade my iMac with a larger hard drive and increased memory, restoring performance to be faster than ever.  It was far cheaper to upgrade my Mac, and it was much easier than I expected.

It took me about 30 minutes to do the upgrades, and my iMac is much, much faster.

Here are the specific parts I used for my upgrade:

Hard Drive

I went with this 4 TB Seagate Hybrid drive for a few reasons:
  1. It's HUGE.  At 4 TB, it is eight times bigger than the stock 500 GB hard drive.
  2. It is affordable.  Per GB, it is far cheaper than any SSD.
  3. Being a "Hybrid" SSD/Hard drive device, it is FAST.  The modern OS really expects fast disk devices. This sped up my Mac a lot.
  4. It is a one-for-one replacement for the old device.  It easily fits inside the case.

[Update: this driver has remained fast and reliable for over a year now]

 Thermal Sensor

To upgrade the hard drive in a 2011 iMac, you need to add either a special temperature sensor or special software to make sure the fans run properly.  I went with the OWC thermal sensor hardware because it is priced somewhat similarly to a software solution, and it should be more reliable than software, which can go out of date.

Memory

Memory is cheap, and the 2011 iMac has four (!) slots.  I added this inexpensive 4 GB of memory, and in doing so it brought my available RAM up to 8 GB - which is plenty for the average Mac user.  If you want to go nuts, bigger RAM chips are a possibility - according to Internet lore, you can add four 8GB SIMs to bring it to an unreasonable 32 GB.

Upgrade Instructions

For tools, all I needed was the following items
I used a few different instruction on-line to do this upgrade.  I won't repeat them blow-by-blow, but will just say that I had an easy and trouble-free time using the following directions:

iFixIt Hard Drive upgrade instructions
Excellent printable instructions for upgrading the hard drive, but doesn't cover the thermal sensor.

OWC Hard Drive upgrade video instructions
Video instructions.  Covers the 27" iMac, but it is very very similar to the 21.5"

iFixIt Memory upgrade instructions
Excellent printable instructions for upgrading the memory.

And there you have it!  I personally think that a Mac from 2009 on forward can be inexpensively upgraded to be a fast and speedy machine.  Do it!

UPDATE: Authors Comments
  • I've been running this setup for more than a year now, and I've been very happy.  The machine is much faster than it was, and it has been perfectly reliable.
  • Tools.  When dealing with any mechanical component, you should always use the right tool for the job.  I often hear complains that Macs require "special" tools.  But to be honest, the tools are not special or weird.   The reality is that the proper tools required when working on a Mac are common and inexpensive.
 



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