• Tutorial: How to install an SSD in your MacBook Pro

    Solid-state drives (SSD) are rapidly becoming the “soup de jour” of today’s tech world. More and more (mobile devices especially) are now being released with SSDs replacing the last of a very small amount of hardware pieces that still contained any moving parts. Their rapid data access times, instantaneous accessibility, physical superiority (no noise, not susceptible to magnetism, shock or vibration) and lower power consumption make them an attractive choice to power your storage needs. The downside of them being their relative high cost to storage ratio, traditional hard drives winning that round hands down. In time this will of course change but if you’re without the five years to wait and would like to take advantage of the speed an SSD can provide you while retaining your original platter/spin hard drive this how-to is for you.

    This “dual drive” configuration is nothing new, the idea is that your operating system (OS) and applications are installed on the smaller, faster SSD while your store of media, documents and general files reside upon the larger, space-to-waste, traditional hard disk drive (HDD). In Mac OS X terms you essentially move your Users folder off to the HDD. Sounds relatively straight forward but there are a few little tricks along the way to make sure you get the most of your SSD experience.

    What you’ll need
    This article is relating to an install in a MacBook Pro (15” 2010 Unibody), the software configuration section below relates to any Mac but in terms of the instructions and some of the hardware requirements they’re very much MacBook related.


    Firstly you’ll need an SSD, anything less than 64GB and you’ll find you’re cutting it fine on space after installing all your apps. I’ve gone with an Intel X25-M Generation 2 80GB, its been reviewed extremely well and I picked one up for $209 from CPL in Melbourne. It should also be noted that Apple typically use a Samsung branded SSD in their MacBook Airs, this Intel drive puts that to shame and is cheaper on the sites I used when shopping.

    Next, and probably more importantly you’ll need a wonderful little piece of metal from MCE that is essentially a copy of your internal SuperDrive with the guts removed to hold a 2.5” drive, SSD or HDD. They’re US$99 + shipping but fortunately MacFixIt keep them in stock here in Australia at a reasonable A$129. The “Optibay hard drive adaptor kit” includes the caddy, a little screwdriver set (which is kind of useful, I’d suggest having your own set) and most importantly an external USB enclosure to hold your soon-to-be-removed SuperDrive. A great little inclusion meaning you don’t have to completely go DVD free.


    Installing the SSD
    Opening your MacBook Pro is relatively straight forward, flip it over and remove the philips-head screws marked below to then lift the casing off.


    Once the internals are exposed you’ll need to remove the SuperDrive. Lift the SATA connector tab from the logic board and move the taped/glued cables to gain access to all the screws holding the drive down. A magnetic screwdriver is going to help a lot with these 3 tiny screws almost hidden beneath the outer casing.


    Once you’ve removed the SuperDrive there are a few “added-extras” attached to its housing that we need to remove and attach to the MCE caddy that’s going to replace it.

    The next step may seem a little strange to some but next you’re going to need to remove the existing 2.5” HDD from it’s home. This is pretty straight forward, two screws that hold a mounting bracket come out and the drive quickly follows. The reason we’re taking it out is because we’re putting the SSD in this spot and putting the HDD in to the SuperDrive caddy. Why? Well it appears that the MacBook Pro doesn’t bother checking the secondary SATA controller when coming out of sleep, which means your computer wouldn’t wake up after you closed its lid.


    Once removed the mounting screws on the HDD need to be removed and moved over to our new SSD, which then is slotted back in to the MacBook’s housing, SATA cable reconnected and secured.


    All that’s left to do now is to put the HDD in to its new home, the MCE kit comes with all the screws you’ll need to secure it. Plug it in, screw it down, no rocket science on this one.


    The assembled drive-in-adaptor sits in the former home of your SuperDrive. It’s exactly the same shape and size and at first when you can’t get it to sit in nice and flush (trust me it seems impossible to get back in), give it a wiggle and then enjoy securing it with the 3 tiny screws we removed at the very beginning. Don’t forget to reconnect the SATA connector back to the logic board and then close her up.



    The software side
    How you attack this is going to depend on your particular setup but for me as with every new computer I always like to start with a fresh install of the OS and then restore relevant apps, preferences, data etc. from backups.

    Alternatively you can still boot from your old HDD and could then use something like Carbon Copy Cloner to copy your system files to the new SSD.

    Regardless of how you get there once your SSD has had OS X installed and your jaw has been collected from the floor after the machine reboots in under five seconds (I’m serious, it’s freakin’ amazing!) we need to offshore the responsibility of your User folder to the now secondary HDD. Open “Accounts” in “System Preferences” and right click (Control click) on your name in the list of accounts on the left to select “Advance Options”.

    Next to “Home directory” click “Choose...” and navigate to your HDD and select the folder you’d now like OS X to hold your user data. If you have more than one user on your computer you’ll need to repeat this process.



    Tweaking Mac OS X for your SSD
    The web is littered with a lot of conflicting info on exactly what the best settings for your Mac and it’s SSD are. The best (and most referenced) piece I’ve used is from Fredrik Poller. Poller’s instructions assume you’re running only a SSD by giving instructions for disable the sudden motion sensor and details about FireVault that don’t apply in this instance but great should you ever go SSD only. The main goal of the tweaks is to remove any unnecessary writes to the SSD as fast as they are at reading from their bottleneck is generally caused by writes so we want to minimize them as much as we can.

    Change your sleep mode
    By default (in 10.6) when your computer sleeps it saves the contents of your RAM to disk. This takes time (especially if you have 8GB+ of RAM) and while a backup should your laptop lose all power source while asleep it hinders your sleep/wake speeds greatly.

    To disable disk writes of RAM open Terminal and enter:
    Code:
    sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0
    Now remove the unused RAM storage file
    Code:
    sudo rm /var/vm/sleepimage
    Enable noatime for the SSD
    OS X is set to update a file’s access time each time you have any interaction with it. It may be important to a very, very small minority to have this enabled but for most, creation & modified times are more than adequate. To disable access time you’ll need to create a “property list” (plist) file that launches a command each time you boot.

    Launch a command text editor
    Code:
    
sudo pico /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.noatime.root.plist
    Paste the following & save the file.
    PHP Code:
    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
    <!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
    <plist version="1.0">
        <dict>
            <key>Label</key>
            <string>com.noatime.root</string>
            <key>ProgramArguments</key>
            <array>
                <string>mount</string>
                <string>-uwo</string>
                <string>noatime</string>
                <string>/</string>
            </array>
            <key>RunAtLoad</key>
            <true/>
        </dict>
    </plist>
    Reboot the computer and access times will no longer be recorded, again reducing file writes and increasing your SSD & system’s overall speed.

    Turn off Hard disk sleeping
    There is no advantage to an SSD being put to sleep, your battery life isn’t going to get a large boost similar to that of a normal HDD. That said if you’re running a dual-drive configuration there is unfortunately no interface via System Preferences to adjust sleep setting per drive so it’s either all or nothing. That said there are reports of some SSDs actually freezing up when OS X tries to put them to sleep, I’ve had no issue but if you want to be sure turn this off.


    Ditch Spotlight (if you don’t use it)
    Lastly if you don’t use Spotlight (or an application that accesses it like Alfred) then it’s strongly advised to stop it indexing your drive.
    Code:
    sudo mdutil -a -i off
    Is it worth it?
    In a word, "yes". This has to be one if not the greatest upgrade in terms of visual response and speed I have ever performed on a computer over many, many years. For under $350 I have a laptop that is basically instant on from a standing start. In terms of every day usage apps launch at a considerably faster rate. I haven't noticed any difference in running heat but there are reports of a slight increase amongst others, that said I never use my laptop actually on my lap but the iStat menu temps haven't changed from what I can tell.

    As far as downsides, so far I haven't found one. My barely used SuperDrive is still available should I need it so I haven't lost any functionality as such. Having your user folder on the non primary volume can apparently cause problems in certain applications that are coded sloppily but with all the big guns (MS Office, Adobe Creative Suite 5, all the Apple stuff) so far no problems.
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