Apple didn’t update the 17″ MacBook Pro when it updated its laptop line recently. I really need all that real estate – I can’t easily bounce between windows on a smaller screen. Yes, I’m spoiled. But with no speed bumps in the future for my now one-gen back “Early 2011″ MBP, I started looking at upgrade options.
Then Buy.com put the SanDisk Extreme 480 GB SSD on sale for $345 (normally $397.99, which is still not a bad price). So I picked one up along with a memory upgrade to 16 GB from my current 8 GB. If I’m going to open the back of a laptop, I’d rather do it as few times as possible.
As it turns out, this is one of the easier MBPs to service – take off the 10 screws on the back, pop off the battery connector from the main system board, and you’re ready to go. Unlike some of the new MBPs, the memory is still in sockets, not soldered to the main board, so it’s easy to change. The original 500 GB disk was held in with 2 phillips head screws, which hold down a small bar. There are several places on the web for instructional videos and photos on how to open the system up, as there are for pretty much anything these days (I found some photos for changing the fog lamps on my 2003 Grand Prix the other day!).
However, after getting everything going, I wanted to make sure that the system was optimized for using an SSD. On MacUpdate I found a program called Chameleon SSD Optimizer. This program lets you set some options that can preserve the speed and life of your SSD.
For example, there’s a command called TRIM that’s used with SSDs but not normal, rotating disks. You can read all about it at the link, but basically it is a command from the OS telling the disk that some space has been freed up. This allows the SSD to erase it right away instead of during a future write operation, which could slow it down (again, see the link for full details). OS X has supported TRIM since 10.6.8 – but only for Apple-installed SSDs. Reminds me of the situation that used to exist with third-party disc-burning, when we had to add patches to allow those burners to work. In any event, having the OS issue this command can really help with the speed of the disk as it gets more and more used. Fortunately, Chameleon SSD Optimizer can patch the necessary driver to turn TRIM on for any SSD (it does make a backup so you can always restore the original driver).
The program also allows you to change other options, like the sleep mode – you can turn on full hibernation, like Windows has, or turn off any saving of memory to disk at all. You can also turn on a system attribute called NOATIME, which is short for “no access time.” Why do this? Normally, the system will update the directory entry for a file every time it is opened, even just for reading. If you are backing you system up every night (and you are, right?), then depending on what you are using, it may be updating that attribute. That’s a write to disk – and if you can live without that attribute (I can) then you can save a whole lot of writes to disk.
The author, Alessandro Boschini, actually lists all the commands on his web site used to set/reset any of these options if you want to do them manually. Some of them are pretty simple; others, like enabling TRIM, are slightly more involved (but if you can copy and paste you’re still good).
Still, I used his program – it’s free, although he will accept donations (and if you use it and like, please send him something!).
With the new SSD and RAM, I can boot up in about 12 seconds, and open up virtual machines – a process that used to take a minute or so – in a few seconds. With the prices on SSDs finally coming down, you should consider your options before simply buying a new system – your old one may just need to be set free from its disk speed limit.