For the longest time, when people have asked me what will get them the biggest bang for the buck in computer upgrades, the answer was always, “buy as much RAM as you can afford and will fit in your system.” That’s still true, but the next best thing is to replace your disk with an SSD.
SSD (Solid State Disk) is still expensive, but the price is coming down. I’ve had a 512 GB disk in my MacBook Pro for several months now, and it’s as close as you can get to an instant-on computer. It actually makes me not want to use my more powerful desktop because it seems slower – and it is any time I have to do something with disk.
But my main disk is a 1 TB drive, and the options for replacing that with SSD have been too expensive – until now. Crucial has just come out with a new generation of their SSDs, and for the first time they have a 2.5″ form-factor drive – the same kind you use in almost all laptops – in a 960 GB drive. (The remainder to 1 TB is reserved for speed and as spares.) The best part – the list price of the drive is $600. Previously, the only 1 TB SSD drives you could buy started at just over $1000. And those are the slower, SATA II drives at 3 GB/s.
So I recently ordered one from Other World Computing, along with an external case and an eSATA card for my MacPro. Why external? Because the internal SATA ports in a MacPro only go to 3 GB/s, but the drive and the expansion cards will do 6 GB/s. If you’re spending all that money for a faster drive, it seems silly to hook it up to a bus that will only run at half the drive’s speed. The card was around $130 and has 4 ports so I will be able to add other externals. In fact, I’ve also ordered a 512 GB SSD. Why? I do some video work, including a lot of transcoding. To keep the speed up, I like to have the source file on one drive and the destination on another. Now, doing all this on one SSD would not have the limitations of a spinning disk (such as forcing the head to bounce around) but it will still saturate the channel. So better to read from one and write to the other.
I’ll keep the 1 TB drive as (yet another) backup in case something happens to the SSD, but I could have bought some nice replacement sleds from Other World Computing to slide them right into my system. Maybe someday, if Apple ever makes a new MacPro (don’t hold your breath).
With prices of SSD coming down, It’s only a matter of time before spinning disk is relegated to simply being backup media. Then we can really unleash the power of these processors.