Aug 23

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I just upgraded  the boot drive on my Mac Mini to an SSD drive. WOW!  It is by far the biggest speed enhancement I’ve experienced on any computer! The speed increase is incredible – almost hard to believe. Boot time went from 60 seconds to under 30 seconds, and applications launch instantly – no bouncing dock icon.

This is not for the beginner –  it’s quite technical – but here’s how to do it.

What we are doing.

SDD stands for ‘Solid State Drive.’ SSD drives are the same shape and size as a traditional drive. The difference is that an SSD drive uses RAM chips instead of a spinning hard disk to store information. This makes it much, much faster.

You could upgrade your entire hard drive but with a 480G SSD drive costing $1579.99, that’s not a cheap option!  So an alternative is to upgrade part of your hard drive to SSD. (A 64G drive costs $119.) I suggest getting an SSD drive to run just OS X and your applications, and leave your existing hard disk for all your user files. This means your System files and Applications are on the new SSD drive, but your user data (iphoto, itunes etc) stay on your old Hard Disk. This gives much faster boot times and application launching.

I have a 64GB SSD drive, it has all my apps and OSX on it, and it’s only half full! (See the graph below – the yellow is OS X Lion, the green is my Application Folder, most of the drive is still free.)

SSD Boot Drive using a different drive for my user folder – less than half the 64G SSD is used!

My main hard disk on the other hand has over 500GB used.

Here’s how to set up an SSD drive to run your OSX and Applications off, and keep using your existing hard drive for your user files.

UPDATE: The prices of Hard Disks has dropped dramatically. You can now skip step 4 and 6 if you wish and put your entire Hard disk onto an SSD Drive. You can get 500GB and 1TB Hard disks at a reasonable price now.

How to do it:

1. Work out how big a boot drive you need.

Everything except your user data will go on the boot drive. To work out how much space you need, do this:

(a) Find your total disk usage.

Click on your hard drive and press Apple-I, check how much space is used. For me it’s 587 Gig:

(b) Find your user folder usage.

Select your user folder (the one with a house as an icon – this is where all your documents, music, movies, photos etc are stores). Press Apple-I.  It may take a while to calculate it. If you have more than one user, you’ll need to do it for each folder and add them up.

I only have one user and for me it was 550GB:

Subtract (b) from (a) to give you the amount needed for your boot drive.

587GB (total used space) – 550GB (user folder) = 37GB (everything else!).

I need at least 37GB for all my apps and system software. A 40GB drive looks like it would just to it – but don’t forget your system writes some very big files (upwards of 10GB) for memory swap files so this will fill up fast, plus with an SSD space more room means better operation, so I went for a 64GB drive.  In 2011 I ordered a 64GB SSD for US$119, you can now get one for under half that price. I am now running from a 1TB SSD.

Where to order an SSD.

There have been issues in the past with SSD drives and there have been some brands not working with OSX, so make sure you get a good one.

The first place I would recommend is macsales.com. They have a few models – go for the OWC Mercury Pro 6G drive.   Make sure you click on the green ‘pro’ tab to get the Mercury ‘Pro’ 6G drive.  I am an affiliate of Macsales so I get a commission if you use these links. Thanks!

The second place I would recommend is crucial.com. If you do get a Crucial SSD I’d go for the MX200 series.

2. Connect the new SSD Drive to your Mac.

The difficulty of this varies according to what kind of a Macintosh computer you have.

Mac Pro

Difficulty: easy – 30 seconds.

For a mac pro it simply connects into the spare optical bay slot – no adapters needed, a 30 second operation – see how here. I just sat the SSD drive in and added a bit of gaffe tape but there are some great adapters out there eg Angelbird SSD Adapter

 

Mac Mini

Difficulty: moderate – 1/2 hr.

For a new aluminium mac mini  you will need to replace one of the internal drives.  This involves pulling out the fan and motherboard to get the new SSD drive in. You can get the old hard disk out without pulling out the motherboard but the SSD drives are actually ever so slightly thicker and more uniform in shape so the motherboard needs to come out to manoeuvre the SSD drive in place. There’s easy to follow instructions here at mac fixit.

 

Macbook

Difficulty: hard – 1 hour.

For a macbook or macbook pro can replace the internal optical drive with your old Hard Drive or order a large SSD drive and replace your old hard drive with it. You can find instructions here.

iMac

Difficulty: Hardest!

It’s quite complex to pull the iMac apart and you need a vacuum clamp to pull the glass screen off.  It requires some mechanical skill. There are good instructions here and crucial have their own guide here.

 

3. Format the SSD Drive using disk utility.

After your SDD drive is plugged in you’ll need to power on your computer and use Disk Utility to format it – Mac OS Extended (Journaled):

 

4. Copy everything except your user directory onto the new boot drive.

Now you need to copy your system folder and applications onto your SSD drive. You can’t do this by hand – there are hidden files that need to be copied, so use Carbon Copy Cloner. Using Carbon Copy Cloner, select your boot drive as the target Disk and then select Incremental backup:

Now select your main hard drive as the source disk, but then deselect your main user directory so that you don’t copy across all your user data (it won’t fit!)

Click Clone and your boot disk will be created on the SSD disk.

 

5. Reboot from the new SSD boot drive.

Under System Preferences click Startup Drive select the SSD Drive, then restart! (wow – notice how fast it is!)

Since it is now looking for your user data on the new drive, it won’t find anything and so your desktop and dock will be the default ones and all your files will be missing. Don’t panic – in the next step we will get your old files back.

 

6. Select your old User folder.

Go to System Preferences, then Accounts, (in Lion this is now called ‘Users and Groups’) then ‘Click the lock to make changes’ and control-click the main user account and click Advanced Options.

In the advanced options tab choose your old user directory, which is back on your original hard drive.

Your computer will tell you that you need to restart, and when you restart you will be running off your new boot drive,with your user directory on your old hard disk.

So how fast is it? Here’s a demo of how quickly applications launch from my new SSD drive…

 

7. Check if you need to Enable TRIM.

Some Hard Drives do not come with TRIM support and so you need to download this TRIM Enabler app and run it. This will enable OSX built in  TRIM support which keeps your SSD drive lean and clean.

The SSD I recommend above (Crucial M4) does not need TRIM support (read this article for more information). You can turn it on anyway no problems. The OWC Mercury SSD drives do not need TRIM enabled either.

STOP PRESS: There are new reports that TRIM enabler does not work with Yosemite. Read this article for more information.

 

8. Time Machine

If you have a Time Machine backup, when you change Hard Drives it starts all over again and won’t recognise the old Time Machine backup. Read this post for info on how to get around this. Also here is another very good article on this.

I also just found this GREAT article on keeping Time Machine working when you change the Hard Drive.

229 Responses to “How to speed up your mac with a Solid State SSD Drive”

  1. Will says:

    Bought a kit from OWC to add an SSD to my mid 2010 iMac 27″. Cloned my original 1TB drive to a 2TB drive and installed that at the same time as my SSD. With the OWC install kit and these directions, everything went super smooth and worked perfectly. Thanks for the great directions! If anyone wants to know step-by-step what I did, reply and I will post.

  2. MATTHIAS says:

    I have to admit I`m a bit of a novice when it comes to SSD. How to I get the Mac OS onto the SSD? That`s all done in Step 4? Or do I need to first install the OS on the SSD via a memory stick and then follow your instructions to get all the rest copied over?

  3. Patrick says:

    Hey
    What should be done with System Folder on source disc after moving to boot drive? Delete? I had problems once before with source disc failure. TM didn’t work properly when trying to install backup to new hard drive. Also source disc with fall behind regular system updates.

    • Wayne says:

      Yes, you can delete it, or leave it as a bootable backup. I would keep it till you are confident the new system is working and backed up and then delete it.

  4. Louis says:

    Hello,

    I’ve run into some trouble. I’ve followed these exact steps. My Macbook Pro restarted when I changed the home directory. The problem is that when i tried to log in to my account (the only one that’s on there), I get an error message. It says that due to some kind of error they can’t log me in. The error didn’t even get specified. Any tips or help on how to solve this problem?

    Thank you!

  5. Shane says:

    Hello. Thanks for this! I just ordered from OWC and am exited to try adding a boot only ssd drive and take out my old optical drive. Going to follow your instructions and use Carbon Copy Cloner to make it all work. Question. Future when it comes time for monthly backups. I have always used Super Duper. Will I now need to make bootable backups of both of the drives, the old HD and the new boot SSD?

  6. Shane says:

    Sorry one more question! Looks like My Carbon CC expired. Do you know now to do step 4 above to just “copy your system folder and applications” with Super Duper instead? Much appreciated!

    • Wayne says:

      It is a little bit more complicated to exclude a folder in Super Duper because Super Duper is designed to be very simple, the downside is it is harder to do anything other than a standard backup. But it is possible – look in the User Guide on page 20 – ‘How to exclude a folder from a backup.’

      It’s a lot easier in Carbon Copy Cloner.

      • Shane says:

        Very kind thank you!

      • Shane says:

        Alls set and working properly! Thanks again! (Some pathing fixes with Lightroom and other old home folder updates in a few other programs etc… no big deal.) Question, for example when the day comes to upgrade to a new machine and SSD prices are reasonable for 3tb :) can you explain the process to combine back to a single drive?

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