I just upgraded the boot drive on my Mac Mini to an SSD drive and it’s 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.
An SDD drive is the same shape and size as a traditional drive, making it easy to install. The difference is that it uses memory chips instead of a spinning hard disk to store information so it is much, much faster. If your computer is a bit slow this may be a better solution than upgrading your whole computer because often it’s not the processor speed that slows things down but the hard drive.
You could upgrade your entire hard drive but with a 480G SSD drive costing $1579.99, it’s not a cheap option! So an alternative is to upgrade to a smaller boot drive (a 64G drive costs $119) to run just OSX 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 app 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 OSX Lion)
My 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.
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 onew with a house as an icon – this is where all your documents, music, movies, photos etc are stores) and 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 – 550GB = 37GB. I need at least 37GB for all my apps and system software. A 40GB drive would just to it – but will fill up fast, plus with an SSD space more room means better operation, so I went for a 64GB drive. I ordered a 64GB M4 SSD from Crucial in the USA for US$119 (That was 2011, they now only cost $84). Here is a link to Crucial’s SSD page. (I get a commission from this link).
2. Connect the Hard Drive to your mac.
For a mac pro it simply connects into the spare optical bay slot – no adapters needed, a 30 second operation – see how here.
Difficulty: easy – 30 seconds.
I just sat the SSD drive in but there are some great and cheap adapters out there eg Angelbird SSD Adapter
For a new aluminium mac mini it can replace one of the internal drives.
Difficulty: moderate – 1/2 hr.
When I replaced the internal SSD drive in my mac mini I needed to pull 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.
For a macbook or macbook pro you’ll need replace the internal optical drive with your old Hard Drive (OWC who also sell SSD drives provide a kit to do this here) then to put the SSD drive where your old Hard Drive was. The other more expensive option is to order a large SSD drive and replace your old hard drive with it.
Difficulty: hard – 1-2 hours.
iMac: Forget it! Your simplest option is to put the SDD drive in an enclosure and leave it plugged in all the time.
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…
One final note: There’s lots of posts on ‘TRIM’ support in OSX and enabling TRIM via a command line hack and so on… With Crucial M4 drives you do not need TRIM support – they have their own garbage collection built in. Read this article for more information. To quote from Crucial…
“Note: Garbage collection only works when your Crucial SSD is idle, so make sure to configure your system so it doesn’t go to sleep when it’s idling. Garbage Collection takes time to do its job, but as long as it gets time to idle every now and then, your Crucial SSD will maintain its high level of performance over time.”