Aug 23

Crucial SSD
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.

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.  I ordered a 64GB M4 SSD from Crucial in the USA  for US$119 (NOTE: That was 2011, they now only cost $84. Mine had been running 4 years and still going strong.)

Here is a link to Crucial’s SSD page. (I get a commission from these Crucial  links, but they are the drives I chose to use myself, that’s why I chased up the affiliate link!). The other drives I would recommend are OWC Mercury Drives, they also have Rave reviews.


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.



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.


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.

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

  1. Sander says:


    Great post. I followed the steps as described here and now use an external ssd as the boot disk and to run my applications from. One thing I noticed is that my boot time is actually slower than before. It is now appr. 45 seconds from the apple logo with progress bar until the login screen appears. Any ideas why that might be. I run Yosemite.

    • Wayne says:

      Very strange. Are you sure it’s booting of the new SSD and not still booting of the old drive? What kind of machine? Does the SSD have plenty of free space?

  2. michael says:

    How are you connecting the SSD? USB 2.0 (and probably even 3.0) are much slower than the internal bus that is used for an internal SSD. That could be slowing down your SSD (effectively killing any advantage of having an SSD vs. HDD).

  3. Simon says:

    Just followed all this for my Mac Mini 2011 and it has all worked well. New SSD hard drive installed in M/Mini, Everything copied to new drive, booted from it, User Directories setup again. Yet to tackle Time Machine. Main question though. Being Dec 2014 my copy of Carbon Clone set up differently to what you show so I had to feel my way through the settings and it looks like I got the ‘delete items that don’t exist on the source’ setting wrong.There basically wasn’t the option under this latest version of CCC or it was worded so I don’t recognise the same function. So effectively I still have all the OS etc on my old drive just sitting there taking up space while the new copy on the SSD does all the work. Can I delete those off the old drive to free up space for storage data. For example my old, original HDD still has the same space used to prior to installing.
    Also – not something I’ll do until Time Machine is up and going again.
    Other than that – went well and easy to follow instructions. Not something I’ll do again in a hurry though – putting a 2nd drive in a Mac Mini. Fingers are too fat for the tolerances ha ha

    • Wayne says:

      Yes after you’ve got it all working you can delete everything from your original Hard Drive (Library, System, Applications). I kept mine, as a backup. If you do delete it all, only delete it after you have your new setup all backed up.

  4. Jelle van der Voort says:

    I have the following two questions:
    – Does this upgrade work with Yosemite as well? Also for a mid 2010 27″ iMac?
    – Do I need to care about TRIM support?


  5. Rodney says:

    Just purchased a new 27 inch IMAC and bought Seagate STAE129 Thunderbolt Adapter w/ Samsung – 840 EVO 250GB Internal SATA III Solid State Drive. Would the steps you laid out be basically the same when starting with blank canvass? I hope i gave you enough information….

  6. Ryan says:

    Just purchased 2012 Mac Mini with 840 evo plus 1TB hdd. Also have 2012 Macbook pro with 840 pro. They work just fine with Yosemite for personal use, however after learning about the lack TRIM support i’d like to have either Mountain Lion or Mavericks along with Yosemite to boot from. I ask this because these Macs are gonna be used for recording music. DAW gets installed onto main SSD but always do the recording on an external FW HDD). First of all: is this even possible? If so, would i be able to put the user files on a 3rd partition for both operating systems to use interchangeably. Also, if I boot from the Mountain Lion/Mavericks partition would enabling TRIM compromise the SSD due to the Yosemite Partition?

  7. AJ says:

    I am running OSX 10.6.8 with a OWC SSD external drive and did everything exactly as steps 1 through 4 but when I go to step 5 – Reboot with SSD drive there is an error and it will not boot with the SSD drive.

    • Wayne says:

      What error are you getting? Can you select the drive in System Preferences?
      Try doing it all over again.
      On another note, if you are running off an EXTERNAL usb drive the SSD speed will be limited unless you have a USB3 enclosure.
      Also some USB enclosures are not bootable.

      • AJ says:

        Thank you Wyane! I got it to work! It said It could not find a Kernal? I am using a OWC SSD Mercury Elite Pro mini with USB 3.0 & 2.0, FireWire 800. I am using the FireWire 800 because my iMac does not have USB 3.0 or a Lightning input.
        Running apps are much faster on the external SSD drive through firwire800 then my stock disc drive! I am very happy with the end results using the external SSD drive!

  8. footeking says:

    Thanks for the help with this. I bought this because my second optical drive bay has a Blu-ray burner installed. My boot time is much faster and applications open much faster. Best upgrade I have made for my Mac Pro (Early 2008) besides the Blu-ray burner and the Graphics Card upgrade. I was considering buying a new Mac Pro but I decided to keep my current one for the foreseeable future.

  9. sam says:

    Hey, thanks for the tutorial. I did everything as instructed but the drive didn’t appear in the start up disk preferences. Is there another way to do this?
    2011 macbook pro 13inch
    2.4ghz 16gb ram
    500 gb hdd (OEM)
    120gb intel 530 SSD

  10. mazerrackam says:

    quick question:

    I understand the idea of keeping the amount of data on the boot drive to a minimum but isnt it true that the more data the system accesses from the SSD the better it will operate? So for example, any user file such as a movie, photo or even browser cache would read/write faster if it exists on the same SSD as the system?

    • Wayne says:

      This is correct.
      If you can afford a large SSD drive it will operate much faster having everything on the SSD.
      SSD drives are dropping in price so that option is becoming more viable all the time.

  11. Anthony says:

    Hey. Running a 2012 Macbook Pro and installed a Samsung Pro 256GB SSD.

    Followed The instructions to clone the disk to the SSD. Started up, followed instructions for User accounts, restarted and it says im not able to log in with my user account because an error occured. Help!

  12. Morgn says:

    Great article, wish I found it 2 days ago. I just installed a SSD in place of my optical drive on my Macbook Pro late 2011. I followed all your steps. But for some reason the applications haven’t moved over to the SDD from the HDD. I used CCC, did i miss something or do you have to manually reinstall them on the SDD??

    • Wayne says:

      The method in the article should copy all the Applications from your computer’s main Applications folder across. That should be all of your apps, unless you have installed any just in your Users/Applications folder.

  13. Clef says:

    This method seems to work however I did have to re-point iTunes as my library is on an external drive and that ended up requiring the ‘Shared’ directory to be copied over for whatever reason. I also use FontExplorer and there seem to be some problems with that as well… re-licensing issues, not sure. Other than that this seems to work.

  14. Thomas Taggart says:

    Can I pull certain folders from within my User folder to put on the SSD? Like my Google Drive folder, where I store and create a lot of data that others use? Ideally, I’d like to keep my music, photos, videos, assorted documents on the regular HD (all in the typical folders and stored according to a system for the documents), but place GIS and database related files which are stored in my google drive on the SSD. Obviously this would increase the space needed for the SSD, which is fine. It just seems that if i have a complicated program (ArcMap) loading from the SSD, I should also store the files read into that program and created from that program to the SSD.

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