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.)
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.
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
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.
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.