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, you can now get a 240G SSD for $69!)

Here is a link to Crucial’s SSD page. 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.

 

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.

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

  1. Alx says:

    Hi, very interesting article.
    Appart from muy 13″ MBP I do have an old iBook G4 with its original 30gb hdd.
    Being a very old Power PC based model, do you think it is possible to replace the disk by a solid state one and will it improve big time its perfomance?
    cheers!
    Alex

    • admin says:

      It may not benefit as much from the SSD as there may be a bottleneck somewhere else in the machine. I’d go for it if it was a G4 Powerbook but I’m not sure about a g4 ibook – they are not a great machine. If you do just try a little 32G Solid State Drive.

    • Yes I’ve done it on several occasions to G4s. Just clone your drive onto the SSD and go for broke. It’ll make an astounding difference, esp with some additional RAM (if possible).

  2. kim scott says:

    Whether clicking on my desktop Mac Hard Drive icon or with Finder search, I can not find Apple-I, nor the house icon.

    I was able to do the calculations with an app I had downloaded, and by going to Mac Hard Drive in Finder and clicking on Users. For more than a year I have been running OS X 10.5.8 on a 24″ imac 9,1 with 4 GB RAM (upgradeable to 8 GB) and 640 GB hard drive. Would the instructions be different than for a Mac pro?

    This post is the best explanation of why and how to upgrade with a SSD I have seen!

    Currently I use a GB or two of page outs each day or two.
    Would this be better than adding more RAM? Or do I need both?

    • admin says:

      It’s hard to upgrade an iMac as you can’t open it so the SSD will need to be external. Yes in that case I’d probably upgrade RAM before I put in an SSD.

      • Nandor690 says:

        It is really not that hard to upgrade an iMac. I just upgraded my mid 2007 iMac to 2.80GHz core 2 extreme and an OCZ vertex 120GB HDD without any trouble at all.

  3. mbosn says:

    I was wondering why you would want your old user director on the old hdd? if I got a ssd around the same size as my old one would it matter? Should I just migrate everything?

    • admin says:

      If you can afford it – yes migrate everything – it will be a lot faster. The only reason not to is that SSD is way more expensive. (And, in the long term, less reliable, so make sure it’s backed up!)

  4. Jamie says:

    Hi,

    i was just wondering, once you have copied over all the required system files to your SSD, can you then delete those same files of your HDD, if so how would you go about doing that seeing as some of those files are hidden?

    thanks

    • Jamie says:

      Also, following on from the previous question i have Windows and Linux virtual machines running on parallels that i require for uni work.

      The parallels folder is located in Documents, which is in my home folder.
      Will i need to copy this over to the SSD aswell, and if so where abouts should i put it on the SSD?

      thanks

    • admin says:

      Yes you can delete them but I kept them – they are only small and it’s good to have a backup.
      If you drag a folder to the trash all the hidden files in it go to the trash too.

      • Jamie says:

        sorry also what do i do with the virtual machines can i leave them on the HDD or do they need to be moved to the SSD to benefit?

        Thanks

  5. wayne says:

    Well they’d run faster off the SSD but it depends if you have enough room for them on there!

  6. headmeister says:

    Thanks for the tips – I followed your guide to the letter on my mid 2010 Mac Pro and all fine other then the apps don’t seem to open up any quicker from the dock. Is this because they are linked to the old ‘versions’? Should I be starting applications from the SSD boot and not the existing dock?

  7. Rojak says:

    Great site. Thank you! I’ve followed your instructions but, it seems my MBP-15″ (mid 2010) shuts off during the reboot using the SSD drive. Any suggestions?

    Thanks!

  8. Bryan says:

    Followed these directions and it works great up until the part about Selecting old user folder. I suspect that these are instructions for a version of OS X other than Lion. I’m assuming “accounts”is now “users & groups” and from here after “unlocking” the instructions don’t seem to work… Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • admin says:

      I’ve just checked and yes ‘accounts’ is now called ‘Groups and Users’ in Lion but the rest works fine.
      After you ‘unlock’ the padlock should look like it is unlocked, then when you control-clock do you see the ‘advanced options’ appear?

  9. Wade says:

    Just wanted to point out that a lot of these linking errors could be avoided if you do this:

    -copy hdd to external drive using time machine
    -delete contents of hdd
    -boot machine with lion recovery
    -use restore from time machine and copy only applications and system to sdd
    – use restore from time machine and copy user folder to hdd

    ps I haven’t tried this with lion recovery yet, but I did it with a snow leopard disk. You may need to wait to delete the contents of the hdd until the sdd is formatted and has the system and applications folder on it.

  10. james braselton says:

    hi there my macbook air had ssd standard not optional had 2.13 ghz duo core cpu 4 gb ram and a 256 gb ssd i am noticing lots of window compuers also having ssd stqndard too

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