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. Just click here and you will be asked what mac you have, follow the prompts.

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

As I said in my RAM article, I prefer crucial for RAM but OWC for SSD drives.

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.

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

  1. Jim says:

    Mail keeps opening wrong attachments.
    Since my SSD installation when I open attachments for numbers it almost always opens an old file – not the file that is actually in the email. Its strange to say the least and created some real problems for me on file updates that I get daily. A
    Any idea what can cause this?

    I have mail set to download to the download folder on the old drive. I chose a special folder so that I can check the files.

  2. Jamie d says:

    Hi, everything worked a treat. I did run into an issue with the programmes starting like it was their first time and iPhoto and other programmes not working due to not finding a folder. I realized that when I linked to my user folder, after I changed the name of the Mac HD which caused the issue, so I went back and selected the folder again and now everything is perfecto…

    Thank you

  3. Thanks for the ‘how-to’. Just finished and it was so easy.

    My mac has never been as fast as it is with this new SDD. Unreal!

  4. Bluhand says:

    Thanks Wayne. I followed your instructiins and it seems to be working a treat! I was a bit worried cos i using the current version of Mountain Lion and Carbon Copy wouldn’t guarantee the current free copy of their software would work.Only issues ive had so far are with Dropbox. It had to add the new SSD as a new computer and relink. This is taking a while . Also 1pAsssword needed some work. Tell me is till dont quite get how all the user data is still on the OriginalDrive and Aps and Operating System only is on SSD. And how they talk to eachother. For the record, ive got a MBP 2011 13inch. the SSD i installed is 120GB the current space i use on my Spinning drive is 185GB. Only approx. 43GB used on my new SSD drive.

  5. Liz says:

    How do u download music in the SSD drive for mac book air ? Can u still insert a cd and download or not? Please answer thanks

  6. Christine says:

    I am new to all this SSD installing stuff, but have extensively read up… Anyway, I’m just stuck on transferring data to my new SSD.
    Instead of transferring all the stuff from my old HD drive, I read on the Other World Computing website that a better option is to just install everything fresh, and copy all the personal stuff off… but so far I have installed OS X (Snow Leopard) onto my new Mercury Electra 120 GB SSD, and after the install it was supposed to restart and go into a screen for setup to import my applications and user data but it did not go into that screen. Now I am back at my regular home screen. How do I transfer that stuff manually so i can continue the setup process?
    I really appreciate it. Here is the directions i’m following, at Step 6 after installing:
    http://eshop.macsales.com/articles/how-to-transfer-your-data-from-your-old-drive-to-a-new-drive

    Thank you :)

  7. cd says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning that Carbon Copy Cloner is not a free application. Disc Utility can clone a drive pretty easily too, and it’s a free app already installed on your Mac: http://macs.about.com/od/applications/tp/usingosxdiskutility.htm

  8. andy p says:

    just installed this on my macmini 2009 and its works a treat.
    the firmware is 000f
    should i update?

    great article

    a

  9. Mark says:

    Thanks for this post. It was quite helpful, but I wanted to add in my cautions that I ran into after doing this on my MacPro. If you use dropbox, you have to take into account the size of that folder too for your SSD total size needs. Luckily, I am not close to my 110 GB allotment in dropbox, but since I bought a 120 GB SSD, this means I won’t be able to use all of my dropbox space until I trade up to a larger SSD and repeat this whole process. Dropbox only works if the dropbox folder is sitting in the user folder of the boot drive. If you boot into your SSD after pointing to your original user folder on the old hard drive, you will get a dropbox error telling you that it can no longer find your dropbox folder (since it thinks you should be booting from the old hard drive).

    After following the directions above, I booted back into my old hard drive and then went to the dropbox app. chose preferences->advanced->Dropbox location to change the location to my new SSD. Another issue for me is that it appears that symlinks sitting in my DB folder no longer work once this move is made. I have a sinking feeling more problems are ahead since I could not log into my DB account online after all of this, so we shall see if this gets sorted out.

  10. G says:

    HI Wayne. Thanks for this very informative article.

    I am going to get the latest 2012-release Mac Mini very shortly, I and think it would be a good idea to slot in a SSD into this, perhaps around 120GB in size.

    This may be a silly question, but I take it that there is room within the 2012 Mac Mini to accommodate both the existing hard drive (now 500GB or 1TB in size), and a new SSD?

    Also, if I am buying an internal SSD for a new 2012 Mac Mini, are there any particular specs and SSD case sizes that I need to get so that it is compatible, and physically fits in? (I don’t want to get a SSD that does not fit in the Mini, or does not work well with it).

    I have seen some SSDs with read/write data transfer rates of an incredible 500 MB/s, which should make a Mac Mini go like a rocket.

    Thanks for you advice on this.

  11. G says:

    HI Wayne. Thanks for this very informative article.

    I am going to get the latest 2012-release Mac Mini very shortly, I and think it would be a good idea to slot in a SSD into this machine, perhaps around 120GB in size.

    This may be a silly question, but I take it that there is room within the 2012 Mac Mini to accommodate both the existing hard drive (now 500GB or 1TB in size), and a new SSD?

    Also, if I am buying an internal SSD for a new 2012 Mac Mini, are there any particular specs and case sizes that I need to get so that it is compatible, and physically fits in? I read somewhere that the SSD needs to be no thicker than 9 mm for a Mac Mini. (I don’t want to get a SSD that does not fit in the Mini, or does not work well with it).

    I have seen some SSDs with read/write data transfer rates of an incredible 500 MB/s, which should make a Mac Mini go like a rocket.

    Thanks for you advice on this.

  12. Evan says:

    Wayne,

    Thanks so much for putting together this tutorial and info, it’s great! I’ve been doing a bunch of research on upgrading my late-2008 unibody MB Pro to the split SSD/HD-in-the-optical-bay option you describe, and have pretty much decided on the SSD drive (was probably going to go with the Crucial M4 128 GB SSD, as my system files take up 61 GB- not really sure why it’s so large, will investigate that). I recently stumbled across a tutorial on creating your own Fusion drive (http://www.macworld.com/article/2014011/how-to-make-your-own-fusion-drive.html#tk.nl_mwhelp), and was wondering what your thoughts were on it? Advantages/disadvantages, etc.? It wasn’t clear from the article whether creating a Fusion drive would enable/preserve the separation of os files/applications and user data that your approach does, which is important. The only advantage seemed to be its logical grouping as one drive (which could also be a disadvantage, as if one of the drives fails, then both do), as opposed to your approach, in which they’re viewed as two separate drives and require two separate backups (I think, see below)?

    As far as backing up under your approach goes, if I have a single external backup drive that’s large enough to fit all the files on my SSD/HD combo, I would partition my backup volume accordingly and do one backup for each drive? I’ve been using Carbon Copy Cloner.

    Thanks!
    Evan

    • Wayne says:

      If you are just going to use one hard disk as your main drive then I would go the fusion drive – then you can just treat it as one unit and back it up via time machine. I’m using a Pegasus 4 drive array for my main drive so its no use pairing that with a ssd drive in fusion or I lose the safety of the raid. I back up my boot ssd drive and my main array drive using time machine, plus I back them up using SuperDuper for an offsite backup.

      • Evan says:

        I just realized I omitted part of my post- I meant to say I’d pretty much decided to go with your split SSD/HD approach. I was trying to get your opinion on your approach vs making a single Fusion drive out of the two, as described in the other tutorial.

        Thanks,
        Evan

  13. James says:

    You are my hero.

    Followed your steps including using CCC with my Mac Pro (2006). It worked like a charm and seems almost as fast as my retina macbook pro.

    Thanks for a great post.

  14. Eyal says:

    First, thank you for this tutorial. I have a mid 2011 27″ iMac and was getting terrible performance out of Lightroom. I bought the Lacie 120gb thunderbolt SSD and followed the steps to transfer the system to it. I kept the home folder on the internal HDD.

    Only question I have – is it safe to delete the Applications directory from the HDD? The apps are now duplicated (residing on the SSD where they launch from) and have left duplicates in the ‘open’ menu when right clicking a file.

    If that is safe to do, is it safe/worthwhile to delete the other system directories on the HDD and just leave the User directory?

    Thanks again
    E

  15. kris says:

    Hi, I just went through all the steps up to restart after installing on the SSD. But I when locating my old directory I have a problem. I cannot find the old HDD. What do I do?

    • kris says:

      Problem solved, I had an encrypted HDD and so it did not show up until I unlocked it. Next challenge though is typing in the correct path for the new home directory on the old HDD while booting from SSD. I got me locked out” as I could not log on to my account after restarting as the directory ended up incorrect.
      I have tried a couple of alternatives, but no luck yet :-( Any pointers?

      • Kyle says:

        I just had the same thing happen to me after this process and now I’m locked out of my new ssd. What did you have to do to correct the problem?

  16. Kelvin says:

    Hi I’m new to Apple. I have a question. Lets say if i purchase a macbook pro 2012 13 inch, is it possible to configure it my self to a so-called hybrid drive? ie.with the original HDD and a SSD for caching purposes? will there be a slot for the SSD?

  17. Joe C. says:

    Hello, I followed your directions and everything went perfectly.!! I’m running a macbook pro with 10.8, i-5, 8gb ram, and Intel SSD 128gb with a 500gb for storing data. I couldn’t be happier unless I had an i-7 that is lol.. I have a problem (my own fault) not this site. I starting deleting all the old application files on my HDD so I wouldn’t have duplicates. After deleting them I noticed I couldn’t open some apps, :( after rebooting my system I can not log into my account. It says there is an error. I of course have all my data backed up on a external so I could just wipe both drives and start fresh. But maybe there is another option.Thanks in advance guys..!

  18. Perry Joseph says:

    Before applying this procedure, I am trying to learn more and using an external drive as an experiment. And I am unable to locate ” Incremental backup of selected items ‘ under Cloning options under paragraph 4. Help appreciated. Thnks

  19. Chris says:

    Very helpful, thanks. Would be good to add a section on how to create a recovery partition on the SSD drive during setup.

  20. […] Another alternative is to get a faster hard drive or use a Solid State Drive (SSD), but they don’t come cheap. One way is to get the SSD to run only your operating system and other applications, while leaving the other data on your old hard disk. Here is a good site on how to set up a SSD drive. […]

  21. Jeff says:

    Great article and I couldn’t agree more on the SSD being the biggest speed enhancement possible. Doubling RAM doesn’t do even close to what a SSD does to a computer, its truly a disruptive technology.

    Thanks for the guide on the Mac, we do them for Windows machines, so in fairness here is our guide to the PC SSD upgrade: http://www.restontechwiz.com/how-to-drastically-improve-your-computers-speed

    Might Acronis Close Disk work just the same with a Mac?

  22. Chris says:

    I recently upgraded my Mac Pro desktop to SSD, I agree Jeff, it truly flies, once you use SSD, you will never go back.

    I purchased the Angelbird Crest Mac Pro SSD, which is great as it just slotted easily into my Mac Pro and it comes TRIM enabled out of the box.

    http://www.angelbird.com/en/prod/crest-mac-pro-ssd-107/

  23. Brad says:

    I have a 2009 MacBook Pro with a 128GB SSD. I recently bought a 2012 Mac Mini with a 750GB HDD. The old MacBook Pro feels so much faster than the new Mac Mini. I’ll be performing this upgrade very soon!

  24. Daniel says:

    How can I copy my old files when I put the SSD in the Mac mini and HDD isn’t connected?

  25. Steve m says:

    What’s the situation when upgrading from SL to Mountain Lion with this set up? Just a case of hitting ‘update’ in the ML installer?

  26. Paul says:

    Do you then go ahead and delete everything from the original drive except for the home folder? Does Time Machine still work with this setup?

  27. Chris says:

    I was hoping to to a fresh install on a mac mini i added an ssd to this way about a year ago… I was planning on making it into a fusion drive setup and was wondering if anyone had any experience with it… any hiccups on the backup/restore process? any benefits to the fusion drive over a SSD boot drive with the above setup?

    • Wayne says:

      Well I did it this way because if the SSD drive fails (and SSD is less reliable than standard at this stage) then I won’t lose my data. I have all my data on a raid setup with 4 hard disks in RAID so it’s very safe. On a fusion setup if the SSD drive goes you lose everything as it’s all essentially the one drive. But if you have it backed up I guess that’s not a problem. So fusion setup simpler, but I think less hardy.

  28. Peter says:

    I got both of the angelbird SSD drives. one for my macbook pro 17″ and the mac pro ssd for mac mac pro. both work perfect and I can only recommend these.

    wayne, thank you for this nice article!

  29. Dickw says:

    I’ve been using this setup of r some time. Only problem is that the computer has to search for init ial links to some apps. Wheel spins sometimes for several seconds. Any suggestions for this?

  30. Dickw says:

    I’ve been using this setup for some time. Only problem is that the computer has to search for init ial links to some apps. Wheel spins sometimes for several seconds. Any suggestions for this?

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