In 2015 I wrote this post about installing an SSD drive. Back then SSD drives were expensive and the whole process I described was a bit complicated. Now SSD drives have dropped dramatically in price and you can just replace your existing drive with an SSD one. I can’t think of any reason why you should not be using one. All MacBooks now come standard with an SSD drive. If you have an older one that you’d like to upgrade you should be able to take your Macintosh computer to a local dealer and have them install an SSD drive. Otherwise you can have a go at installing one yourself.
Traditional hard drives have a spinning disk inside. There is also a ‘head’ that moves across the spinning disk to read the data (like an old record player). There are two problems with so many moving parts: (1) it slows everything down, and (2) eventually one of these parts will seize up or break and the drive will fail.
SSD drives do not have any moving parts. They store data on a chip rather than on a spinning disk. It’s like having a very very fast very very big thumb drive.
What’s the best SSD drive for an Apple computer?
If you have a macbook or a Mac Mini what you need is 2.5″ SATA Drive. It will look something like this:
There are many brands available. Toshiba, OWC, Crucial, Samsung, Transcend, Sandisk. Technically any SSD drive will work on a Macintosh computer. So any of the above brands should work. You will need to format them to Macintosh format using the Macintosh OS X disk utility.
But… there have been problems in the past when Apple changed the way it did things (with TRIM) that meant some SSD drives did not work for a while. This has all been fixed up now, but back then it was the Crucial and OWC drives that kept working when other’s stopped working. So even though any SSD drive will work at the moment, I would recommend sticking with a Crucial or OWC drive. Crucial and OWC work hard at retaining compatibility with Apple computers.
Crucial make a drive called the MX300 and OWC make a series of drives called Mercury.
How to do it:
1. Work out what size drive you need.
Click on your Apple menu on the top left of your desktop and select ‘About This Mac’. Go to the tab that says ‘Storage’ and you will see a window that looks like this:
This tells me (on the left) that my current hard drive is 1 TB. (It says ‘Solid State SATA’ because I have just recently upgraded to a 1TB SSD drive.)
The graph next to the hard drive shows me that my hard drive is approximately half full. This means I’d need a 1TB drive. A 500GB drive will be too small. Generally you can just get a drive the same size as the one you already have, but if your drive is really full with not much free space it might be worth going to a bigger size.
2. Where to order an SSD.
The first place I would recommend is OWC, their website is macsales.com. Back when there were problems with TRIM support it was OWC who came out and helped Apple readers with some information. (See this article) They have a few models. I’d go for the best, the OWC Mercury Pro 6G drive, simply because installation process is not simple so it’s worth getting the most reliable drive you can.
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. Go for the MX300 series. It might not be quite as good as the OSC Mercury Pro but it’s still a reliable and fast drive.
A crucial 1TB Hard Drive is $279 and an OWC is $359 at the time of writing this post.
3. Connect the SSD drive temporarily to your Mac
The easiest way to do this is to buy a small external case that you can place your SSD drive into before you replace your current drive or a ‘docking station’.
Here is a cable from Amazon that will do the job. You plug one end into the USB port and the other end into the SSD drive.
4. Format the SSD Drive using disk utility.
After your SDD drive is plugged in you’ll need to use Disk Utility to format it – Mac OS Extended (Journaled):
For more detailed information on how to do this read this article.
5. Copy everything onto the SSD drive.
Now you need to copy your entire computer onto the new SSD drive. You can’t just drag the files across because there are lots of hidden files that need to be copied. You need a special backup program that will make a ‘ bootable clone’ of your hard drive.
Two pieces of software that I recommend are ‘Carbon Copy Cloner’ or ‘Super Duper’.
You need to make a clone bootable copy onto the SSD disk. For more information on how to do this read this article.
6. Remove your old Hard Disk and replace it with the new SSD Drive.
Shut down your computer, disconnect the power, remove the old hard drive and replace it with the new SSD drive. An SSD drive has a standard SATA Connector, which means that you can plug it straight in where your old hard drive was.
The difficulty of this varies according to what kind of a Macintosh computer you have.
Difficulty: easy – 30 seconds.
I just sat the SSD drive in and added a bit of tape to hold it in place.There are adapters out there if you prefer a more professional solution e.g. Angelbird SSD Adapter
Difficulty: moderate – 1/2 hr.
You can get the old hard disk out without pulling out the motherboard but the SSD drives are ever so slightly thicker and more uniform in shape so the motherboard may need to come out to manoeuvre the SSD drive in place. There are easy to follow instructions here at mac fixit.
Difficulty: hard – 1 hour.
Unscrew the back of your MacBook, remove the old hard drive and insert the new SSD drive. It’s not complicated but you will need some very small Phillips head screwdrivers. You can find instructions here. (Note that all Macbook Airs and Retina Macbooks later than 2013 have a built in SSD drive already.)
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.
7. Reboot from the new SSD drive.
Simply power up your computer and you should be now running from your new SSD drive.
8. Check if you need to Enable TRIM.
Some Hard Drives need you to turn on TRIM.
The SSDs that I recommend above (Crucial and OWC) do not need TRIM. (read this article for more information).
If you have another brand of drive, you will probably need to enable trim, although you really need to check with the manufacturer, and often this information can be hard to find.
To enable trim you need to type this into the terminal:
sudo Trimforce enable
Please read this article first so that you understand what you’re doing:
I recommend that you get a Crucial or OWC drive so that you do not need to do this.
9. 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 article on how to keep your old Time Machine backup when you change Hard Drive.