Installing an SSD in a Macbook Pro

A brief Intro


I recently bit the bullet and bought an SSD for my Macbook. Having heard numerous friends raving about the performance increase I could no longer resist. However, I was not willing to pay the exorbitant amount required to replace my 500GB drive with an SSD of equivalent size.
The solution was to lose the DVD drive and replace it with an SSD thereby getting a dual system with the speed benefits of an SSD and the capacity benefits of a traditional HD.

The Hardware


I opted for a 120GB SSD and a bracket known as a data doubler which allows the SSD to be mounted where the DVD drive normally sits. Both of these items are available from Other World Computing. My reasoning was that 120GB should be more than enough for the OS and most of my home directory while my media such as photos, videos and music, would be relegated to the HD.

The Install


I will not go into the gory details, sufficed to say the install is a breeze. The data doubler and SSD are specifically designed for Macbooks and as such come with excellent step-by-step instructions for all models. If you are anyway comfortable opening your laptop then the it will be absolutely no trouble. The total install time from opening the boxes to the first boot took all of 20 minutes.

The Dilemma


The main dillemma I faced was how to configure the system, from what I can see there are three main options.
  1. Install the OS on the SSD and migrate the user folders to the HD. The logic of this is that the apps will still boot quickly as they are located on the SSD but the large media files will be in the home directory on the higher capacity HD.
  2. Locate most of the home directory on the SSD but keep large media directories on the HD and symlink them to the SSD.
  3. Locate the OS and home folder on the SSD and use the HD as a separate drive to store large media files. Then use in built functionality in Aperture, iTunes etc. to use libraries located outside of the home folder.
After much deliberation I opted for option 3. With option 1 as the SSD is 120GB and my OS and applications occupy less than 40GB I would essentially be wasting 80GB of SSD - not a chance. Also, when applications launch they use the library directory located in the home folder and I thought may slow things down a little.
Option 2 seemed a little messy and it can be a little risky, one wrong keystroke and I may be recovering the system from a backup. Also, for backups Time Machine will not follow symlinks.

For me, option 3 gave me the best compromise, the full utilisation of the SSD for maximum speed and the large storage capacity of the HD for media and backup.

Battery Life


I have seen a number of posts asking about battery life differences. For me I have actually seen an increase in performance. The reason for this is that only my large media files are on the HD and so these are not in use very regularly. Therefore it is possible to spin down the HD when not in use thereby saving power. With only the lower power consuming SSD active most of the time my battery life has actually increased. This is an improvement that cannot be achieved with locating the home directory on the HD (Option 1).

In order to set the HD to spin down when not needed, use the following command in the terminal:
sudo pmset -a disksleep 1
(1 specifies the number of minutes of inactivity before the drive is spun down)

Conclusion


By far this is the best upgrade I have seen. The system is now so much faster and responsive, and It was by no means a slouch beforehand. Installing the SSD really allowed me to appreciate how much of a bottleneck the HD in a modern computer is. The system boots in no time and apps launch as if they were already opened and sitting in RAM. If you are on the fence about the purchase bite the bullet, you will not be disappointed!