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by Tim Van Damme

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Once you go SSD...

Last week I got fed up with system freezes that lasted a couple of seconds every time too many apps were accessing the hard disc drive of my MacBook Pro. That, combined that lately the HDD was making a worrying amount of clicking-sounds, made me bite the bullet and order a SSD (short for Solid State Disc, meaning there aren’t any moving parts in it, like the storage inside your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad).

Trees, forrest, something something

Before I ordered it, I did some research. I asked around on Twitter and Googled like a madman. The land of SSD is still pretty young, and it isn’t easy finding a clear answer on what the best bang for bucks available right now. Here’s a quick list of the 3 best options I found during my research:

  • Intel X25 series are considered the best you can get looking at speed and durability. The only problem is they max out at 160GB (at the time of writing).
  • The OCZ Vertex 2 series, which go up to 400GB were also highly recommended, but apparently they’re hard to get in Europe.
  • Crucial’s C300 series, which I bought in the end. The speed is insane, and I could get it delivered within a week (from this German site).

Installation

Now, I’m not much of handyman when it comes to hardware. When I still used Windows, I composed my own desktop from various different hardware vendors, but that’s about it. That said, installing the SSD couldn’t be more simple.

First thing I did was create a mountable copy of my current disc with Carbon Copy Cloner which took about 8 hours. After verifying it could mount, I opened up the back of my MacBook Pro, took out the HDD (there’s only one tiny screw holding it in it’s place), and replaced it with the SSD. That was the hard part.

Insert the DVD of Snow Leopard (or the DVD you got with your laptop), and press “c” to boot from that DVD. Let it load the install interface (about 5 minutes), and go open Disc Utility from the top bar. Partition the SSD (I just made 1 partition taking up all the available space), close Disc Utility and go back to the installer. Press next until you see the OS X bootscreen.

That’s it. No extra software or drivers to install, nothing. Now I did a clean install (my current installation was 3 laptops old), but you can also just copy the backup you made from your HDD to the SSD.

Here are some quick tips on how to easily backup the files you need:

  • Go to your user folder, select Library and navigate into Application Support. Here’s where most of the apps you have installed store their settings and data. Copy the folders of the apps you know you’ll reinstall.
  • Copy all the fonts you installed from your user folder > Library > Fonts
  • Use MobileMe to sync all your contacts, address book entries, bookmarks, your entire keychain and much more (this saves you a lot of trouble).
  • Copy over your entire Pictures, Music and Movies folder.
  • Don’t delete the backup you made for a couple of months, there are always things you forgot to copy back out of it.

Usage

The reason I wanted an SSD instead of a regular HDD was that it uses less energy, is lighter, is cooler, doesn’t make any noise, and it’s supposed to be fast as hell.

Well let me tell you, that’s one heck of an understatement. It screams. Everything happens instantly. Here’s a short video I recorded showing how I launch iPhoto (with 17,000 photo’s in it’s library), and just start scrolling away:

My first generation unibody MacBook Pro feels like next year’s MacBook Pro, and I didn’t even upgrade the RAM. CPU speed these days is nothing more than sales talk, and RAM is too expensive to make a big difference in performance. SSD’s are still kinda pricey ($500-$700 for 256GB, $1000-$1500 for 512GB), but it’s an investment everyone should do if you work with applications that to a lot of writing/reading to the disc (biggest examples: Photoshop and iPhoto). They’ll come down in price quite a lot in the next 6 to 12 months, but don’t wait out and treat yourself with one as fast as possible!