My 2007 MacBook Pro is starting to show its age a little bit. Now, don't get me wrong, it's still performing perfectly adequately, even though it's on its second battery, and its second logic board. No, the real problem is disk space, or rather lack of it. The 160Gb hard disk has been getting seriously overcrowded, thanks partly to a iTunes music library that is approaching 50Gb in size.
It's probably within my technical ability to replace the internal hard drive with a larger capacity one, and I've been pondering the pros and cons of using a Solid State Drive, but I am still put off by the price of anything approaching a sensible size. Recently I found a reference to the Filemate SolidGo ExpressCard SSD which got me thinking that a hybrid solution might be an interesting alternative.
As regular readers of the Apple Harvest will know, I won't generally embark on a project like this without doing some research, so I trawled the internet for any viable information. I came across one particular article by Rob Griffiths on the MacWorld website which pretty much sealed the deal for me. (There's an accompanying five minute video which is also quite interesting). I did a check with the manufacturer to make sure that the card would fit my specific MacBook Pro, and then purchased the 48Gb model from MemoryC in the UK for around £126 inc. VAT. Being a Bank Holiday weekend, I opted for the DHL next day delivery service, which meant I should have the whole weekend to play with the device, and sure enough the courier arrived first thing on the Friday morning.
The SSD fits perfectly into the ExpressCard slot and sits completely flush with the edge of the machine. It has a mini-USB 2.0 port and a small green LED on the exposed edge. It only weighs a few grammes so has no impact at all on the overall weight of the laptop.
I decided that I had two options when it came to configuring the SSD. One was to store the existing iTunes music library on it; the alternative was to convert it into a bootable drive, and use it to store the operating system and my application files. Given that the iTunes music library continues to expand rather rapidly it was a no-brainer filling up the SSD with music, so I went for the latter option. This is also the approach that Rob Griffiths talks about in his article.
Installing Snow Leopard onto the SSD was a breeze - I used my original retail copy of 10.6.0 (family edition!) and then used Migration Assistant to copy over my Applications. User files, including the iTunes library remained on the original hard disk. I then ran the Software Update programme to upgrade to 10.6.3. The SSD had about 7Gb of space remaining, which allows plenty of room for additional applications and space for OS upgrades. Finally, I changed the Start-up drive in System Configuration to point at the SSD and rebooted...
The speed improvement in rebooting was amazing. The system glides silently through the process and within just a few seconds all my login items appeared to have been loaded and the machine was ready for action. Launching applications also seems far less painful without the sound of the internal hard disk whirring away. Unfortunately I didn't do any timings before making the modifications, but it takes less than a minute from pressing the power button to having a fully functional laptop - including mounting remote drives connected through my Pogoplug, iDisk, and Time Machine disk, and a substantial number of start-up applications.
Of course, with this configuration, the original hard disk is still bootable in case of emergencies should the SSD fail. I've have tried this and some of the start-up applications got their knickers in a twist, but nothing that couldn't be dealt with quickly and painlessly. In addition, Time Machine automatically backs up both the SSD and the internal disk in a single seamless action, so restoring the system should also be fairly painless.
Looking at the original internal drive I appear to have rescued between 25-30Gb of free space. There is some duplication of folders across the two drives, but I can't see any duplication of individual files. Some more research and investigation is required to see if I can free up any more space. I could free up an additional 4Gb of space on the SSD by disabling the 'sleepimage' hibernation file (which would also allow a faster sleep process) but there's no point at present.
I'm really pleased with the improvements this modification has made. It was simple and quick to set up and configure, and the speed increases are very welcome, along with the extra space on my hard drive. I've not seen much in the way of comments about reliability of this sort of SSD in the long term, but I'm optimistic, and in any case I have secure back-up procedures in place. I'm hoping also that the battery life will improve with less of a requirement on the internal hard disk.
All in all, a highly recommended addition and modification to my MBP, but if you want to go the same way do your homework first, and, at the very least, check for compatibility with your model of laptop.