Don’t buy a new Mac without an SSD or you’ll regret it

“Adding iOS UI elements of OS X means lots more small I/Os, the kind that disks do poorly and SSDs do well,” Robin Harris writes for ZDNet. “Don’t buy a new Mac without an SSD or you’ll regret it!”

“All iOS devices run on solid state storage. Mac OS is including many iOS features – such as remembering all open windows and documents – that require many small I/Os for both data and metadata,” Harris writes. “Finally, Lion performance – boot up, file access times, page swapping, context switching – all suck using a 7200 RPM drive. And if you’re running FCP X, forget it: booting up on a disk takes minutes from what I’ve seen on an 8-core Mac Pro.”

Harris writes, “How much suckage? Let’s just say that my 1.86GHz Core Duo 2, 4GB MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD outperforms my 3.4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB iMac on ≈90% of the work I do. And it is more stable… Once MacBooks go all SSD, the performance difference between them and most Wintel ‘books will be obvious. Expect more envy from cheap Wintel notebook users.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: On the rare occasion that we use a non-SSD Mac, the experience is jarring, as we’ve become used to the speed of the SSDs in our MacBook Airs and iMacs. It’s a huge difference. Once you go SSD, you won’t go back.

64 Comments

    1. Good question. I use my main MBP for DJing weddings with Traktor and I’ve loaded it with a 1TB HDD loaded with AIFF files. If I swapped in a SSD drive I’d have to lug an external with me storing all my media files. Sure, I could get by with smaller files but it’s 2012 and MP3s suck. As does not having the one song someone requested. And no, storing in iCloud doesn’t work because not all venues have coverage.

      1. LOL, what? If you think MP3s suck that badly, I would suggest you’re not encoding them properly.
        Regardless, I would bet that 99% of the population wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an AIFF file and a well-encoded MP4 audio file, especially with the acoustics of the kind of room that most wedding parties take place in.
        Sorry, that sounds more like superstition to me.

    2. I just scored a Seagate GoFlex Desk Thunderbolt Adapter at my local Apple Store. Just hooked it up – AMAZINGLY fast! I just moved my entire iTunes library over to it in a matter of minutes – not hours! Thunderbolt X-HDs are the way to go!

  1. Count me as someone who went back.

    Ya, SSDs are faster, quieter, more power efficient, cooler, and perhaps more reliable, but…

    They are significantly more expensive per GB, and don’t yet come in capacities available for conventional hard drives.

    I have 2TBs in my MacBook Pro 13″ and 1.75TBs in my MacBook Pro 15″. The 15″ MBP has one drive that’s a 750GB hybrid and while not as fast as a SSD, it’s significantly faster than 5400 drives, or even other conventional 7200 rpm drives.

    The bottom line here is that there are options. Choose the option that’s right for you based on all the variables of consideration. A SSD isn’t any good if you either can’t afford it, or if it won’t hold all the data you need.

    1. Don’t ever use the BTO options for an SSD… 😛

      Go get a 300GB Intel 320 SSD which will work nicely on your mac. It’s also a good deal at $500. Install it, use Internet Recovery to reinstall Lion, and then you’re good to go 🙂

      1. unless if you have a 2011 or newer Mac.

        Then you get the extra connection that makes upgrades not from apple throw errors and run your fan at full speed 24/7.

        I haven’t checked in a while, but my 2011 iMac requires apple branded hd’s still. Macsales/owc was working on their own upgrade to bypass that extra connection but nothing yet.

        Until the price comes down, I won’t be buying an ssd. I like the speed… Just not the extortion prices.

  2. I just put an SSD into my ORIGINAL macbook air, which was really on its last legs.

    Now it’s not perfect, but MAN is it better. A whole new computer.

    For the $140 for a 60gig ssd.

    I suggest that, before getting a new computer, consider (if you don’t need a ton of storage) replacing the drive with an SSD.

  3. Im with the others here who say until SSD comes in sizes that are big enough AND affordable, I’ll be sticking with my 750GB spinning platters.

    1. Agreed. What a lot of the SSD zealots forget is that as software developers improve upon and add new features to their programs, storage requirements are only going to go up, not down. So it’s just not practical to go from a 750GB hard drive to a 512GB SSD.

    2. check out the Momentus XT hybrid drives. They’re a HDD with small SSD. It transparently puts your most frequently accessed info onto the SSD, resulting in faster boot times and program launches. It’s not as fast as a pure SSD, but it’s noticeably faster than a HDD.

      I have the 500 GB HDD/4 GB SSD one in my MBP and really like it. Boot times are faster, as is launching programs I use every day. If I launch something I’ve not run in a while it won’t be in the SSD anymore, so it’ll load up with normal HDD speeds. I’m about out of room and will be replacing it with the new 750 GB HDD/8 GB SDD model in the next month or two.

      1. I bought and installed a Momentus XT (750 gig) drive in my Mid 2009 MacBook Pro. And absolute and complete CLUSTERFSCK! My god, my previously rock solid Mac was turned into a useless pile of crap with that drive in. Could not stay up more than 10 minutes without crashing; even just standing there unused it would crash hard. I tried everything to get that drive to work. Hours on the phone with Seagate, hours over at Apple Discussions. No suggestion would help me. If I boot off the Momentus XT externally, absolutely NO PROBLEMS. Install it in my MacBook, a train wreck.

        What a nightmare.

        1. My dad ran into the same problem with his MBP. My researched turned up that it’s a problem with the rev A motherboard that was triggered by the EFI 1.7 firmware update. The update enables SATA 2.0 support(3 Gbit/s), but the rev A motherboard can’t handle the sustained speeds of the SSD. Apple wouldn’t fix it because the MBP “worked as designed with a HDD”.

          The rev A 2009 MBP can work with SSD drives if you revert to EFI 1.6 or force the SSD to use SATA 1.0 speeds (1.5 Gbit/s).

          http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread.php?68873-Finally-the-truth-about-the-mid-2009-Macbook-Pro-and-Vertex-drives

      2. I have considered the hybrid drives, but the feedback I see does not look good. Check the user reviews on Amazon- lots of 1 star ratings from Mac users.

      1. That would work too. In any case, it seems like, for the MBP target market, it would seem a better move to make different use of that real estate in the computer than to just decrease the real estate for the sake of making a smaller computer. You want a thin computer? Get a MacBook Air. MBP users want something else.

  4. If you are on the fence about SSDs, DO NOT try one out! The improvement in system responsiveness is so remarkable that you are liable to forget all about the downside (lack of space, price of Apple-supplied drives, potential for failure without warning).
    I am running an early-2008 MacBook Pro (last non-unibody model) from a SSD in its PCI-card slot. Requires putting most 3rd-party apps and personal documents/data on the HDD for space reasons, but MAN does this baby fly!

  5. I installed four SDDs into my 2008 Mac Pro. Then set them up using Disk Utility as a RAID array. I’ve been running it this way for almost two years. It’s fast, faster than fast. Lion only made it better. I’d recommend getting at least two and setting them up as RAID, if you can.

    I have other drives connected, and eSATA for backups, video and photos. But for all the applications and files I use everyday, they are all on the SDD RAID.

    1. On current iMacs, you can have both. I’m planning to get an iMac and (eventually) have it boot and run apps off an SSD, and store most of my user data on the hard drive.

      However, my current iMac is a “Late 2006” model running Lion, and it still seems pretty quick to me. I guess I haven’t been “spoiled.” The stock hard drive started to become unreliable last year, so I replaced it with a WD Velociraptor. I keep mostly the OS and apps on that internal drive (with plenty of free space), and most of my user data files/folders are stored on two FireWIre external drives, with a very large USB 2.0 external drive for Time Machine backing up everything.

  6. I agree with just about everyone above in terms of an SSD being costly, small capacity, and if you lose data, the data recovery apps will probably be useless. (SSDs shuffle their data around using their own internal processors to maintain a type of wear equalizing – read/writes are finite in SSDs)

    For those people still living in caves and think they need TRIM, just about every SSD currently produced has its own customized version of TRIM to maintain the SSDs longest life and best speed. If you use an external TRIM controlled by your Mac, it could interfere with the SSDs internal TRIM/maintenance routines. DONT USE TRIM unless you have one of the very first SSDs (rare).

    I’d put the OS, user preference files, and apps on the internal SSD. All other data and files on an external Thunderbolt hard drive that has a separate partition for Time Machine.

    1. This is the first I’ve heard that SSDs use their own firmware version of TRIM. Can you provide anything more information wise other than calling people cavemen?

  7. I use Seagate’s 750GB hybrid drive in my MBP, which is now noticeably faster and better performing than it was with the stock 5400rpm drive. For less than $200 it’s hard to beat.

    1. I’ve had SSDs as the main drive in my 2008 Mac Pro for two years this coming August. I haven’t had a problem with them at all. I guess I really can’t comment on reliability until they’ve been running for a few years more. 🙂

      OWC made the best ones when I purchased mine. I would look at theirs first.

    2. I work in the data recovery industry. From what I have seen, reliability of static drives is currently just a little bit worse than traditional spinning hard drives. Getting closer, though.

      Really, reliability should not be a factor, as you should have a backup for everything, be it an HDD or SSD.

      While they are close on reliability I can tell you that SSDs are much, much more expensive to do data recovery on and much more likely to be unrecoverable than HDDs. Whatever you use, keep it backed up.

      1. Amen, brother!
        Another point to keep in mind is that a failing HDD will usually give you some advance warning that it is dying, often allowing you to make one last backup. But a SSD will seem perfectly fine one moment, then BOOM it is stone cold dead.
        Happened to me. Drive was fine at bedtime, completely unresponsive and and not even capable of being erased the next morning. But thanks to my backup habits, all I lost was a few email messages.

  8. While SSD certainly has the aforementioned advantages, I don’t find it jarring to use a Mac w/o an SSD as SSDs remain a bit pricey for the storage capacity. Besides, who shuts down a Mac anyway?

      1. Forgive my ignorance, but are you really not supposed to shut down a Mac? I know that when Steve Jobs introduced the MBA, he talked about how you could just put it to sleep by closing it, and it would stay good for 30 days, but I had no idea that shutting down your Mac would actually make it _worse._ My wife always freaks out if I just close my MBP and put it to sleep, but if someone can show me where I’d be better off putting it to sleep than shutting it down, please educate me!

        1. There is no harm done to your Mac if you shut it down, but there is definitely no discernible benefit either.

          However, there is a major benefit in NOT shutting a Mac down (unless some major system update requires it). There are nightly jobs that every Mac does (the UNIX OS that it is), which do some clean-up duties, purging unnecessary files and logs. When a Mac is shut down, these aren’t done and the unnecessary junk piles up.

          Besides, a Mac that is shut down takes over 15 seconds to get ready for use, once powered up. A Mac that is put to sleep (by closing the lid) wakes up in about 500 milliseconds. In addition, all the windows from the previous session are still open, all the widgets are already loaded and ready to open and there is no wait for anything.

          Unlike Windows, where a PC still takes about 10 seconds to wake up properly, and there is a 50-50 chance that something would go wrong and some application or service would freeze, Mac consistently wakes up like it never went to sleep.

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