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. 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.

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. When SSDs get to the point wherethey can store a sensible amount of information, Ill think about it. Right now, Iwould need 100 of them to store my files. And what’s the big deal about speed? How can you get faster than instant?

    1. Actually there’s really no reason at all for using an SSD to store files (songs, images, movies, what have you) because once you’ve read them into RAM, they aren’t access all that much. It’s having System and Library, plus some huge apps on it that make an SSD really a time-saver.

      But the big deal about speed is really noticed when you are on a different Mac that doesn’t have an SSD. There truly is a speed difference. Oh, I know all about our perceived “need for speed” when the difference between an HDD and an SSD is only a matter of seconds, but once you get used to it, it’s like being behind a Sunday driver out on a winding country road.

  5. After spending years developing OSX for Mac into a reasonable OS, Apple loads it down with iOS interface elements that can’t really be justified for Macs because of some crazy idea Apple has, independent of what customers want, hmmm everyday now Apple sounds more and more like another company I have learned to dislike. Some have suggested that Apple should rid itself of Mac, maybe that’s exactly what Apple is trying to achieve.

  6. Ive been using a 120GB SSD from OWC. Its my scratch disk for Lightroom, PS and a cache for other programs. I still need a platter for internal storage.
    Just pull your SuperDrive from your MBP and move your platter in that space then drop in a 6G SSD and you are off to the races.

    1. It is important to match your SSD speed to the rated capacity of your Mac. In other words, if you put a 6Gigabit SSD into a 3Gigabit Mac, like a 2008 iMac, you could have your speed downgraded to 1.5Gigabits as happened to me recently when I tried the upgrade described above. When I changed to a slower 3Gigabit SSD the speed rating became equal to the iMacs.

  7. I use 240GB SSD OCZ Vertex 3 on my Late 2011 MBP for system and applications and Promise Pegasus R6 12TB (Thunderbolt) for storage. They are just awesome.
    Working on big projects, using virtual machines and a lot of other things is just lightning fast!

    Of course also the speed of your money going away from your wallet, is noticeable (-: …

    1. There’s also a noticeable difference in sheer loss of GBs. I actually posted on a previous thread (one where it suggested that MBPs were going to abandon HDD altogether), and in response to people who suggested I should focus on the positives of SSDs over HDDs instead of worrying about the loss of a third of internal storage drive space (750GB down to 512GB), and I posted actual numbers of what I used those 750GB for. Now it sounds like the speed boost is only incremental, and the tradeoff really isn’t even worth it. More justification to keep those spinning platters just a little longer.

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