Pimping my MacBook Pro late 2008 – Part 3: setting up an SSD as second disk bootable

Putting an SSD as second disk on the MacBook Pro late 2008 is relatively easy. There are just two delicate moments to deal with, the wiring is fragile and requires steady hands, and the last step of the process consists of creating symbolic links (using the Terminal). I am satisfied with the results, 8 GB RAM and a 60 GB SSD as boot disk, OSX Lion: the boot time has more than doubled, and the sleep and wake times even more. The usually sluggish apps such as Mac Mail run faster now. I’ve not got time to benchmark everything, but my MacBook Pro definitely feels like new and it performs much better than it ever did. I think this budget upgrade is well worth it, if you haven’t got the big dosh to buy one of the new MacBook Airs. Keeping the user home folder on the original disk somehow impedes the performance because that path is still in daily uses. But I think that isn’t a huge compromise.

In Part 1 of this blog post, I show how to upgrade the RAM to 8GB. In Part 2 I show how I installed an SSD as a second disk on my MacBook Pro, replacing the DVD drive (SuperDrive if you like). Until now I didn’t have time to talk about the system setting changes that I had to make to get it all working. This post addresses that part. As I began writing this 3rd part, I realised that I didn’t take many screenshots while I was working on this, but luckily it’s still fresh in my memory and I can lookup resources to link in here.

Once I put the last screw in place, I plugged the power chord back on and turned the computer on. After the logon OSX Lion automatically detected the new SSD and launched the Disk Utility. I chose the suggested disk partition mode, which is journalled Mac OS extended. This went so fast that I doubted if I clicked the button or not. Nothing to it.

My MacBook Pro originally shipped with a 320 GB disk and it’s only got 30 GB free space left now, so I can’t clearly fit all my content on a 60 GB SSD. I chose a smaller SSD to keep the cost of this upgrade reasonable, so I have to compromise a little bit. Instead of copying everything over, I decided that I only wanted to copy the system files and the installed applications. That requires less space and I still get the speed boost (most of it, at least) I’m expecting.

A quick google and I downloaded Carbon Copy, a handy tool that iss apparently meant as a backup utility but it does a nice job. In the screenshot below I indicate the files that I’ve selected for copying, I left the rest unchecked. Actually this screenshot is made after I was done. Once the essential system files are selected, chose the destination to be the SSD that must be empty at this stage, then launch it.

Selective carbon copy of my HD to the SSD
Selective carbon copy of my HD to the SSD

This process took a very long time to complete, I think about 3 hrs (I just let it run and tended to other domestic chores and came to check it a short time before going to bed. After Carbon Copy completed I was ready to boot on my brand new SSD! But since I didn’t copy over the users folder, which actually contains all my settings and my personal files, I expected some trouble, so I got Plan B ready before continuing. My Plan B consisted of: 1) creating a second user with Admin rights, and 2) not immediately changing my default boot disk. Now I could reboot my Mac.

At boot,  I pressed and held the Option key (the one with a fork looking symbol) – must be done before you hear the chime and keep holding it till the Mac prompts for a boot disk. I selected my SSD disk and about 22 secs later I got the login screen. When I logged in with my normal account I was greeted with a lot of errors, Safari couldn’t find any of my settings, FireFox the same, I kind of expected this to happen and knew what I would do to fix it. What was happening is really simple, when I only had one disk I also only had one Volume which was my boot disk. So the Mac could find everything relative to the root folder of the boot Volume.

Two volumes on my Macbook Pro
Two volumes on my Macbook Pro

By booting on a second volume, the SSD, the path to my user settings was lost: the system is looking for my user folder on “/Volumes/Macintosh SSD”, but it should actually be looking on “/Volumes/Macintosh HD”. This kind of problem is easily solved by creating symbolic links. I created two symbolic links, one for my user home folder and another one for the /Users/Shared folder which I use to Parallels disk images. I logged out and logged back in, everything was now working fine. At this point I was confident that nothing would go wrong, so I changed my default Boot disk: / System Preferences / Startup Disk.

What did I gain now?

Since I still have both disks in place, comparing the performance was just a matter of booting up on one disk, timing that, and repeating the process for the second disk. With my original disk the booting time is 51 secs, with the new SSD my Mac booting time is now 22 secs. The Sleep and Wake times have also now been reduced to less than 5 secs on average, all my applications run much faster than they used to.

Conclusion?

I am satisfied with the results, the boot time has more than doubled, and the sleep and wake times even more. The usually sluggish apps such as Mac Mail, Adobe InDesign and DreamWeaver run faster now. One exception seems to be Omnigraffle Pro, it’s faster but still exhibits some long wait moments thaT I expected would be gone, this may have to do with my home folder still being on the slower hard disk. I did not take time to benchmark everything else, but my MacBook Pro definitely feels like new and it performs much better than it ever did. I think this budget upgrade is well worth it, if you haven’t got the big dosh to buy one of the new MacBook Airs. Keeping the user home folder on the original disk somehow impedes the performance because that path is still in daily uses. But I think that isn’t a huge compromise. I wish I chose a slightly larger disk though, because I’ve now only got 10 GB free space left on the SSD, but I’ve achieved my initial goal.

Pimping my MacBook Pro late 2008 – Part 2, installing a SSD as second disk and boot drive

This is the second last article in my two part posting on “pimping my MacBook Pro, late 2008”. In Part 1 I briefly explained how I upgrade the ram to 8 GB. Installing a second disk as a replacement of the DVD drive is fairly easy to do, if you are handy. Booting on an SSD drive, launching applications, putting the computer to sleep and restoring all became really fast. This is the best way to extend the life of an aging MacBook Pro.

This is the second part in my posting on “pimping my MacBook Pro, late 2008”. In Part 1 I briefly explained how I upgrade the ram to 8 GB.

I’ve finally found a couple of hours to write something up about this experience, it was fun (reminded me the old days when I liked this sort of tinkering with hardware). If you’re not afraid of taking apart your laptop, and that you can keep steady hands in the process, then you can install an SSD on your MacBook Pro and enjoy the gain in speed.

Before I go any further, I must warn you that this little operation can risk damaging your computer, there are lots of warnings about electrostatic hazards. There is also a risk of tearing the fragile wiring that link your DVD drive to the motherboard, because although fragile they are tightly clipped to their connectors. If you really want to give it a go, be sure that you are comfortable doing this. Otherwise I advise that you get an expert’s help. I hope to have warned you enough, DIY’s are always at your own risk.

If I didn’t scare you enough then read on.

I researched a bit more about SSD options, I’ve seen many reviews and all sorts of postings on the subject, in the end I covered the last miles myself and that is why  I thought it worth writing this down. I chose to buy a 60 GB disk as that was just at the sort of price point that I considered reasonable, it cost €76 at Mycom.nl. I thought if I were to buy a larger disk that would be much more expensive then there would be no point in keeping both disks. The first hurdle was to find the bracket for installing the disk in the bay reserved for the DVD drive – Apple call it the SuperDrive, in case you didn’t know that. I could buy it in the US for $79 dollars and pay the taxes here when it arrived. So I ordered again via Amazon US, they have it in their marketplace but the dealer is actually OWC themselves. The package was delivered 14 days later (the site originally suggested 8-10 days delivery from the US), and the Dutch customs charged me €22.57 (ouch!).

I thought the operation would be quick, but it wasn’t all that quick, the partial cloning of my hard disk took almost 3 hours to shift over 35 GB of files.

The first pictures of the SSD installation process.

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Picture of OWC Data Doubler was delivery package
How the OWC Data Doubler was delivered to me
Pictures of the screwdrivers that shipped with the OWC
Screwdrivers that shipped with the OWC
Picture of the SSD taken out of the bulky package
The SSD taken out of the bulky package
The SSD and the OWC Data Doubler bracket ready to use
The SSD and the OWC Data Doubler bracket ready to use
The OWC Data Doubler installation manual
The OWC Data Doubler comes with a detailed installation manual
The SSD mounted on the bracket, ready to be installed on the Mac
The SSD mounted on the bracket, ready to be installed on the Mac

[/captiongroup]

When the preparation was done, it was time to replace the DVD drive with my new disk.

[captiongroup columns=”3″]

My MacBook Pro opened, battery removed cover still on
My MacBook Pro opened, battery removed cover still on
The two fragile cables that must be disconnected from the SuperDrive
The two fragile cables that must be disconnected from the SuperDrive

 

Performing a sensitive disconnection
Performing a sensitive disconnection

[/captiongroup]

If no mistakes was made so far, you really didn’t break those wires (I’m glad I didn’t), then you should end up with something like this.

[captiongroup columns=”3″]

SSD fully mounted
SSD fully mounted
The SuperDrive, no longer useful for me
The SuperDrive, no longer useful for me

[/captiongroup]

Putting back the lid of the MacBook Pro is straightforward. Time to boot up the machine.

I’ve run out of time today, I will post the last part of this experience next time, it will be a short one focused on the tuning I had to do to get things working properly.

Pimping my MacBook Pro late 2008 – Part 1, install 8 GB Ram

If you’ve got an oldish (mine is late 2008) MacBook Pro, and you don’t have say €2000 to spend, there is a way to give it a new lease of life. Upgrade two essential components that play a vital role on the machine’s performance: the memory and the boot drive (hard disk). It’s very easy to upgrade the RAM of your MacBook Pro late 2008 edition. In this post I explain how I installed 8 GB Ram on mine.

If you’ve got an oldish (mine is late 2008) MacBook Pro, and you don’t have say €2000 to spend, there is a way to give it a new lease of life if you do have say 10% of that amount of money, which is €200. Upgrade two essential components that play a vital role on the machine’s performance: the memory and the boot drive (hard disk).

Sure the latest processor will help if you run video editing software or some computation intensive software. But for most common usages, performance bottleneck starts with memory access. If your computer has enough memory to run everything you need, you are unlikely to see performance problems. If it must access the disk at some stage, then that is a second tier of performance bottleneck that you need to address. Most of the time, once you’re past the initial application load time, having decent memory will give you a nice performance boost.

So starting with the memory upgrade, I looked for sources and found the following items from Amazon €65,8:

I ordered both items from Amazon UK, they took 3 days to arrive. I shut down my laptop, waited about 10 min for it to cool down, opened it up, removed the modules that were already there and replaced them with the new modules from Kingston. The instructions for upgrading memory on your MacBook Pro from Apple Support page are very straightforward.

The whole operation lasted for about 15 min, including time to dust my machine. It was a child play, and it made a difference already. I now scarcely have to wait for something to complete. And the result can be seen in the third picture on this post, above.

I have ordered a bracket for installing a second hard drive in the machine. I expect it to arrive in the coming days. I’ll publish Part II of this post once I get the kit.