Apple Tips, News, and How-Tos

My Observations on a HDD + SSD Setup

Over the past several months I had read a few blog articles about people taking out their SuperDrives and replacing them with a Solid State Drive (SSD). I never really considered this since SSD’s are not cheap and doing this would take some work, even though I enjoy tweaking and repairing Macs. Then, I saw an ad for a sale on SSD’s from OWC. Then I noticed they also sell what they call a Data Doubler. Essentially, this is an adapter that allows you to connect any 2.5 inch SATA drive to your optical drive bay. So my amazing wife let me order this as my Christmas gift.

As I researched more, I wanted to know how much space I needed to run just my apps and the OS. Seeing as I wanted to save as much money possible, I decided I could get away with the 30GB SSD, knowing I may not be able to put all of my apps on there.

The days between ordering and arrival of my new toy, I did a lot of research on just how to do this project. The best article I found on doing this was found at Lifehacker. This page had the easiest, most concise steps, especially the software section.

So the day came when it arrived and a couple of days later I commenced my Frankenstein-like project. For the hardware part of the upgrade, OWC included install instructions with the drive which were very easy to follow. iFixit also has directions for removing the SuperDrive here. (Note: You will void your Apple warranty by opening your Mac.) This part was fairly easy, or so I thought. Everything went rather smoothly except when I booted back up I had not Bluetooth or iSight. It seems a cable which controls both of these things is connected beside the optical drive bay and I did not connect it properly after replacing. I had to disconnect it and reconnect it twice before I got it working. For those of you thinking of doing this, I found a magnifying glass made this process easier. It helped me see the connection a lot easier. See the picture of the cable below.

Once the drive was installed, I then started the process of copying everything over. (Note: If you have encrypted your HDD, you will need to de-encrypt before this step. If you used Lion’s FileVault 2 all you have to do I turn File Vault off) Here is where I relied on the Lifehacker article I linked to above. I downloaded Carbon Copy Cloner and proceeded with moving over my files. This part took some time. Besides the normal copying of about 30GB of data, I had to do this three times to get the right combination of files to fit my 30GB drive. (In hindsight I would probably get the 40GB model if I had it to do over, but the 30GB is working well.)

So with my data copied I booted from my new, screaming fast SSD. And let me tell you that the speed of an SSD is as advertised. I went from powered down to desktop in less that 30 seconds. I was so giddy that I rebooted three times to see the speed. My Home folder files were not there so went back to my Lifehacker article to redirect my Home Folder. Basically this is just making an alias from my SSD directing back to my original HDD. Once I did this everything was pretty much just like it was before, except I had a super fast flash drive running my OS and apps. I did run into a few permission issues. So I ran Disk Utility’s permissions repair, rebooted and everything was good. This probably would have been avoided by doing a clean install of Lion then copying files.

Final Thoughts

I have been using this setup for about a month now, and it’s like I have a new computer. I am using a late 2008 Unibody Macbook (yes the only aluminum MacBook made) and it runs almost like the day I got it. I really see the speed when opening iPhoto. We have around 5,500 pictures using 32GB of space and it opens ready to use in less than 5 seconds. This makes my wife happy.

The only downside to doing this is for some reason Time Machine now treats this as a new computer even though my Home Folder’s name hasn’t changed nor its location. I scoured the web looking for answers to this and all answers said there is no fix. I have to start TM all over. This isn’t a huge issue, but a minor annoyance.

After moving my files and the OS, I noticed about a 4GB-sized black hole on my SSD. I found that this is from Lion making a copy of my machine’s RAM and placing on the SSD so that when there is a loss of power or battery drain it will just resume instead boot up. This is a time saving feature, but since my SSD boots in less that 30 seconds I didn’t need this and I needed all the space I could get from my new drive. So I used this article to find and delete the file.

While this is relatively easy and there are plenty of step-by-step instructions out there, I still recommend getting a knowledgeable friend, family member, or Apple technician to do this if you are a little skittish about opening up your Mac.

If you have any questions about the process just leave them in the comments.

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