My New SSD

My next computer will be a MacBook Air, that I’ve already stated. When I talked about it last, I said that I’d keep using my MacBook Pro for the next couple of years and that my next upgrade would be to replace my hard drive with a much faster SSD. Well that day has come. I had been waiting to get one because they were still expensive despite significant price cuts in the last year. A 256 GB drive cost about $250 at the time which was about 4x the cost of a hard drive of the same size. The advantages however, are numerous. SSDs (Solid State Drives) are essentially large collections of memory inside a hard drive style case. They have no moving parts, use less power, make no noise, and shuffle data around much faster than a hard drive.

I had been waiting for Black Friday deals to bring down the cost into the sub-$200 range but found one on Amazon early – a Crucial 256 GB SSD for $165. I ordered it and installed it in September and have been using it ever since.  My intent was to publish this review months ago but better late than never, right? The drive is the same size as a 2.5″ laptop hard drive and looks essentially the same except that it has no exposed circuit boards like a hard drive typically does. It is slightly lighter too. Installation was easy as my MacBook Pro is one of the few portable Macs that provide easy access to the hard drive. I just lifted a lever on the bottom of the machine and popped off a panel that gave me access to the drive. It took five minutes to install and then another hour or so to copy all of my data back onto it. Pretty simple.

I’ve had it for four months and I’m happy with it so far. It is extremely zippy. Applications open in a couple of seconds, documents open immediately, and files copy quickly. It doesn’t make web browsing any faster per se but everything feels snappier so it is subjectively faster.  The biggest change that I’ve noticed has actually been the noise, or lack thereof. There is no spinning, whooshing, or clicking to hear when I open something. In fact I think that not having a hard drive running and making heat all the time has significantly reduced the speed of the fans that usually run. They still run but are spinning so slowly that I can’t hear them unless I’m in a silent room. Virtually noise free!

The reduction in fan noise is due to reduced heat inside the case. I didn’t feel too much heat outside of the case from the hard drive but now I don’t feel any at all. My battery life has also improved slightly. I used to be down to about 65% battery life after a half hour of web browsing (I know, not good) but now I’m closer to 75% or 80%. Still not great but definitely better. I’ve only noticed two issues so far. Whenever I wake my MacBook from sleep it takes about 5 seconds to wake up which is significantly longer than it took with a hard drive. Once it is up and running everything is ready to go which was not the case with the hard drive – the screen would display but not respond. So it is pretty much the same overall. The other thing I’ve noticed is that my keyboard controls for brightness, volume, etc do not work for about a minute after it wakes from sleep. Not sure what causes that one. Both are minor issues that I can live with.

SSDs are fast and quiet but all of that comes with a price. SSD memory can only be read from and written to a limited number of times before it fails. After enough read/write cycles the data on the drive will become read-only and I’ll need to get a new drive. The number of read/write cycles guaranteed are somewhere in the hundreds of thousands per bit on the drive so in real use I’ll probably get 10 years out of it without issue. Another limitation of SSDs is that erasing data is very expensive and can slow down the drive over its lifetime. Most SSD hardware manages the space on the drive in such a way that it mitigates this issue.

My hard drive does not use over provisioning where a portion of the space is hidden from the system and used internally by the SSD to improve reliability and performance. It also does not support TRIM commands, which allow the OS to give the SSD hints about what data to delete in order to prolong its life. Based on the reviews that I read the drive works reliably without it and I really couldn’t beat it for the price. Even a slow SSD is faster than my hard drive was. The price on Amazon is currently $190 so I still feel like I got a good deal. This upgrade will give me at least another year with my 2008 MacBook Pro.

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