MacBook Pro SSD upgrade notes, a month in

About a month ago I put a 240 gig SSD drive in my 3 year old 2.5 ghz MacBook Pro and documented the installation process here. I thought I’d report on how it’s working and whether it’s a worthwhile upgrade to consider.

Speed
There are many factors that affect the speed of a computer and one of them is how full the hard disk is relative to its size. I’ve heard from many people who have hard disks with less than 10% free that their computers have slowed to a snail’s pace. OS X writes temporary files to the hard disk and you need to always have enough free space to accommodate these files.

I didn’t and don’t have this problem; I’m using about 170 gigs out of 240 so have enough extra space for the temporary files. But, this issue is something to keep in mind and just buying a new, larger hard disk (not an SSD) might solve the speed problem for many. Same installation as an SSD.

For me the SSD speeds up booting the computer, launching applications, and almost every process that used to slow me down. It has made working with this computer much like working with an iPad or an iPhone 4 with their fast A4 processors. While the speed increase is not earth shattering and some with unrealistic expectations might be disappointed, I notice it and it’s significant enough to make me feel the upgrade is worthwhile.

My friend Edward, who has a current generation 15″ MacBook Pro with i7 processor and plenty of memory and a 7200 rpm hard disk came down for a visit and we did some informal comparisons with our two computers side by side. My SSD equipped computer booted faster than his every time although booting applications was about as fast on his computer. No doubt the newer processor and graphics chips in his computer would run circles around mine given certain processes but in fact, my computer fared quite well running the kinds of things we both run: Pages, Lightroom, Safari, Reeder and other small and modern OS X applications. Both of us were amazed that a simple upgrade could boost performance that much but in fact it did and does.

Sleep
There is only one issue I have with this upgrade and it may be a deal killer for some because it may affect battery life. It may be that I need to change something on my computer to make this work right but so far I’ve not found it.

Even with the Energy Saver system preference pane set to put the computer to sleep in 10 minutes and the “Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible” if I walk away from the computer with the screen up the display will sleep but the rest of the computer never goes into sleep mode. I can force it into sleep mode by closing the lid/screen or choosing “Sleep” from the Apple menu or hitting the power button and choosing “Sleep” but it will not sleep on its own with the lid up.

I’ve reset the power manager and the parameter ram and done about everything I can to wipe out whatever old settings were stored in the computer about sleep but so far nothing has helped here.

This may be of no significance anyway because, of course, there is no hard disk to spin down, but my guess is that the computer uses power differently in sleep/hibernation mode than it does when its awake.

I was curious about this early on and posted about it here. I got a comment from a MacBook Air user who said that his Energy Saver screen remained the same; talked about hard disks when in fact, there are no hard disks installed on the Air. Still, the Air is using flash memory differently and no doubt has hibernation/sleep routines built into its ROMs that a MacBook Pro with an SSD upgrade doesn’t have. I wonder if a MacBook Air has a fan? Anyone care to comment.

No doubt this issue has an affect on battery life if you walk away from a “running” machine with the lid up. Our house is dusty enough (wood stove) that I tend to close the lid on this computer when I’m not using it putting it to sleep properly (LED pulsing, etc.). The bottom line is that while it’s an issue, it’s not a deal killer for me because I’m starting to use an iPad to read my feeds with Reeder (excellent) and this computer, while still being used as a portable doesn’t have to have killer battery life on planes because I have an iPad for that.

Battery life
The ads say that an SSD improves battery life (other than this sleep issue) and while my report is only anecdotal, I do think its true. The battery life in my normal use of the computer is certainly better if I stay away from Flash sites, don’t watch video, and refrain from pushing the computer by running Lightroom and a few other applications simultaneously. These days normal use of a computer involves all sorts of things including running the occasional video. Even if battery life is the same for me its not a deal killer because I use my iPad on long distance flights and because I use this computer plugged in on my desk as much as I do unplugged away from it (as I am now). I’ve been sitting here in the living room for about 2 hours and I have 54% battery left. That’s not too bad actually and no doubt more than I’d have had left pre SSD upgrade.

Quiet and fans
Without a hard disk spinning the computer is a lot quieter and this is meaningful to me. However, my computer’s fans now seems to be running all the time (related no doubt to the sleep issue). The fans make almost no noise but you can hear them if you put your ear up to the keyboard. When I first heard this and wasn’t sure what it was I installed the iStat Pro dashboard widget to track what was happening and lo and behold, both right and left fans are running at between 1500 and 2000 rpm almost all the time. This is nothing compared with what they do when the machine is overloaded with processes and they make a lot of noise but it’s something and may be responsible for the sleep and battery issue I’m having.

While my friend Edward was here with his current i7 MacBook Pro we checked out the fan noise on his machine and in fact, his fans were running all the time too. His machine is newer so the bearings on the fans made less noise but iStat Pro (which I found out about from Edward) showed that both of his fans ran continuously.

This made me curious and I installed iStat Pro on my wife’s MacBook which seemed to be running silently at times and in fact her fans are running all the time too, more quietly than mine but they’re running.

Just to be clear, the fans don’t run during sleep but on my computer, since I have to put it to sleep manually the fans will continue to run as long as the lid is up and I’ve not forced it to sleep. This is no doubt the cause of battery drain and maybe the reason my computer won’t sleep properly.

Bottom line
Even if I never solve the fan/sleep issue I still think this SSD upgrade is very worthwhile. The performance increase from the SSD has allowed me to put off buying a new computer for a year and has made this machine fun to work with again. That’s worth the $500 price to me and I recommend the upgrade to anyone who’s in a similar position.

4 comments

  1. Hi, I have installed a Crucial 256GB SSD and upgraded to Kingston 8GB RAM on my late 2008 MacBook Pro. It became a lot faster and I don’t see problems in Sleep mode but the only problem is that battery life has become very Very short. I had to buy a new battery thinking my old one was no longer efficient but I had the same result with the new one as well. It used to run for 2.5~3 hours using my old HDD but now it can barely reach 1~1.5 hour depending on my work. Do you think it’s caused by the SSD or RAM?

    1. Hashim, thank you so much for posting your comment here, I appreciate the time you took to repost.

      I think there is no doubt an Energy Saver setting that’s gone awry and I think it’s the SSD that’s “on” more than it should be.

      There are two things you might want to do to see where the problem is:

      1. Install a widget like “iStat pro” which will help you figure out where things are happening. You can also use Apple’s Activity Monitor, found in your Utilities folder.

      2. Reset your computer’s PRAM and power manager (do some searching for the keys to hold down on startup). They may contain a glitch that’s not allowing you to control things with the Energy Saver System Preference.

      3. Make sure all the settings on the Energy Saver System Preference are set the way you want them. If you don’t allow your computer to ever sleep, that might be causing the problem.

      Let me know if any of this helps or if in experimenting you learn more.

  2. I installed a Crucial 256 SSD on a my white Macbook and it’s a night and day difference. The spinning beach ball that would hang up my computer for chunks of time is gone. It feels like getting a new computer. Anyone using an older Mac should run out and get an SSD.

    1. I agree Vince. Depending on the vintage of one’s MacBook or MacBook Pro, installation can be a bit tricky but it’s totally doable. Congratulations on your “new” computer.

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