SSD

Apple is repairing MacBook Pros with video issues

Last fall my 2011 MacBook Pro died and I posted about it here: Update on MacBook Pro issues.

I pulled the SSD out of it, bought a cheap plastic USB 3 case for it and have been using it as a backup for travel (looks better to x-rays than a HDD).

Yesterday I learned that Apple is going to fix, at no cost, computers like mine: MacBook Pro Repair Extension Program for Video Issues.

Of course I already bought a new computer and in order to fix the old one I’ll need to make it whole by putting the SSD back into it. No problem doing this but:

1. I’ll lose the external 512GB SSD, worth about $300 to replace.

2. What will I do with a now 4 year old computer? It has no trade-in value and little sale value. Its value is probably less than the cost of its SSD.

So, I’m toying with the idea of simply ignoring the recall and keeping things as they are, even though I want Apple to make this situation right.

Update: I just spoke with Apple support about this. I told them the entire story, including the fact that I’d already pulled the SSD. What the person I spoke with zeroed in on was that I’d replaced the machine already and repairing the old one at this point was too late. I asked him if Apple might provide me with a credit or gift card instead of the repair and he thought that was a reasonable idea.

Mine was the first call he’d gotten about this today, but we were both sure it wouldn’t be the last. He said he’d talk my idea of a credit or gift card over with his manager and get back to me.

I’ve pretty much decided not to have the machine repaired: I already have a great replacement and everyone in my family has a newer computer. And, the SSD remains valuable.

Stay tuned…

Connecting to a new MacBook Pro

My last post on things I’m learning during this transition to a new computer buried some interesting ideas in a long-winded story: Update on New MacBook Pro.

Here’s my executive summary on external storage, and ways to connect it to a modern Macintosh.

External storage speeds and interfaces

When I ordered the new MacBook Pro I ordered a Thunderbolt to Firewire Adaptor because I have Firewire 800 external hard disks and new Macs support Thunderbolt and USB 3. In order to use my old external drives with firewire I needed an adaptor. Two of my drives also have USB 3 but I bought the firewire adaptor because I had no experience with USB 3 and my experience with USB 2 has been less than wonderful. This “baggage” about USB has now changed (read on).

I’ve also been shopping for some new drives and wasn’t sure what to get. In doing my research here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Thunderbolt is faster than USB 3 which is faster than Firewire 800 which is faster than USB 2.

2. Thunderbolt and Firewire 800 are daisychainable at the device: an external hard disk/SSD could have two ports (or not) for a pass through connection to another device. USB 2 and 3 are not although multiple drives can be connected to a USB (3) hub. And there are Thunderbolt hubs as well so one might have multiple single-port Thunderbolt drives connected to a hub.

For a MacBook Pro user the pass-through/hub thing is a non issue: the machine has two Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3 ports so one could have multiple single-port external storage devices connected simultaneously.

3. External storage might be a hard disk spinning at 5400 RPM, a hard disk spinning at 7200 RPM or an SSD (solid state drive). There is a significant speed difference between 5400 and 7200 RPM but an even bigger one with SSD which is extremely fast.

When you put all of this together you end up with some general ideas:

1. If you have a 5400 RPM external hard disk, Thunderbolt isn’t any faster than Firewire or USB 3, the limiting factor is the speed of the hard disk which is slow relative to the connection speed.

2. If you have a 7200 RPM hard disk Thunderbolt doesn’t get you any more speed than USB 3 or Firewire but USB 3 is faster than Firewire so if you don’t need to use Thunderbolt for some other reason, its is probably overkill and USB 3 is the thing to use on modern Macs.

The bottom line is that Thunderbolt, while very fast, is probably overkill for most spinning hard disks and if you don’t need some other aspect of Thunderbolt, USB 3 is fast enough and a lot cheaper and more widespread in use in external enclosures.

3. If you have an SSD in an external enclosure Thunderbolt will give you the fastest throughput although USB 3 is close enough so that the extra expense and rarity of a Thunderbolt interface may or may not be worth it. And, buying a 500GB or 1TB SSD is a lot of money. At this point, spinning hard disks are still the way to go for backup or large storage needs until the cost of flash memory comes down more. It will, just not quite yet.

Thunderbolt, USB 3, and Firewire 800 can boot a Macintosh so if you’re making SuperDuper backups that you’d like to be able to boot your computer from in an emergency, any of them will do (provided the external drive controller can do it). Again, the limiting factor on performance will be what’s inside the enclosure: spinning hard disk of one speed or another or SSD.

What I’m doing

I have a 1TB SSD in my new MacBook Pro and I like to have two SuperDuper backups in rotation and one Time Machine backup so for this I’ll need two 1TB drives for SuperDuper and one 1TB or 2TB drive for Time Machine.

I’ve got a number of 500GB and a few 1TB Firewire hard disks (some running at 5400 RPM) and I’m going to start slowly replacing them, mostly with external hard disks running at 7200 RPM with USB 3. Here’s the first one I bought:

G-Technology 1TB G-Drive Mobile Hard Drive with Thunderbolt (and USB 3, 7200 RPM).

I have to say, it’s a great external drive: solidly built, fast, with all cables included. I’m using it for Time Machine and I used the Thunderbolt interface for the initial (2 hour) backup but now I’m using USB 3 for daily backups and it’s extremely fast. I think I could have probably gotten by with this drive which is the same thing minus the Thunderbolt:

G-Technology 1TB G-DRIVE mobile USB Portable Hard Drive (7200 RPM)

The latter drive will be the next one I get although I’m in no rush now because I’m using my older LaCie Rugged drives with USB 3 and they’re working fine.

I bought an inexpensive USB 3 enclosure for the SSD that was in my old, dead MacBook Pro and it’s working very well:

Anker 2.5 Inch USB 3.0 Hard Drive Disk External Enclosure Case for 9.5mm & 7mm 2.5″ SATA HDD and SSD

I just had to take some brackets off the SSD for it to fit in and once off, it snapped in in a few seconds. It’s now in my SuperDuper rotation and at 500GB, I’ll keep it in rotation until I outgrow it.

The bottom line is that USB 3 seems to be fine for everything I’m using it for. At this point I’ve not attempted to boot and use my new computer from any of the external drives although I plan to do a test with the external SSD later today. I’m quite sure it will be fine. I’m hoping that by the time I need to replace it with a bigger capacity SSD the prices of 1TB SSDs will come down and that’s what I’ll get.

The new MacBook Pro is wonderful: extremely fast to boot and shut down, extremely fast launching applications, extremely fast moving around in Lightroom (where my older machine was showing signs of age) and the retina screen is easy on the eyes with very little (if any) reflection.

The only bumps in moving from old machine to new were the limitations of Apple’s Migration Assistant and my incorrect understanding of what was needed to migrate and the speed and interfaces on my hard disks.

Hopefully these notes will be useful for anyone about to go through something similar. I can’t emphasize this enough: if you’re not backing up your computer you need to get on that, today. If you are backing it up, make sure your backups are working and doing what you want them to do. In other words, test them from time to time.

MacBook Pro SSD sleep issue

As some of you know, almost a year ago I did an SSD upgrade on a MacBook Pro. And, if you’ve been following along, you know that I recently purchased a new MacBook Pro with Apple-supplied SSD.

I have two machines sitting here, one with an OWC SSD that I put in myself, one with an SSD that came from Apple.

On the older machine I had issues with sleep: the screen goes to sleep but the next phase of sleep where the motherboard, hard disk and radios go to sleep would not kick in unless I actively chose sleep from the Apple menu or closed the lid (screen). If I walk away from the machine, lid up the LED light by the latch is on but does not pulse. Close the lid, it pulses.

Pulsing = sleep.

On the brand new machine with Apple-supplied SSD the exact same thing happens: the machine does not go into deep sleep on its own without me doing one of many things to force it: Apple menu, power button, etc.

This makes sense, there is no spinning hard disk to spin down. One thing many considering SSD or talking about MacBook Airs don’t seem to realize is that an SSD (as opposed to the soldered on flash memory of a MacBook Air) is mimicking a hard disk: it’s in the same packaging and is a replacement for a hard disk in a computer. So, until the system knows the difference, there might be issues like this.

However, there are other things that get turned off when a machine goes to sleep and you can test this yourself if you have a wireless (bluetooth) mouse.

Leave the lid up but use the Apple menu to put the machine to sleep. Move a bluetooth mouse and the machine doesn’t wake up. This means the bluetooth radio is turned off. Same with wifi: deep sleep turns the radio off. Wake the machine up by hitting the keyboard and the wifi menu (the bars) may actually search for the network. You know the machine was sleeping if this happens.

On either of my machines: the old MacBook Pro with OWC SSD or new MacBook Pro with Apple-supplied SSD if the machine is left on its own, lid up, moving a bluetooth (magic) mouse will wake the screen up and the wifi menu is all lit up, it never turned off.

So, in case you’re thinking that it’s only third party SSD upgrades that are messing with the out of the box sleep modes on MacBook Pros, it’s not, Apple’s SSDs are doing it too.

And, “real” sleep is meaningful in that it turns the computer’s radios off and in so doing saves battery life.

I’m going to be calling AppleCare next week, less to complain, more to find out of they’re aware of this and what they’re doing about it. My guess is Lion will fix this although if enough people report about it maybe it will be fixed in a Snow Leopard update.

Anyone out there with a new MacBook Air who cares to comment I’d love to hear from you. The next time I’m in an Apple store I’ll test a MacBook Air to see about this, it’s an easy experiment to do.

This is definitely not a deal breaker on SSDs and it supports attempting to save money with SSD suppliers other than Apple. But, those using machines with SSDs and possibly MacBook Airs with soldered on flash memory, make sure your machine is really sleeping when you think its sleeping.

New MacBook Pro with SSD

I just bought a new 15″ MacBook Pro with 2.0GHz i7 quad-core processor, 8GB memory, 512GB SSD, Hi-Res Antiglare (matte) screen. I didn’t want to buy it but my granddaughter forced me to. (wink)

Backstory
As some of you know I upgraded my 3 year old 2.5GHz MacBook Pro with the addition of an OWC 240GB SSD in December. It was the best upgrade I’ve ever done on any computer and to this day it has worked flawlessly.

In our house we subscribe to the “trickle down” rule when buying new computer hardware: I get the new computer, Anne (my wife) gets my old computer and if anyone “under” her needs her computer, they get it.

However, I’ve been so happy with my SSD-equipped computer that I was in no rush to get a new one and given that Apple didn’t upgrade the new 2011 MacBook Pro with as many solid state features of the new MacBook Air models as I wanted, I was hoping to wait for the next generation.

My granddaughter Erin’s ancient trickled-down iBook started to fail and my stepdaughter Bonnie’s old MacBook isn’t doing all that well so instead of push trickle down we decided to do “pull trickle down” with me getting a new computer, Anne getting my SSD-equipped MacBook Pro, Bonnie getting Anne’s unibody MacBook (a great computer, like a 13″ MBP sans Firewire) so that Erin could get Bonnie’s 13″ MacBook. I’ll take back Erin’s old iBook and recycle it with Apple.

What to get
There are two models of 15″ MacBook Pro with a small processor speed and graphics card speed and memory difference between them. I tend to buy the higher end of any particular model so it will last longer so I ordered the top end 15″ MacBook Pro with the “low res” standard glossy screen, 8GB of memory and a 500GB 7200 RPM hard disk. I knew I’d miss the SSD but figured the rest of the machine would be so fast that I’d miss it less than on older hardware.

The machine came, I set it up, migrated my stuff over and I knew I’d made a mistake within the first two hours of using it.

I’ve never been a fan of glossy screens but I also have a hard time seeing the smaller text on the glossy or matte HD screen. I thought given that I use a glossy screen on both iPhone and iPad I could get used to it. For an hour all I could focus on was my reflection in the screen. Not good.

Two things happened: the fan came on because of this now known graphics card hardware issue (fixed with the 10.6.7 system update) and no matter how fast the new MacBook Pros are with a fast hard disk, they’re not as fast as my old machine with an SSD in booting, running almost any application, and moving around in the system. In short, I really missed the SSD.

I swore that I would not get a machine with a glossy screen and a hard disk again if I could help it. I thought I’d sworn that before but Apple hasn’t made getting a solid state MacBook Pro very accessible or affordable and I have problems reading the high resolution matte screen.

One option I had with this machine was to replace the hard disk with an SSD myself as I’d done on my older machine. Had I not wanted a matte screen I might have considered this but I had to unload the machine to get a new screen. And, frankly, I feel odd about spending all this money and then doing my own upgrade. Ideally I wish Apple had folded more solid state options into these new MacBook Pros, but, they didn’t so there you have it. In the end SSD is still an expensive proposition, from Apple or from a third party like OWC.

So, I called Apple, told them what I’d decided and true to form they were amazing on the phone, saying they understood my indecision and that they’d send a pre-paid fedEx label and all I had to do was box it up and return it for a full refund. They cancelled the AppleCare and that was that. To be safe, I erased the hard disk and reinstalled the system on the new machine before boxing it.

What to get, part 2
In the process of buying the wrong machine I’d learned two things:

1. I wanted to get a matte screen although was concerned about readability of text on the higher resolution screen that would make text and all screen elements smaller. This is why I took a chance on the glossy screen. I knew from prior experience that changing screen resolution to something lower res for easier readability might adversely affect anti-aliasing making things not only tough to read but ugly. My feeling was that I needed to be able to read the screen in its native resolution.

2. I wanted to get an Apple-supplied SSD if possible.

I decided to make a visit to a local Apple store to see about the screen, which I did and in the process found that the 17″ MacBook Pro with matte HD screen was readable at its native resolution although tougher but that it had a lower resolution setting that didn’t kill the anti-aliasing on text.

The 15″ MacBook Pro was also readable at its native resolution although again, like the 17″ screen elements and text were smaller and a bit tougher to read.

However, the matte screens on both models were beautiful.

In the end, what tipped me toward going with the higher resolution matte screen was the fact that in a browser (Safari) and in each of the applications I use to deal with text I could easily bump text size up a bit to make things easier to read and if this would solve the readability issue then having more screen real estate would actually be a good thing in that I’d be able to see more of a web page or a document.

The 17″ model, while attractive with its large screen just seemed a bit too much like a cafeteria tray and while I now use an iPad on planes and wasn’t worried about size there, in the end I settled on the 15″ model because it’s a size I’ve had for many years and I’m comfortable with it.

As far as I can tell, Apple doesn’t stock SSD-equipped MacBook Pros in their retail stores so there’s no way to test one before buying. Using the 13″ MacBook Air is the closest you can come in a store to feeling what an SSD feels like to use. I highly recommend doing this for anyone who hasn’t. It will change the way you think about computing.

The two SSDs I was considering were the 256GB and the 512GB. The 250GB is what I had in my old machine and while I hadn’t quite outgrown it yet no doubt I’d have the drive more than 3/4 full in a year or so and even on an SSD things slow down as a storage device gets close to full. OS X needs some scratch space to do various tasks.

The 512GB SSD put the higher end MacBook Pro over my budget so in the end, I decided to go with the lower end 2.0GHz i7 15″ model with 8GB of memory and the 512GB SSD and matte HD screen.

I ordered it, it came today and I’ve migrated my information onto it which went very quickly from one SSD to another.

There have been a few bumps today as I dealt with a bluetooth mouse, mobile me, reconnecting apps to the new App Store and my iTunes account but those got ironed out and I seem to be up and running.

The 10.6.7 update must have solved the graphics processor hang/fan problem because this machine hasn’t hung at all and the fan hasn’t come on once. The machine is dead silent and cool as a cucumber.

And, most important, it’s as fast or faster than my old machine with its OWC SSD. The SSD in this new machine is labeled: APPLE SSD TS512C. I don’t know if anyone can discern brand from that, I’m thinking maybe Intel but I have no idea really.

I’ve not tested sleep yet but the machine boots almost instantaneously, applications run and quit instantaneously and web pages, even complex ones load as fast as I’ve ever seen them load on any computer. In short, this new machine is a dream and I have absolutely no reservations about having bought it.

I’ve also prepared my old computer for my wife, erasing the SSD and migrating her files onto it and have prepared her MacBook for my step daughter. This entire process went very smoothly thanks to a few external hard disk drives and SuperDuper.

I can now say with little doubt that an SSD rather than a hard disk (HD) is the single most important upgrade for an older computer or hardware decision when putting together a new computer. Many people focus on processor speed or how much memory the graphics co-processor has and these are no doubt important but the addition of an SSD will make everyday computing as silent and fast as a MacBook Air.

Solid state is the future, and if you can swing stepping into the future now you will not regret it.

MacBook Air as primary computer

Truly, it is made of unicorns

The Air is leaps and bounds faster than my Pro, despite having a less powerful processor and graphics card. The speed gains must therefore come from the SSD drive. All computers (especially Macs) feel fast when they’re fresh out of the box. Over the months things start to slow down though, so it’ll be interesting to see if that happens with SSD.

Note to Jon Hicks: I had my last SSD equipped MacBook Pro for close to a year and it never slowed down. I doubt your Air will slow down at all. Enjoy.

SSD may be a bridge between hard disks and some other format for packaging flash memory. Frankly, I didn’t know the MacBook Air had a “traditional” SSD, I thought its flash memory was soldered on directly but either way solid state is the future.

The journey is the reward

Patrick Rhone over at minimal mac led me to Frank Chimero’s writing on his digital tools: The Setup which got me thinking about my digital tool situation again.

Here’s a quote from Frank’s post:

I think tweaking the rig is a large part of being a nerd.

Agreed. As my friend Dale says as we hunt for the best camera/lens combinations: the chase (the process of hunting and considering) is part of the larger process of using, tweaking, and enjoying one’s gear. I generally take that a bit further as I rent and buy things, use them, then sell them as I figure out which gear doesn’t work for me. I can’t quite get it all figured out in my head; experience gives me the feedback I need. That’s my process with cameras and lenses. With computers I’ve stayed with the same type (PowerBook or MacBook Pro) for over ten years and this has served me well. I’m comfortable with the form factor and until recently I didn’t see a need to change things.

But, as the cloud has become a bigger part of my digital life (I use Gmail, Google Reader, and other cloud-based services) I have less need to have everything stored on a single computer, and because I’ve started using my iPhone and now iPad more, having multiple devices has become more comfortable. I thought it might be a good idea to have a larger desktop computer and a smaller portable computer for travel. I’m a touch typist so using an iPad for constructing a long piece of writing like this isn’t something I want to do, even with a bluetooth keyboard.

Minimalism is an idea, not an ideal
Frank is a professional designer who spends a lot of time in Adobe-land and now does this on a 13″ MacBook Air. This means he’s willing to make a tradeoff: horsepower and speed for simplicity and portability. Seems simple enough. Of course most people never consider this tradeoff yet they have little use for much of the horsepower they have in their computers. I’ve considered this tradeoff for most of my computing life (moving away from desktop computers over ten years ago) yet seem to have had a doubt about it recently.

There’s nothing wrong with attempting to run one’s digital life off an iPhone (figuratively, the ultimate pare down) and as an exercise it might be fun (and frustrating for some) but minimalism is an idea, not a universal ideal.

The ideal ideal is whatever is right for you and you can only find out what that is by using your tools, paying attention, and “tweaking the rig” over time, not to fit someone else’s ideals of what constitutes the ultimate rig, but to fit your own life and style. There is no ideal or even an ideal direction, there is only the path and how you feel about your own walk (or run or stumble) down it. I know, very “zen” of me. I struggle with this in almost every domain I enter and reading Frank’s post was a nice kick in the butt for me to take stock and think out loud.

Here’s another quote from Frank’s post:

A person only flails around in regards to their rig when they don’t have a clear idea of what constitutes their work.

This is a bit harsh but its true and as we honestly look at what we do with our digital rigs over time the flailing slows down as we tweak the rig to fit the work. The problem is if you look at your work one day you’ll think you need a high end desktop computer, the next and you’ll be fine with a 13″ MacBook Air. How one constructs this overview of one’s work (personal sampling rate) is important because each task isn’t necessarily weighted the same. This is tough stuff with lots of room for flailing.

At times I use Lightroom to process 100 or more RAW photographs taken with my Canon 5D. The question is, is that “my work?” Well, no, not really, it’s a rare occurrence that happens a few times a year and my current 15″ MacBook Pro can handle it.

At times I use both Lightroom and Pages to put together a MagCloud project but I don’t do this very often and so far I’ve done it on this 15″ MacBook Pro. Is it ideal? No, but it does work.

The question is, if the 15″ MacBook Pro is working well for me in everything else I do and feels a bit constrained when I do these two tasks which I do infrequently, should I get another computer to do these two tasks (maybe then I’ll do them more) or do I live with what I have knowing that it’s right for me in every other respect?

Toward the end of last year I tipped into “get another computer land” and ordered a 27″ top of the line iMac and at the same time, a new 13″ low end MacBook Pro (to replace my 15″ MacBook Pro for travel), and an iPad. Yes, it was a huge splurge which I’d been saving up for for a while.

All the boxes arrived from Apple and before I opened any of them up I had a doubt about what I’d done. After all, this move was a rather large change in my digital setup and as I said above I’m not good doing these kinds of things in my head. It wasn’t the money that gave me pause, it was the change in tools and change in work process that would come with the new tools: having a huge computer on my desk that I might be pulled to do most of my work on because of it’s size and power.

Bigger isn’t always better
Frank got rid of a 27″ iMac and moved to a 13″ MacBook Air and one of his reasons was:

I’m the kind of guy who needs a clear focal point, so the vast expanse of 27” made me feel like I didn’t have full mastery over my tool.

I’ve never articulated this but I now know that this was one of the many things that bothered me about the move I’d made in ordering this big desktop computer. I’m ADD and while I like a bit of screen real estate too much and I’m swimming (more like drowning). Some people don’t feel comfortable unless they have a big screen (or two) to spread their stuff out on, some people, whether they know it or not, may think having more screen real estate is an ideal but in fact, they may get less done as they futz around with all the stuff on their big screen. Watching a Twitter feed crawl by while one is attempting to think and write a post gets in the way of thinking and writing the post, for me anyway. With a 27″ screen one can have a lot of things going on, potentially pulling one away from the focal point. I know, it’s useful to see a two page spread when laying out pages and useful to see one’s images on a big screen but how often one has this need varies from person to person and the fact is, I can live without it and have for many years. Somehow I thought I should have it but in the process overlooked my successful history with my current 15″ MacBook Pro.

The other thing I was pondering was an SSD upgrade to the MacBook Pro. I was very impressed by the solid state MacBook Air when it came out and knew Apple was moving in this direction (it’s now known that they’ve been buying futures in flash memory): solid state is definitely the future of computing storage.

The two computers and iPad stayed in their unopened boxes which sat on the floor of my office for a few days and I finally decided I’d made a mistake (a stumble in the path). I called Apple and returned the iMac and the MacBook Pro and kept the iPad. Apple was a pleasure to deal with and they even paid for the return shipping. I suddenly felt lighter although truth be told I was wondering how I’d explain all of this to my friend Dale who was discussing this buy with me and generally supports whatever I come up with (we’re both excellent rationalizers). We’ve discussed it since but I didn’t have the clarity reading Frank’s post has given me.

I love it when reading about someone else’s experience helps me explain my own.

What I have now
As those of you who follow this blog know I ordered and did an SSD upgrade on my MacBook Pro. Except for a single issue with sleep its been a terrific upgrade and I have no regrets to this day about having done it. It will give me plenty of time with this now three year old MacBook Pro to wait for Apple to come out with new MacBook Pros with more solid state options. My last MagCloud project was done on this SSD-equipped machine and it made a very big difference in the machine’s responsiveness working with large files. Of course an external monitor would have helped and like Frank I might go down that path in the future but given that most of my use of my MacBook Pro is doing things like this post I’m fine with it as it is.

I got the iPad less as a portable computer, more as a portable movie player for use on planes. I don’t travel like I used to but I do make a trip across country to Los Angeles every few months to visit my 95 year old mother and as I’ve seen more and more people on these cross country trips using iPads to watch movies and other video content it occurred to me that just getting one for this alone would make these trips bearable. So, this was my initial rationale for ordering and keeping the iPad and I’ve ripped numerous movies from my DVD collection and have them on the iPad and it’s great to watch them on flights. I wasn’t sure if I’d use the iPad for much more than this because it lacks a hardware keyboard and as a touch typist this is an important piece of a tool for me. However, there’s much one can do with an iPad sans typing as most of you already know and a little typing on the screen isn’t a problem.

Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, the killer app on my iPad hasn’t been the video player but a simple and elegant RSS reader called Reeder which syncs with a Google Reader account. Between Reeder and Instapaper I find using the iPad to read feeds and tuck things I’m interested in away a better experience than the same applications on the Mac (I’ve been using RSS newsreaders since NetNewsWire was in beta). I think I like the focus of full screen apps and even though Reeder on the Mac is still in beta, even after it’s done I think I’ll like the iPad experience better. Maybe Lion will bridge this with its full screen capabilities but for now the iPad as a tool for reading feeds and tucking the gems away in the cloud is fantastic. And, when I’m away from wifi I use the iPhone for this: same apps and they work fine over 3G.

This has been a surprise to me: I routinely carry both my MacBook Pro and iPad downstairs on winter mornings to drink my coffee by the wood stove and I use the iPad to read the news through Reeder rather than do the same on the MacBook Pro. If the iPad had a decent AIM/iChat like client I’d leave the MacBook Pro upstairs.

Another surprise: the iPad is so small and useful that it undoes my wanting a 13″ MacBook Pro as my main computer. I don’t pull my computer out on planes anymore and the iPad has killer battery life even watching movies so why not stick with a 15″ MacBook Pro which seems to have become an ideal size for me over many years.

Many years ago my friend David Clark pushed (pulled) me into using Gmail and that was the beginning of my move to the cloud. Gmail works flawlessly on computer/browser (or Apple’s Mail app), iPhone and iPad so I can get mail anywhere and not worry about syncing. Same with Google Reader (thanks Steve) and the Reeder client on iPhone, iPad, and Mac and I’m finding that Instapaper is a wonderful cloud container allowing me to toss things into it from any device knowing they’ll be there on the other devices. SimpleNote is the same thing for writing: do the writing on one device, find it on all devices.

So, my digital life is a 15″ SSD equipped MacBook Pro, an iPad, and an iPhone4, all connected via MobileMe (iCal and Address Book), Gmail, Google Reader, Instapaper, and SimpleNote. I back up the iPhone and iPad with iTunes a few times a week. I back up the Mac every day with SuperDuper! onto two different portable firewire 800 hard disks (rotated).

This setup is simple, powerful, elegant, and fits me like a glove. While I did some flailing on the way to it it feels quite comfortable to me now. As Steve Jobs (I wish him well) would say:

The journey is the reward.

Amen Steve. The process really is the product.

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.

SSD and Energy Saver in Mac OS X

energy_saver

Now that I’ve installed a solid state drive (SSD) in my MacBook Pro I’m wondering if the checkbox about spinning down a hard disk to save energy has any meaning anymore.

Maybe a more interesting question is, does that checkbox even exist on a MacBook Air? How context sensitive is the Energy Saver System Preference pane?

This may sound like splitting hairs but given that an SSD mimics a hard disk (is installed instead of a hard disk in the same slot) while the solid state memory on a MacBook Air is soldered to the main system board, energy saver might treat an SSD differently from the MacBook Air’s solid state memory.

Anyone out there with an Air care to comment on this? Does that highlighted checkbox even exist on a MacBook Air?

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

I recently decided to forgo getting a new computer and give some new life to my now 3 year old 2.5 ghz MacBook Pro. SSDs (solid state drives) have come down in price enough so that putting one in is an option and because an SSD has no moving parts it’s faster, quieter and cooler than a mechanical hard disk. It’s still not as cheap per gigabyte of space as a hard disk but the price is low enough now so that it’s a possibility if one wants to get more speed out of an older machine instead of upgrading to a new machine just for the faster processor.

The drive I bought is the Mercury Extreme Pro SSD from Other World Computing. 120 gigabytes is a sweet spot for price but I wanted to replace the 250 gigabyte drive in my computer so bought the 240 gigabyte SSD.

I’m running off the SSD now and it’s extremely fast, silent, and makes a lot less heat than the hard disk I replaced. I’m happy and this should give me at least another year on this machine before Apple eventually comes out with solid state MacBook Pros.

Solid state drives or, given what Apple has done with the MacBook Air and the iPad, solid state storage (not necessarily in drive form) is the future and I’ve decided not to buy another machine with a hard disk if I can help it.

The Install Process

The SSD install is the same as a regular hard disk which I did on an older machine, documented in detail here: MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement.

Rather than copy my internal hard disk onto a backup hard disk, installing the SSD, then starting from the backup and cloning it onto the SSD, I saved a step by copying the internal hard disk directly onto the SSD and then installing it. This way I could test the SSD by starting from it as an external drive to make sure it worked and once installed the machine is ready to go with the latest backup of my hard disk in one step. The next few images show taking apart an external firewire drive so I can use its chassis to hold the SSD and connect it to my computer via firewire 800.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

External firewire hard disk drive to be taken apart and used to hold SSD for initial backup.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

External firewire hard disk drive taken apart.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

External firewire hard disk drive taken apart with hard disk removed to expose chassis.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

250 gigabyte hard disk (left) and 240 gigabyte SSD (right).

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

SSD in firewire chassis for initial backup. It’s not screwed in, it’s just got the power and data buses connected.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

Before backing up I used Disk Utility to partition (GUID for Intel) and format the SSD. Then I used SuperDuper to copy/clone the internal hard disk on my computer onto the SSD.

I use SuperDuper daily to back up my hard disk (now SSD) onto an external firewire drive which lives in the basement in a fireproof box. SuperDuper is one of the single best pieces of software I’ve ever used on any computer, period.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

MacBook Pro with top deck off. Top deck holds keypad and touchpad. Hard disk to be replaced on left, optical (CD/DVD) drive on right. Opening is battery compartment. Most of the screws that need to be removed are used to hold the top deck in place.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

Quick and dirty diagram to hold screws for MacBook Pro case. Excuse dysgraphic handwriting but hey, it works for me. There are only two torx screws and a multitude of small and larger phillips screws. If one did this for a living one could put them all in a bowl and fish out the right ones for each step. I need to keep them separated to know which ones go where.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

Hard disk removed from MacBook Pro, SSD ready to put in. This step was different from my earlier hard disk replacement experience with an earlier version of the MacBook Pro. The hard disk bracket and the ribbon cable on top and its tape made getting the hard disk out a bit more difficult as I was nervous about crimping or breaking the ribbon cable which is stuck to the top of the hard disk. With patience it came out and the SSD went in easily.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

MacBook Pro with SSD installed. All that’s left is to replace top deck and all the screws.

I got it all back together easily and it booted relatively quickly the first time. It takes a bit of time for Spotlight to reindex a backup and as it gets more indexed things move faster. As I write this the entire SSD is indexed and boots extremely fast. Launching applications like Safari or MarsEdit (what I’m using to write this post) is near instantaneous.

I used Lightroom to process these images, not because they were shot in RAW but because I somehow set the S90 to 3200 ISO and I wanted to get the noise out of the images in Lightroom rather than iPhoto. Lightroom launched incredibly fast and working with the images felt like I was using a quad core MacPro.

Conclusion

The SSD is a very worthwhile upgrade or replacement for an internal drive on a MacBook Pro and while a MacBook Pro with an SSD installed not as light as a MacBook Air, it’s ultra quiet, has a very long battery life, has a faster processor, has a CD/DVD drive, a large 15″ screen and hopefully this upgrade will keep me computing for another year at which point we’ll see what Apple has come out with.

Flash memory comes of age

Flash Memory — the Hottest Enterprise IT Trend You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s not just in all of Apple’s portable devices (iPod, iPhone, iPad) but in almost every other portable device on the planet and the MacBook Air and non Mac counterparts are leading the way for flash memory storage in laptop computers. And, solid state drives (SSDs or flash hard drives) are now finding their way into desktop computers and as the article says, servers.

It runs faster, cooler, and quieter (no moving parts) and has the potential to be cheaper than mechanical hard disks. That day will come as more of the computer and device world moves to flash memory.

One of the many things I loved about the various Rio mp3 players I had was flash memory. One of the things I loved about the AlphaSmart was flash memory. It’s what compact flash and secure digital camera storage cards use and it’s in more and more things as it gets cheaper and more copious.

One of the many reasons I’ve decided to keep my current MacBook Pro and upgrade its internal hard disk to an SSD is to wait on buying a new Macintosh until they all use solid state storage devices. That day is coming, maybe sooner than later.

I’ll post on the SSD upgrade later this week when I get it and do the upgrade. Stay tuned.