Two Solid State Drives (SSD) in a MacBook Pro

Posted by: on Apr 10, 2011 in Mac Specific, Technology | 13 Comments

This is how I set up two Solid State Drives (SSD) in my 17″ MacBook Pro.

For the last year or so, I’ve been struggling with the storage limitations of my 128GB SSD drive. With my professional photography, photos of my baby girls and client files alone, I was sorely lacking hard drive space. Distributing files across several external drives worked for a little while, but then just got too complex. Nothing sucks worse than having to sort through several external drives to find a photo when you’re on a deadline.

To solve my storage dilemma, I decided to add a second SSD drive to my MacBook Pro. I decided against adding a standard spinning hard drive because of the draw it would take on my battery – that and the heartbreaking drop in performance if I was editing massive photos from the standard drive.

I know OWC sells very nice internal 2.5″ drive bays for the MacBook Pro. They run about $75. There are other companies that sell similar drive bays for $90-ish. I found one on eBay for about $30 with shipping. It’s generic and not as pretty as the OWC version, but it fits and works fine.

For the second drive, I bought the Mushkin Enhanced Callisto Deluxe 240GB drive from newegg.com. It had the best ratings at the time, and it was hard to argue with 285MBs/275MBs read & write times.

These photos show the progression from single drive + DVD to dual SSD with no DVD.


Removing the screws from the MacBook Pro. The first time is slow – maybe 2-3 minutes. I can get in and out of the MBP case now in under 60 seconds.


This is the original 128GB Corsair P128 Solid State Drive I bought in 2009. It was running slowly due to outdated firmware and no effing firmware tool for Mac systems. I had to pull the drive, clone it to another drive, pop it in a Dell laptop to run the firmware update (which erased the drive) and then re-clone my data back. After the firmware update, the drive ran almost as fast as the day I bought it.


From the Department of Obvious Statements: the Mushkin SSD is exactly the same size as the Corsair drive. Same size, same weight.


To employ the second drive in the MacBook Pro, you need to pull the SuperDrive out of its snuggly, warm spot near the logicboard. Note: with your MBP case open, find yourself a can of compressed air and blow out the fans. You’ll see that mine were a little nasty. Clean fans = cool, fast laptop.


Be super careful removing the screws and the paper-thin SATA cable (the orange tab just to the right of the SuperDrive).


Once the SuperDrive has been removed, you can buy an external adapter to continue using it to read/write DVDs. External adapters cost about $20. Personally, I’m over the 8X speed and went with a 22X drive. More on that later.


Next, the secondary SSD is placed in the new drive bay. It fits very snugly and the drive height seemed about 1/2mm too much, but once the drive & bay were inserted into the SuperDrive spot, it fit perfectly. Oh, and don’t forget to put the little SATA cable back in place on the logicboard.


Here’s the P128 SSD in the drive bay, in the SuperDrive slot. And 8GB RAM from newegg. Twas $600 when it first came out, then $300 last summer. I got mine for $120 in November 2010. Last week, I saw it on sale for under $70. Good lordy, how prices change.


Here’s where I cloned the P128 with my OS X and files over to the new Mushkin 240GB SSD. Cloning SSD to SSD is pretty fast – roughly 2GB/minute.


Once the cloning is done and MacBook Pro is rebooted, I wiped the old drive clean for use as storage.

Lessons from using Dual SSDs in the MacBook Pro:
Lesson 1: Using the 240GB drive as the primary was a rookie mistake. I think I was tired (twins up all night) and not thinking right. The 128GB SSD should have been the primary with the 240GB used for all that fantastic, high-speed storage, scratch disk, etc. (Now I remember – the Mushkin drive was about 60MB/s faster than the Corsair and served better as the main drive.)
Lesson 2: FTLOG, OMG, keep a daily backup routine. Even though Solid State Drives like the Muskin Calisto 240GB have a MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) rating of 2 million hours, you never know when it’s going to just puke on you and die. Unlike platter drives, SSD drives are very, very difficult to recover data from. My Mushkin drive died in under 30 days. Completely unresponsive. Not even visible connected to an external drive dock. Just friking dead. Gone. Toast. Mushkin said it happens to 1 in 1,000 drives, cannot be anticipated, prevented or recovered from.
Lesson 3: Again, backup to TimeMachine, Dropbox, Mozy, ZumoDrive, or whatever external, off-drive solution you like best; just make sure you do it daily. I use all four of those options concurrently. 50GB with Mozy, 2GB with Dropbox, 3GB with ZumoDrive and a 2TB FireWire 800 drive for TimeMachine.
Lesson 4: The potential of an SSD failure is not related to dual-drive action but just the facts of life in the hard drive world. You may get the 2 million hours of use from your drive (roughly 228 years – good luck testing that out!) but you also may get 20,000 hours, or just 200. A note in fairness – my Corsair P128 SSD has never had an issue and has been running strong, 20 hours per day, since June 2009.
Lesson 5: Running dual SSDs in a MacBook Pro is really quite awesome. To have extra storage, a super fast scratch disk, etc. is simply beautiful. If your MBP is out of warranty and/or you don’t mind risking warranty repairs, and if you don’t need to burn DVDs while on the road, then the dual SSD setup could work well for you.

Good, Inexpensive Laptop Feet

Posted by: on Oct 4, 2009 in Mac Specific, Reviews, Technology | 8 Comments

One of my favorite laptop accessories is/was made by an Oregon company and sold in local Mac Stores. They’re the ever useful and popular Dr. Bodelin’s laptop bumpers. The laptop bumpers raise the back end laptops up by about 1″ or so, dramatically increasing air flow thereby reducing internal and external temperatures. Ultimately, this can extend the life expectancy of a laptop. For $10, it’s a pretty good deal. Anyway, I recently needed a new set of silver laptop feet, so I called the Mac Store closest to me. I was mortified to find that they no longer carried the silver ones and that they only had white or gold. Gold?! Ugh. And white laptop feet on an aluminum MacBook Pro?? The horror. Being somewhat resourceful, I called Dr. Bodelin’s customer service line to see if the silver feet were really gone. Yup, confirmed. Not even a private stash at the company headquarters. Frak.

I did some Googling and found very few alternatives – some looked flimsy, some were bulky, some were plain ugly and they were all way too expensive for what they are – molded plastic nubs.
 

What to do…


Well, I found a very decent solution to my laptop foot woes. Two solutions, actually. I’ll demonstrate them below and you can decide which one you like best. First, a photo to show why laptop feet are a good idea.
 

As you can see here, the MacBook Pro has less than half a millimeter of airspace underneath. It’s part of Apple’s super sleek design, but it naturally restricts significant air flow.
laptop feet

I’ve used two 3M “Self Stick Rubber Pads” under the laptop and right next to the paper-thin feet Apple supplied.
laptop feet

Here you can see the MacBook Pro with the 3M rubber pads – the back is raised by about 1/4″. The pads hold up under moderate heat. Super warm laptops may eventually turn the 3M glue a little gooey. It takes a bit of heat, though. The 3M rubber pads cost $2.50 for 12 – enough for 6 laptops or 6 applications.
laptop feet

 

The solution I went with…


Here you can see a 3M “Command Strip” mini hook. These plastic hooks are clear, strong and easily support the weight of the 17″ MacBook Pro. They also have a somewhat cool shape. The tabs are removable and leave no residue. If you don’t want the little pull tab, it’s super easy to remove with a quick snip with some scissors.
laptop feet
 

The MacBook Pro is lifted by roughly 1/2″, providing extra air flow. The 3M mini hook is strong, gives a very comfortable angle of lift for ergonomic typing, etc. The 3M mini hooks are $3.50 for a set of 6, enough for 3 laptops or 3 applications.
laptop feet

Here are the two 3M packages. I got mine at The Container Store, but they’re available in lots of stores. And not to be too obvious, but #1 is the 3M rubber feet ($2.50) and #2 is the 3M mini hooks ($3.50).
laptop feet
 

MacBook Pro and the Seagate Momentus 500GB 7200RPM Drive

Posted by: on Jun 7, 2009 in Mac Specific, Reviews, Technology | 58 Comments

I went ahead and picked up the granddaddy of all laptop hard drives for my MacBook Pro – the Seagate Momentus 500GB 7200RPM with SATA 3.0 (model ST9500420AS). I upgraded from a Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM drive and boy, what a wonderful difference!

Using Carbon Copy Cloner, it took roughly 3 1/2 hours to clone the contents of my 320GB drive to the 500GB. 120GB of photos was the #1 slow down, and #2 was the 320GB drive dragging its proverbial feet. Once the cloning was done, replacing the 320 with the 500 took about 2 minutes – 5 little screws (1 brace and 4 stabilizers on the drive).

The first thing I noticed was that the 500GB Seagate drive boots about 40% faster than the 320GB Hitachi. Apps open up a little faster – not 40% faster, but certainly 20% or so.

Once I’d booted up, I ran several tests and scans on the drive to make sure the drive was going to be stable and error free. Nothing sucks quite so much as banking on a new hard drive, only to have it melt down. Tests showed no drive flaws.

I then ran an XBench test to compare the two drives. The 500GB drive scored well over twice as fast as the 320GB with sequential and random reads/writes. For the non-techies, this simply means that this new Seagate drive whips the snot out of the Hitachi drive.


(XBench is a free utility that every Mac user should have, even if it’s rarely used.)

On the down side, the Seagate drive is just as loud as the 320GB Hitachi. That was a little disappointment to me. That said, the drive isn’t “noisy” per se, it’s just that the spinning is clearly audible in a near silent room or if one listens within 6 or 7 inches of the laptop body. No huge deal.

Other positives? XP boots and runs faster in Parallels. So does Windows 7. So does Linux. Photoshop CS4 opens up 25% faster and runs actions in an instant. File transfers to other 7200RPM drives are way faster. In short, pretty much everything is better and faster.

The best part of all? After Leopard, tons of apps, tens of thousands of photos, etc. I’ve got about 300GB free. Awesome!!

If you’re considering buying the Seagate 500GB drive, I hope these comments help. And hopefully you wind up with a good stable drive that passes any tests you subject it to.