MacBook Pro Solid State Drive Upgrade Guide and Performance Testing

Now that you know how to upgrade to an SSD from the stock hard drive of a MacBook Pro, it's time to test the performance of a variety of SSDs.  The performance evaluation side of this article include the same SSDs as featured in our Windows oriented SSD Roundup.

Solid State Drive Capacity Controller NAND
Crucial m4 256GB Marvell 88SS9174 25nm synchronous, Micron brand
Kingston HyperX 240GB Sandforce 2281 25nm synchronous, Intel brand
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB Sandforce 2281 25nm synchronous, Intel brand
Other World Computing Mercury Electra 6G 240GB Sandforce 2281 25nm asynchronous, Intel brand

As we discovered in our SSD Roundup, the drives that use the Sandforce controller can be divided up into different classes. Most of the major SSD manufacturers who offer Sandforce powered drives, have a few lines of drives that fit into the different classes.

For Kingston, OCZ and Other World Computing, they are listed in the table below.  While the offerings from these companies do differ under other factors, performance wise drives within the same class should be similar.  The gray shaded cells indicate the series of drives that are tested in this comparison.

  Asynchronous NAND (fast) Synchronous NAND (faster) Toggle NAND (fastest)
Kingston SSDNow V+200 HyperX  
OCZ Technology Agility 3 Vertex 3 Vertex 3 Max IOPS
Other World Computing Mercury Electra 6G Mercury Extreme PRO 6G (old, 1st gen) Mercury Extreme PRO 6G (current, 2nd gen)

For more detailed technical information concerning those drives, please read our Solid State Drive Roundup.


 

Other Mac OS X Specific Considerations

As mentioned earlier, it's reasonably safe to classify the performance of SSDs based on their controller and NAND configuration.  For example, all of the SSDs that use Sandforce 6G controllers paired with synchronous NAND should be reasonably similar in performance.  The same goes for SSDs based on JMicron/Toshiba, Marvell and Samsung controllers.  So in the end, it's easy to default on price as the differentiating factor.  Looking at the PC market, this holds true as one of the main deciding factors for consumers, as a barebones drive usually satisfies the upgrade requirement in this case.  But for a smaller market like that for Apple computer systems, there are other factors that consumers should be aware of in making a purchasing decision.

Out of the four manufacturers we are examining today, only one caters to the Mac market specifically.  As we outlined in our Other World Computing SSD Upgrade Kit review, their kit was designed to be an all-in-one upgrade kit for MacBooks.  The kit we looked at included accessories specific to MacBooks which allowed you to use the SSD in conjunction with the stock Apple hard drive, and use the SuperDrive externally via USB.  Their website also has a section with video installation guides for each model and generation of Mac, and a blog with content focusing on Mac specific issues.  Their technical support is also specifically knowledgeable on the Mac platform.  Price wise, their products do carry a price premium compared to OCZ which is the cheapest of the bunch, but for Mac users who are new to the concept of do-it-yourself upgrades and require the extra support, there is no other option.

As outlined in the installation guide section in this article, the Kingston HyperX SSD came with the external USB hard drive enclosure that was used.  While not specific to Macs, this upgrade kit makes upgrading easier, regardless of what platform you're using.

Besides the bundles offered by OWC and Kingston, one last major differentiating factor between these SSDs on the Mac platform surrounds the ease of firmware updates.  In the past year it seems like most, if not all, of the major SSD controllers had issues which required firmware updates to correct.  While all of the manufacturers support updates on the PC platform, with Macs it's a bit of a different story.

It's no surprise that the Mac-centric company OWC provides a solution for upgrades on the Mac platform.  So does Crucial for the m4 series.  Kingston and OCZ* on the other hand don't a native Mac compatible solution.  The reason for the asterix for OCZ is because they do have a guide on how to update your firmware on their support forums.  But the instruction guide was developed by a forum user (so not officially supported by OCZ), and it's not as easy to perform as the method that Crucial and OWC uses: burning a bootable image and running it.  For Kingston and OCZ, the only officially supported methods for updating your SSDs firmware is via Windows (and Linux with OCZ).


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Comments

Error when transfering files to HDD in a dual SSD HDD setup

Hi, I have a late 2011 MacBook Pro 15" that's just had a 120gb SSD fitted as the start up disk and a 750gb HDD fitted in the optical drive slot. And this is of course so I can keep all my files (downloads, music, photos, films, work files, etc) on the HDD. But the HDD frequently gives me error messages when transferring files onto it, mainly larger ones, saying that it can't read or write to the disk. I have had the HDD bracket changed and also the connector cable. It seemed to solve the problem but now it has come back. Has anyone else experienced this? Any advice or suggestions would be be great. Thanks! Pete

Case sensitive Journal and Adobe Error

For adobe CS users on a Mac : After formatting a SSD with 'Case sensitive' format and cloning I encountered an error while downloading Adobe Application Manager as it can't be case-sensitive. I had to reformat with just Extended and clone again. It downloads tip top now.

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iMac 2007 upgrade

There is a tutorial to do this upgrade on an iMac 21" late 2007?

Only applications on HDD

What if I only want mountain lion and my applications on the SSD and my music, pictures and all other files to remain on my HDD? How do I know what folders to copy over to the SSD?

Just do a clean install of

Just do a clean install of Mountain Lion on the hard drive and copy your applications folder over afterwards to rewrite the installed applications folder.

Type of SSD

Do I need to buy the SSD from an Apple Store, or can it be any type of SSD? I tried to install an Intel 520 series SATA II/III SSD in my MacBook Pro 13" (2011) and it didn´t work; I had to restart the computer two times every time I turned it on. (and this SSD was made at an Apple authorized store; after I installed it, they told me it might not work properly!)

TRIM

What about the TRIM issue...

is MicronC400 Compatible with MAcbook pro 8,1(early 2011) i7 13"

Hi is the macbook pro 2011 (early), i7 2.7ghz compatible with micron ssd c400 256gb (mtfddak256mam-1k12? Thank you

Thanks for the guide, made my

Thanks for the guide, made my transition to SSD effortless. I used Carbon Copy Cloner and it's still easy. Just wondering how much data does the author had on his hard drive? Because it took me 90minutes to copy 70GB of data from hard drive to SSD. For those who has Steam, do not use case-sensitive for the format because Steam doesn't run on case-sensitive formats. I tried and that's what happened for me. Fix was easy though, boot up from the hard drive just replaced (unless you wiped everything from the old hard drive) and format your SSD to case-insensitive and clone everything back from the hard drive you just replaced. I also read that after changing to SSD I should disable Sudden Motion Sensor, disable Hibernate and disable spotlight and use Trim Enabler. I've read the comment about not needing TRIM but what are your views on disabling this and that? Thanks again.

Can SATA II MPB use a SATA III?

Okay, I know you can't get the 6Gb/s speed on a SATA II system, but can it physically accept a SATA III? I mean, suppose I found a great deal on a SATA III SSD and wanted to put it in my 2010 MBP 6,1 - could I? Or do I have to get a SATA II?

It should run perfectly fine

It should run perfectly fine at SATA II speed, i mean got a SATA III disk in my SATA II MacBook Pro 2010, and it works like a charm.

Format of SSD

Hi, thanks for a great guide. Why should the format be case-sensitive? /Jonas

It doesn't really matter, you

It doesn't really matter, you can choose either case-sensitive or not.  You SHOULDN'T encounter any issues either way, and if you do it would be rare.

Is it void the warranty ?

Great article, i am planning to replace the hard drive with solid state storage but mine is still under warranty. is it void warranty ?

Along with the memory (RAM),

Along with the memory (RAM), the hard drive in your MacBook is considered as a user-serviceable part.  Keep in mind if Apple finds that you damage your laptop while installing a drive (ex. breaking the SATA ribbon connector), that probably won't be covered by warranty.  And the new SSD you put in won't be covered by Apple's warranty, but a new SSD should have its own warranty from the manufacturer.

Reset PRAM

Thanks for the awesome post; I just upgraded a few days ago to the Crucial M4 and it smokes. The one thing I had to do was reset PRAM as I had a strange 20second boot delay. Once reset it boots in record time.

Comparison to Apple SSD????

I just wondered if you had any results of a factory fitted apple SSD? This would then make it clear whether it was worth doing a DIY job or paying for the 'branded' version. Thanks

Sorry no, but as far as I

Sorry no, but as far as I know, the SSDs tested in this review are faster than most Apple branded SSDs (as they use drives from Toshiba or last gen Samsung drives).

Garbage Collection / TRIM

Guys, what's the latest word on TRIM? Are various TRIM-enabling hacks worth the hassle on OS X Lion?

I'd leave TRIM as disabled in

I'd leave TRIM as disabled in OS X.  In general, TRIM is good.  But many believe that the stability bugs present in the Sandforce based drives are caused by TRIM.  So by enabling it, it can cause some unstability with OS X (or other operating systems).  For most users, the garbage collection algorithms used by SSD controllers are good enough anyway.

thanks. great article, by the

thanks. great article, by the way - very useful info.

SSD MacBook Pro Compatibility?

My daughter has a late-2009 13" MacBook Pro. Last I looked into a SSD, there were apparently Apple (OS?) issues which restricted the speed to less than SATA2 (i think it was 150Mbps = SATA1). Has this been resolved? Would she be able to get SATA2 or SATA3 performance out of the newer SSD? BTW, can the MBPs use 9.5mm SSDs or (as I assume) are they limited to using 7mm thick SSDs?

You can check what SATA

You can check what SATA version your MacBook Pro supports by clicking on the top-left hand Apple button -> About this Mac -> More Info... -> Select Serial-ATA -> Then in the details section, you should see Link Speed.  If it says 1.5 Gigabit, then it's SATA I, if it's 3 Gigabit, then it's SATA II, if it's 6 Gigabit then it's SATA III.

Regardless of what version of SATA your MBP supports, you will still gain a noticable speed benefits.  Also, all of the current SATA III SSDs are backwards compatible.  I believe that with current software updates installed, you should be at SATA II.  And MBPs support 9.5mm drives.

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