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).