My experience of replacing HDD to SSD in MacBook

I have a white 2009 MacBook in my family, which, even after a clean install of macOS, is monstrously slow. The bottleneck of the system is not even the amount of RAM in 2 GB, but the slow HDD, which shows ridiculous read and write speeds. Therefore, I had the idea to change the HDD for an SSD and at the same time check how this trick can really revive an old machine and save money on buying a new one.

A bit of theory

The speed of conventional SSD drives has long exceeded 500 MB / s for writing and reading, which is several times more than mechanical HDDs. What can we say about the latest MacBook Pros, the SSD speed of which has long exceeded 2 GB / s.

Well, what about our problematic MacBook? At its peak, the speed of its disk is only 57 and 54 MB / s for reading and writing. Hug and cry.

Installing an SSD in a MacBook should speed up the performance of all disk operations: launching applications, opening project files, copying, saving, and the like. Which in turn will increase the response of the programs. In addition, SSD will pour turpentine under the tail of macOS itself, because 2 GB is no longer the minimum for modern operating systems and with such a volume the system often uses a swap file.

True, there is one nuance that still spoils the bright prospects. The interface for connecting drives in old laptops (my case is no exception) is still SATA II, while all the mentioned speed records are demonstrated by SATA III. The good news is that the interface is backward compatible and the modern drive you bought will easily make friends with the previous generation SATA. But you won’t be able to get the coveted 500 MB / sec. True, you can still count on a performance gain of 3-4 times, and your nerves will be grateful for this.

To find out the speed of the connection interface, you need to go to  → About This Computer → System Report … → SATA / SATA Express and find the “Link Speed” value. In my case, this is 3 Gb / s, the real maximum of which is 300 MB / s.

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MacBook 2009 uses SATA II, maximum speed 3 Gb / s

Depending on this parameter, you can choose the right SSD for yourself. But, in any case, when upgrading an old MacBook, you should not chase the top models, they still will not reveal themselves to their fullest.

SSD in MacBook: how much to choose

If you buy a 120 GB drive, it is best not to go beyond 96 GB, that is, 80% of its volume. Otherwise, its speed will begin to drop. I already wrote about how to survive with such a volume in the article Mac minimalist and 10 tips for owners of MacBook Air. But it is better to take a disk with at least 240 GB.

Kingston SSD 240 GB on Aliexpress, $ 40

Why do you need to keep 20% of your SSD disk free?

The way SSD works is slightly different from HDD. The information here consists of pages that are grouped into blocks. There is no way to just take and rewrite pages in a block. In addition, the entire block can only be washed. Therefore, when the information in the pages changes, all the data of the block is moved to another, and the old block is freed for a new record. This process is called Garbage Collection.

From all this follows a simple rule – for normal operation of an SSD, a supply of free space is required, since the blocks are constantly moving. Typically, the disk controller already reserves a certain amount of memory (Spare Area) for the garbage collector. That is why all SSDs have an unusual capacity (120, 240 GB …).

As a rule, this is still not enough and for the stable operation of the SSD you will need at least 20% free space.

ingston HyperX FURY SSD 240 GB

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For the role of SSD in MacBook, I chose Kingston with 240 GB (in fact, it has 256 GB, but 13% of the disk is already reserved by the system for the garbage collector). The declared read and write speed is the same – 500 MB / s (SATA 6 Gb / s, there is backward compatibility with SATA 3 Gb / s). The average declared uptime is 1 million hours (about 114 years, but the warranty covers three).) (In fact, it has 256 GB, but 13% of the disk is already reserved by the system for the garbage collector). The declared read and write speed is the same – 500 MB / s (SATA 6 Gb / s, there is backward compatibility with SATA 3 Gb / s). Declared average uptime of 1 million hours (approximately 114 years, but warranty covers three).

I installed this SSD in the MacBook Late 2009, but before that I cloned the contents of the laptop HDD on it using the Carbon Copy Cloner program.

You can easily find instructions for disassembling your MacBook on the net, I will not dwell on this separately.

Test results

For testing, I used the QuickBench program, and also independently measured the launch speed of several popular applications and the speed of copying files: folders with photos of 2.72 GB and a movie of 5.86 GB.

Alas, the QuickBench utility has not been updated for a long time and no longer works on the latest versions of macOS. Alternatively, you can use DiskMark.

QuickBench main window

The results are very interesting:

From the graphs of the HDD, you can see how non-linear its speed is, depending on the amount of information and the type of operation. The peak speed shown by this drive is 57 and 54 MB / s for reading and writing. The worst result is 0.3 and 1 MB / s when working with 4KB blocks. If we talk about average speeds, then they spin around 40 MB / sec and 11 MB / sec for sequential and random read / write.

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In the case of SSD, on the contrary, we see linear graphs, its speed practically does not change depending on the amount of information. The peak results are 267 and 262 MB / s for reading and writing. The worst is 23 and 43 MB / s when working with 4KB blocks. Moreover, in all cases, the average speed is about 150 MB / sec. That is, on average, it is 3 to 13 times faster than a regular HDD. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that due to the limitations of the interface of my MacBook, Kingston HyperX FURY does not work at full speeds.

Application launch schedules and actual file copying speak for themselves. Cracking delays have dropped to acceptable levels.

What is TRIM and why enable it

The peculiarity of SSD is such that before writing any information, you always need to clear the memory block to which it will be written. In order not to waste time on this just before recording, there is a TRIM command. It allows you to clear dirty blocks in your spare time. Alas, on macOS, the TRIM command is disabled for third-party SSDs, so their performance degrades over time.

That is, TRIM will not add speed to you, but will maintain it at the highest possible level by clearing dirty blocks first.

You can enable TRIM with special utilities like Trim Enabler.

In conclusion

To be honest, I did not expect such a tangible improvement in the performance of the MacBook after switching to an SSD. Graphs and numbers do not convey those sensations when a pile of problem iron turns into a frisky horse. Some $ 40 for a Kingston SSD and an old MacBook are back in service.

If your laptop is relatively old, then it makes sense to replace the thermal grease as well. I talked about this in detail in the article “How and why you need to change the stock thermal paste in the MacBook”.

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