How to get your Mac hardware ready to roar with Lion

mac-osx-lion

Apple is gearing up to release Lion, and Mac owners eager to try it out should be gearing up to get the most out of OS X 10.7 when it arrives in July. The new operating system is the first to leave some Intel-based Macs out of the party, and even with the minimum specs, you won’t be getting the full experience. Here’s how to prepare your older Mac to best handle Lion, without having to fork over for a brand new machine. *

RAM

This is the easiest place you can make an improvement with almost any Mac. iMacs have a user-accessible memory slot located on the bottom edge of the display, between the built-in speakers. It’s as simple as removing three screws, and then replacing the computer’s existing memory with large capacity, compatible RAM units. MacBooks and MacBook Pros are also easily upgradeable when it comes to memory, and require only the removal of the bottom case or a memory area cover, depending on your model.

Remember to make absolutely sure that the RAM you’re buying is compatible with your computer. You can do this by finding out which Mac you have, by doing the following:

  1. Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of the menu bar.
  2. Click on “About This Mac.”
  3. Click on the “More Info…” button.
  4. Take note of the Model Identifier in the Hardware Overview that opens. It should say something like “iMac12,2″ or “MacBook3,1.”
  5. Go to EveryMac.com and enter that identifier to get the complete specs for your machine, including what type of RAM it uses and the maximum amount it can support.

If you’d rather make it easier on yourself, you can go to OWC and browse for your model in the Memory section of their online store. Note that this does require that you at least know when you bought the computer, but you can find that out using the method described above.

Note that some Mac mini models and MacBook Airs make upgrading the RAM yourself very difficult or impossible, in which case you might want to consult with an authorized Mac service provider.

Hard Drive

RAM is easier to upgrade, but for Lion, a hard drive change could make the biggest difference. They can be a bit trickier to upgrade, and nearly impossible if you have an iMac, but for most Mac notebooks, the process isn’t very challenging. If you’re unsure how to change your hard drive, check the official Apple manual for your computer, which you can identify using the method described above.

There are a few options available to you here. Like Dave Greenbaum, you could choose to go with a solid-state drive. This is the best possible option, but it’s also the priciest, and you get relatively little storage space for your money.

Another option is to supplement your existing HDD by installing a separate, smaller capacity SSD as your startup volume. If you have a MacBook Pro, this isn’t too difficult to do. Weldon Dodd provided an excellent walkthrough of how he achieved this with his own computer. Lion requires a minimum of 8 GB of free space on your drive, but a 40 GB drive that you can get for around $100 is probably as small as you should go, even if you don’t plan on keeping anything else on there.

Finally, you can also get the best of both worlds in a single drive, using a hybrid drive. Seagate makes a hybrid drive that provides 500 GB of storage, along with a 4 GB flash storage module. It manages to achieve a 32 MB cache with a 7200 RPM drive speed, and provides much better performance than a traditional drive, in my experience, plus it’s way cheaper than a standalone SSD. Boot times, app launch times, and wake from sleep times all drastically improved after I installed this in my MacBook Pro.

The most expensive of the above-mentioned options probably won’t cost you more than $500, and that’s only if you opt for a relatively capacious SSD. Noticeable improvements shouldn’t cost you more than $100, which is a great deal shy of the $1000+ you’d spend on a brand new Mac. Any other suggestions for DIY improvements that could make transitioning to Lion that much more satisfying?

* Ed. Please remember that DIY modifications to Apple equipment is done at your own risk, and voids your AppleCare warranty.

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