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Tested: SSD brings new life to an old MacBook

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Solid-state drives (SSDs) appear to provide quite a performance boost on new Macs, so I wondered if they could breath new life into my original black MacBook (s aapl), too. Most SSD testing compares maximum speeds on disk-intensive applications such as graphics or video editing, bu would an SSD provide a noticeable improvement in speed for everyday use on my aging Mac?

For my test, I turned to reputable Mac upgrade retailer Other World Computing, and installed their Mercury Extreme Pro 115 GB drive. I installed a fresh copy of 10.6.6 (the most current version when my test began in February) with all applicable updates, and then used the Migration Assistant to import my system from a Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320 GB HD.

Initial impressions were spectacular. A cold boot of my MacBook to the login screen took an average of 19.5 seconds, and to get from login to a full Finder “ready to work” state took an average of only 8.2 additional seconds. Launching Safari was nearly instant, and Microsoft Word 2011 (s msft) took an average of 2.4 seconds to load. Battery life was difficult to test, but my average use time from a full charge was 4-5 hours, using a two-month old official Apple replacement battery.

After a month, I cloned the SSD back to my original Western Digital HDD and the boot and Finder load took more than twice as long. On average cold boot time was 46 seconds with a variance of about 10 percent, and the time from login to full Finder was 38 seconds. Safari launched in 3.5 seconds, and Word in 7.2 seconds. Battery life was back to about 2 hours. I could only tolerate using the original drive for about a week and decided to switch back to the SSD. I retested the SSD (without cloning back from the Western Digital) and results were identical to my tests at the time of initial install.

After I had been using the SSD for over three months, I repeated my original tests, and the results were exactly the same, showing no degradation of speed. That could be due in part to OWC’s wear-management technology, so your mileage with other brand drives might vary.

For those of us using older MacBooks (especially the discontinued “Blackbook”) who aren’t keen on retiring our devices, I strongly recommend a SSD. With RAM maxing out at an anemic 2 GB on these models, an SSD provides an amazing speed enhancement. Although my MacBook is nearly five years old, its fast boot and application launch time, as well as its significant longer battery life made me fall in love with it all over again. A new MacBook might be great, but this one gets the job done nicely, and for only a couple hundred dollars, I’ve got what feels like a brand new Mac in my bag.

Disclosure: While the product was initially provided free from OWC, at the end of the review period, Dave had a need for speed and purchased the used drive.

12 Responses to “Tested: SSD brings new life to an old MacBook”

  1. Anyone think I could do the same with an iBook G4? I don’t usually fiddle with hardware, but it’s the only computer my wife has right now. I want to get her an iMac, but that’s not likely to happen for a while. Would love to boost the iBook if that was an option.

  2. I have asked OWC about using a SSD drive in a iBook clamshell. They said it would work, no adapters. I hate to give up that machine – I have maxed out the RAM, new battery and adapter. The iBook is running slow – I think due to the current drive and it is whinning, so may be ready to go. Any thoughts?

  3. I have a MacBookPro 3,1 that I purchased new in late 2007. Earlier this year, I had it up to the proverbial here with the constant beachballs and slowness, and I decided to install an Intel SSD (SSDSA2M120G2GC). Even though the SATA bus is restricted to 1.5 Gigabits and an SSD may be overkill, my MBP has a new lease on life. No more beachballs, instant program launch, and I don’t put off restarts until absolutely necessary since it happens so fast now.

    I’ve had the machine for four years, and I’m confident I will get another four years out of it. Plus, it’s Lion ready!

  4. Justin Noel

    I had two 5 year old 15″ MBPs sitting around. I put OWC SSDs in both of them. Then. I gave them to a niece and nephew. They now have faster machines than most new PC laptops. They may not last through four years of college, but they are a great start.

  5. Halyein – (I don’t know why I can’t get the reply button to work :) I understand the Kingston NOW V+ is the same architecture that the new Airs use. (Make sure it has the +!!) They do a decent job and are affordable if you can fit on a small space. I live on 64GB SSD on my 1st generation Air with double digit gigabytes to spare. Don’t carry movies, too much music, all my photos, etc. So it works. I have an external hard drive at home where I keep stuff older than a few years and bigger than I need on my machine at all time. The trick is not buying a cheap enough SSD that is big enough bit learning to live on a small SSD (and having an external hard drive with everything else at home). The transition is WELL worth it.

  6. I’ve been using SSD Macbook Airs for a while. (1st and 3rd generation.) When my dad bought the Macbook Pro 13″ (last Core2Duo, so not the current one) I absolutely hated the entire experience of using that thing, despite the better RAM/CPU/GPU/etc. SSD is where it is at. Sometimes I was thinking of buying an old Macbook (or Macbook Alu) and slapping an SSD in there to have a backup machine at home. Between the four macs in the house, sometimes one is down and in for repare. But then I start wondering, NVidia version would be nice, 4GB of RAM would be nice, and then I conclude that buying a new 11″ Air with edu discount and possibly back to school free iPod (if that’ll keep going) is still cheaper :)

  7. I just installed three SSD drives from OWC in some 2006 Mac Pro editing stations and the boost was instant. The machines had started to lag and show their age, but with these drives it’s almost like having new editing machines again.

  8. Halyein

    I wish SSDs weren’t so expensive…a little research on the web and everyone recommends buying the expensive Intel ones, which are out of my price range at the moment. Oh well.