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, 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 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.

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