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Upgrades: Internal Hard Drive or Solid State Drive?

Last updated 2010-10-25 - Send Feedback
Related: how-to, Storage, System Setup

The single most important upgrade you can make on some Macs is to replace a sluggish hard drive.

Macs like the MacBook Pro and MacMini suffer the most, and fast drive can sometimes be even more important than memory. In faster Macs, it’s just as important to have a fast drive, because otherwise the CPU is idled waiting for the drive.

For hard drives—

  • Use 7200 rpm drive(s) with a 16MB or 32MB or 64MB cache.
  • Avoid energy efficient models which save minimal energy, but can kill performance by 20-30%.
  • Get twice the space you think you need. By using less than half of the drive capacity, the fast part of the drive will be used. See Why You Need More Space Than You Need.

Solid state drives (SSD)

Want your old Mac to feel like a new one? Then a solid state drive (SSD) is the answer.

Laptop users (especially photographers) should switch to a solid state drive not just for speed, but for reliability, including resistance to impact and shock. Use solid state drives both inside the laptop, and externally.

Lots of everyday operations benefit hugely from a solid state drive (SSD)

A single quality solid state drive is nearly twice the speed of even the fastest enterprise grade hard drive for large data transfers. For some situations the difference can be much faster, because an SSD has no mechanical latency or seek time.

Note well that I am not recommending just any brand of SSD, but very specifically the OWC Mercury Pro line. I’ve had too many problems with some brands.

The main issues with solid state drives are price and capacity. Prices are dropping steadily, and capacity can be expected to hit 600GB in 2011.

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