Adding an Extra Half-Terabyte SSD to my MacBook Pro
NOTE: Images with an icon next to them have been artificially shrunk to better fit your screen; click the icon to restore them, in place, to their regular size.
Sprucing Up my Laptop adding a 480GB SSD  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/2.5, ISO 2500 — image data
Sprucing Up my Laptop
adding a 480GB SSD

When I bought my laptop (an Apple MacBook Pro) several years ago, I powered it on for a few seconds to make sure it at least booted, then shut it down and replaced the stock 500GB drive with a 1TB drive of my own, then installed the OS.

It worked great, but after a few years the machine started to feel sluggish, as if I was suddenly using Windows. The disk I'd put in was big, but also slow (5,200RPM), so maybe I'd reclaim some speed by using an SSD (solid-state disk)? When I realized that I could replace the DVD drive with a disk, and found that Other World Computing had 480GB SSDs, I took the jump.

After carefully checking the compatibility charts, I got Other World Computing's DIY Bundle: 480GB 6G Solid State Drive + DVD-drive-space mounting hardware, along with a USB enclosure to put the laptop DVD drive currently sitting where the new disk will go.

The bracket and disk are beautifully machined metal...

Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Voigtländer 125mm f/2.5 — 1/250 sec, f/2.5, ISO 5600 — image data

The install instructions, on the other hand, were a bit lacking. I kept a set of notes on the problems I came across, but having let two months pass before getting around to writing this post, I can't find them. However, I do recall a representative problem: while the computer was splayed open on the table, with the bottom now the top and the front now the back, the instructions would use directional words (“front”, “behind”, etc.) with respect to the computer as if it were set up for normal use, instead of with respect to the current view of the thing you were instructed to have before you.

These were slight hiccups... installation was mostly simple. It went more smoothly than when I replaced the hard drive on my MacBook six years ago. And unlike once when I tried to fix a hinge-wire problem, I didn't end up with an unexpected pile of parts after I was “done”. 🙂

I wanted to use the new SSD as the root drive, so I needed the just-removed DVD drive to reinstall the OS, so I popped it into the fairly cheap plastic case, and it worked fine, though its build quality is a bit lacking... the disk doesn't slide in and out very smoothly.

The machine is now quite fast in many ways... I can reboot (invoke a shut down, then restart back to the login prompt) in 18 seconds. I run a disk speed test with uncompressable data and see real write speeds of about 235 megabytes/second, with read speeds of 265 megabytes/second. This compares to hard-disk numbers of about 85 for both read and write.

The app that had gotten the most slow, Firefox, is quite a bit better, but still slow. I think their “new major version every month” strategy has certain bloatware drawbacks, but considering what I pay (nothing), I can't complain. (Earlier this spring, I did a test using Google Chrome exclusively for a week, but I just couldn't make it work for my needs, so I returned to Firefox.)

Lightroom is also faster, but the develop module can still be really slow for me, much worse than a year ago. I don't know whether the problem is related to something bad with my system, or with Lr4 being that much slower than Lr3, but I've heard sporadic reports along those lines, so maybe I'm getting bit that way.

Since it no longer has a built-in DVD drive, I need to hook up the external DVD drive (that had been my internal DVD drive) when I want to watch a movie or burn a CD. Two words of warning if you go this route:

  • OSX'x “DVD Player” app won't work with the now-external formerly-internal DVD drive. I always use VLC anyway, so this is a non-issue for me.

  • The external DVD housing comes with a funky “Y” USB cable. You can use any old USB cable when watching movies, but you need to plug two ends of the “Y” into the computer to get enough juice to actually burn a disk. I don't do that often, so have to remember to get the special cable each time.

I've been using it all without problem for the last two months, so I thought I'd finally write about it.

All 12 comments so far, oldest first...

I too have moved to SSD for lightroom. I found it was faster for lightroom but then it got slower again. After deleting all my previews and having it start from scratch rebuilding the preview database it was faster again. Also, did you set your camera raw cache to the SSD?

Camera raw cache defaults to something under the home folder, which is now completely on the SSD, so that shoudl be fine. I didn’t have it rebuild the previews… I’ll give that a try, thanks. —Jeffrey

— comment by Bryn on August 15th, 2012 at 1:21am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeff,

Just a general comment that you might already be well-aware of. If you have another Mac with a disc drive you can use disc sharing over the network to take care of watching or burning that way. It’s usually a little nicer watching a movie without having the machine I’m in front of spinning away loudly on an external disc.

— comment by Doug on August 15th, 2012 at 2:03am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

To get DVD Player to work again, you can edit the binary file /System/Library/Frameworks/DVDPlayback.framework/Versions/A/DVDPlayback and replace all instances of “Internal” with “External”.

I’ve been running with an OWC SSD in place of the DVD for quite a while now, and it’s made my Mac a lot more pleasant. I configured my old drive to mount as /Users/Shared, and moved things like my iTunes library, virtual machine images, and Downloads folder over there.


— comment by J Greely on August 15th, 2012 at 8:26am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, be careful when you talk about “sluggish, as if I was suddenly using Windows”. With my Windows machine if it took 18 seconds to reboot to the login prompt I’d go looking for a problem. It is just under 12 seconds.

Old Macs like yours are slower than current Mac OS and current Windows machines.

In the Dell laptop world there is a common upgrade that is if anything a little better than what you’ve done and that is because the optical drive is in a “pop in” enclosure. So in the past you could pop in and out the DVD and floppy, but you can also buy a “pop in” enclosure for a hard drive. So you would move your new SSD to the internal bay and move the HDD to a removable enclosure. That way you are getting Sata II speeds rather than USB 2.0. Burning a DVD over USB 2.0 is an exercise in patience 🙂

Once again more modern systems have moved to USB 3.0 which makes backups etc. a practical reality with external drives.

— comment by Patrick Keogh on August 15th, 2012 at 8:26am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink


— comment by Marie on August 16th, 2012 at 12:08am JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

There have been several people complaining about sluggish performance on lightroom 4 vs. lr3. This, in my case, was mainly attributed to a corrupt preference file. Mind you, I’m running windows so the fix of deleting preferences and rebuilding preview database may not apply, but even after these “fixes” I still find LR4 quite a bit slower than LR3 in developing mode. So it could be just optimising quality while losing performance.

I too have ssds and my windows machine boots in approx. 6 seconds – but I really wouldn’t benchmark computers based on boot speeds. 😀

— comment by Jamie on August 17th, 2012 at 7:30pm JST (11 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

Can you tell me where I can find the compatibility charts you talking about?

Thx in advance,

The bottom two thirds of the page I linked to. —Jeffrey

— comment by Jonathan on September 5th, 2012 at 5:39pm JST (11 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

If Firefox is slow for you, it may be due to your long-used Firefox profile. The new version of Firefox includes a simple profile reset mechanism that you may want to try.

Please do note what the reset does not save (see support article.)

That looks helpful, thanks. I’m a bit worried, though, that they don’t mention about:config settings… are those global, or local to my user prefs and will be saved? Lost? Must dig into it… —Jeffrey

— comment by Gen on September 6th, 2012 at 6:54pm JST (11 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

Lifehacker covered this earlier this year.

If you’re concerned, you can also make a new profile and then use Firefox Sync to migrate your settings from your old profile to your new profile.

If you’re a long time Firefox user, profile cruft really slows Firefox down which is why this feature was added.

— comment by Gen on September 6th, 2012 at 7:52pm JST (11 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I’m not sure if about:config settings get moved, I sort of doubt it. I can find out for sure if you’ve heavily customized your Firefox via about:config.

It’s not so much “heavy” customization, but years worth of accumulated settings… stuff like search, rss-handling, image color handling, etc. Lord knows what I’ve “fixed” (or made worse) over the years…. —Jeffrey

— comment by Gen on September 6th, 2012 at 8:16pm JST (11 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

I’ve confirmed that about:config settings are not migrated with the Reset feature. Still, I suggest you try a new profile so you can see how much that affects the speed.

— comment by Gen on September 9th, 2012 at 1:49pm JST (11 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink

Nice bracket indeed!

— comment by Damien on November 10th, 2012 at 10:14pm JST (11 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink
Leave a comment...

All comments are invisible to others until Jeffrey approves them.

Please mention what part of the world you're writing from, if you don't mind. It's always interesting to see where people are visiting from.

IMPORTANT:I'm mostly retired, so I don't check comments often anymore, sorry.

You can use basic HTML; be sure to close tags properly.

Subscribe without commenting