MacBook Pro Solid State Drive Upgrade Guide and Performance Testing

In our past Solid State Drive Roundup, we found that the performance offered by SSDs is nothing short of phenominal.  Apple, a company that prides itself in its focus of customer experience knows this, and as a result offers the availability of SSDs across it's Mac computing product line.  However when looking at its MacBook Pro line, the cost of configuring an Apple built-to-order SSD powered notebook is steep.  Apple offers 128GB, 256GB and 512GB SSD storage upgrades at the prices of $200, $600 and $1200 respectively (as per the Apple Store in Canada).

But the cost of getting an SSD in your MacBook Pro (or any other Mac) doesn't have to be so high.  This article is split up into two sections: the first showing you how easy it is to upgrade your hard drive based Mac to an SSD, and the second helping you pick which SSD to buy.  The drives that will be compared are Crucial's m4, Kingston's HyperX, OCZ's Vertex 3 and OWC's Mercury Electra 6G.  They will also be compared to Apple's 5400rpm and 7200rpm hard drives.

Now onto the guide...


Required Equipment and Tools

Not many tools are required to upgrade your MacBook's hard drive to an SSD, but these tools aren't commonly found in the average toolbox (unless you normally work with electronics).  I purchased an electronics precision screwdriver set for around $15US about a year ago, so it shouldn't be expensive at all.

  • Phillips 00 screwdriver
  • Torx T6 screwdriver
  • 2.5" external SATA drive enclosure (to USB or Firewire)


MacBook Hard Drive to SSD Upgrade Guide

The first step of upgrading your MacBook from a hard drive to an SSD requires you to install your SSD into an external USB  (or Firewire) drive enclosure.  We're using the enclosure that came bundled with our Kingston HyperX SSD.

After connecting the new SSD to your MacBook Pro via USB, run Disk Utility (built into OS X).  Select the SSD, then click on the Partition tab.  For Partition Layout, you should select '1 Partition', and the Format should be 'Mac OS Extended (Case-sensitive, Journalled)'.  The Size should automatically be filled out to use the maximum capacity of your SSD, and you can enter in whatever Name you would like.  Lastly, click Apply to reformat and repartition your new SSD.

Now that your SSD is properly formatted for OS X, you will need to check one more thing before you can clone your hard drive's contents to your SSD.  You need to make sure the contents of your hard drive will fit on the SSD.  Keep in mind that the performance of an SSD drops when the drive is filled to near capacity.  Ideally, you won't fill up more than 80% of the new SSD.

After you confirm your hard drive's contents will fit on the SSD, it's time to clone the drives.  I've found that there are two popular cloning programs for OS X, Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper!.  I personally use SuperDuper!, but that's mainly because it's the first one I tried, it worked well and I didn't have any problems using it.

After opening SuperDuper!, click on the Options button.  Make sure the settings match the window below.

Click OK, then Copy Now on the preceeding window.  The file cloning process should begin.

Having all checkmarks and green bars shows a successful clone operation.  After the clone is done, you're ready to install the SSD inside of your MacBook.  Keep in mind that after your first bootup with the SSD, OS X will need a bit of time to rebuild some data (like Spotlight cache).  During this time, your MacBook may appear to be a bit sluggish.