Upgrading a Mac Pro to SSD
|Mac Pro circa 2008|
Even though my Mac hasn’t slowed down with age, it feels relatively slow ever since I added my new 15” MacBook Pro with Retina display to the mix. Between the 16GB of RAM, stunning display and ridiculously fast SSD, the new MacBook Pro seemed to run circles around the larger Mac tower.
Upgrading the processors didn’t seem reasonable. It already has 12GB of RAM and for the way I use the machine that provides plenty of headroom. The one area I figured could see dramatic improvement was by swapping out the 320GB boot disk with an SSD drive. This was the route I took.
Finding the Right SSDI did a lot of reading on SSDs, looking at Amazon reviews and finding guidance from a variety of different sources where I primarily focused on SSD reliability. Since my Mac Pro only has a 3GB/s SATA interface—not the 6GB/s that most of the SSDs support and what comes on a new MacBook Pro—I wasn’t too worried about performance. I knew it would be dramatically faster than the conventional magnetic drive I had humming away in the drive bay.
|Icy Dock adaptor and Crucial SSD|
The first step in upgrading to the new drive was to ensure it would even mount in the drive rails of the Mac Pro. The SSDs are generally delivered as 2.5” laptop drives. Turns out what you need is a 2.5” to 3.5” SATA drive converter. For that I went with the Icy Dock enclosure. It’s a plastic box that is in roughly the same shape as a 3.5” internal drive and fits perfectly with the rails on a Mac Pro. If you do this upgrade be careful - there are lots of 2.5” to 3.5” converters out there but not all of them will line up the SATA interface with the Mac Pro’s drive system.
|Installation with the Icy Dock takes just a few minutes|
Prepping the DriveWith the drive installed I fired up my Mac Pro. The drive is not pre-formatted so I needed to get to work on that. Since this was going to be a direct replacement of an older drive, I decided to try cloning the original to this new SSD. For that I chose Carbon Copy Cloner. CCC is a nice tool for not only creating a complete duplicate of a drive, but also providing incremental updates to keep a cloned drive current. This is critical if you want to be able to recover from a drive failure in minutes, not hours. For now, all I needed to do was clone the drive.
CCC saw the new drive and recommended that I use the Desk Center to create a Recovery Partition on the new SSD, which I did. Once that’s created the cloning process can kick off. For me CCC ended up pushing nearly 205GB of data onto the new drive. That process took 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete.
From there I went into the System Preferences and clicked on Startup Disk. After I changed it to the new SSD drive I clicked Restart and I was now running off the SSD.
Though everything appeared exactly the same on the new SSD, for some reason it didn’t carry over my Dropbox credentials. I had to log back into that tool manually.
Faster? Oh yeah. Faster.Before doing the install I recorded the time it took to perform certain tasks and load some applications. I also ran the Nova Bench application and let it calculate a score before and after the conversion. Nova Bench upgraded my score from 1042 to 1094 after the SSD was in and reported that my disk throughput went from 52MB/s to 166MB/s. For perspective my MacBook Pro tests out at 323MB/s, roughly double the performance. Given the MacBook Pro is running a 6GB/s SATA interface, that makes sense.
I also tested some normal tasks:
|Power on to Login Page||1m 11.3s||24.6s||65%|
|Login to Desktop Ready||13.3s||3.8s||69%|
|Shut Down (no apps running)||1m 9.7s||27.0s||61%|
Some decent performance improvement was achieved. Starting up felt much snappier than before. But how about regular use applications? Here’s what I found:
I measured the improvement based on that first pass opening the apps. In every day usage this performance was pretty stunning. It felt as though I had upgraded to a brand new Mac. Every aspect of the Mac just seemed snappier.
Back when I was heavily into Windows I found myself upgrading machines every couple of years. It wasn’t really a hardware issue as much as the degradation of a Windows machine after extended use. You pretty much HAD to format the drive, reinstall Windows and start over again. Once you get to that point it was worthwhile just upgrading the hardware at the same time.
My Mac Pro has been different. It’s now 5 years old and has been through Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion and now Mountain Lion. These were not full reinstalls but upgrades to the existing OS. It really is amazing to me that with this SSD upgrade I’ll likely get at least another 2-3 years out of the machine, if not more. Sure, Macs may cost a little more up front, but the ROI is easily justified if you'll be keeping it long term.
Got some advice for SSD upgrades? Please drop a note in the comments.
My first experience was to take an older Macbook (Model 7,1 - 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1066MHz bus) and to put in an SSD. This Mac only supports 3GB/s SATA so I picked up an Intel X25-M 160GB SSD (under $100). The performance difference was ridiculous. It is such a pleasure to use.
I then decided to find an older iMac to upgrade. I bought an iMac (9,1 - 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo - 1066MHz bus) and put in a Samsung 840 series 250GB SSD. It's awesome.
SSD adds some serious life to older machines. I can't imagine ever owning another computer that isn't SSD based.
* only hiccup in the iMac upgrade was the Samsung SSD came with a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter but the screws that the iMac used to hold the drive in place didn't fit. I was able to drill out the holes and got it to work.
My PMG4 lasted from 1999-2008, no reason this one can't last me until at least 2017...
so far im blown away happy... I have hundreds of plug ins for AE and it takes forever to open... not anymore... over a minute turned into seconds...
pleasant surprise was Safari pages just loaded and "felt" a lot faster. Once I get my NVIDIA 680 gtx video card added this machine will feel totally new.
Did you do anything with TRIM? I am reading up on the SSD replacement process and have read enabling it is better for the drive. Interested in what you think.
you can get a little bit around the 3 GB/s limit by installing two SSDs half the size in Raid0.
We have done this before the Accelsiors were available...
@Derek: I hadn't heard anything on TRIM until you brought it up! Thanks for that. I'm working on a blog post now to cover TRIM related issues. Should be up in a couple days.
@Anon: Not sure I'd go with a RAID 0 set up with two SSDs now that I know about the Accelsior.
2 SSDs in Raid0 is the cheapest way. As I told you, we have done this a "long" time ago. With 80% full, in work modus (about 30 apps running), I get about 350 MB/s write and 500 MB/s read (measured with Blackmagic disc test.
Today you can go this way ->
or this ->
or the king way with Accelsior.
I am looking for your help finding the proper SSD for my particular Mac Pro.
Here are the specs:
Mac Pro (Early 2009)
Processor: 2 x 2.26 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
Memory:48 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC
StartUp disk: Macintosh HD
Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro 4000 2048 MB
Model Name: Mac Pro
Model Identifier: MacPro4,1
Processor Name: Quad-Core Intel Xeon
Processor Speed: 2.26 GHz
Number of Processors: 2
Total Number of Cores: 8
L2 Cache (per Core): 256 KB
L3 Cache (per Processor): 8 MB
Memory: 48 GB
Processor Interconnect Speed: 5.86 GT/s
Boot ROM Version: MP41.0081.B07
SMC Version (system): 1.39f5
SMC Version (processor tray): 1.39f5
Could you tell me which SSD is best and which conversion kit I need? I also need a little hand-holding in converting the boot drive to the new SSD, once I install it.
Thanks for any help!!
I recently upgraded my Mac Pro tower (referenced in the above blog post) with an OWC upgrade. The OWC folks are excellent at identifying exactly what you will need and their SSDs do not require TRIM support to operate long term.
Here is the address for their SSD page: Other World Computing
Hope this helps!
Thanks for getting back to me.
Installation is ridiculously simple. Plug the SSD into the adaptor, attach this onto one of the pull-out drive frames on your Mac and you are ready to go.
This is one of the reasons I ended up switching out my Crucial SSD for an OWC SSD - the OWC Mercury drives are designed for Macs and do not need TRIM support.
Hope this helps...