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
|Login to Desktop Ready
|Shut Down (no apps running)
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.