How I Put an SSD in My MacBook

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2015 ♦

My Mac is three years old.  It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro, the mid-2012 model.  It’s a good computer.  It doesn’t have the retina display that the newer models have, but that’s not that big of a deal.  The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it didn’t have a solid state drive (SSD).  Starting with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, all MacBook Pros had an SSD and no optical drive.  When I first got the computer, I was glad about that.  I really didn’t fancy only having 128gb of storage on my laptop, so having a 500gb HDD was nice.  I don’t use discs very often, but it was convenient to have the optical drive.

However, as time went on, and especially after OS X Yosemite, my Mac got pretty slow.  It has a 2nd generation i5 processor – not top of the line but more than serviceable – so that shouldn’t be the problem.  I knew it had to be the hard drive. Both my brother and my dad had put SSDs in their computers, and they both got enormous performance boosts.  I was starting to get jealous.

Before I go on, though, I want to talk about what a solid state drive is.  It’s basically a new kind of hard drive.  A traditional hard disc drive (HDD) has a spinning disc that stores data, as well as a read/write head that reads data off of the disc.  This setup looks sort of like an old vinyl record.  As you can image, the read/write head has to move around a lot, and this process is very inefficient.  An SSD is basically just flash memory (what you have inside your phone, camera memory card, etc.), which means that the memory is just a computer chip.  This is much faster.  For a while there, however, it was also very expensive.  Flash memory prices fell years ago, but SSDs took a little longer to come down.  Now, however, you can finally get a good SSD for a decent price.  I went with this PNY one for $89 (after a $10 rebate) from Micro Center.  It’s 240gb, which should be enough for me for a while.  Best of all, I knew this was a quality drive because my brother is running one in his desktop right now, and my dad is running two in his desktop.

Now back to my story.  Several months ago, I did a quick web search for “put an ssd in a macbook pro,” and the first article I got was a great LifeHacker article about replacing your optical drive with an SSD.  This meant that you could still keep your 500gb HDD.  This sounded appealing, but I was a little unsure about opening up my MacBook using only this article and its couple of pictures.  It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I found a fantastic YouTube video showing exactly how to do the mod.  I was hooked.  I wanted to do this so badly.

There were a few things I had to buy first.  As per the recommendation of the YouTube video above, I had to buy a hard drive caddy and a tool kit.  The hard drive caddy is basically an optical drive-shaped hard drive tray.  This allows you to put a hard drive in the optical drive slot.  Both of these items together only cost me $20 on Amazon (with free Prime shipping).  Finally, I picked up the aforementioned drive for $99 at Micro Center (I’ve yet to do the rebate).  After that, I was all set to do the mod.

After reading the LifeHacker article, I learned that it was actually best to put the old HDD in the optical drive slot, since the SSD was going to be the main boot drive.  Fortunately, the same person on YouTube had another great video about replacing the HDD in a MacBook with an SSD.  I opened up the computer and performed this operation first.  It was totally easy.  Take the back off, unplug the battery, take out a few screws holding in the drive, unplug it, and then put the new one in.  Simple.  Replacing the optical drive, on the other hand, was significantly harder.  I first had to unplug a few miscellaneous wires that were in the way, including this tiny, terribly fragile looking wire that apparently connects the camera to the logic board.  I use the camera almost every day, so I really didn’t want to break this.  Fortunately, things went pretty well.  For some reason, the internals of my Mac were a little different from the video I was watching (even though they were supposed to be exactly the same model), but I found another video (much less well done) that got me through that little hiccup.  After I took out the optical drive, I put the old HDD in the caddy and stuck it right back in.  I hooked everything back up, closed the back, and said a prayer or two that the machine would boot up.

Thank goodness it did.  There was a slight delay for some reason when I first started it (resulting in a not-so-slight elevation of my blood pressure), but the thing started.  I then fired up Carbon Copy Cloner, which I had previously downloaded.  This is a paid program, but there’s a 30 day free trial, which is all you need if you’re just cloning over your hard drive (the product is sold as a longer-term backup tool).  The cloning took an hour and a half to two hours (for around 127gb of data).  Cloning is different from just copying your files in Windows Explorer or Finder because it also copies all the data required for the computer to run an operating system off of the drive.  After doing this, all I had to do was select my default boot drive in System Preferences.

So basically, everything’s working great.  I ran an actual hard drive benchmarking program, but those numbers are kind of arbitrary if you don’t know a whole lot about hard drives (I don’t).  Instead of that, then, I’m going to give you my time tests.  With an HDD, starting up my computer from completely off to the lock screen took 1 minute, 51 seconds.  After putting in the password, it took 1:45 to load the desktop and all my apps (to be fair, I have Skype run at startup, which takes forever to load).  After that, it took another 59 seconds for Microsoft Word to load.  This meant that, after waking up in the morning, it took upwards of four and a half minutes for me to boot up my computer and start working on homework.  Ridiculous.  After the SSD, the numbers are stunning.  Completely off to log in screen is 22 seconds.  Logging in to apps loaded is around 15.  And Word only takes 8 seconds to load.  I went from four and a half minutes to 45 seconds!  Insane!

So, needless to say, I’m extraordinarily happy with the mod I’ve done here.  It’s not for everyone; you have to be comfortable inside a computer, willing to void your warranty, and willing to potentially break your machine.  However, if you do your homework, know what you’re doing, and do it slowly and carefully, it can pay off big time.  It sure did for me.  ••


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