My early 2011 15" MacBook Pro has been somewhat sluggish of late. Apps such as iTunes, Mail and Office take 10+ seconds to open and the whole system feels a second or two behind me. Possible cause is the factory-installed Toshiba hard disk which has given me grief for the last 6 months or so (too many bad sectors, corrupted data not fixable by Disk Utility) so I've made the switch to an SSD. I also decided to upgrade the RAM from 8GB to 16GB since RAM is cheap.

Pre-install

I decided to install an SSD as the startup drive to host the OS and applications. A large SSD is expensive and I need more space than an affordable drive for music, photos, movies and so on. Since I rarely use the DVD drive, OWC's Data Doubler kit allows you to replace it with a 2nd drive. I chose:

OWC's step-by-step HOWTO videos showed that doing the upgrade yourself isn't at all difficult.

Install

I wrote a 500 word upgrade plan detailing every last screw change (due to immense paranoia that I would brick my laptop). Digested form:

  1. Clone existing Toshiba HDD to external USB drive using Carbon Copy Cloner
  2. Remove existing HDD and replace with SSD (OWC video)
  3. Remove existing optical drive and replace with new HDD (OWC video)
  4. Restart Mac from cloned drive
  5. Format 2 new drives using Disk Utility
  6. Clone recovery partition onto SSD using Carbon Copy Cloner's Disk Centre
  7. Clone OS and user directory from external drive to SSD (ignoring large files such as music, pictures, etc.)
  8. Shut down Mac, disconnect external drive
  9. Cross fingers, start Mac

And, lo and behold: it worked. I logged in, reconnected the external drive and set up another clone job to run overnight and move all the missing large files onto the internal HDD.

Post-install

I decided to keep my users folder on the SSD rather than move it onto the HDD to make as much advantage of the speed increase as possible. This meant that I needed to check a few apps:

  • iTunes - started in under a second (!) and worked without any problems after I updated the iTunes library location to /Volumes/Data/rhyd/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/
  • iPhoto - started in a few seconds (a massive improvement) after double clicking on the iPhoto Library folder in /Volumes/Data/rhyd/Pictures/
  • Dropbox - moved the Dropbox folder from /Users/rhyd/Dropbox to /Volumes/Data/rhyd/Dropbox/ and copied the contents of the cloned Dropbox folder into this (to prevent Dropbox downloading everything from the server)

Observations

After a week of using my Mac:

  • it is fast, very fast. In fact, it feels like a new machine
  • logging in takes about 5s before the Mac is usable (last week it was > 30s)
  • apps start just. like. that (snaps fingers)
  • cold startup is quicker but nowhere near as quick as a new MacBook Pro 13 with Retina

I fixed a couple of minor issues that I hadn't anticipated:

  • Office 2011 doesn't like it if you change hard drives. Re-activiation needed.
  • TextExpander started before I'd finished setting up Dropbox again so it overwrote my settings file with the defaults - easily fixed though using a previous version from Dropbox
  • Some sym links to Dropbox files were broken (e.g. some useful Ruby scripts) and needed updating
  • Backblaze didn't like that my old HDD was missing (fair enough). I have to upload everything to them again. Would be good if you good tell them to move data you've already uploaded.
  • The system clock reset itself to Jan 1 2001 after I restarted using the cloned external drive (assuming because I'd disconnected the battery (?) for longer than expected). Resulted in some folders showing a modification date on Jan 1st. Odd