Just under a year ago, I installed a second 160GB 5400 drive into my 2.33Ghz MacBook Pro and configured the two drives as a striped RAID 0 array. In addition to increasing storage space two-fold, my machine felt faster. It was totally worth the "risk" of having two spinning drives in a striped configuration, and after 10 months of continuous usage on boats in various countries around the world, my trusty Mac was still running well (thus proving wrong the countless awkward 15-year olds who spread tales of my stupidity on sites like Digg). A couple of months ago, I read about the first MacBook Pro with a SSD drive installed, and then saw a video of a MacBook Pro launching 17 apps at once. I instantely became intrigued about getting a SSD into my computer. My normal computer activity involves constant multitasking while hitting the disk hard in apps like Aperture and Adobe Photoshop. Even using a striped RAID on my notebook, I wait a lot.
And so, I made a change.
New Configuration: Now, with SSD!
**UPDATE Oct 7, 2008**: The MTRON 32GB drive is on sale at eBay! I've since upgraded to 64GB drives. The auction closes at Oct-14-08 17:39:52 PDT.
I bought an MTRON MSD 3000 32GB SSD drive on eBay for $700, broke apart my RAID 0, and slapped it into my MacBook Pro, replacing the 160GB 5400rpm SATA drive that came stock with the system. I liked the MTRON SSD drive because its specs say that it can sustain 100 MB/sec read and 80 MB/sec write, which is much faster than other units out there. The specs also say that its write endurance is "> 140 years @ 50GB write per day." Some reviews have stated that it doesn't do well on Intel hardware, but as you will see, my results showed otherwise.
MTRON MSD 3000 32GB SSD drive
I decided to leave in my system the second drive that I installed last year as part of the RAID. It is a 160GB IDE drive installed in a MCE OptiBay Hard Drive adapter. It's perfect for use as a data drive, mostly for photos and videos -- the stuff I accumulate in the field on a daily basis. A notebooks only equipped with a small SSD drive wouldn't work for me, as it is not practical to have to connect an external drive to actually get something done.
Installation was easy. I popped the old SATA drive out and inserted the new SSD drive. It was a bit difficult to put screws into the small plastic holes in the SSD, which didn't seem to be threaded. I felt like I was tapping my own screw holes using the screws themselves, which didn't feel good.
MacBook Pro with MTRON MSD 3000 32GB SSD installed
plus 160GB 5400rpm IDE drive in a MCE OptiBay Hard Drive adapter
Only having 32GB for a boot drive required careful system and application installation. I didn't install anything I didn't absolutely need, and I unfortunately seem to need quite a bit. The big apps I installed were Microsoft Office 2008, iWork, Aperture, Adobe CS3 applications, and Final Cut Studio. The rest of the apps were split between the system drive and an additional Applications folder on the 160GB drive.
In addition, I set my user home folder to a folder on the 160GB IDE drive and symlinked specific directories to a second user folder on the SSD. Specifically, I keep my Mail.app library and Aperture.app library on the SSD drive. Everything else in the user folder is on the 160GB IDE drive.
I ran a bunch of benchmarks, in the following configurations:
- MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / MTRON SSD (new Mac OS install)
- MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / MTRON SSD in FW800 enclosure (new Mac OS install)
- MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / 2x160GB RAID 0 (old, working Mac OS install)
- MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / 160GB SATA in FW800 enclosure (new Mac OS install)
- MacBook Pro 2.5Ghz / 2GB RAM / 250GB SATA (brand new machine)
For some reason, my existing 2x160GB RAID 0 configuration was really slow in the benchmarks this time around. I'm not sure why this happened, but for that particular benchmark, I booted off of my normal system -- a cluttered installation that I had been using continuously for 10 months. Maybe that had something to do with it. I consider all of the 2x160GB RAID 0 benchmarks to be suspect.
For all of the benchmarks, I booted from the specified drive and ran QuickBench.
Random Reads - Small: SSD drives rock the random reads. Again, I'm not sure why my 2x160GB RAID 0 setup was so slow. I wish I was able to test the RAID setup with a new install of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, but it's too late now.
Random Writes - Small: The MTRON SSD did pretty well here, performing comparably to the spinning drives -- slightly faster at higher block sizes, and slightly slower at small block sizes. Note the bizarre performance of the SSD when connected via Firewire 800 @ 512 KB. *shrug*
Sequential Reads - Small: The MTRON nearly reaches its 100 MB/sec theoretical maximum read speed at block sizes larger than 128 KB. It is much faster than any of its non-SSD competitors, but loses its edge a bit at very small block sizes.
Sequential Writes - Small:The MTRON nearly reaches its theoretical 80 MB/sec maximum write speed, but loses its edge a bit at small block sizes.
Reads - Large: OK, this thing is FAST. At large transfer sizes, the SSD sustains 95 MB/sec with no problems. I'm still totally mystified by the 2x160GB RAID 0 test results, and can only conclude that something strange was going on when I ran the benchmark. I'll bet the machine was busy doing something else, and I simply failed to notice.
Writes - Large: The SSD sustains a 76 MB/sec write speed.
I recorded video of my newly-configured MacBook Pro booting up and running a variety of tasks. As a reminder, my MacBook Pro is a 2.33Ghz machine with 3GB RAM.
First, here's a video of boot of the machine running a new install of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. I installed Quicksilver, which also runs on boot (I can't function without it!).
Boot, fresh install of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard
Next, I configured my machine and recorded video of it booting up. Here are all the applications that launch upon account login:
Quicksilver Missing Sync for iPhone GrowlHelperApp Snapz Pro X iStat menus Helper teleportd ChronoSyncBackgrounder iTunesHelper Path Finder Twitterrific textexpanderd
Boot of my fully-configured system
... and here's a reboot of the same configuration:
Re-boot of my fully-configured system
Just for fun, I added a bunch of beefy applications to the login items list. In addition to the startup items listed above, I added:
Adium Mail iCal Aperture Word Excel Keynote Numbers Pages FireFox Preview TextEdit
MacBook Pro boot with 11 + 12 = 23 apps run upon login
Here's where the SSD configuration shines: I have all of my email going back to 1993 in my Mail library. In the following video, I import 1000 images into Aperture, and as Aperture is building thumbnails, I start doing a bunch of rapid searches in Mail. Some of the searches return as many as 30,000 emails -- pretty much instantaneously!
Ever tried doing ANYTHING on your Mac while Aperture is building thumbnails? This is a whole new kind of computing, and I am totally sold.
Mail searches while Aperture generates thumbnails
As a bonus, my MacBook Pro is running cooler than it did with two spinning drives in it. I couldn't get it to heat up more than this:
The CPU briefly hit 180°, but came down as soon as the fans kicked in.
See a video of me flying around in Aperture.app.
Solid-state drives suit my computing style. My newly-configured machine is MUCH, MUCH faster, and by having both a SSD system drive and a large IDE data drive, I get the best of both worlds. I am never going back.