SSD in Macbook Pro – Tips, Tweaks and Review

SSD in Macbook Pro – Tips, Tweaks and Review

SSD in Macbook Pro – Tips, Tweaks and Review

SSD (Solid State Drives) are now becoming more popular and mainstream amongst computers and laptops nowadays. It is the future and seeks to become mainstream and overtake the conventional hard drives.

I recently purchased an OCZ Vertex 3 120gb SSD from Taiwan for a very good price whilst I was there for a holiday. This was a planned upgrade for my early 2011 17″ Macbook Pro which had a conventional but slow 750gb 5400rpm factory hard drive. (For installation instructions and step by step tutorials, there are dozens on Youtube.)

The Vertex 3 SSD hard drive installed fine for me and worked the first time. In case you were wondering, the following are the steps which I followed:

  1. Bought the Vertex 3 with a USB enclosure/case. If you didn’t buy one, you should be able to find one as there are dozens around.
  2. Make sure you have the latest updates on your IOS, and make sure you have everything saved and closed before going onto the next step.
  3. Using “Carbon Copy Cloner“, I plugged in my new SSD through the USB enclosure and cloned my hard drive. As the capacity of the SSD is considerably less than my current drive (120GB v.s. 750GB) I had to insure that what I was copying across the SSD has sufficient space to accommodate, and so I ended up sacraficing my iPhoto Library (40+GB) and my movies (30+GB). Note that sacraficing does not mean deleting, it simply remained on my original 750gb drive, just unchecked for copying from the cloning program.
  4. After the cloning has finished (took me just over an hour, varies depending on your data size), you can now go ahead to physically swap the drives around after shutting down your computer.
  5. If you get to this step, bulk of the work has been done. Make sure your hard drive boots up properly.
  6. It is advised that you do a PRAM and NVRAM reset. This has certainly helped my Macbook boot up faster as it speeds up the drive detection process (one guess is it is looking for the old drive before it looks for your new SSD drive). This is also the solution to the common problem of grey screening for a long time before the apple boot logo.

 

The speed of the SSD has been most impressive. As a comparison, my real-world example would be the boot time of my computer which used to be at approximately 56 seconds, now shaved down to just under 15 seconds. Most application launches have been close to instantaneous, with heavy software such as Photoshop not taking more than a mere couple of seconds to load.

Although the overall system is a lot faster, it is not all happily ever after stories. Below benchmarks were done by Blackmagic Disk Speed Test application and as you can see my SSD is performing nowhere near the advertised SATA III speeds:

SSD Disk Speed Test

SSD Disk Speed Test

So I went ahead on a rampage to find solutions, literally spending a couple of days fleshing out to find the problem. All over the internet users have been complaining about SATA III performances and Macbook Pros; with problems especially common in 17″ models. Below are what information I have gathered and found after my weekend rampage:

My system info shows my SSD has negotiated the correct link speed:

Negotiated Link Speed

Negotiated Link Speed

I’ve tried to turn TRIM support on (I am on Mac OS 10.7.2) and found that my SSD actually decreased in performance. I ended up turning it on then off, but in case you wanted to try here are the instructions on how to (don’t use trim enabler with Lion!):

// In case something goes wrong, backup the file we are patching. This line is a comment, so do not include!
sudo cp /System/Library/Extensions/IOAHCIFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns/IOAHCIBlockStorage.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOAHCIBlockStorage /System/Library/Extensions/IOAHCIFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns/IOAHCIBlockStorage.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOAHCIBlockStorage.original

// Patch the file we backed up before to enable TRIM support. This line is a comment, so do not include!
sudo perl -pi -e 's|(x52x6Fx74x61x74x69x6Fx6Ex61x6Cx00{1,20})[^x00]{9}(x00{1,20}x51)|$1x00x00x00x00x00x00x00x00x00$2|sg' /System/Library/Extensions/IOAHCIFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns/IOAHCIBlockStorage.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOAHCIBlockStorage

// Clearing the sys kernel extension caches. This line is a comment, so do not include!
sudo kextcache -system-prelinked-kernel
sudo kextcache -system-caches

 

After the above has been done, reboot and TRIM should be successfully enabled! In case you were like me and wanted to revert the TRIM patching, it is equally as easy:

// Disabling TRIM support / Undo operations above. This line is a comment so do not include.
sudo perl -pi -e 's|(x52x6Fx74x61x74x69x6Fx6Ex61x6Cx00).{9}(x00x51)|$1x41x50x50x4Cx45x20x53x53x44$2|sg' /System/Library/Extensions/IOAHCIFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns/IOAHCIBlockStorage.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOAHCIBlockStorage
sudo kextcache -system-prelinked-kernel
sudo kextcache -system-caches

// At this point TRIM support should have been successfully disabled. If something does go wrong, restore from the backup file you created at the start. This line is a comment so do not include.
sudo cp /System/Library/Extensions/IOAHCIFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns/IOAHCIBlockStorage.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOAHCIBlockStorage.original /System/Library/Extensions/IOAHCIFamily.kext/Contents/PlugIns/IOAHCIBlockStorage.kext/Contents/MacOS/IOAHCIBlockStorage

 

Next thing I decided to try was various tweaks in Mac OS advised which could potentially improve performance and reduce wear on SSDs. Whilst these tweaks may have increased my SSD’s performance (ever so slightly), they did not make any noticeable differences to my benchmark results above. Nevertheless here are the tweaks which I still recommend you making as they are more or less beneficial to your SSD performance, or space saver:

Disable the hard drive sudden motion sensor as your SSD has no moving parts. Do not disable if you have a dual hard drive setup and/or more than one of your drives are a conventional hard drive.

sudo pmset -a sms 0

<strong>Disable</strong> automatic hibernation which writes RAM contents onto drive space. By doing this you are able to remove the drive image saving the equivalent of your RAM size on your drive (8GB for me), but in turn sacrifice losing work if your computer runs out of battery power in its sleep.
<pre class="testimonials_static prettyprint">sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0
sudo pmset -a disksleep 0
sudo rm /var/vm/sleepimage

/pre>
Disable access time file tracking. This is said to contribute to more write access and contributing to more wear and tear. Although minimal performance gain, if this is no use to you I do suggest disabling it.

sudo touch /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.noatime.root.plist

then edit the above file and past the following inside using your favourite editor:

<!--?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?-->

<plist version="1.0">
<dict>
<key>Label</key>
<string>com.noatime.root</string>
<key>ProgramArguments</key>
<array>
<string>mount</string>
<string>-uwo</string>
<string>noatime</string>
<string>/</string>
</array>
<key>RunAtLoad</key>
<true>
</true></dict>
</plist>

On reboot, confirm the change has succeeded by running:

mount | grep noatime

Something like “/dev/disk0s2 on / (hfs, local, journaled, noatime)” should show if the change was successful.

 

So to summarize, these are the things I’ve tried:

  1. Fresh installation of Mac OS Lion, and benchmarked my SSD right after the installation without any third party software or customization however yielded results similar to above with no noticeable improvements.
  2. Repeat clone of my drive in case something wasn’t done properly; again yielding results similar to above with no noticeable improvements.
  3. The above tweaks as mentioned, again yielding little to no difference in my benchmarking results.
  4. Tried XBench, which also yielded similar benchmarking results. Are there any other disk benchmarking tools out there for Mac OS?
  5. Updated my Mac OS to the most up-to-date version available.

Things I have not tried yet:

  1. Updating the SSD’s firmware from 2.11 (shown in my screenshot) to 2.15 which is the most current one. Reason being it is not easy to actually upgrade from a MAC, I have attempted this however decided to abandon it for the time being unless someone can explicitely tell me that this will fix my performance problems

 

The Vertict
The OCZ Vertex 3 has proven to be a worthy upgrade for me and my Macbook Pro 17″ running on the latest Mac OSX Lion. I upgraded to this drive effortlessly using Carbon Copy Cloner and the laptop was back in its original state in no time. The longest process being the cloning process which took me little over an hour.

As mentioned above it is not all happy news as I suspect my SSD is not performing up ti its SATA III expectations based on the benchmarks which I’ve done, and I have since then done a lot of research into tweaks and tips in making this right. I have however as of today gotten nowhere although along the way I’ve discovered some nice tweaks which was mentioned above.

The negative benchmark results however did not however hinder the fact that the SSD drastically improved my system performance and is a highly recommended upgrade. I got my OCZ Vertex 3 from Taiwan for around $200 USD, which proves that prices for SSDs are becoming much more affordable nowadays.

Your comments and feedback is welcome, and if you know of a fix please do not hesitate to let me know either by leaving me a short email or commenting on this post!

10 Responses to SSD in Macbook Pro – Tips, Tweaks and Review
  • Louis

    Hi “nizsmo”,

    I am glad I found you. I bought my OCZ Vertex 3 120gb SSD just one week ago, here in Germany, and I must definitely agree with you. The speed is very respectable compare to my factory installed 500GB that my early MCP 15 core i7 2.0 Mhz came with. I did try some of the tweek you offer, and they dont make the SSD respectable faster. I will be very attentive with other posting in this forum. Great work by the way, thanks for caring and publishing this info.

    Louis

  • Joe Wu

    Thanks for your helpful comment Louis :-)

  • Malte

    Hi there!

    I discovered your post while searching for a solution for the performance problem for the MBP 17″ (2011).

    I also have the same issue as you, but my disk is an INTEL 510 – 250GB. My disk is also performing OK, but no anywhere near the disks limit. Too bad, but I haven’t discovered a fix :(

    Anyway, thx for your post :)

  • Joe Wu

    Thanks Malte, my problem persists, however the performance of the hard drive is still much much better than the traditional hard drive despite the low performance scores. Be sure to let me know if you find a solution! I would have thought Lion would have fixed the issue, however this doesn’t seem to be the case unfortunately.

  • Shane

    wrap the thin sata cable with kitchen tin foil carefully , this got me from 250MB/sec up to 430MB/sec, apple obviously did not test the cable properly with a 6Bb/sec drive , if they had they would have realised that the cable is not insulated enough, too much RF gets to it inside the case. They make 3rd party cables, to replace the original one but to be honest with you this works perfectly :-) Had my vertex 3 in for 2 months now and its solid!

  • Joe Wu

    Thanks for your feedback Shane! I read this somewhere I remembered, but was contemplating whether to try it or not as it sounded a bit…weird…but will give it a go.

    Is your computer a Macbook Pro? 17″ 2011 model or something else?

    Thanks

  • Malte

    I recently tried Shane’s example with the tin foil- but without any luck.

    I did however get the performance up to 310MB/s in OSX after a PRAM & NVRAM reset.
    Windows on the other hand, performs much worse. Max 200MB/s.

    I sure hope Apple will some how fix this issue!

    Kind regards, Malte

  • Joe Wu

    Thanks for your feedback Malte, I will give the foil a try and post back to let you guys know if it makes any difference…

    Any risks in putting the foil around the cable? Thanks.

  • Shane

    Hi its the 17″ i7 Im not sure if this has effect in other models, but it certainly made a different on mine, i wrapped the entire cable top and bottom with tin foil making sure none of the tin foil could move or touch any other component, here an example http://macperformanceguide.com/blog/2011/20110415_1_Tinfoilfix–howto.html its very messy, with mine I carefully moulded the tin foil into the same shape as the cable basically wrapping it compleyely around , with 3 different pieces. Also notice the guy on the above link has missed part of the cable the bit where it goes up to the motherboard, i undid the two tiny screws that secure the cable and covered that part of the cable as well then put the screws back so the clip was holding on the cable and the tin foil right up to the motherboard. Obviously make sure none of the tin foil can move or touch any exposed circuit boards.

  • Joe Wu

    Thanks all for your comments. I’ve recently upgraded to 16GB of RAM and decided to re-test benchmark values, and found that Blackmagic Speed Test is possibly not accurate.

    Attach is a link to my new post on this site, enjoy and feel free to comment if you have any thoughts!
    http://www.joewu.net/blogs/view/43/16gb-ram-upgrade-for-macbook-pro-17–early-2011/

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