September 19, 2012

Quick, Easy and (Relatively) Cheap

I did a quick and easy upgrade to my wife’s 2009 MacBook Pro today. We bought her machine before solid state drives (SSDs) were available from Apple, so until today she’s been computing with a hard drive.

The machine was built with a quick CPU and plenty of memory, but the mechanical hard drive created a bottleneck. That became obvious after I began using a later-model MacBook Pro last year, which was by then available with an SSD.

We waited for economy of scale to kick in, when prices would plummet. Replacement SSDs have cost about triple an equivalent-sized hard drive until recently.

The solid state memory vendor Crucial came out with a lower-priced SSD line, the M4, this year. Last week I found a 256GB model on sale at Amazon for $165. That’s by far the cheapest per-gigabyte price I’ve seen.

Swapping the drives was made easy by SuperDuper!, the excellent backup application from software vendor Shirt Pocket. We’ve used it to make nightly backups of our primary drives for years, but in this case our backup would become the data source for Kelly’s new SSD. I used SuperDuper!’s Smart Update feature to bring the USB-connected external backup drive’s contents equal to the boot drive, which took about ten minutes.

Ten screws and the laptop’s lower panel was off, two more and the stock hard drive was out. A quick swap and more screwdriver action had everything back together in less than five minutes. I put aside the old hard drive, just in case.

The difference between SuperDuper! and other backup solutions is mainly in the recovery phase. SuperDuper! creates bootable backups, which let you get back up and running from the backup drive in just a couple of minutes, rather than hours or days later after replacing the failed internal drive. Such a backup can then be used to populate a new internal drive. That was the second half of today’s project.

I restarted the laptop, booting from the external drive this time, then ran Disk Utility from there to partition and format the new SSD. SuperDuper! then cloned the external drive’s contents to the new drive. About an hour later I rebooted, this time from the SSD. Job complete.

Total time to upgrade: about an hour and a half, much of it spent doing other things while cloning the backup to the SSD. Total expense: $165 for the SSD, plus $28 for a copy of SuperDuper! three years ago.

Man, that SSD is fast.

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