MacBook HDD size upgrade to increase speed and overall performance?
April 1, 2009 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Will upgrading the size (but not RPM or cache size) of my laptop's hard drive increase performance?

I have a MacBook with this hard drive currently inside of it (320 GB, 7200RPM, 16MB cache). I am thinking about upgrading to this one (500 GB, 7200RPM, 16MB cache).

I'm trying to find a way to speed up my MacBook. I have a large (~150 GB) iTunes library and as it has grown I have been getting a lot of spinning beach balls, mostly only affecting iTunes itself (i.e., Safari will be responsive but the cursor will change to a beach ball when hovering over the iTunes window behind it), but it's started happening with other apps, too. I generally have about 30 GB of the actual 300 GB of my hard drive space available, if that's relevant, and I have a few external hard drives already, so I'm not looking to upgrade my storage space, only the speed of my computer.

Will upgrading only the size of the hard drive (and not RPM or cache size of the drive) boost performance? Failing that, is there something else I can do? (My RAM is already maxed out, running the latest software updates, etc.)
posted by cosmic osmo to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
Best answer: Nope, it won't, unless you completely run out of RAM and swap space, which is unlikely unless it's somehow 1995. You're only gonna get faster at this point with a new computer. Sorry :/
posted by Mach5 at 12:28 PM on April 1, 2009

posted by orthogonality at 12:28 PM on April 1, 2009

Maybe a little bit, if your current drive has lots of fragmentation, or if it has some bad sectors. But not a lot.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:29 PM on April 1, 2009

Is there an alternative to iTunes, like gtkpod, that you can use? iTunes is known to be pretty bloated.
posted by orthogonality at 12:30 PM on April 1, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for saving me an afternoon of searching for someplace with that Seagate drive actually in stock!

odinsdream, orthogonality -- I've read about some other people with large (>100 GB) libraries having this kind of slowdown ... the most recent iTunes update was supposed to fix it, but I'm still getting the beach ball :( Unfortunately, I'm pretty married to iTunes at this point.

I'm going to try running Onyx and cleaning out some general cruft and see if that makes any difference

Thanks again for the quick answers. You'd be surprised how long I spent googling this and the hive mind comes through in about 10 seconds.
posted by cosmic osmo at 12:36 PM on April 1, 2009

My only suggestion would be to migrate the music library off to an external disk and move to an SSD internal to the MB, it will make the machine dramatically faster.
posted by iamabot at 12:43 PM on April 1, 2009

Maybe a little bit, if your current drive has lots of fragmentation

Generally speaking HFS+ doesn't get fragmented.
posted by iamabot at 12:44 PM on April 1, 2009

From what I understand a larger hard drive has a more dense platter so they can be faster, but probably not enough to notice.
posted by meta87 at 1:02 PM on April 1, 2009

Actually, yeah it can make a significant difference. Check out this 7200 RPM drive shootout at Bare Feats. If you want the best possible performance today you want the Seagate Momentus 7200.4.
posted by 6550 at 1:10 PM on April 1, 2009

Or, more to the point, the best possible performance with sustained reads/writes.
posted by 6550 at 1:11 PM on April 1, 2009

Although I'm not sure it's going to improve iTunes' performance. I have a 46GB library and performance is just a bit pokey compared to when I had a significantly smaller library. My hunch is that iTunes just doesn't do well with very large libraries.

Okay, I'll stop commenting now.
posted by 6550 at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2009

I too am running a large library on old hardware (PPC). This is a problem with iTunes, not with the Hardware. Or, more correctly, a problem with searching a very big SQLite database in real time. Nothing's gonna fix that except throwing more cycles at the problem.
posted by zpousman at 4:19 PM on April 1, 2009

Generally speaking HFS+ doesn't get fragmented

Generally speaking, any file system run consistently at 90% capacity will get fragmented; also, generally speaking, once the average size of the available chunks of free space becomes smaller than the average size of the files being added to the volume (which can easily happen on a nearly-full drive with large e.g. DVD-image files) then online incremental defragmentation, such as that performed by OS X versions since Panther, won't be able to fix it.

Also generally speaking, doubling the size of your present hard disk will give you some speed increase for existing data, because the larger drive won't have to seek as much as the smaller one for a given amount of data. This improvement is marginal, though - you won't see twice the speed for a drive that's twice as big. An overall 10% speedup would be a more reasonable expectation on raw throughput grounds.

Neither of these, however, is likely to be your problem. With a non-ancient CPU, a decent amount of non-ancient RAM and a non-ancient hard disk, application performance should in general be more than acceptable. If you're getting spinning beach balls from one particular app, and there are no actual faults in your hardware, then by far the most likely cause of sloth is poor app design. It's pretty common for app performance to degrade sharply as the app manages a larger number of files. Shlemiel the Painter is still, unfortunately, assured of continued employment.
posted by flabdablet's sock puppet at 7:23 PM on April 1, 2009

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