The New Macbook Pro: Go for the SSD or the ATA?
March 15, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

The New Macbook Pro: Go for the SSD or the ATA? The SSD drives are much more expensive but supposedly a lot faster than standard ATA drives? Any Macbook Pro owners care to chime in on this?

I've read a few of the same the common sense answers on the mac forums:

"Why pay so much for a little bump in performance? SSDs are too new and expensive right now. Go for the ATA unless $800 means nothing to you."

Well, $800 means something too me but it's no dealbreaker either, if there is a significant boost in performance.

Having said that, I'm wondering if anyone out there actually has a new Macbook Pro with an SSD, and if so, do you feel it was worth the money? I primarily work heavily with Photoshop, Illustrator, Logic Pro, and some other apps and I hear SSD writes just about as fast as an ATA drive, but the boot/read times blow an ATA away. What say ye?
posted by bhb to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a video comparing a couple of late 2009 MBPs, one with the stock drive and the other with a Micron SSD. Of course, it was put together by Micron, so consider the source, but the difference in performance is substantial for both booting up and everyday tasks.
posted by jedicus at 1:49 PM on March 15, 2011

And for what it's worth, that video is a year old. SSDs have gotten significantly faster in that time, but standard drives are pretty much the same.

Note, though, that it is fairly straightforward to upgrade the hard drive on the MBPs. It's slightly more complicated than it was before they moved to the sealed battery, but it's way easier than the pre-unibody models. So you can always upgrade after the fact without being out too much money.
posted by jedicus at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2011

I've never heard anyone who bought an SSD say they've regretted the purchase. It'll be my next upgrade, I'm sure - and it's doubtful I'd ever buy a computer without one in the future.

That said, I hear Apple's prices are a bit high, so you're probably best off getting the cheapest ATA drive you can get, and swapping in an SSD, as jedicus suggests. If you wait a while to upgrade the increase in performance might be enough to make you feel like you've gotten a new computer.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:54 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: My 2009 MBP had an SSD. Basically, nothing took more than a few seconds to launch (including Photoshop), and it booted in about seven seconds.

$800 is still very steep. (I think mine was only an extra $250.) I do think, however, that it will add longevity to your machine. As programs eat up more and more RAM as we progress into the future, you'll use more and more virtual memory. And when that happens, your virtual memory will be faster because the page file is on an SSD, not on an ATA.

So, this depends on how much you value snappiness (just kinda neat, or actually makes your life easier?) and how long you're going to keep this machine. If you're just going get the next new hot MBP, it doesn't matter as much.
posted by ignignokt at 2:02 PM on March 15, 2011

I have a 80GB Intel X25M-G2 SSD in my Macbook Pro 17". Bought it and installed the SSD in October 2009. Its performance is amazing. The optical bay drive has been replaced with one of these 9.5mm height SATA-SATA adapters which holds the SSD. If you consider how frequently you actually use the DVD-RW drive in a Macbook Pro it may be a good idea to think about removing it, when 16GB and 32GB flash drives are so cheap and plentiful these days. There is a negligible impact on battery life compared to a single HDD configuration as the Intel SSD uses around 1W of power. If you do this you will want to keep the spinning platter HDD in its original location (As only that SATA port on a Macbook Pro has sudden motion sensor protection) and put the SSD in the former optical drive's location.
posted by thewalrus at 2:04 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

$800? I'm trying to figure out where that number came from. A 128GB SSD is a $100-250 upgrade, the 256GB is $500-650, the 512GB is over $1000.

I'm not a "Mac person" so to speak, but when it comes to PCs I don't suggest anything beyond a 128GB SSD because of the price. Most people I know can afford the $300 extra expense to drop in a SSD and get an external hard drive for their volume data. I have yet to advise anyone on buying anything bigger than a 128GB SSD regardless of Mac or PC, it's too expensive.

As for the performance, anything that involves lots of small files or heavy data usage will benefit greatly from SSDs. Things like boot time, program loading time, file loading will all work much more quickly. Any program that uses a lot of small files do really well with SSDs, and fragmenting issues don't matter with SSDs. You won't see any improvement on performance when programs are loaded into memory, e.g. frame rates won't see an increase in games or video.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:04 PM on March 15, 2011

If you're comfortable putting in your own drive you can do what I did and buy a non-Apple drive. On a MBP all you need to do is remove the battery panel and unscrew the drive. I have a 13" Macbook with a 60gb OCZ SSD. The difference is night and day. $800 is really a lot of money for an SSD. My 60gb was around $150. You can get an Intel 120gb SSD for $229 right now. If you don't need 256gb you can save quite a bit of cash. There are a few 256gb floating around $500 nowadays if you need 256gb.

I hear SSD writes just about as fast as an ATA drive

Actually they write faster than mechanical drives.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:04 PM on March 15, 2011

The cost figures for the SSDs were from Apple's website for upgrades on MacBook Pros.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2011

I should add that WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT BUY THE SSD FROM APPLE. Apple screws you on RAM upgrades (changing a base model laptop 4GB to 8GB) or larger HDD sizes. Buy it in the best configuration for CPU that you want, with the base RAM/HDD, and get the SSD from Newegg.
posted by thewalrus at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

SSDs are also:

- much lighter
- much more reliable, as they have no moving parts
- more immune to shock damage
- lower power consumption

These are all great attributes in a laptop. The downside is greatly reduce storage capacity per dollar.

Upgrading after the fact is cheaper, but reinstalling the OS and restoring any personal settings is going to be complicated.

If you need a ton of storage, go with ATA. If you can afford the difference, go with SSD.
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:06 PM on March 15, 2011

Buy the computer with the mechanical drive, and upgrade in 2 years when you're looking for a bit of a boost.
posted by schmod at 2:06 PM on March 15, 2011

FYI, ATA is an interface/standards group, not a way of saying "spinning hard drive".
posted by thewalrus at 2:07 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Upgrading after the fact is cheaper, but reinstalling the OS and restoring any personal settings is going to be complicated.

If you already happen to have an external Time Machine drive, this part will be fairly painless.
posted by jedicus at 2:13 PM on March 15, 2011

Unless you have money to burn or need the performance, you could wait a year or two for the ridiculous SSD prices to come down, and then replace your hard drive then. It is trivially easy to image your old hard drive to new, or you can use Time Machine, as well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:22 PM on March 15, 2011

SuperDuper can clone a system drive successfully. Nthing buy the SSD from newegg after the laptop purchase.
posted by ijoyner at 2:46 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone I know who has ordered or put an SSD in a recent Apple portable says they will never buy a computer without solid state storage again, its that big of a difference.

Also, re: thewalrus's point about not buying it from Apple, I'm not sure about with the SSDs, but Apple has gotten a lot less bad about this lately. E.g. the 4GB to 8GB ram upgrade on the MBP is $200. That's not totally ludicrous. Also, what upgrade are you looking at? I thought Apple had a $500 MBP SSD upgrade and an $1100 one.

The other option is to buy the MBP, pull the optical drive, put in a spacer bracket to bring the 5.25" bay down to size, and buy an SSD from whoever. Then you move /System and /Applications to the SSD, and whatever else will fit. Then you partition the HD so that part of it works as a backup of the SSD, and the rest is for bulk files.
posted by jeb at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2011

If you can, go to an Apple store and compare the 13" Mac Book Air to the 13" Macbook. The machines are fairly similar except for the SSD in the MBA. The performance difference is amazing.
posted by reddot at 3:14 PM on March 15, 2011

my 11 inch macbook air w/ ssd feels tremendously faster than my old 13 inch macbook, despite the latter having a higher clock speed. it's remarkable. i'd go with the upgrade if you can afford it.
posted by modernnomad at 3:57 PM on March 15, 2011

Calling an SSD more reliable out of the gate is kind of like saying a bicycle is safer than a car because you ride it on the sidewalk.

SSD's are very strong, very fast, and very reliable...right up until they're not, and they don't give you advance notice like clicking noises, sector failures, or any of the other "I'm dying soon" warnings you get from traditional spinny drives. One minute they work, and then they don't, and there may or may not be any data recovery options.

Even now as we're on like second or third gen SSD's, their life expectancy is nothing like that of a good, solid, plattered hard drive. They do however operate w/ much less heat and work much faster and give better battery life, all of which have a value not equal to zero.

However, if you're already springing for a new macbook and $800 isn't a deal killer, go for it----just realize that for storage you're going to need a really good external, as that $800 cannot possibly be buying you much more than 128Gb. I suggest a usb 3.0, 2.5" enclosure and a good quality 2.5" notebook normal hd.
posted by TomMelee at 5:04 PM on March 15, 2011

As others have stated...the price sounds high, 256GB SSD upgrade on a 13" MBP is $600. I went to SSD (not a macbook though) and I love it, the difference the higher transfer speed and low seek times make!
posted by defcom1 at 5:38 PM on March 15, 2011

Based on reviews and recommendations from friends, I'm about to install a Seagate Momentus XT in my MBP. It's a 500GB drive with 4GB of flash to act as a very high volume cache. It's not much more than a 500 GB internal drive and if it is 50% faster on startup, it'll be worth the extra bucks.

I'll know more about performance next week...
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:57 AM on March 16, 2011

Unfortunatley Mad_Carew, the hybrid drives aren't all they're cracked up to be. I'm interested to know your results though.
posted by TomMelee at 4:51 PM on March 16, 2011

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