Poorly Early Macbook Air - Will a SSD Save it?
November 22, 2011 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I have a Macbook Air from 2008, Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM. It's been unusably slow for the longest time but Lion seemed to revive it a bit, though the graphics performance (especially after waking from sleep) is still sometimes horribly sluggish. I don't think I can upgrade the RAM, not sure about the graphics card (suspect not), but see that you can buy a new SSD that's compatible. I'm tempted, but can't find any clear information on whether a SSD upgrade would really improve things. Does anyone know if it's worth itin terms of improved system performance? Thanks!
posted by dharma rascal to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
It's the RAM. Faster SSD will increase performance but right now you are limited by your amount of RAM.

Sell it and take advantage of prices this week to upgrade to a 4gb model.

Here is great a list of macs and their performance benchmarks
posted by Poet_Lariat at 3:48 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely it would improve performance. I bought an SSD for a Dell D420 with a 1.2 Ghz CPU (much slower than yours) and it boots Windows in 24 seconds, from power button to usable desktop. For things like opening apps, it's orders of magnitude faster than PCs with twice the processor speed that have conventional hard drives. Your Macbook Air will be ridiculously faster.
posted by cnc at 3:48 PM on November 22, 2011

Adding - RAM is not your limiting factor unless you're trying to run Windows 7 and OS X side-by-side or doing video editing or heavy duty Photoshop, neither of which make much sense on an Air. Tossing that machine would be throwing money away.
posted by cnc at 3:51 PM on November 22, 2011

One will notice a major difference going from hard drive to solid state, but between SSDs the difference is less striking.

Look for a vendor with a reasonable or no restocking fee, perhaps. Get a few drives and run benchmarks. Return the slower units.

Note that a lot of the fast SSDs are SATA III, and your MacBook Air has SATA II. So filter accordingly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:56 PM on November 22, 2011

I put this SSD in a 1.6GHz Rev A MacBook Air that used to be an absolute dog and now it's quite usable.
posted by nicwolff at 4:17 PM on November 22, 2011

Honestly, it's the CPU as much as the RAM. The Core 2 Duo is pretty underpowered at those clock speeds.

I'd sell it on craigslist to someone who sees "MacBook Air" and thinks about all of the rave reviews of the current model and not how the original was panned, you should be able to get $500-600 easily. That's halfway to a new 13" right there.
posted by Oktober at 4:19 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Did you do a clean install of Lion or did you install it over Snow Leopard? A format and reinstall would be my first go-to for improving performance.
posted by supercres at 4:30 PM on November 22, 2011

It's on old, slow computer, sorry. As Oktober said, CPU and RAM, the core components of what make a computer perform fast or slow. Solid state drives are kind of like the "undercoating" of computers- sounds cool but not really gonna help fix a weak engine and four bald tires.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:14 PM on November 22, 2011

Ms. Fauxscot has a similar machine. I took it from 2 to 4 GB RAM and her incessant complaints about sluggishness went away. Very zippy now, with the old slow HDD. Cheap upgrade, too. Try RAM first.
posted by FauxScot at 6:05 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a computer scientist, part-time systems administrator, and long-time Mac user.

A — CPU doesn't matter at all for general use, and hasn't done so for a few years now.

B — Upgrading RAM would be the best value for the money – if you could do it. AFAIK you can't upgrade RAM in Macbook Airs. If you can, do so. Check everymac.com / macsales.com for your model.

C — An SSD is going to work wonders. It may be worth the money.

The reason that a RAM upgrade works in the first place is that it reduces the use of the very slow hard drive (reduces "swapping"). An SSD is much faster than an HDD, especially in the random data access pattern that swapping induces. So when you have too little RAM and an HD and the machine is sluggish, either or both of doing a RAM upgrade or an SSD swap is going to help. Lots.
posted by krilli at 7:32 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is it slower than it used to be? Or do you mean slower than more recent other computers?
Computer hardware doesn't wear out like that. Back up your documents and start over with a clean OS.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:56 PM on November 22, 2011

I recently upgraded my 2008 Macbook unibody (2.4ghz C2D) to 6GB of RAM (from 2), and a Seagate Momentus XT 500gb hybrid SSD drive. It has a little bit of onboard SSD memory that it places frequently accessed files in. The end result is that whatever you use the most will be pretty blazing.

In fact, I just bought a new battery for it yesterday. This small upgrade really gave new life to my computer, and despite working a lot with pretty big photographs, I find it to be fast enough for my uses - despite being over 3 years old.
posted by flippant at 10:12 PM on November 22, 2011

Original MacBook Airs have the RAM soldered in, it is non-upgradeable.

It is possible that some of the issues you are having are due to the hard drive; it is a 1.8" SATA platter drive and since the components are so small they are subject to greater wear and tear issues than most computer drives. You MIGHT experience a worthwhile boost by upgrading this, but it cannot be guaranteed.
posted by fearnothing at 10:58 PM on November 22, 2011

Run disk utility and verify permissions and test the disk. I had a slow rev A MacBook Air that was born anew.

Also - if the HDD is starting to fail, this can cause big slow down. A new disk would fix that.

Severe fragmentation of a nearly full disk will cause slowdowns, but you need a nearly full disk for it to happen. Solution is to backup, erase disk, restore
posted by eriko at 3:59 AM on November 23, 2011

Thanks all for the thoughtful input. I'll mull... For what it's worth I found myself in an Apple Store over Thanksgiving and asked a Genius who said he thought it might make a small improvement only. I do remember comparison tests from the time of the machine's launch that showed modest improvements in the SSD models over the standard hard drive versions. It is still galling to see just how improved the current crop of Airs are though! I've bought many Apple products over the years and I reckon the early MacBook Airs were the least achieved products they've released. Ah to be beguiled by thinness...! :)
posted by dharma rascal at 11:58 PM on November 27, 2011

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