Can you help me upgrade my MacBook Pro (late-2008) hard drive?
November 23, 2012 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Need advice on how to update an older MacBook Pro with a new hard drive. I have a late-2008 MacBook Pro: 2.53 GHz, 320GB hard drive, 8GM RAM (4GB in two slots). My drive is getting full and I don't have the cash at the moment for a brand new laptop. Should I replace the optical drive with a SSD? Or just upgrade the regular hard drive with a new one with 750GB or 1TB?

If I swap my optical drive for a SSD:
- Looking at a 120GB ($120) or 240GB ($225) replacement
- Do I move my applications onto that drive?
- Would my documents and files be kept on the new SSD drive or would they remain on the older one?
- Given the higher cost, what's the benefit to this solution?
- Anything else to consider with this scenario?

If my current SATA 320GB hard drive is swapped for one with a larger capacity:
- Looking at a 750GB option ($59) + DIY kit to use the old one as an external drive
- Will the weight be about the same?
- Should I make sure to get a 7200RPM rather than 5400, or does it matter much?

In terms of use:
- Rarely, if ever, use my optical drive
- I'm on my laptop about 12-14 hours a day, every day, and always have many windows and applications running, including Photoshop, Illustrator, multiple browsers, music, image management apps, random other apps throughout the day
- At the moment, yes, I do need the additional storage on the actual laptop. I've already deleted a ton of unnecessary files, and do enough travel without access to the internet that the files need to be on my actual computer and not just the cloud
- I'm also too lazy to have half of my regularly-accessed files on an external drive, which then has to be connected each and everyday, and which must be remembered when leaving the house for work or travel

Looks like my options are about $100-$250 - I'll probably get another laptop next year so I'd prefer to spend the $100 unless you think the SSD gives much better performance.

If you could do one of these options, which would you suggest? Anything I'm not considering here? Thanks in advance for your advice!
posted by barnone to Technology (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely get an SSD; the speed boost is wonderful. You don't need to mind how you use it, really. Just don't run any benhmarking or defragging or anything else that does a lot of read/writing. You can get a 256GB for a steal this weekend (512GB is still a bit costly, for me.) Make sure you install TRIM Enabler!

For external, don't strain your wallet for 7200. If the difference is negligible, go for it, but the external is for storage. You won't be running apps off it.

However, you can just get a $20 enclosure for your current HD and use that as an external as well.
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on November 23, 2012

Er, if you're doing this internally, use the SSD as your main drive. That is sort of the whole point.
posted by griphus at 1:31 PM on November 23, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks griphus. Just for clarification, the 5400 vs 7200 would be to replace my current hard drive with another SATA hard drive. I'd make my current drive an external back-up, but the main question is about replacing/extending my current internal set-up.

Any suggestions about where to get a 256gb SSD right now?
posted by barnone at 1:36 PM on November 23, 2012

Best answer: I got one of these Seagate hybrid drives for my mid-2009 MacBook, which is a 750 GB hard drive with 8 GB of flash and has some nifty caching algorithm. It's not as fast as a pure SSD but it hits a sweet spot in terms of price/performance, and noticeably faster than my old HD. It's also pretty easy to install in place of the old HD.

(I figure my laptop is more than three years old, and this is the last major upgrade before it goes to pasture.)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:37 PM on November 23, 2012

Best answer: I did this myself last year, and here are my thoughts:

1. Do you have a backup drive currently? Running any amount of data without an external and/or online backup is all sorts of risky. So for any data you would hate to lose tomorrow, you need a backup plan. More important than any SSD upgrade.

2. Yes on the SSD. You could make a copy of your current drive to the SSD and boot from it, or start with a fresh install of OS X on the SSD drive (my recommendation). I do love OWC that you linked above, but often better prices on Amazon for SSDs and hard drive caddy to replace the optical drive. The caddy itself is around $15 versus $50. A 120 GB SSD drive is just over $100 currently.

3. Another option, my brother was pleased with the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive, which is supposed to give some performance increase of a SSD with 750 GB of space. It is a compromise, but just an option. Around $125.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:38 PM on November 23, 2012

Response by poster: Do you have a backup drive currently? Running any amount of data without an external and/or online backup is all sorts of risky. So for any data you would hate to lose tomorrow, you need a backup plan. More important than any SSD upgrade.

Pretty sure I'm set on that front. I have a full automatic backup at Backblaze, and all of my documents/files/photos/music are mirrored on my cloud drive. My most important files are often copied over to an external drive as well.
posted by barnone at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2012

Best answer: Okay if for you reason you go the HD route, then definitely get 7200. In that scenario it does make a difference worth the extra money.

As far as retailers, I can't imagine anyone is going to significantly underprice NewEgg or Amazon for a Samsung 830 (which is the SSD I would recommend.) I mean maybe you can save an extra $10-20 somewhere, somehow, but I'd just wait until either of the two big guys makes it clear the drive is on a Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale and get it there.
posted by griphus at 1:44 PM on November 23, 2012

Oh and I don't know if you're totally clear on this (so apologies if I am repeating myself) but, unlike RAM, the HD in your computer currently will always be useful in one format or another. Either you get an SSD and make it your second hard drive, or you pop it out and make it an external. But it's perfectly good HD either way.
posted by griphus at 1:46 PM on November 23, 2012

With backup set, then I'd go with the SSD setup.

120 GB is plenty of system drive space - on an 80 GB drive, I run OS X, the entire Adobe Production Suite (Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, etc), Final Cut Pro X, and numerous other programs with around 20 GB to spare. Then I would purchase a larger regular hard drive to put in the optical drive caddy ($15), you can get 500 GB for $70, or 1 TB for $90. That would put your total cost at just over $200.

If you want to spend less - get the single Momentus XT drive for $125. You'll end up with overall space increased, a slight performance bump, and you can keep your optical drive intact.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:54 PM on November 23, 2012

If you don't need hundreds of GBs of extra space, then go for the SSD, and remove the optical drive so you can keep your old HD internal. The SSD will make your machine feel much faster than a new HD could, and as long as your storage needs are modest, should keep you covered.

If you decide to go the HD route, I'd go for the 7200 for the speed, but there are some caveats. I replaced a 5400 RPM drive for a 7200 in an older MacBook Pro than yours, and felt a slight speed increase, but battery life diminished a bit. (The dual SSD/HD solution will probably shorten battery life a little too though.) With the 7200 RPM drive, my laptop also vibrated noticeably when the drive was spinning. It might have been a problem with how I installed it, but at the very least, your computer may feel louder.
posted by mariokrat at 2:00 PM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I run a 256GB SSD / 500GB HDD in optical bay comb in a 2012 15" MB-PRO. I noticed in Apple forums that some folks had issues gettings hard drives working at full speed in the optical bay of older model Macbooks so bear that in mind.

Having 2 drives + the optical bay HDD enclosure seems to add a little weight, vibration and reduces battery life - probably only important if you travel a lot with it. There's also some system fiddling you want to do to optimize the setup (e.g. disabling ram write to the SSD on suspend, moving your home folder to the HDD, TRIM)

Also - the optical bay I used could only accomodate drives of up to a certain height, so check that if you go down this route.

Honestly, if you just want space and you're happy with the performance of the machine as it is, don't worry about the SSD and just get the 750GB Momentus XT Hybrid drive - it's plenty fast (I have a 500GB one in a 2007 Macbook) and the money you save now spent in the future will likely get you a bigger SSD / new laptop.
posted by tkbarbarian at 2:16 PM on November 23, 2012

There's a good answer over on a stack Exchange about making best use of a mixed SSD/HD setup if you go that route.
posted by phearlez at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2012

Best answer: Do note that OSX doesn't support TRIM on aftermarket (non-Apple) SSDs without uglyish hacks (basically doing a binary patch on a certain kernel extension).

Personally, I just (as in two days ago) replaced the drive on my 2011 Macbook Pro with a Seagate Momentus XT 7200 rpm hybrid drive, which seemed like the best compromise instead of going the SSD route. It's faster, but there's now a significant amount of vibration where previously it was almost impossible to tell there was even a hard drive in the thing. YMMV.
posted by neckro23 at 8:44 PM on November 24, 2012

Response by poster: Neckro23, thanks for the note about the vibration. That was looking like my best option but now I'm not so sure.

Many thanks for all the suggestions here!
posted by barnone at 2:36 PM on November 25, 2012

Chiming in a little late. The SSD + HDD route is more expensive and more work, but it will also feel like a major upgrade.

If you go that route, move your HDD into the optical bay and put your SSD where your old HDD was. Put the OS, applications and most of your documents on the SSD. Use ge old HDD for big media files and infrequently accessed documents. Actually, you could probably set the pair up as a Fusion drive and let the OS deal with what data should go where.

Finally, I wouldn't rely on backblaze as your only backup. And external HDD or a Time Machine comparable device on your LAN gives you a full backup you can restore in hours, rather than days. Use the cloud backup to cover you if their is a local disaster, and for any files that have changed while away from your LAN.
posted by Good Brain at 10:33 AM on November 26, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I ended up putting in the Seagate Momentus and it's worked really well. It does run hotter now, and I think the battery doesn't last as long between charges, but the whole thing feels like a good tradeoff.
posted by barnone at 7:59 AM on August 12, 2013

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