Best practices for upgrading MBP RAM and HDD?
November 30, 2012 5:01 PM   Subscribe

[MACFILTER] Best way to upgrade my Mid-2009 MBP?

I have a 17-Inch mid-2009 MacBook Pro that has been a true workhorse and champ over the past 3 years. I use it all day for work and in the evenings for entertainment. It's on ALL the time and gets 7-15 hours of use 5-6 days a week--editing video, photoshopping, coding, NetFlix marathons--you know the deal.

It's starting to get the random-spinning-beach ball a little to often and cleaning up the permissions is having less and less effect. The local Mac Guru say I should reinstall the OS on a clean slate and reload all the stuff I am using.

All the work of reinstalling and such on a clean install of the OS got me thinking, why not add an SSD and max out the RAM?

So my questions are:
Is this a good idea? Or a total pain in the ass?

Can I bring my apps and data back from my time machine backup? How?

Can you recommend online dealers and brands for SSD and RAM that you've had positive experiences with?

Can you point me to a complete walk through for swapping the drive and reinstalling 10.6.8?

If you're one of those master-tinker types, what suggestions and advice do you have for this endeavor?

Thanks in advance for all your help.
posted by Fuzzy Dog to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
An SSD will definitely speed things up. Other Word Computing is a reliable vendor. I've installed their house-brand SSD in my wife's MBP. The usual routine is to install the SSD in an external enclosure (which they'll sell you cheap), run Carbon Copy Cloner to make a, well, carbon copy of your internal drive on the external, and then swap drive mechanisms. OWC has tutorials, but it's not hard. It is relatively expensive—SSDs are a little over a buck a gig.

However, before you do that whole routine, there are a couple other things you can try.
1. If you're still running 10.6, you don't have a recovery partition. So boot from your install DVD and run Disk Utility. Run "repair permissions." and "repair disk" (not the same as running it under your normal install).
2. Install Onyx (get the right version for your OS version) and run all the various cleanup routines that it makes available.
posted by adamrice at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2012

I have an early 2008 MBP and just recently did the same thing. I highly recommend it. With Mountain Lion running, this feels like a brand new computer. Also, keep in mind that your HDD is one of the most common points of failure, so once you swap it out you should hopefully be able to extend the life of your machine.

The Wikipedia article on MacBook Pros is actually pretty helpful for this. I'm guessing that you'll probably be able to support 8 gigs of RAM, but you'll want to do your own research. I learned while researching that my machine actually supported 6 gigs, an undocumented feature that isn't widely publicized.

You'll need to research what speed your existing RAM is and will likely want to buy the same. Crucial is a great brand, I got mine off Amazon.

In all I bought:

One 4 gig and one 2 gig stick of RAM
Seagate 750 GB SSD

You'll also need a way to transfer the data on your existing harddrive to your new drive. I initially bought this device by Vantec, which was defective. This one by Macally costs a little more but is much more solidly built.
posted by prunes at 5:20 PM on November 30, 2012

adding the ram is pretty easy. i maxed out my mid2009 macbook pro with 8GB. i believe i bought some kingston ram off amazon for the endeavor, and it's been fine. i've had excellent results with crucial ram as well, and ram i've ordered from other world computing (pricier, but sometimes it's easier just to deal with someone who knows macs, so that you know what you're getting and can be done with it).

i also threw in a 750GB hard drive at the same time, which was no trouble at all if you're remotely install savvy. i sadly can't guide you on an SSD, though - i don't have one. the whole process took me maybe 30-45 minutes, mostly because i was also trying to keep my cat off the desk that i was working on. the thing that helped me most was an ice tray that held all the screws in the order i took them out. there will be a couple longer ones on the case, i marked where they specifically were when i took them out with a small piece of duct tape. you may also need a torx screwdriver, i don't remember if they were that or phillips head screws.

as for backup and replacement, i'd google around and see if someone has a simple way of doing it using just your User pieces (and i do recommend also backing up your entire User folder to an external drive before you blow anything away), because the way i personally do it is pretty complicated (possibly borderline paranoid/masochistic, but i do love my data). i've heard good things about carbon copy cloner, but i'm not sure if it does your whole hard drive or lets you choose bits and pieces. since you're taking out your HD and replacing it with an SSD, you may just be able to throw an external case on the HD and use it that way to get all your pieces back.
posted by koroshiya at 5:22 PM on November 30, 2012

Look over the teardown/upgrade guides on (link is to the index for 17" unibody MBP articles) - they are thorough and detailed.

The unibody MBPs are easy to upgrade, for the most part, assuming you have the itty bitty Phillips screwdriver (#00 or #000).

As for faster drives at reasonable prices - consider one of the hybrid SSDs. They are a lot cheaper, almost as fast as a true SSD, and, well, a lot cheaper.
posted by mosk at 5:31 PM on November 30, 2012

Just did this also -- SSD & maxed out the RAM on a mid-2009 Macbook Pro.

I kept my optical drive (and am living with only 256Gb and in the cloud), adamrice's suggestion about OWC is spot on.

I reformatted/reinstalled Mac OS X, just for a refresh and to clean out old crud. I heartily recommend it as well, especially if you have your old software lying around.

All in all, it's a pretty easy upgrade.
posted by suedehead at 6:55 PM on November 30, 2012

Replacing RAM and hard drive are easy. I did a "nuke and pave" clean install on my MBP, to clear up some nagging cruft in my OS X install (which dated back in parts to 10.2) by using Lion DiskMaker to put the Mountain Lion installer on a USB stick.

I put the old drive in a cheap USB enclosure, and only pull over the files and applications from my old system that I need, when I need them. (I've also got a snapshot backup of that drive, as well as a Time Machine archive.) I went with a 256GB OCZ Vertex 4 SSD; it feels like a new computer.
posted by holgate at 7:41 PM on November 30, 2012

Beachballs in Snow Lion basically mean "Hi! You have less than 8GB of RAM." So, upgrade that, first. It will feel like a brand new machine.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:56 PM on November 30, 2012

Er. Snow Leopard. Clearly I need to hit a zoo.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:56 PM on November 30, 2012

Or a Buddhist temple.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:58 PM on November 30, 2012

I am not a fan of restoring app preferences from backups. You may end up putting some of the old performance problems back in place. If you really haven't reinstalled since 2009, it is probably best to start from a truly clean slate: reinstall and reconfigure all of your programs. It might take most of a weekend, but in my experience the results are superior.

Also, definitely install the OS from a USB key. It is a lot faster than the DVD.
posted by twblalock at 2:27 AM on December 1, 2012

I'm in the same boat as the original poster.

I have a 2009 MBP (5.5) running OS 10.5.8 (Leopard?). I'm also plugged into an external 1TB disc where I keep all my itunes library and Time Machine back up.

I have a Samsung 830 256 SSD and an 8gb RAM Upgrade sitting on my desk which I am about to install but I'm a bit nervous about what to do first. I want to do this properly, I don't mind doing it the long way if it means it will all happen without problems.

Before I do anything should I upgrade the OS? What is a "clean install"? I probably have the original DVD that came with my MBP - why would I want to reinstall that?
posted by Brian Lux at 8:27 AM on December 10, 2012

As a follow up to this question, I asked another question.
posted by Fuzzy Dog at 3:54 PM on December 18, 2012

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