How I Got a New MacBook Pro for $325

[Update: The Price has come down dramatically and the newer version of the SSD I used is available for only $243]

How I Got a New MacBook Pro for $325 [$243]

Well, let’s start off by getting this straight – it was NOT a brand new MBP, but it sure does feel like it is.

I have a 2010, almost top of the line MBP – 15”, 2.66 GHz Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M 512 MB, and the matte display. I bought near the top because I do a lot of serious photography (have had a few exhibitions) and a little bit of video, and I need the processing power to do this. (You can see some of my work here, and event photos here.) I have since maxed the memory out to 8 GB.

The Problem

The system ran like a dream and I have been very happy with it, (Actually, the graphics card had problems stemming from the Nvidia processor, but Apple replaced it for free – twice!)

Everything was fine as I upgraded with every new OS X release. Snow Leopard in particular was a great release, with space and performance improvements. Since then, however, every release has bought a bit of a slowdown until Yosemite which reduced my former zippy performance to crawl.

Running an application was fine, but if I had several open, then switching between apps would be painful. In particular, MS Word would hang for sometimes a couple of minutes if I had not used it for a while. Then it would hang again when I tried to do a save. Just opening System Preferences could take a minute or two.

  • The computer was becoming close to unusable.

The problem was clear, the applications were being swamped out to disk while not in use, and swamped back in when reopened. This is how a modern operating system allows you to run many apps at once. You have 7 apps open, that together take up more memory than you have. So the OS places what you are not using back to the disk, and reads it again when you need it.

Enter the SSD

The original hard drive is a spinning platter with a magnetic medium (like an old tape recorder tape) on which the moving head writes and later reads your data. It is slow, but can hold a lot of data that does not disappear when the machine is turned off.

The new SSD – Solid State Drive – acts like a traditional hard drive, but is a bunch of memory chips, just like flash cards in your camera, that store the data in silicon memory cells. While much more expensive than a hard drive, they are 10x or more faster.

The problem: Since Macs for the last few year now all have replaced pretty much all hard drives with SSDs, the newer versions of OS X have been built on the principle that this is what is in use. They have therefore relied more and more on swapping data back and forth frequently. But if you have the old hard disk drive, this becomes onerous.

Add to this the fact that web pages now are programs that run, not just simple data, and it gets more complicated yet. As a professional writer who relies on constant research, I can easily have five to ten browser windows open with 30 or more tabs. This adds up to significant stress on the system – and lots of swaps.

Put this all together, and you get serious system degradation. It really hit with Yosemite. Performance dropped so low as to be almost useless.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Solution: Buy a new SSD to replace the original HD (and move put to 1TB in the process).

After much research, reading many reviews, my solution was to purchase a new SSD. I bought the 1 TB version of Crucial BX100 1TB SATA 6Gb/s 2.5″ Internal SSD from Amazon for $325 (now $315).

Crucial SSD

Click to view.

It is a great value. As Crucial (alias Micron Tech) explains other support page:

  • At write speeds up to 535 MB/s, the Crucial BX100 SSD isn’t the fastest drive on the market, but that’s squarely our intent. We painstakingly engineered the Crucial BX100 to provide a massive performance boost, while also delivering an unrivaled value among SSDs. Make the switch to the Crucial BX100 and get everything you expect from a Crucial SSD at an unexpected value.

I am not sure that my machine would support higher speeds even if I had a faster SSD.

Installation

Installation was pretty straight forward. If you are comfortable with a screwdriver, and have thee patience to deal with tiny screws, you can do it.

You will need:

  1. Your computer
  2. The SSD
  3. A driver kit such as:
  1. A USB to SATA cable (e.g. this by StarTech, $13)

Item #4 allows you to connect the SSD to your computer via its USB port so that you can format it, and copy your data.

I followed this excellent guide by CNET to perform the operation.

This page by repair site extraordinaire fixit, also gives a great, detailed and with pictures, explanation of the physical process.

  • Be sure to follow closely the part about transferring the screws from the side of the old drive to the new one. On my model I had no problem with this and did not need any carrier for the drive.
  • While it is advisable to remove the battery, if you are willing to leave it in for the operation, you can get by with just the micro-sized #00 philips head screwdriver.

Result – A new computer

The result was amazing!

My 5-year-old computer went from being a limping old nag to a charging racehorse. It starts up in just a minute (sorry – I have not timed it precisely), and programs load in seconds, larger ones a bit longer but still a fraction of what they took before. (Photoshop CS3 loads in 8 seconds, a 16 MB photo in just a few seconds.)

I never get a beachball just for swapping programs (although there still are occasions when a program stalls for its own reasons.)

An additional benefit is that the SSD uses a fraction of the current of a traditional drive so battery life is extended. I am almost always plugged in, so I personally cannot quantify this.

Only problem

The only problem I had was that somehow Microsoft Office 2011 detected a change in drive, and blew away my authorization. I still have not located the codes, so have been using Apple’s Pages instead.

Conclusion

If you have an older MacBook that is struggling to keep up with the newer OS X versions, or are still running an older version for fear of slowdown, I highly recommend switching to an SSD. The Crucial also come in a more affordable 500 GB model ($149) and 250 GB ($64).

I have affectively extended the life of my computer for at least several years, perhaps doubling it. Thus I can say that for $325 I have bought a new MBP.

 

 

If you appreciate this work

Then please check out my short fiction anthologies.

(Both available in both Amazon and iBooks stores.)


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2 thoughts on “How I Got a New MacBook Pro for $325

  1. Thanks for the great writeup, I have an older macbook pro and have been on the fence about upgrading because of this issue and older adobe software…..now I am going to make the leap. thank you

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