Don't Upgrade Your Macbook Pro Until You See This

Before you shell out a ton of cash for a new MacBook consider a few DIY options that can drastically increase the performance of your machine. For me, there is nothing more frustrating than having a program take four minutes to open, having programs crash or the spinning beach ball of death. Computers, like most things, need occasional maintenance and tune ups. If you don't address this on a semi regular basis then you are wasting all those duckets you spent on your fancy Macbook Pro. Consider the following DIY video I made that increased my MacBook's startup speed from 105 seconds to 10 seconds. 

The biggest upgrade to consider, outside of maxing out the RAM, is actually replacing your operating system drive with a solid state drive, and if you are going to do that, you may as well get two solid state drives and get rid of that massive optical drive that just wastes space. You can do all of this with a $37 glorious piece of hardware called the data doubler from OWC. Seriously, if you are using your "DVD" drive on a regular basis then you are doing it wrong. I refuse to use DVD's for anything. If a client asks you to put their photos on a "CD" then put them on a flash drive, spend an extra 3 dollars, and explain to them why this is better. Trust me they will love it and if they don't you are still somehow doing it wrong.

Another thing I refuse to purchase is the Retina MacBook Pro. That computer can suck it, and here's why. I salute Apple for making is so damn light and putting a bajillion pixels in the display, but I hate the fact that the RAM and solid state drive are actually soldered to the logic board. This means that if you purchase the Retina, or Tina as I like to call her, and your RAM or hard drive fail in X amount of months, you have to replace the entire logic board and RAM, as well. Or let's say you were on a budget when you purchased Tina, and now you want a bigger hard drive and 16GB of RAM. Well, you can't put a new one in there because it's soldered to the motherboard, and don't even get me started about not offering it in the matte display on the Retina Macbook Pro. The Retina screen is still reflective and a pain to deal with on set. I can STILL see the reflection of the windows in the background, Apple; and seriously what the heck happened to the 30 inch Apple Cinema Display AKA: the best display ever built? Ok rant over.

So, If you are considering a new MacBook Pro, please consider not spending the money and testing the waters with more RAM and a SSD from somewhere like OWC. By replacing the optical drive with a second hard drive, you are able to increase your storage capacity for photo shoots and other large volumes while keeping your OS drive clean and pristine. If you are considering buying a new MacBook Pro, I would STILL recommend the regular MacBook Pro with the anti glare matte screen. You have way more options down the road for upgrading your machine when YOU want to.

PLEASE NOTE: Don't forget to backup your computer before upgrading with something like Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner if you want to reinstall your user account onto your new hard drive.



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Tobias Solem's picture

Now if only the CPU was upgradable...

LaraH2's picture

can apple replace my OS drive with an SSD - like maybe at the same time as upgrading RAM?

Mansgame's picture

Or just get a PC for half the price and more power and be done with it.

Marty Bru's picture

Hey Josh, could this be done with a older Macbook say 2009? thanks

Josh R.'s picture


RUSS T.'s picture

IF ANYONE wants to upgrade their own laptop, the best thing for you to do is download the REPAIR MANUAL from the laptop maker.
It will give extensive instructions on the dis-assembly and re-assembly of the laptop.

Anonymous's picture

Don't get me wrong.. I love SSD's and the performance but the cost is NOWHERE near cost effective compared to standard hard drives.

As a photographer, i NEED hard drive space!! I like having my current jobs on my MacBook Pro (with backups on externals, of course). Paying $1000+ for 960GB compared to less than $100 for a 750GB doesn't even compare.

And while performance may be incredible on an SSD, my piddly stock 750GB 5400 is no slouch. Boot up time is slow (around 2 min) but Photoshop boots in under 30 seconds and performance is fine. (note: I have 16GB RAM). I reboot about every 3-4 days and photoshop normally stays open. LR takes about a minute to boot. A little slow, but is that really justification for spending $900 extra?

I plan on upgrading to dual 750GB 7200 drives here soon (removing the DVD drive) for better performance.

yes, if you have the funds, by all means.. go for it. But I really don't think it's worth it for most people.

Josh R.'s picture

The Samsung Momentus hybrid drives are a good option if you want the fastest standard drive. The only cost a bit more than a regular drive but they completely destroy a regular drive when it comes to performance. As far as cost per MB on SSDs, I think the point of this article is to use two drives and keep your OS on a small/affordable SSD with everything else on a big standard drive.

apollo's picture

Uhm. You mean Seagate Momentus? Samsung's HDD has been sold to Seagate, for example, legendary F3 1TB 3,5 Samsung HDD is nowadays Seagate F3 1TB 3,5" drive (which is...a lot more unstable, I broke one during first 2 months)

Josh R.'s picture

Woops, yes I do mean Seagate. I've had two and they fantastic. I think there might be other hybrid drives on the market as well now.

Anonymous's picture

Yea, they have mixed reviews on newegg and amazon so I am staying away from them.

apollo's picture

Why not 2,5" 1TB Caviar Blue? They are quite nice :)

Anonymous's picture

I would prefer a 7200RPM drive, but that is def an option. Thanks!

Josh R.'s picture

because they don't come in a 2.5" size and they aren't as fast as a hybrid drive.

Looks like Seagate is still the only one making the hybrid drives but they do have a 1TB version with a larger cache than before. I originally had the 500GB version and when I upgraded to the 750 it was a bit better so I would expect the same with the 1TB.

apollo's picture

Ups, I meant Scorpio Blue. Sorry!

Matthew Everett's picture

RE warranties: Apple typically layout exactly what they consider "user-replaceable" parts in the manual (they are short and have lots of pictures, read them) for any given computer. In the past this has generally been hard-drive/SSD and RAM. In any case (not to scare anyone off), if you seriously botch the install of even a "user-replaceable" part and actually break something, Apple won't cover it under warranty. Secondly, Apple mark all their OEM hardware and they won't test/replace anything else. In other words, if you buy an after-market SSD and it goes bad, the genius bar isn't going to be much help beyond the diagnostics phase. I guess that's the long way of saying if you want to keep and take advantage of an active warranty, tread lightly.

Just as an aside, in spite of all their green washing, Apple seems to be transitioning to what I call a landfill-friendly approach, whereby the newest models have 0 user-replaceable parts (very few serviceable parts at all really) and are destined for the rubbish pile in short order. I'm not a fan.

apollo's picture

It's great to show this but I think you forgot one thing: replacing or even just opening your laptop will VOID your warranty. HP does this, Apple does this, Lenovo does this. Why? So they can clean their hands from it. They do make the holes for maintenance but that doesn't mean that it won't void your warranty.

Companies often screw with customers by choosing poor components or leaving important ones out like SSD which forces clients to add it by themselves, making them void the warranty.

Gary Winchester Martin's picture

Actually Apollo I am a former Apple employee and opening the laptop won't void the warranty. Neither will replacing the RAM.

apollo's picture

That's weird since in here, they say that if you open the laptop, bye bye warranty. Hmmm, I think I need to have conversation with those guys, I don't think Apple has made different warranty policies to different countries.

Alessio Michelini's picture

One thing is missing on this video is one of the most important part, which is how to create a bootable USB key with the installation of Mac OS X.
There are a plenty of tutorials that show you how to do it, but probably it's something worth to mention before start to screw anything.

ThatAngel's picture

if my mac book is configured with window 7, after upgrading , will my window 7 still remain in my mac book?

Alessio Michelini's picture

Obviouly not if you replace the hard drive

Eric Duminil's picture

Good tips. But please don't use TimeMachine for complete recover. CCC is the way to go.
TimeMachine uses a non-standard filesystem extension, and the recover fails completely if any one file is corrupted.

AW's picture

I've been running like this for years with two x half terabyte HD's - not SSD. Seagate momentus makes negligible difference over a standard HD though no issues with reliability. Battery life goes down a bit running two discs. Mine's now due an upgrade to a 500Gb SSD for boot disk and 1Tb HDD for the media. Definitely clone your operating system on a small partition on the HDD it's a life saver and NEVER trust a time machine backup to recover your system, they fail. CCC and Acronis are both great. Use these simple upgrades and you'll get years of extra life out of your MBP for peanuts :-). Good article and some well informed advice in the comments

Panchoskywalker's picture

Does switching to SSD would make video playing (youtube) smoother? Would it make web surfing faster? Or just working on the HD will improve?

Alessio Michelini's picture

If you just surf the web with your laptop, you don't need any upgrade

Panchoskywalker's picture

I understand but that doesn't answer my question. I'm trying to understand.

Alessio Michelini's picture

You will notice improvements only on heavy applications, like using photoshop or lightroom for example, but it will not make you video on youtube any smoother.

Josh R.'s picture

You need either more RAM or a better video card. Start with maxing out the RAM you are stuck with the video card you have. A faster hard drive will help software open faster, files open faster, and if you are working on large files where the system is caching on the hard drive then that will be faster as well.

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