An SSD can make your old Mac feel new again

If you have an older Mac that still uses a hard disk drive and you’re looking to keep it alive for a while longer, I strongly recommend considering replacing that drive with a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead. It’s one of the best instant performance improvements you can make to your Mac, and it’ll keep it going for a while longer.

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Hard drives are squarely 20th century technology. They work a bit like record players: There’s a disc inside that spins around a central spindle, like the record spinning around, but instead of needle playing a groove on the record, an arm with a device at the end of it can read and write to the disk magnetically. They’re slow, noisy, use lots of energy (and generate heat), they’re heavy, and mechanical.

SSDs have become standard issue across the Mac laptop line since the introduction of the Retina MacBook Pro in 2012. They store data similarly to how information is stored on your phone — by writing data to chips which remember the data even when they’re turned off. By using silicon to store the information instead of a physical disk, you can read and write information much, much faster. 

SSDs are a popular upgrade option for do it yourselfers — a number of companies make their own mechanisms, including many which are designed to fit into the same space made for a laptop hard drive (commonly a 2.5-inch drive). These third-party SSDs use the same Serial ATA (SATA) connections as a hard drive, so it’s just like replacing a hard drive. Only soo much faster.

There’s a downside to SSDs: They’re more expensive per gigabyte of storage than a hard drive. You can buy a 1 terabyte hard drive for less than $100. An SSD with that capacity will start at about $250, if you shop around and find a good sale. Having said that, the price on SSDs has come way, way down in recent months, so you can find some good values if you look. Even a year ago, a 1 TB SSD was well outside the budget range of many of us.

I’ve recently replaced the hard drive on a mid-2009 MacBook Pro with a 128 GB SSD, and the difference in performance is nothing short of amazing. Even with its small RAM footprint, this MacBook runs well enough to be a daily driver. What’s more, Macs of this age are pretty serviceable, too: Putting it in involved a single tool (a Philips #00 screwdriver) and required about ten minutes.

Check web sites like iFixit.com and Macsales.com for more info on installing SSDs. OWC (macsales.com) is also a good place for Mac users to buy them.

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