What’s an SSD? Think LARGE capacity flash drive replacement for a traditional computer hard drive that has rotating platters inside and onto which the computer’s data is stored.  What’s the big deal?

One of the bottlenecks of all the data going in and out of your computer involves the hard drive.  Especially on older Macs and Windows laptops, the highway over which the data is shuttled in and out of the computer’s hard drive is narrower than on the newest model.  So there is likely at least a little bit of whatever is the older laptop’s slowdown that may be attributed to the in/out speed capability along this path, called the bus. Since the RAM memory speed is whatever is specified for the computer and the bus speed (the “highway” over which data flows from the CPU to and from the other components) is fixed, the only possible variable is a new hard drive.  SSDs are a way to speed up some operations.

Late last November, I thought about what would happen if I updated my travel computer to an SSD, so I called my go-to company in the computer memory business, Kingston Technology.  I’ve seen for some time that they offer SSDs for this purpose, for the purpose of replacing drives in laptops as well as desktop computers.

My Kingston guide confirmed the basics of my sketchy knowledge on the topic to that point.

Yes, SSDs can replace any standard rotating media-type hard drive.

Yes, SSDs are best put to use in computers requiring less storage than what one might purchase is a computer with a standard HDD because they are quite costly for the same capacity as a traditional same-size hard drive.

Yes, an SSD will provide the same general user experience as with a standard HDD, only faster.

Yes, an SSD is silent and runs cooler due to no moving parts.

Yes, as there are no moving parts; SSDs are highly shock-resistant.

Yes, an SSD should last as long or longer than a high-quality modern traditional hard drive.

Yes, an SSD will boot your computer measurably faster than with a traditional HDD.

Yes, an SSD will allow apps to snap to attention when launched.

Yes, and SSD require less energy to operate than a traditional spinning hard drive, so battery life should be improved.

What’s the downside? Cost versus capacity, for now, is the only significant item in the negative column that I can determine.

Now, which to choose?  This is the confusing conundrum faced by all consumers, and I have yet to figure out a foolproof solution.  Oh, and I have asked many so-called experts and industry insiders.

I opted for a mid-range SSD, not the basic and not one recommended for gaming.  Capacity is 256GB.  And as my old MacBook does not support faster SATA data speeds not does in have a fast bus, there would be little point in a drive more capable than this one.  Still, however, the selection process from any manufacturer is not as easy as it needs to be for the masses.

Were I upgrading with traditional media, I would have opted for 750GB or 1T.  I like to load up my travel laptop with music and video, in addition to what has become my normal software and resident data.  Kingston SSD NOW 100 V+, 256GB in a kit, is what I received.

The current cost factor (Amazon.com) dictates that an SSD upgrade be relegated to a lower capacity drive, even one with only 128GB.  This capacity/cost issue would suggest that many users would not want this in their primary computer.

 

The “kit” with this drive included a case and cabling, mounting rails and Windows PC cloning software by Acronis. There is nothing for Macs. The case allows the original 2.5-inch internal drive to come out and go in the case to be immediately available as an external drive attached to the laptop.  The rails allow the drive to be installed internally in a desktop computer capable of using this 2.5-inch form factor.  Cabling provides the connection from drive to internal connector, if needed, in such a computer.  The software is to make a bare metal backup from the original internal drive onto the internally- or externally-connected SSD. Once such a backup is performed, the newly minted and anointed SSD can be installed as the main internal drive and, if all goes well as it should, the computer should boot from the new SSD as if it was in there all along.

Users will find TODAY that the price sweet spot is at the 128GB capacity, though this sweet spot is certain to change to one of higher capacity over time.

For my MacBook install I did my usual clone backup using Intego Personal Backup software. Mac users can also get free solutions such as Carbon Copy Cloner and the free version of SuperDuper.  Now, with fresh clone at the ready, I removed the internal hard drive and replaced it with the SSD.

Next, I inserted a Lion DVD made earlier and rebooted (holding down the “C” key to boot from the Lion DVD).  I ran Disk Utility to format the SSD.

With the internal drive now installed in the supplied case, I attached it to the MacBook and rebooted, this time holding down the Option key to tell the Mac I want to choose which drive from which to boot. The external was selected (which was really the former internal drive).  Then, I launched Personal Backup and “instructed” the software to clone back from the external to the NEW internal.  After about an hour the deed was done.  There was not much data on the old internal, as I had only recently set up that computer for my use as a traveler and everyday convenience as needed.  My main computer remains a prized Mac Pro desktop.

The first thing I did was shut down, then disconnect the external and then boot the MacBook with its new SSD.  That is where the amazement set in.  Boot-up was completed in about 20 seconds flat, about one-third the boot time when it had a standard HD inside.  That was impressive!

Next, I simply used the computer and have some observations. Clearly, launching operations is much faster.  The simple in and out operations feel considerably faster, though not as much faster are activities that are processor intensive.  That is the limiting factor an SSD cannot overcome.  Photo editing, video and audio conversions, and other numbers crunching operations are still taking their sweet time as befitting the relatively slow (by current standards) processor aboard this ca. 2007 MacBook.

Still, this proof-of-concept has demonstrated that this old MacBook seem much faster and is much more fun to use. I feel more productive.  There is NO lag when composing documents in Word, for example.  Saves are instant, too.  When playing back videos from the SSD there is no lag, no choking.

Next I noticed was that the MacBook ran longer per battery charge.  I’m estimating up to about 25% more run time per charge, on average, if not more. I like seeing close to six hours of run time in the Mac’s menu! Word processing chores in the absence of other activities yields as much as an estimated 35% per-charge battery life increase.  What a pleasant turn of events!  Playing back videos from the SSD seemed to improve battery life by up to an estimated 20%, depending upon whether I ran the video full-screen mode or something smaller.  Battery life improvements were welcome!

After a few trips with this MacBook as the only computer used, I am well satisfied.  It is a relative rocket ship.  Its performance has removed from my thoughts that I simply must upgrade to a new MacBook Pro at considerably greater cost.  The SSD has given the old MacBook a new lease on life such that it may have another few years of useful life in it as acceptable for a travel and otherwise second computer.

SSDs are available from numerous makers and suppliers.  As indicated earlier, I found this to be quite confusing, as might you.  That is why I went to Kingston, my go-to experts in the memory field for answers.

In conclusion, the installed Kingston SSD has proven its value, proven the concept for which it was selected.  If your laptop is a little long in the tooth, be it a Mac or Windows PC, and if all else is up to par, consider as I – pop in a speedy new SSD like this one from Kingston and renew your love affair with your old laptop for a few more years!  The cost is far less than that of a speedy new laptop.

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