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Tutorial: speed up your MacBook Pro with SSD and additional RAM

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Alexander Witting

Page 1: Tutorial: speed up your MacBook Pro with SSD and additional RAM

macbook upgrade teaser kleinIn addition to standard configurations in its various MacBooks, Apple offers the ability to increase RAM and mass storage to your own preferences - but this often requires a lot of money. That's what makes the normal MacBook Pro 13" so interesting, since it can be retrofitted with additional RAM and an SSD. This tutorial will show how easily this can be done.

Apple MacBooks have been the most popular laptops for quite some time now. But even if there are only three model families: the choice of products is not ver clear. With numerous options available, you quickly lose track, especially as there are combinations that are very similar. Three mobile Macs 13" vie for the favor of buyers: the big MacBook Air, the small MacBook Pro and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

While the former is geared towards long running times than peformance, the latter two offer significantly more reserves. There are some clear differences between them: the ordinary MacBook Pro - costing 1150 EUR - is significantly cheaper than the retinal counterpart, but offers a much worse display. Furthermore, the Retina model features SSD and eight gigabytes of memory ex factory, the cheaper Pro, however, comes with a comparatively slower HDD and four gigabytes of RAM, but in turn provides an optical drive.

If you place no value on high-resolution displays, but in return works with CDs and DVDs and can not do without SSD and more memory, can confidently pick up cheaper MacBook Pro. With a few simple steps, this one can be retrofitted with what Apple provides ex factory only at an additional cost. But even those who already own a MacBook Pro can increase the performance of their old appliance with little effort and for comparatively little money. We show an example based on the entry-level model, to see what this conversion will yield you, what it will cost, and how extensive the retrofitting will be.

The starting position

By default, the cheapest MacBook Pro is equipped with a 500-Gigabyte HDD and four gigabytes of memory, two modules of two gigabytes each. While the existing RAM is sufficiently large for most everyday tasks, editing pictures, extensive Excel spreadsheets or similar will quickly see limits. Mass storage is somewhat different in this respect. A change from HDD to SSD is not only an advantage for the more unusual tasks, even trivial things such as starting the system or loading the browser, email client or iTunes, will see a significantly higher, noticeable speed increase.

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This is what we worked with: MacBook Pro, SSD & RAM

The benchmark shows how slow the built-in hard disk is: the HDD can read at 84 megabytes per second, but when writing, it achieves only just under 67 megabytes per second. This means: significant differences may lie between the peak value and the average. The transmission rate will decrease, for example, when many small files are used. Copying will take more time, and system startup will take much longer than a minute. If you already know that the basic configuration can not provide the required power, you have two options: either order the MacBook Pro already ex factory with SSD and more RAM, or perform the upgrade on your own. A look at the prices should ease this decision.

For the doubling of RAM, from four to eight GB, Apple makes you pay 100 euros, a 256 GB SSD will amount to 400 euros surcharge. For comparison, the ADATA XPG SX900 256 GB we used costs 200 euros, two 4-gigabyte modules type PC3-10600 (DDR3 1333 CL9) from the same manufacturer will cost you 70 to 80 euros. Accordingly, the difference between the two options is at around 200 euros. If you already have a MacBook Pro you won't be faced with this decision. There is only the question: boost the performance significantly for less than 300 euros, or invest a four-figure sum into a new one?

Conversion and re-commissioning

For the conversion itself you will require only a few tools: a type PH00 screwdriver for the bottom and a Torx T6 for the drive. Jus as simple as the necessary steps: first, ten screws on the bottom have to be removed, and in the next step, remove the two clamps to the HDD. The most critical step: without using force, the power cord must be removed. Once this is done, the four Torx screws can be removed. The installation is then performed in the converse order: attach the side screws, attach SATA and power cables carefully, place the SSD in the holder and then screw them tight again. It is easier to expand the RAM. You only need to carefully remove the existing bolt by unlocking the two holders and insert the two new modules. In the last step, you fix the bottom again, but you must ensure that the screws are placed at their previous locations, since there are three different screw lengths.

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The interior before the retrofitting

Prior to the retrofitting, decision must be made, since with the replacement of the HDD with an SSD, the data of the HDD will no longer be available. You can choose between two options: immediately before the conversion, copy the contents of the HDD via software, e.g. Carbon Copy Clone, Super Duper and similar tools, to the SSD. In addition to an appropriate program you only need an external enclosure with USB port which holds the SSD. The alternative is to create a boot-capable USB stick, from which to reinstall OS X after the conversion. Required for this installation: the necessary data and a minimum of 8 GB on your USB stick.

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Critical: the drive's cable

Advantages and disadvantages: while the former approach does offer the convenience of keeping all data, with the latter you can start with a fresh system, which is better if you had your installation running for a long time. In addition, a backup can be performed without problems after reinstalling, which is why we chose Option 2. The USB stick must be prepared as follows: in the disk utility, format the stick using the tab "Delete", with the file format "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)". Then select "Restore" with the appropriate source installation image. It can be found in the "OS X Mountain Lion Installer" (Show Package Contents -> Contents -> ShardSupport -> InstallESD.dmg); double-clicking it will mount the image.

Depending on the speed of the USB stick, the copy process may take a few minutes; after that, you get a fully-working installation medium. Turn on the notebook while pressing the Alt key, and in the boot menu, select the prepared USB flash drive, and the installation will start.

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The interior after retrofitting