The Compleat Writer: DIY Hard Drive/RAM Upgrade, Part 2


The Compleat Writer: DIY Hard Drive/RAM Upgrade, Part 2

Coleman's Law: Media content expands to fit the storage space available. One consequence: Almost inevitably, you'll outgrow your hard drive. Having tripled my drive's capacity, I don't expect to run out of room again before retiring my mid-2007 MacBook Pro. But, having succeeded in replacing my own drive, I've eliminated the fear factor from the prospect of doing so once more if necessary.

The next morning -- Day Two of my DIY hard drive-replacement experiment -- I fire up my MacBook Pro, then restart about 10 times, to lock in the memory of my startup procedures and startup items. To quote Seagate's literature, "The Momentus XT solid state hybrid driveconsists of a 7200-RPM hard drive with 32MB of cache, 4GB of solid state SLC NAND flash storage and Adaptive Memory technology. Adaptive Memory technology intelligently monitors your frequently used applications and data files, then places them into the solid state portion of the drive so they can be quickly recalled." In effect, it's a smart drive, learning your preferred apps and documents in order to make accessing them as efficiently as possible. I'll see how this works over time.

Meanwhile, my most-used apps open almost instantly, one at a time. As a test, I add Filemaker Pro, Word, Safari, and iTunes to my Login Items in System Preferences then restart. I run these apps every day, alongside each other; formerly, I'd open them individually after booting up, as needed, a process that could take as long as 5 minutes altogether. From a cold start, the Seagate has them all running after 75 seconds. 

Just to increase the load and intensify the stress test, I open Adobe Acrobat Professional, Dreamweaver, Excel, Keynote, iMovie, iPhoto, Photoshop, and Skype, then open a file in each of them. (I start a call in Skype.) Some of these apps I use regularly, others more occasionally. I can't imagine a circumstance in which I'd have them all active at the same time -- probably no more than two of them on top of the primary four that I've made into login items. Yet even with all of these open at once I can work on any file with no sense of slowdown, while the MBP runs silent and runs deep.

Well, I lied about the silent part. Couldn't resist the submarine analogy. In fact, I'm hearing a slight increase in fan noise from the left-hand side of my MBP, where the SSD drive sits. About equal to the purring of a kitten at the same distance. (Now there's a scientific measure for you.) It doesn't increase as I open the above-mentioned slew of apps and files, nor decrease as I quit them. It's constant, apparently due to the increased speed of the hybrid SSD drive (7200rpm versus the 5400rpm of the drive it replaced).

The MBP's not running hotter than before -- cooler, if anything. I've no reason to suspect a defective fan; when I put this unit through a complete AppleCare-supported renovation a year ago, Apple tech swapped out both my fans, which means they're only 15 months old. Possibly they need a cleaning and a bit of lubricant; emboldened by my success at installing the new drive, I may open the unit back up and attempt that. For the moment, I'm content to live with it; I like cats.

So I'm back up to full speed on my primary computer; in fact, I'm going more rapidly than ever. I've got drive space to spare. And, as an added bonus, I'm now confident in my ability to swap out hard drives as necessary.

Step 3: Installing the RAM.

I decided to close the MBP back up and test the new drive for a few days before moving on to the easier job, because this eliminates that variable from any problems I may encounter and results I'll see upon upgrading the RAM.

Here's how that goes:

Before starting out with the RAM swap, I review Apple's own online tutorial for installing the new RAM. I also watch (for the fourth time now) the beginning of the OWC real-time video. (They have these for every model.) Swapping out RAM seems a relative piece of cake: Remove the battery and three screws holding the RAM cover, pop out two RAM chips, pop in their replacements, close it back up, done. Your basic no-brainer. 

Helpfully, Apple even includes how-to diagrams next to the RAM slots. In the video, this process takes the presenter 3 minutes. I get it done in 5.

Step 4: The RAM trial run.

The MBP boots up readily and reads the new RAM fine. As before, I open my most-used apps and let them run simultaneously. Do I detect any improvement in performance, over and above what resulted from putting in the SSD hybrid drive? Can't say as I do; not sure I would under these circumstances. However, while the fan purr hasn't decreased markedly, the MacBook now runs distinctly cooler. Before the RAM upgrade, even the top edges of both inner corners were quite warm, bordering on hot, to the touch, as was that half of the underside closest to the hinge. No more. 

Apple has always eschewed the term "laptop" for its portable computers, due in considerable part to the frequently high temperatures on the bottoms thereof. (The current "Using Your MacBook Pro" advisory at the Apple website reads "Do not place your MacBook Pro on your lap or other body surface for extended periods of time. Prolonged body contact can cause discomfort and potentially a burn.") I don't recommend ignoring that caution, but the extra RAM has reduced those risks considerably.

More significantly, I've now got memory to spare, important because I'm starting to make videos for posting on YouTube. Once I get more into video production it'll surely come in handy. So I consider this a preparatory move, figuring that, with more RAM and the new hard drive, I've added several useful years to the life of my MBP. Not to mention moving several giant steps forward in my steady progression toward fully certified geekdom.

Step 5: Repurposing the old drive.

This is the easiest part. Basically, you slip your drive into an enclosure, tighten a few screws, and voila! I've purchased one of OWC's 2 oz., pocket-sized OWC Express USB 2.0 enclosures for $17.99; this is a 5-minute job. In this case, Apple installed the drive in question -- a 160GB Toshiba 5200rpm unit -- almost exactly a year ago, during the previously mentioned AppleCare overhaul. I've had no trouble with it, simply ran out of space. Since it just came out of my MBP, it's effectively a boot drive, containing all my apps and all my data. Now, since it's running low on storage space, I have to figure out how to make the best use of it. I'll get to that in the next installment of my series on backing up. 

 Step 6: Getting my rebate.

OWC offers a rebate on old RAM. I print out a coupon, send in the two chips, and two weeks later I have a check for $14.

A.D. Coleman, Posted 8/7/2011 

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