A brief "New hybrid disk physically installed in MacBook. Next stop formatting, installing, restoring" message on Facebook caused a couple of friends to ask questions so I thought I should document what I was doing on my blog.
We bought a 13" MacBook Pro (MBP) nearly three years ago (2009) when my wife started a university course. For a couple of years it was used as a secondary computer and then about a year ago when my wife acquired her iPad, I decided to use the MBP more regularly, with a view to seeing whether it would be feasible to adopt a Mac as my main computer. It was and the MBP is now my main computer. The only problem I've had is Microsoft Money; there's no Mac program available which will eat MS Money's files. The solution has been to use Money running under VirtualBox. VirtualBox ran just fine on the MBP with the original 2GB of RAM - provided you don't want to do anything else at the same time. Upping the RAM to 8 GB solves that problem.
My home is networked over wireless and over wire. I have a NAS whose main purpose is to let me get at my data from any computer in the house. Until I moved to the MBP I'd been happy with this arrangement. However, I'd noticed a huge difference in performance between the MBP's own disk and the NAS; even over gigabit ethernet. This was a problem for two programs in particular, Money and iTunes. I decided to move my data to the MBP and use iTunes MusicMatch to deal for sharing, to use TimeMachine to backup to the NAS for data security, and to find some way around the other file sharing issues.
And this is why I had to upgrade the disk in the MBP. The MBP had a 160 GB 5400 rpm SATA-I disk and 160 GB wasn't enough to cope with iTunes in addition to everything else. I decided that I needed ~256 GB of disk to avoid problems. The attraction of upgrading to an SSD was obvious - fast, quiet and low-power - but the price wasn't attractive; 256 GB would have cost me the best part of £256. So, I looked at the option of a hybrid disk and the 500 GB Seagate Momentus XT (SATA-II 7300 rpm 32 MB cache) looked appealing at only £75. The 2009 13" MBP doesn't support SATA-III, so there is no loss in using a SATA II only drive. I spent a lot of time checking forums and review sites to see if the Momentus would be suitable. As usual, it was hard to make sense of the contradictory advice. It took a while to sort out that this MBP model did support SATA-II (some postings suggested SATA-I only), that the Momentus would fit, etc. The varied opinions about speed, power and noise didn't help at all. I decided to give the drive a try; I ordered one together with a USB 2.5" disk caddy. The caddy was so I could copy my installation from the old disk to the new disk rather than relying on TimeMachine backups.
There are good descriptions of the physical issues of how to install a new drive on the net, so I won't go into any of that, other than to mention that you do need a Torq screwdriver. Another useful thing is a bootable Lion CD; I made one when I downloaded the Lion upgrade. In theory it's not needed but it was very useful.
The first step of the upgrade was to put the new drive into the caddy and check that caddy and drive worked. The second step was to confirm that the MBP would boot from the Lion CD. All in order, I swapped out the old drive for the new one, booted from the CD, formatted the drive and installed Lion. All of which was straightforward and without problem.
With Lion installed all that remained was to restore everything else from the old drive. This is where things went badly. The old drive wouldn't work in the caddy; nor would it work when reinstalled into the laptop. I don't what happened but the drive was well-and-truly broken. Perhaps I should have spent a little more on my caddy? I now had to rely on restoring from TimeMachine backup and fortunately this worked. I was left with two things to do to get everything working as before the upgrade. Firstly, Microsoft Office had to be reactivated. Secondly I had to reinstall Windows XP and Money under VirtualBox. This was necessary because
I deliberately hadn't been backing up the file containing my VirtualBox Windows XP disk. [I still think this wasn't an insane decision - every time any part of the virtual disk is changed, the whole of the file (Gigabytes) is backed-up by TimeMachine meaning a large amount of storage is used very wastefully - and the virtual disk contains no critical data]. So, yes, I had the fun of doing a Windows XP install; yes it took a long time.
What do I think of the new hybrid disk? It is very fast; very very fast. However, the disk is noisier than the old one. How much? Well, this is where it gets tricky.... I wasn't aware of the old disk at all. The new disk hums and my desk acts as a sounding board. I do wonder whether installing some blutak or rubber grommets might help but I've not tried anything yet. The laptop also gets hotter than it used to.
Overall I'm happy. But if you are thinking of upgrading I'd advise the following. If you are sensitive to noise don't go for the Momentus XT; go for a 5400 rpm drive (or a 7200 rpm that gets good quiet reviews) or an SSD. If the SSD price seems reasonable then go SSD. And the SSD prices are falling. Today, six or seven weeks after I upgraded, I can buy a 240 GB SSD for just under £150 at which point it is very tempting.