Monday, June 04, 2012

New hybrid disk.......

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.

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  • Rocker Rosehip likes this.

    • Simon McIntosh-smith I'll be interested to know how you get on with this Roger.

    • Roger Shepherd I think I'll write a blog post on this one - short story - old disk dead - thank goodness for time machine and backups, although I'm having to reinstall my XP virtual machine (see the unwritten blog post). New disk works, is much noisier than the old one (7500 v. 5400?). Speed seems very good - boot time is extraordinary.

    • Neil Richards Not gone fully SSD then Roger?

    • Roger Shepherd ‎500GB Momentus XT c. £90 - I've upgraded from 160GB disk because I want 250+. SSD would be £250+. If I had a two drive machine I'd certainly go SSD, but the big drives are still a bit pricey.

    • Ray McConnell I'd like to hear about it also, sounds like the system files are on the SS sectors? If so the defrag algorithms need to be hybrid aware. Sounds like an ideal concept though.

    • Neil Richards Yeah, cost/GB is a bit of an issue with SSD so the hybrid idea sounds good. I have a Macbook Pro with 320GB which is nearly full... Blog please :)

    • Roger Shepherd This hybrid uses the flash as a read only cache - simplifies things a lot I'd think. I don't know what the criteria are for cacheing by it does seem to boot super-rapido. On the other hand, I now have a fresh installation of Lion rather than an installation on top of Snow Leopard on top of Leopard..... And underneath it all it is a 7500 rpm rather 5400 rpm, and SATA II (which is all this MBP will take) rather than plain SATA, both of which would, I guess make a difference on their own.

    • Neil Richards So the flash is not directly accessible to the user, basically an accelerator. Price makes it jolly tempting

    • Roger Shepherd Have also discovered why my NAS seems so slow from my MBP..... With a lot of tidying going on, I was looking at the networking speed and it looked very like 100 Mbit - fail - everything (NAS, switch, AirPort, MBP) is supposed to be Gbit. Checked the MBP networking and it was, indeed, connecting at 100 MBit.

    • Roger Shepherd ‎1 - let's try the wifi (supposed to be good for 300 Mbit - wifi bits though don't carry as much data as real copper bits). I pull out the ethernet cable, data rate drop to zero for a few seconds, then the MBP realises that it's got wifi and the data rate ramps up to 1.2x what I was getting over copper.

    • Roger Shepherd ‎2 - check the net - AirPortExtremes are very fussy about cables - "but I'm using a really nice blue cable with rubberised connectors" - must have been cat 4 - home made cat 5 cable works really well - files served at up to 20 Mbyte/s

    • Neil Richards Sounds about right - I get between 130-160Mbs over airport

    • Neil Richards All goes tits up when it hits my 150kbs rural "broadband" though...

    • Roger Shepherd I've just upgraded mine; >17 mbit/s UPload from my phone as I write this

    • Simon McIntosh-smith Blimey all sounds cool! My 2009's MacBook Pro's 240GB drive is nearly full so I'm interested in doing something similar

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