Sunday, May 13, 2012

Installing a SSD drive in a Mac Mini 2011

Well it had been time to plunk down $$$ for a SSD for my Mac Mini.  This all came about when I did a disk check of the standard Mac Mini supplied 5400rpm 500G using Black Magic Disk Speed Test.  To my dismay the disk performed worse than expected with read & write speeds barely faster than USB 2 @ 45MB/s. (USB 2 will max out at 35MBS). My cheap Acer 522 netbook had a faster HD with a mid 50 second MB/s speed result. The other clue to the poor performance was a bit of beach-balling, which gave me the irrits!

My Mac Mini 2011

There is a wide choice of SSD's available for the Mac, which makes the decision of what SSD to buy a bit of a chore. Research is required! Here you will find a list below of what drives to look at:

  • OCZ Vertex
  • Samsung 830
  • Crucial M4
  • Sandisk Extreme
  • Intel SSD 520 or 330
There are various sites that have different benchmarks such as Annandtech, storage review etc. and most drives seem to be fairly similar; particularly when they use the Sandforce SF-2281 chipset.

I ended up choosing the Intel 330 because of the size, 180GB is perfect for me, as 120GB was too small and 240GB was too expensive. All the other manufacturers offer either 120GB or 240GB and as I currently use 110GB of space, 180GB was perfect (120GB is pushing it particularly if you consider I might expand and also for garbage collection and/nor TRIM).

Intel has just released the SSD 330 series, which is a cheaper version of the consumer pro 520.

Intel SSD 330

I had decided to save $60 over the 520 and purchase the 330 180GB @ $235AU (which is almost 1$ a gig) and accept a slight hit in performance and 2 years less on warranty (The 520 is 5 years whereas the 330 is 3 years). The warranty difference doesn't concern me too much, as I plan on replacing it in 3 years time with hopefully an affordable 1TB SSD.

Now I have read on a few forums to go for the Crucial because you can update the firmware and no other vendor can; but with the Intel you can update the firmware on a Mac using an ISO image rather than a application (Which is a better way to do it anyway). The current firmware hasn't been updated for a while so it is not as if you need to do upgrade the firmware that often anyway.

One regret is that the 330 series is a tight fit in the Mac mini as the 330 is 9mm thick rather than 7.5mm. I got it in, but it might have been easier with the 520, as I had to use the logic board removal tool. Also, screwing it in wasn't the most perfect way either having to use a 60 degree angle, but as I won't be moving the mini much and it is SSD, it really doesn't matter that much (unless you are a purist).

I really recommend getting the ifix-it dual drive kit, which has a great set of tools and can also allow you to have two drives (I am concerned about having two drives because of heat and as I already have an external drive dock that can use 2.5 or 3.5 drives over Sata or FW800, I don't really need to use a second).

Mac Mini Dual Drive Kit

It certainly is a lot more difficult replacing a HD in a Mac mini than with a laptop or Desktop.

I have heard of people destroying the logic board when removing the IR connector.

It is not for the faint of heart. Everything is tiny in the Mac Mini and I have long hands. I had broken one side of the RAM clip before (this didn't affect the RAM) when upgrading to 8GB and felt very nervous when upgrading.

ifixit has great pictorial instructions which I used on my ipod touch using the ifixit app.

I also recommend this picture for when you remove the IR sensor. This is where the spudger comes in handy.

The other tip I have is in regards to the Fan.  I had re-connected it, but didn't test to see if it was working and had been using my Mini for an hour or so, when I realised it wasn't on.  My Mac Mini was so HOT!!!!!! When I checked the Mini it seemed to be connected properly, but wasn't spinning. I pressed lightly on the connector with the spudger and voila.

Once the SSD was installed, all I did was press option on the keyboard to boot from a recovery USB and use Time Machine to restore. It took a little over an hour to restore and that was using a slow USB2 drive. If I used my faster drive on the firewire 800 port it would have taken half that time. Make sure you create a Lion recovery USB first before you take out the HD. Use this link below to create a USB recovery disk.

End Result

So far I am extremely happy with the SSD. No more beach balls, and so far after a weekend the 330 has performed flawlessly.  Here are the bench mark results.

Intel SSD 330 in a Mac Mini 2011 i5 2.5GHZ
As you can see the read results are a phenemonal 445 GB/s (as compared with 45MB/s with the standard 5400 rpm 500GB stock drive).  The write speed is where you can see inferior value the drive has compared with the 520 series @ 205 mb/s but as I will be writing more on an external drive 3.5", this will not be as much of a concern.  My main use of the drive is for the OS and apps and I will try to write on it as least as possible, as this is the way to wear the drive out. For a $235 upgrade this certainly is a huge boost in performance, with apps opening and closing in seconds and ultra fast booting and shutdowns.

To TRIM or Not to TRIM

There is a fierce debate as to whether to have Trim on or not for sandforce based 3rd party drives in Macs.  Mac OS X does not provide Trim support for 3rd party drives.  There is a free tool (an unsupported hack) that you can get, but as it is a beta and a hack, there are reports of it being unreliable.

Trim Enabler

Others say that as sandforce drives have garbage collection you don't need Trim anyway.

Hopefully ML will have Trim support for 3rd party drives.  In the meantime I will investigate Trim Enabler further on the Mac and report back.

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