Is a Solid-State Drive the Best Upgrade to Improve the Speed of Your Mac?

By Jim Range / January 14, 2015

First Some Background Information

About a year ago I was considering buying the new Mac Pro that came out in 2012 (the little black can). I had a 2010 Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM, 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon CPU and two 1TB 7200 RPM SATA drives. This 2010 Mac Pro started running slow and it seemed it was time to buy a new one.

Simple tasks such as booting were taking a few minutes. Browsing the web or more complex tasks such as building a large Xcode project or exporting a large Photoshop image seemed to be taking longer and longer. Maybe it was time for a new computer.

The price to get a new Mac Pro with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB HD was about $4500 at the time. I decided to try out some upgrades first to see what impact they would have on my system.


My Upgrade Attempts to Improve Performance

The first thing I did was a fresh install of OSX Mavericks (the latest OSX at the time). This did not seem to make much of a difference in general performance. A fresh install of Google Chrome was snappy fast at browsing the Internet and booting was a bit quicker, but a fresh install of Firefox, my preferred browser at the time, was still a bit laggy.

I then upgraded the RAM from 12GB to 32GB by buying four 8GB 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC memory modules from Other World Computing. This made a small increase in performance. Browsing the Internet was a bit snappier, even with Firefox, but Xcode was still slow and Photoshop and Illustrator were performing like lazy dogs.


The Big Performance Breakthrough

I had no idea that a hard drive could be such a huge bottleneck in the performance of a computer, but I was about to find out.

The next upgrade attempt was to add a PCI express PCIe card that has solid state drive chips so that it can be installed on a PCIe bus and bypass the slow SATA hard drive bus. I bought the 960 GB OWCMercury Accelsior_E2PCI Express SSD. This is by far the best piece of hardware I have ever bought for a computer upgrade. Check out this article by Macworld for a review of the OWCMercury Accelsior_E2PCI Express SSD.

I have now been using this computer for the past year and it has continued to be lightning fast for all Photoshop, Illustrator, XCode, and web browsing tasks that I do on a daily basis.


Final Thoughts

This was not a very scientific test that I conducted to see which upgrade made the most difference. After I added the new SSD, I did not try reducing the RAM back to 12GB to see how much that might degrade the system and I did not make any measurements of the impact of each upgrade.

But one thing is for certain, the combination of more RAM and the PCIe SSD transformed my computer from being slow and almost unusable into an incredibly fast rocket of a computer.

If your computer is running slow and you do not have a solid-state drive, then a SSD upgrade is definitely worth considering. But be careful, not all SSDs are created equal. There are different bus speeds that computers have available to connect SSDs. And some controllers on SSDs are designed to connect to certain bus types with varying bus speeds.

So be sure to ask someone that specializes in your specific computer configuration so that you can make a well-informed decision. I found the sales consultants at Other World Computing to be very knowledgeable and helpful. If you do choose to upgrade, it is important that the SSD upgrade be compatible with your system as well as one that your system is capable of leveraging the full capacity of of the solid state drive.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.



About the author

Jim Range

Jim Range has over a decade of experience architecting and implementing software based solutions for numerous fortune 500 companies in industries such as financial services, retail, and insurance, as well as small businesses. Jim has an excellent understanding of the software development lifecycle, agile development, and how to manage the development of an app. Over the past ten years Jim has been focused on mobile software development. He has created over 138 apps that have been downloaded more than 10 million times from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Windows Phone Store. Jim also has experience as an information security consultant where he has provided numerous network and web application security assessments for Fortune 500 companies in the financial services, retail and insurance industries.