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MacBook Pro with MTRON 32GB SSD drive + 2nd drive installed

:: Wednesday, March 19th, 2008 @ 11:33:29 pm

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Just under a year ago, I installed a second 160GB 5400 drive into my 2.33Ghz MacBook Pro and configured the two drives as a striped RAID 0 array. In addition to increasing storage space two-fold, my machine felt faster. It was totally worth the “risk” of having two spinning drives in a striped configuration, and after 10 months of continuous usage on boats in various countries around the world, my trusty Mac was still running well (thus proving wrong the countless awkward 15-year olds who spread tales of my stupidity on sites like Digg).

A couple of months ago, I read about the first MacBook Pro with a SSD drive installed, and then saw a video of a MacBook Pro launching 17 apps at once. I instantely became intrigued about getting a SSD into my computer. My normal computer activity involves constant multitasking while hitting the disk hard in apps like Aperture and Adobe Photoshop. Even using a striped RAID on my notebook, I wait a lot.

And so, I made a change.

New Configuration: Now, with SSD!

UPDATE Oct 7, 2008: The MTRON 32GB drive is on sale at eBay! I’ve since upgraded to 64GB drives. The auction closes at Oct-14-08 17:39:52 PDT.

I bought an MTRON MSD 3000 32GB SSD drive on eBay for $700, broke apart my RAID 0, and slapped it into my MacBook Pro, replacing the 160GB 5400rpm SATA drive that came stock with the system. I liked the MTRON SSD drive because its specs say that it can sustain 100 MB/sec read and 80 MB/sec write, which is much faster than other units out there. The specs also say that its write endurance is “> 140 years @ 50GB write per day.” Some reviews have stated that it doesn’t do well on Intel hardware, but as you will see, my results showed otherwise.


MTRON MSD 3000 32GB SSD drive

I decided to leave in my system the second drive that I installed last year as part of the RAID. It is a 160GB IDE drive installed in a MCE OptiBay Hard Drive adapter. It’s perfect for use as a data drive, mostly for photos and videos — the stuff I accumulate in the field on a daily basis. A notebooks only equipped with a small SSD drive wouldn’t work for me, as it is not practical to have to connect an external drive to actually get something done.

Installation was easy. I popped the old SATA drive out and inserted the new SSD drive. It was a bit difficult to put screws into the small plastic holes in the SSD, which didn’t seem to be threaded. I felt like I was tapping my own screw holes using the screws themselves, which didn’t feel good.


MacBook Pro with MTRON MSD 3000 32GB SSD installed
plus 160GB 5400rpm IDE drive in a MCE OptiBay Hard Drive adapter

Only having 32GB for a boot drive required careful system and application installation. I didn’t install anything I didn’t absolutely need, and I unfortunately seem to need quite a bit. The big apps I installed were Microsoft Office 2008, iWork, Aperture, Adobe CS3 applications, and Final Cut Studio. The rest of the apps were split between the system drive and an additional Applications folder on the 160GB drive.

In addition, I set my user home folder to a folder on the 160GB IDE drive and symlinked specific directories to a second user folder on the SSD. Specifically, I keep my Mail.app library and Aperture.app library on the SSD drive. Everything else in the user folder is on the 160GB IDE drive.

Benchmarks

I ran a bunch of benchmarks, in the following configurations:

  • MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / MTRON SSD (new Mac OS install)
  • MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / MTRON SSD in FW800 enclosure (new Mac OS install)
  • MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / 2x160GB RAID 0 (old, working Mac OS install)
  • MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz / 3GB RAM / 160GB SATA in FW800 enclosure (new Mac OS install)
  • MacBook Pro 2.5Ghz / 2GB RAM / 250GB SATA (brand new machine)

For some reason, my existing 2x160GB RAID 0 configuration was really slow in the benchmarks this time around. I’m not sure why this happened, but for that particular benchmark, I booted off of my normal system — a cluttered installation that I had been using continuously for 10 months. Maybe that had something to do with it. I consider all of the 2x160GB RAID 0 benchmarks to be suspect.

For all of the benchmarks, I booted from the specified drive and ran QuickBench.

Random Reads – Small: SSD drives rock the random reads. Again, I’m not sure why my 2x160GB RAID 0 setup was so slow. I wish I was able to test the RAID setup with a new install of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, but it’s too late now.

Random Writes – Small: The MTRON SSD did pretty well here, performing comparably to the spinning drives — slightly faster at higher block sizes, and slightly slower at small block sizes. Note the bizarre performance of the SSD when connected via Firewire 800 @ 512 KB. shrug

Sequential Reads – Small: The MTRON nearly reaches its 100 MB/sec theoretical maximum read speed at block sizes larger than 128 KB. It is much faster than any of its non-SSD competitors, but loses its edge a bit at very small block sizes.

Sequential Writes – Small:The MTRON nearly reaches its theoretical 80 MB/sec maximum write speed, but loses its edge a bit at small block sizes.

Reads – Large: OK, this thing is FAST. At large transfer sizes, the SSD sustains 95 MB/sec with no problems. I’m still totally mystified by the 2x160GB RAID 0 test results, and can only conclude that something strange was going on when I ran the benchmark. I’ll bet the machine was busy doing something else, and I simply failed to notice.

Writes – Large: The SSD sustains a 76 MB/sec write speed.

Videos

I recorded video of my newly-configured MacBook Pro booting up and running a variety of tasks. As a reminder, my MacBook Pro is a 2.33Ghz machine with 3GB RAM.

First, here’s a video of boot of the machine running a new install of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. I installed Quicksilver, which also runs on boot (I can’t function without it!).


Boot, fresh install of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

Next, I configured my machine and recorded video of it booting up. Here are all the applications that launch upon account login:

Quicksilver Missing Sync for iPhone GrowlHelperApp Snapz Pro X iStat menus Helper teleportd ChronoSyncBackgrounder iTunesHelper Path Finder Twitterrific textexpanderd


Boot of my fully-configured system

… and here’s a reboot of the same configuration:


Re-boot of my fully-configured system

Just for fun, I added a bunch of beefy applications to the login items list. In addition to the startup items listed above, I added:

Adium Mail iCal Aperture Word Excel Keynote Numbers Pages FireFox Preview TextEdit


MacBook Pro boot with 11 + 12 = 23 apps run upon login

Here’s where the SSD configuration shines: I have all of my email going back to 1993 in my Mail library. In the following video, I import 1000 images into Aperture, and as Aperture is building thumbnails, I start doing a bunch of rapid searches in Mail. Some of the searches return as many as 30,000 emails — pretty much instantaneously!

Ever tried doing ANYTHING on your Mac while Aperture is building thumbnails? This is a whole new kind of computing, and I am totally sold.


Mail searches while Aperture generates thumbnails

As a bonus, my MacBook Pro is running cooler than it did with two spinning drives in it. I couldn’t get it to heat up more than this:

The CPU briefly hit 180°, but came down as soon as the fans kicked in.

More videos:

See a video of me flying around in Aperture.app.

Conclusion:

Solid-state drives suit my computing style. My newly-configured machine is MUCH, MUCH faster, and by having both a SSD system drive and a large IDE data drive, I get the best of both worlds. I am never going back.

| Sausalito, CA | link | trackback | Mar 19, 2008 23:33:29
  • HWH

    Awesome. But why didn’t you install it in the new 2.6GHz MacBook Pro?

    Unrelated suggestion: Move the Google ads to the right column of your template where it is more visible, and hence more likely to generate revenue.

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    I don’t have a new MacBook Pro — that benchmark was done on a friend’s computer.

  • http://giles.shaxted.co.uk Giles Shaxted

    this post could be the definition of mac boy geek porn !

    and you wonder why you run out of free time !

  • marc

    With your viewership and technical credibility, Mitron should have sent you two for free.

  • http://galery.mac.om/pa1zz Rogier

    Planning to do the same with a new Macbook 2.4 blk

  • Reilly

    Awesome post. I was thinking about doing this with my next laptop, and this just convinced me. Thanks.

  • chris shin

    nice article.

    anyone know if it is possible in a desktop system to run a Mitron 32GB as a system drive and 2×150 Raptor 10K drives in RAID as the data store?

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    A quick note: My Mac started up today and appended a ” 1″ to the name of my 2nd hard disk’s volume name. Since my home folder is on that drive, it broke everything and treated my username as a first-time login.

    My second drive is called “Data” (yeah, I know — very creative). For some reason, it mounted as “Data 1″, and the Mac created a dummy folder called “Data” in /Volumes. To fix the problem, I sudo rm’ed “Data” and created a symbolic link from Data to “Data 1″. Upon rebooting, I was back in business. Still, it was not fun to have to fix it this way.

  • Henrik

    Hmm… just a little question:

    I like speed, yes, what about haveing two 32 GIG SSD-drives in RAID 0… Is that a venture one would take?

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Hi, Henrik. Sounds cool, but the 2nd interface is ATA/IDE. Probably won’t work…

  • Henrik

    Just realized that… DANG!

  • Henrik

    two questions:

    1. Do you notice any increaed battery time?
    2. Would an SSD IDE/ATA and an SSD SATA drive in RAID 0 work? Perhaps? The drives will be different, I know this, but do you think that would be a problem?

    Thanks for your time.

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Henrik: yes, that would be possible. I striped a SATA and IDE drive in my MBP, which is what I was running before I switched to this install. You’d probably want to use the MemoRight IDE SSD drive, which seems to be as fast or faster than the MTRON.

    My battery is really old, and I can no longer tell whether the computer is running longer or not. But I just got a new battery, and will see what happens.

  • Alex

    I notice you’re talking about a MBPro here, not a desktop, and you mention RAID0. I just want to clue you in here that there’s no hardware RAID on a MBPro, lol. Any “RAID” you have set up on a MBPro is not from the motherboard–it’s software RAID…hence, no increase in speed. It only combines the size of the two drives into a single visible drive. If this is what you’re referring to, I’m unsure where the idea came from that a laptop with one factory HDD bay would have hardware RAID on the motherboard (and also be one of the only laptops I’ve ever heard of with a hardware RAID). Typically, people that need RAID speed work on their desktop. Laptops are not meant to be the powerhouse, although a MBP is rather impressive in many aspects. (and I can’t say that I’m not interested in these SSD’s that seem to get around SATA RAID performance out of a single, low power drive)

    Just making sure I read that right, and trying to help you out. Don’t want anyone getting embarrassed on other forums that may or may not have pros in it with nerdy cruel motives. :-D

    Good luck. Other than that, thanks for the vids. I was curious about these MTRON 7500′s or 7000′s. Now that I see that even these models work so fast, I’m really psyched about the big ones. :-D

  • Alex

    Also, while I’m here. Warning: Don’t ever EVER put anything you care about AT ALL on a RAID0 drive, even with 10.5′s backup. ESPECIALLY in a laptop with software RAID like this. That’s a minimum of 4x as likely to fail and lose it all as a single drive would be. Software RAID burns many CPU cycles trying to emulate hardware RAID, creating tons of extra heat. Heat is the enemy, and then it’s still scattering bits of your files on each drive, killing much more data when one of the drives fails. RAID5 is the way to get extra speed for things you care about. RAID0 is almost like using a beta microsoft OS as far as I’m concerned. :-D IMHO

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Alex – you are absolutely wrong that software RAID does not increase performance. Software striping still interleaves access over the drives involved.

  • http://blog.pershot.com Brian Stanfill

    Alex said: “RAID0 is almost like using a beta microsoft OS as far as I’m concerned.”

    Alex, the beta versions of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 (and now its public release version) are by far the most stable versions of any Microsoft operating system I’ve tested.

    I tested Server 2008 and Vista betas side-by-side, noting that they share similar guts. The Server 2008 beta, minus all the Mac OS X-infringing, ram-hogging, eye candy ran without error. It never crashed under load, and it functioned soundly.

    The test results impressed the hell out of me, especially since Microsoft released Vista to consumers in such an unstable state.

    I say that your comparison falls short now that we have Windows Server 2008.

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Brian — heh. Well, you can’t expect everyone to know what they are talking about.

  • Henrik

    Now I have my macbook pro with dual SSD’s and there is a huge difference.

    Here are my numbers from XBench:

    Disk Test 95.04
    Sequential 126.64
    Uncached Write 118.64 72.84 MB/sec [4K blocks]
    Uncached Write 183.22 103.67 MB/sec [256K blocks]
    Uncached Read 70.26 20.56 MB/sec [4K blocks]
    Uncached Read 288.53 145.01 MB/sec [256K blocks]
    Random 76.06
    Uncached Write 24.10 2.55 MB/sec [4K blocks]
    Uncached Write 108.71 34.80 MB/sec [256K blocks]
    Uncached Read 1827.38 12.95 MB/sec [4K blocks]
    Uncached Read 745.90 138.41 MB/sec [256K blocks]

  • http://joshpenman.com Josh Penman

    I about flipped when I saw “171 degrees” for the CPU temperature. . my macbook rarely goes above 90. Is your measurement in Celsius? And if it’s Fahrenheit how is the SSD so cool? 32 Degrees fahrenheit is 0 celsius. . . freezing, no? So is the temperature measuring unit on the SSD faulty?

    Josh

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Yes, it is in Fahrenheit! That must mean that the SSD temperature unit is faulty…

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