Tag Archives: Upgrade

Juicing up a dated MacBook Pro

It’s fair to say, my MBP is dated and well past it’s prime. It’s a Mid 2009 13” Core 2 Duo that I purchased new in Jan 2010. It was my very first personal laptop and has worked flawlessly for the last 3 years. I’ve taken good care and given it three updates (before this week), Memory Upgrade from 4 Gig to 8 Gig, HDD Upgrade from the default 270 (or so) Gig to a 1 TB Western Digital Caviar Blue. The third upgrade was from OSX Snow Leopard to OSX Lion.

This week I gave it another upgrade, added an SSD in the CD Drive slot. The components involved were

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I had initially zeroed in on the Samsung EVO 250 Gigs drive, but ultimately settled for the Kingston which I’ve (a good) experience with.

Swapping the Parts

Step 1: Flip your MacBook Pro and unscrew the 10 or so screws. Start from the top right corner and go anti-clockwise, the first three screws will be the longer than the rest.

Step 2: Before we remove the Optical drive we have to unhook two flat cables. First one connects the optical drive to the MoBo and the second one connects the HDD to the MoBo. Use a plastic spludger or your nails to gently lift them up as shown below.

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Step 3: There are three screws that hold it in place, and there is a connector cable to the motherboard that we have to remove. The first screw is under the cable towards the center of the system. You have to push the cable up, to reveal the screw.

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Step 4: The next screw is on the Top Left corner of the system and easily accessible

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Step 5: The Final screw is near the middle on the Left hand edge, again easily accessible

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Step 6: Next lift up the Optical drive from the bottom left corner gently. It will come up only about a centimeter then pull it towards yourself. If you encounter resistance bend the battery sticker and the straighten the HDD flat cable, they are stiffer than they look.

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Step 7: Once you have extracted the Optical Drive there is a hook attachment that you need to unscrew and screw it back to the HDD caddy.

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Step 8: The flat cable that we removed from the Motherboard earlier goes into the Optical drive via another adapter. Gently pull it out as well, after you have put in your new HDD into the HDD caddy, you can put this adapter back into the HDD Caddy.

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Step 9: Once you have snapped the HDD into the caddy, flip the caddy over and put in two screws (the Caddy came with a bunch of screws, pick the right size)

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Step 10: Here on it’s the inverse process of Step 6 and go back carefully, till your MacBook is bolted up.

Notes and Caveats

You are probably wondering why I put the new SSD into the HDD caddy instead of the Hard Drive bay because OSX can’t boot off a drive in the Optical Drive bay.

Well, I use Windows 8.1 via VMWare Fusion more often than I use the native OSX, and running the VMs off the same drive as the OS was really stretching it. OSX would literally be rendered useless when the VMs was running. I moved the VM to an external USB drive, that improved things but had it’s own set of issues with the VMs crashing after going into Sleep mode and so on.

I want the SSD to be where my VMs are run off. After the installation, OSX is slightly more useful with the Win8.1 VM running and the Win8.1 VM simply screams. It is almost as fast as Windows on SSD natively. I moved the VMWareFusion.app to the SSD as well.

Enabling TRIM

Sometimes we just hate OSX for being a ‘*****’. The case here being TRIM support for Apple installed SSDs only. YES! OSX Lion supports TRIM but only for Apple installed SSDs not third party SSDs. After you have ‘Initialized’ your drive using Disk Utility tool, get yourself Chameleon SSD Optimizer or some other similar third party product and enable TRIM on your SSD without fail. YMMV so use it at your own risk. The Disk Utility Tool will pop up and ask you to Initialize the disk first time you boot up and it detects the SSD.

Conclusion

Things are going well so far. Near native Windows performance and OSX can be used in parallel. Most people do the opposite by putting the OS on the SSD and moving everything else off it. In my case I don’t need OSX to run any faster than it is at the moment. I needed a stable and better performing Windows VM. I got that. This is a strictly temporary situation until I get my Haswell computer together and the SSD might be repurposed there, but that story is for later.

P.S. Amazon decided that I could wait for the Optical Drive enclosure so it has scheduled it for delivery in December Surprised smile. Till then the Optical Drive is wrapped away in bubble wrap. Once the drive enclosure arrives I’ll be able to use the Optical Drive as an external USB drive.

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Adding ssd to my desktop– ICH7, ahci and bios updates

I’ve been holding off on an SSD upgrade for a very long time now, simply because I didn’t want to be limited to 40-60Gigs of drive space even though it’s more than enough for an OS partition. But cost of SSDs have fallen pretty fast over the last 6-8 months and I saw a Kingston 240GB available for little under INR 12K at Flipkart last Monday. So I went for it finally.

I got the Kingston V+200 240 GB SSD Internal Hard Drive (SVP200S37A/240G) from Flipkart for Rs.11,542/-. Snagged an extra 10% discount during one of their Monday Sale events.

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Installation and Upgrade

The physical installation was a little tricky because the above model unfortunately didn’t come with a bay converter. Neither did it come with SATA cable or screws (as falsely promised by Flipkart).

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Anyways, for someone who’s been assembling computers for the last 15 years I had enough backup screws Winking smile. The SSD came with a self adhesive plastic rim that’s supposed to act as a spacer if you are using it in a laptop. I used the spacer as a stand as I rested the SSD belly up on one of the bays and put in two screws to hold it in place. (Use screws that come for CD Drives, the other cabinet screws are bigger, the drive is delicate so don’t force bigger screws in, you might just void the warranty).

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Once connected, I booted up to the Windows 8 Partition I had and installed the EaseUS Todo Backup 6.0 Free.

Actually I won’t repeat the steps, you can just follow LifeHacker’s excellent guide. That’s what I followed.

I did not have an issue with ‘emptying’ my HDD because my existing drive was 250 Gigs too. I could have literally copied partitions and run with it. But I took the opportunity to remove some junk from My Documents and My Downloads which I was anyways going to put on my HDD once I restored my system. Turns out I was using only about 80Gigs of space in total Surprised smile.

Note: If you follow the guide, once done with the partition swap and booted into Windows 8 with your SSD, it is suggested that you format your old hard drive. At this point you will be able to see a 300 odd MB ex-system partition ON THE HDD. Feel free to remove it and reclaim the entire space.

Since EaseUS Backup is actually a Backup tool it installs a couple of services. I didn’t want to use EaseUS Backup once I was done with my restore, so I disabled the services and apparently EaseUS doesn’t like that so it doesn’t run without it. Not a big deal, just thought you might want to know.

Testing Performance

Warning: Here on things get all geeky so don’t blame me if it’s long and winding.

Who doesn’t want to know how their ‘investment’ improved things Winking smile.

The first Wow was the near instant boot up. My desktop now boots nearly as fast as my Surface RT. Actually my BIOS startup takes longer than going from the boot logo to login page. Visual Studio snaps open, Word/Excel/PowerPoint fly open in no time.

Fair enough but how did the SSD actually stack against the competition? A quick search revealed the excellent AS SSD Benchmark utility (Direct Download, you can visit Alex’s Site for more information, though major parts are not in English).

So I ran the Utility and my results were as follows:

First the HDD

as-ssd-bench ST3250820SV ATA  6.16.2013 4-20-44 AM

Well I didn’t have anything to compare it against so I played along and ran it on the SSD next

Next the SSD

as-ssd-bench KINGSTON SVP200S 6.16.2013 5-02-23 AM

Billions for blue blistering barnacles, that’s crazy compared to the HDD.

Sequential Read: ~3x
Sequential Write: ~2.5x
4K-64K blocks Random Read: ~30x
Access Time: ~90times faster

But after a little searching it was apparent this was nowhere close to the peak performance the SSD was capable of. According to this thread, it wasn’t really optimal performance.

I was worried that the ‘Sandforce Controller’ was not working correctly. After hours of searching (and multiple BIOS updates later) the conclusion was much more reassuring.

AHCI vs. IDE Modes for SSD

AHCI stands for – Advanced Host Controller Interface a relatively new standard for Storage Controllers (could be used for others as well I don’t know). Whereas IDE is the older Integrated Drive Electronics standard. AHCI has come into prominence with SATA and supports Hot Plugging and Native Command Queuing among other ‘stuff’. Long story short you need AHCI to leverage optimal performance out of your SSD. Now here is the kicker that took me hours to find out:

The ICH7 chipset does not support AHCI and no amount of BIOS upgrades is going to get you this ability

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Most sites will tell you to enable AHCI in your BIOS and if you go to buy a Motherboard today it will probably come with AHCI default. But unfortunately my M/B is an ageing 6 years+ for a first Gen Core 2. It never had AHCI support to start with.

Unfortunately I didn’t find things out in the order I am presenting here, so I spent about half a day researching how to upgrade my BIOS and applied all the upgrades available to it, which did lead to a more stable S3 sleep mode, but no AHCI. But I just couldn’t stop until I read on this site that AHCI is not supported on ICH7 chipsets! It pointed to some Intel documents that seem to be currently unavailable, but anyway, that’s when I stopped.

So if you have the Chipset ICH7 stop looking of AHCI support in your BIOS. There are other variants of ICH7 like ICH7-DH, ICH7R and ICH7M that have AHCI support, plain vanilla ICH7 does not, end of story.

How to tell and IDE Controller vs. AHCI

This one was confusing to find at first too. So the shortcut is to look at the AS SSD and spot the controller name

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If it says ‘intelide’ you have an IDE controller. AHCI controllers usually say iastor or msahci, first one being an Intel Driver and the next one being a native Microsoft Driver.

Well, that wraps the story of my SSD upgrade. If you have an ICH7 I hope it saved you some time from looking up a BIOS Setting.

Someday soon, I’ll be upgrading to a new M/B + Processor and this SSD should be right at home. I’ll post an upgraded result then.

For now, I leave you with the rather embarrassing overall WEI score of my PC before and after the upgrade (psst, HDD score went from 5.9 to 7.2):

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PS: This post has been a month in the ‘writing’. As you can see from the timestamps in the above image, I did the upgrade just about a month ago. So far so good, all’s well with the Kingston drive on Windows 8 Pro, perfectly stable and much smoother performance.

Footnote – I was a happy FlipKart customer till this purchase. First they got the model number and the package contents mixed up resulting in falsely advertising things they didn’t have in the package. Next, on complaining, they responded 5 days later expressing willingness to exchange it. I had installed after waiting for 72 hours without response to my complaint. They closed it well by giving me a discount voucher of Rs. 500/-. Things would have ended there but a few weeks later they took down my review of the product from their site and sent me a mail demanding I change my review (it was rated 3 star initially and I upgraded it to 4 star with details of all that was happening). That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. I refused to change the review because it had all the ‘facts’ as it had happened. I loved Flipkart but their stupid behavior has left me with the feeling they don’t want their customers to benefit from true reviews and they just want “oo nice service Flipkart’” type reviews instead. Well, I might as well shop from ebay in that case. Also when I last checked the SSD was still advertised with the incorrect Model Number vs. Features. Never shopping at Flipkart again!

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Time Machine Backup and Restore Experience

Sometime back, I read Scott Hanselman’s post on how meticulous he is about it backup strategy. That kind of meticulousness ensures you don’t ever lose any data whatsoever and you downtime in case of disaster is a minimum. Well, today I realized that Backups can help you with upgrades as well. So I am going to share how my backup strategy helped me upgrade my Hard disk without any Software Reinstall. A little bit of background first (or you can jump straight to the Upgrade).

Your System Environment

I do most of my development work on Windows 7 but I run all of them on VMWare VMs running on my MacBook Pro (OSX Snow Leopard). All the VMs are stored on another external 500Gb GoFlex drive. So easiest backup strategy for a VM is to simply copy the VMWare’s VM file periodically and you are done.

That strategy didn’t work very well when my Visual Studio got corrupted. I didn’t have anything to roll back to, so I had to create a new VM all together.

Take VM Snapshots

Moral from the corrupt Visual Studio story was to use the VM Snapshot functionality. That’s what I did when I created my new VM. Took a snapshot at significant steps of the installation process, like OS Install, Service Pack Install, Visual Studio Install, SQL Server Install etc.

Now I haven’t had a chance to test this backup strategy, yet, but I am hoping if my Visual Studio ever get’s corrupted, one of those snapshots will come to rescue.

Why not use Restore Points

I like to keep my VMs small about 60Gigs each, creating restore points would mean adding more diskspace to each VM. Also Restore point is too integral a part of Windows to help if some of the windows components got corrupted. Instead Windows Backup may be a better idea.

Use Source control, even for your personal code

I am a big believer in source control and I host most of my personal code on Bitbucket. So whether OSX or Windows 7 all my code is up in the cloud. You can refer to my www.devcurry.com  article on how to use Mercurial on Bitbucket. That way anytime OS has to be abandoned, only loss in source is the part that’s not backed up in cloud.

Time Machine on OSX

Now though my development work is on Windows 7 rest of the stuff is on OSX, so Office, Outlook, XCode etc. all run on the host system OSX. Obviously I have a significant investment in software here. I use Apple’s built in Time Machine software and a Seagate GoFlex 500GB USB2 external drive to do Daily backups. The Time Machine setup is pretty sparse and I use a third party app called Time Machine Editor to set it to a Daily scheduled backup instead of the default hourly backup that Time Machine sets out to do if enabled.

Selecting things to ‘exclude’ in Time Machine

Go to System Preferences –> Time Machine and select ‘Options…’ It will give you a list where you can add folders and drives that you don’t wish to be backed up. My external drives are excluded. So by default I backup everything else.

With this backup strategy in place I make sure Time Machine runs successfully every morning.

The Upgrade

I have been itching to upgrade my internal hard drive to 1TB so that I could host my VMs on the internal drive instead of having them run off an external drive. Was tempted to get an SSD but the high cost and failure rates so far have been a major deterrence. So instead of buying a 128GB SSD for ~$150 I bought myself a WD (WD10TPVT) 1TB for < $130 from good ol’ Amazon. This model is thicker than at 12.5 mm as opposed to the 9.5 mm for the stock drive. But it fits well in my late 2009 MacBook Pro. Your mileage may vary.

The hard drive replacement process is pretty much by the book (refer to the manual that came with your Mac), nothing there. I swapped out the 250 Gig stock Hard Drive with the new one.

Next was the restore part.

– I started the machine and inserted the OSX CD

– The installation process kicks off. Initially the OS won’t ‘see’ your new hard drive, because it’s not formatted. So use the Disk Utility to format and partition it. Then you can continue installing OSX (Snow Leopard in my case).

– The point at which it asks for user name give an account name that’s different from the one you used in your old installation. This comes in handy when running the Migration Wizard.

– Let OS install complete. Boot up and check for Software Updates. Let the Updates finish. Reboot if required.

– Now log on and go to Applications –> Utilities –> Migration Assistant.

– Select the Mac Hard Drive in the first page and go to next

– Select the Time Machine hard drive in the second page. Click next.

– Select all the backed up components including users and Click continue. It takes a little bit of time at this point. Once it is done it will ask what you want to do with the user that was backed up. In my case I had made the mistake of giving the same username and my old installation and as a result the second option ‘Replace’ was disabled. I had to back out, create another admin account, log in as that account, initiate restore then then ‘Replace’ that account from the backed up account. If you selected a different account name at the time of the fresh install, no worries, just continue. That’s it, sit back and let the restore complete. For 152GB odd of apps etc it took me about 2 hours to restore. But once it’s done almost everything is back to where it was.

What didn’t come through

It has been only a few hours since I completed by backup and I noticed the following:

1. I lost all my shortcuts on the Dock. They never got restored

2. Twitter app didn’t start on it’s own. And when it started it had lost all the accounts I was logged in for. I had to re-login every account again.

3. Office is asking for Product Key again. After I provided it, Outlook wants to ‘Rebuild’ the database index.

UPDATE 1 (March 24, 2012):

4. XCode recovery was also not complete. There is a very important tool that get’s installed with the XCode suite. It’s a command line util called ‘purge’. This util forces OSX to garbage collect Inactive memory. Without purge I can’t be as ‘agile’ I want to be with my VMs because either VMWare or OSX doesn’t release the memory of a recently shutdown VM. So either I run purge or reboot. Without which if I try to load a new VM it will crash completely!

What did come through

1. VMWare Fusion 4 works great. I am typing this on a VM that was created in the previous installation.

2. iTunes seems to have it’s clueless indexes of my music correct.

3. More importantly iPhoto seems to have ALL my images intact (a major part of the 150Gigs)

Conclusion

This was my first experience of ‘restoring from backup’. Looks okay so far. Knowing that my data is pretty much where I had left it, is rather comforting. There are some minor niggles as outlined above, but they are all pretty minor compared to setting up all the software all over again.

So backup my dear friends. It will help in more than one way!

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