Mike Kasberg

Husband. Father. Software engineer. Ubuntu Linux user.

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How Much Faster Does a New SSD Make a 2012 MacBook Pro?

01 Mar 2018

How much faster does a new SSD make a 2012 MacBook Pro? A lot.

I recently upgraded a 2012 MacBook Pro with a new SSD, and I was blown away by the results. The computer was nearly unusable before the upgrade - it took more than two minutes to boot and about 30 seconds to launch a program like Chrome or Safari. (Although once it finally started, it wouldn’t be too bad to do something simple like surf the web.) Apparently (as you’ll find in comments all over the internet), lots of older MacBooks suffer from really slow responsiveness when running newer versions of macOS. Luckily, the problem can be fixed pretty easily by replacing the OEM hard drive with an SSD – after the fix, the MacBook Pro boots in about 25 seconds and launches programs almost instantly. Overall, the SSD made the computer about four times faster when doing disk-bound operations like booting up or starting a program!

Operation HDD Time SSD Time
Boot to login screen 1m 30s 25s
Login (to desktop icons) 29s 8s
Start Chrome 20s 4s
Total 2m 19s 38s

Will this fix your old MacBook? Probably. If your old computer has similar symptoms (a long boot time and slowness when launching applications), and if your old computer uses a traditional hard disk, an SSD is likely to give you similar results to mine.

How do you know what kind of hard drive you have? One of the easiest ways to know what kind of hard drive came with your Mac is to use the Ultimate Mac Lookup tool provided by EveryMac.com. Alternatively, look in your Mac’s System Report, as shown here. If your storage says HDD, you have a traditional hard disk. If your storage says SSD, you have an SSD.

Why does the SSD help so much?

Second generation MacBook Pros (2008-2012) come with a 5400RPM hard disk, which is basically a bottom-shelf hard disk by modern standards. The low performance of the disk limits the speed that data can be read from or written to the disk. Basically, the MacBook runs slow because it can’t load it’s operating system and programs from the hard drive fast enough. This becomes really apparent on newer versions of macOS, where the time needed to boot the OS or load an application is really slow. In fact, the hard drive is so slow that it’s the biggest bottleneck in the system.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix with a simple hard drive upgrade. Disk I/O on an SSD is more than 100 times faster than a 5400 RPM hard disk, so replacing the disk with an SSD makes all the performance problems due to disk I/O go away. The other components in the system weren’t the bottleneck, so the system shows huge performance improvements simply by upgrading the hard disk.

How can I upgrade my own MacBook?

  1. Buy an SSD. Any SSD that’s 2.5” form factor should be easy to install in place of the old hard drive.
  2. Run a Time Machine backup to an external drive.
  3. Create a bootable macOS installer on a USB stick. We’ll use this to format our new drive and install the OS.
  4. Replace the hard drive with the new SSD.
  5. Boot the macOS installer USB stick, and open Disk Utility to format the new hard drive. Format the disk as “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)”.
  6. Now, use your USB stick again to install macOS. The installer will guide you through restoring your backup.

SSDs aren’t terribly expensive these days, so an upgrade like this one could breathe life into your old laptop for as little as about $30 (up to about $120 depending on your storage needs). That’s a pretty good deal, and could be the perfect solution if your slow computer’s driving you nuts but you’re not ready to drop $1,200 on a new MacBook yet.

About the Author

Mike Kasberg

👋 Hi, I'm Mike! I'm a husband, I'm a father, and I'm a senior software engineer at Strava. I use Ubuntu Linux daily at work and at home. And I enjoy writing about Linux, open source, programming, 3D printing, tech, and other random topics.


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