Thursday, July 07, 2011

Getting More Life Out of My MacBook Pro

I bought my first computer -- that is, the first one that entirely belonged to me -- in 1998. It was a no-name beige desktop that I upgraded the crap out of. The following year, I bought my first laptop, a Compaq that weighed just shy of 213 pounds. And thus began a cycle of having two computers and replacing one of them annually -- a cycle that didn't fully end until just this past week.

To understand how I got here, let's break down the evolution of my computer ownership. Continuing from above, I replaced the '98 desktop with a Compaq desktop in 2000. In 2001, I got my first Mac, a Titanium PowerBook G4, replacing the Compaq laptop. In 2002, I replaced the Compaq desktop with a Power Mac G4 Quicksilver. In 2003, the TiBook was shipped out to make room for an iBook G4. Then in 2004 I made the big splurge, dumping the Quicksilver for a Power Mac G5 dual processor 2.5 Ghz liquid-cooled model. That was intended to be my primary machine for a long time, and it was. It worked out so well that in 2005, I didn't buy another computer at all. In 2006, I finally upgraded the laptop, replacing the iBook G4 with a white MacBook, and that was my last major computer purchase until 2008, when the G5 finally died.

I replaced that G5 with a MacBook Pro, leaving me with two laptops and no desktop for the first time ever. In 2009, I added a Mac mini to the family, but that was mostly as a "TV" computer. It was never a centerpiece machine.

Over the years, the MacBook Pro has served me well, while the other two computers got used less and less. I replaced the Mac mini with a new Apple TV a few months back, and it mostly sat unused since then. The MacBook hadn't been used in any serious fashion since I got my iPad. So this past week I sold off both "extra" computers, and put the money back into the MacBook Pro, hoping to get a couple more years of life out of it before I finally have to upgrade.

I did four basic things to the MacBook Pro to give it new life, and I have to say after a few days of usage, each of them is working out nicely.

1. Upgrade the RAM from 2 GB to 4 GB
This is something I realistically should have done long ago, but having three computers meant I could split up tasks three ways, and so I rarely was taxing the MacBook Pro. But when I consolidated my iTunes and iPhoto libraries -- and all their sharing capabilities -- onto this machine, I found myself desperately needing the boost from the extra 2 GB of RAM.

2. Replace the stock internal hard drive with an SSD
I can't even begin to explain the difference this has made. Literally everything on the computer opens so much faster, and the entire thing actually runs cooler too. Apps that once took 30 seconds to open now launch near instantaneously. Scrolling through my iPhoto library, which was recently a painful chore, has become downright snappy. And yes, I know some of that is from the RAM upgrade, but the SSD is playing a huge role. Also, replacing the boot drive allowed (well, really "forced") me to take the next step.

3. Wipe the internal drive and re-install the OS from scratch
I could have easily done a Time Machine restore of my data once I replaced the drive, but given how much data had been carried forward through all those computer changes detailed above, I thought it was about time for a fresh start (it also helped that I moved a bunch of stuff to Dropbox a while back, so I knew those files would be in place). I installed Snow Leopard clean, then went about re-installing the apps I knew I used on a daily basis. I didn't copy anything over from the old drive just because it was there. Taking the time to re-evalute which apps I really used helped clean my system of clutter -- for example, rather than install iLife fully, I left out iDVD (not used since... probably 2005), iWeb (ditched in 2010) and GarageBand. I know if I ever get back into podcasting, GarageBand will have to come back, but for now it's not taking up unnecessary space on my drive.

4. Replaced the internal SuperDrive with a hard drive
This one was more of a future-proofing move than anything else. Switching to the SSD was great for speed, but not so great for capacity. To save some money, I went with a 128 GB SSD, which I grabbed for about $300 less than the cheapest 256 GB SSD I could find. However, to make use of the 200 GB drive I was replacing, I got a drive carrier that installs internally in the MacBook Pro, so now I've got 328 GB of internal storage. The carrier also came with an external housing for my SuperDrive, so I still have that hooked up if I need it. And while that may seem to cut down on the portability of my MacBook Pro, the reality is it's hooked up to three external hard drives already, and I think the last time I used my SuperDrive on the road was in 2009.

At this point, this MacBook Pro has been serving my needs for just shy of three years. Ideally, I'd love to get another two years out of it before I have to replace it, which would allow me to put next year's computer upgrade budget towards a larger hard drive set for my iTunes Library (now sitting on a 4 TB drive with only about 225 GB remaining). And probably an iPhone 5 when that comes out, because I'm an iDevice whore.

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