How to boost your MacBook Pro performance

How to boost your MacBook Pro performance

Summary: How to make your shiny aluminum workhorse even faster.


After the Build-Your-Own "Ultimate" Adobe Photoshop CS6 PC piece I wrote a few weeks ago I learned three things about Hardware 2.0 readers.

First, a lot of you use high-end pro Adobe products such as Photoshop and Premiere Pro, much more than I'd expected. Second, a lot of you work on portable systems, in particular Apple's MacBook Pro. And finally, those of you using MacBook Pro systems would like to know what you could do to make your shiny aluminum workhorse run even faster.

Because the MacBook Pro is a portable system, you can't crack it open and replace the CPU or graphics, so the upgrades that we can do are going to be limited. Nevertheless, there's a lot we can do to give this already fast machine a significant performance bump.

Performance boost your MacBook Pro

Image Gallery: Performance boost your MacBook Pro Image Gallery: Charge Image Gallery: Charge


The most obvious upgrade is to add more RAM. All 2011 MacBook Pro models -- which include the early-2011 15-inch and 17-inch models, and the late-2011 13-inch and 15-inch models -- support up to 16GB of RAM in the form of an 8GB module in each of the two slots.

The RAM you are looking to use is DDR3 PC3-10600, and a 16GB kit from a vendor like Crucial will set you back $160.

Bumping the RAM up to maximum is the single best performance upgrade that you can carry out.

RAM upgrades for the MacBook Pro systems are very straightforward, and detailed step-by-step guides for each of the MacBook Pro models can be found over on iFixit.


Another way to boost the performance of your MacBook Pro is to replace the hard disk drive, or HDD, with a much faster solid-state drive, or SSD.

Depending on how much storage you're looking for, this upgrade can range from reasonable to very expensive. A 64GB SSD from Crucial is under $100, but a 512GB SSD is $600. For the best drive write speeds go for the 256GB or 512GB models, because both of these offer write speeds of 260MB/s.

Replacing the drive in a MacBook Pro isn't too difficult, but it does involve a little surgery. Again, if you want to know how to carry out this storage transplant then consult the excellent guides over on iFixit.

Special upgrade for the late-2011 13-inch MacBook Pro

If you own a late-2011 13-inch MacBook Pro then there's a special upgrade that only you can carry out.

The model of MacBook Pro is unique in that both the hard drive and optical drive SATA ports both support high-speed SATA-III. This means that you can replace both the hard drive and the optical drive with two SSDs and configure them into an ultra-fast RAID-0 configuration.

To carry out this upgrade you will need two SSDs. If money doesn't mean anything to you then I recommend the 512GB Samsung 830 series drives, but at $849.99 each they're expensive, so feel free to go with something cheaper. Couple that with a SATA adapter kit that replaces the optical drive with an enclosure for a second drive, and you are good to go.

There are a number of kits out there that will allow you to install two drives into a MacBook Pro, but one of the best is made by German firm Hardwrk. With this kit, you also get an enclosure for the optical drive that allows it to be used as an external USB-DVD drive.

If you combine this upgrade with the RAM upgrade then you will be the proud owner of one of the fastest 13-inch MacBook Pro systems on the planet.

Remember that only the late-2011 13-inch MacBook Pro supports SATA-III speeds on the optical drive port. Carrying out this upgrade on any 15-inch or 17-inch MacBook Pro models, or an earlier 13-inch model, will be nothing more than a waste of money.

Image source: iFixit (1, 2), Hardwrk.


Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Storage

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  • Install Windows 7 on it

    That's the best way of boosting your productivity.

      Are you insane? Windows is a POS and will reduce your productivity by a factor of 10.
    • I love Windows 7

      I use Win 7 all day long at work and I am pretty productive on it. I am more productive on OS X, though. Different strokes for different folks.
    • toddbottom3

      Only if you're a diehard Windows believer. I work well on both, but am a little faster using OS X. So your claim is of little value.

      Edit: also your post was/is nothing but Anti-Apple hate trolling. Installing Windows will not make the hardware work any better, in fact it will not perform as well, as you'll spend more tie getting the correct drivers, as Windows drivers for Apple hardware leave something to be desired.
      Jumpin Jack Flash
      • You make a good point

        [i]as Windows drivers for Apple hardware leave something to be desired[/i]

        Apple is the one who designed the hardware (from scratch) and wrote the drivers (from scratch) so yeah, you are right, Apple's work leaves something to be desired. Glad we could agree on that.
        • You're wrong. Stop trying.

          I have Windows on my MacBook Pro and that's only because I like to play some games every once in a while. I can tell you right now; Windows is extremely inefficient. My computer gets extremely hot in Windows but not OSX (in OSX it barely gets warm) and the battery is wasted in Windows; so much so I don't like to boot the computer into Windows while using battery power.

          Probably this is because of the drivers but you know, the drivers don't come directly from Apple. They come from the companies that manufacture the components such as Intel and NVIDIA. Therefore, your argument is VOID.
      • Ditto on both

        I feel comfortable on OSX, Windows, and even graphical linux packages. I in fact run virtual Windows 7 and different varieties of Linux in virtual mode on my MacBook Pro with fantastic results. You're far too accommodating to the evil troll that is toddbottom though.
  • Some of these work well on older MBPs as well.

    I have the mid-2008 (last model pre-unibody) 15 inch MacBook Pro. It has been getting sluggish recently, so I popped onto crucial, used their website feature that pics the best upgrade and went to the 4gb that my system can hold. It's like a brand new system again. Incredible.
  • TRIM support

    Adrian, one thing you should note about SSD upgrades on Mac computers is that TRIM will not be enabled by default. On SSD's that come preconfigured with with Mac computers TRIM will be enabled by default. But if you upgrade to an SSD TRIM will not be enabled by default and you would need to download a software like Trim Enabler.
    Dive Bum
  • Apple doesn't seem to think current MBPs can support 16 MB of RAM

    Hi Adrian,

    Just a note: My MBP is a new model with 8 MB of RAM, but because of my job, I was excited to see reference to an available 16 MB upgrade. However, while Crucial does offer a 16 MB upgrade as you suggested, I was unable to find any proof on Apple's site that the current MBPs would support it. Instead, Apple asserts that the max for the current model is 8 MB. Have you found otherwise?
    • @jgerken

      Apple doesn't list it anywhere but the Macbook Pro recognizes more than 8GB of Ram. On my 2008(Core 2 Duo) Macbook Pro I succesfully installed and used 6GB of ram eventhough it was listed to a max of 4GB.
      Dive Bum
  • Which is more logical?

    When the new Macbook Pro comes out it will likely still have only between 4 and 6 gigs of ram, but you can usually add a pricey upgrade for about $200. Does it make more sense to just purchase the ram outside of Apple and add it in yourself? If the new model that is about to release can support 16GB of ram, I have a feeling it would be much cheaper doing it on my own.
  • about the ram

    i own a early 2011 13''MBP and i am thinking on upgrade it, but i am having some serious doubts. on mac support it says that maximum memory is 8Gb and here and on ifixit it says 16Gb and i have seen people saying that they have 16Gb at 1600Mhz?

    so my question is: what is the best module that i can put on my MBP? can i put 8Gb+2Gb without compromising the performance?

    on mac support it says:
    Additional notes : For best performance, fill both memory slots, installing an equal memory module in each slot.
    • 16 GB RAM??

      I have exactly the same question! Have you found an answer yet?
      Samuel Ronicker
      • 16 GB RAM of MacBook Pro 13-inch Early 2011??

        Same question with me. However I found that the max memory size refers to the maximum memory capacity (in GB) supported by the processor. You can check this
        • 16 GB of RAM 1333 MHz

          Hi there, I have successfully installed 16 GB of DDR3 RAM into my early 2011 macbook pro (which was super easy to say). For your information, the RAM speed does depend on what was built in the mother board. I believe Mac Retina and later version support 1600 MHz. Macbook pro 2011 alone works with 1333 MHz. Installing 1600 MHz DDR3 will cause a lot of problem to your mac.
          Gloria Phuong Le
  • Adding a 2nd HD

    I rarely use my optical drive on my late '08 MBP, and have been thinking about swapping it out for a second hard drive. I have a 256gb SSD as my primary, but have a ton of movies and music that I would prefer not to have to haul around on an external. I already have a 1tb standard drive in an external enclosure, so the cost would only be ~$50 for the piece that hold a new drive in place.

    Is your recommendation against adding a second HD purely due to lower transfer speeds, or will it simply not work on any other model than the 2011 13"?