Mac OS Lion demands an SSD

Mac OS Lion demands an SSD

Summary: Adding iOS UI elements of OS X means lots more small I/Os, the kind that disks do poorly and SSDs do well. Don't buy a new Mac without an SSD or you'll regret it!


Adding iOS UI elements of OS X means lots more small I/Os, the kind that disks do poorly and SSDs do well. Don't buy a new Mac without an SSD or you'll regret it!

All iOS devices run on solid state storage. Mac OS is including many iOS features - such as remembering all open windows and documents - that require many small I/Os for both data and metadata. Finally, Lion performance - boot up, file access times, page swapping, context switching - all suck using a 7200 RPM drive.

And if you're running FCP X, forget it: booting up on a disk takes minutes from what I've seen on an 8-core Mac Pro.

How much suckage? Let's just say that my 1.86GHz Core Duo 2, 4GB MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD outperforms my 3.4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB iMac on ≈90% of the work I do. And it is more stable.

Apple buys ≈50% of all flash production. This is the year that SSDs become standard on all MacBook Pros - or whatever the Air-like models are called - except for low-end educational models.

Lessons learned I have a front row seat on this issue thanks to a 2011 Thunderbolt iMac. At purchase I knew that Apple underconfigures storage and that an SSD - all other things being equal - was the right choice. But the $500 added cost - a 25% increase - scared me off.

So I went with the stock 1TB SATA drive. After all, I thought, I can add an SSD later, for a lot less money.

Big mistake. My satisfaction with the iMac is as low as any Mac I've owned. If it weren't for the big 27" screen, it would be on Craigslist.

Will I add an SSD? Cracking the iMac case and removing the hardware required to add an internal SSD is non-trivial. While SSD prices have dropped nicely - and I expect further drops in the next few months - I still haven't pulled the trigger.

The Storage Bits take Apple is all about user experience. And the user experience on Lion with standard disks stinks.

All Apple notebooks - 2/3rds of the Mac business - will go SSD this year, or they should. To meet price points, low-end iMacs and Mac Minis will stay with disk drives, but you'd be nuts - or broke - to buy one.

Once MacBooks go all SSD, the performance difference between them and most Wintel 'books will be obvious. Expect more envy from cheap Wintel notebook users.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobile OS, Mobility, Storage

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  • But what about 'extraordinary' users? [DJ]

    I use my MBP for DJing and prefer to keep my music locally on the machine; I'm not a fan of using external drives for gigs. I thought it was a bad idea to put a large expanse of music on an SSD...
    • Why?

      Expensive, yes. Bad? I can't think of why that would be.
      R Harris
    • SSD + HD

      rip out the DVD player and use a SSD + HD combo.
  • And here I thought...

    ... Microsoft was the only one to "force" people into buying new hardware. Huh.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • LOL!

      I like the Vista printer "Get a Mac" ad.

      Funny thing is, you could substitute iOS for Vista in that ad, since there was not a single printer available on the market that was compatible with iOS before AirPrint/HP-ePrint shipped. The truth is that there are far fewer supported printers on iOS than there ever were on Vista.

      As far as the article is concerned, I have Lion installed on an NVIDIA chipset Mac Mini with 2GB of RAM on a base-model 160GB drive (I dunno the year - it was purchased just a couple of months before they brought out the shorter aluminum unibody models - when they increased the price) and it doesn't boot up noticeably slower than Snow Leopard, or the copy of Leopard that shipped with it.
      • Not booting per se

        If you shut down your Mac with several apps and windows open, the entire reboot process takes way longer as Lion reopens the apps. On an SSD the process is nearly instantaneous - much like the iOS experience.
        R Harris
    • You thought wrong...

      Lion runs just as well as Snow Leopard on the same hardware. But once you try any OS with an SSD an get that "instant"iPad like experience it's impossible to go back.

      The thing the author said about small files and performance affect Windows in the same way.

      In any case, the MacBook Air is sell well because of the SSD that comes standard. The performance difference is insane. Any PC Ultrabook without one is't in the same league as the Air.
  • Happy iMac

    Last year I bought a imac with SSD, and it is fantastic. Boots up in 10 sec. I think that is faster than my iPad.
  • My Life In My Fool's Paradise

    Okay, you're not wrong. I've never run FCP X on the more recent 27" iMac with SSD, so I have no frame of reference to compare as I run FCP X on a recent 27" iMac with 1TB HD.

    I have noticed it takes a while to get FCP running, but it looks to me that it spends most of its time putting together the Events and Projects on my external drives and if this was a real irritation, I'd reorganize my workflow and shuttle resources off-disk when not in my active project. Being a hobbyist, my FCP sessions are irregular and when I'm in, I'm in, so a 3 minute load versus 30 second load is not quite an issue when amortized over a three hour session.

    So, honestly, this is not me saying you are wrong. I can't be sure because I don't know what I'm missing, but I'd probably still opt for the 500 in my pocket, at least until I had a situation in which the loading time was costing me money, and then the SSD would pay for itself.
  • Old Macs...

    When I moved to the iMac in 2006, the Mac users I knew sold me on the "longevity" of Macs, that they don't slow down like Windows machines and they physically last longer.

    I can't comment on the latter, my 2000 laptop and my 2003 laptop are still going strong (Linux and Windows XP respectively), so the iMac has at least another half decade ahead of it, before my Mac using friends can say "told you so".

    But for the former, with Lion, the iMac crawls! It takes a couple of minutes to boot and loading Firefox, Mail and iTunes at the same time brings it to its knees. Plug in my camera and Apeture will take a couple of minutes to load.

    Over on the Linux, Windows Vista & Windows 8 BootCamp side of the hard drive, the machine is still relatively quick... I guess Macs don't suffer from slowdown, as long as you don't upgrade OS X or you use Windows on it... Oh, the irony.
  • The Grail Knight referring to Robin Harris, "He chose .. poorly."

    Two years ago I had to make a similar choice when I ordered my 27" core i7 iMac. I chose the Apple SSD boot drive and a secondary, internal 2 TB conventional HD BTO option.

    I can't help but think the Grail Knight would have said to me, "You have chosen .. wisely." Grin.
  • Then you overbought on the iMac

    [i]How much suckage? Let???s just say that my 1.86GHz Core Duo 2, 4GB MacBook Air with a 128GB SSD outperforms my 3.4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB iMac on ???90% of the work I do. And it is more stable.[/i]

    It appears the iMac is overkill for your needs for 90% of the work you do. I'd sell it and stick a 27" monitor on your MacBook Air.
  • Once you get used to an SSD....

    It doesn't matter what OS you use, SSD makes the user UI experience snappier. Once you get used to that fast boot up and initial load of applications and large files it is hard to go back. But speed is a very user dependent activity. Many of the things I do are more processor bound than I/O bound. And I seldom reboot or power off. I simply sleep or hibernate (I am a windows user) and because of that I almost always have that "instant-on" feeling. Apps are already loaded. UI elements already cached. I can go for weeks without restarting. My laptops consume very little power when sleeping and next to zero hibernating. Desktops are worse (depending on the power supply) but not too bad.
    • Choice

      Agreed the SSD revolution is giving a great many people significant increases in speed. The key point of the article is that Apple seemingly demands the presence of an SSD to have the system operate to an acceptable level. It sounds like lazy programming or simple arrogance on the part of the Apple executive. SSDs deteriorate over time and I would be interested to see these machines three to five years from now. I have laptops from the times of Win98SE and their hard drives, although small, still work at the pace they had when new. I owuld like to see the use of RAM drives which are amazing if used properly. The hard drive with spinning disk is not dead and I like to have the option of which medium I can use, not to be dictated to by manufacturers and fashionable trends.
  • If everybody gets an SSD...

    If everybody gets an SSD then operating systems and apps will become more bloated and slow to the point where they'll be slow on an SSD too (and completely unusable on HDD). So I'm happy with most people using a hard drive for a few more years while I get the benefits of SDD. :)
    Ed Burnette
    • You can't slow progress, but bloat has already been around - for years...

      Systems are overbloated now and have been for years. Look at Vista and Win7. And Lion. And Office 2007, 2010, etc, etc... (And I thought XP was bloated compared to Win2000... or Win 3.x compared to Amiga, Atari ST, MacOS of the time, etc... but that proves higher quality doesn't make it to the top of the heap, and it's called "heap" because the one at the top is typically better-marketed garbage that soils the perception of everything underneath...)

      So I don't understand your claim of your entitled benefits of SSD (not SDD :) ) at this time. SSD will invariably be adopted, in due course, but based on the number of users that complained about a recent Intel SSD (especially at that big box brick and mortar store where they wear blue and have a price tag logo that prompted them to lower the price of the 120GB model to well below that of mail order...), the long-term reliability is not there yet. But, in time... even if SSDs make it into server farms ( :eek: ), the limiting factor will still be the speed of the network infrastructure, and the pesky laws of physics that go along with it...
  • Strangely uninformed

    What a strangely uninformed article. You want to run a Mac with an SSD? Nothing prevents you from booting from external SSD. You don't even have to run the internal hard drive -- just eject it manually or from an AppleScript.

    That's how I've run all of my Macs for years, including a MacBook Pro and -- excuse me -- three Mac Minis that I am neither nuts nor broke to have purchased. And I use Macs intensively in my work and personal life.

    I would add that your comment that "this is the year" that SSDs become standard on all MacBook Pros is speculation but asserted as if fact. Maybe it will become true; I hope so, but Apple has made no such announcement at this writing. In the meantime, put an SSD in an external enclosure and make your Macs fly.
    • The last I read

      you can run a SSD in a Mac... the trouble is, Apple has it programmed the OS so that only their (grossly overpriced) SSDs will be enabled with TRIM and other useful features that help ensure a longer useful lifespan... put in the $200 non-Apple branded model from the big blue box store, and TRIM (if it's encoded in the drive) won't be enabled -- unless you install some cool hacks (which also helps dispute the notion OS X is more secure, but whatever...) All this does make one ask if they want to use off-the-shelf (OTS) hardware but prevent users from enjoying the same benefits of using OTS hardware that they do. Still, IBM sued Compaq and lost because they used OTS hardware too...

      Still, hybrid drives seem the most sensible for laptops. Pity Macbook users are still complaining over even the newest Momentus XT (750GB)... but given Seagate's overall reputation (they lost me as a customer years ago), it's a moot point...
  • Poor system design

    When he talks individual computing components Robin has some good recommendations - ECC memory, SSD, network storage via symform - and I've followed them with my home system:

    - Intel E3 based workstation and SSD for work-in-progress
    - HP Microserver running symform for storage and cloud backup

    However when Robin puts together a system his tethering to Apple costs him dear ... and when I say dear ... I mean dear!

    His other storage component is a hugely expensive Thunderbolt disk array. Although this has massive capacity and bandwidth ... who needs massive work-in-progress capacity and bandwidth? Only a company.

    Robin's dismal system purchase failure is an object lesson in why one has to be very careful before buying Apple. All-in-one systems are very inflexible (if the monitor had been separate it could be retained with other items replaced), upgrading specific components is difficult ... and the cost ...
    ... iMAC 27" $2000 and Pegasus Array $1200 (+ a few memory upgrades).

    [b]$3200+[/b] and he doesn't like it.
    Jesus :-(
  • How to add an SSD to your iMac


    The proper way to add an SSD to your iMac without disassembling it is via Thunderbolt. You should have at least two such ports available on your 27" iMac.

    You either buy a more expensive SSD-with-Thunderbolt or you buy the Seagate Thunderbolt go-flex adapter and mount any SSD in there.

    As you are aware, any Mac is happy to boot from whatever external drive you have and this combo will work wonderfully. You may use the 1TB internal drive for storage or backups.