Upgrading old Macs to SSD’s

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SSDs (solid-state drives) are much faster than old-school hard drives, making it possible to get a few more years of life out of an old, slow computer by upgrading it to a faster drive. This is written after the following updates:

  • Upgrading a 2008 White (pre-Unibody) Macbook 4,1 (Core 2 Duo 2.1GHz 1GB RAM) with a Kingston SSDNow V300 SSD and 4GB RAM
  • Upgrading a 2009 (pre-Unibody) Mac mini 3,1 (Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz 4GB RAM) with a Crucial M500 SSD.
  • To identify your exact model of Mac, go to EveryMac.com.

First of all: It’s worth it if your Mac is around five or six years old. It makes a big difference in daily use for fairly low cost.

Just one catch: Not all SSDs will always work as fast as you’d want. You need to be careful when choosing your brand, since many Macs built around 2007–2011 come with the buggy Nvidia MCP79 SATA controller. Those Macs will not work with their full 3Gbps link speed with a lot of current SSD’s, instead falling back to 1.5Gbps only. The bad combination might give you other issues as well. Even if you can’t get 6Gbps like modern machines, you’re still much better off with 3Gbps than 1.5Gbps if you have a choice. You can check if you have the MCP79 by going to the upper left hand corner Apple menu, choosing About This Mac, More Info, System Report and the SATA section. Here, you’ll also see the negotiated SATA link speed.

Screenshot 2014-01-08 00.55.44

SSD’s that have the Sandforce SF-2281 controller are most problematic, and the SF-2281 happens to be one of the most common ones. In short: Nvidia MCP79 + Sandforce SF-2281 = no good.

The Kingston SSDNow V300 I chose for the White MacBook 4,1 has the SF-2281, but since the MacBook doesn’t have the MCP79 and doesn’t support 3Gbps SATA in the first place, there’s no issue. See EveryMac.com for your machine’s specs. The Kingston is a top-value Sandforce drive.

However, the Mac mini has the Nvidia MCP79 controller, and after extensive googling I found out I couldn’t use the Kingston or other Sandforce SSD’s, at least not at maximum speed. Also, one of the most popular and reliable drives, the Samsung 840, was reported as having compatibility issues as well. This ruled out most SSDs for this machine, including Intels, Samsungs and SanDisks. OCZ was an option since they have a firmware update to fix the SATA 3Gbps issue even on their Sandforce drives, but their reliability record is appalling, so I went with the Crucial M500, regarded as reliable. The M500’s controller is a Marvell, and there were online reports of the M500 functioning full-speed with the Nvidia MCP79 controller. And yes, it works fine at 3Gbps, as you can see from the screenshot above. Installation went without a hitch and the old machine is now almost like a new box.

While you upgrade to an SSD, it’s worthwhile to do a clean install of OS X while you’re at it, instead of cloning your old setup. Install the latest version your machine supports. This, again, can be found on Everymac.com. In my case, the Mac mini went all the way up to OS X Mavericks, while the Macbook got OS X Lion.

The best how-to’s for actually changing the drive can be found in the Videos section of OtherWorldComputing’s site, complete with cheesy “OWC ROCKS!” hard rock soundtracks!

All in all, two successful updates, giving a new lease of life for a couple of old Macs.

[Edit 10 Sept 2015: The Mac mini that got the SSD in January 2014 also got 8GB RAM and Yosemite in summer 2015. On Yosemite, it’s a bit slow under heavy loads, but OK for everyday work, and I still expect to get a year or maybe even two out of it. That said, I wouldn’t pay for upgrades for a Mac that’s more than five, max six years old.]

Posted in IT

80 thoughts on “Upgrading old Macs to SSD’s

  1. I own a Intel 520 which is of sandforce based(2281) controller – i had no such problems till now, I hope SF problem’s are basically a 2010 thing. Save for a few minor issues that already have firmware updates fixing them.

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  2. My early 2009 MBP works great with the Samsung 840 Pro 256GB. I wish I could update my Nvidia MCP79 controller to take full advantage of the 6GB/s but it is still way faster than the old 5400 platter drive. I also replaced the CD-rom with a 750GB 7200 platter so I have 1TB of space on my old MBP. Very happy and it works just like new.

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  3. After upgrading your Mac Mini 2009 with a Crucial M500 SSd, what kinds of read/write #’s are you seeing? (say in Blackmagic for example)

    Cheers,
    Foster

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  4. Thank you so much for this post! (Probably) saved me a whole of of headache. Was just about to order a Kingston drive for my 2008 unibody, but went with Crucial M500 instead.

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  5. With your Mac mini /crucial m500 ssd upgrade, what are your read and write speed benchmarks?

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  6. On the mini w/ M500 I get around 110MB/s writes and 265MB/s read speeds (SATAII 3Gbps). The drive could go double that of course, but still a lot better than HDD’s or SATAI 1Gbps which I likely would have got with a Sandforce chip.

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  7. Oh god Tuukka thank you SO MUCH for this post! I have several macs, and i love upgrading them. My latest update was done on my iMac 24″ mid 2007, when mavericks practically killed it (it had 1tb hdd). I bought samsung 840, put it there and it became a perfect FAST machine (Getting 220 write/270 read). Then i though, hey, i gotta update my late 2009 mini which i use as server/plex mediacenter/ nba league pass (which still has 2gb ram and 160 hdd, poor thing). I bought crucial m500 120gb just RANDOMLY cause it was the cheapest one on amazon and it will be delivered tomorrow. Then, this evening i went to check mini’s sata speeds (hoped it was 6gb/s) and i saw Link speed – 3Gb/s, negotiated speed – 1,5Gb/s. Started googling and found A LOT of MacBooks from 2009 had 1,5 instead of 3gb sata, people complaing and stuff like that, posting screenshots with ssd that had like 100write/120read speeds (that’s BAD) I was so angry and I though “Oh god, apple screwed us, sata 1 in almost 2010? really?” Then i checked the 160gb hitachi hdd and it was SATA1! Oh, rejoice i thought, it’s 1,5 only because they put an old, slow sata1 hitachi! Started googling to see what speeds people were getting on late 2009 mini and couldn’t find anything aside “yeah. it’s faster, a lot” lol. then i stumbled upon your blog and OOooohhh, what a relief! I guess i’m lucky i chose m500 without even knowing it’s the best thing for this nvidia controller, god, you saved me this sleepless night. Thanks a lot, friend! Tomorrow i will perform the update and will return to share my results!

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  8. I’m back. I did it! Installed successfully SSD and ram, it’s blazing fast now. Write/Read 137/266. I’m very glad. Installation was pretty simple. I just have one question for you… My old hitachi 160gb idling was 42C, the crucial m500 is showing more, like 49 and changes the temperature once in a minute (not instantaneously, like every 5 seconds in real time, even switching fast from idle to full load using blackmagic)

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  9. Glad to hear! I don’t think the temperature should be a problem, SSD’s generate a lot less heat than HDD’s anyway. Chances are your old Hitachi would have been a lot hotter under full load. Maybe you just moved the temperature sensor a bit while switching the drive and that explains the difference in idle temps.

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  10. Well, i put the sensor exactly at the same position it was on the HDD, but hey, on my iMac 2007 i did the same but it isn’t showing MAC HD temp at all, so i guess may be the plastic (samsung 840) or the HDD firmware has something to do with it.. Could you please screenshot me your Mini’s temps? Just for the sake of science and curiosity 🙂

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  11. oh well, it’s running hotter than mine, but mine is just downloading some stuff at the moment. everything’s normal then. thanks a lot one more time 🙂

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  12. Hi there, thnx for the article!
    I just read it for the first time, and it happened that a month ago, by coincidence I upgraded my Mac Mini with the same SSD, a Crucial M500, only difference is that mine is 240GB and yours is 120GB, I can tell by your write speeds ;-)!
    Am I glad I did, and now even more after reading your article that I used a Crucial M500.
    Blackmagic Disk Speed Test shows my 240GB writes at 205MB/s and reads 265MB/s.
    My Mac Mini is an Early 2009 model with a 2GHz C2D, 4GB DDR3 and a Nvidia GeForce 9400M
    Thnx again!

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  13. I’m currently researching how to upgrade my 2009 Core2Duo Mac Mini (pre unibody, Nvidia MCP79) with a SSD.
    As far as I understand, there will be issues with Yosemite and TRIM.
    Before finding this page, I was considering the Kingston SSDNow V300, since it has built in garbage collection and will do fine without TRIM.
    Does the M500 have built in garbage collection or is it dependent on TRIM?

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  14. Hey, thanks a lot for this post, It have been very useful. I was about to buy the kingston SSD before I read it.
    Just one question, can I install the SSD on the HDD socket and the HDD in the optic unit bay?
    Will it improve something about the read/write rates?

    Thank you!

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  15. I don’t have experience with OWC SSD’s but they’re specifically marketed for Macs so should be one of the safer options. Back when I purchased my Crucial, OWC SSD’s were slightly more expensive, and not readily available in Finland. You should install the SSD in the main drive bay, where your original HDD used to be, because you want your new faster disk as your startup (system) disk. If you keep your old HDD, install it in the optical drive bay to use as additional storage.

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  16. After doing research for a SSD upgrade for my old Mac Mini Late 2009, I stumbled to your blog. It would seem that the new Crucial MX100 -series might just work with problematic MCP79 chipset as well. They do have almost identical Marvel chip inside. M500 series have Marvell 88SS9187, where MX100’s have Marvell 88SS9189.

    Has anyone tried MX100 SSD’s?

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  17. I have macbook5.1 late 2008 with NVidia MCP79 AHCI and I am looking for appropriate SSD. I noticed that all Crucial M500 and MX100 options use sata 3. Am I going to see 1.5Gb/s or at least 3Gb/s?

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  18. Hmm. This would explain why OWC still makes and sells 3Gbps SATA SSDs (OWC Mercury Electra 3G).

    I’ve been looking into this because I plan to upgrade several 2009-era Macs with MCP79 chipsets in the next few months. I guess the Crucial and OWC SSDs are good enough, but I’d rather be paranoid and spread my data eggs across different kinds of SSD baskets. 🙂

    Basically, what I’ve found so far: On Macs (and PCs for that matter) with MCP79 chipsets, older SanDisk drives work (the original SanDisk Ultra just works, and the original SanDisk Extreme has special firmware available like some of the older OCZ drives). Newer SanDisk drives don’t work reliably. Samsung 840 EVO doesn’t consistently work, even with the latest firmware. 840 and 840 Pro don’t consistently work with older firmware, but I don’t know about the latest firmware (which is more recent than the latest 840 EVO firmware). Plextor SSDs (which use Marvell controllers, like both the Crucial drives that work and some of the newer SanDisks that don’t) apparently work if their firmware is updated (not special firmware, just the latest regular firmware). Seagate 600 (which uses a Link A Media Devices controller) also works. I haven’t found definite info that the Corsair Neutron works, but since the Seagate 600 works, perhaps the Neutron works too. (LAMD controllers are a little power-hungry; you could use one in a MacBook but you’ll get better battery life with a different controller.)

    SSDs and controllers I didn’t find MCP79 compatibility info about: Silicon Motion (used in Corsair Force LX and some PNY Optima drives, among others — starting to generally be used in drives that would have previously used SandForce), newer JMicron (I forget which brands use these, maybe Transcend), newer Phison (used in Kingston V310), recent Toshiba controllers (used in the Toshiba Q Series and Q Series Pro), Samsung 850 Pro (same controller as 840 EVO, but newer firmware), and very recent Intel SSDs (no longer SandForce-based, but generally considered much too hot and power-hungry for laptops anyway). If I try any of these myself, maybe I’ll follow up with another (much shorter) comment.

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  19. Wow! Now I get it! Last year I bought a Samsung 840 SSD for my late 2008 MacBook and it lasted less than one month. Since it came from Amazon I could get a full refund but the experience burnt me.
    A couple of months ago I decided to try it again this time with a Crucial M500, just by chance since Amazon have them at a good price. And it worked! I was clueless until today blaming Samsung for a bad disk but your post definitely points the issue to the SATA controller. I also have the NVIDIA MCP79. I did a lot of research but never found the problem between the Nvidia SATA controller and the SSD controller until today.
    Thanks for the report!

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  20. Thanks for this interesting post, Tuukka.

    I have the exact same Macs as yours and I’ve installed a Crucial MX100 / 512 GB on the mini and it’s really worth it, as you say. Writes at 210 MB/s, reads at 265 MB/s.

    As for the Macbook 4,1 (white 2008), I’m not sure I will upgrade it for now: I’ve tried the MX100 with Lion and the write/read speeds are appro. 130/135, compared to approx 90 with a 7 200 rpm Seagate HD. Roughly 40% faster, which isn’t bad, but it’s not “night and day” like with the mini, due to the 1,5 Gbps limitation on this model. For someone with a 5 400 rpm HD, the difference will me much more noticeable!

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  21. Mind, transfer rate isn’t something one should be comparing first – non-existent seek times are where it’s at for everyday use.

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  22. Oh no! I have a late 2007 Macbook Pro 17″ 3,1 and installed the Crucial M500 and am only getting a link speed of 1.5 Gb/s according to System Information! What gives, Shouldn’t it read 3 Gb/s? What SSD can I install on this dinosaur to get it working at 3Gb/s?? Please help!

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  23. Nice article! Bought the Crucial MX100 256 GB to my early 2009 mac mini (2GHz Macmini 3,1), and got 3 GB transfer rate.

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  24. I did the M500 240GB on my old Macbook 4,1 and it works great, but now my fan comes on within a few minutes of startup and always stays on. I hate that and would rather go back to the old hard disk. Have read some reports and hard disk temp sensors, etc, but not sure about the details on that and still trying to find a way to turn the fan off. I would rather turn it opff and risk overheating(I do not perform any CPU intensive tasks like iMovie, MP# encoding, etc than to hear this fan all the time.

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  25. thanx for that awesome post!! but im still a little confused…i have the early 2008 white macbook with a intel ICH8-M AHCI sata controller, is that newer/older or better/worse than the nvidia one? will the kingston ssd work just fine? how about a crucial m550/mx100 or is samsung 850evo a better choice? as pierre wrote i do too have a 7200rpm seagate hdd right now, will i get a significant boost with that intel sata controller?! thanx a lot und vielen dank;)!!!

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  26. Hi Tuukka,

    thanks again for your writeup. I almost got myself a Samsung SSD for my Mac Mini Early 2009 before reading your post. Thanks to your elaboration I probably saved myself a lot of hassle. Furthermore, I can confirm that the Crucial M550 (1 TB) has been working fine in 3Gbit for almost 3 months now in the above system.
    Another advantage that only turned out to be one later on: the garbage collection of the M550 eliminates the need for TRIM on Yosemite since that can be quite troublesome due to the driver signing issues.

    Best,
    Torben

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  27. I have late 2009 iMac 21.5′ and recently I’ve updated with OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD (240GB) (instead of optical drive) but when I have reinstalled the fresh version of OS X Yosemite and checked the speed there was “only” 110MB/s (write) and 120MB/s (read) speed. Than I checked System Informations and on the SSD SATA port was:
    Link Speed: 3Gigabit
    Negotiated Link Speed: 1.5Gigabit
    Screenshot link: http://i938.photobucket.com/albums/ad230/marko84/Screen%20Shot%202015-03-14%20at%2015.47.26.png
    And the original 3.5” HDD (500GB) is on the other SATA port works on 3Gigabit.
    Is there any way that I can do to make my SSD working on 3Gigabit and that is not switching on the SATA port where is original 3.5” HDD.
    Thanks in advance

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  28. Marko: Your iMac has the Nvidia MCP79 chipset and your OWC SSD has the SandForce SF-2281 controller. This is a known bad combination which often results in negotiated link speed of 1.5GB/s instead of 3GB/s. Try installing the latest OWC firmware for your SSD. However, you may be out of luck, regardless of whether you install the SSD in the optical drive slot or the HDD slot. Another SSD drive, such as the Crucial M500, would likely give you 3GB/s speed.

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  29. […] Mac Mini 3,1 fan 0 rpm after I install SSD – Mac Mini Model A1283. Replacing Mac Mini Hard Drive with SSD, and New… Universal Drive Adapter. Mac mini Model A1283 Terabyte Drive Replacement. Mac mini Model A1283 Hard Drive Replacement. iFixit Store Europe | 12.7 mm SATA Optical Bay SATA Hard Drive Enclosure. 12.7 mm SATA Optical Bay SATA Hard Drive Enclosure. Mac Mini Dual Drive Kit (922-9560, 076-1391) Upgrading old Macs to SSD’s. […]

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  30. i have a late 2009 Mac Mini 2.53 C2D with the MCP79 chipset and was just given a new Samsung EVO 850 500gb
    as a gift. will this work or will i have problems ?

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  31. Hi,

    your post saved me lots of time and effort, thanks for that.

    I have upgraded my macbook 5.1 /late 2008 with Crucial MX100 (same controller as M500 – never and cheaper model) and I have achieved full sata speed as 3GB.

    regards
    chavunt

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  32. Hi,

    I own a Mac Mini 3.1 2009, want to upgrade to a Crucial m500.
    Have a question regarding the models of the SSD, does it matter if it’s a CT240M500SSD3,
    or should it be the CT240M500SSD1 for my mac model?
    Not sure about the differences between those two,

    Thanks

    Like

  33. I have a macbook 5.2 and bought the cruicial M500.

    But the macbook just wont recognize it!

    If i put the m500 on a usb-to-sata controller, it boots fine. But inserted into the original disk bay, it just shows the folder question mark.
    I have reset pram. Disk utilities also doesnt recognize it.

    Should not the m500 work in a macbook 5.2?

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  34. installed the EVO 850 in my Late 2009 Mac Mini (MCP79) running Yosemite
    and it works fine but unfortunately system report is showing Link speed 3 Gbps
    and Negotiated speed 1.5 Gbps. this is strange because the standard 5400 rpm
    hard drive i replaced showed 3/3 Link & Negotiated link speeds.

    any ideas ?

    Like

  35. surprising update, last week my negotiated link speed was 1.5 and this week
    it shows 3 Mb the system seemed faster so i ran Blackmagic speed test and
    was pleasantly surprised to see 210 write and 265 read. i immediately checked
    the system report and saw the negotiated link speed is now 3 Mb. no idea how
    or why this happened but i hope it stays !

    Like

  36. I’ve been waiting for a response to Giles’s question. Unfortunately there were none. I have an pre unibody macbook pro 4.1 with Intel ICH8-M controller. Am thinking of installing SanDisk Ultra II SSD. My question is to your knowledge will this combination work? Would Crucial be a better choice?

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  37. I have a Macbook 5,2 (C2D 2,13ghz // 4gb RAM // MCP79), I just ordered a Samsung 850 EVO.
    As soon as I get my hands on it, I’ll post here the results. I read a lot about reseting the PRAM and then the negotiated speeds gets to 3gbps.

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  38. Guys, as promised I`m back with some information about the SSD upgrade of my Macbook White Mid 2009.
    I installed a Samsung 850 EVO, pretty straight forward, pulled off the battery, switched the old 5400 rpm hard drive for the new SSD. Then fresh installed the OS X 10.10.3 Yosemite from a external hard drive (downloaded the installer from App Store).

    As a result the macbook is MUCH MORE faster than it was before! Its almost unbelievable the difference the SSD make to the whole system performance. There was no incompatibility between MCP79 and Samsung 850 EVO and the Negotiated Speed was set to 3gbps form the very first boot of Yosemite.
    One more thing to mention is that I already had upgraded the RAM to 4GB in the past.

    Below you can find the performance test from blackmagic design software:

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  39. Decided to invest some dollars into my completely stock 2.4Ghz Macbook 5,1 by upgrading RAM, HDD –> SSD, and installing Yosemite (not in this order, necessarily).

    Starting with the SSD, I settled on the tried-and- true MX100 until I discovered the newer BX100 (SATA 6 gb). Any one with experience or knowledge care to chime in on variations observed (if any) for Link speed and Negotiated Link speed?

    As for RAM, I am leaning towards the conservative approach and looking for good deals on 6GB (vs. trying to max out at 8GB). This machine is mostly used for leisure (youtube, daily motion, vimeo), so I think even 6GB may be overkill, especially since I do not have another machine that can utilize the original two sticks of 1GB RAM and don’t know what else I could use them for.

    Finally, from what I’ve read so far, Yosemite runs more smoothly when RAM is upgraded on the 5,1, but I don’t mind sticking with Snow Leopard if the SSD is the only upgrade needed for the purposes of this machine. Perhaps it is possible that the returns on the RAM+OS upgrade are not worth the dollars. I’d appreciate it if anyone had any thoughts on this trifecta. Thanks for this article, I enjoy reading your site!

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