A handful of years ago, back when solid-state disk drives were still very much an emerging technology, I just knew in my gut that someday they’d be a very important part of the Macintosh future. When I registered mac-ssd-drives.com there really wasn’t a consumer market for SSD storage. Solid-State flash memory drives were being made by a handful of companies for mostly industrial and military use in environments where shock, heat, vibration were deadly to conventional mechanical spinning-platter hard drives. The cost per Gigabyte was staggering.
Back then, the available sizes of SSD’s were commonly a mere 4GB, 8GB, or astronomically priced 16GB drives. And even those drives used the now nearly obsolete IDE-ATA interface that were once standard on Mac’s and PC’s prior to 2008. Even though they generally were noticeably faster than mechanical HDD’s at reading data, their write speeds were often HALF that. Starting up your Mac or launching apps on an SSD were definitely snappier, but saving files or writing data could slow to an absolute crawl.
As the SATA - Serial-ATA drive interface standard emerged, NAND flash memory technology started making very rapid improvements: From expensive but durable Single-Layer SLC to cheaper Multi-Layer MLC. The controller chips on the drives got faster and smarter, and organizing ‘banks’ of flash memory over multiple channels allowed BOTH reads and writes to make significant leaps. Soon SSD drives started to become not just feasible but highly desirable to the computer hobbyist and geek community.
Soon, the consumer SSD drive market started to explode, and I was hard-pressed to keep up with all the technology changes and product introductions as both PC and Mac compatible SSD drives started to become a commodity, off-the-shelf item at BestBuy or Frye’s.
Long story short? Few others have even attempted to create a MAC-SPECIFIC website focused and devoted to solid-state storage on the Mac. Though I’ll never be able to match sites such as AnandTech or DriveStorageReviews for the minutia and deep-geek SSD benchmark data their labs provide - I can at least continue to add my Apple-centric take on the state of solid-state storage for the Mac community. Over the next couple of days I’m going to give this Mac SSD drive site a thorough once-over to get it’s pages up to date. I’ll focus on some of the best SSD price deals for MacBook, Mac mini, Macintosh Pro and iMac SSD drive upgrade options currently out there that are delivering incredible read/write speeds at very affordable prices.
As many have discovered, a Mac SSD upgrade of your internal mechanical hard drive is the single best performance and productivity upgrade you’ll ever experience. It can help breathe new life into an aging Mac and extend it’s useful life for as little as $100.
As Apple rolled out other models of Mac laptop and desktop systems, SSD's became a Build-To-Order option in select models, often at a stiff premium. Many Do-It-Yourselfer's opted to perform an SSD upgrade themselves after the purchase. With the majority of SSD's in the 2.5" laptop drive format - most were drop-in replacements in MacBook and Mac mini systems. A fewfull-size 3.5" Solid-State drives arrived, many used disk adapter brackets and cases in Macintosh Pro towers and iMac models.
In the years since - SSD storage has made mind-blowing performance improvements. Drive capacity increased at ever more affordable prices and performance doubled - then quadrupled as rapidly evolving SSD controller chipsets and Firmware advanced.
It's the increased density of the flash NAND chips that's pointing towards the future. The latest MacBook Air models with custom SSD module are pointing to a future where our notion of a 'hard drive' doesn't necessarily have to occupy the paperback size space of a 3.5" drive, or a laptop disk's deck-of-cards form factor. To deliver ever more compact and lightweight mobile computers - our current notions of traditional spinning platter drives and their physical bulk is likely to end sooner than you think.
As with the new MacBook Air's, an off-the-shelf retail SSD drive upgrade or replacement limits options as Apple implements a proprietary mini SSD card in a different form-factor. OWC is the sole manufacturer who offers higher-capacity (and somewhat more expensive) MacBook Air SSD card upgrades as an alternative for these new Mac laptop models.
Flash memory speeds used in Solid-State drives are improving. They recently began to push beyond the bandwidth capabilities of the SATA II interface, and further speed gains are available to those with SATA III enabled computers. You can safeguard your SSD purchase by looking to the Micron/Crucial 'C' or 'M' Series, intel 3xx-5xx, or OCZ '3 & 4' line of drives that sport a SATA III interface and are fully backwards compatible with SATA I & II in the meantime.
Lexar Media - Crucial 128 GB M4 SATA III SSD
Intel 510 Series 120 GB SATA III SSD
OCZ 120 GB Vertex 4 SATA III SSD
The emergence of 5Gbps USB 3.0 and Intel and Apple's 10Gbps ThunderBolt ports provide interesting opportunities for ultra high-speed backup and data transfers using external Solid-State drives. Given the longevity of solid-state drives and the long lifespan free from the mechanical failures of conventional hard drives, your SSD might serve you on your current system - and in a USB 3 drive enclosure or ThunderBolt drive case further down the road.
FYI: It's critical to make sure Seagate's Hybrid has the latest firmware applied. A bootable ISO disc updater is available at Seagate's site for Mac OSX users.
These laptop size SATA III Hybrid drives offer from 250GB up to 500GB capacity 7200 RPM spinning platters - plus SSD flash memory built into the drive. Onboard firmware manages and stores your most frequently used data on the SSD portion for higher performance. And because this data optimization and caching is handled on the drive itself -- these Hybrid SSD drives are cross-platform compatible and work well on Windows or Mac OSX without requiring any special drivers or software. With prices ranging from $100-150 you can get extra capacity you may need, while still enjoying _some_ of the performance benefits of Solid-State drives on your Mac.
Note Cruicial's SSD was tested on a Windows PC with a SATA III bus for spectacular performance, OCZ's Revo is a PCI-e Slot RAID SSD that few mortals can afford - and has yet to be qualified for Macintosh use. Corsair's adoption of SandForce and Indilinx controllers in their drives puts their best SSD's on a par with the Vertex 2.