Intel X25 SSD: The ultimate MacBook Upgrade?

Posted on Apr 25, 2010 in Mac, Reviews

Let’s be honest: most of you reading this have wondered how to improve your Mac’s performance at some point or another, whether it was while waiting for an application to load, or just the last time you saw the spinning beachball of death. For years conventional wisdom has been that adding RAM to your Mac would give you the most noticeable performance improvement.

But nowadays, RAM is no longer the primary bottleneck on your Mac – it’s the aging, mechanical technology that powers your harddrive. But conventional mechanical harddrives are slowly but surely being replaced by solid state drives (abbreviated “SSD”). Whilst early SSD drives offered limited storage capacity and had a finite number of read /write cycles,  The current generation of Intel X25 SSD drives are very compelling alternatives indeed…

Pros & Cons

Although still pricy when compared against conventional harddrives with similar capacities, SSDs have steadily been dropping in price and now only cost about 100-200 dollars more than a conventional drive. So what are the benefits? Well, speed primarily: SSDs offer blazingly fast read and write speeds. And unlike conventional drives, that can be damaged if jostled or dropped whilst in use, SSDs are extremely sturdy, making them ideal for notebook computers.

Installing the X25-M

It took me about 10 minutes to swap the stock Fujitsu harddrive in my 13″ MacBook for the X25-M. You basically pop the battery lid, unscrew one screw and pull your old drive. Slot the X25 into its place, close everything back up again and you’re done!

As my previous harddrive was larger than the 80GB review unit I received, I opted for a clean Snow Leopard install, instead of trying to partially migrate my data and settings from my Time Machine backup. The entire OS X installation was very fast (~10 minutes) and after a quick Dropbox sync, I was up and running with my most important apps and documents.

Crunching the Numbers

Intel’s X25-M is currently considered to be one of the best SSD drives on the market and the raw numbers tend to agree:

So how do the numbers translate to your everyday, real-world experience? I mean, are you really going to notice if Safari loads 0.4 seconds faster? Probably not.
But in my experience, the big difference wasn’t that any single task felt much faster, it was the fact that everything felt faster. Whether copying a file, opening a DMG or launching an application – everything feels very responsive and snappy.

Here are two videos to give you an idea of what to expect:

Cost vs Benefit

All this performance doesn’t come cheap though: the 80GB review unit I tested currently retails for about €200 / $250. The larger capacity models can be several times as expensive. But if you use your Mac professionally, installing an SSD is an easy way to give your Mac a speed boost. The Intel X25 is ideal for professionals and performance junkies who need the highest possible performance. Enthusiasts and casual users might want to look at some of the cheaper alternatives on the market instead. They still trounce the performance of a traditional harddrive, without making too large of a dent in your wallet.

Conclusion

The Intel X25 is a fantastic upgrade for your MacBook and will boost the speed of even mundane things like opening an application. It’s ideal for performance fanatics and professionals, casual users may want to wait a while longer until the price / capacity ratio improves.

Support the site and pimp your Mac with an Intel X25 from Amazon.com: