The Best Way To Set Up An SSD on Mac OSX

There are many articles that indicate using an SSD as a primary hard drive in a dual hard drive system greatly enhances the performance of your computer whether it is a Mac or a PC.  Here are a few steps to follow to not break the bank on a Mac OS X set up.




An SDD drive uses memory chips instead of a spinning hard disk to store information so it is much, much faster. If your computer is running slow this may be a better solution than upgrading your whole computer because often times it is not the processor speed that slows things down but the hard drive.


You could upgrade your entire hard drive, but with a 400GB SSD that has a 3GB/s interface starting at $500, it is not cheap!  So an alternative is to upgrade to a smaller boot drive (a 60GB SSD with a 3GB/s interface costs $80) to run just your OSX and applications, and leave your existing mechanical hard disk for all your user files.  In this configuration your System files and Applications would run on the new SSD drive, but your user data (iPhoto, iTunes etc) stay on your original, larger capacity hard disk. This would allow for much faster boot times and app launching while keeping the hard drive upgrade affordable.


Follow these steps to set up an SSD drive to run your OSX and Applications while still using your existing hard drive for your user files.

CAUTION:  If you do not already have one a Time Machine back up on an external drive is highly recommended before you do anything to disrupt the current configuration of your hard drive and data.


1. First you will need to determine how big of a boot drive you need.




Everything except your user data will go on the boot drive. To find out how much space you need, you can do the following:


(a) Find your current total disk space usage.


Find you hard drive in Finder, click on your hard drive and press Apple-I to see how much space is being used.


(b) Find how much data is in your user folder.


Select your user folder (the one with a house as an icon – this is where all your documents, music, movies, photos etc are stored and press Apple-I.) If you have more than one user, you will need to follow the previous steps for each user and add up the total amount of space that is used on the hard drive for all the user data.




Subtract the amount of GBs that is used for the user data from the total amount of space being used on the hard drive to give you the amount of space needed for your replacement solid state boot drive.


From the picture examples above you can see that after subtracting the user data from the total amount of disk space used: 587GB – 550GB = 37GB.  So in this example you would need at least 37GB of space to accommodate all the apps and system software. It appears that a 40GB solid state drive would be able to handle the system software and apps in this example – but this drive would fill up fast, plus an SSD operates much better with ample space, so you would want to go for a 60GB SSD or larger for this example.


2. Connect the new solid-state hard drive to your Mac.


For a Mac Pro 2009 or later the SSD simply connects into the spare optical bay slot – no adapters needed, this is a 30 second operation.  Mac Pros from 2006-2008 on the other hand, are not pre-wired in the optical bay for SATA. So you will need to route a SATA cable from the motherboard into the lower optical bay, and also use a power splitter/adapter cable for the right plug to provide power to the drive.


For a newer generation aluminum Mac Mini the replacement SSD can replace one of the internal drives since they are built to accommodate two hard drives.  This is a moderately difficult repair.  To replace a mechanical hard drive with an internal SSD drive in a Mac Mini you will need to pull out both the fan and logic board to get the new SSD drive in. You can get the old hard disk out without pulling out the logic board but the SSD drives are slightly thicker in shape so the motherboard needs to come out to install the replacement SSD drive in the Mac Mini.


For Macbooks or Macbook Pros you will to need replace the internal optical (DVD) drive with your old mechanical hard drive.  You will also need a special hard drive tray to properly install the hard drive in the optical drive slot and these trays can be found from various third party SSD companies.  The SSD drive would go where your old hard drive used to be. Another more expensive option is to install one large SSD drive to replace your old hard drive.  This repair is considered difficult.


iMac: The hard drive upgrade on an iMac is considered an extremely difficult repair so it recommended that this upgrade be done by a professional.  Here are the hard drive capabilities for all iMacs starting with the 2009 versions.



All late 2009 iMacs:

  • Core 2 Duo 3.06 GHz 21.5 inch
  • Core 2 Duo 3.06 GHz 27 inch
  • Core i5 2.66 GHz 27 inch

Mid-2010 model iMacs:

  • Core i3 3.06 GHz 21.5 inch
  • Core i3 3.2 GHz 21.5 inch
  • Core i3 3.2 GHz 27 inch
  • Core i5 2.8 GHz 27 inch

These 2009 and 2010 iMacs all have a 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0 connector for a 3.5 inch hard drive.


Mid-2010 27-Inch iMac models:

  • Core i3 3.2 GHz 27 inch
  • Core i5 2.8 GHz 27 inch

The mid 2010 27 inch iMacs have an extra 3 Gb/s SATA 2.0 connector and power for an optional 2.5 inch SSD (in addition to 3 Gb/s Serial ATA 2.0 connectors for the hard drive and optical drive).


Mid-2011 iMac models:

  • Core i5 2.5 GHz 21.5 inch
  • Core i5 2.7 GHz 21.5 inch
  • Core i5 2.7 GHz 27 inch
  • Core i5 3.1 GHz 27 inch

The mid 2011 27 inch iMacs all support a single 3.5 inch hard drive and a second 2.5 inch SSD. Both the hard drive bay and SSD bay provided support for the 3 Gb/s Serial ATA 2.0 standard. However, it was discovered that the iMac EFI Update 1.6 provided faster 6 Gb/s Serial ATA 3.0 support for both of these connectors (but not the optical drive connector).


Some of these repairs can get a little hairy so if you do not feel confident doing this upgrade yourself you can always call iComputer for help installing an SSD in your Mac if you are not a Mac hardware technician.


3. Format the SSD Drive using disk utility.


After your SDD drive is plugged in you will need to format the hard drive after restarting your computer through Disk Utility – use the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format:



4. Copy your system folder and applications to the newly installed solid state boot drive.

This is not something you can do by hand – there are hidden files that need to be copied, so use a third party application such as Carbon Copy Cloner.  If you are using Carbon Copy Cloner, select your boot drive as the target Disk and then select Incremental backup:


Now select your main hard drive as the source disk, but then deselect your main user directory so that you do not copy all your user data.

Click Clone and your boot disk will be created on the SSD disk by transferring over your system files as well as the applications.


5. Reboot from the new SSD boot drive.

Now make the SSD the new boot drive by going into System Preferences click Startup Drive and then select the SSD Drive…now restart! WOW!  At this point you can see how much faster the boot process has become.


The SSD boot drive will start looking for your user data, but it will not find anything since you did not transfer them over and so it will default to your desktop and dock and all your files will be missing. Do not panic – in the next step we will get your old files back by configuring the second hard drive.


6. Get your User data.

Go to System Preferences, and go to Accounts, which in Lion this is now called Users and Groups, then click the lock to make changes and control-click the main user account and click Advanced Options.


In the advanced options tab choose your user directory, which is back on your original hard drive.



Your computer will tell you that you need to restart, and when you restart you will be running off your new boot drive, with your user directory on your old hard disk.


Test the account to ensure that it is working properly. For example, launch iTunes and make sure that an iTunes folder is created in the Music folder within this home folder. Once you are satisfied that everything is working, you can delete the original home folder on your startup drive and you will have an SSD set up that will maximize the performance of your computer while saving you money on the amount of space your data takes up on the SSD.  There are a few tweaks that are recommended after the SSD set up and installation on your Mac.  We will be following up with that article that explains how to do these steps.