OWC SSD in 17″ MacBook Pro

I thought I’d get this out of the way in case the entire line of MacBook Pros changes next week… I’m holding my breath for a new mac tower myself as I really need one with a Thunderbolt port!   Regardless of the products released, I think you’ll see the benefits of adopting SSDs within your workflow whenever possible.

For all of my productions, I have been taking my 17" Macbook Pro with me everywhere for years now.   That laptop has traveled with around the globe – coming along for helicopter shoots as a way to ingest cards in the air, and going to the lowest point in North America with me for a photoshoot in Death Valley.  A few weeks ago, my laptop had to fill in for a DIT station, and transfer massive .R3D files from a dual RED Epi shootc.

With such constant use and on site action, its important that my laptop not only be fast enough to deal with the data –  but also, I need to be able to rely on it to make sure the data is never lost.  That’s why I’ve removed the optical drive (what’s a CD/DVD anyway these days!?) and replaced it with a 256GB SSD from OWC (technically there is 240GB of writable space – the other 16GB is allocated for real time redundancy and error correction).  So now my computer has two drives – a 256GB SSD, as well as the original 1TB, 7200 rpm drive that came installed in the laptop.    In an ideal world I would have two SSD drives in there.

One of the big benefits of installing this drive in the place of the optical bay, is that you don’t need to daisy chain external drives with your readers.    This means you can have the fastest copy speeds possible and save valuable time on set.   If you were to daisy chain a RED SSD card reader with a Firewire 800 hard drive for example on a MacBook Pro – you are splitting the performance of that port by more than half, and more than doubling the time it takes to copy a card.   I have seen these time go up to 42+ minutes for a single 128GB SSD drive for example – and this can be deadly while out in the field.  This solution cuts down a copy to less than 12 minutes.   My other solution is to get an e-Sata adapter and use the e-Sata port on the RED Reader and drive – but this means that you will need AC power for all of the e-Sata drives I have tested out there – which kills your mobility.   That is why having an internal SSD is a fantastic option for those that need to copy files off of their cards/SSDs as quickly as possible.  It’s also pretty much the safest way to ensure that valuable data is never lost.

For those of you not familiar with SSD’s – it stands for Solid-State Drive.  Rather obviously, the name comes from the fact that it is solid and has no moving/spinning disk or read/write arm.  As a result, the drive can take a few bumps without you having to worry that it is going to affect the reading or writing of data.  As you can imagine, that is a huge relief when you are up in a helicopter (or anywhere on location for that matter) where you are moving, or have to move the DIT station while you are copying for example.    SSD’s are just more rugged – but they have some other benefits too.   If you (or TSA) drop the laptop for example – the changes are very good that the data will be intact on the SSD drive.  The same cannot be said about any spinning drive…

The most relevant benefit is system performance.  If you install your operating system to boot up off of the SSD in your computer, then you are looking at boot up times of around 15 seconds, compared to times of over a minute for traditional spinning HDDs.  The SSD is able to do this because it doesn’t have to warm up to an optimal speed and it doesn’t require the read/write arm to access data on a specific portion of the disk.  Instead information is pumped through wiring on the drive’s circuit board.  Because of this, I also keep all of my applications on the SSD, so that they run more efficiently.  If I have the space, I also move relevant project files over to the SSD so I can access them more quickly.  

Among other benefits to the SSD are better battery life (due to not having to keep the disk spinning during operation), better temperature control (no spinning disk means the SSD stays much cooler than traditional drives), and greater data integrity.  All of these things are wonderful benefits to experience when you have your laptop on location with you.  As I mentioned before – I have taken my lap top up in the air with me, and down into the desert, so having a computer that can better preserve data and read/write capabilities under different environmental conditions is key.

If you are interested in installing an SSD – B&H currently sells a kit that gives you all you need to remove your optical drive and replace it with a new solid state hard drive.   I now use only SSD drives as the main drive to all of my laptops – it’s more expensive but worth the piece of mind in terms of making sure data is safe, and for the speed benefits as well.