Benchmarking the Samsung 850 EVO in a 2007 Mac mini

I’ve had my Mid 2007 Mac mini for several years, upgrading RAM from 1 GB to 3 GB and the hard drive from a pedestrian 5400 rpm 80 GB to a 7200 rpm 320 GB WD Scorpio Black – and now to a 250 GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD. How fast is it now?

I don’t have benchmark results for the hard drives, but I’ve found some Xbench results online using a MacBook Pro (specific model unknown but an Early 2008 one at the newest). I’ve also run Xbench on the Samsung SSD. Here are the results:

Scorpio
Black
Samsung
850 EVO
Difference
CPU Test 138.81 n/a
Thread Test 134.68 n/a
Memory Test 116.98 n/a
Quartz Graphics 168.91 n/a
OpenGL Graphics 295.15 n/a
User Interface 205.75 n/a
Disk Test 34.28 239.52 6.99:1
 – Sequential 79.82 144.90 1.82:1
 – Random 21.82 690.32 31.6:1

The MacBook Pro uses a 1.5 GB/s SATA Rev. 1 bus to connect its hard drive, as does the Mac mini, so although we’re comparing different machines, they both have the same maximum SATA data throughput.

The Scorpio Black tested in the MacBook Pro topped out at 58.94 MB/s. The Samsung 850 EVO at 125.44 MB/s. That makes the SSD 2.15x as fast as the hard drive. Here are the specific drive test results:

Scorpio 850 EVO Difference
Sequential
– uncached 4K write 58.941.06 MB/s 62.49 MB/s 1.06:1
– uncached 256K write 51.52 MB/s 116.08 MB/s 2.25:1
– uncached 4K read 14.82 Mb/s 32.89 MB/s 2.22:1
– uncached 256K read 56.08 MB/s 125.44 MB/s 2.24:1
Random
– uncached 4K write 0.75 MB/s 85.01 MB/s 113.3:1
– uncached 256K write 17.83 MB/s 119.80 MB/s 6.72:1
– uncached 4K read 0.48 MB/s 20.93 MB/s 43.6:1
– uncached 256K read 19.65 MB/s 120.63 MB/s 6.14:1

Except for the uncached 4K sequential writes, the Samsung 850 EVO more than doubled speed in every benchmark compared to the WD Scorpio Black, which was a top-end 2.5″ hard drive in 2008. And on random tests, the SSD has at least 6x the performance of the hard drive.

A Real World Test

Although Low End Mac moved to WordPress for new content in early 2013, I have thousands of text and HTML files on my hard drive that were Low End Mac until the transition began – and most of them will remain that way, as they are not worth the time to convert to WordPress.

Anyhow, I used TextWrangler 4.5.5 to search each and every one of those files for a specific text string. It found 54 occurrences in 44 files – and it did so in just under one minute. That’s over twice as fast as the hard drive.

Buyer Beware

If you have a Mac built between 2007 and 2011, you need to be aware of problems with the Nvidia MCP79 SATA controller. This is a 3 MB/s SATA Rev. 2 controller that falls back to 1.5 MB/s SATA Rev. 1 speed with certain drives – including some SSDs. If you have a Mac with this controller, be sure you buy a drive that will provide full SATA Rev. 2 speed rather than dropping to half that speed.

To see which SATA controller your Mac has, open the Apple menu, select About This Mac, and click on More Info… Next click on Serial-ATA, and it will tell you what controller your Mac uses and which SATA drives are installed.

Here’s the info from my Mac mini, which has an Intel ICH7-M SATA Rev. 1 controller:

System Profiler

If your System Profiler says link speed is 3 Gigabit but the negotiated link speed is 1.5 Gigabit, unless you’re using a SATA Rev. 1 drive, you’ve got a problem.

You especially want to avoid SSDs that use Sandforce SF-2281 controllers. Crucial SSDs are reported to be compatible across the board.

Closing Thoughts

I haven’t been able to spend much time at my Mac this week, but I am blown away at how quickly the Finder can open a window and display its contents when you’re using an SSD vs. the old hard drive, which was a pretty quick one. It’s almost instantaneous!

Apps open much more quickly. Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 has always been slow to open – but no longer. ImageOptim used to take a while, but now it’s ready almost immediately. (For the record, LibreOffice is still no speed demon. It’s free, a good office suite, but painfully slow. Google’s Chrome browser doesn’t seem to load any more quickly either. Keep in mind that I’m using OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on an 8-year-old Mac.)

Over the years, others have recommended an SSD as the best way to squeeze the most out of your hard drive-based Macs, and after a few days with one, I have to concur. It’s especially nice when there are lots of options below the US$100 price point.

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