Even in a 2007 Mac mini, an SSD Is Fast

We came home from vacation three weeks ago, and my Mid 2007 Mac mini began giving me problems almost from the moment I powered it up. The 320 GB 7200 rpm internal hard drive was having issues, and after looking at prices, I decided that SSD could be the way to go.

Samsung 850 EVE in Mac mini

I queried our Facebook group, and they recommended OWC, Crucial, Samsung, and Kingston as some of the most reliable brands. I found a lot of good reviews of the Samsung 850 EVO, saw that Amazon.com offered it for just under $100, and asked the group for donations.

Low End Mac is a shoestring operation, and our income doesn’t leave much room for buying hardware or software. We depend on donations to cover our expenses, and within a few days we had received all the money we needed for the SSD.

I placed the order last Wednesday, it shipped on Thursday, and it arrived in Saturday’s mail. That was using the free Super Saver shipping option, which told me to expect it on Thursday, August 27. Also, the price had dropped $10 between researching prices and placing my order.

Mac mini on Ministack driveAs I’ve explained elsewhere, I was able to use Time Machine to recover my hard drive from a bit before we took our vacation, putting it on a 7200 rpm 250 GB DeskStar drive in an external NewerTech miniStack enclosure connected to the Mini via FireWire. FireWire 400 is not fast compared to an internal hard drive, but it was what I had, and it let me get back to work.

Tuesday morning, I used SuperDuper! to clone that DeskStar hard drive to the 250 GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD placed in an external FireStorm2.5 enclosure supporting USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800. When I got home from work, it was waiting for me.

How Fast Is It?

While I had the external drives set up, I decided to run some timing tests for system startup. I have OS X 10.6.8 installed, and booting from the DeskStar took nearly a minute on my 3 GB 2.0 GHz Mac mini. Here are the results of my tests. Except for the 2.5″ enclosure, times are for a cold start. With a bootable OS X 10.5 Leopard drive installed in the Mini, I had to boot Leopard and then do a Restart to test the SSD in its enclosure.

  • DeskStar in miniStack using FireWire 400: 57 seconds
  • DeskStar in miniStack using USB 2.0: 92 seconds
  • Samsung in FireStorm2.5 using FireWire 400: 46 seconds
  • Samsung in FireStorm2.5 using USE 2.0: 59 seconds
  • Samsung in Mac mini using SATA: 21 seconds

FireWire 400 is definitely faster than USB 2.0. SSD is definitely faster than the 7200 rpm DeskStar. And 1.5 GB/s SATA Rev. 1 is no slouch, allowing the Mini to boot from the SSD in less than half the time it took using FireWire 400.

At this point, I haven’t done any more extensive testing. I’ve verified that it works, and I’ve determined how quickly it boots my Mac mini.

The only other thing I’ve discovered is that it fixes one of my longstanding complaints about the OS X Finder. If you’ve ever used the Classic Mac OS, you know how quickly Finder windows appear and show their data. In OS X, it takes time to display icons and file information. Well, it does when you’re using a hard drive. With SSD, it flies.

Closing Thoughts

Except for the cooling fan, the Mac mini is silent.I’m experimenting with smcFanControl 2.5.2 (free, requires OS X 10.6.8 or newer and Core 2 Duo or later) to find the best match between heat, fan speed, and noise. I’m runing at 4,025 rmp right now, and it’s fairly quiet while keeping the CPU below 60°C.

So far I am very impressed. I would love to install an SSD in my Late 2008 Aluminum MacBook (also 2.0 GHz), which supports 3.0 GB/s SATA Rev. 2 and has 4 GB of RAM installed, but it’s working just fine right now, so I’ll get by with its 7200 rpm hard drive.

If you’re looking to get more out of your MacBook, 2006 or later Mac mini, or Mac Pro, SSD is the next thing to do after you make sure you have enough system memory. (In some iMacs, replacing the hard drive is less than easy, sometimes requiring special cables.)

I remember thinking 7200 rpm hard drives were a big step forward from 5400 rpm drives, but this puts that to shame. If you want to unleash your Intel Mac, this is one way of doing it.

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