Why did I upgrade the SSD in my MacBook PRO retina?

I was running out of space on my hard drive if I didn’t use Apple’s iCloud. But do I trust Apple’s iCloud enough? Or should I upgrade to a bigger SSD?

Since the spring of 2006, I’m a happy user of Apple products. I always tried to keep my machines fast. You don’t have any profit if you have a fast CPU and a lot of memory in your computer when your hard drive is the bottleneck. So I always tried to install the fastest hard drive I could find. In the last decennia, this was the Western Digital Black 7200RPM hard drives. But slowly a new revolution was entering the market. The SSD. Sort for Solid State Disk. No more mechanical pieces with a moving head that only could cover one section of the disk at the time, but flash-memory chips that instant can access every part of information without hardly any wait time.

In 2009 I bought for my MacBook Pro an Intel SSD with the size of 160GB. Wow. Wow. My machine felt so fast and snappy. I was infected with the SSD virus. From now on I will never have a computer again with a conventional hard drive. Every time I touched a normal computer with a mechanical hard drive it felt old fashion and nail-biting slow. After the MacBook Pro, I used a MacBook Air for years. This machine was built around a fast SSD. The slow CPU and low amount of memory didn’t matter because the SSD pushed the machine through the years.

My old MacBook Pro with an Intel 160GB SSD

In 2014 I bought the machine I still use today. A MacBook Pro retina with an Intel I5 CPU, 8GB of ram and a 256GB SSD. I’m not a hardcore graphic designer. Otherwise, I should choose for the I7 with 16GB of ram. In 2018 the machine still feels fast. But I can sense it has some problems to keep up when I’m doing video editing (O really). In 2014 I was storing my media on my NAS (Network Attached Storage). But the introduction of Apple Photos decided to collect all my digital memories together in one program.

Apple Photos offers a great solution for bringing all my memories in one place. Videos and photos are stored in a chronically ordered timeline. The software is doing face recognizing on every face it can find and is using the GPS metadata in the photos and videos to put it on a map. It improved the way of finding pictures back. No more searching in folders on a NAS. But I just type in the name or a location. Looking back at old memories is fun again.

Slowly my Apple Photos Library was growing. But on my small 256Gb SSD, this was not a problem. Apple offers iCloud so you can synchronize all your photos and videos to the cloud. The original pictures and videos are stored in the iCloud. When you want to watch the high-quality version Apple Photos quickly downloads this file from the iCloud. My local Photos Library is really small. So why do I need more hard drive space?

Apple Photos iCloud photo library optimize Mac storage

Because I already paid every month for my iCloud storage I also start using the iCloud Drive to store my normal files. I couldn’t fit all my files anymore in my free account of Dropbox. paying for both iCloud and for Dropbox sound a little overkill. In iCloud I can also choose to optimize Mac storage. So more free space on my hard drive when needed.

The first problem I encounter is that Apple’s optimize storage algorithm is way too aggressive and unpredictable. You can read in the above screenshot “The full content of iCloud Drive will be stored on this Mac if you have enough space. Older Documents will be stored only in iCloud when space is needed”. This is not true. I had enough free space. But the algorithm already removed the original pictures from my hard drive that I imported one day before. I could not quickly edit my vacation photos because the originals were already removed from my hard drive. For every edit, I had to wait seconds (or even minutes) when iCloud was downloading the picture in the background. I can tell you that the internet in Asia can suck big time. The same problem also happened with my files. Some files I worked on a couple days ago where already removed. I had to wait till iCloud had downloaded the files again. But some other files I hadn’t touched in months where still on the hard drive. Apple’s iCloud algorithm doesn’t make any sense.

The second problem was with Time Machine. I realized that Time Machine only makes a backup of my files that are psychical on your disk. Every file that’s in the cloud isn’t stored in your Time Machine backup. I have to give Apple my trust that they are taking care of my digital life. This is a big problem. I don’t trust Apple. I trust them that they are capable of respecting my privacy. But with their hardware, software, and management I have a hard time to trust them. The last year to many things happened that give me a feeling in my gut that I have to take care for my own data. I can already hear Apple’s mantra to their customers “You are doing it wrong”.

  1. What do we know about Apple Datacenter? How are they secured and how do they keep my data backed-up?
  2. What happens if Apple disagrees with a customer and disable their account. We now live in a world where big companies with a finger snap disable accounts. Even in the country of the free speech.
  3. What happens if my monthly iCloud payment to Apple has a hiccup and Apple deletes your extra storage space.
  4. What happens if I die and my family asks Apple access to my digital memories?
  5. What happens if the country where I live is blocking all Apple services?

So I decided that I want to take care of my whole complete digital life. I still will use Apple iCloud. But I need and want a complete (offline) backup of my data on my hard drive and on my Time Machine backup. But those last years I’m so spoiled with iCloud optimize storage that I never can store all my data on my hard drive. I need a bigger hard drive in my MacBook Pro.

Apple’s SSD’s are that fast because they use their own proprietary connection. The advantage is that they can offer their customers higher read and write speeds. But the disadvantaged is that you can only use Apple SSD’s with this connector. This article can tell you more in details about the connectors. I can’t go to a normal computer store and buy a M2 SSD. I could use a converter that makes it possible to install a M2 form SSD in an Apple computer. But this gives a lot of compatibility problems. I can’t use the sleep-mode for example. So I want to install an original Apple SSD. But that’s something you can’t buy straight from Apple.

On Ebay a lot of sellers are offering secondhand SSD’s for the MacBook Pro. But they are too expensive. I don’t want to buy a secondhand SSD from the other side of the world without knowing if it’s working and I have a good return policy. It turns out that in Saigon is a shop specialized in solid state drives. So I visited this shop lagihitech. They had a box filled with secondhand SSD’s for every kind of Apple computer. They offer two things that decided in deciding to buy an SSD from this shop. They offer a warranty and they want to buy my old 256GB SSD.

To be ready for the future I choose a 1TB SSD. The shop offers two edition of this SSD. A fast one and a really faster one. I choose the fast one. Back home I could not get this one to run. It was detected by OSX and by Windows. But after a couple minutes, it disappeared. This is exactly the reason I didn’t want to buy an SSD online. Can you imagine the work I have to do if this SSD had to be sent back and I had to wait to get my money back? If you get your money back at all. The next day I returned to the shop. Without any problems, I could swap the failed SSD for another one. This time I choose the really fast one. It works without any problems. And it’s fast. Really fast. Take a look at the benchmark.

The SSD is secondhand. In the SMART health information table, I could read that this SSD in his lifetime had written 40TB of data. This is nothing. Basically, the SSD was almost brand new. Six months later the SSD is still running fast.

For my daily workflow I have now enough free space on my hard drive. I don’t need to wait anymore for iCloud to download files that were removed because the Apple algorithm decided I didn’t have enough space.  I can work and stay in my flow. What I really like. I have enough space left that I don’t need an external drive again for my virtual machines.

In my opinion this was a good investment for my computer. I’m also super glad about the fact that I can still upgrade the SSD in this machine. The latest MacBook Pro’s from 2017 and 2018 have there SSD soldered to the mainboard. You can’t upgrade it anymore. So when you buy your MacBook Pro you have to decide the amount of space you need. You can’t change this in the future.

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