How I made my MacBook Pro 4.1 (early 2008) survive the next five years

In october 2008 I've purchased my beloved MacBook Pro. It was rather disapointing to realize that only one week after my purchase the following MacBook Pro unibody was released.

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The last non unibody MacBook Pro: silver colored keyboard and matte screen already with energy saving LED illumination

While my model still was the so called aluminium MacBook or the non unibody model (silver colored keyboard, silver colored case, matte screen) the successsing MacBook Pro came with the so called uni body with black keys high gloss screen and with non replace able batteries. Besides these optical design changes the technologie inside changed as well. While the processor was still the same the new model came with a new DVD drive that was connected via SATA. The old 4.1 model instead connected the DVD drive via PATA. The hard drive in both models is connected by a SATA II controller – in order to get the PATA connection working the SATA II connection in the 4.1 (old) MacBook was downgraded to SATA I.

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A maximum of 6 GB RAM and only SATA-I – is the MacBook Pro 4.1 outdated?

Also the MacBook Pro 4.1 only supports a maximum of 6 GB RAM – although 8 GB fit physically, the system would only recognize 6 GB. The successing MacBook fully supports 8 GB RAM and gives them a higher frequency either.

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CS 6 and the Beach-Ball of death

Taking into account all these drawbacks I wondered if today – about five years after it's release – the last non unibody MacBook would be outdated. After installing the Adobe Creative Suite 6 working with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign taxed my patience. Especially InDesign took some minutes just to start up. Upgrading to Mac OS 10.7 or even 10.8 never was considered at all.

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Retina-Modell with SSD: thrill of speed for a bargain of some 2,800.00 Euros

About the same time a college showed to me his newly acquired retina MacBook complete with SSD and all the bells and whistles. I realized that I would not be able to creep on with my slow and old machine much longer – but what I did not knew at this time: I would be able to keep pace without investing ridiculous 2,800.00 Euros. Instead I was able to keep the competition with a fractioning 200.00 Euros. To show you what my macbook was able to achieve after the upgrading process described in the following article I created this little video clip. You can see how fast Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign – the slowest initializing application in the world – would startup on my old Mac after the changes I did. What have I done to keep my MacBook up to date?

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Replacing the internal Hard Drive

At first I made a mistake about one year ago. When I purchased a relatively cheap 2.5 Inch hard drive with a capacity of 750 GB that billed about 70.00 Euros. I thought I do not need to look at the benchmarks because hard drives would have evolved so much in the last years that even the cheapest hard drive would dwarf my standard hard drive that came together with the MacBook five years ago. What I had to learn: this ain't true. One one side the data transfer rates have evolved but what is much more relevant is the average access time.

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Looking at the Average Access Times

The new drive had an average access time of 16 ms, the one that came with the computer only clocked 11 ms. This seems to be no big difference – only 5 ms, how can you even measure this. But practically this means the world. Modern software and operating systems consists of hundreds and thousands of small programs and libraries that are bundled in one big package. These programs and librarys are not loaded as a whole into the memory but are permanently read out while you are working with the tools. This is why even Safari started to scroll very jerky after I switched the hard drive. We will talk about this problem later on again.

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Upgrading RAM

The MacBook Pro 4.1 requires RAM with 667 MHz clocking. RAM which is clocked at 800 MHz nowadays is cheaper than 667 MHz RAM but could cause trouble in the 4.1 version of the MacBook Pro. It is important that at least one of the two RAM sticks runs at 667 MHz. If you have a mixed installation of 667 and 800 MHz and encounter problems with the machine starting up, try switching the RAM slots. I decided to insert a 800 MHz stick which is working without any problems for maybe two years now. Anyway I would advice to take the 667 MHz version if you can get it cheap. You need RAM with the following specifications: One of these: PC2-5300 667 MHz SO-DIMM DDR2-SDRAM 2 GB(links to amazon.com),
PC2-5300 667 MHz SO-DIMM DDR2-SDRAM 2 GB (at amazon.co.uk) and

on ebay.

and / or one of these: PC2-5300 667 MHz SO-DIMM DDR2-SDRAM 4GB (amazon.com), PC2-5300 667 MHz SO-DIMM DDR2-SDRAM 4GB (amazon.co.uk)
and

on ebay

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A new Power Supply

'Cause I use my Laptop a lot it came the day that the cable on my power supply got a short circuit. The battery only recharged sporadically until it stopped loading at all. A new original Apple power supply is not cheaper than 80 Euros that's why I started looking for an alternative. I ordered a cheap compatible supply for maybe 20 Euros. This thing only worked for a few weeks than I shipped it back for refund. But I found another alternative for about 45 Euros which I am using now for nine months and which still does it's job well. It looks exactly like the original Apple power supply and also feels very robust. It is the Lavolta Apple Power Adapter. Take care to choose the 85 Watts version and the one with the correct connector – don't take the retina version!

I provided an ebay link for you: 

You also find it at amazon.co.uk: Lavolta Power Supply 85W for MacBook Pro (affiliate link).

But take care with the amazon link. It seems that under the same description there are two different power supplies offered. The one I got has the apple logo in it's case and is working fine since nine months by now.
Since I got it from the german amazon site (affiliate link) I can not tell you which is the right one but I believe it is the more expensive one. You also can see from the reviews that half of the customers love the adaptor while the other half complains about massive quality issues. So it seems that there are two different products offered. If you are uncertain, better take the original apple product from the apple store before you get the feeling that I give dumb suggestions.

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Replacing the weak battery

Also my battery got weak. I opted for a cheap replacement which I am using for nine month now. Coconut Battry attests it to have 80 % of its original capacity (4505 of originally 5600 mAh) after 192 load cycles.

The buildquality is acceptable. It is made all of plastic and stands out for about two millimeters. But it has a green five LEDs capacity indicator and the producer offers two years warranty. The customers at amazon.de were divided. Some sayed it's okay others were completely disappointed. But for 50 Euros instead of 180 you can't do so much wrong I guess. Here ist the amazon.co.uk link: Lavolta Laptop Battery for 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro A1175/MA348G/A MA463LL (affiliate link) – sorry, you won't get it from amazon.com.

After these updates I was back to be able to work for three hours without power supply and was even more annoyed that the apps started that slow and worked so sluggishly. This was when I heard about SSDs.

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SSD – Access Times are the decisive Factor

As mentioned before it is not the transfer rate that makes the decision for a hard drive but the access time. And this is where SSDs (Solid State Drives) will beat any hard drive by far. While a fine hard drive has access times about 11 ms the access times of a SSD is with about 0,03ms easily 100 times faster. And this really considers!

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SSD: expensive and undependable?

The fly in the ointment: SSDs are expensive. A 500 GB SSD will cost you about 300 EUros. You will get six HDs for this. ANother problem is that SSDs don;t like it if they are rewritten a lot. Which means you have the danger of data loss more often than on a hard drive

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The remedy: Parallel use of SSD and HD

To get a HD and a SSD running parallel inside your slim adapter. You also have to kick out your DVD drive. To be honest, what was the last time you really needed it?
To get the two drives working parallel you also need an adapter which fits in your opti bay (this is the name of the space that is determined for the optical DVD drive) and that offers a connection for a SATA hard drive.

On the SSD you put all the datas that do not get overwritten very often but that contain all the system files and application librarys that need to be loaded every then and when. The other files that are rewritten very often will go to the magnetic hard drive.

This sounds rather difficult but is very easy to implement. You just put your normal system installation on the SSD and move the user files onto the hard drive. Then you need to tell the system, that the user files are no longer on the start up drive but are on another position on another drive. There are tools that will help you to do this easily.

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Convenient Use of two Drives: linking to the User Datas

Linking to the user files will make it very convenient to work with two hard drives. You just keep on working as before. All the links to your documents folders or to your pictures, music etc. will work like before. Because of the linking you system just accesses the right files as if they were all on the boot drive.
Here you can find a very comprehensive tutorial on how to link you user folder to another drive.
The application Carbon Copy Cloner is very helpful to create one on one copies including hidden system files and correct transfer of read and write permissions.

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Killing two birds with one stone: money saved and expanded the SSDs live span

The described procedure lets us get rid of two problems. At first we do not need a big and expansive SSD. If you need big software packages together with Mac OS 10.8 you will be absolutely happy with a 128 GB SSD, you can get one for about 100 Euros. Also the life span of the SSD will be expanded because we do not rewrite on the SSD so much anymore. System files and applications which stay on the SSD do net get written so often but they are read a lot and often. On the opposite user datas are getting deleted and written very often and they are now on the cheap and robust HD.

But especially the system files and application datas – which now are on the SSD – slowed down the machine before. Now they can be read out with the speed of light and the bottleneck that slowed down your computer before now is wide open.

The only problem is that if you do not have sufficient RAM there will be a swap file rewritten very often onto the SSD. That's why it is important to upgrade the computers RAM to keep the swap file small or inexistent.

Here you will find the fenvi HDcaddy adapter which allows to mount a hard drive into the optibay. Take care that you buy the PATA version since the SATA version does work in the newer MacBooks (unibody) only.

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Which SSD to take?

The SSD should at least have a capacity of 64 GB – better are 128 GB, especially if you take into account that the price does not differ a lot between these two. If you have some money you don't know how to spend you could take a 256 GB SSD and install all history versions of the Creative Suite Master Edition starting with CS1 up to Creative Cloud 6.

Besides the capacity you should look at the SSDs quality to be sure that your files will be there even tomorrow. But newer does not mean better. Samsung for example uses in its newer 840 SSD line the TLC technologie (triple level cell), which means that every flash cell can save up to three information bits instead of two like it is common in MLCs (multi level cells). This makes on the one side the SSDs significantly cheaper in production but also raises the risk of data loss. It is a good idea to buy cheap new old stock 830 Samsung SSDs which are probably safer in means of data security.

I was lucky and found a cheap Samsung 830 SSD which can be bought together with an USB adapter so that you can connect it via USB and instal everything before you replace the internal hard drive.

Here you find the Samsung SSD 830:

Samsung SSD 830 at amazon.com (affiliate link)
Samsung SSD 830 at amazon.co.uk (affiliate link)

 

The predecessor of the Samsung 830 SSD was the Samsung 470:
Samsung 470 SSD at amazon.com (affiliate link)
Samsung 470 SSD at amazon.co.uk (affiliate link)

What people say is that the Crucial SSDs should be very good as well:
Crucial SSDs at amazon.com (affiliate link)
Crucial SSDs at amazon.co.uk (affiliate link)

There are reports that the SanDisk SSDs are working well in the MacBooks either:
SanDisk SSDs at amazon.com (affiliate link)
SanDisk SSDs at amazon.co.uk (affiliate link)

And last but not least the Intel SSDs have a very good reputation:
intel SSDs at amazon.com (affiliate link)
Intel SSDs at amazon.co.uk (affiliate link)

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What is the result of all this?

  • Photoshop CS6 is starting within 6 seconds
  • Illustrator CS6 is starting within 8 seconds
  • InDesign CS6 is starting within 9 seconds (before it took several minutes)
  • the simultaneous startup from Flash, Illustrator, Edge Animate, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver and Acrobat with 735 activated fonts! took 21 seconds

I was able to compare the startup times from Photoshop against an actual Retina MacBook Pro of a colleague. While the associate paid about 3,500 Euros for his MacBook there was no difference of startup speed against my SSD MacBook Pro 4.1 noticeable.

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Does the SATA-I port in the MacBook Pro 4.1 thwarts the performance surplus compared to a Retina MacBook Pro with SATA-III?

In theory SATA-III delivers six times the data throughput as a SATA-I. The ports of all SATA devices from SATA-I to SATA-III are compatible, the faster device will be slowed down to meet the speed of the slower SATA standard.

Practically there is no difference noticeable – at least with todays software and operation systems. Of course this might change in the next years when programs will become more complex. But if Photoshop needs eight or six seconds to start up makes no difference in every day work.

3 Gedanken zu „How I made my MacBook Pro 4.1 (early 2008) survive the next five years“

  1. I bought a this macbook pro 4.1 last year and when using lightroom it’s so slow that you can’t make any adjustments.
    Do you have any suggestions on making performance improvements
    VRAM is 256 MB – can this be increased and how?

    1. Hey Michael,
      unfortunately the V-RAM can’t be upgraded. It is soldered onto the mainboard and even if it is replaced the machine probably wouldn’t recognise it since it also is adressed in the firmware (on the computer’s mainboard and the GPU either).
      Anyway I don’t believe that the V-RAM is slowing it down.
      How much normal RAM have you installed? What Kind of Harddrive do you use?

    2. I passed my MacBook Pro 4.1 to my wife since I use the 2010 MacBook Pro 6.1
      I’ve just installed the latest version of lightroom on her MacBook in order to reproduce your Problem. On our MacBook Lightroom’s Adjustment Tools worked fine and fluently.
      Our machine has the following specs:
      5GB RAM
      64 GB SSD
      512 MB VRAM
      Maybe the pictures I’ve used it with were smaller in Resolution than yours? I will try it with larger pictures soon.

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