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The future of the MacBook can definitely be seen in the thin form factor and speedy performance of the MacBook Air -- two huge benefits that come in large part from the Air’s onboard flash memory. Unfortunately, you can’t magically turn a MacBook Pro into an Air, but you can swap out a Pro’s platter-based hard disk for the flash memory of a solid-state drive (SSD). To give the MacBook Pro the kind of pep of its thinner sibling, we traded out the stock hard drive for a Mercury Extreme Pro SSD from OWC. In certain circumstances, the performance gains were significant, but we had to trade capacity for speed.
If you care most about performance, the Mercury Extreme Pro can be blazingly fast. In our Photoshop Actions test, the SSD-equipped MacBook sailed through in 18 seconds -- half the time of the same machine (a 2.8GHz MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM) running off its stock drive. In Final Cut Pro, we encoded a 2GB file in 15 minutes, which halved the 30 minutes it took with the disk-based drive. But don’t go thinking that upgrading to an expensive SSD is like bolting a rocket onto your MacBook; not every operation benefits from the speedier drive. For instance, a massive import of high-res JPEGs into iPhoto was only 10 seconds faster with the SSD.
Just like a Lamborghini, this SSD’s got plenty of speed but hardly enough room for all your stuff.
In our read/write benchmarks, the SSD’s speeds were more than twice the original -- with the stock 5,400-rpm drive, our MacBook Pro hit read and write speeds of 64MB/s and 37MB/s. Running from the SSD, speeds skyrocketed to an astounding 175 MB/s and 125 MB/s, respectively. Impressive for sure, but if you’re not rendering video or doing other disk-intensive tasks, these numbers represent best-case scenarios, not real-world performance gains.
While the Mercury Extreme Pro SSD is definitely faster than our MacBook Pro’s stock 300GB hard drive, it’s time for the catch -- the relatively affordable 120GB model we tested won’t meet the storage needs of pro users. Fortunately, OWC offers several capacities, but as the gigs grow, so does the cost per gigabyte. The top-end model hits 480GB -- but at $1,500, it’s out of the reach of mere mortals. To be fair, that major caveat holds true for SSDs in general, not just OWC’s.
The bottom line. Power users can rejoice at the speed and performance increase this SSD delivers, but file hoarders should opt for something with a bit more room -- and that’s more wallet-friendly.
Mercury Extreme Pro SSD
MacBook with 2.5-inch SATA drive bay
Significant performance increase—video-encoding time cut in half.
High cost per gigabyte, particularly at the top end.