How I Turbo Jacked my
MacBook Pro For £200

It’s no secret that even a mighty Macbook Pro can slow down. I managed to add thousands of pounds of spec to my machine for a £200 investment, a little time on YouTube and some elbow grease. Here’s how.

Turbo charge my macbook pro

As you can see by clicking around this site, I produce a lot of hi-definition photography and video. For years I’ve been buying Apple laptops to be my workhorses and run my memory-heavy tools such as Photoshop, Lightroom, iMovie, Quicktime Pro, Keynote and Garage Band.

I pay a premium for Apple laptops to avoid performance slow down.

Apple computers are expensive, but they’ve always served my creativity and I well over the long term, so I keep going back for stability, ease of use and emotional connection.

Nevertheless, after awhile all computers slow down, then (like most red-blooded tech males) I get itchy and blow a load of money on the latest and greatest hi-spec machine, and, as everyone knows, Apple isn’t exactly a charity.

MacBook Pro 13"

This is my MacBook Pro 13″ which was slowing down and needed a turbo charge.

At the time I write this, I’m using a mid-2011 MacBook Pro 13” uni-body that I had acquired off eBay second hand over 18 months previous. The spec was:

  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M 256 MB
  • 500GB HDD
  • Optical drive

Not a bad spec, if you know specs.

Nonetheless, the famous “bouncing ball of death” that signals your machine is frozen began appearing more and more often, even while I was doing simple, non-memory hungry tasks like writing in Word or browsing the web. And when you’re in the middle of a stream of great thoughts and your fingers are flying to keep up, but your computer can’t, well… Well that sucks.

I pay a premium to avoid these problems.

Apple bouncing ball of death

The Apple bouncing ball of death which means your machine is frozen.

If I bought a new computer, I would be broke and very likely divorced. So I found a way to have it all.

My first move to attempt to increase (or recover?) performance was to buy high some capacity (i.e. 1TB) external hard drives and transfer my heavy files off the laptop to free up memory. That only marginally worked, yet sluggishness in performance prevailed and I found it tedious to have to plug in an external drive all the time.

And the bouncing ball of death kept coming…

I tried pushing things to the cloud, but then there is a dependence on fast wi-fi connectivity, which is very inconvenient and slow when grinding through big media files.

My evolutionary response (once my computer un-froze) was to open my interwebs browser and start eyeballing the latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air range (and thus subject myself to hyper-targeted display ads wherever else I went on the web). I eventually mocked-up my dream machine at by toggling each component to the highest spec.

The real-time price tag of my dream machine meant that divorce would quickly follow if I dared clicked “buy”.

Hence I did the next best thing: I started watching YouTube videos. I quickly learned that with a few non-Apple online purchases, some YouTube lessons and a small screwdriver, I could modify the hardware in my MacBook Pro.

So I spent £200 on third party Apple compatible components, and did a bit of labour.

Now my machine runs like greased lightening.

Apple will make it abundantly clear not to do any hardware upgrades yourself as it will negate your Apple warranty, so if that worries you, stop now.

But of you want to save a ton of cash and have a fast MacBook Pro… here’s what I did:

Inside MacBook Pro

This is what the guts of a MacBook Pro look like, and the components I changed.

1) Get a lot more RAM (£102)

Your MacBook Pro has RAM slots. I bought 2x 8GB (total of 16GB) of Crucial branded RAM for £102 and swapped out my measly 2x 2GB (total 4GB) RAM by following these instructions:

(I then sold my 2x 2GB memory chips on eBay and made £10. It ain’t much, but it helps.)

2) Get a solid state drive (£75)

Now my computer runs like greased lightening.

Changing your “moving part” hard drive device (HDD) for a solid state drive (SSD) will create the biggest change in performance. 128GB of SSD is all you really need for your start up disk and suite of programmes and apps, then any massive files (including your iTunes library, or movie files, or photography, etc.) can be pushed to an external drive, or better yet, see the following trick.

(Before you do this, make sure you properly understand how to migrate your startup disk to a new location.)

Here’s how to do it:

3) Replace the optical drive and have 2 hard drives in one machine! (£6)

Although SSDs are so much faster than HDDs, they tend to be more expensive if you need more than 128-250GB of capacity. By contrast, high-capacity HDDs are cheap.

In reality, you want a SSD for your startup disk, but you can use cheaper HDDs for big file storage.

So consider this: when was the last time you watched a DVD or played a CD on your laptop? Probably never. That optical drive is taking up valuable real estate (and also explains why the latest range of MacBook pros no longer have them).

Buy a cheap caddy and you can either drop your old HDD back into your machine, or you can buy and install a high capacity HDD so your machine is fast and has lots of space. Bingo!

Here’s how:

4) Optional: keep the optical drive alive (£10)

If you want all the perks of trick 3 but still occasionally need a DVD or CD drive, just drop the optical drive you took out into a USB powered enclosure (you can get these online for about £10) and it becomes an external optical drive. Simple!

Optical drive USB enclosure

You can get an optical drive USB enclosure like this and simply put the drive in there to keep using it.

NB: Make sure you buy compatible components

First things first, know your machine spec. You can find it by clicking on the apple symbol at the top and then “About this Mac”. Ensure that whatever you buy will work in your machine.

You can also use a system scanner like this one:

I bought Crucial RAM and SSD because they had the best price, but do search around and check reviews.

So, after all that my MacBook Pro machine spec is now:

  • 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 16GB DDR3 RAM (was 4GB DDR3 RAM)
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M 256 MB
  • 240GB SSD (was 500GB HDD)
  • 500GB HDD extra drive (replaced optical drive)

That spec brand new would cost at least 15x the price of the components and my time to install them.

And if your battery is a bit knackered, you can replace that as well, but I’m going to stop there for now.

So be wise, but be fast.

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