Crucial M4 SSD in MacBook Pro (Early 2011)

I recently bought and installed in my 2011 MacBook Pro a Crucial M4 128GB solid state drive. The results have been good and, as a first time SSD user, I can honestly consider myself impressed. Startup times for everything from the OS to applications are much, much snappier. I also appreciate no longer hearing the mechanical sounds of an HDD, even though they weren’t too loud in this case. If I ever get around to running benchmarks, I’ll attach them here for your perusal.

Here’s a screenshot of BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test taken 8/12/2012, over a year after I installed the drive:

BlackMagic Disk Speed Test Benchmarks
BlackMagic Disk Speed Test Benchmarks

These benchmarks are actually a little better than the “out of the box” due to slight improvements in performance delivered by firmware upgrades. Either way, these are precisely in line with Crucial’s advertised specs (note: the 256GB and 512GB M4 have faster write speeds than the 128 — about 250 MB/s).

The M4 supports TRIM but, as many people no doubt know by this point, OS X 10.6.6 and versions beyond (including Lion and Mountain Lion) only support TRIM when using one of the Apple SSDs (Samsung/Toshiba). Personally, I think this is ridiculous. After all, Windows 7 provided TRIM support out of the box in October 2009, and the Linux kernel has supported TRIM (on certain filesystems) for nearly the same length of time. So it’s weird to find something so backward-facing in a product that the manufacturer touts as “the world’s most advanced desktop operating system.” Don’t get me wrong: I love my Mac and OS X is a good operating system, but sometimes they leave things out that just make no sense.

Not willing to go quietly, I used the TRIM Support Enabler utility to enable TRIM support for this drive. There’s always a bit of risk when using a system hack of this nature, but it seemed like a no-brainer when considering the potential benefit to the performance and life expectancy of a piece of technology that’s still relatively costly. Just remember to make a backup of your system before proceeding and you should be fine. I haven’t had any problems that I can attribute to enabling TRIM support for my drive.

In respect to the Crucial M4 specifically , it should be noted that there have been a significant number of user complaints about this drive when paired with the 2011 MBP ranging from excessive “beach balls” to complete failure. Normally, I’d approach these complaints with some skepticism, but Crucial support started issuing responses to many of these users implying they were aware of these issues and were ceasing to list the Crucial M4 as compatible with MacBook Pro 2011 and, later, that their engineers are looking into it. Crucial has a had a good name amongst Mac parts suppliers for years (namely RAM); let’s hope they issue a firmware update before losing too many SSD customers. Until then, I’d recommend that MacBook Pro users exercise caution when shopping for an SSD.

For the record, I too have had some lengthy “beach balls,” namely when using my Win7 VM with Parallels. Bummer.

UPDATE: Ever since the earliest firmware upgrade (0003, I think), the beach ball issue has become practically non-existent. I mentioned as much in the comments but realized I’m doing my readers and Crucial a disservice by not mentioning this explicitly in the review. Apologies.

Verdict:
The Crucial M4 SSD rocks. That said, SSDs are still somewhat expensive (ranging often from $1.50-$2.00 per GB), so be prepared to open your wallet, especially if you want a SATA III drive and/or lots of storage space. If only Apple would polish up OS X’s SSD support so that I don’t have to perform witchcraft to get the full functionality of my drive, then I’d be perfectly satisfied.

Side-Rant:
128GB is much less than I’d ideally like to have, but a 512GB SSD still costs nearly $1000. I’m not sure I could justify that for a storage drive on a personal machine (unless that machine was being used to generate income in some way, which mine is clearly not). I think/hope we’ll see pricing gradually decrease over the next year or two and hopefully SSDs will replace HDDs as the standard shortly thereafter.

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