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Switching to an SSD

February 7th, 2011 · 3 min read

I’ve been using my new Intel X25-M SSD for a while. Overall, I’m satisfied with it. The performance gain is very much noticeable: Launching applications takes no time at all, compiling code is amazingly fast, and opening my Aperture libraries didn’t slow my machine down as usual. It’s like a dream comes true.

That being said, going down from a roomy 250GB HDD to a 120GB SSD does make me become more conscious about preserving disk space. At the time of writing, I got about 10GB of free space for storing downloaded files and stuff. The rest are used for Snow Leopard, applications, iTunes and Aperture libraries, Dropbox (50GB account), etc. Xcode itself accounts for 14GB of space. If you want to install all its three versions (stable, beta and Xcode 4 Preview), add about 15-20 extra gigs.

Everything cuts both ways. There was a problem I didn’t anticipate before making the switch. It’s ridiculously hard to install Bootcamp on an Intel SSD. How hard, you may ask. Well, I spent about 10 hours yesterday to get my Bootcamp configuration up and running: Windows XP SP3 in parallel with Mac OS X 10.6.6, just so I can play some of my favorite Windows-only games once in a while.

Being so naive, I read the Windows XP hardware requirements and figured 10GB should be enough for its installation. That turned out not to be the case: Bootcamp required at least 25GB just to repartition the disk, of which at least 20GB is used for Windows. After moving stuff around to meet that requirement, I found another problem: my disk was too fragmented to be repartitioned. The solution for this was simple, although it took hours to complete: Backup my whole system to another disk, reformat it and restore everything to where it started. Thanks to SuperDuper, the process took me only a few clicks. A lesson for you to take home: If you want to repartition your disk, do it when it is still new. Oh, and for those using a non-SSD disk, iDefrag is the best defragmenter money can buy.

Now that I had 2 partitions ready, one HFS+ and another FAT32, one may think the rest would be easy. Wrong - the pain had just begun.

Reboot with a Windows CD, install it into the FAT32 partition, reboot the system again and I faced a sweet Disk error message.

Reboot into Snow Leopard, install rEfit, reboot the system twice to make it recognize rEfit, open the Partition Manager and this time I got a chance to fix the MBR record that caused the earlier problem.

Reboot with the CD installer again, remove the FAT32 partition, create a new NTFS one, choose to install Windows one more time, boot up the system (again) and… Well, ‘missing hal.dll’. I was about to give up.

I did another reboot, fixed the MBR record again, then did another reboot, chose to reformat the partition instead of remove/create a new one, and did another install of Windows XP. This time, it worked.

Let me say that again: this time, it worked. I finally got Windows XP SP3 running on my Intel SSD. What a nightmare.

Lesson to take home: Don’t mess with Bootcamp and a dual OS setup, unless you absolutely need to. Trust me, it hurts a lot. Oh, and did I mention that before all these hassles, I did upgrade my SSD firmware to the very latest version, which was just released one week ago?

Other than that particular trouble, let me re-emphasize that switching to an SSD is a rewarding experience though. Your machine will feel crazily fast. In fact, it will feel like a completely different machine.