Sprucing up my $38 macbook

I haven’t written in a very long time, mostly because I’ve stopped reading and watching films entirely, as I simply don’t have the time anymore. Sucks.

Meanwhile, time flies, and my new Macbook Pro is now a late-2008 model. For a while my band was using it to run the keyboards at our shows–but a drunk girl knocked it off its stand and busted it and Apple took away its warrantee and said they couldn’t fix it. Its problems are mostly limited to the USB and charging ports, but its performance suffers. My first Macbook Pro I only kept for two years before replacing it because it was no longer powerful enough–this one I’ve had for five years, but I just don’t have the resources to replace it. I’ve maxed out its RAM, I’ve emptied everything I possibly could onto external drives, and it’s still being shitty. When I checked its resale value, due to its extensive denting, etc. its worth $38 in Apple giftcards. It cost $2k+.

Next idea was to buy a hybrid SSD. This model can’t handle an actual SSD, but Seagate makes this hybrid drive that’s 1TB with an extra 8GB solid state, and it works on magic. I couldn’t get it working–it turns out because this model Mac can’t handle a 3 gigabit connection, or something like that, and you have to change a jumper setting on the drive to make that work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any jumpers that were the correct size–they poke out too much and the cable won’t plug in.

I was on the verge of just sticking a new computer on the credit card when it occurred to me that I might be able to take out the SuperDrive (DVD/CD drive) and replace it with a hard drive. Yes. There’s a few companies making kits to make this possible. I went with OWC‘s Data Doubler because their name appeared most frequently. The kit comes with magnetic screwdrivers and extensive documentation and made replacement mostly a breeze, save a couple moments of panic.

Years of building my own computers led me to distrust Western Digital and Maxtor and eventually become a great fan of Seagate–but in this case I went with Samsung and Toshiba drives because I figured that maybe it was time to move to the Asian market. I went with the Samsung SSD 840 Pro, as I’ll pay $20 for the extra reliability. 128 GB that I’m using for my OS, apps, and iTunes library file–I’m keeping the library itself on my secondary drive. For the secondary drive I’m going with a 1TB Toshiba installed where the machine’s hard drive was originally. The SSD isn’t going to run at 6 gigabit because my machine can’t handle that, but it’ll taper down to 3 gigbits instead–hopefully not less, although it sure feels like it. I haven’t run any programs to test this.

Next, in terms of installation, I reinstalled OSX by starting up my machine in recovery mode and running the reinstallation of OSX Lion on the new hard disk. I then went through its built-in process to have it automatically copy over my apps and whatever various small files I didn’t recognize and figured would keep customization the same (I didn’t want to lose my keychain or the tabs I’d last had open on Chrome, and it actually worked perfectly.) In total it took about six hours–mostly due to a four hour process of “downloading additional components” which my research shows isn’t downloading at all, but just queueing files up across one’s computer in prep for reinstallation.

Next, restarting the computer with two bootable drives led to problems–even while holding down Opt on reboot, it couldn’t detect the new one. So I pulled out my old hard drive, restarted, and although it took a few reboots and a few PRAM resets, after a good half-hour startup everything’s been smooth ever since.

I’ve installed TRIM Enabler and enabled the TRIM since the Samsung supports it and OSX doesn’t automatically enable it for drives you install yourself in this location.

I installed the new 1GB HDD, put my old HDD in an external enclosure and copied over my files, and now comes the best part…symlinks.

I wanted to set up symlinks so that I could pretend my two hard drives are connected to each other without having to save or delete files unnecessarily from my SSD. Essentially, I want to delete the system folders Desktop, Downloads, Movies, Pictures, Public, Sites, Documents, and then recreate them not as aliases, but as symlinks, pointing to their new locations on my HDD. I had trouble doing it all from the terminal, so I split up the job like this.

1. Delete the Downloads folder. You can’t do this within OSX because it’s a system folder and it’s just not allowed. So, instead, into terminal and typing the command: sudo rm -rf ~/Downloads/

2. Now the Downloads folder is deleted, and I continued by using the potential-abandonware Symbolic Linker. It installs a Contextual Menu/Service that creates symlinks. So on HDD I create a symlink of Downloads, move the symlink file over to the SSD and now it LOOKS like the folder is back to normal. The point being that its called Downloads and when software wants to save to my normal Downloads directory, it’ll save to my HDD Downloads directory.

3. Another great benefit here is that I keep tons of shit on my desktop–so I create a symlink of my desktop, and the OS actually reads and displays my desktop off my HDD. If I’d put my “Desktop” folder in Dropbox and created a symlink of that folder, I could have a desktop that syncs across multiple machines. And that’s badass. Thanks, lifehacker.

4. As for iTunes, I wanted the SSD to load my library as fast as possible, but to store the music elsewhere. So I copied my entire music folder EXCEPT the “iTunes Music” directory onto the SSD. The “iTunes Music” directory is hanging out on the HDD, where in the Advanced Settings of iTunes I’ve redirected it to look.

Lastly, I hate all my symlink folders not looking spiffy. They’ll have the Alias arrow on them regardless, which I prefer, just so I don’t forget they’re not real directories. But I want them to have the original pretty icons from the OS. OSX icons are stored here: /System/Library/CoreServices/CoreTypes.bundle
And when you Show Package Contents, then Contents/Resources and they’re below all the folders. So, find the icon you’d like to use, and double click it to open in Preview. It shows the different sizes on the left, but they’re not just scaled versions of the same image–so that if you choose the largest, most detailed, the picture will be too small and lightly-colored to actually see when its a tiny icon. So I chose the smallest version of the icon, because it gives the most space to actual image inside the folder. It looks good tiny. Select it in Preview, and then on the main frame, click and select all and copy.

Find the directory, not the symlink, that you’d like to have the new icon. Right click > Get Info. At the top left of the Get Info window, you’ll see the icon. Click on it and it’ll highlight. Now click Cmd-V and it’ll paste the new icon. This is apparently the only way to get it there–you can’t drag, etc. and I can’t figure out how to get the whole bundle of icons in either. Sucks, but I’m not too concerned. In the meantime, the symlink now takes on the new icon, but includes the alias arrow on top of it. Perfect.

It seems like everything is working. At 10% of the cost of a new MacBook Pro, now I can actually get back to work, still limited by my RAM, but in general running things much more smoothly. Maybe with I’ll save enough time usually spent cussing that I can go back to reading.


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