Adventures in the Byte Trade
I said I was going to wait, but I wouldn’t be a technophile if I did. Despite maxing out the old laptop mainframe with RAM, an 80 GB hard drive and an internal slot-loading DVD burner, the wait times grew burdensome and a couple of my newer apps were barely usable. The new mainframe: a 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo MacBook, with 512MB RAM, 60 GB hard drive and slot-loading DVD burner.

RAM Tough
Ordered on a Thursday, it shipped from Suzhou, China via FedEx on Monday (Sunday here) and, after stops in Anchorage, Indianapolis and Phoenix, it was delivered to Global HQ Tuesday morning. Naturally I wasted no time booting up the beast. It came up fast, and after backing up my 30+ GB music collection and then tossing it off the 80 GB drive, I used the Mac’s very cool Migration Assistant to move from the old 12″ Powerbook to the new MacBook, which took about 90 minutes. I rebooted, brought up my favorite apps and my brand new machine was cra-a-a-wling. Time for a RAM upgrade!

I knew this would happen – MacBook reviews said so – so I was prepared. I’d gone on my favorite RAM site, dealram after ordering the MacBook and found 1GBx2 Mac-spec generic RAM for less than $80 per stick. It was here when the new mainframe arrived, so after assuring myself the reviews were right, I shut down, unplugged, flipped the ‘Book over, removed the battery, and then swore at the #00 Phillips-head screws until they loosened. Removing the L-bracket, two little levers popped out. Extending them made the SO-DIMMs pop out and 60 seconds later the brawny new 1 GB sticks were firmly seated. More swearing at the micro-Phillips screws and another 5 minutes and the now maxed-out RAM was working its magic.

It’s A Hard, Hard, Hard World
Were buying a disk drive as easy.

One of the best features of the MacBook – unlike the MacBook Pro – is the ease of replacing the hard drive. In most laptops HDD replacement is very delicate surgery of the warranty-voiding kind. My fine motor skills aren’t the best, so I’d never done it. But with the MacBook, once you’ve finished swearing at the #00 screws you are there. There is a little white plastic tab tucked around the end of the disk drive which is easily levered up. Pull it gently and the SATA drive slides out. Remove the four #8 Torx screws holding the carrier to the drive, mount the new drive, slide it in, mount the L-bracket and you’re done. A five minute process if the screws cooperate.

Google 2.5 SATA 120GB -ATA -USB
I’m a size king. I like a lot of drive capacity since I know it will fill up eventually. So I wanted one of the new 160GB 2.5″ drives. Sadly, for the usual reasons they are in short supply and expensive. You’ll find that most places advertising them do not have them in stock, and those that do are close to $2/GB after shipping. So I opted for a 120, whose best prices are on the order of $1.30/GB.

I used Google’s Froogle service to locate the best prices. Google/Froogle does a poor job of weeding out what you don’t want though, so use the minus (-) operator to exclude listings that contain ATA and USB, or anything else that shows up. Then select the low-to-high price listing option. I looked at some other sites, like Pricescan, and didn’t find their vendor selection very broad. Froogle gets you a lot of hole-in-the-wall vendors that can be trouble, so think about your comfort level with risk and choose accordingly.

Buy RAM, Not Disk Performance
I also don’t care about performance. Of course I looked at the drive reviews at Toms Hardware, The Tech Report and Storage Review. Yet I find disk drive benchmarks unpersuasive, personally as well as professionally. Especially on a laptop with sufficient memory, the need for disk swapping is minimal.

Currently, the MacBook as been up for 24 hours and has seven applications running, 71 tasks and 237 threads. It has had zero virtual memory page outs and is using zero on-disk swap space. So a more expensive and lower capacity 7200 RPM would have saved me at most a few seconds of wait time. With only 1 GB of RAM there’d be a lot of swapping and page outs where disk performance would start to matter. Since the additional gig of RAM was $80, and a faster drive meant lower capacity and a $50 premium, I know I am better off buying the RAM.

Application Benchmarks For Faster Laptop Drives?
I didn’t find any. I’d love to hear why you made different decisions – if you did.