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I have a 17" Macbook Pro, mid 2010, with a 2.66 GHz core i7. It has 4GB of memory and a 500 GB sata hard drive (5400 rpm).

With this specification, if I have to update one and only one part of my machine, which of the following gives me better improvement of performance: 8 GB of ram vs. 256 GB solid state drive?

There is a similar question here, but it is not applicable to me since the OP is already having 8GB of ram.

I know that ssd improves the boot and wake up time as well as data transfer rate, however, I suspect that with 4GB one bottleneck in my machine is page swamping. Thus, accruing more memory would make sense.

On the other hand, I read everywhere that ssd makes the computer much more responsive and this is the main reason I want an upgrade.

To add to dilemma, my laptop has sata2 while most solid state drives can shine with sata3 (correct me if this wrong).

So here is the situation. If you had my mac, would you upgrade the ram or the hard disk?

P.S. If I go with ssd, I would remove the optical drive and use its physical space for my current hard drive. Running out of space is not really an issue then.

P.P.S As a side note, if I somehow manage to do both upgrades, i.e. 8 GB of ram and solid state drive. In such case how long would I expand life time of my mac?

Edit

I use this mac for coding (and compiling of course) when I'm not on my linux machine. This also means, sometimes I need to run virtual machines (RAM!). Sometimes I also do photos post-processing which includes using huge raw files. Apart from that, mostly regular daily use of surfing, emailing, reading and writing papers.

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I'll have just one question : "what do you use your computer for ?" –  Thomas Jul 10 at 9:43
    
@Thomas, thanks for the fair point. Check the edit please. –  Pouya Jul 10 at 9:50
    
Aaaaand a second one : what's your budget ? –  Thomas Jul 10 at 9:54
    
Say it is enough to buy 2x4GB of ram or 256GB ssd, but not both. But I also would like to know if somehow I manage to buy both, how long the life time of my laptop would be expanded (look at my P.P.S). But that is a side note, the main question is to have enough money to buy only one of them. –  Pouya Jul 10 at 10:24

4 Answers 4

I used to work with a 2009 MBP 13" with C2D 2.53Ghz, 8GB ram and 256GB SSD, it worked like a charm with development (Qt, XCode), VM (VirtualBox), image edition (lightroom).

I changed it because the screen was too small but that shouldn't be an issue for you since you're running on a 17". So if you change both, you can hope at least 2 more years.

I would go for the SSD which is awesome : your HDD should reach around 100MB/s in RW whereas the SSD can go up to 375MB/s in SATA2 which is very nice. You'll get more speed in loading softwares, and swapping will be faster in order to compensate the eventual lack of RAM.

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I have a 2011 MacBook Pro 15", and upgraded it both to 8GB and an SSD. Both upgrades are extremely valuable.

Since you are using the MBP for coding, I would definitely go for the 8GB. XCode et al. can use quite a lot of RAM.

The SSD will also refresh your MBP immensely! Compiling will be much, much faster. As will be application startup times. Especially iPhoto, Aperture and the like will be incredibly faster, if the photo library resides on the SSD.

Since Apple is shipping most Macs with 8GB still, I guess this will prolong the work life of your Mac for several more years.

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On the other hand, I use an old 2010 Core 2 11" MacBook Air with a measly 2 GB of RAM, and it's quick enough to handle Xcode because it has an SSD. I'd say put the money on the SSD now and make sure your swapfile is going there.

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I can't see the speed of your processor being very relevant to whether the laptop continues to be compatible with future versions of OS X. I sold a 2008 MBP to a friend that only had 4 GB of RAM as well and a 7200 rpm HDD and it can handle Mavericks just fine. It has a Core2 Duo, with an i7 you should be set for at least 3 more years, if not 6.

I hope that you upgraded your OS to Mavericks. It helps make the most of either upgrade.

If it were my laptop, I would probably go for the RAM. I don't know if I can give a compelling reason for that; it's just something that seems logical to me.

That said, I have a MacBook Air with 8 GB of RAM and an SSD and it rarely uses that much of it's RAM—perhaps 6 GB on a busy day, and that's because mavericks utilizes more RAM than necessary when it can for the speed boost. The logic behind Mavericks though, as I understand it, is that it compresses items in your RAM to boost how much is available, so with 4 GB you might get the performance of 6. With 8 GB and the work I do (some computation and coding but also just a lot of tabs and PDFs), I usually get the performance of 6 or 7 GB as well, because it doesn't seem to need that much. So... The SSD might be the better choice, especially because it will speed up your paging a lot.

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