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I'm a graduating Computer Science student using a MacBook Pro early 2011, 2.3GHz Intel Core i5, RAM of 4GB 1333 MHz DDR3, and running at OSX Yosemite(10.10.2). I run memory and CPU intensive applications, especially with virtual machines and programming applications, and my MacBook just couldn't these heavy apps (deadly beach ball icon).

So, I was considering in using my savings to upgrade my MacBook's RAM and SSD until I raise enough budget to purchase a newer MacBook Pro with a better CPU and better capacity for upgrades(probably in about 5-7 months). For now, I'm stuck with my current 2.3GHz MacBook Pro.

I'm not really verse with hardware, and since upgrades are very pricey, I kinda need some assurance that my choices are sustainable and the right ones.

  1. I know it's better to upgrade SSD first before RAM. Bu in running multiple memory heavy apps, isn't it better to upgrade the RAM instead of the SSD? Since booting apps or my laptop isn't really an issue.
  2. Is a Samsung 850 Pro (1TB) a good investment and is compatible with my early 2011 MacBook Pro? I was thinking of just installing this SSD into my new laptop when the time comes, so I thought it might be a good investment to opt for one of the 'best' SSD with a larger capacity and longer 'life'/warranty.
  3. Sorry for the ignorance, but when upgrading the RAM, do I really need to strictly purchase a 1333 MHz DDR3 (8GBx2) in order for it to be compatible?

Thank you very much!

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Answer to question 1-3:

1.SSD or RAM?

My suggestion is 512GB SSD and a memory upgrade.

2.5inch SSD that is used in an old MacBook cannot be used in a new MacBook. So 1TB is not necessary.

512GB SSD and RAM upgrade can ensure performance and avoid the choice between SSD or RAM.

2.RAM selection?

Since you already have a 4GB ram, adding another 8GB ram could work just fine. It is ok if you want 8GB * 2 as well.

RAM frequency could be 1333MHz or 1600MHz, no need to consider about compatibility.

  • Oh. Thanks for pointing that out. How come the 2.5" SSD won't be compatible with the new MacBooks? I was really hoping to invest on a SSD that can be reused when I purchase a new one. And another thing I'm curious about is why 512GB SSD a common choice rather than 1TB? Other than the obvious reason of the need for storage space. – ContinuouslyGrowing10 Nov 24 '16 at 7:13
  • 512GB SSD is big enough to survive 5-6 months' time with lower cost.And the new macbook(2016) use "PCIe-based" SSD,much smaller and thinner compared to 2.5 inch. – FrontENG Nov 24 '16 at 8:37
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  1. Most apps interact with disk anyway, so it makes sense to upgrade the disk. I felt the difference even after upgrading to a faster SSD.
  2. Samsung SSDs work fine in Macbook Pro 2011. I used 1TB 840 EVO instead of Apple's stock 512GB SSD. EVO was much faster, by the way. The only thing that you should know is that if you go to Apple service, Apple's hardware test will fail on the disk only because the disk is not known to Apple. But that's nothing. My 2011 MBP works with this SSD for about three years now and the work is heavy. You may want to update the firmware of the SSD after purchasing though.
  3. Yes, you have to stay with 1333MHz! 1600 is not stable and it will not work reliably. It may work for a while but than randomly give kernel panic. It may happen under load or when idle. I tried several 1600MHz modules including "Mac memory". 16GB 1333MHz work fine in MBP 2011. 1600 does
  • ad2: Apple didn't ship an SSD with that Mac. Any SSD will be faster than those stock HDDs Apple shipped. ad3: No, that machine fully supports 1600MHz and runs stable with it at that speed. Perhaps you had a bad module? – LangLangC Oct 10 '18 at 15:57
  • Two different modules: one Kingstron, another is Corsair certified "Apple" memory. None work stable at 1600MHz. Kernel crashes daily. – Dmitry Dulepov Oct 11 '18 at 16:57
  • Actually Apple supplied SSD with a custom MBP build there. I still have that drive somewhere... – Dmitry Dulepov Oct 11 '18 at 16:58
  • Oops. Rechecking MacTracker reveals that you are right about the SSD, so ad2 I have to take back. –– I have installed dozens of 1600 modules in those Macs, non-certified even. None made trouble, but 2 2011 MBPs had defective modules supplied directly by Apple. But I made also sure that they were always matching (same vendor, age etc.) I strongly suspect just one of yours is wonky… – LangLangC Oct 11 '18 at 17:03
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I had this exact machine and went through the same debate – should I upgrade to an SSD and more RAM, or just move to a new machine?

If you're going to upgrade, I'd recommend buying from Other World Computing since they specialize in Mac upgrades and can guarantee compatibility. You can upgrade to a 1 TB SSD and 16 GB of RAM for ~$320 ($199 for the SSD and $120 for the RAM), and the performance difference will be huge.

However, there are other things to consider, which ultimately led to me deciding to buy a new machine instead:

  1. If you replace the hard drive with an SSD, you have to go through the hassle (and risk) of taking things apart, removing the old drive, installing the new drive, and transferring everything over. First, you want to have a full backup of your entire drive in case anything goes wrong. You need the proper tools to remove the old drive and mount the new one. You need to install macOS on the new drive so the machine will even boot. You need a way to transfer your data from the old drive to the new one (e.g. mounting the new one in an external enclosure). Etc. All of this is doable, but it takes a significant amount of time and there's always a small risk that something goes wrong, something breaks, etc., especially if you haven't done this before.

  2. Even if you're okay with #1, the 2011 MacBook Pro won't be supported by macOS Mojave. You'll get security updates for probably about 2 years, but otherwise you won't be receiving any major software updates. If you're at all interested in any of the new features of Mojave (dark mode!), or you run apps that might require Mojave at some point in the future, you're going to need a new machine anyway.

Also, for me personally, not having a retina display was a big factor (I do web development for a living and need to support retina displays, but there's no way to test graphics at different scaling factors, etc., if you don't actually have a retina display to test on).

With all of that combined, I decided I'd rather save the $320 and put that toward buying a new machine, instead of upgrading my 2011 model and then probably buying a new one in the near future anyway!

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