Notes from the Future: SSD instead of hard drives

Ssd I'm writing this on my Mac Pro that feels like a new computer thanks to the SSD (solid state drive) memory that replaced my existing hard drive. A friend of mine used to talk about this idea ten years ago — that someday RAM and flash memory would get so cheap you'd be able to fit an entire operating system on it, making it magnitudes faster than current computers. Thanks to the past decade of ever cheaper and larger memory sticks, cards, and RAM, we're finally at that moment. SSD drives are now available in sizes big enough for boot drives (including your operating system and space for apps), are available for many laptops & desktops, and start at just a couple hundred bucks.

Today I finished putting a 128Gb Crucial SSD drive in my newer Mac Pro. It was simple and the results are amazing. The hardest part was dealing with a new 128Gb SSD drive compared to my current main 1Tb hard drive. Thankfully I had a spare 1Tb drive to move all the music, movies, downloads, and document files to in order to get the operating system and application files down well below 128Gb in size. Next, I took my new SSD drive out of the package, opened my Mac, slid out hard drives, plugged the drive into a spare optical drive connector, and put it all back. Then I used SuperDuper to clone my now smaller main hard drive to the new drive, set it as the new boot drive, and rebooted. I followed the basic approach outlined in this tutorial (ignore the use of apps describe there) and was done, start to finish in less than 40 minutes (attaching the drive took 5 minutes, data copying took 33 minutes).

Overall, booting up takes about 1/3 as long. Applications launch in a second or two (even the bloated ones). Everything feels amazingly snappy, in the way that replacing a 5+ year old computer with a new one feels. About the only tip I'd give is that 64Gb is probably enough for most people if you can get iPhoto, iTunes, and all your large file storage to a separate drive. My SSD is barely using 25Gb for the entire OS, about 10Gb of applications, and assorted other files sitting on my desktop. I bought a larger drive just to be safe but I'm not sure it was necessary.

Currently, I'd put preparing your computer and installing SSD at the fairly technical nerd level but given that laptops with SSD pre-installed have been available for the past couple years it's only a matter of time before desktop computers start shipping with them. To any of my friends considering this, it's totally worth doing.

UPDATE: Jon Deal wrote me an amazing email last night detailing how to move the home directory to a new location using some command-line mojo and a hidden advanced user account feature I didn't know existed. He put it online last night here. It worked perfectly for me and saves a lot of headaches. I actually could have done this before I installed the SSD and before I shrank down the files/directories on my main drive to fit onto a SSD.

GarageBand’s podcasting limitations

Today I ran into the 999 measure limit in GarageBand. The app is built with music in mind, with a default of 120 beats per minute. When I dragged in a couple podcast tracks that clocked in at one hour and 14 minutes, I couldn’t hear all the way to the end and my waveforms weren’t showing up in the editor. Turns out it was too much information for GarageBand to natively display (despite that I’m on a quad processor desktop with 3Gb of RAM) and you have to turn down the beats per minute to 40. Once you do that, everything will magically work just fine.

Parallels updates

I first heard about the new Parallels beta here on Dan’s vox account. It’s really incredible. It includes a couple cool new features, one being “Coherence” which lets you run windows intermingled with your mac. See how I have a windows taskbar below my apple menu at the top? That’s Coherence running.

When it comes to computers, I’ve long been a tool agnostic. I started on Windows but I used to run emulators to test out how sites looked on a linux box or an old mac. I used both a mac and windows machine simultaneously for the past four years so I could use the best applications of each platform. At first it was two computers side-by-side, then I got to share a single keyboard and mouse. Eventually, I got two virtual desktops running on a single intel Mac with Parallels. With the latest Parallels beta, I can now run just the one or two windows apps I need directly on my mac desktop.

After many years of tinkering, I’ve finally got the ultimate web testing platform. I can edit files in a window, then just hit refresh on safari, firefox, and IE6 all next to each other to see how each browser responds to changes.

If you develop websites and have to worry about CSS differences between platforms and browsers, this is the killer tool for you: Parallels and an Intel Mac.

So you just got a Blackberry Pearl and you have a mac…

I unpacked my new Blackberry Pearl a few hours ago and after running all over the web trying to solve basic problems, I figured I should do a roundup of the basics here for other mac users, since I couldn’t find all this info in one place.

  • Charge it up the first time by plugging it into a wall. It seems buggy at first with USB charging, giving errors that you are not using a powered USB port and you are missing drivers, both which are untrue. My iMac worked fine after the first charge.
  • You can’t pair the device to your mac via OS X’s bluetooth utilities just yet. That means no iSync over bluetooth right now either. I suspect this is coming someday soon and someone can correct me on all the backstory (leave a comment).
  • update: at this point I would suggest using Missing Sync for the Blackberry Pearl. It’s much more stable and reliable than PocketMac.
  • You can use PocketMac along with the included USB cable for syncing, but don’t look for it on PocketMac’s product page, you can only get it from Blackberry directly following a link halfway down this page.
  • PocketMac 4.0 will resemble iSync and let you sync your address book, calendar, etc. Be sure to launch the app, then connect via USB, then sync everything. PocketMac refused to launch until I did it in this exact order.
  • Even though you can’t do much via bluetooth, apparently using the blackberry as a modem with bluetooth is possible and works using this modem script and set of instructions. I also hear it is free under T Mobile’s regular blackberry plans (I used to pay $20/month for the luxury on my old phone).
  • You can apparently transfer files over bluetooth but it sounds buggy.

Hopefully iSync/OSX starts fully supporting the device soon, but until then, this was all the info I needed to get started. Gmail works great on the device as does MetaFilter, so I’ll be set whenever I’m on the road and away from the keyboard.