While fending off a bout of bronchitis this week, I decided to undertake a major computer upgrade. The logic at the time was "heal the body, heal the hard drive." If I was resting the former, the latter was certainly resting too. And the best time to do work on your computer is when you're not in the midst of actively writing a dissertation chapter.
I had been having problems with my MacBook Pro for a few months. My database and archival photos and oral history audio files filled up the last remaining storage space on my hard drive and I began getting a regular pop-up message from my OS that my start up drive was full. On a few occasions the entire computer shut down, unprompted, and I was lucky that nothing got lost. I knew I was playing with fire and about to get burned. After two months of research, I decided the most cost-effective solution would be to exchange my 320GB 5400-rpm Serial ATA hard drive for a 500 GB Samsung 850 EVO Solid State Drive (SSD). It cost me $200 on Amazon, and I took it to a local computer repair store and paid $170 for the privilege of blaming someone else if the transfer did not go well.
Overall, I'm very happy with my decision. I decided to do a "clean install" of OS X Yosemite onto the new SSD and then move over my files. The benefit of this method, as opposed to "cloning" the old HD onto the new one, seems to be that you leave behind a lot of the small files and programs and metadata that invisibly begin to clog up your storage over the years. My computer now boots up faster and I am not experiencing the lags (spinning rainbow pinwheels) that I used to have each time I opened up an app. I've transferred every photo, audio track, movie file, and document that was on the old HD, and I still have 196 GB free! And I had no problems moving DEVONthink or Scrivener over--the dissertation re-appeared completely intact.
The ONE problem I did have was with Zotero, my bibliography/citation management database. I'm confident that this was 100% user error. In my recent attempts to empty out the old hard drive, I may have unwittingly deleted the destination folder that stored that program's content. I was under the impression that it was being backed up both on the Zotero website and in my cloud backups. I somehow failed to implement either of those processes over the past year, and now it is too late. I'm bummed, but relative to the disaster that would have been losing my DEVONthink database (which has all of the archival documents and sources for my dissertation) I can't get too upset. It's a reminder to not make big computer decisions when you're too sick to triple check your backups. It's also an opportunity to re-build the bibliography with the insight gleaned over a year of dissertating. I'm using the tool differently and curating what I include to better suit my process.
In summary, here is my Pro/Con list for why someone with a pre-2012 MacBook Pro should consider swapping in a new SSD:
Pro: For only $200 in parts, you can have a computer with the same specs as a new MacBook Pro retailing for around $1800. I also believe that my computer feels a little lighter to carry around, but I have no proof for this.
Con: You won't have a retina screen, and the place you take your computer to do the switch probably won't be able to replace those little bumps on the bottom of the chassis that you knocked off two years ago. They'll clean out the fan with the little can of air, but you'll still have a machine that has experienced wear and tear. I have also noticed that my battery life does not last as long.