Is Firewire 800 + SSD an upgrade for me?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by ToomeyND, Apr 1, 2013.

  1. ToomeyND macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    I am running a 2007 20" iMac that is getting annoyingly slow (as you may know if you've seen some of my other posts). I'm debating switching now and holding out for whatever haswell has to offer.

    In the meantime, I'm exploring options and thinking about possibly picking up this USB 3.0 Firewire 800 enclosure and a 256 GB Crucial M4 SSD to use as my boot drive. Would this setup using Firewire 800 boost performance over my internal 320 GB 7200 stock hard drive?

    I have no experience using FW 800, so it's a bit foreign to me as to the benefits of the connection.
  2. macrumors member

    Mar 17, 2012
    FireWire SSD

    My iMac is a 2010 27" i5, which I was finding slow so I got a firewire 800 SSD (thunderbolt didn't arrive until 2011 model), this significantly improved by boot time and responsiveness. I also upgraded the RAM to the 16GB maximum which I would suggest you also do (look on Amazon for Crucial ram), you might want to check Crucial's website for compatibility.
    So if you buy a SSD (with Firewire) & upgrade your RAM (if you haven't already) these two things will speed up your mac. I assume you can't afford to replace your Mac at the moment as this would probably be the best solution.
  3. ToomeyND thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    Thanks for the help. Yes, I already maxed my iMac out to the whopping 4 GB of ram that it can hold. ;)

    I might go this route as a temporary solution until I can save up enough for a new computer.
  4. RedCroissant Suspended

    Aug 13, 2011
    Why not just rep[lace your stock 320GB HDD with the SSD, put the HDD in the external enclosure, and upgrade the RAM to 6GB? I know that Apple only officially supports 4GB, but according to, you could probably utilize 6GB with a 2GB and 4GB module. Plus, having a fresh install of the OS on a SSD with 2GB more RAM might work wonders for you and make it so that you don't have to upgrade for a while to come.
  5. COrocket macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    To utilize your SSD to the fullest extent possible for your machine, you will be much better off taking the iMac apart and replacing your internal HDD with the SSD. The reason is because SATA-I can transfer data at about 1.5 Gb/s, where Firewire 800 transfers at 800 Mb/s (nearly double). Otherwise you are better off getting a new HDD, which can still max out the speed of the Firewire 800 connection. As a point of reference, most new SSD's can read/write at SATA-III speeds, which is around 6 Gb/s.

    I did this with a 2007 Macbook. The SSD was a definite upgrade over the stock HDD. It was like having a new computer. But it wasn't until I got my 2012 mini (which has SATA-III connections/USB 3.0) that I was able to harness all the potential of the SSD.
  6. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    In your situation -

    SSD internal would work better.

    External with FW800 - go for a Western Digital 1tb Raptor drive in a 3.5" drive enclosure. The Raptor drive is a better match in terms of speed and output than the SSD via FW800 and also is larger. SSD is a waste with FW800.

    The Raptor drive is a mechanical drive with 10,000 rpm speed and comes with a 5 year warranty.

    While I absolutely prefer a good SSD drive, it is a better fit with USB3 or Thunderbolt. FW800 would be a bottleneck for this type of drive.
  7. tdhurst macrumors 601


    Dec 27, 2003
    Phoenix, AZ

    Swapping your existing HD with an SSD is, for most users, the single most effective method in making your computer faster (RAM would be up there too, but technically RAM doesn't allow the computer to run any faster).

    The 2007 iMacs aren't tough to upgrade.
  8. ToomeyND thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    Well, I was planning on doing the external so that I could put it into the next mac I buy, later this year. However, if you all think that putting an SSD into the computer itself would give me some more length in my current setup, maybe that's what I'll do.

    Thanks for the advice all.
  9. tdhurst macrumors 601


    Dec 27, 2003
    Phoenix, AZ

    By the time you get a new mac, I bet 512 SSDs will be way cheaper anyway.
  10. ToomeyND thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    Sorry, but a quick search isn't helping me find this answer. Do I need any cables to replace my hdd with an ssd?

    My amazon cart currently has suction cups, a torx kit, a 2.5" to 3.5" tray, and a 256 gb Crucial M4 SSD. Am I missing anything?
  11. COrocket macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    Check out the iMac tutorials and select your device. I have found these extremely helpful for doing changes and determining what tools you need.

    If you are doing a fresh OSX install, then you should be fine with the parts you described. Put the empty SSD in the HDD slot, then boot from the OSX DVD, and format the SSD then reinstall OSX.

    If you want to clone your drive, then I would get a cheap external enclosure, so that you can plug in the SSD externally to do the transfer using software like SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner. Then once the data is transfered you open up the machine and swap the drives.
  12. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I'll be candid - given that you have a 2007 20" iMac, it is by today's standards a slow machine. The bus is slow, the memory is relatively slow and I believe it is just SATA internal connectivity as opposed to SATA 2/3. In your shoes, I would consider after some thought, to move forward with a refurb that is more up to date or a new machine. While your system might gain some improvement with an internal SSD, it will bottleneck that SSD drive. You can't get all the goodness out of it.

    Perhaps you should consider a newer 21" iMac. Faster bus speed, better graphics, faster memory and worthy of an SSD internal or external. Also your iMac has only FW800 as its top external performer. No USB3 and no Thunderbolt.
  13. RedCroissant Suspended

    Aug 13, 2011
    I agree that it's a slow machine to a point, but that can be mitigated by increasing the amount of RAM and the SSD, which could take bring it to the performance levels of more recent machines(say 2009-2010 models). I also think it's SATA 2 because SATA 2 is rated at 3Gbps as far as I know, so that's not too bad considering the 2009 models were also at that speed. My 2009 iMac that I just sold was doing wonderfully and it wasn't that much more powerful on the spec side than this one(2.66GHz, 8GB RAm max). And If I didn't have to sell it, then I have no doubt that I would have held onto it for a few more years to come and taking advantage of the SSD technology.
  14. fortysomegeek macrumors regular

    Oct 9, 2012
    Firewire 800 is equal to approximately 800 Mb/s (megabits per second), since there are 8 bits in a byte, then this would be 100 MB/s (megabytes per second). 100 MB/sec is the most ideal theoretical limit. There is overhead so you will never hit that.

    You are throwing your money away if you pair it with a SSD. You will never use the SSD's speed with FW800. There are 7200rpm drives that will give you 80-90MB/second via Firewire 800.

    As someone alluded, you are probably better replacing the internal with a SSD.
  15. ToomeyND thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    My thinking with the external setup I proposed was to have a temporary solution, then I could add the SSD to my next computer whenever it is that I purchase it. It would mean the cost of the external enclosure provides the convenience of having quick access to the SSD for permanent installation in my next rig. If it doesn't fit in the next rig, the external I suggested also has usb 3.0, so I get that benefit at minimum.

    I understand from all of the people who were kind enough to respond in this thread that the SSD is overkill for the FW 800, but if that setup is faster than my internal HDD, then it seems like it is an option still worth considering.

    All that said, if the installation into the computer isn't all that difficult, I suppose I would rather save the $60 toward my next computer.


    Thanks for walking me through this.
  16. COrocket macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    To analyze how much faster your setup could be, take a look at the free software "Blackmagic disk speed test" on the mac app store. This will give you a read/write speed on your current disk.

    On my original 2007 Macbook, I had 30MB/s (yours might be higher if it has a desktop drive in it)

    If you got an SSD/Firewire 800, theoretical max is 100 MB/s, expect ~80MB/s
    If you did an internal installation, theoretical SATA-1 max is 150 MB/s, expect ~130 MB/s

    So in my case, I went from 30 to 130 MB/s, and the 4x speed boost was huge. Even if you did the Firewire 800 setup there could be room for improvement. I would run that software to see what you have to gain over your current setup.
  17. Fishrrman macrumors G5


    Feb 20, 2009
    "If you got an SSD/Firewire 800, theoretical max is 100 MB/s, expect ~80MB/s
    If you did an internal installation, theoretical SATA-1 max is 150 MB/s, expect ~130 MB/s"

    Considering the cost of doing an internal upgrade (unless the original poster wants to do it himself), going the external route is probably the most cost-effective solution.

    Once booted and up-and-running, the speed differences (between internal vis-a-vis firewire800) will be negligible.
  18. ToomeyND, Apr 3, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2013

    ToomeyND thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011
    I really appreciate all the feedback. I would do the SSD install myself, if I went that route.

    Here's a wrench to throw in:

    I'm getting hits on Craigslist for $550. I'm thinking about just selling it and getting a base mini (or maybe the mid-level on amazon for only $250 more). I already have a monitor. Should I just pull the trigger?

    Edit: Here's my disk speed test. I guess the FW with SSD wouldn't see much improvement. I'm heavily leaning toward selling the beast now. I don't seem to be able to upload the screen shot, so:

    Write: 51.9 MB/s
    Read: 61.9 MB/s
  19. COrocket macrumors 6502

    Dec 9, 2012
    With those read/writes, a Firewire setup wouldn't improve the speed much.

    If you already have a monitor, that sounds like a pretty good upgrade for the cost difference. The mini is one of the few remaining apple products that can be easily taken apart and upgraded without using any specialized tools. The ifixit website i linked to earlier also has a teardown procedure for the mac mini, which is useful for a DIY SSD upgrade if you want to take a look. The 2012 mini is pretty versatile, with USB 3.0, two hard drive connections that are SATA-III which allows for an SSD to run at full speed (400-500 MB/s for the faster ones). It can also take at least 16GB of RAM if you choose to upgrade in the future.

    As for the processor speed, the base mini will have a more powerful processor than your current iMac. If you go for the mid level quad core, the speed is approximately double the base model.
  20. RedTomato macrumors 68040


    Mar 4, 2005
    .. London ..
    Put the SSD inside. If you decide to sell the iMac and keep the SSD, you can take it out again. It'll benefit from the SATA-II drive at 300MB/s. And yes, it's a SATA-II drive:

    Now I'm going to contradict myself.

    Much of the benefit of SSDs is in their insanely fast random access speeds. A spinny drive will do (IIRC) something like 0.12 MB/S with the wrong kind of random access (as well as badly 'thrashing' when the computer runs out of RAM).

    A decent SSD will chug along at more or less bandwidth on your system no matter what you throw at it. So over Firewire 800, you're going from 0.12 MB/s to 80 MB/s. That's a roughly 600x speed increase.

    To be honest, you might not notice the difference in practical daily use between that and going to 300MB/s via an internal drive. Seems insane, but that's how it goes.

    And the SSD, even in an external enclosure, can take a lot of the strain off low RAM, as it won't thrash when the computer runs out of RAM. So you could save money by not buying an upgrade to 6GB.

    Finally, if your OS has been around a while, and you've played around with it a lot, I would definitely reinstall it. There's a lot of cruft and bits floating around from your use. I used to think OSX never needed reinstalling, then I took my system from Leopard -> Snow Leopard -> Mountain Lion over about 3 years and ended up with a barely working system on a 2009 Macbook. I reinstalled ML from scratch, only installing programs I actually needed and used, and got a huge increase in reliability and speed.

    You can do a fresh install on the external SSD, and keep on using the old install on the old internal HDD as a fallback, and move over documents as you want. (but not apps - best to do a fresh install).
  21. itickings macrumors 6502a


    Apr 14, 2007
    This is exactly the case. Small random accesses are common in everyday use, and hard drives suck for that.

    I managed to squeeze out a couple of extra years from my 2006 24" iMac by using a SSD in a FW800 enclosure. For the portion of a boot dependent on disk access, a fresh install on the SSD booted in half the time as a fresh install on the internal HDD did, and applications opened almost instantaneous compared to bouncing "forever" in the dock.
  22. ToomeyND thread starter macrumors 6502

    Sep 14, 2011


    Thank you both. This is an awesome explanation for the day-to-day benefits of the SSD.
  23. Giuly, Apr 4, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2014

    Giuly macrumors 68040


    Except when you read data that is scattered across the disk, which is where hard drives dramatically slow down and SSDs remain fast. You can also up the speed to 125MB/s by using Gigabit Ethernet instead.

    Yet, SATA-II's 3GBit/s are way faster than FireWire's 800MBit/s, so the drive is better placed inside the Mac.

    Instead of one 256GB SSD, you could also install a 128GB SSD and replace the optical drive with a second one using the OWC Data Doubler. If you then RAID0 them in the Disk Utility, you get a 256GB volume that approaches SATA-III speeds.

    Lastly, according to the speed tests from AnandTech, for speeds in the range of SATA-II, the SanDisk Ultra Plus is going to be faster for read operations than the Crucial m4 and costs less. Not to mention that the new, faster and less expensive Crucial M500 should by out by the end of the month.
  24. fortysomegeek macrumors regular

    Oct 9, 2012
    I'll grant you the argument about random read/writes and small sequential I/O for SSDs. Yes, SSDs will have higher IOPS (I/O per seconds) than any platter drive.

    But what does gigabit have to do with this. He would have to house the SSD on another machine with SATA access and network the two together. Create network shares/mounts,etc.
    125 MB/sec is the theoretical limit of Gigabit. Having gigabit ethernet won't make your internal drives spin faster. It just means you can network share them faster. His read/write speed will still be capped by FW.
  25. Giuly macrumors 68040


    I mean that you can install the SSD in a NAS enclosure and hook that directly into your Mac to increase the data throughput from 100MB/s to 125MB/s.

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