RAM vs HDD Upgrade, mid-2009 MBP

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Branskins, Aug 27, 2010.

  1. Branskins macrumors 65816

    Dec 8, 2008
    School starts in a week, and I am interested in making some upgrades to my laptop.

    There are several factors here:
    1) I have 19 GB of free space, which is kind of worrying going into a new semester
    2) I use Xcode a lot as I am going into computer science!
    3) I also enjoy my games a lot (starcraft II!), and only have 2 GB of RAM

    My laptop has the stock 2GB of RAM and the 120-something 5400 RPM HDD.

    I would like to upgrade to 4GB an a 7200 RPM HDD by the end of this year, but would like to do one now before I go back to school.

    With this combination, I am trying to figure out of a HDD upgrade would make a big difference in speed and in gaming. I read that going from 5400 to 7200 will bring about an improvement in starting and loading programs, but what I don't quite understand is how it will improve games/programs after loading. I guess I need to figure out of SC2 accesses the HDD during the game, or if it loads most of it into memory!

    I guess I am in quite a pickle deciding between enjoyment and more space for more...practical reasons?
  2. js81 macrumors 65816


    Dec 31, 2008
    Sounds like you NEED the space more than you NEED the RAM. You're right; both would be ideal. However, get a good fast hard drive as big as you can afford. 7200rpm isn't the end all, by the way; my 5400rpm drive benchmarks faster than a lot of 7200s - check here and search for the one with the best score rather than going on spindle speed alone. Ideally, you can find a fast 7200rpm drive and have the best of both words.

    If you really look around, you could find both a good, fast drive AND a 2GB memory stick (giving you 3GB total) for around or less than $100. I paid $60 for my 640GB Samsung drive and its plenty fast - and 2GB of DDR3 is around $40.

    EDIT: So the drive I bought must've been on sale... lol. It's $80 now. And 2GB of name brand memory is $43. So, $125 or so is more realistic for both.

    Samsung Spinpoint HM641JI 640GB - $79.99

    Corsair 2GB DDR3 1066MHz - $43.99

    EDIT 2: Prime example of what I'm talking about; if you look up the Samsung HM641JI you get a rating of 545. The Seagate ST9500420AS (7200rpm, 500GB) scores 514. There's more to speed than, well, (spindle) speed. :)
  3. fluffybunny88 macrumors newbie

    Aug 27, 2010
    The ram will help your gaming and overall the whole speed of the computer, upgrading to a 7200 RPM drive in theory would work but you will get a more noticeable upgrade in performance from the RAM.

    As for the space, have you tried doing some optimizing and clearing up old files? You can try removing unused printer and language files if you haven't done that already. That should free up a few gigs.
  4. Penn Jennings macrumors 6502

    Apr 22, 2010

    I think the question comes down to this: Can you get by with 19 GB of space left? If you are only writing papers and small apps, and you don't plan on installing any large apps you might be OK. If you can get by on 19 GB, I'd say get the memory.

    2 GB is not much by todays standards. I've noticed that I could burn about 1.5 GB just surfing (OS, browser, java and plugins). 2 GB will make your system faster, more usable and more enjoyable.

    A large HD, while needed, will not greatly improve performance. It will improve performance some for sure but nothing that you can do will improve performance more than adding memory if you are memory constrained, and I bet that you are with only 2 GB. (Since you can't swap out the GPU and you probably aren't going to add a SSD).

    I hate spending money and not feeling like I got something. You'll notice the memory much more than the space... unless you run out of space LOL.

    Just my 2 cents.
  5. alust2013 macrumors 601


    Feb 6, 2010
    On the fence
    You really don't want to be down to such a small amount of space left on a hard drive, so I would upgrade that first. When you fill it that much, you get into the inner part of the drive which is slower, plus the OS uses that extra space on occasion. I'd recommend a 500GB (7200 RPM optional) drive first, then memory later. I have always had good experiences with Western Digital drives, and they recently came out with a 500GB 7200 RPM model as well.
  6. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    So what would be worse: If you want to write some paper and don't have space to save it, or if your gaming experience suffers slightly? The fact is that when your hard drive is full, you are stuck. You _need_ more hard drive space. You don't _need_ more RAM.

    And bigger hard drives are faster. They have higher density, therefore faster data transfers. And the outer parts of the disk are faster than the inner parts, so a full drive is slower than an empty one. Just putting a 500 GB drive into your MacBook will help with speed. For £45 I can get a 500 GB 5400 or 320 GB 7200; I would go for the 500 GB (or pay about £60 for 500 GB 7200rpm)
  7. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    a paper takes a trivial amount of space.

    if you don't have a backup solution, get one. if you do, get the useless crap off your computer.

    backup is #1, RAM is #2. RAM isn't just for gaming, it's also for productivity.

    when you do get around to buying a new hd, get about twice as much space as you need. read/write speed drops as it fills up (nearly 50% drop for full vs empty drive, ~15% drop at half-full). RPMs in this case takes a backseat to space.
  8. Branskins thread starter macrumors 65816

    Dec 8, 2008
    Thanks everyone! I can tell that there is no SET answer on this because of the question in hand (deciding between space vs more enjoyment)!

    After playing some games last night, I closed SC2 and the computer is very sluggish. I checked the activity monitor and memory went from like 24 mb (possibly less while in the game playing) to 1.4 GB free. The CPU was at 90% idle, up from 40-60% during a game, so I don't think the CPU is the problem here.

    But I did notice there was disk activity that was spiking. Was SC2 writing things to the HDD when RAM became too low? That is the only thing I can think of! That might be the reason for the sluggishness after closing the game. It brings the entire OS to a crawl!

    I do have an external HDD that I could transfer important documents too, but I just realized that I misplaced my iWork disc since I installed it a little over a year ago and haven't seen it since, which might make it hard starting over on a new HDD.


    Thanks everyone :D
  9. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    yes, when you run out of memory, the OS starts "swapping" to disk, and as you know, hard drives are a lot slower than RAM.
  10. shoeshine macrumors member

    Feb 27, 2010
    i second this advice. I play SC2 on my imac and it is HEAVILY effected by both RAM and free disk space. I'd spring for a 4gb stick of ram as those are really coming down in price and better values than 2gb sticks. and assuming you already have a backup solution, just get some files of your HDD.
  11. Branskins thread starter macrumors 65816

    Dec 8, 2008
    Ok good news! I managed to gfrom 19 GB to 60 GB!!! I put a lot of stuff on an external and deleted it on my mac!

    You don't know how excited I am!

    Someone mentioned deleting the unused language files for printer drivers and such, does anyone recommend doing that?

    Also, does removing all of this stuff fragment the drive at all? Or is OS X pretty good at managing all that?

    AND, one more thing: Are you saying for me to buy a 4GB stick, stick it in, and leave the 1GB in the other slot? I thought there were certain inefficiencies with that?
  12. zhenya macrumors 603


    Jan 6, 2005
    RAM is technically faster if it is run in matched pairs and can run in what is called dual-channel mode. In real life, it turns out not to really matter. That said, you might be better off buying two 2gb sticks, as 4gb sticks are still quite expensive.

    If there is any way you can swing it, a SSD will have a huge impact on how fast your computer is. Mechanical drives are a huge bottleneck in today's computers. It's really unbelievable how much of a difference it makes.

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