How to Squeeze a Lot More Life Out of Your Laptop

How to Squeeze a Lot More Life Out of Your Laptop

Gregory Han
Mar 29, 2011

Despite what one might gander, most of us at Unplggd are just like everyone else in the fact we're always trying to stretch the life of our tech "just one more month/year". Although we receive plenty of tech to test, the majority is returned (or better yet, given away), so we have to budget and plan for upgrades, looking to the horizon when an upgrade may come along (tax return, holla!). Recently my own laptop began to show the clear signs of its age, with performance slowing to the point I was seemingly doing as much waiting than working. I had come to that crossroad where one must decide to update or upgrade…

My current MacBook Pro hails from 2008, one of the early Unibody models. It's been an awesome machine…it's the first laptop that earned more notice for the "pros" rather than the "cons" of using a laptop versus the towers I was previously accustomed to working upon (prior to Apartment Therapy I worked in graphic design, thus G4-G5 towers were par for the course). Along the way I've only switched out the internal hard drive to a more roomy capacity and switched out the RAM early on to an aftermarket 4GBs, a reliable configuration which handled most everything I threw at it without issue.

But as everyone knows, time is not on your side, especially when it comes to computers, with the various OS and application updates adding to the burden on your CPU, memory and GPU. Eventually, like a middle-aged man at the gym playing hoops (ahem, we still can play defense), the young bucks are going to remind you that you're not as sprightly as you once were. This was the case with our machine and we knew we were either going to have to swallow the bitter financial pill of upgrading to one of the admittedly sweet 15" Sandy Bridge MacBook Pros, wait for one of the upcoming Sandy Bridge iMac sure to be announced soon, OR take some anti-age measures via upgrades.

Our bank account and budget made the decision for us. It was time to update.

An $83 investment brought back what felt like a 100% return in performance.

First thing to do: upgrade our memory. We were extremely pleased to read Apple had released a firmware update which now allowed us to upgrade our machine to a very nice 8GB capacity. Doubling your RAM can make a huge impact on a variety of performance benchmarks and stability, as ever since making the $83 investment (OWC asks for a bit more, as I sourced similar Kingston DDR3 memory on Amazon), installing it ourselves in just 10 minutes, our machine feels almost brand new (benchmarks show about 25% increase, but the combination of speed increase and stability makes it feel more like a 100% increase in real use). Want to know if you can do the same, fellow MacBook Pro users?

Late '08 MacBook/MacBook Pro Capable of Addressing 8GB of RAM:

  • MacBook 13.3″ 2.0GHz and 2.4GHz
  • MacBook Pro 15″ 2.4GHz (All)
  • MacBook Pro 15″ 2.53GHz model w/ExpressCard Slot (Late 2008)
  • MacBook Pro 15″ 2.8GHz model w/ExpressCard Slot (Late 2008)

Now be sure to check the Boot ROM Version in your System Profiler (aka About This Mac):
MacBook Pros with a Model ID of MacBookPro5,1 should have a Boot ROM Version of MBP51.007E.B05.
MacBooks with a Model ID of MacBook5,1 should have  a Boot ROM version of MB51.007D.B03
Machines with other Model IDs are not affected and don't need an update.

As recommended by OWC, if your Boot ROM version does not match the numbers above, download the appropriate firmware updater for your model machine and install according to the instructions:
For MacBook Pros (MacBookPro5,1)
MacBook Pro EFI Firmware Update 1.8
For MacBooks (MacBook5,1)
MacBook EFI Firmware Update 1.4

If you're not sure if you can do this update yourself, I recommend you watchmen of these videos showing how honestly easy the process really is. A lot more affordable and easier, in my opinion, than braving the Genius Bar lines/crowds. And fixing/upgrading yourself helps you learn more about your system, which in the long term makes you a better computer owner/user.

Phase 2 will be a more costly expense, switching out a hardly used optical drive for a second SSD drive.

So what's the next step? Earlier this morning Anthony made mention of the pros and cons of SSD drives (solid state drives), which remove the mechanical elements of a hard drive, resulting in much quicker load/access performance. Crazy as it might seem for some who love and use their optical drive, the plan is to say adios to our Superdrive and use one of these kits to slip in a modest size SSD hard drive and transfer all the system and application files onto this secondary drive for a remarkable boost in launch times:

With the memory and SSD upgrades (follow up review of the SSD upgrade to follow), I think we can confidently say we can use this machine for professional work for at least another 6-12 months (OS X Lion…uh oh). I'll likely wait till the end of 2011 when the updated iMacs or MacBook Pros have been out and plenty of good Apple refurbed deals are available at the Apple Store and make the leap forward then. But in the meantime, addressing these two former performance bottlenecks should allow me to sprint, rather than limp, to the finish line.

(Image: Flickr member lubright licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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