Upgrading my 2011 MacBook Pro

So, back when I did my masters degree in computer engineering, I chose to go with a MacBook Pro for my primary device. While it was super speedy back then, it’s turned into a bit of a slug lately – even after I upgraded it to 16gb of RAM (from 8). Over the last few months I got sick of looking at this beautiful but completely un-used device sitting on my desk – so I decided to figure out what I could do to upgrade it.

Below is a detailed explanation of how I upgraded my MacBook Pro…

Step 1: Research and Buy an SSD

I had heard many stories of people upgrading their older MacBook with an SSD – so I thought I would start there. I found a really handy upgrade picker on MacSales.com to get started. Then, I found my device “Model Identifier” to be Early 2011 MacBookPro8,3 by going to About This Mac and clicking “System Report.”

I eventually found my way here – and decided to go for the 240GB HDD to SSD Upgrade Kit. My plan was to start completely from scratch with this new SSD, and put the old HDD in the enclosure so that I could boot from it whenever I needed to access some of my precious old files.

Step 2: Create a Bootable installer USB with OS X El Capitan

I followed the really simple guide on the Apple support site. To quickly summarize:

  • Download OS X El Capitan from the Mac App Store and it will automatically save in your Applications folder.
  • Plug in the USB you want to put the installer on.
  • Rename the USB to “MyVolume” so you can copy/paste the command below.
  • Run Terminal and paste in the following command: sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app

This will completely erase the drive and load the installer.

Note: I wrote this blog post before completing the next steps. It turned out that booting from this flash drive and installing El Capitan didn’t work for me. It failed a few times and eventually I had to install on the new drive while my existing drive was up and running (details below).

Step 3: Install OS X on your new drive

As I mentioned at the end of the last part, I originally swapped out the HDD with the SSD, and tried to install OS X from USB. That didn’t work for me so I had to replace the HDD and put the SSD in the USB enclosure instead. I’d suggest going this route. Then once everything is working you can take the device apart and replace the HDD with the SSD.

  • Using the USB enclosure included with my new SSD, I installed the SSD.
  • With my original drive running on my MacBook, I launched the El Capitan Installer, and selected the USB drive for El Capitan to be installed on. Make sure to select the correct drive here. I wanted to do a clean install and wanted to leave my current HDD untouched.
  • Once OS X was installed, I made sure everything was working properly by holding down the “option” key while restarting the device which will allow you to choose which drive to boot from after restart.
  • After confirming that I could boot to my new drive (over USB), I shutdown and it was time to swap the drives.

Step 3: Operate on your Mac

So, like I said previously, I did the below steps first. I then figured out that I couldn’t install from USB, and after a few tries I couldn’t even get the internal SSD to mount. Therefore I operated on my Mac a few times before getting it right. Because of that, I’d strongly suggest installing OS X on the drive in a USB enclosure first, and then swapping.

I forgot to take pictures during the “operation” so check out this iFixit guide if you need help.

  • Shutdown the device
  • Unplug
  • Flip it over and take out the 10 screws
  • Disconnect the battery
  • Remove the old drive
  • Put it into your enclosure
  • Replace the old drive with the new one
  • Reconnect the battery
  • Screw everything back together
  • Plug in and boot up

Once you have everything up and running again, it’s probably a good idea to enable TRIM (or at least that’s what the internet told me). Theres’s an awesomely detailed post on what TRIM is and how to enable it here.

Now, we’re finished with the upgrade – wasn’t that easy? Seeing as I work for Microsoft and all, and I love Windows 10 – I decided to take it one step further.

Step 5: Install Parallels and Windows 10

When I purchased the SSD, there was a discount on Parallels Desktop 11. Seeing as I was starting from scratch, I wouldn’t be able to upgrade my older version of Parallels. You can download a trial of Parallels here. You can also buy a copy of Windows 10 here. The installation process is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t try to cover it here.

And that’s it! I now have what feels like a brand spanking new MacBook Pro running both Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan. On to the next project…