Macbook + OCZ Agility 3 SSD

OCZ Agility 3 SSD Packaging

On my nearly five year old Macbook (Late 2006), I’ve upgraded the RAM to 3GB and replaced the original 120 GB 5400 rpm hard drive with a WD Scorpio Black 320 GB 7200 rpm hard drive. When I managed to break the internal DVD drive, I decided to put in a SSD, the last performance upgrade for a computer that should be near the end of its useful life. The main reason that I decided to do a $225 upgrade was that it doesn’t feel like the computer has slowed down that much over the years, so I’m able to squeeze some more time out of it.

The SandForce controllers are starting to mature – the OCZ Agility 3 I bought on Amazon uses a second generation SandForce controller and falls more in the budget/midrange performance SSD category. Considering that my Macbook uses an Intel ICH7-M ACHI controller that is SATA revision 1.0 (SATA 1.5 Gbit/s) – the Agility 3’s SATA 6 Gbit/s throughput capability is way beyond this old Macbook. Maybe I can use it in my next computer too, he rationalized.

I bought a $99 (USD) MCE Technologies Optibay, a caddy that replaces the DVD and will hold a 2.5″ drive. Had I done more pre-purchase research, I might have purchased a $15 (USD) version on eBay. MCE Tech did include a case for my damaged DVD drive so it can be used externally connected by USB. And their tech support did promptly answer a question when I phoned them about the DVD interface using PATA – so my former SATA boot drive was now going to be using a PATA interface.

Macbook (Late 2006) with OCZ Agility 3 SSD

I dual boot into OS X and Windows 7 using rEFIT as a boot manager. With a new SSD as a boot drive, I wanted to do clean installs of OS X and Windows 7. The latter was a major hurdle. I could boot Snow Leopard from the external DVD drive or USB flash drive to install OS X, but I couldn’t find a way to boot the Windows 7 install DVD from the external DVD or a USB flash drive. I found some convoluted solutions that involved making a Windows VM but it was way too much work.

Instead, I took the computer apart and put the DVD drive back in the internal bay and booted the Windows 7 disk from the DVD drive. I had to try this a couple of times and ended up breaking the flex cable from the DVD to the motherboard. An eBay purchased fortunately solved that problem, though in frustration, several times I thought Ice-T’s Mac repair method would have been way more satisfying. If you’ve been able to boot your Macbook with a Windows 7 install DVD in an external DVD or flash drive please let me know how you did it.

The only other question I haven’t solved with this setup is the second hard drive (non boot drive) needs the Windows bootmgr file or Windows 7 on the SSD will not boot. Disk Manager sees the SSD as Disk 0. The NTFS partition on the second hard drive is marked Active, Primary Partition and I get the feeling that has something to do with it. Figuring out this problem is a back burner operation right now.

The end result was worth it. I managed to pare down my applications so I can have all of them installed on the SSD in both operating systems. Movies, music, photos and virtual machines are on the 320 GB hard drive.

I’ve since installed OS X Lion (Lion problems in a future post) and the computer boots to the iOS-like linen login screen in about 25 seconds. In OS X, Chrome and Firefox launch with less than one bounce in the dock. Windows 7 boots in about 45 seconds and applications are similarly snappy compared to the rotating media.

Windows 7 – Can’t Play DVD Video

I’ve been trying several builds of Windows 7 x64 on my Macbook that uses the Intel 945 Express Chipset. Recently, I did a clean install of Windows 7 build 7100. The display driver that is installed is a Prerelease WDDM 1.0 Driver (8.15.10.1620).

When I tried to play a DVD with Windows Media Player, I received the message “Cannot play DVD video.” Microsoft gives several possible reasons for this message:

  1. Your video card driver is out-of-date.
  2. Your computer is missing a compatible DVD decoder.
  3. Your computer hardware is not powerful enough to play DVDs.

Since build 7 is Windows 7 Ultimate, I assumed a decoder was built in to the OS. I was indignant that suggestion 3 was questioning the manhood of my Macintrash.

Then I remembered the OpenGL problem I had with one of my programs. After I installed the Intel Vista 64 bit drivers 7.14.10.1504 for the 945GM Chipset from downloadcenter.intel.com, WMP was able to play DVDs. I’m not sure why the Prerelease WDDM 1.0 Driver didn’t allow the decoding, but the released Vista driver works – just be sure to run the installer in the compatibility mode for Windows Vista.

My Windows Experience Index also went up a tad compared to build 7068; compared to build 7000, the WEI from 2.0 to 3.0. So my computer is getting faster as it ages or Microsoft is improving Windows 7.

Windows 7 Build 7068 on a Macbook

I did an upgrade installation of Window 7 build 7068 (x64) over build 7000 that I installed in January on my Macbook (13-inch Late 2006 with an Intel Core2 Duo Mobile Processor T7200, 3GB RAM). Winver gives: 7068.0.amd64fre.winmain.090321-1322

I ran the Windows Experience Index assessment again, and the base score went up from 2.0 (build 7000 64-bit) to 2.8 (build 7068 64-bit).

With build 7000, my Macbook’s low score was because of the 2.0 subscore of the disk data transfer rate of the primary hard disk, a 120 GB Toshiba MK1234GSX. With build 7068, the subscore of disk data transfer rate of the same primary hard disk went up to 4.3.

With build 7000, the Processor and Memory (RAM) subscores were 5.0, while the Graphics and Gaming Graphics subscores were 3.1. With build 7068, the Processor and Memory (RAM) subscores were 4.8, while the Graphics and Gaming Graphics subscore was 3.1. The Desktop Performance for Windows Aero dropped from 3.1 (build 7000) to 2.8 (build 7068).

The main problem I’ve been experiencing with build 7000 is that Windows Explorer will get sluggish or hang after waking from sleep. Trying to switch directories or file copying, even locally, will trigger the problem. Ending the explorer.exe process and restarting the process doesn’t always solve the problem. A reboot does.

Windows 7 Performance on Legacy Systems

I installed the Windows 7 Beta (7000) on my Via pc2500, powered by a 1.5 GHz Via C7-D, an x86-compatible desktop processor. The Via motherboard is installed in a SilverStone SST-LC11S-300 HTPC case connected to a Sony KV-36FV1 television.

I wanted to use the Via pc2500 as a DVD player and Netflix streaming player but the performance of Windows 7 Beta on the Via pc2500 isn’t really that great, even with a PCI video card (a EVGA 256-P1-N399-LX GeForce 6200 256MB 64-bit GDDR2). With 2GB of system RAM and the latest version of Silverlight, Netflix streaming is jerky. DVDs played with Windows Media Player also do not play smoothly.

The Windows Experience Index was only 1.3, and the blame was on the Via 1.5 GHz processor. Task Manager showed 100% CPU usage while trying to stream Netflix. (My ATT-Yahoo DSL connection (Elite 6.0/768) speed is about 5.2 mb/s down and 437 kb/s up, so Netflix streaming looks OK on my more robust PCs.) I don’t really see how the new netbooks can have any decent performance with Windows 7.

The pc2500 is currently my hardware looking for an applicaton. Now I’ve tried Windows XP, gOS, Ubuntu, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Linux MCE. The Via hardware is just anemic. Maybe with a Mimo USB monitor, it’d be OK as a carputer.

Windows 7 Beta on my vintage (purchased 2002) Shuttle SB51G works OK. The Shuttle XPC has an Intel Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU (SL6HL), 1 GB RAM and an ATI All-In-Wonder 9600. I normally boot Windows XP 2005 MCE and use it as a file server, media server (using TVersity), DVD player and Netflix streaming client (through a browser).

Windows 7 performance feels comparable to XP MCE, that is to say, it doesn’t feel slow. But there also isn’t any other crap installed – anti-virus and other applications. The Windows Experience Index was 3.0, and in this case, the sluggard was the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 Ultra ATA/100 320 GB hard drive.

Since there are no Windows 7 video drivers for the lowly ATI Radeon 9600 / X1050, I used the ATI Catalyst 9.1 Display Driver for Windows Vista. I wanted to use ATI Catalyst Control Center application to hotkey switch between the primary and secondary display (Dell 2007 WFP and a Sony KV-36FV1), so I can watch DVDs on the Sony TV in the living room. The hotkey switch that works in XP doesn’t work with Windows 7.