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Aging Macbook Pro Rejuvenated

Macbook Pro - Inside

The inside of my MBP, before replacing the drive.

A few weeks ago I realized I was going to need a dedicated laptop for a client I’m working with.   I thought about taking Mrs. Murphy’s first-gen Air off her hands – but it seemed pretty pokey and I quickly lost interest.   I looked at buying a new Air and realized that by the time I configured some customizations it would be more than I wanted to shell out for a machine that would get limited use.

Then I remembered a Macbook Pro sitting on a shelf in my office.  It used to be our DVR until I got a top-of-the-line iMac last year.  The MBP hasn’t done much since – partly because the battery bulged about a year ago and a laptop without a battery is somewhat limited.

The MBP is a 3,1 for those of you who know that sort of thing.  For the rest of us: it’s a model that was introduced at the end of 2007.   Five years ago.  A little less for this particular serial number, which according to Powerbook Medic was stamped out in early 2008.   It shipped with 2GB of RAM and a 5400RPM hdd,  160GB of storage.   It’s a 2.4ghz Core 2 Duo.   Back in 2008 it was a mighty fine Mac.

The problem:  After years of use I had little faith in its reliability going forward.  The drive had worked hard recording HD television shows and football games and converting them to m4v files using a Turbo.264 USB hardware encoder.  The drive sounded a little tired.  Whether it actually was or not didn’t matter, I didn’t trust it.    So I started reading up on SSD drives.  I didn’t, and still don’t, know much about them.  Mrs. Murphy’s Air is the only machine we’ve ever had with an SSD.   In hindsight I should have gotten one for my iMac, without a doubt.  The hdd is clearly the bottleneck on that machine.

Anyway, I did some reading about SSD drives in an effort to find one compatible with my MBP’s SATA support.  After a lot of reading at Newegg and Amazon I settled on a Crucial M4.  I got it from Amazon for $99.   Like I said, I don’t know much about SSDs so I wasn’t 100% sure it was compatible.

The tricky part was installing the SSD.  I’d only opened up a MBP once before.  Apple opened one for me once to repair a fan, and they never got the case back on properly.  It was bent in the front and the trackpad button was never quite right, it had a dull or non-existent response every time you clicked it.   More on that later.

If you’re patient and you have the right tools the MBP isn’t horrible to take apart.  The screws are tiny and uncommon and there are a lot of them.  But if you have a container to sort them in it’ll make things much easier.  I labeled each group of screws and placed them in a divided sorting box.  Ice cube trays would work well too.

The hardest part:  separating the top case housing the keyboard and trackpad from the lower case along the front edge.  There are hidden clips that you need to release without bending.   If you get past that you’re golden, all the other sides use screws and are already separated when you go after the front edge.

Inside the laptop the hdd is wedged in pretty tight.  Mine was a tiny bit different than the description at ifixit, where I found the instructions.  Still, it was a fairly straight-forward procedure to remove the old drive and install the new.  Work slow, be careful, be patient.   And make sure you have the right tools.  There’s a ribbon cable glued to the drive that needs to be gently pried away.

I also got 4GB of RAM ($54), doubling what I had and maxing out the machine’s capacity.  Finally, I got an Anker replacement battery for $69.   It seems to hold a couple hours of charge.  I’m just happy to have the machine stay powered when the MagSafe gets disconnected.

I didn’t open the RAM or the battery packaging right away.  If the SSD surgery had gone south I probably would have sent them back.   So the next step was installing OS X.

I opted for Snow Leopard and simply installed from the DVD.  For a while I wasn’t sure it was going to install, some people reported having trouble getting OS X running after installing an SSD.   The install froze for a long long time, saying it had 28 minutes left.  I believe it said that for over twenty minutes before finally moving on and finishing the install.

I powered up the machine, ran through the first-time setup, and everything was fine.  In fact, it boots from powered off to a user desktop in about 24 seconds.  I installed my new RAM and battery, no issues.

Here are the instructions I followed, at iFixit.  As someone noted in the comments there’s a step where you’re told to disconnect the drive’s ribbon cable from the logic board, and it seems unnecessary.  I skipped that step, and see no reason to do it unless you have trouble freeing the drive.

Anyway, the upgraded machine is fantastic. So incredibly responsive.  I’m not pushing it really hard.  I’ll be using it for administrative tasks, not Photoshop or Final Cut.  I had to install Windows on it too.  I went with XP, and it’s running fine using Boot Camp.  I thought about using Fusion, but thought I’d suffer with only 4GB of RAM and no way to install more.

Windows doesn’t boot in 24 seconds, it’s more like 37 to the login screen.

Now I’ve got a 15″ laptop that’s over four years old, based on a model that’s five years old.  I can install Mountain Lion on it.   And it’s as snappy as can be.   Applications open in an instant.   The boot time is great.  It’s silent.   The battery, the SSD, the RAM – all for less than $225.

**Back to that MBP that Apple never got reassembled right:  this machine was a free replacement for that one.  The original’s fan went bad with only days left on the warranty.   Then there were a few trips back to the store:  the dull trackpad, the keyboard wouldn’t light, the case wasn’t reassembled correctly.  At this point it was no longer under warranty.  But Apple had started working on it while it was under warranty.   They honored that detail and handed me a brand new machine with a new warranty.  My original was a Core Duo.  The one they replaced it with was a Core 2 Duo, along with other upgrades.   








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iTunes Overhaul?

iTunesThis post started as a simple screencast reveling in the simplicity that was early iTunes. Remember the multi-button? Click on a CD and the button became an Importer. Click on a playlist and it was a Burner. The interface was fantastically simple and surely helped iPod mania spread like wildfire.

That interface element is long gone. In its place Apple has added new innovations including DJ, Genius, remote speakers, and of course – video. It’s come a long way – so far that it’s hard to believe folders for organizing our playlists were once on the still-not-there list.iTunes 4

Now on the brink of iTunes 9 the murmurs have begun about what to expect. Topping the list is social networking. Also likely: The ability to arrange your iPhone / iPod touch icons on your computer instead of playing the tile game on your iPhone. Far less likely: DVD ripping.

If you watched the screencast and you appreciate a good interface you have to wonder what happened to iTunes. It’s become somewhat scattered. And you have to wonder at what point Apple realized TV Shows and Movies would reside in the iTunes Library.

iTunes could improve in a few areas:

  • Why can’t I search Movies, Music, and TV Shows at once? Clicking the node seems a wasted step, especially when search results could easily be grouped by container.
  • Adding information for imported video, like episode information, is messy. This is one of the places where iTunes shows it wasn’t built for video.
  • Why isn’t there something like the Migration Assistant to help someone move iTunes to a new computer? I would never expect anyone to be able to accomplish this feat without help from someone who reads stuff like this.
  • Why can’t I remove a watched episode from a playlist from my Apple TV? Or my iPhone? So it doesn’t come back on the next sync.
  • Why does syncing my first generation iPod touch take twenty-five minutes?

I’m not saying iTunes is a disaster. Some of the features are great. I use an Apple TV, an EyeTV, an iPhone, and an Airport Express. I remote control iTunes from the iPhone. I stream from the Apple TV directly to the Airport Express. It’s all good – and they could take it further. How about Starbucks running iTunes in DJ mode and letting customers vote songs up the queue with their iPhones?

But at some point iTunes needs an overhaul. Apple should take a look at tools like PowerTunes and the massive AppleScript library at Doug’s Scripts. They’ll find functions that should be built into iTunes. Maybe they can give it a better name too.  The screencast is short, take a look.

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AirFoil Adds Features

Murphy uses AirFoil to send audio from a web browser to an Airport Express or an Apple TV.   It’s great for listening to Pandora throughout the house, with various speakers all in sync.  There’s an Apple TV connected to the stereo and an Airport Express connected to a Tivoli radio in the kitchen.  AirFoil can also send audio to another Mac, like the G5 upstairs that has decent speakers connected.  Three sets of speakers all playing one stream throughout the house.

Airfoil keeps getting better.  Recently it gained the ability to ‘hijack’ audio from an application that’s already running.  Previously, you had to start AirFoil, and then launch the application from AirFoil to send its audio to another device.  Not anymore – AirFoil can access already-running applications now.  And they’ve added an iPhone app.  So Murphy can bring a portable radio out on the porch – connect an iPod touch – and listen to the same stream that’s playing in the house.  In a nutshell, it turns an iPhone or touch into a battery powered Airport Express in terms of music streaming.

The software is rock solid, no drop-outs.  The interface is simple and unobtrusive.

Using Quicktime Murphy could listen to the aapl quarterly conference call over AirFoil.  Sending the stream into the kitchen beats lugging a laptop in there.  It’s great for Songza, Pandora, YouTube – or whatever audio you want to transmit.  You can even transmit an iTunes stream to your iPhone or touch – enhancing its multi-speaker functionality.

The iPhone / touch application is free.   The desktop software is $25.  AirFoil for Mac / Windows.  There’s a bundle with both for $40.

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AirSharingan application for your iPhone or iPod touch, turning the device into a wifi storage drive and file viewer.

It would be nice if Apple would let you copy files directly to your iPhone or touch over the USB cable, but they don’t.  What we can do is copy files over from a Mac or PC using AirSharing.  As a bonus you get a viewer providing support for a variety of file types.   More on that at the end.  First, let’s look at how we copy files onto your device, and how we get them off.

Placing Files on Your Device
To copy files on from your Mac just go to the Go menu in Finder and select Connect to Server.  Or  hit Command-K.  In the box that opens (see image to the right) enter  http://w.x.y.z   — but replace w.x.y.z with the ip address of your device.  Don’t know the ip?  Don’t worry, AirSharing will help with that as we’ll see in a minute.

foldersA Finder window will open displaying whatever folders you’ve created on your iPhone or touch.  You can drag files in or out, delete files or folders, or create new ones.

connectIf you’re on a PC you’ll start with Internet Explorer.  Go to the File menu and click open.  Enter the address of your device just like the steps above – and make sure to check the box.  A window will open displaying the folders on your device.

Getting Files Off Your Device.  

When activated on your device, AirSharing turns it into a pocket web server.  Your friends (on the same wifi network with your device) can access your files by pointing their web browser to http://w.x.y.z:8080. connect Again, replace the w.x.y.z with the ip address of your device.  The 8080 is the port number where the web server is running.  For more on what port numbers are read the end of this post.

Just like any other web page, users can right-click the file links to perform operations like saving the referenced file to disk.

File Viewer
As a bonus, AirSharing includes viewers for many file types you might want to open.  iWork, photos, office docs, pdf, web docs – in addition to music and movies.  This really comes in handy.  See the developer site for a list of file formats supported.  Instead of having to use iTunes to copy photos onto your device you can just drag a folder of images over and use the AirSharing viewer to display them.

Notice in the image to the right that the ip address of the device is displayed at the bottom of the screen.  The ip address can be seen elsewhere in the interface of AirSharing too, like the settings page.  You can also turn AirSharing off when you’re not using it, which Murphy would recommend.

If you’ve got a big web page you want to review later you can save it as a web archive in Safari and transfer it to your device using AirSharing.  That way you can read it later offline.


AirSharing makes ferrying files using your iPhone or touch easy.  Yes, wifi is a little slow, but it’s a pretty simple solution that doesn’t need any third party software on your Mac or PC.

In addition, you can copy content like photos, audio, and movies to your device without going through iTunes.  For some that might be worth the price of admission.  Check out AirSharing at the developers site.  $6.99.

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Remote Desktop Control – iPhone or iPod touch

iphone ipod touch remote

A true Apple fan from deep in the backwoods of County Meath – that’s Ireland – dropped two nuggets of info on Murphy today:  Two ways to remote control a computer from your iPhone or iPod touch.

First, there’s, which has become a favorite remote control option for Murphy.  It’s secure, it’s free, and it makes maintaining a list of the computers you connect to simple.  When Murphy signs into he sees which computers are online – and can connect with a click from a web browser.  From anywhere.

This post by the Technology Evengelist shows how you can make a simple change to your preferences so your iPhone or iPod touch can be used as the client.  First you select the computer you want to make the change for, then update the preferences to use an html client when connecting.  Details in the post.

VNC Lite

If you prefer VNC there’s a client in the App Store called Mocha VNC Lite, as reported by Just Another Iphone Blog.  I was connected to my Mac in about 45 seconds including the install.  VNC on a tiny screen requires a little patience, but it’s great to have the access when you don’t have a computer.

More Remote Tips

Murphy has tons of posts – tons – to help you with gaining access to a remote Mac.  We’ve got you covered from getting started with SSH and SCP to emailing yourself a filename – and automatically having the file sent to you in a reply.  Murphy also has posts on auto-emailing a file that’s dropped in a Finder folder.  So you can ssh in, copy a file to a folder, and it’s on its way.

More on VNC | Permalink