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Other World Computing (OWC, www.macsales.com) sells some the best and most affordable upgrades for Mac users, such as RAM, hard drives and more. I've heard stories of just how fast a solid state drive (SSD) is compared to a standard drive found in a Mac, and I wanted to see for myself. More RAM and a faster hard drive is always great for video editors to work faster and more efficiently. Plus, can my new 2011 Mac mini really accept 16GB of RAM? Read on to find out.
With the release of the 2011 Mac mini from Apple, I decided it was time to upgrade to a new Mac, and I went with the base model, with a 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 processor (dual-core), 2GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive (5400 rpm, serial ATA). I immediately upgraded to 8GB of RAM and saw huge performance increases with both Final Cut Pro X (FCP X) and FCP 7.
As you're probably aware, since FCP 7 is 32-bit, and doesn't see any speed increases above 4GB of RAM, though FCP X can read any amount of RAM you throw into your Mac, and you will see performance increase. I certainly did; with 2GB of RAM, the bare minimum you need to run just about anything, FCP X struggled with playback and edits. The 8GB certainly helped things.
But I wanted to see how the Mac mini would perform with 16GB of RAM (2x 8GB) and a 240GB SSD from Other World Computing. Watching OWC's videos online, the difference in just a basic startup speed test of two similar Macs, one with a standard hard drive, the other with a solid state drive, was incredible. The SSD Mac was able to startup and launch three major Adobe professional apps in nearly half the time of the standard hard drive Mac.
OWC was kind enough to send the RAM, SSD and an installation kit, and a friend of mine and I opened their 2011 Mac mini upgrade instructional videos (http://eshop.macsales.com/installvideos/mac_mini2011/). To be honest, upgrading the 2011 Mac mini's RAM was very easy, but the hard drive installation was quite tricky, and I strongly recommend taking great care, or even having someone who is an Apple certified technician, because things are pretty fragile, and without care, you could easily break something. The videos were invaluable with helping my friend and I to upgrade the drive.
Once everything was back to normal, we booted up the Mac mini and noticed it loaded quickly. I checked the "About this Mac" pulldown menu (from the Apple logo), and confirmed the Mac mini was reading the 16GB of RAM and the 240GB solid state drive. We had already done a speed test with the standard drive and 8GB of RAM; I set Adobe Photoshop CS5.1, FCP X 10.0.1, Motion 5.0.1 and Compressor 4.0.1 to launch once the Mac was finished booting up. Then we performed the same test with the upgrades, and this is what we discovered:
Startup time with 8GB RAM, 500GB HDD and apps: 2:00:09
Startup time with 16GB RAM, 240GB SSD and apps: 00:32:08
You read that right, the original version (8GB RAM, 500GB HDD, apps) took 2 minutes to startup, while the upgrades took only 32 seconds to startup. I couldn't believe the speed increase with the extra RAM and solid state drive! I ran a few other speed tests, but I immediately noticed web pages loading faster, opening and closing Pages documents and Numbers spreadsheets, even moving my cursor around seemed zippier, to the point that I had to slow down the tracking speed a little.
I'm a Final Cut Pro X and FCP 7 power user, so I wanted to see how things ran with the extra RAM and SSD. There wasn't much of a change with FCP 7, though it seemed to open a touch faster, likely thanks to the solid state drive. FCP X opened quicker, and things loaded a little bit fast, but since FCP X does rendering, clip analysis, etc., in the background, I wasn't seeing much of a difference there, but in general things seemed quicker.
Working in Photoshop seemed speedier, as well, and though I didn't test it, it isn't too much of a stretch to say that other Adobe professional products, like After Effects, will benefit from a significant RAM and hard drive upgrade.
While I'm writing specifically about a 2011 Mac mini, Other World Computing offers RAM and hard drive -- both SSD and HDD -- upgrades for just about any Mac, and whatever your budget is. If you're on a "monster" Mac Pro system, how does 64GB (8x 8GB) of RAM sound? Yeah, it's a jaw-dropping number. Then I saw they sell up to 96GB of RAM, too, six-16GB chips! The internal solid state drives hit 480GB, but I'm sure that number will grow, and hard disk drives can reach 3TB for Mac Pros and 1TB for laptops. Again, that number is sure to grow. They also sell external hard drives, external drive kits and more.
Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and author who has produced and directed several independent feature and short films, including Hellevator, 9:04 AM and December. He is currently web content manager for doddleNEWS. Heath was also a contributor to VASST's best-selling book, "The FullHD," and has written for TopTenREVIEWS and Videomaker.