Upgrades and downgrades

I bought my dear old 17″ MacBook Pro just a few scant months before my daughter was born back in 2007. That means as of this writing, it’s just a shade over five human years old – or about one hundred and seven if expressed in terms of Moore’s Law.
I installed a solid-state drive (SSD) in it a few weekends ago.

You know those particular stories where some Benevolent Extraterrestrial places its advanced alien technologies into an otherwise ordinary terrestrial object and suddenly transforms it into something familiar and yet decidedly other-worldly? Where something like an old Datsun hatchback can suddenly fly or a raincoat can render its wearer invisible, or impervious to bullets, or both? That old trope is the closest approximation I can give to what installing an SSD is really like.

Echoing some of the sentiments Iíve heard from around the Web, it really is the most significant hardware upgrade I’ve ever done. My old laptop now goes from being turned off cold to fully ready in less than 30 seconds. Safari springs fully to life in a single bounce upon the Dock. The effect is startling. It’s like watching reality play like a sped-up film reel.

But to be perfectly honest, that’s not all I did.

I increased the amount of installed RAM from 2 gigabytes to 3 (the maximum addressable amount). I have to keep reminding myself that an increase of a gigabyte of memory was once considered a significant enhancement. I also downgraded the operating system back to Snow Leopard (Mac OS X v10.6) from Lion (v10.7).

Back when Lion was originally released, my MacBook was listed as the absolute, bare-minimum supported hardware spec. I went ahead and upgraded it – which had the unfortunate side-effect of effectively lobotomizing the poor thing. After moving to Lion, my apps would crawl and stutter and hang. Multitasking became almost impossible. Network connections would mysteriously drop and mandate a full reboot despite my command-line level chicanery. USB hard-drives would disconnect and reconnect as if their hardware was failing. But of course, this really wasn’t the case – it was my under-powered MacBook struggling to avoid slowly losing its mind.

My house full of iOS devices had already almost totally reduced it to a gloried iTunes Server. This performance hit was the final straw. I ended up letting it languish while I hatched a new plan: I’d buy a new Mac Mini and then attach the MacBook to my HDTV as a dedicated Plex client.

While waiting for Apple to announce refreshed hardware I started getting the MacBook ready for retirement as a dedicated media player. In the hope of making it boot as fast as a “real” consumer electronic device, I added the small SSD drive and extra memory. Now the thing is so ridiculously zippy, I’m beginning to doubt the plan. What do I really need a new Mac for anyway?

It feels like there may be a useful life-design pattern hidden in here.
I should give more thoughtful consideration to refurbishing the old instead of pressing ahead with new acquisitions. I need to remember that taking a deliberate step backwards is always an option, particularly if it enables more productivity than it inhibits.