The SSD and the Clean Slate

How I vanquished the Spinning Rainbow demon and snatched my Mac Pro from the jaws of obsoleteness.
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When my beloved 6-core Mac Pro 3.33GHz computer developed a problem with the Power switch in late 2013 and the geniuses at the Apple Store couldn’t figure out what the bugaboo was, they offered to replace my machine with a more recent, newly refurbished 12-core 2.4GHz Mac Pro—a solution that worked for me. (The other option was to wait a few weeks for the new black cylindrical 2013 Mac Pro, but my studio had already been down for ten days, I have several hard drives and PCIe cards I’d need to get external housings for, and I generally prefer not to be a guinea pig for new technology, so I passed on that.)

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I used my Time Machine backup to easily install all of my existing applications and documents onto my new Mac, and between the extra RAM I’d removed from my old machine before trading it, and the RAM that came with the new machine, I had 28GBs—so I expected the new rig to fly, which it did, except for one problem: there was a slight hesitation whenever I did anything, including non-CPU-intensive tasks such as changing fonts within a Word document. All that firepower, and I’d still get a briefly spinning rainbow ball before anything would happen. Egad!

The first thing I did was to consult the Genii at the Apple Store, who recommended some things to try, none of which helped. Next, I posted on two Mac forums and received a lot of suggestions, some of them fairly esoteric. I tried a few to no avail. And, of course, I tried all of the Mac utilities such as Disc Utility, Disc Warrior, Onyx, etc.

Then, while at the 2014 Winter NAMM Show, I met Roman Rabitsch of Austrian solid-state drive manufacturer Angelbird, who suggested I try removing all of the RAM modules and reinstalling them one at a time, and also doing the same with my PCIe cards, just to see if there were any mismatches or other issues. But, he warned, if those things didn’t work (and it turned out that they didn’t), the only remaining option was to wipe the drive and reinstall all of my applications—something I really didn’t want to do, as I have dozens of them. I had been considering installing a solid-state drive in my new machine to improve overall performance, and I asked if he thought that might solve my problem, as well. He said he wasn’t sure, but he did pitch me on the virtues of Angelbird solid-state drives. After reading several online reviews, and corroborating his claim that his SSDs were the equivalent of much more expensive enterprise-class SSDs offered by other manufacturers, I took the plunge and purchased the 512GB Angelbird Crest Mac Pro ($729.00 direct).

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Before I could install the SSD, I needed to move pretty much everything other than my applications and System to other drives, as I had far more than 512GB of stuff on my existing 1TB hard drive. I have separate internal drives for Audio Recording, Video, and Sample Libraries, so most—but not all—of my files of those sorts were already located somewhere other than on my hard drive. My extensive iTunes and iPhoto libraries, however, were not, and needed to be moved. I also discovered lots of other big files lurking in various places on my hard drive that I didn’t even realize were there. It took hours to locate and arrange new homes for all of these things, but at the end of the process I was left with only about 225GB of apps and files on my boot drive.

The next step was to make a bootable clone of that drive to an external USB drive using Carbon Copy Cloner, install the SSD, and then transfer the content from the USB drive to it. All went smoothly—but the hesitation problem was still there! Obviously, it had nothing to do with the drive.

So, I decided to bite the bullet, wipe the SSD, and start fresh (booting from the cloned OS on the USB drive while I installed Mavericks onto the SSD). Reinstalling my applications took a long time, though, fortunately, I had nearly all of the serial numbers and other critical information written down in one place. In as many cases as possible I downloaded fresh installers for the most recent versions of the applications. A few of the applications I had been using were unlicensed, so I either purchased the latest versions, or decided to live without them. I didn’t want any funny business going forward. And, although I had already installed the huge sound libraries that accompany several of my applications on the separate Sample Libraries disc, I reinstalled them to make sure that all the paths were correct and everything was organized optimally.

This endeavor took the better part of a week, involved numerous hassles, and cost me several hundred dollars in addition to the price of the SSD—but the hesitation problem was gone forever, and now I have a totally streamlined, fast as hell, fire-breathing monster of a computer.

By installing the super-fast SSD, ditching all the old crap that had accumulated on my machine over the years, and configuring my new applications and files in optimal ways, I ended up with a rig that should be able to easily handle even the biggest audio and video projects for the next several years.

The system’s performance is truly inspiring—and once again my computer is a friend and ally rather than a nemesis.