Bobbie Smulders Creative Software Developer

Upgrading the MacBook Pro 13" Early 2011

CI

Being unimpressed with the 2016 MacBook Pro line-up, I decided to upgrade my MacBook Pro 13” Early 2011 so that I could keep using it a little longer. There are a couple of upgrades available that are worthwhile to get the best performance out of your MacBook.

SSD upgrade

Samsung EVO 850 250GB SSD

The first upgrade is to change the HDD to an SSD. This will make application start-ups and general usage much faster. My choice is the Samsung Evo 850 250GB as it is a good all-round SSD but depending on your usage there might be one that is better suited for the task.

The upgrade is easy to do, be aware that you need a torx screwdriver. For restoring your contents, use a Time Machine backup instead of cloning the drive.

Upgrade guide: MacBook Pro 13” Unibody Early 2011 Hard Drive Replacement (iFixit)

Upgrade cost: ~ €100

Memory upgrade

Crucial 16GB upgrade kit Full memory leads to swapping which slows down your MacBook. Upgrade the RAM if you have many applications (or browser tabs) open at the same time or if you use heavy applications. My choice is the Crucial 16GB upgrade kit for this specific MacBook (CT3373720), but feel free to order anything that fits the specifications.

Again an easy upgrade, you only need to remove the bottom plate after which you can pop out the two modules.

Upgrade guide: MacBook Pro 13” Unibody Early 2011 RAM Replacement (iFixit)
or MacBook Pro: How to remove or install memory (Apple)

Upgrade cost: ~ €100

Bluetooth upgrade

Upgraded Airport card with Bluetooth 4.0 The Early 2011 MacBook comes with Bluetooth 2.1 but is upgradeable to Bluetooth 4.0. The benefit is that this enables Continuity, giving you features such as the Universal Clipboard, Instant Hotspot and Handoff.

What you need to do is to install the Airport card from a later model MacBook. The model number of this card is BCM94331PCIEBT4CAX. Be sure that it ends with “4CAX”, not “4AX”. There are upgrade kits available, but I went with a second-hand card salvaged from a MacBook Pro 2012.

If you start your MacBook, don’t panic if your Bluetooth devices don’t connect, you have to re-pair all your devices. Use the Continuity Activation Tool to activate the Continuity features. You can verify the install by going to About This Mac, clicking System Report and going to Bluetooth. It should say “Yes” behind “Handoff Supported:”.

This is not an easy upgrade. You need to disconnect quite a lot of extra hardware, disconnect a couple of fragile antenna connectors and carefully peal back the EMI tape. If this doesn’t scare you, go ahead.

Upgrade guide: MacBook Pro 13” Unibody Early 2011 AirPort/Bluetooth Board Replacement (iFixit)

Upgrade cost: ~ €20

Optical drive caddy upgrade

Caddy for optical drive bay Now that you have a spare disk drive, you can put it in place of the optical drive. By removing the optical drive and placing a caddy with the disk drive you can upgrade the storage of your device.

It is debateable where you should put the SSD and where you should put the HDD. The SATA connector of the optical drive only supports 3 gigabit speed, or 375 megabytes per second. This is a limiting factor for your SSD, which should do around 500 megabytes per second. But for an HDD, this is not a limiting factor. The downside of putting the HDD in the caddy is that you don’t have Sudden Motion Sensor support or any kind of rubberized shock proofing. I put the HDD in the caddy as I don’t plan on using it much.

Again, not an easy upgrade. You need to remove the Airport card and disconnect various other hardware. But again, if this doesn’t scare you, go ahead.

Instead of the original Apple HDD you can also use any other drive, SSD or HDD, as long as it doesn’t exceed a height of 9.5 millimetre. In addition to the caddy you can also consider using a flush microSD adapter such as TheMiniDrive. It will give you up to 200 gigabyte of extra storage.

Upgrade guide: Installing MacBook Pro 13” Unibody Early 2011 Dual Hard Drive (iFixit)

Upgrade cost: ~ €10

Results

The Geekbench score comes in at 2840 for single core and 5193 for multi core which is comparable to a MacBook 12” or MacBook Air from 2015.

The Blackmagic Disk Speed Test comes in at 478 megabytes per second for writing and 470 megabytes per second for reading. This is not comparable to any modern MacBook SSD as they use PCIe but still a good upgrade compared to the regular HDD.

Final notes

The upgrades ensure that my MacBook will be usable for a while before I have to upgrade. Total upgrade cost came in at €230. I am running the latest version of macOS and now that I have Bluetooth 4.0 I can also use all the available features (with the exception of those that need 802.11ac hardware).

This guide shows the importance of upgradeability and why it is off-putting to see Apple going into a non-upgradeable direction for the sake of weight and dimensions.

Also, while you are at it, dust off the inside of your MacBook using an air compressor or a can of compressed air. It will help with cooling and fan noise.