Your experience & thoughts on SSDs for MacMini


I have a 2007-2008 MacMini that I use exclusively as a music server on a third system with the stock HD. I am considering replacing the stock HD to an SSD. The stock HD makes noise that is audible often enough to draw unwanted attention to itself.

I'm looking for experience-based thoughts and commentary on the various SSDs that are available for this replacement. I'm using SnowLeopard and iTunes 10 with Pure Music for playback of AIFF files from a peripheral HD (which is silent).

So far, my research on this seems to get a bit confusing. For example, Other World Computing offers two levels of SSD, one over 50% more $ in price (and 25% larger 40 Gb vs 50 Gb than the other (offering a longer warranty, etc.) And I know there are several other manufacturers of SSDs out there with varying price points and related benefits.

This MacMini isn't used for anything else than serving music, ripping files, streaming audio, playing Netflix downloadable movies, and the occasional download from iTunes.

Your points of view are appreciated.

:) listening,

Ed
istanbulu
I think using a MacMini or any other computer is a temporary stop along the way to a more elegant, one-box solution.

Having purchased a MacMini with SSD drive, playback software, and USB converter, I don't think I'd spend the money again. Rather, I think I'd try to be more patient and wait for the next generation of hard drive devices to be released (yes, it could be a while...).

So, my answer to your question would be to not spend the money on a SSD.
The only downside of SSD is the price. If you can afford SSD it's a no brainer. SSD is much much faster and completely silent. I use SSD as the main disk drive, and store the music in NAS which is hidden away in a closet.

There are several generations of SSD technology already. Previous generation models tend to be slower and cheaper. For music server you don't need the fastest and latest, so you can shop wisely.
I don't agree with tvad. I think the future is now using a music server using a very good dac.
Before I would buy an ssd for the Mac, I would put in the maximum amount of memory in the mini then set pure music to use memory for playback.
I also agree with using a nas set of disks for your library. The disks can be located anywhere then.
03-06-11: Rbstehno
I don't agree with tvad. I think the future is now using a music server using a very good dac.
Let me clarify. I am hopeful that a one-box server solution becomes available...one that will work in tandem with a DAC.

The server should be user friendly and work like a CD player (or a tuner or any other standard audio component that anyone could operate without knowledge of computers).

I think the Mac (or PC) method with its myriad software options, system configurations, USB converter hardware installation with the accompanying configurations, compounded with hellish home wi-fi network all sucks, quite frankly.

Remember when anyone, including the girlfriend or wife, could come home and turn on the receiver and select the tuner and play music in about 5 seconds? That's what needs to become reality with server based audio.

IMO.

Remember when anyone, including the girlfriend or wife, could come home and turn on the receiver and select the tuner and play music in about 5 seconds? That's what needs to become reality with server based audio.

Sure, it can be achieved. My system is modeled after the touch screen display and JRiver as described here.

Touch Screen Music Server

The touch screen makes the operation considerably easier than consumer HT receiver remote control with 100 buttons or a laptop with remote screen sharing. It takes a lot of effort to set it up, but once it's up and running it's a breeze to browse and select music.
It takes a lot of effort to set it up...
Jylee (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
That's not what I have in mind, but congratulations for building something that makes you happy.

Plug-n-play is what I have in mind.

Computer audio is not yet plug-n-play.
The Mac OS doesn't support the Trim command yet which means the drive will slow down over time. The more expensive OWC drives with the longer warranties are enterprise class drives. They have more overpervisioning for longer life. I've been using nothing but SSD's for the last few years in all my machines for boot drives. I've had three failures in the last year. two which were OWC Enterprise drives. When SSD's fail, the fail without any warning. One day you machine is working fine, the next day the drive is just gone. So, i've got in the habit of backinb up often. BTW i keep my music on machanical drives with multiple backups.
>>I've been using nothing but SSD's for the last few years in all my machines for boot drives. I've had three failures in the last year. two which were OWC Enterprise drives. When SSD's fail, the fail without any warning. One day you machine is working fine, the next day the drive is just gone. <<

Prpixl... I was afraid someone would have your experience. Sorry to hear about that. Sounds as if you are not recommending the switch to SSD.

:) listening,

Ed
Second the Jriver! Nothing is close, IMO!

No go for SSD, sorry to say.

Best,
Alex Peychev
Computer transport is not for the faint of heart. And I don't believe computer audio will ever become plug-n-play in my lifetime. It works quite well if you know the routines. But the barrier is high enough for a lot of folks, which is unfortunate. It works quite well once set up to your liking.

Ed, I hope you don't get the wrong impression that traditional magnetic disks are more reliable than SSD. Once you have any valuable data on your computer, back up is a must. Think of it as car engine. It requires regular maintenance to get going, and it will ultimately fail without giving a warning. Whether the disk is mechanical or solid state, the data must be backed up at regular schedule because the failure is a matter of when, not a matter of if.
03-07-11: Jylee
I don't believe computer audio will ever become plug-n-play in my lifetime.
I'm much more optimistic.

In the meantime, I have all my CDs. Easy to use. Sound great to me.

If I want to tease my brain, I can use the MacMini system.
Computer Audio Rule Number 1 (adapted from General Computer Rule No. 2): all drives will fail at some point. If your music collection and/or your time is worth anything to you, it is prudent to backup your music files.
The question is does the SSD improve the sound?

TV,

Selling your Mach2 already?
Interesting discussions. What I'm most concerned about is the possibility of having to re- rip all my CD's again. (Currently using Apple Lossless)

Although SSD's are a relatively cheap experiment, I have decided to let the vetting process take it's course. Until this thread, I thought I was the only one not dumping money into my mini.

Hardware changes are easy but reripping is not!
On topic, the guys at Mach2 claim replacing the Mini's hard drive with a SSD makes a difference sonically or else they wouldn't swap the drives.

The hard drive is only used for the OS, iTunes, the other music software (like Amarra or Pure Music, or...), and other essential operating software. No music is stored on the SSD. Therefore, it doesn't have to be a large drive. The SSD drive installed in my 2010 Mini is only 40G.

Whether or not the cost is worthwhile in your 2007-2008 Mini is up to you.
Ed,

I couldn't imagine life without SSD's. They are so much quicker and quieter than mechanical drives. My desktop machine boots in 14 seconds before I'm on the internet. My laptop takes 20 seconds to do the same. I have 6 computers here and they are all running SSD's.

The drives that failed were all due to a bug with S3 sleep. It took almost a year before the manufacturer of the controller chip recognized that there was a problem. A firmware update to fix the problem should be out any day now. What's spooky is that they all failed within a few days of the four month mark. It was just an annoyance because I backup religiously and can do a clean install and turn around my machine in 2-3 hours.

Yes, SSD's do make a difference with sound quality. I imagine this is because of the speed of them and the operating system having to work less/faster to buffer data.

On another note, my music server is based an a FitPC2 which fits in the palm of my hand. It boots from an SSD and the music is kept on two external 2.5" drives. It runs 24/7 and I update it like once every 6 months. At idle it draws 4 watts; under load never more than 11 watts. It's 100% silent and air cooled. I have five squeezeboxes and multiple computer that access it and it's never had a problem serving multiple streams.
Prpixel,

I thought regular HDDs did sequential (what most programs do) loadings faster than SSDs?
Do you copy the music from the external to the internal when you want to listen a song? What type of power supplies do you run, battery or Linear PS?
Cheers P
I have been enjoying Adele's latest release "21" as of late.
Ooooppps, meant to post that in the "best female vocalist thread" - my apologies.
Sonics aside, faster boot and silent operation!
03-07-11: Perrew
I thought regular HDDs did sequential (what most programs do) loadings faster than SSDs?
That was true in some cases a few years ago, but no longer. As a rough ballpark, I would expect a typical SATA2 SSD today to provide sustained read transfer rates of around 200 MB/sec. I'd be surprised if the stock HDD in the OP's several year old Mac Mini could do more than around 50 MB/sec, and perhaps even less.

And of course in terms of random access times, which are particularly important for an operating system drive, the SSD would probably be more than 100x faster.

Regards,
-- Al
No, SSD's are a lot faster the mechanical drives. A pair of velociraptors in a raid array might come close to a mid level SSD but your talking a lot more noise, heat and space. Right now I'm waiting for the new Sandforce 2000/SATA 6Gb based SSD's to start shipping. These will be as fast as Sandforce 1200 drives in a raid array. Hey, I'll be able to shave a few more seconds off of my boot times. I do a lot of photo editing, with very large files, and the SSd's make a world of difference with swapping data in and out of main memory

There's no reason to copy from the mechanical drives to an SSD to listen to a song. Everything gets buffered in memory no matter where your listening. Again, the big advantage is quicker access and less overhead for the CPU.

When I listen on my desktop I just use the standard power supply in the computer case. The desktop rig consists of a Bel Canto C5I integrated amp driving Gallo Reference Strada's with a custom subwoofer. Also, I have a Bolder Cable Modified Squeezebox touch with a modified Jerome Industries linear power supply for when I want to listen while the computer is off or if I just want to listen to Rhapsody or Pandora.

In my Main music system I have a heavily modified Squeezebox 2 with the Bolder Cable Ultimate Nirvana Linear power supply with the Bybee Music Rails.

I rip Cd's on my main computer and then use Synctoy to move them over to the music server and to backup.
I still kind of fail to see what the SSDs do for sonics, are they having lesser electrical noise?
You say the drive dont matter because it all is loaded into memory so why then use a SSD?
How do you play High-Res files?
Prpixel,

I thought regular HDDs did sequential (what most programs do) loadings faster than SSDs?
Do you copy the music from the external to the internal when you want to listen a song? What type of power supplies do you run, battery or Linear PS?
Cheers P
03-07-11: Perrew
I still kind of fail to see what the SSDs do for sonics, are they having lesser electrical noise?
If the music data is being output from the computer directly into a dac, via usb or firewire or s/pdif, it would certainly seem conceivable that replacing an hdd with an ssd might affect (and hopefully improve) jitter levels and noise levels on the signal supplied to the dac. How much of a difference that would make would obviously be dac-dependent.

If the music data is being output from the computer via ethernet or wireless, and assuming that the link works reliably and consistently, I would be surprised if going to an ssd would make any sonic difference. Although I would not totally rule out the possibility that rfi effects could come into play in some setups.

Regards,
-- Al
Istanbulu, I bought a Mac Powerbook Pro with an internal SSD largely to be a music server and at several pros' suggestions. I have since found Pure Music played in the memory mode, largely negates any drive impact. The music is read into ram before being exported to the dac.

As such I would not bother with a SSD. Nor would I be very concerned about the internal HDD's capacity. An external hard drive reading into the ram before a song is played sounds the same as the SSD's feed.

I will probably get a Mac Mini and a nice storage drive and control with an Ipad, first generation.
Tbg,

Are you assuming that SSD drives do not help when using Memory Play, or did you test it? If you tested it, it would be great to hear your impressions.

We have specifically tested this and found that using an SSD drive helps the sound, even when using Memory Play. I can't explain why, but the results were clear.

Now SSD drives are much more expensive than a regular hard drives so most people will decide it is not cost effective to use for external drives (although I use one and some of our customers do too.) I can't blame them, but our A/B tests showed a noticable difference.

Darrell
www.mach2music.com
03-07-11: Almarg

..it would certainly seem conceivable that replacing an hdd with an ssd might affect (and hopefully improve) jitter levels and noise levels on the signal supplied to the dac.

The keys in that senetence are "might" and "hopefully", those are not reassuring words.
When you optimize the computer for music playback the access speed of the drive might be a non issue so controlled test with SSD vs. HDD should be made, one easy way would be to take once Mac mini with regular internal HDD and connect an external SSD. If the external sounds better we might extrapolate that to an internal SSD sounding better, but if the external SSD sounds worse or equal it might be the interface connecting the drive. Since Macs use USB or FW for external I would wager the internal HDD on Sata might outperfom.
Dmccombs,

have you tried a linear PS and can you elaborate how the sound changed when going from a HDD to a SSD?
03-08-11: Perrew
When you optimize the computer for music playback the access speed of the drive might be a non issue so controlled test with SSD vs. HDD should be made
Agreed.
One easy way would be to take once Mac mini with regular internal HDD and connect an external SSD. If the external sounds better we might extrapolate that to an internal SSD sounding better, but if the external SSD sounds worse or equal it might be the interface connecting the drive.
I doubt that any meaningful extrapolation could be made. Regardless of where the music files are stored, the internal drive will be in use supporting the operating system and programs. And its circuitry will still be present and active, generating noise and causing (to at least a small degree) voltage droop, voltage fluctuations, signal crosstalk, ground-bounce, and other effects that could ultimately affect (to at least a small degree) the jitter and noise levels of the output signals of the Mini. All of those effects will differ between an ssd and an hdd, with little predictability.

Regards,
-- Al
Dmccombs, yes I compared the SSD versus an external HDD both using Memory on PM. I thought the SSD was slightly better but don't understand why.

Perrew, I would think the transfer speed from the HDD to the ram would be much faster with Sata, but would it matter?

As I understand it, what you are seeking is a processor that does nothing other than conveying the data from ram to the dac without jitter.

One final comment. I saw several demonstrators using memory sticks with big capacities for HD music. Some were using PM with Memory. It strikes me that several sticks with great capacity with one dedicated to jazz, etc. would be convenient. Anybody have any thoughts about this?
I would find big sticks less convenient than a HDD/SSD, it would be like partitions or catalogs and then would they be running of the USB bus or what?
Im waiting for my Mac Mini 2010 server version, to compare to the PC I built, both with HDDs, to see if there is a difference between the two. But my wager is that a Linear PS or battery would make a larger impact than the drive which I dont think will infuluence as much. Several builders of Dacs also report better sound with using a PC alsthough the Mac is a very nice solution. I like Macs and would love if they had the equal sound as PC but I dont count on it.
Perrew,

I have tried a linear power supply, and I have done A/B between SSD external drives and regular hard drives. But, I did not A/B between SSD external drives and Regular hard drives while using the linear power supply.

Darrell
www.mach2music.com
Perrew, having had two prior Windows servers, my expectations are the opposite of yours. Also, several Dac manufacturers, I know, one being Weiss, think the Apples are better. I certainly would like the convenience of Itunes with less of the money grubbing they do. I also wish that Apple had not followed the other Windows manufacturers down the road of really cheap components, such as drives.

I will probably go with a very modified Mini with a Raid 5 storage and a pro external drive for ripping my discs. All I will continue to use FW to the Weiss Dac202, but sata elsewhere.
Dmccombs,

Extrapolating from the mach2 you are saying the Linear PS is worse than the switching inside the mac mini but the ssd makes a big enough difference?
Could you please elaborate on the sonic differences between the SSD vs. the HDD?
Tbg, agree, I would love the convenience of just using Itunes. Imagine if it had the capability of the Sooloos with grouping and searching.
As for FW Im not convinced by what Ive heard.
I use a Plextor, one of the old really well built ones for ripping. And have a BR drive for movies since Steve dont fancy the BR format.
I have ordered the Server version of the mini which has 2x500Gb 7200rpm drives inside so that should be able to hold most of the music, extremely convenient. Then I have Plex with external drives for movies.
Perrew,

No, I did not comment on the linear power sound quality at all. I simple said I did not do A/B tests between SSD and regular hard drives, when using the linear power supply.

When we did A/B tests between SSD external hard drives and regular hard drives, we used stock Mac Minis and our Mach2 units.

In the A/B tests, we used the same cabling, external HD enclosure, Mac, software and music. We simply swapped out the hard drive in the external enclosure. We used Memory Play in these tests since this is always a big debate.

We normally use a Firewire enclosure that has the Oxford chipset. When using a regular hard drive, we get a nice sounds stage, good detail, low background noise, good dynamics. It is way better than USB set ups we tried in the past.

When we swapped the SSD in for the regular hard drive, the noise floor was quieter. The dynamics improved, the width of the soundstage got better and the depth of the soundstage was much better. The sound was tighter too (i.e. cymbals had more definition).

I'm not saying everyone should run out and buy external SSD drives. They do sound better, but the price increase is significant. You may have other things in your system that need addressing.

The internal drive is a no-brainer, although you must be careful in doing the swap. The cost to replace the internal drive is reasonable and the gains are very noticeable.

Darrell
www.mach2music.com

Darrell,

I just extrapolated from that the mach2 has switching PS you preferred that?

So if I understand you never A/B the internal HDD vs. internal SSD?, couldnt this have been easily done by having a stock vs. a Mach2?
I dont see why youd wanna use external drive for playback when you can use internal?
Cheers P
Tbg,

Perrew, having had two prior Windows servers, my expectations are the opposite of yours.

Having MacMini 2010 here, my experience is the opposite of yours. I have installed Win7 (x64) on the MacMini and run it with Jriver and ASIO4ALL. Since I can run both Mac OS X and Win7 on the same MacMini, to my ears, Jriver/ASIO setup outperforms iTunes/PM playback in every respect. I also find Jriver much more user-friendly compared to iTunes.

But even with Jriver/ASIO, the MacMini is still inferior (both sound and internal hardware) to a "cheap" $700 Core i3/HM55 Toshiba laptop. And I love my external 2TB (Barracuda XT) RAID enclosure connected to the eSATA port of the Toshiba! If Firewire was that great, why the internal drives of the Mac use the SATA controller? Very strange!

Mac is extremely nice; great OS/exterior/convenience design, and there were number of reasons why it sounded better than Win based players, but that is now history, IMO!

What is MacMini? It is an outdated Core 2 Duo Intel-based laptop. It is packed to the micron so there is no space for proper filtration (suitable for high quality audio) of the “million” switching charge-pump regulators inside. On the top, Apple decided to make things even more convenient for the user with a built-in 12V LiteON main switching power supply. Apple did a very fine job again (very sleek), but that was not intended and obviously does not serve very well when it comes to high-end audio. IMO, again!

Look at this picture here. It shows Mini-ITX motherboard for Intel Core i3/5/7. Look at the little round things called filter capacitors and count how many they are. And look at this here showing MacMini 2010 motherboard. As you can see, there are NO large filter capacitors. Al they use is the absolutely minimum required value of Tantalum capacitors (ask around how they sound for audio apps). Why? No space.

Best,
Alex Peychev
I agree with Alex. I use a Mac at work, at home, and I prefer to use Mac to PC whenever possible. For music application it's a different story. After trying my Macbook Pro and Mac Mini, it became evident that iTunes and the Core Audio stack is optimized for convenience, not fidelity. I had to reconvert all my music from ALAC to FLAC when I finally switched to JRiver, but it was well worth the effort.
Perrew,

You killing me man. Please read what I wrote and quit "extrapolating". Take my words as they are written. There is no hidden meanings... I never mentioned any preference for either power supply. I never said we didn't A/B test internal drives.

We have A/B tested internal SSD vs. regular HD. We build Mach2 servers every day. It is easy for use to listen to a Mac, swap the drive and listen to it again. We also have plenty of Mach2 servers around to compare to stock.

Internal drives are typically small compared to folks 1-2 terabyte libraries. If have a small library you can store it internally.

Happy Listening,
www.mach2music.com
Dmccombs, thats not my intention:-)

Without extrapolating then, why do you not have linear PS or battery on the server?

So how did the internal HDD compare to an internal SSD?

SSDs are getting quite large so with two of those you can cover quite large librarys.

Im just trying to learn here how to best optimize my server.
Perrew,

An internal SSD is way better than a regular hard drive, sonically. The only thing to decide is how big you need (or can afford).

I hope my comments regarding the value of SSD vs a regular hard drive have been helpful. I'm sure others will chime in.

I'll skip the power supply questions so we don't derail the thread.

Darrell
www.mach2music.com
Dmccombs,

An internal SSD is way better than a regular hard drive, sonically.

According to several trusted audiophile ears I've talked to (both Win and Mac users), there is no difference they could hear with internal SSD against HDD.

Even with a 5400rpm 8MB buffer HDD, burst-loading of the entire audio track to the system main SDRAM takes a second or less. What about Barracuda XT drives with 64MB buffer? HDD jitter? No such thing, IMO! And let’s not forget that the SSD also has a SDRAM buffer, just like HDD.

It does not matter where your audio file is stored; it is always double buffered (at minimum); first in the storage device own memory buffer, and again to the main system memory. So I do not see a reason for SSD to sound better than HDD.

Best,
Alex Peychev
03-08-11: Aplhifi
HDD jitter? No such thing, IMO! And let’s not forget that the SSD also has a SDRAM buffer, just like HDD.

It does not matter where your audio file is stored; it is always double buffered (at minimum); first in the storage device own memory buffer, and again to the main system memory. So I do not see a reason for SSD to sound better than HDD.
Alex, no one has mentioned "HDD jitter" in this thread, which I agree is a nonsensical expression. A question was asked as to how changing from an HDD to an SSD could affect sonics. I responded that jitter and noise on output signals of the computer, that will be connected directly into a dac in many setups, could conceivably be influenced by crosstalk, ground-bounce, voltage droop and voltage fluctuations at various circuit points, rfi, and other similar effects that in ANY digital design that involves a large number of signals that have fast edges can result in subtle interactions between circuits that are ostensibly unrelated. Particularly when the destination to which some of those signals are sent (the dac) may be especially sensitive to small amounts of noise and jitter.

I take no position as to the likelihood that using an SSD instead of an HHD will make a sonic difference in any given computer, or as to whether the difference, if any, would be for the better, or if any such effects would be consistent across different computers, because I have no experience upon which to base such a position. What I have said is simply that it is technically conceivable that there could be a difference, in at least some setups with some computers and some dac's. I don't think that is disputable.

Best regards,
-- Al
Alex,

Have you, yourself actually tested for this? Are your friends testing this with thier ears or making assumptions?

If you and your friends actually tested this, then I guess we have very different experiences.

In my tests, tests of other I know and trust, and people who where there for some of my tests, ALL heard a definite improvement when going from an internal regular drive to an SSD.

I've done the tests several times for friends and audio nuts, after all, I have modded and stock machines here every day of the week.

The audio systems I have done tests in have all been very good so maybe it comes down to how well the systems resolve fine details. Maybe you are using external USB drive instead of Firewire drives with good controllers?

I don't have time to sort out the differences in our results, but after hearing a clear difference in our numerous tests, I am surprised you don't hear any. TO each thier own I guess.

Darrell
www.mach2music.com
I don't think the difference in performance between HD and SSD will yield any measurable difference in sound quality. I do think however that there will be more noise generated by spinning magnetic disks compared to SSD with zero moving part. The sensitivity to such noise and any effect will probably be system dependent.
"I don't have time to sort out the differences in our results, but after hearing a clear difference in our numerous tests, I am surprised you don't hear any. TO each thier own I guess." Blind or sighted tests? If there are truly differences in sound with just changing out a HDD for a SSD then there is something truly broken in software and/or hardware in some other part of the system.
OR the SSD draws less power thus reducing EMI, or the SSD is faster thus making the CPU work less and interrupt the CPU less from playing music.

Just because we don't have the technology or understanding of what to measure, doesn't mean there aren't sonic differences.

THIS IS A HOBBY OF LISTENING. How can you discount what you hear and other hear, just because we can't explain the science yet???

Have you done any A/B tests in this area yet?
I agree Darrell

I began this thread by remarking >>I'm looking for experience-based thoughts and commentary <<

I thank all of those members who have shared their experiences here.

Experience-based commentary is what I'm after.

I tend to value Darrell's points because he has made the effort to test and compare, and he is putting his reputation and business on the line when he comments in threads such as these. Someone could easily replicate (SSD to HDD) and evaluate what he says and find out for themselves. If what he says is bogus based upon their experience, I'm sure we'd hear about it from those who have made efforts similar to his.

I tend to find the theory-based (not experienced-based) commentary to have very little value to "THE HOBBY OF LISTENING" and the enjoyment of music.

:) listening,

Ed