Hey folks - many thanks for your encouraging replies. I posted my plea for community assistance in four forums, and this reply gathers responses from all four places.
"May as well take it in to the apple store for a diagnosis before you buy a new SSD. After all, the diagnosis is free."
"If you have an Apple store near you, then a trip there would certainly confirm/deny you initial diagnosis."
You're right, Clyde and mrmacfixit. So this morning I booked an appointment at the 'Genius Bar' of the Apple Store in Kingston. Once there, my MacBook Pro was plugged into an ethernet cable, successfully booted from their network, and a diagnostic software suite showed all was well - except there were no disc drives. In an unhurried discussion with the Apple employee, our Q&A resolved as follows.
Q1. Has the factory-fitted customised-to-order 128GB SSD just failed completely?
Q2. Is the Serial ATA bus and connector hardware functioning correctly?
A2. It's overwhelmingly likely indeed that these parts are functioning just fine (although the case wasn't opened up).
Q3. If I buy a replacement SSD (eg: 512GB Crucial M4 2.5-inch SATA), would it work in this MacBook Pro?
A3. Yes, it would. Apple could replace the knackered 128GB SSD with an identical but functioning 128GB SSD for c. £420, but since a 512GB Crucial M4 SSD can be had for £272.53, I certainly won't be availing myself of Apple's offer.
Q4. Is there a firmware upgrade available to raise the speed of the SATA bus from its current 1.5 Gbit/s (SATA rev.1) to 3.0 Gbit/s (SATA rev.2) or 6.0 Gbit/s (SATA rev.3)?
A4. No. So that's going to set an upper limit on SSD operations of 1.5 Gbit/s, or 192 MB/s (according to Google calculator).
"Wow. Those OWC SSDs are expensive. Plus, they're Sandforce based drives, which have had trouble in the past. I'd wait until you see a good deal on a Crucial M4 or Samsung 830."
Thanks for the pointers, T5BRICK. Now I'm committed to buying a 512 GB SSD, tomorrow will be dedicated to further and detailed pre-purchase research.
"You didn't mention what Factory fitted the SSD. [It was Apple's factory in Changhai, China, following my custom order instructions, which were posted through the Apple Store UK website, back in October 2008]
But that is probably a moot point right now.
As for a replacement, the Macsales one should do and competent shop, preferably one who deals with Apple gear, would be able to install it for you."
"I would just go for option #3 and replace it yourself. If you don't feel comfortable going the DIY route, any shop should be able to replace it but OWC offers excellent videos and step-by-step instructions on how do DIY.
Since SSDs have been out on the market for such a short time, and since you've had yours for 4 years, I think it's safe to assume that it's just dead. Order from OWC - their 3Gbps drives would be perfect for you. A bit pricey comparing similar drives from Crucial but they've actually better Mac support than Crucial.
"The Apple Genius will tell you exactly the same thing: The SSD is toast. [Indeed he did]
If you're good with following directions and OK with small screws, replacing the SSD isn't rocket science. Print out 2 copies of the instructions from iFixit.com (or just have it put in somewhere)
Use one of the print-outs to tape the small screws to, exactly as you take them out. Putting them back in is in reverse, just make sure you don't leave any screw still taped to the print-out."
Thanks for the encouraging suggestions, mrmacfixit, Clinton and Idefix. I'm getting by using Ubuntu on a donated 2001-vintage Compaq notebook, but it was impressively easy to plug in a Bluetooth adapter and set up Bluetooth printing to my HP Deskjet 460 - so Idefix's lovely 'taping the screws to the pix' recommendation is a possibility. However, at the moment I'm more minded to get my local computer repair shop to do the new SSD fixing and fitting.
"I'd check first and make sure the cable hasn't somehow become unattached.
And replacing a hard drive is not all that hard a task, especially if you have ever been inside a computer case. For step-by-step w/pics see here. [ifixit link]
I'd go in and remove/reattach the cable first prior to ordering a new drive unless you're ready for an upgrade to a larger drive anyway."
Hmmm... I realise I've been putting off solving this hitch until I could afford "an upgrade to a larger drive anyway" - so that's the route I'll be taking, since the 128 GB SSD had been feeling too small for quite some time anyway. In the vanishingly unlikely scenario that the old 128 GB SSD isn't toast, has just become detached, and does still in fact work, I can always convert it to an external USB 2 drive with the likes of a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive enclosure:
With any luck, I'll be posting a final thread-closing message from a revitalised MacBook Pro in there near future.
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