With the recent addition of an Air to our Mac family, I found myself in envy of its absolutely superb hard drive performance. It’s hard to put into words how nice it is not to wait for things to start, and it’s harder still to go back to using a sluggish, spinning-platter hard drive for anything but backups and bulk storage.
It was then purely by chance that I happened upon an adaptor which would drop into the place of the SuperDrive in my MacBook Pro and offer a second hard drive slot, and then thanks to Google that I then found a better, more local alternative at hardwrk.com: The SSD/HDD adaptor kit for MacBook Pro.
The general idea is that, with two expansion bays, you have the flexibility to drop in a reasonably cheap SSD as your main boot drive (120GB was the size I chose) and a larger regular hard drive for bulk storage and backups. You can also, if you so desire, use two SSDs simultaneously, or two regular hard drives if you’re not ready to take the solid-state plunge yet.
But my chosen configuration was the most sensible, and the first; an SSD/HDD combo which takes advantages of the strengths of each, and compensates for their weaknesses.
hardwrk have done themselves proud with their SATA Adaptor Kit. It was fairly painless to install and took significantly less than the 2-hours their guide suggested. On the downside the guide was for a newer model of MacBook Pro than my own, but it would be unreasonable to expect a printed guide for every model so I wouldn’t count it against them.
Replacing the optical bay does, however, require dealing with some tricky screws that are a little difficult to reach, but with a little patience and care it’s easily done without causing any harm to your computer.
Don’t let the thought of tricky screws put you off, however, because the hardwrk “Adaptor Kit” isn’t called a kit for no reason. In addition to the adaptor itself, you get all the tools needed to complete its installation. These comprise a Torx and Crosshead screwdriver for… well… unscrewing things, and an electrical spudger for very carefully lifting the delicate SATA cables and slightly less delicate battery connector from the MacBook Pro logic board.
If that wasn’t enough, the kit also comes with a handy external caddy for your removed Optical Drive. It’s made of plastic, and isn’t exactly top quality, but it serves its purpose and gives you a USB powered external optical drive at no extra cost; not bad considering that the Apple MacBook Air Superdrive will set you back £66. What’s more, it actually works as a MacBook Air Superdrive and will let you play DVDs on your MacBook Air, in addition to all the other things you might want to do with an optical drive. If you happen to have a MacBook Air knocking about, this is extremely useful. And you’re likely going to make heavy use of that external optical drive as Apple continue to drop them in favour of compactness.
Unfortunately it’s slightly less straightforward to play DVDs on a MacBook Pro, which expects an internal DVD drive in order for Apple’s own DVD Player software to work. You can delve into the innards of your operating system and tweak a file to allow external DVD drives to work, or you can just use VLC ( an alternative to DVD Player ) and play DVDs in a jiffy. The latter was my solution, I’ve never really played DVDs on my laptop and didn’t want to fiddle about getting something to work that I’d never use.
Installing the Kit
I had an interesting time installing the hardwrk kit. I had it delivered to the office and thus decided to begin the setup there and then (it was for my workstation, a late 2009 13″ MacBook Pro). I only had the SSD at the time, due to EBuyer’s unusual multi-warehouse shipping situation.
With only the SSD, and work which I didn’t want to interrupt too much, I decided to experiment a little. I installed the SSD into the Adaptor, and installed the Adaptor into the Optical Drive Caddy. Lo and behold, I now had an external, USB, SSD drive. Obviously the SSDs performance was severely compromised running over USB 2.0, but it was quick enough for me to begin installing Lion on my new disk without even needing to open up my laptop. This is a great bonus if you want to get your new system ticking over nicely before you begin opening up your laptop and shuffling the hard drives around.
Once Lion was installed I removed my primary hard drive, a woefully inadequate 250GB jobby, and placed it into the Adaptor. Obviously the SSD then went into the primary bay; it’s recommended that your boot drive be placed here in order to maintain proper “Safe Sleep” functionality.
Now I could fire up my fresh Lion install and use Migration Assistant to begin moving over my files and applications. Let me stop for a minute here and use this experience to very firmly state: DO NOT use Migration Assistant to bring files over to your SSD.
The trouble with Migration Assistant is that it migrates over an awful lot of the rubbish that builds up over time in your system. iPhone backups I’d never use were a good example; these eat through that precious SSD space like there’s no tomorrow. Similarly, you probably have a few Apps that you’re never going to use again, or never have used: GarageBand never gets touched on my MacBook Pro, for example, so I thoroughly uninstalled it using CleanApp.
I used Migration Assistant to bring over the majority of my user folder, and all of my Apps. I subsequently found a lot of the aforementioned rubbish was seriously cramming up that 120GB SSD and decided to have a thorough clean up. CleanApp came to the rescue here, it has a handy hard-disk usage visualiser that lets you know what and where the big files are so that you can delete or move them.
Once thoroughly migrated, I finally removed my old 250GB hard disk and installed a shiny new 500GB one. 750GB was a little overkill, although in retrospect I will probably rue the decision to go smaller, and 1TB drives are slightly too thick ( or so I’m given to believe ) at 11.5mm instead of 9.5mm to fit into the adaptor.
To wrap up, I popped the 250GB disk into a caddy and copied over my work folders and other important bits ‘n’ bobs onto the 500GB before finally archiving it away in an anti-static bag lest I need something else from it.
Ultimately, and after just a few days bedding in, the results have been fantastic. The SSD makes my ageing MacBook Pro feel brand new, but unfortunately eliminates any excuse I might have had to buy a new one. The extra hard drive space means that I’ve now got over double the storage I previously had, and as a result I’ve set up an internal Time Machine backup; backing up the SSD onto the HDD just in case it fails, or I need to revert a file. It’s extremely handy having Time Machine internal to the computer, although it’s obviously no substitute for a secondary, external backup which you’d need if your laptop were destroyed or stolen.
Before the upgrade, my MacBook Pro was taking a number of minutes to boot; an unusually long amount of time that even caused an Apple repair technician to try reinstalling Lion as a fix. After; it’s barely half a minute. Similarly, sleeping my 8GB RAM to disk was taking a long time, and my MacBook Pro would often fail completely to sleep, getting disturbingly hot in my bag before shutting off automatically to stop itself exploding. Afterwards; safe sleep sleep is quick and reliable. Although that 8GB “sleepimage” certainly takes a chunk out of the SSD.
hardwrk have, simply put, facilitated the best possible upgrade you could ever do to an HDD based MacBook, old-style MacBook Pro, or Unibody MacBook Pro (yes, the kit supports all of these). Their kit includes everything you need, including instructions, and brings a whole new lease of life to a poorly performing machine. At about 80 euros it feels a little expensive at first, this equates to about £70 at time of writing, but the included tools and external Optical Drive Caddy make it great value. Once you’ve coupled this with an SSD you’re looking at an upgrade cost of about £200, and add a shiny new hard drive ( if you need a 7200RPM, 500GB jobby ) and it creeps up to £240/£250. But this is a paltry sum compared to the cost of a new MacBook Pro and, trust me, there’s absolutely no better way to stave off the desire to upgrade, make your computer fly, and instill SSD-envy in your colleagues than giving this a shot.
In conclusion, I recommend this upgrade to any MacBook or MacBook Pro owner with the technical proficiency to get it installed. And anyone without, too; you can always find a technician willing to do the install for you. I wouldn’t, however, recommend it to new MacBook Pro owners; you stand a good chance of voiding your warrantee doing such an invasive replacement. Wait a year, and then upgrade, you’ll really feel the difference and will probably be able to take advantage of larger, cheaper SSDs by then.