Installing an SSD into a MacBook Pro

Following on from my previous post on installing an SSD into my Mac Pro by utilising the optical bay (allowing a total of six drives to be installed in all) I decided to do a similar thing to my Apple MacBook Pro.

Installing an OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD into an Apple MacBook Pro (15″, Mid 2010 model). The OWC “Data Doubler” bracket, SSD and the tools needed for the job. August 22, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

With cloud computing (storage of data, transferring data with services such as Drop Box and buying of software) and USB keys, we have become less reliant on optical drives (CDs or DVDs). It makes absolute sense to utilise this space by fitting a second hard drive. Other World Computing, or OWC, have a genius adapter called a Data Doubler which has the form factor of a laptop internal optical drive and is a bracket for holding a 2.5″ hard drive or SSD.

Installing an OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD into an Apple MacBook Pro (15″, Mid 2010 model). With the cover off; the DVD drive where the SSD will be installed is on the bottom left. The OWC “Data Doubler” bracket, SSD and the tools needed for the job. August 22, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Having found a European dealer, Macupgrade (superb service), I decided to order the parts needed for this project (You can also order direct from OWC):

OWC Data Doubler & optional USB SATA Optical Drive Enclosure
OWC Mercury Electra 6G 120Gb SSD
 

Rather handily, the Data Doubler comes with a full toolkit as well as extremely comprehensive instructions on how to fit it, covering a very large range of Mac laptops. What I found even more useful were the excellent instructional videos on the OWC site.

Installing an OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD into an Apple MacBook Pro (15″, Mid 2010 model). With the cover off; with the DVD drive removed. This is where the SSD will be installed. The OWC “Data Doubler” bracket, SSD and the tools needed for the job. August 22, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

All in all, it took around thirty minutes to take out the DVD Superdrive, install the SSD and finally install the optical drive into the external USB case (which is also powered by the USB port, so no need for AC adapters). Whilst not complicated, it pays to take things slowly and follow the instructions to the letter as one is dealing with sensitive equipment with fragile wiring and circuitary.

Installing an OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD into an Apple MacBook Pro (15″, Mid 2010 model). The OWC “Data Doubler” bracket and SSD installed, with the conventional hard drive on the right. August 22, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

What’s fantastic about this upgrade is having two separate hard drives inside a laptop. The SSD now contains OS X Lion and all my programs. It also contains my Aperture Library and images are downloaded onto the SSD for extremely speedy editing. Once I’ve done my edits, these are then exported as Projects to the conventional 500Gb internal hard drive. Also as I approach getting the SSD full, images in the Aperture Library, after backups, can either be deleted or stored on the conventional hard drive as Referenced Files and thus, still appear in the Aperture Library.

Installing an OWC Mercury Electra 6G SSD into an Apple MacBook Pro (15″, Mid 2010 model). The DVD Superdrive is then installed in the OWC external optical drive case. August 22, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

The same workflow will apply to video editing with Final Cut X; small projects will have video initially loaded into a Project on the SSD for speed and then moved onto the conventional hard drive for storage. Bigger projects will just be downloaded onto the conventional hard drive.

I’m extremely impressed with this upgrade; it has brought even more usability to my MacBook Pro and made it blisteringly fast too. Previously my boot up time (from cold) was 37 seconds; with the SSD, it’s now 12 seconds! Programs open in a flash too. I for one am hooked on this latest generation of SSDs with Sandforce controllers. Completely recommend the SSD path to anyone for whom time is precious!

Addendum:

Great news; the fabulous folks at Macupgrade have offered all readers a kind 10% discount on all items in their shop. Discount code: macupgradephoto

IMPORTANT NOTE: Depending on your model of MacBook Pro, installing the SSD in the optical bay as shown will not harness the drive’s full speed. Certain MacBook Pro models have a faster SATA speed channel for the hard drive bay than the optical bay. It’s worth researching your model of computer to ensure you gain the maximum speed benefit. For my particular laptop, the speed is identical on both SATA channels.

The regular Hard Drive is in the optical bay and the OWC SSD is in the HD Bay.

The regular Hard Drive is in the optical bay and the OWC SSD is in the HD Bay.

29 responses to “Installing an SSD into a MacBook Pro

  1. Nice how to – I didn’t realise that you were going to be using both hard drives, great idea.

  2. Hi, curious if you’ve had any sleep/wake issues with installing the OS on the drive in the optical bay space – have been looking in to doing this with my 2011 MBP, and have seen reports that the boot drive had to be in the physical space occupied by the HD, ie you needed to take out the HD and place it in the optical bay, then put the SSD in the HD bay so the wake/sleep hardware knows where to look for the book drive. Hope you haven’t had this problem as it’s one less step in moving things around! Thanks for another informative post!
    Leo

    • I just did a test with my 2010 MacBook Pro by putting it to sleep and it woke up just fine – took around 6 seconds but it seems to work. With an SSD, the idea of putting to computer to sleep isn’t really needed. A 12 second boot up from cold is probably faster than a conventional disk waking up, plus you get to absolutely maximise your battery power, firstly by using an SSD but even more so as you’re not trickling away power whilst the computer is in sleep mode.
      I can’t talk of your model having issues or not, so this may be model specific. If you do have issues and want to use the sleep mode, it’ll simply be a matter of swapping the drives over. If your current HD is a 7200rpm model though, check to see if heat might be an issue in the optical bay – I shouldn’t think so, but it’s worth further research.

      • Thanks Edmond! good point – I’ll let you know how I get on!
        cheers
        Leo

      • Randall Bryant

        Hi. I’m the proud new owner of a Vertex 3 240G MaxIOPS! I can’t wait to see this baby scream on my SATA III compatible 2011 Macbook Pro. I consider myself better than average in regards to working with computers, but I must say, I’m slightly intimidated with this upgrade. I’ve seen a fair number of reviews with people having issues with their SSD upgrades. I want to do this right the first time! Are you available today and have a little time to give some advice on this process? I’ve already upgrade my OS to Lion. I won’t be using my optical bay for storage at this time. Thanks, Randall

      • If you’re just swapping out your existing hard drive for the SSD, it’s even more straight forward. If the data on your HD is less than the capacity of your SSD, you can just use Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper to clone your HD onto your SSD. You need a dock or cabling to connect your SSD to your MacBook Pro to do this.
        Otherwise, install the SSD and then install everything from scratch; you can either make a OS X Lion boot up disk (search Google) or install Snow Leopard and then upgrade it to Lion via the App Store. If you have a cable or dock for attaching your HD you can just used Migration Assistant to transfer setting, applications and data across.

      • Randall Bryant

        I was hoping that either the migration assistant or a time machine backup would work for this. Glad to hear that it does, though I don’t think I have the necessary cable. What kind of cable should be used?

      • Randall Bryant

        Great! I pulled out my external hard drive that I use for Time Machine backups and it does have the cable that disconnects. It seems to fit the SSD perfectly. It’s a firewire 800 cable. So, I just remove the HHD, pop in the SSD, turn the system on, format the SSD, then find the migration assistant tool and make the transfer?

  3. Neville Margison

    Hi Edmond
    Thanks for the article on adding the SSD to your MBP. The install video looks straightforward and I am tempted to do the same. However, could you do an article on how you created the SSD as your boot drive and copied over what you needed? That is the bit I am slightly nervous about.
    Kind regards
    Neville

    • My pleasure :-)
      It’s pretty straight forward and all depends on the size of your current hard drive and the size of the SSD you get. First step is to make sure you have backed everything up. If the data on the HD is less than the SSD, you can simply get Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper and just clone the HD onto the SSD. You then go into System Preferences and choose your Startup Disk to be your SSD. After making sure everything works ok, you can then format your HD and use it purely for storage.
      The other method and one which I prefer but takes longer, is to format the new SSD and then do a clean install of your OS. Once done, you can then either install all your software and settings manually, or if your old system worked fine, use Migration Assistant and copy over settings and applications; I would leave documents, films, music etc on the HD. In iTunes you can change the location of the iTunes folder, s just choose it to be on the HD. One way to make life easier is to have an external drive and copy all your data onto it and then after formatting the internal HD just drag back the bits you need.
      Hope that’s of some help. There are loads of walk through guides on the web and Apple’s web site, including the Apple Support Forums.

  4. Neville Margison

    Thanks Edmond. That makes sense. I might go the re-install route as my upgrade to Lion has not been perfect.

    Regards
    Neville

    • Ahh, yes, good point!! Time Machine will work as well after you have installed OS SN then OS Lion. Naturally make sure you have a recent backup first.
      The easiest way is to get a SATA dock which takes 3.5″ and 2.5″ HDs. This way you can use your laptop’s HD.
      I’d definitely recommend looking at doing the upgrade utilising the optical bay – makes the MacBook Pro even more usable.

  5. Randall, first you need to format the SSD and then install the OS. Once done, you choose the SSD as your boot drive (System Prefs). Once you boot up, then use Migration Assistant to transfer stuff over (either during installation or after).

    • My pleasure It’s prtety straight forward and all depends on the size of your current hard drive and the size of the SSD you get. First step is to make sure you have backed everything up. If the data on the HD is less than the SSD, you can simply get Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper and just clone the HD onto the SSD. You then go into System Preferences and choose your Startup Disk to be your SSD. After making sure everything works ok, you can then format your HD and use it purely for storage.The other method and one which I prefer but takes longer, is to format the new SSD and then do a clean install of your OS. Once done, you can then either install all your software and settings manually, or if your old system worked fine, use Migration Assistant and copy over settings and applications; I would leave documents, films, music etc on the HD. In iTunes you can change the location of the iTunes folder, s just choose it to be on the HD. One way to make life easier is to have an external drive and copy all your data onto it and then after formatting the internal HD just drag back the bits you need.Hope that’s of some help. There are loads of walk through guides on the web and Apple’s web site, including the Apple Support Forums.

  6. Neville Margison

    Hi Edmond
    I bit the bullet and ordered the 240GB drive. One final question, once you have loaded the OS and apps on to the SSD, I assume that causes Time Machine to back that up as well as it thinks it is new? I just spent the whole weekend redoing my TM as it didn’t like the move from SN to Lion it was taking a long time to do each hourly backup. Deleting the old TM solved the problem but obviously causes a complete backup.

  7. Hmm, not really sure. I guess if you do a clone, it will just carry on as normal as TM will probably think it’s the same system. It might however look at things like the hard drive / SSD serial number etc so might see it as something new, which may cause it issues (unlikely though). Either way, what I would suggest is to make sure you have backups of all your data and a TM backup too. If you have a spare external HD with enough space, once you’ve upgraded your system to the SSD, do a new TM backup or two on this. After this, you can erase the TM on the drive you were using, hook that up and make that your TM backup. This would probably be the smoothest thing to do. If you don’t have a spare drive, you could make a new folder on that drive, drag the old TM folder into it and then make a new TM backup with the SSD system. Once you’ve done one or two and are happy it works and that all you data and settings are fine, delete the folder containing the old backup (if you have loads of space, keep this for a week or two just to make sure everything is in order).

  8. Quick question.

    So do i put the new SSD drive in the slot where the original drive was?

    Or does the machine automatically recognize which drive the boot is on?

    thanks very much. Great article.

    • In my setup, I have put the SSD in the optical bay and kept the original HD where it was – this way you get maximum speed by installing the OS and programs onto the SSD and maximum storage by having the HD. The DVD drive then gets installed into a USB box and can be used for the rare occasion when it’s needed.
      Depending on which route you take to installing the OS onto the SSD, it will either start automatically, or if you have booted off your HD, all you need do is go to System Prefs and then Startup Disk and choose the SSD as the boot drive.

  9. thanks very much Terakopian.

    Really appreciated.

  10. I found out about this mod from this blog and have just implemented it. There have been some problems with 6G SSD drives and the 2011 MacBookPro 17″ machines which has only partially been corrected by a new firmware release from Apple a couple of weeks ago. The OWC website and blog cover it in detail and advise that the SSD drive on these machines need to go into the original hard drive bay and this is what I found also. With the SSD in the optical bay it wouldn’t format but everything is fine with the SSD in the original HDD bay and the HDD in the optical bay. Excellent installation videos on the OWC website, good service from macupgrade.eu. Nervous opening up the machine but it was easy even for a novice. Used Carbon Copy Cloner to copy OS from HDD to SSD and now have a machine that positively flies.

  11. Great article and has persuaded me to do the same thing. However, I was told that to get the benefit of the 6G model (as opposed to the 3G model), I need to install the SSD in the existing HD slot, and then put the existing HD in the Data Doubler.

    • Thank you :-) I have since been told by a colleague that he did tests and with the SSD in the HD bay he was getting much faster speeds. I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to try this, but my MacBook Pro is flying already so I can’t begin to imagine it any faster! Once I get a chance to test hints, I’ll add to the article. Do let me know how you get along.

  12. I think I’ve posted this already but OWC specifically say that in 2011 17″ Mac Book Pro their 6G SSD drive needs to go in the HD bay. I started installing it in the optical bay but found could not format the drive. However when I put the Hard Disk in the optical bay and the SSD drive in the HD bay then everything is fine. Plesase read the OWC site carefully in relation to your specific SSD drive. All that said my MBP now boots in no time and flies like a bullet.

    • I think the two variables at play here are the particular SSD and the exact model of MacBook. Reading up on the OWC site is great advice though. In my case, I had zero problems with the way I installed things. I’m interested to see if swapping things around will indeed sped things up even more!

      • Spot on. There are excellent reasons to make this mod but you need to double check that your chosen SSD is compatible with your particular size and age of Mac.

  13. Hi, I am considering performing the above mod on my 2011 17″ Mac Book Pro but I am worried about the impact to my warranty.
    Does anyone know whether this mod will invalidate the UK based warranty?
    The Macsales/OWC site says that the USA warranty won’t be invalidated, that only the parts you touch/change will no longer be covered. Is that the same case in the UK?
    Thanks

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