The OWC Aura Pro X2 1.0TB NVMe SSD Upgrade for the Mac Pro 6,1 (Late 2013)
The Mac Pro (Model identifier: MacPro6,1, late 2013) is a frustrating machine in some professional environments. On the one hand, it’s a genius piece of design, with a radically revolutionary cooling system which works wonders, very quietly, in a form factor which is truly unique.
On the other hand though, it’s an extremely limited machine that allows for extremely little internal expansion; something which frustrates many professional users, myself included. Around five years ago though, I had to take the jump and reluctantly got a middle specced machine. My two previous Mac Pro machines had been the affectionately known as the cheese grater chassis. Hugely expandable, with four internal hard drive bays, several expansion slots and dual optical bays that many, including myself, converted to housing SSDs. However with the need for more video and larger raw files, the time came and I got my Mac Pro (3.5GHz 6-core Intel Xeon).
I these expandability terms though, the 2013 Mac Pro though, is extremely limited. One of the big problems is single internal hard drive; in this case, a blisteringly fast NVMe SSD, which is tiny in physical size, and unless you have sizeable funds, is also small in capacity when bought from Apple.
I made do with the built in 256Gb SSD for around 4 years. Moving my Desktop and Document files to my iCloud kept things manageable, but I could only ever have around 22Gb of free space, which would occasionally fill up with cache files (no idea from where, as everything configurable was always assigned to an external SSD attached via Thunderbolt 2 for scratch disk purposes) and constant system messages telling me to clean up my Macintosh HD. Super frustrating, a time waster when on deadline and impossible to do as there was nothing to throw away or configure differently.
I’ve been a huge fan of OWC, having used their various SSDs, RAM and external drive boxes for probably over a decade. In fact, this very machine’s RAM was upgraded as soon as I bought it from the standard 16Gb, using the 64.0GB OWC Memory Upgrade Kit.
In the end, my frustrations pushed me to looking into upgrading my Mac Pro 6,1’s internal, Macintosh HD, SSD. After a few days of thought, I realised the sweet spot, both for usability and financially, would be opting for the 1Tb size. I also decided to go for the kit, which includes an external case called the Envoy, to house the Apple 256Gb SSD and use as an external drive. So I headed to OWC’s European shop and ordered the Aura Pro X2 SSD for Mac Pro 2013 1TB Kit. The other capacities available are 240Gb, 480Gb and 2.0Tb.
As with everything from OWC, all the specialist tools you need are supplied, along with superb instructions on their website. Upgrading the SSD is very straightforward and most should be able to do it. One crucial thing to check is that you’re running macOS High Sierra 10.13 or later. This is an absolute must, as with High Sierra onwards, the firmware of the Mac Pro 6,1 is updated automatically, which will allow for support of the OWC SSD.
Although I have a Time Machine backup that runs constantly, for extra safety, I formatted a Samsung T5 SSD and made a fresh Time Machine backup onto this (you can have multiple Time Machine drives). I also got another external drive and using Carbon Copy Cloner, cloned my Macintosh HD. Always better to be safe!
As with anything computer related, switch everything off and never touch any part of any circuitry. The static charges that we can build up can fry circuitry, so take your time, be careful and don’t touch anything that’s a circuit or a connector. Once the outer case is remove, you simply unscrew the one retaining screw for the Apple SSD and slide it upwards and out. You need to carefully attach a small heatsink onto the OWC SSD to allow it to cool properly. Whenever attaching a heatsink, its always paramount to make sure you don’t touch the surface of the chip, to ensure it’s clean of any grease or debris. This allows the heatsink to adhere fully and properly, aiding in removing heat to maximum efficiency. Then install the OWC SSD card (firmly yet gently, making sure it’s seated completely in the socket on the motherboard), secure it with the supplied retaining screw, put the outer case back on, lock, attach your cables and you’re almost ready.
I opted to use the Time Machine backup on the Samsung T5 to restore my Mac onto the new OWC SSD. On power up, I held down the Cmd-Opt-R keys until a startup screen appeared. Then formatted the drive using Disk Utilities to APFS. Once done, I chose the Restore From Time Machine Backup option. Chose the Samsung T5 as a Restore Source, then chose the new OWC SSD as the destination, which I had named Macintosh HD in Disk Utility on the previous step and clicked on Restore. There are full instructions for formatting the OWC Auro Pro X2 SSD and the various ways of installing or restoring your data on the OWC website. With every step, you have a helping hand. Just make sure you make a couple of backups as I did, as a safety and peace of mind measure.
I went off to get some dinner, but I think in under an hour the “new” Mac was up and running. As always after a restore, you may need to log back into a few things, but apart from this, everything was running smoothly and perfectly.
I’ve been using my Mac Pro with my new 1Tb OWC Auro Pro X2 SSD for thee days now. I haven’t switched off the machine and it’s been purring along, speedily and without any errors or space issues. With the mightily impressive new Mac Pro (2019 model, MacPro7,1) being so ridiculously expensive and priced well out of the single creative professional’s budget, many of us will be looking at upgrading our current machines to get more out of them. Apple Macs have in my decades of experience, shown that they work well for many years; much longer than one would expect a computer to work. However with more demands from us with bigger raw files, heavier bit rates and ever larger video pixel sizes, our machines need the occasional boost.
Even with the upgradeably challenged form factor of the affectionately called Dustbin Mac Pro, changing simple things like the SSD and upgrading the RAM to 64Gb (128Gb is possible, but from my research for most workflows won’t bring much if any improvements over 64Gb – your needs may vary though, so do your research), can bring a new lease of life and usability. Plus, it comes with a five year warranty. Its a no-brainer!