Tag Archives: ssd

OWC Aura Pro X2 SSD Preview

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.

The Mac Pro (model MacPro6,1 – late 2013) with the outer case off, showing the standard 256Gb Apple SSD. August 27, 2020. Photo: ©Edmond Terakopian

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.

The OWC Aura Pro X2 1.0TB NVMe SSD (heatsink attached) for Mac Pro (Late 2013) with some of the supplied tools. August 27, 2020. Photo: ©Edmond Terakopian

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.

The Apple SSD has been removed and the OWC Aura Pro X2 1.0TB NVMe SSD for Mac Pro (Late 2013 – on the right) is ready for insertion. August 27, 2020. Photo: ©Edmond Terakopian

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.

OWC Aura Pro X2 1.0TB NVMe SSD for Mac Pro 6,1 (Late 2013) is fitted and the retaining screw is in place. August 27, 2020. Photo: ©Edmond Terakopian

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.

OWC Aura Pro X2 1.0TB NVMe SSD for Mac Pro 6,1 (Late 2013) is fitted and the retaining screw is in place. August 27, 2020. Photo: ©Edmond Terakopian

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!

Other World Computing

The Fastest; Accelsior PCI Express SSD

Long Term Test

OWC stands for Other World Computing, a title which I felt was very apt for this article. Since I started using OWC’s adapter for modifying my Mac Pro to take multiple SSDs in the optical bay and installing their blisteringly fast SSD into the optical bay of my MacBook Pro, I’ve become a fan of this company. Their adapters and SSDs just seem out of this world; great design, well made and extremely fast.

It was with great interest when I first heard that a PCI Express SSD card was going to be introduced by the company. The advantages of using a PCI Express SSD card are numerous. Firstly, one is directly plugging into the motherboard, using the fastest interface, without having to go through the SATA connectors, adding some speed to operation. Secondly, it frees up your SATA connectors and drive bays for more SSDs or conventional hard drives for storage. In my Mac Pro, I now have four conventional hard drives in the drive bays which I use to store my RAW files amongst other data including documents, music, video and so on. I also have two SSDs installed in the optical bays. One is used to clone the Accelsior every night which is my OS drive, and the other is used for video files when editing  a project. Having FCP X run on the OWC Accelsior and the ProRes 422 video files run from a OCZ 120Gb SSD makes for a very fast and fluid editing experience.

If you’re on a PC, the Accelsior will also work. Regardless of which system you’re using, the helpful thing is the card does not need a driver, so will just work once installed. On a Mac, you will naturally need a Mac Pro as the iMac does not have PCI Express slots.

I decided to go for the 240Gb version which is enough space to store the OS, applications and Documents. Via iTunes I did move the iTunes folder to another drive though as it was simply too big. The card uses Sandforce controllers and several systems to ensure that the SSD chips are used efficiently and kept running smoothly. The SSDs themselves are on smaller circuit boards which clip into the PCI Express daughter card; this means that in time if you want to upgrade to a larger size, it’s easily done.

Speed

Using OWC’s own figures, comparing their top of the range traditional SSD (Pro 6G) to the Accelsior makes interesting reading.

OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G – Read 559MB/s Write 527MB/s (Peak Data Rate)
OWC Mercury Accelsior  – Read 762MB/s Write 763MB/s
Traditional 5400rpm Hard Drive – Read 75MB/s Write 77MB/s

These are test figures so real life use will vary, but it will vary proportionally, so the speed advantages are clear to see.

Compared to my previous OS SSD, the OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS which was very quick, the speed advantage of the OWC Acceslior is immediately noticeable, even without timing.

I did perform some comparisons though using my early 2009 model Mac Pro.

Reliability

Speed isn’t the only consideration to have though. I’ve had the Accelsior installed in my main imaging workstation, a Mac Pro, for three months now. It has performed without a single hiccup. I installed it when running OS Lion, cloned the OS drive onto the Accelsior using the superb CCC and upgraded to OS Mountain Lion a few days after it’s release. My Mac Pro is on 24/7, used for photo editing, photo archive use, Giclée printing, video and audio editing and general computing too. It’s hooked up to a Sonnet D800 raid with a PCI Express RAID card as well as countless other peripherals and I didn’t have a single issue at all! The Accelsior just performed with 100% absolute reliability and speed.

Final Thoughts

As new technologies come and go and we take leaps forwards, some leaps are giant. The leap to SSDs being one. They are still too costly for storage, but for using as our OS and program disks, the capacities are more than there and the prices have dropped to affordable levels. Although purely on paper the jump to PCI SSD doesn’t appear huge, it is much more than just the speed increase; it’s the convenience increase of freeing up a drive bay for storage too. I for one can’t recommend SSDs highly enough; however if you have a machine with compatible PCI Express slots, then the OWC Accelsior is an absolute no brainer. You’ll love it!

European Buyers – Macupgrade has kindly offered readers of this blog a 10% discount with the code: macupgradephoto

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.