Upgrade Your MacBook With A Dual HD/SSD Setup

Posted by | November 25, 2011 | Apps | No Comments

SSD’s or Solid State Drives are a popular upgrade lately due to the very significant difference they can make to even an older Mac’s performance in real world use. Unfortunately, SSD’s are also still prohibitively expensive for those of us who wish to keep large quantities of media on an internal hard drive.

There are a few workarounds for this, but most rely on an external drive or cloud storage. Alternatively, the following guide will show you how to install an SSD and make use of a larger, standard hard drive in the SuperDrive bay. As far as non-standard upgrades go, it’s not too difficult, but is perhaps not best suited for complete novices and may well void your warranty.

Getting Started

The following guide should not be too difficult if you’re confident with opening up computers and competent with a screwdriver, but of course it’s always possible to do something nasty to your Mac while it’s opened, so proceed with caution and at your own risk!

You may be wondering why we bother moving the larger hard drive into the SuperDrive bay instead of simply placing an SSD in there. Well, this was indeed my original intention but it turns out that there’s a lot of people on the Internet that have found out that MacBook’s have issues waking from sleep when OS X is placed in the SuperDrive position. Thus, we move the hard drive.

If you’re going to be installing OS X Lion on your SSD and are thinking of doing a clean upgrade, you may wish to take a look at this guide on making your own OS X Lion boot disc to save time and space.

Choosing An SSD Size And Model

Crucial's SSD's are fast, reliable and competitively priced

Crucial's SSD's are fast, reliable and competitively priced

I scoured the Internet trying to find an inexpensive alternative to Crucial’s SSD but didn’t have much luck. Most of the good ones were almost the same price, with comparatively poor performance. Unless you happen across a good deal for one of the alternative brands like Kingston or OCZ, I’d recommend sticking with Crucial as they offer excellent service, quick shipping and an easy way of finding the right SSD for your needs.

I like to keep a very lean installation, so Crucial’s 64GB SSD was more than enough, but your results may vary.

SSD Enclosure

The Nimitz hard drive enclosure worked for me and many others

The Nimitz hard drive enclosure worked for me and many others

Unfortunately, it’s not simply a case of opening up your Mac and placing a hard drive in the SuperDrive’s empty bay, you’ll first need an enclosure to make it fit. If you wish to go the safest, best known and most reliable route, I recommend you purchase the MCE Optibay for $99.

I didn’t want to spend $99 on what basically amounts to a piece of rectangular shaped metal and a connector, so after extensive research, I settled on an enclosure sold on eBay by a China-based manufacturer/seller named ‘Nimitz’.

Now, to be clear: I’m not vouching this eBay seller in any way and don’t accept responsibility if something goes wrong – all I can offer is my own experience in the hope to save you some money. After paying $23 including postage, the enclosure was delivered from China within a week and worked perfectly.

Carbon Copy Cloner

I felt that I may as well make a fresh install of OS X for the SSD since it encourages a lean install by jettisoning unused applications but if you’d rather not install a fresh OS X system, then you could simply backup to Carbon Copy Cloner then restore your fresh SSD to that backup, no reinstalling applications, no fuss!

Read here for a guide on using Carbon Copy Cloner.

Opening Up Your Mac

The Mac I’m choosing to upgrade is a mid-2010 13″ Unibody MacBook Pro, but other models of Unibody MacBook should be very similar.

Make sure to power off your Mac and let it cool down if necessary, then remove each screw with a small screwdriver and be sure to keep them safe if you don’t want to spend over half an hour of your time searching the floor for that one missing screw, as I invariably do.

Next, touch some metal part of the MacBook’s casing to discharge any static electricity. Since this is a Unibody, we won’t need to remove the battery.

Remove The Existing Hard Drive

The hard drive is located in the bottom left corner of this photograph

The hard drive is located in the bottom left corner of this photograph

Removing the existing hard drive is a very simple procedure:

The hard drive is located in the bottom left corner of the above photo and should be quite distinctive to spot. To remove the HD, we merely need to remove the two screws holding it in, then slowly lift the plastic strip holding it in place.

An empty hard drive bay, all ready for a nice new SSD

An empty hard drive bay, all ready for a nice new SSD

Now, slowly remove the hard drive, making sure to disconnect the ribbon as you do so. This would be a good time to put your hard drive into your enclosure if it’s the one you’ve decided to use.

Installing Your SSD

Installing your SSD is equally simple, just place it in the now empty bay and plug it into the ribbon connector, before screwing in the housing again. Once this is done, take care to put your MacBook’s bottom lid on properly and tighten each screw slowly.

Now, if you’ve got a Carbon Copy Cloner backup to restore from then go do that (remember to format your SSD). Alternatively, insert your OS X disc and head to Disk Utility to format your SSD and proceed to install OS X as normal.

Putting A Hard Drive In The SuperDrive Bay

Okay, so now we should have a fully functioning and blazing fast OS X installation on the SSD. Assuming all is well, it’s time to put a standard HD into the SuperDrive bay. This step is more tricky so it would be worth working extra carefully.

Open your MacBook again, following the previous steps to ensure it’s cooled down and you discharge any static. Now locate the SuperDrive bay – on my Mac it was directly above where the SSD is now installed.

There is also a ribbon connector plugged into the SuperDrive so remove this now if it’s not too difficult, otherwise do so later. There are three screws which affix the SuperDrive to the Mac’s casing and these need to be removed. I’ve highlighted their approximate location in the screenshot below with yellow circles – the green circles are a couple of extra screws I also had to remove, but you may not need to, as reports I’ve read online seem to suggest it depends on your model of MacBook Pro.

The SuperDrive's screws are located roughly where the yellow circles are

The SuperDrive's screws are located roughly where the yellow circles are

The two screws to the left of the SuperDrive (highlighted in yellow) are in an awkward position so use a magnetic screwdriver in order to make sure you don’t lose them.

It took me a good few minutes of nudging to remove the SuperDrive as it’s a tight fit but you should not use too much force. If you’re having trouble getting the SuperDrive out, then make sure you haven’t left a screw in somewhere.

An empty SuperDrive bay awaiting the enclosure

An empty SuperDrive bay awaiting the enclosure

Now place your ‘normal’ hard drive in the enclosure you bought and it should slot neatly into the empty SuperDrive bay. Again, be prepared to spend a few minutes to get it snug and all the screw holes lined up, ensuring to plug in the hard drive to its ribbon connector.

Don’t worry if your ribbon connector comes off the motherboard, it does clip back on, I just didn’t advise you remove it because I’ve had bad experiences with such clasps on other computers

Once your SSD and HD are in place, it should look something like this

Once your SSD and HD are in place, it should look something like this

If both your SSD and HD are now nice and snug, put the bottom lid back on your MacBook, insert the screws and power on the Mac.

Conclusion

I’ve tested my MacBook Pro for a few days and have had no issues whatsoever, keeping all my media in the secondary hard drive, while OS X and all my applications reside on the SSD for an impressively quick Mac.

For some space saving tips, check out this guide which also details how to move your iTunes Library to another drive. In addition, if you’d like to make use of your SuperDrive, then it’s possible to purchase an enclosure to enable its use with USB – this is a very easy and inexpensive job.