Adventures and travails with Optibay

In the past 12 months there’s a slightly more affordable instant upgrade path available for your computer. SSD drives really do give a computer a massive performance bump now that processor numbers have seemingly levelled off, and there’s plenty of stats around the internet to back this up.

I decided that instead of trading for a lovely new MacBook Air, my similarly specced late-2008 MacBook 13” could be given a new lease of life with an SSD drive and a new battery, for a fraction of the cost. I run Aperture and the machine felt limited with 4GB Ram and the installed disk – I needed a speed bump with the much hyped SSD.

Trade-off

And then there’s the storage question, at the time of me purchasing the SSD drive, the most commonly available maximum storage was 256GB, whereas I’d been used to 500GB where I stored all my music and a huge library of photos, so this was a problem.

Enter Optibay

I’d been aware of the MCE Optibay hardware hack for a while where the premise is rather basic: Take out your Optical DVD Drive and put a 2.5 Hard Drive in there instead. Easy, apart from the fact the the kits were only available in the States, and sending Brits potentially into a world of unpredictably high taxes and shipping costs. So I waited and waited before I did anything, until I discovered German firm Zapware where importing the packs for EU customers – SOLD. My first shipment got lost somewhere, but Zapware were excellent and dealt with it well. A week later I had a small box of hardware – the optibay, screws and an external USB enclosure drive for DVD.

At this point I’d been running with the benefits of SDD but the inconvenience of all my photos on external drives. If you are happy to go fiddling around inside your Mac then you’ll be fine. When performing such operations it’s really worth remembering that you should have everything to hand, screwdrivers, clear your desk, and clear any distractions for up to 30 minutes. It’s a bit fiddly, but as long as you carefully follow the illustrated instructions, it’s easy.

Fine tuning

I think the following issues vary from machine to machine, but my experience from here is a fiddly one. So, with everything installed, I have a MacBook with 2 Hard Drives and everything is running great… apart from the Mac wouldn’t go to sleep when I closed the lid (rather essential). After some choice searching around the internet, it seems the issue revolves around which bay you have your Boot drive, SSD Drive or normal drive. I had it the “wrong” way round and for my set up, my Boot Drive (which is on the SSD, that’s where the performance kicks in) needs to be in the MCE Optibay, NOT in the traditional drive bay next to the battery. This immediately solved the issue, and the only trade-off now apparently is that I’ve lost the ability to hibernate (thats where the Mac saves it’s state in a nice fashion when the power goes completely). This involved more fiddling of course and I curse losing time like this.

Windows

So the other thing I could comfortably do is run a Bootcamp Windows partition off the 500GB drive. This is a fairly painless task apart from… The external drive isn’t bootable. So the Optical drive went back inside the Mac to install Windows 7 Home Edition. More time, more trying to work out what I could or couldn’t do.

Conclusion

Would I recommend doing all this? Well, yes, but only if you are prepared to get you hands dirty with computer innards. Novices like me can cope fine if you are adept at upgrading RAM for example, but if you don’t know your way around the Startup Disk panel in System Preferences, then leave alone. A MacBook Air would be very nice, but there’s plenty of life left in my old MacBook yet and an Air wouldn’t satiate my needs for space with the current specs.

Images Before and After:

Before
After

What’s in the box?

Contents

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Picture of Tom

Nice work! I have a similar setup on a 15” MBP (also using the Crucial). No probs so far - except when I try to put a CD into the slot and remember I have no drive wink

Posted by Tom on Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 11:49 GMT

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