[OWC]: http://macsales.com/ “OWC – Other World Computing”
[dd]: http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Other%20World%20Computing/DDAMBS0GB/ “OWC Data Doubler”
[ddb]: http://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/DDMBSSD060/ “OWC Data Doubler + 60gb Mercury Extreme Pro SSD”
[ssd]: http://eshop.macsales.com/item/OWC/SSDMX060/ “OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 60gb SSD”
OK, so before I start let me get the good old disclosure stuff out of the way. The wonderful folks at [OWC] were kind enough to ship over the bundle I’m about to talk about. It’s a 60 day review deal, but as you’ll soon read, I plan to purchase this from them. While we’re on the subject of the folks at OWC, I’d like to extend a huge thanks to both Grant and Eileen from OWC for getting everything setup and giving me the green light for this review.
Also, let me say up front, this is a long review. I wanted to really give this setup a good write up, so if you’re at all interested, please do keep reading, you can rant at me in the comments if you want!
###The Problem to be Solved
As my friend Allison Sheridan (from the Nosillacast podcast, hosted over at [podfeet.com](http://podfeet.com)) would always ask, “What problem are you trying to solve?” Well that’s a great question and I think the best way is to look at the typical situation most Mac users, particularly those with MacBook Pros, find themselves in.
We all have lots of data, and I mean _lots_ of data, we’re talking hundreds of gigabytes of stuff, be it music, video, photos or all those Keynote presentations you’ve been saving up, (or is that just me?). The problem is that traditional hard drives are slow, they have moving parts and they guzzle power as if it were a form of beer for drive spindles.
What this means is that even the most souped up MacBook Pro, for example a new shiny quad-core Core i7 with 8gb RAM and possibly enough graphics power to render a few scenes from a Pixar movie, will have a major bottleneck even with a 7200rpm drive, because the data exchange between all of that RAM and your drive will be slower than the service at your typical Currys store (Best Buy equivalent for my friends across the pond).
So, enter the Sold State Drive (SSD), a revolution that came about thanks to the flash storage era where our iPhones, iPods, iPads and of course our cameras are using storage that has no moving parts, is power efficient, and is incredibly fast when compared with traditional drives, which you’ll see as we get deeper into this. The problem is that SSDs are still fairly new, so to get a drive with what we’d consider a reasonable amount of storage is going to cost you a fair chunk of your income, for example a 240gb OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD will set you back $497.99, and let’s be honest here, most of us want to store much more than that. Now, that begs the question, “Are SSDs worth the price?”, to which the answer is a resounding yes, as you’ll read later, but there is a substantial investment required to get started which for many may be a fairly major roadblock.
So, what’s the solution, how do you get SSD performance without breaking the bank to get the storage you need? Well, let me ask you this, when was the last time you honestly used the optical drive in your MacBook Pro (or MacBook, for that matter) for anything other than watching a DVD? For me, the answer is rarely, and in general I tend to rip the DVD to my nice big external media drive before I even watch it. With external DVD writers being so affordable these days (I picked up a Samsung unit for about £30), it begs the question “Can I use the optical bay for something better?” and the answer to that comes in the form of the [OWC Data Doubler][dd].
###”So, What is it?”
First of all, it’s not some badly-designed piece of Windows software that claims to double the capacity of your drive, using compression voodoo of some kind, no no those days are long behind us. OWC’s Data Doubler is a rather clever bracket that you mount your drive of choice into, in this case a 60gb OWC Mercury Pro Extreme SSD, and then mount in your MacBook Pro in place of the optical drive.
Now, you may think that using the optical drive bay for a SSD may mean a performance hit, but you’d be wrong, all modern Macs use 3gbps SATA for their optical drive connections, which means that unless you a) have a brand new MacBook Pro that uses the new 6gbps port in the main drive buy and b) have one of OWCs new 6gbps SSDs you won’t see any performance hit from having the SSD in your optical drive bay.
With the Data Doubler you keep your nice big drive, in my case a 500gb WD Scorpio Blue 5400 rpm, in your main bay which can be used for all your data and still have a speedy SSD that holds your OS X install and your apps so that you get all the benefits of SSD speed while still having plenty of space to store your Aperture library, which as any photographer will tell you can grow to a fairly hefty size very quickly.
Because you’re only storing your OS and apps on the SSD, you can get away with a much smaller drive and therefore pay a lot less for your speed fix. OWC have made this a lot easier to buy providing a bundle that comes with the [Data Doubler][dd] itself, the relevant tools and of course an SSD. The bundle I received contains the [60gb Mercury Extreme Pro SSD][ssd] and retails for $179 from [OWC's site][ddb]. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a great deal to me, SSD performance while keeping internal storage available too, what could be better?
So without further preface, let me talk about the bundle and my experience so far.
###Surgery on a MacBook Pro
To be fair, surgery may be an overstatement, especially if you have a unibody MacBook Pro as I do (2.53ghz Core 2 Duo, 8gb RAM, for those who care), but let’s be up-front here, opening up a Mac is always a bit scary, and for me my eyesight issues meant I had to ask my dad to help (a wise choice, I think, he’s a electrical and mechanical engineer by trade).
Credit to OWC on this though, they produced a very clear, easy to follow install booklet for the Data Doubler, well laid out with pictures–and we’re not talking some tacky piece of paper that you lose easily, this is a properly printed booklet. For my dad, that made the install process very easy indeed, though a word of warning: be careful when disconnecting cables, my dad accidentally disconnected the power to the AirPort card, which we only discovered after we’d put the bottom cover back on. Thankfully, it was an easy fix.
The build quality of both the actual SSD, which is remarkably light, and the Data Doubler bracket itself is excellent, and there’s something almost futuristic about the blue metal on the bracket. One thing is for certain, the folks at OWC take product quality very seriously, which is something that not all manufacturers take into account.
Now for a public service announcement, before you do anything to your Mac, you should always, and I mean always, backup your data. If you don’t use Time Machine, or another form of backup system, do me a favour, take a break from this review and go and grab an external drive and set up a backup. I say this because in my day job I see far too many users who don’t back up at all and then feel the pain of data loss when their hard drive crashes (it’s not a myth, hard drives crash–or at least traditional ones do).
###A Clean Slate
Maybe it’s just me, but I always prefer to start clean when I get a new drive, so I installed a fresh copy of Snow Leopard onto the OWC drive, after making sure I had the 10.6.7 combo update available on the original drive so I could easily access this after the Snow Leopard install was complete.
Of course, I was using the external USB DVD drive to run the install, and the good news is that I had no issues: the Mac recongised the drive at boot so I could boot into the OS X installer and then format the SSD using Disk Utility and install Snow Leopard as normal. I saw a slight speed increase in installation, but the major limiting factor is always going to be slow nature of installing from optical media; USB flash drive for the Lion installer, anyone?
Once the install was complete and my Mac restarted I really started to see the speed of the SSD. Boot up was much faster, getting to a working desktop was incredibly quick and straight away I noticed that Safari was launched in less than once bounce of the dock icon.
Looking back, this next step was probably not the right way to go, but I used the options in the Accounts section of System Preferences to change the location of my home folder to be my home folder on the data drive, since I didn’t wipe this. To do this, open Accounts, unlock if required, and then right-click your user account and select ‘Advanced Options’ and use the option to point your home folder to your old one. You’ll also want to create a second user account on your system so that if your old drive fails you’ll have a way to log in, because that backup account will have its keychain stored on the SSD. You’ll need to restart your Mac for the changes to take effect, but then you should be ready to start reinstalling your apps.
One nice thing I found is that in general when I reinstalled an app like Adium, all my details were already there because of course all the previous settings were on the data drive. What I found though, was that a fresh install of things like iWork, iLife, Aperture and Logic Express were required rather than just copying the apps from the Applications folder on the ‘old’ drive. Oh and, of course, Mac App Store apps were easy to reinstall, which is why I actually bought Aperture again on the App Store rather than reinstalling from disc.
There is one other thing I should mention: because you’re now using an external DVD drive, DVD Player won’t play DVDs without a little hack, which you can read about [here](http://hints.macworld.com/article.php?story=20100208120847220 “DVD Player Hack for External DVD Drives”). From what I understand this is due to licensing issues, so I guess Steve Jobs was right about licensing being a bag of hurt. Once the hack is applied, though, DVDs play without any issues. If you don’t want to hack at DVD Player, don’t worry: you can still write DVDs, read from data DVDs and use RipIt or Handbrake to rip the video DVDs without problems.
Again, application launch times really are improved, even Firefox 4 launches in about a single bounce of the dock icon, which compared with my old install is just mind-blowing. Speaking of mind-blowing, let’s look at the actual SSD’s performance shall we.
So, after restarting my Mac a few times for no other reason to giggle at how fast my system now booted (I have a problem, don’t I?) I decided to get some real performance numbers for you, so you can see why adding an SSD to your Mac is such a benefit.
So, using XBench I got the following scores on the two drives, the first number being the XBench score for that particular test, don’t worry there’s a pretty picture for you soon:
####WD Scorpio Blue – 5400rpm 500gb : XBench Overall Score of 49.19
* Uncached Write: 121.40 / 74.54 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Write: 115.88 / 65.56 MB/sec [256K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 50.47 / 14.77 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 120.43 / 60.53 MB/sec [256K blocks]
* Uncached Write: 12.05 / 1.28 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Write: 119.49 / 38.25 MB/sec [256K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 58.36 / 0.41 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 108.80 / 20.19 MB/sec [256K blocks]
####OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 60gb SSD : XBench Overall Score of 196.60
* Uncached Write: 158.01 / 97.01 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Write: 144.87 / 81.97 MB/sec [256K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 56.77 / 16.61 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 335.15 / 168.44 MB/sec [256K blocks]
* Uncached Write: 805.00 / 85.22 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Write: 262.24 / 83.95 MB/sec [256K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 1729.42 / 12.26 MB/sec [4K blocks]
* Uncached Read: 814.83 / 151.20 MB/sec [256K blocks]
As you can see, the SSD wipes the floor with the the WD drive, notably on the random tests, which would make sense since an SSD doesn’t have to spin a platter to find the data, it’s just, well, there. Here’s the same results in pretty graphs, with a Portal 2 colour scheme. If your eyesight is as bad as mine, you can click on each graph to see it at a larger size.
So, it’s clear, performance-wise the OWC drive blows away the WD drive, and it really is noticeable when you’re using your Mac day to day. Let me give you some real examples of app launch times using the SSD.
* Safari 5.0.5 – 1.5s
* Google Chrome – 0.5s
* Aperture 3 – 3s (including loading library on 5400rpm drive)
* TextMate – 2s
* iTunes 10 – 3.5s
I don’t know about you, but for me those are great times, my Mac experience as a whole is improved, I’m not waiting for apps to launch and as the afore-mentioned Allison Sheridan said, this really does give your Mac a new leash of life. In a way it’s like getting a new Mac without spending all the money on one.
OWC have solved a problem a lot of Mac users will have, and solved it at what I would consider to be a fair price when you consider that the Mercury Extreme Pro 60gb SSD in this bundle is priced at $139.99 and the Data Doubler itself is $74.99 which means you save about $36, which will probably pay for that external DVD drive.
Will I be asking OWC if I can buy this bundle off them, or to put it another way would I buy this if I hadn’t been loaned a unit, yes without a doubt. Do I have any minor niggles, yes, but just the one and that’s more of a ‘nice to have’ thing than a major drawback. It would be great if OWC included a enclosure for the removed SuperDrive, even raising the price a bit to include that would be fine with me because getting everything in one package is such a nice feeling.
Should you get the OWC Data Doubler + SSD bundle, well if you want a speed boost in your Mac without having to pay for a large enough SSD to only need the single drive, then yes, you won’t regret it and the installation is really pretty simple.
You can find out more about the bundle please take a look at OWC’s site [here][ddb]. Thanks again to the folks at [OWC][OWC] for making this review possible and for making this geek even happier. Of course, if you’ve read this far you’ll see the space for comments, so please do leave your thoughts, ask questions etc.