[Off-Topic] Upgrading My Macbook Pro with an MCE Optibay

2011 January 24, 17:19 h - tags: mac english obsolete

Last time I described the advantages of replacing my old 320Gb 5400rpm HDD for a brand new 240Gb OCZ Vertex 2 SSD. Everything is noticeably snappier and way more comfortable to use.

But there is one big disadvantage: going down from 320Gb to 240Gb is huge. I was already lacking space when I had only 320Gb. Having 80Gb less is painful. There are at least 4 areas that eat up a lot of disk space:

  • iTunes
  • iPhoto
  • iMovie
  • Virtual Machines

I moved all I could to an external hard drive, but it is very uncomfortable to plug an external box to my machine every time. It defeats the whole purpose of the mobility of a notebook.

That’s when someone recommended the MCE Optibay. The idea is so simple that I can’t understand why people don’t talk about it more.

The idea is that the DVD SuperDrive is just a big waste of real estate inside the machine. When was the last time you loaded a disk into there? Probably when you installed OS X for the last time. How frequently you use the Superdrive? I could guess that it is less than once every 6 months, or more. Bottom line is that the internet, usb-keys, iPods, killed the DVD. I don’t need it for anything useful and it is wasting a whole lot of space.

Good news: the Superdrive uses the same kind of SATA connector than your normal HDD. So you could just replace it with an HDD. MCE builds an enclosure that has the same shape than the Superdrive. You connect a normal 2.5" SATA HDD and replace it. It also comes with an external USB enclosure for the Superdrive, so you can still use it on those rare occasions when you want to reinstall OS X.

Now, the process is not for the faint of heart. The package comes with the enclosures, screws and one of those small screwdrivers with multiple heads, which is very handy. I won’t go into the details of how to assemble everything because the package also comes with a CD with video tutorials so you don’t get lost. But I will say that you have to have a hell lot of patience, because those screws are super tiny! In the end I gave up on two of them on the external chassis, because they just were not cooperating. I don’t think I will miss those, so I think that’s ok. So, if you have precise, motorized screwdrivers, those would be much better, otherwise, be prepared for a few hours of pain on those tiny screws.

Anyway, I did the whole process, gave up on a few screws, booted everything up, and there it was: a brand new 2.5" 5400rpm 500Gb HDD. Just moving my iTunes folder (which was already lighter because of all the stuff I deleted before upgrading to the SSD) to the new HDD freed up more than 50Gb on my SSD.

By the way, moving iTunes around is a painful process. You have to go the Preferences windows, choose the Advanced tab and change the iTunes folder listed there, with the “Keep iTunes Folder Organized” option checked. Then you have to go to “File”, “Library”, and “Organize Library”. That will copy all the files from one location to the other. Now, this is the trick: go to ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/ and move the iTunes Music Library.xml to the Desktop. Now you can delete the ~/Music/iTunes folder out. When you fire up iTunes again, it will appear as it is empty. You need to to go “File”, “Library”, “Import Playlist” and import that XML file. Even doing that, you will have to manually open the new iTunes folder where the media was moved to, find the Ringtone, Books, Mobile Applications and drag all the files into iTunes so they are recognized.

Another problem: if you sync your iPhone, iPad with iTunes, they will recognize it as a new Library and you will have to reconfigure, re-select and re-sync everything. As I said, a very painful process. I know there is an easier way to do it: just move the ~/Music/iTunes folder out to the new HDD and create a symbolic link in place of the older location. I think iTunes would be fooled to believe that everything is in the same place (anyone can confirm that?).

Moving iPhoto is straightforward: just move the iPhoto file to the new HDD and double click on it. iPhoto will recognize the new location automatically. Same thing with virtual machines.

Now I have 120Gb out of 240Gb free on my SSD, which should give it room to grow without any bottlenecks. And my 500Gb has 220Gb free still. That should be enough for my video podcasts library to grow as well.

Now I have a total of more than 700Gb of drive space. That should be enough for the time being. Next thing I will have to do is configure my Time Capsule at home to backup this second HDD as well.

I have not tested battery life, but having a second HDD should heat things up and my battery will not last as long as it used to. Unfortunately mine is not one of those 7 hours internal battery. My removable battery is not lasting more than 2:30 hours lately. I don’t notice it too much because I always use it connected to a power plug. But this second HDD will surely dry it up faster. When I unplug the power cord, that battery indicator in my main menu estimates that the battery will last for no longer than 1:45h. A far cry from the 2:30h it used to estimate before. If you want to save battery power, I guess just ejecting the drive should make it go idle, thus conserving battery while you’re in the airport or something. You can always remount it using Disk Utility.

But I think this is a reasonable trade-off. In my case, I have another spare battery that I can carry in place of the external hard drive. It is more practical to have everything beneath the same enclosure. Feels good to have closer to a terabyte of storage in my notebook. The SSD is fast, but stuff such as video, music, don’t gain anything from the SSD speed so they can go to the slower HDD. Applications stay in the SSD. This is a good cost-benefit balance as well. All in all, I think this is a great setup.

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