Two hard drives in a MacBook Pro (2005-2008 model)

December 10, 2008

When I bought my 2nd gen MacBook Pro 15″ in late 2006, it was the top of the range with a Core2 Duo (Merom) processor clocked a 2.33 GHz, 2 GiB RAM and a 160 GB harddisk. Two years later it may look a bit shabby compared to the 5th gen Unibody MacBooks, but its inner values suggest that it can still take them on in a benchmark. Surely it wouldn’t be better but I suspect it would still put up a good fight, as a draw between the 4th gen and 5th gen MacBook Pros in the GeekBench results suggests.[1]

One thing that makes a huge difference in the real world is RAM which is why I decided to spend about € 50.- on two 2 GiB DDR2 bars. I now have 4 GiB installed, though my chipset can only address 3 GiB (which I knew beforehand). I can report that this has made the machine a bit smoother when running many apps in parallel (which in my case is, uh, always). It’s not exactly warp drive, though.

If you want warp drive you’ll have to change, well, the drive! Most of the time when you’re waiting for your computer to do something (open an application, find a file, etc.), it’s not because it’s lacking processing power. It’s because it has to read files that are randomly scattered all over the harddisk. Harddisks are terrible at random access. They’re a bit like good old lazy V8s: huge capacity, but reluctant to change pace (and incidentally, not great in terms of power consumption).

Fortunately, there are alternatives to harddisks called Solid State Drives (SSDs) which are supposed to be much better at random access. But while most of the affordable ones merely provide impulse power, two models actually seem[2] to deserve to be called warp drives: the Samsung SSD and Intel’s X25-M.[3] These two are pretty much neck to neck in most of the benchmark, and since the Intel has the same price per capacity ratio but a bit more capacity (80 GB vs 64 GB) than the Samsung, I chose to buy the X25-M. Due to the strong demand for this device, it took me a while to secure one for a reasonable amount of money and so it finally arrived earlier this week.

Unboxing Intel X25-M (3)

Unboxing Intel X25-M (3)

Now, 80 GB isn’t much these days and certainly a step down from my 160 gigabytes of V8 muscle. But I wanted the best of both worlds, speed and capacity, so I decided to ditch the optical drive and trade it in for some harddisk space. After all, software isn’t distributed on CDs or DVDs anymore (except for proprietary operating systems, perhaps), nor are music and movies. Should I ever require an optical drive (e.g. to watch a rented movie), chances are good I’m at home where I can use my external USB/Firewire thingy.

On the 5th gen MacBooks, replacing the optical drive with a harddrive is, at least in theory, trivial because the optical drive is SATA as well. On previous MacBooks, the optical drive has a PATA connector so you’ll need a small controller that translates from ATA to SATA. In either case you’ll want to fit the harddrive into a cage that has the same dimensions and mounting points as an optical drive.

MCE Technologies offers a solution for this called OptiBay, custom tailored for the MacBook or MacBook Pro. If you purchase the harddrive cage by itself, it’s $129. Add $43 to that for international shipping with FedEx. A cheaper solution comes from newmodeus: an HDD cage that’s intended to take the place of a removable optical drive that some laptops have. It’s a mere $42. Shipping with regular US postal service costs just $8 and it only took a few days to get to Germany. The only minor inconvenience was that unlike UPS or FedEx, the regular postal service doesn’t do the customs stuff for you, so I had to go to the local customs office and pick it up. Normally I would have to have paid German V.A.T. on it, but since this is a business expense, I didn’t.

Unboxing the newmodeus HDD optical bay (3)

Unboxing the newmodeus HDD optical bay (3)

Unfortunately, the MacBook Pro doesn’t have a regular size optical drive. It’s thinner which means the cage won’t fit as is. I had to “adapt” it therefore with some cutting tools (a fine metal saw or a sharp side cutter will do, use sandpaper to smoothen the edges). I also removed the top lid and the front cover since those are unnecessary in the MacBook Pro. With these adaptions, the cage fit rather nicely into the empty space that the optical drive had left.

Fitting the HDD cage to the size of the MBP optical drive

Fitting the HDD cage to the size of the MBP optical drive

All this means I now have a fast SSD drive for the operating system, apps, personal data, etc. and my old big harddisk for large files such as my MP3 collection and movies (for which random access isn’t as crucial anyway). But has it worked?

Oh yes. The system is biblically fast. Even while I was copying all my data files over from the old harddrive to the SSD, every single application still opened in an instant. OpenOffice is up and running within 2 seconds. System upgrades now take longer to download than to perform. When automatic login is enabled, the system boots from power off to a fully functioning UI in less than 10 seconds… I could go on.

Admittedly there are a few disadvantages. The “adapted” cage isn’t the best soundproof location to install a harddisk. The CD/DVD slot right in front of the mounting position doesn’t help either. So the noise has slightly gone up, but it’s hardly noticeable, really. I also have no idea whether the motion sensor will put the harddrive to sleep in case the MacBook Pro falls (don’t care about that much, though). And then there’s power consumption. I haven’t done any tests yet, but I have the feeling it’s a bit worse than what it was before. It’s hard to tell because I failed to do a proper test before the operation. One thing I’d quite like to find out is whether the OS X can put the harddisk to sleep once in a while. It only has my MP3 collection and other large files, so it’s quite possible to completely avoid using the harddisk when on the road.

All these are minor issues, really. If you want to speed up your machine, forget everything else. Just get an SSD. And not just any, get one of the warp drives. The really good news is, however, you don’t have to compromise on space. If you’re like me and don’t need your optical drive much, you can have your cake and eat it, too. Warp drive and good old V8 muscle.

Both drives installed

Both drives installed

P.S.: If you’d like to attempt this at home, don’t worry, it’s not difficult. Fitting the cage to the right size was the hardest part, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more money, you can avoid that altogether by buying the OptiBay. You need a few good tools (Torx T6, Philips PH00 and PH0 screwdrivers, pair of tweezers). Then simply follow the excellent instructions on the iFixIt website.

[1] I know that the 4th gen machines have a newer generation processor, but its clock-speed is only marginally faster. And yes, they have a slightly faster chipset and graphics card, but how much of a difference is that going to make. As the benchmark shows, the factor 1.5 speed up of the frontside bus (667 to 1033 MHz) has nearly remained without effect.

[2] Judging from the various test reports I’ve read on different SSD models.

[3] These are MLC models and therefore affordable (which is the criterion here). Certainly there are faster SLC models, but they’re much less affordable.

47 Responses to “Two hard drives in a MacBook Pro (2005-2008 model)”

  1. philikon Says:

    I’m not the first one do this, by the way. While doing some research for this project, I came across this wild setup: http://echeng.com/journal/2008/09/28/striped-ocz-120gb-ssds-raid-0-in-a-macbook-pro/

  2. philikon Says:

    I can now report that I’ve witnessed the harddisk being put to rest when it’s not needed. That should be beneficial for the power consumption.

  3. David Says:

    Great writeup! Glad to see you’re happy with it. Finally someone NOT using the OptiBay!

    I’d have done this already to my unibody MBP but a) the SATA-SATA caddy isn’t in stock at Newmodeus.com and b) I can’t swallow the $80+ MCE OptiBay premium.

    Never the less, I’m enjoying yours vicariously…


  4. […] der werte Herr W. ja auf Warpantrieb umgesattelt hat, keimte auch in mir der Gedanke, meinem guten alten Laptop mal ein wenig auf die […]

  5. Daniel Says:

    Moin, wollte mir für mein Dell Vostro einen Festplatten-Käfig bestellen und bin zufällig über diesen Blog gestolpert, als ich gegoogelt habe, ob newmodeus.com vertrauenswürdig ist. Sie hatten also keine Probleme mit der Bestellung bei newmodeus.com?

    Vielen Dank.

  6. philikon Says:

    Daniel: Die Bestellung bei newmodeus.com lief so problemlos ab, dass ich mich gar nicht mehr recht daran erinnern kann🙂.

    In einem Punkt sollte ich mich allerdings wiederholen: Wer die billigste Versandvariante wählt, muss sein Paket u.U. beim Zoll abholen oder längere Lieferzeiten in Kauf nehmen, wenn man die Post mit der Zollabfertigung beauftragt.

  7. Daniel Says:

    Ich bin bis Ende Juli in Lateinamerika und überlege mir den Plattenkäfig direkt her schicken zu lassen. Dann wird der leere Rahmen einfach ins Notebook eingebaut (das Vostro 1700 fasst 2 Festplatten) und keiner am Zoll stört sich daran. Versand ist dann auch noch günstiger. Die Platte wird dann aus Garantiegründen in Deutschland gekauft.
    Obwohl ich hinzufügen muss, dass mir gerade erst wieder einfällt, dass der Freibetrag vom Deutschen Zoll am 1.1.09 von 22 Euro auf 150 Euro angehoben wurde. Somit sollte man da eh keine Probleme.

    Jedenfalls vielen Dank für die Info´s, scheint ja ein toller Shop zu sein.

    Daniel

  8. Daniel Says:

    Achso ja, warum ich nicht einfach einen Käfig bei Dell ordere? Durch ihre Verkaufspolitik bekommt man die Rahmen von Dell nur wenn man eine Festplatte von ihnen kauft. Das passt aber vielen Vostro Besitzern nicht sonderlich😉
    So müsste man auf ziemlich dünn gesähte und damit teure Angebote an gebrauchten Käfigen in Deutschland zurück greifen, wie gesagt überteuert.

    Aber sonst ist Dell echt top! okay das schreibe ich nun unter einem Macbook HowTo… Aber schön, dass auch die Mac Community so gerne bastelt😀

    Daniel

  9. toby*spark Says:

    great to see this. was just having this thought today about losing the dvd drive for a SSD (i do a lot of realtime video), and lo! here it is done.

    if you put the SSD in the optical drive slot, wouldn’t it be as quiet as it was before? can you think of any reason not to – shouldn’t make a difference to selecting boot drives or performance?

  10. philikon Says:

    With the pre-2008 MBPs, the optical drive slot only has ATA connectivity, not SATA (even if you use an ATA to SATA adapter like I have, it will still be limited to ATA speeds). I’m not sure if it makes a real difference. I certainly don’t think it should make a difference in terms of boot volumes. I just wanted to give my SSD the best connectivity available.

    Note that the noise is absolutely tolerable. I would even say that after months I don’t actually notice the difference. My HDD is automatically shut down most of the time anyway as I don’t use it very often.

  11. Vic Says:

    How involved is the whole cutting/ trimming process? i’m concerned about jagged edges inside my mac. thx

  12. philikon Says:

    Vic: It’s not very involved if you use a good metal saw or similar cutting device. I suggest filing and/or sanding the edges afterwards to avoid jagged edges.

  13. JohnB Says:

    Phil, did you get the 12.7mm caddy and then cut/file it down to fit? Seems a 9.5mm version is available from newmodeus, which should fit the MBP just right — I think?

    • philikon Says:

      John, I wasn’t aware they offer a 9.5 mm version. It must be new, so back when I did the conversion, I indeed ordered the OBHD-SATA one. Looking at the DVD drive I removed, it looks like the 9.5 mm cage should indeed perfectly, so I might put an order down for one and get rid of my custom cut’n’file job🙂. Thanks for the tip!

      • JohnB Says:

        Oh, thank ‘you’, Phil. Knowing there are other options aside from MCE Technologies’ Optibay is great news.

        I’m upgrading my MBP 160GB to 1TB (2 x 500GB, 7200rpm) and going with newmodeus will save me a bundle. It’s a third of the price!

  14. asdf Says:

    Hey,

    is that possible with the mbp 15 unibody (mid 2009)?
    I’d love to have (1st) SSD + (2nd) 500/7200😉
    which case is needed then? 9.5 mm hdd->sata/sata<-MBP?

    Cheers,
    asdf

    • philikon Says:

      Yes, I hear it’s possible with a unibody MBP. You’re indeed going to need the mini-SATA to SATA version of the enclosure. I have no reason to believe it’s not the 9.5mm one.


  15. […] SSDs and the speedup they can give to a computer, I decided to get one myself. A fellow developer added a SSD to his late 2006 MacBook Pro, wrote about it and gave lots of tips. Since I have a late 2008 Unibody MacBook Pro, I had to get a […]

  16. ryang Says:

    Hey, thanks for the write-up. I did the same thing too a couple weeks back and I love it. Just wanted to ask if your computer addresses the 2nd drive randomly? I use it only as storage (SSD as boot drive) and maybe once every 5 minutes I can hear my drive spin up for 30 seconds and then stop. I can’t think of what it could be doing. If you don’t have this problem I think a refresh could be in order, I’m due up anyway. thanks

    • philikon Says:

      To be honest I can’t say whether the drive fires up randomly or not. I keep my MP3 music on it so I use it most of time.

  17. CGDP Says:

    Hi,

    I have a Macbook pro with a core duo 2,16 GHZ is it the same model newmodus hdd optical bay that you have installed ?

    Sorry for my english, i’m french.

    Thanks a lot

    CGDP

    • philikon Says:

      Sure, it should work just fine. Order the OBHD-SATA (with PATA on the outside and SATA inside) like I did, but in the 9.5mm size. Ask them to mark it as a “gift” for customs purposes. It worked very well when I ordered my second one, I didn’t have to go pick it up personally at the post or customs office anymore.

      I’ve tried fitting the 9.5mm version, by the way. The good news is that it doesn’t require cutting the top off anymore like the original 12.7mm version did. It also has the more screw holes in the right places. That said, it’s still missing two screw holes on the left hand side. These can easily be fitted with a small drill, however. Compare with your DVD drive for the location of the holes, it’s pretty straight-forward.

  18. mason bach Says:

    I want to do this to my MBP 2.4 ghz.

    I am a bit unclear though, how do I tell if my machine is Pata or Sata? Just not sure which Optibay to get.

    So glad you did this!!! It’s the smart man’s way to pimp your machine!!!

  19. david lyall Says:

    Check the “About this Mac” thingie. It tells me that my a1226 has an ATA dvd drive. That means PATA I guess, altho I cannot figure out why ‘parallel ata’ is slower than ‘serial ata’.

    I just ordered the “Optical Bay HDD Caddy to replace “Slot-Loading Optical”,9.5,PATA”. Why won’t they acknowledge doing this to Macs?

  20. david lyall Says:

    One thing I am curious about. Rather late, as I have an Intel 40gig SSD sitting here and am waiting for the New Mode tray.

    Can I have my entire ~/user directory on the second drive? How do I tell the OS that?

    • philikon Says:

      I would just install the OSX system on the drive where you want your home directory. In all likelihood your home directory will much larger than the system files anyway.

  21. John Says:

    Hi, what drive is in the superdrive slot? have you benchmarked it at all? i’m interested to see how fast the pata is. Also have you got your superdrive in a usb enclosure or something?

    • philikon Says:

      In the 2005-2008 model MBP I put the HDD in the PATA (=slow) superdrive slot and the SSD in the SATA slot. Since the unibody MBPs have SATA for both slots, this isn’t necessary anymore, so one needs to only remove the superdrive and replace it with the SSD.

      I didn’t bother getting a USB enclosure for the superdrive since I already have an external DVD+RW drive.

  22. John Says:

    Did you ever notice if OS X sleeps the second hard drive when it isn’t in use?

  23. John Says:

    Awesome, just got a 40GB ssd and the newmodeus bay. I’m going to benchmark the ssd in the ata to see what it maxes out at.

  24. Rich Says:

    Hi,

    Great tutorial. Still a little confused however. Have a macbook pro early 2008 4,1 and the optical drive doesn’t work so have just ordered a 60gb corsair force ssd and want to put the 500gb where the optical drive is. Do I buy

    a) http://newmodeus.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2_27&products_id=258

    b) http://newmodeus.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2_27&products_id=259

    or

    c) http://newmodeus.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2_27&products_id=267

    I’m guessing the PATA one as it’s early 2008 non unibody.

    Thanks for your help.

    Cheers
    Rich

  25. Josh Says:

    Would it be possible to mount a 2.5″ pata drive in the superdrive bay and forgo the conversion kits completely (other than needing a mount)?

  26. hendrik Says:

    Hi
    good write up. especially nice to know that they ship to germany.
    i am wondering what your read/write speeds is to the hdd on the pata superdrive port.
    i have read a lot about sluggish throughput with ‘cheap’ pata-sata adapters. if the speed of the optibay hard drive is below 30MB/s (which is USB speed) there is no need to do it at all. imo
    I would love to see some MB/s stats for your optibay drive. (this is a good tool for hdd speed testing “AJA System Test” http://www.aja.com/products/software/ )

  27. John Ha Says:

    It’s ata100 from memory so it’s at least twice as fast as usb. I avoid all usb for data transfers of large sizes.

    • hendrik Says:

      I know it is ata100. The point is that I can install a SSD in the main bay. And carry an external firewire or usb drive for big file storage OR use the optibay for big file storage.
      But if the optibay does not provide superior performance the whole effort is not worth it. So I would like to know his real world read/write speeds.
      And since it is a pata to sata converter installed it is very possible that this creates a bottleneck.

  28. John Ha Says:

    It is probably on par with a hdd in a fw800 enclosure. Sorry I don’t have any benchmarks of my old machines.

  29. Padraig Loinche Says:

    Thanks for this. How has the ssd hard drive and heat been going after all this time or do you still use this machine? I am about to upgrade mine. Thanks.


  30. okay so i hope I’m not too late….

    i have a macbook pro from late 2007. can i install a second hard drive using all the same parts? also is it possible to boot windows on one and mac on the other using with/without bootcamp. one hard drive primary, having lion and secondary or optical drive running windows 7.

  31. SG Says:

    Hello All. Great post. I have MBPro 2008. I have installed a new 3g OWC 240Gb SSD and it’s rocking fast. I have the SATA to PATA enclosure to install a second HD where my optical drive used to be. I have a spare 5600 and 7200 RPM drive to install both 500GB. Would I be able to realize faster throughput with the 7200 drive considering the PATA throughput limitations? If not I’ll just put in the 5600 and keep the 7200 in my firewire 800 enclosure for back up. Thanks in advance.
    SG

  32. ralle Says:

    Gute beschreibung und das 2008, mann mann😉 Jetzt ists 2013 aber SSD waren mir immer zu teuer. Jetzt habe ich eine 128gb SSD für 90 euro neu und eine schnelle M4 von Crucial..
    Habe auch ein altes macbookpro von 2008 (apple hat mal das mainboard getauscht wegen dem nvidia chip fehler) und das teil läuft auch noch immer top. Habe auch von anfang an 4gb ram und vor nem jahr eine 1tb platte eingebaut und jetzt habe ich mir von Leicke ein adapter teil fürs dvd gekauft. Denke mal das ist son optibay ripoff. Problem ist nur das das nicht richtig beschrieben wurde und ich einen SATA anschluss dran habe weils für das Unibody ist:/ Naja umtauschen. Ein andere problem ist das nun die ssd platten SATA III sind und mein mac das def nicht ausnutzen kann davon abgesehen freue ich mich wenn ich ein passenden adapter bekomme. Falls die Leicke es nicht haben, hab ichs gerade schon bei ebay für 30 euro und portofrei gesehen. Dann kommt die 1TB in das DVD fach und die SSD ins HDD fach (wie du es ja schon schlauerweise 2008 getan hast) und dann sollte es reichen😉
    also danke nochmals für die SUper Beschreibung. Greetz aus Berlin


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