Jul 17, 2010

MCE Optibay Review: A 2nd Internal HDD for Apple laptops!

Earlier this year Apple released their latest "updates " to the MacBook Pro lineup, and as before they are sorely lacking behind their PC-based brethren when it comes to connectivity and overall feature set.

One of the biggest complaints from creative professionals about Apple laptops is that none of them, not even the top-o-the-line 17" inch model, comes with or has an option for a second internal hard disk.  And it's not as if it's not possible, again many PC laptops have had second internal drives as an option for almost a decade, so why Apple doesn't follow suit is another one of those, "why, oh why doesn't Apple get on-board" issues.

But like so many other things Apple refuses to do leave it to third party companies to fill in the blanks, literally.  MCE Tech offers a second-internal drive solution for ALL Mac laptops, not just the "pro" versions.

Enter the MCE Optibay, a simple and highly effective DIY kit that removes the internal optical drive and replaces it with your choice of 2.5" inch laptop hard disk.  MCE makes a kit for every late and early model of Mac laptops including the older G4 Powerbooks and Mac Minis.  Nobody is left out in the cold with this kit.

(NOTE:  Although the kit itself is straight foward enough it does require physically opening up the case of your Mac laptop, and if you're not familiar with or comfortable working on the innards of your precious Apple computer MCE does offer an installation service, where for a small fee you send in your laptop and MCE does the kit install for you.)

There are various versions of the kit MCE supplies allowing you to choose from a simple USB-connected enclosure to install the optical drive you remove from your laptop all the way to high-quality external Firewire enclosures.  You pick the solution that best fits your needs and budget.

For this review I was able to test two different kits designed for the pre-unibody 15" inch MacBook Pro which used the now older style ATA/IDE connector for the Superdrive and, the newer unibody kit in which the Superdrive is SATA, hence the replacement kit for the second drive is also SATA.  I selected the "free" USB enclosure to insert the Superdrive being removed from the laptop - just one of many options available from the MCE website.

Admittedly I have master-grade knowledge of computer build and troubleshooting so installing these kits was a breeze, but as I mentioned before if you don't have competent knowledge of computer system building then I'd highly recommend having MCE do the installation for you.

Included in the both the kits I received from MCE was the new drive tray to install the second drive, the very thin profile and plastic USB external case to install the Superdrive being removed from the laptop and, they even supply an anti-static multi-tool with properly sized ultra-micro-sized phillips and flat-head screwdrivers.  Very, very useful - and unexpected!

My only complaint about the kit is that the free USB external enclosure for the Superdrive requires using (2) USB connectors to provide both power and data connectivity.  It's definitely not an elegant solution and I would strongly recommend getting a stand-alone Firewire DVD burner enclosure instead.

In some pre-unibody models you may have to power-off the machine, connect the USB enclosure and then power it back up before the system will recognize the external optical drive.  It doesn't happen always and it depends on the system status at the time, and it's not an issue directly related to the MCE kit at all, but for some reason the USB internal bus on the older Apple laptops sometimes get a little confused as to what's connected and what's not.  A fresh re-boot or even just a log-out/log-in will clear the issue.  (It may also be a sign you need to do some system-wide routine maintenance to give the system a tune-up.)  In the unibody version this isn't required for some reason and the USB drive was seen and usable right away once it was connected to the laptop.

Performance is as expected between the two connectivity types:  In the pre-unibody version where the second HDD is connected via ATA/IDE the IO speeds averaged about 50-60 MBps; in the SATA version in the unibody MacBook Pro the IO speeds hovered around 85-90 MBps.  These speeds however will vary greatly depending on the actual HDD used for your second internal.  (My second internal drive is the Seagate 7200.4 250GB; had it been the newer 500GB drive the IO speeds would be have been closer to 100 MBps!)

And yes, if you're using Boot Camp to run Windows - and you preconfigure your second HDD with an NTFS partition - then Windows can see and use it just like any other HDD in it's system, with all the same benefits and caveats.


The option of adding a second internal drive is significant since Apple has seen fit to limit and delete several possible external HDD connections, such as the ExpressCard 34 slot (now only available on the 17" inch) and only a single Firewire port connecting external drives has become an issue video, photo and audio pros haven't had to deal with until now.  But having a dedicated second internal drive can provide a place for either primary media assets to reside or, if an external Firewire drive is used the second internal can become the scratch-disk or "cache" drive.  Regardless of configuration having a second drive in a laptop is a boost to workflow efficiency and allows for greater options.

Now if you really wanted to go nuts and transform your MBP into a real powerhouse you could easily replace your standard HDD's with (2) SSD-type drives instead, the MCE kit does support SSD drives with no issues, but you still have to consider the ultra-high price-point of SSD's vs. the performance they deliver.  But hey, at least it's an option!


  1. Nice post. Thanks. How does this two drive solution affect battery life?

  2. Very informative and well written post! Quite interesting and nice topic chosen for the post.

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