- Easy enclosure makes data recovery easy
- Lovely fast SSD drive
- Good quality tools
- Slim and fast Blu Ray drive
- Have to search for instructions
Upgrading your Mac is a fiddly and time-consuming exercise, but sometimes it must be done. In cooperation with OWC, I upgraded my old Mac Mini with a new SSD drive and an external Blu-ray to give it new life. This review looks at an OWC Mac upgrade kit that includes an SSD drive, an enclosure to facilitate transfer of the data to the new drive, and useful tools to help tear down the Mac to get at the drive. In addition, I was also supplied an additional upgrade, an external Blu-ray drive, also from OWC.
This is a sponsored article and was made possible by OWC. The actual contents and opinions are the sole views of the author who maintains editorial independence even when a post is sponsored.
All Tooled Up
The OWC Mac upgrade kit (2.0TB OWC DIY Bundle) includes a very neat little SSD, in this case 2TB model, which will make access times and booting almost instant. Also supplied is an enclosure, which might seem redundant at first glance but having a way to connect the new drive externally makes data transfer very easy. Also included is a minimal “get inside the Mac” toolkit featuring a spudger and a set of screwdrivers.
In addition to the aforementioned upgrade kit I received an external 6x OWC Blu-ray drive, as initially, the Mac Mini came with no internal drive, and that’s always been really infuriating. But instead of using it to save files and data, I’ll be ripping Blu-rays and DVDs to my media server.
The only thing missing from this complete Mac upgrade is some extra memory, and I recommend this as an additional step. While nice to have (and a definite performance hike) I’ll spring for that at some later date, as it’s a fairly routine matter to fit that retrospectively once you have the Mac back up and running after its drive upgrade.
What really makes the difference for a Mac upgrade is a new drive and one which is super fast. And the biggest performance hike on Macs of all? Massive amounts of spare disc space for paging.
Tear It All Down
Taking the Mac apart is a mildly fiddly maneuver, and I had to find a YouTube video to walk me through the process and actually show me the procedure. There are no official Apple materials to demonstrate how to do this, as they literally don’t want you to do it. Apple wants you to go through your local Apple store for upgrades.
I should add a disclaimer: upgrading any Apple Mac yourself is a violation of your warranty and is done entirely at your own risk. We are not encouraging you to do it and accepts no responsibility or liability for any damage you do to your Mac, your tools or yourself.
The first step is to put the SSD into the enclosure, which is a simple matter of screwing the drive to the base, then fixing the top of the case with an additional pair of screws. Once you have the drive connected to the Mac, you can format it using Disc Utility.
Cloning the drive from your Mac to the external SSD is a simple matter of using a cloning utility like Carbon Copy Cloner (my favorite). Clone the disc to the new drive, and you should end up with a bootable identical replica of the drive on the SSD. You can test whether this replica is bootable by booting the Mac from it. You should, of course, have a backup of the drive somewhere, either from Time Machine or an offline backup, like Backblaze.
With the drive copied, you are ready to take the Mac apart. Take off the base cover on the underside of the Mac and remove the memory.
Upgrading the memory is relatively easy: just take the cover off. Before upgrading you should check how much memory you particular Mac can accept as a maximum. For example, my Mac has 2x4GB DDR3 SODIMM modules. The maximum it can accept is about 16GB, so I could replace these with 2x 8GB modules of the same sort. This data is available widely on the Web.
Having removed the memory, you can begin to unscrew the eight or so screws that hold the fan and the Wi-Fi antenna into the Mac. The hard drive is under the Wi-fi, and once you disconnect the drive connector from the board, it just slides out.
Macs are well designed to be compact, so the parts of the machine fit very tightly inside the case, slotted together like sardines in a tin. It’s actually quite a simple task to get the drive out, but it’s advisable to follow the order of the screws and be meticulous about collecting the screws and knowing where they go back. In an ideal world all the screws would be the same, but in reality they are all shapes and sizes. Use a magnetic screw tray to keep them safe. A good tip is to take photos on your phone at every stage so that you can refer back to them later to put the Mac back together again.
One thing to be very careful about (and I can’t overemphasise this) is a couple of very small push fit connectors with wires and ribbon cables that are inside Macs. Handle these very delicately, as if you break even one of them, it’s game over.
While it wasn’t a very stressful and problematic task to get inside the Mac and replace the drive, the OWC upgrade kit made it MUCH easier. The screwdrivers are of good quality and don’t bend or break like some of the cheaper kits do. They even have helpful little hex ends on them so that you can apply a little robust force using a spanner to remove stubborn screws. The spudger is really sturdy and workmanlike, double ended and ideal as a non-ferrous press-fit connector separator.
The OWC Mercury Extreme® 6G SSD 2.0TB is lovely, really nice quality construction and as fast as you would expect, clocking around 550 Mb/s. It’s really easy to get it in and out of the enclosure when transferring the data, with just a few small screws. The enclosure is also well built, and having that at the end of the process means that when your Mac upgrade is done, you can drop the old spare drive into it, wipe it and have an external drive for Time Machine or other backups.
The effect on the Mac is incredible, and everything is so fast. With the old drive, it could take up to five mins to open a graphics file. New drives always make your computer resemble a new one.
This was NOT a chore at all, although it would have been nice to have some detailed instructions tailored to the Mac Mini, as this is a kit for this specific model. As it was, I found a YouTube video to help me, but the instructions are very simple and could have been supplied in a pamphlet.
The 6x OWC Thin Blu Ray drive is also a great addition to the refurbished Mac. It’s really nice, small and thin, and connects to the Mac with an octopus of plugs, with some for data and some for power.
I did find the signal from the drive a bit intermittent at first and wondered if the cable was faulty. It turns out that once I had the drive seating properly on a table rather than dangling upright from my USB hub, those problems were eliminated, and it was reliable enough to grab an entire movie without any problems. The drive also writes DVD optical discs for backup or sending big blocks of data to anyone who uses a DVD drive.
The OWC Mac upgrade kit (2.0TB OWC DIY Bundle) is really good, with solid parts and really useful stuff. It’s priced at $289. The 6x OWC Blu-ray drive retails for $129. I can heartily recommend the upgrade kits, as they made the process much easier. They are available for a variety of different Macs.
Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox