Home > Uncategorized > Installing a Dual SSD-HDD setup on an old Macbook, or how to be a nervous wreck for a weekend

Installing a Dual SSD-HDD setup on an old Macbook, or how to be a nervous wreck for a weekend

About a week ago, the optical drive on my Macbook (mid-2007; 2,1) began making horrendous noises every time I awoke it from sleep mode. The optical drive had been toast for a couple of years now, and it had made so odd sounds before, but now it was unleashing a ra-ta-tat-tat sound like it was lighting firecrackers every time I booted it up. It was more than a bit embarrassing to open in the library, and since I’ll be headed to a grad-student seminar in about a week, I wanted to take care of it before welcoming everyone to each workshop session with a 21-gun salute.

The Apple Store Genuis Bar, who assured me the optical drive wasn’t harming anything else, suggested opening the computer up and disconnecting the drive–or, he proposted, removing it and adding a SSD drive to the computer, running a dual system that would give me speed and space. I’ve gone on something of a DIY fix ever since I put together some funky shelves in my bedroom, so I was intrigued with the idea of hacking a laptop, one that I have appreciated for many years but also wouldn’t mind if it died and forced me to finally upgrade. At best, I could renew my computer’s life and get some speed back into its blood. At worst, I’d be forced to buy a computer purcahse now that I’ll probably have to make in a couple of years anyways.

I bought a Samsung SSD 840 and this HDD optibay caddy. There’s a few guides out there for replacing the optical drive–this step-by-step video by OWC is the best, ignore the nerve-inducing music–but I never imagined how difficult the process would be. I’d replaced the RAM and the original hard drive before, and I felt comfortable popping the top off. But the optical drive is patched in with a labrythine series of contraptions that makes you feel like you’re disarming a time bomb (iFixit has a few good images). Two sets of tape, two brackets, and a tiny screw buried under important-looking cables that is a never-ending pain to remove (but much worse to put back). I began at 10:30 Friday night. On Saturday, at 4:30 am, I crawled into bed, the HDD in the optical drive bay, the SSD in the original drive spot, one screw missing from the outer frame, and another screw that, when fully tightened, juts about a centimeter in the air.

I spent the rest of Saturday fine-tuning some hardware things (like more securely mounting the SSD) and figuring out the best way to manage the dual-drive set-up. There are a lot of methods out there people tout, but most are way too complicated (and I don’t trust symlinks–or rather, I don’t trust myself using symlinks). The best came from OWC again, with a few minor adjustments. They suggest installing OS X fresh on the SSD, transfer everything but the “User” information to the new drive, and then create a user profile identical to your original, and identifying the home directory as the home directory on the original hard drive. Follow the instructions, it’ll make more sense. That worked, except I believe the point of creating the identical profile is to allow you all the permissions to access the data on the original HDD. This did not work for me, but as long as your new profile is an admin account, you can go in and change the permission settings for the home directory folder (and all the items enclosed within it) manually. Doesn’t take that long.

It’s about a day since I completed everything, and all is (or appears to be) running smoothly. I’m nervous with every noise that comes from the newly-placed HDD, but I think it’s working fine. The SSD is really fast–almost better than my new Mac Mini 2012 desktop. The optical drive noise is completely drive, and the machine is nice and quiet. My only concern is that the computer seems to heat up quickly–I guess two drives will do that–but it hasn’t been too bothersome. Especially after I realized that an obscure process, “mdworker,” was sucking up a lot of CPU re-indexing the old drive (which also explains why the HDD drive was running constantly even if I wasn’t utilizing it). Once that process wound down, everything got much more normal.

All in all, the process is not impossible, but very arduous if you’re not totally comfortable under the hood of your Macbook. I’m a bit denser than most with these sorts of projects, so it took multiple attempts to stuff the caddy into the optical bay before I realized it would only fit if I removed the faceplate (a long plastic strip at the end). The caddy came with practically no instructions, so it also took me a while to realize how to make my old HDD fit (remove the mounting screws, save those for the new SSD, and use the large-head screws to attach the bottom plate) and what to do with the screws they gave me: after multiple attempts to reattach brackets from the original optical drives, I realized that I had to use the screws the caddy gave me to fit their model. If you’re looking to make this leap, but don’t feel terribly confident in your handy/computer skills, you’re probably better off just replacing the HDD drive with an SSD (which I wish I had done long ago, expensive as they are). But if you hold a lot of data, you can do a lot with this type of dual set-up. 


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