Review : OWC SSD Solutions

MacNN tests the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD and Data Doubler.

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Other World Computing

Price: $249.99 and $75.00

The Good

  • Mercury Extreme Pro SSD
  • Very fast.
  • Quiet.
  • Increases battery life.
  • OWC Data Doubler
  • Ships with all the tools needed to install it.
  • Great installation instructions.
  • Lets you put second storage device into your late-model laptop.

The Bad

  • Mercury Extreme Pro SSD
  • Limited capacity.
  • Expensive compared to hard disks.
  • OWC Data Doubler
  • Requires removal of optical drive.
  • Expensive when purchased separately.
I recently bought a 2010 model 15" MacBook Pro with an I5 processor. It is surprisingly fast - the fastest laptop I've ever owned, and almost as fast as the three year old MacPro that I use at work. However, it lags in one important area: Disk performance. I replaced the stock 5400 RPM drive with a 7200 RPM drive, and that made a small, but significant, difference. When I installed an Other World Computing (OWC) 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro SSD drive for, I felt like Neo in the Matrix: Whoa.

SSDs (solid state drives) are much faster than traditional hard disks because they use flash memory for storage; like the cards that come in your cameras. Flash memory has no moving parts, unlike a hard disk. SSDs are smaller, lighter, faster, use less power, and are more resistant to sudden shocks than hard disks. There are no moving parts to bounce around if dropped or banged. SSDs are usually packaged in such a way that they fit into existing hard disk enclosures, and use the same SATA data interface as hard disks. This makes replacing your hard disk with an SSD a snap, except for the trouble of opening up the laptop.

Pro SSD 120GB 

Mercury Extreme Pro SSD 120GB 
SATA 3.0Gb/s Solid-State Drive

There are two downsides to solid state drives: Expense and capacity. SSDs are significantly more expensive than hard disks, and currently, they are not as big as available hard disks. I believe that both of these problems are temporary. SSDs are coming down in price rapidly. (Editor's Note: There are studies that show that SSD drives do not last as long as hard drives also.)

Sadly, I don't have a pile of different SSD drives to compare, so I can't tell you how the 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro SSD drive compares to other SSDs. I can, however, tell you how it compares to the other storage choices I have on hand. First, the subjective performance: Everything seems much faster. Programs launch faster, and usually bounce once in the dock. For example, NetNewsWire, which reads 100s of feeds from its storage on launch, launches in about one third of the time. Apple's Mail and Safari also bounce once and launch. Xcode compiles significantly faster; and it makes extensive use of temporary files. Everything seems much snappier.

Objective performance measurements: I use Disk First Aid to create a disk image of the Users folder on my machine every week, as part of my backup regimen. The resulting image is about 15 GB, and I create at night, since it takes about 2 1/2 hours to run. After I installed copied my data over to the OWC SSD, I found that the same took less than 45 minutes. This is the same data backed up with Disk First Aid, but reading and writing from the SSD, instead of the traditional hard drive. It is now something I can do while at lunch, rather than overnight. That's more than 3-times as fast.

I ran XBench on the OWC SSD. Here are the overall scores, compared to three other drives. Higher numbers indicate faster speeds.
OWC Internal SSD:		310.10	2010 MacBook Pro	SATA connection

OWC External SSD:		138.87*	2009 MacPro	FireWire 800 connection

Internal 1.5 TB Seagate:	76.65*	2009 MacPro	SATA connection

Internal 5400 RPM HD:	53.26	2010 MacBook Pro	SATA connection

External 1.5 TB Seagate:	42.92*	2009 MacPro	FireWire 800

* Some of these numbers are from a previous review of the external SSD drive: Mercury On-The-Go Pro SSD Storage.

If you have a laptop, there is definitely an SSD in your future. The compelling advantages include speed, battery life, and shock resistance. The disadvantages, cost and capacity are almost certainly temporary conditions. The OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD is a solid drive that performs well. The 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro SSD costs $249.99 direct from Other World Computing, and comes with a 3-year warranty. I give this product the rare 5-star MacNN rating.

OWC Data Doubler

There is a downside to speed increase, however. I replaced my current 500 GB of storage with a mere 120 GB, and I had more than 120 GB of data. Fortunately, OWC also sent me one of their Optical Bay Hard Drive/SSD Mounting Solutions. This is a bracket that replaces the CD/DVD drive in your late model laptop, and lets you install a hard disk or SSD in its place. I pulled the optical drive, and put my 500 GB internal hard disk in its place. I moved my less commonly used and large files on it. I could have used an external enclosure for the 500-GB hard disk, and hooked it up via FireWire or USB, but that would have meant another piece of equipment to carry around; this way, everything is internal to the MacBook Pro.

 OWC Data Doubler

OWC Data Doubler and Placement in Computer

This is the best of both worlds; I have the fast SSD for everyday work, and the large hard disk for keeping the rest of my data accessible. Occasionally, I miss having an optical drive, but I use another machine with a DVD burner. I can put a disc into that machine and access it over the network with the MacBook Pro. If I have to do a full system install on my laptop, I can boot my MacBook Pro into FireWire target disk mode and install from another Mac - or re-install the optical drive.

OWC provides all the tools that you need with the mounting bracket: Four small screwdrivers and a spudger (nylon black stick tool) to open the laptop case, printed directions with pictures for each of the laptop models that they support, and links to videos on OWC's web site. The helpful videos show you exactly how to do the install. I was able to install the bracket and the SSD in about 15 minutes; and that included forgetting to replace one screw - which I discovered after I had finished, and so I had to open it up again, install the one screw that I missed, and put it back together a second time.

The Disk Doubler bracket lets you keep your existing hard drive for the extra capacity, but you have to sacrifice your optical drive. In a pinch, you could install a one TB HD in your laptop, and replace the optical drive with another one TB hard disk, giving you 2000 GB of storage in your laptop.

 OWC Data Doubler

OWC Data Doubler and SSD Drive Bundle

The OWC Data Doubler mounting bracket is sold separately for $75.00. Other World Computing also sells a Special OWC Bundle containing both the drive and the mounting bracket for $279.00. The bracket seems a bit pricey and because you have to remove the optical drive to install it, this product receives 4.5 stars.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor