Creating “The Beast” – how to upgrade a Mac Pro 1,1 to run El Capitan.

So we received a couple of Mac Pro 1,1′s which were having issues and decided to see what we could make from them. The idea being to make a powerful, modern Mac as cheaply as possible. The Mac Pro 1,1 is a great place to start – it has masses of internal expansion, and can be grabbed cheaply second hand sources, often for less than £ 100.

The basic issue with the Mac Pro 1,1 is that as factory setup and running it will not run above Mac OS 10.7.5 – this limits it’s usability; especially with Applications like Adobe CC or even modern apps like Photos or iTunes. It also limits some upgrade options; especially with Graphics cards like our R9 – as these earlier OSes do not have the drivers needed.

To start with much of this work has been done by others; I will try and link back to sources as much as possible. That said many people have done similar things in different ways – so I will try and justify my methodology as well (or at least explain the logic behind the decision).

The short short version:

1) Upgrade the firmware to Mac Pro 2,1 (add support for newer CPUs)

2) Upgrade the CPUs to 2 x Quad Core 3.0Ghz Xeons.

3) Upgrade the RAM to above 16GB (we went to 32GB but anything above 16GB should be fine)

4) Install 4 x HDDs (defiantly Matched in size – preferably matched in brand, model etc) – Setup as a RAID 0 – and Test.

5) Upgrade the Graphics Card (we used our R9) – you need to have at least 512 MB VRAM.

6) Install Mac OS X 10.11.6 onto the RAID and modify the boot.efi and <supported platforms> list

7) Boot and enjoy!!

So these steps in detail – with reasons and processes.

1) Upgrade the firmware to Mac Pro 2,1 (add support for newer CPUs)

There is a useful forum here: which has a utility to do this. I followed the instructions and rebooted with the long tone and off you trot! This is needed to add support for the newer CPUs we had in store.

2) Upgrade the CPUs to 2 x Quad Core 3.0Ghz Xeons.

We had these in store from a failed Mac Pro 2,1 which had logic issues – but they can be purchased from eBay very cheaply – there is a great list here on MacRumors which can help you decide which suit your budget / needs. If you want to run lots at any one time then going from Dual Core to Quad Core can be helpful (I wanted to get virtualization working to support legacy OSes at the same time) – otherwise going for higher clock speed is more helpful for processes such as video encoding.

3) Upgrade the RAM to above 16GB (we went to 32GB but anything above 16GB should be fine)

If you trust the second hand market; you can pick up some real bargains for 667mhz RAM for these Machines (we do see some customers with issues from second hand RAM but would image it is a small number given how much it appears on eBay etc) – we do sell new modules here.

You MUST have above 12 GB RAM to run El Capitan without it falling over at random intervals – when we had it up and running with 8GB (waiting for a stock delivery) it would fall over every 10 mins or so at random times – since the upgrade it is up for days without any bother.

4) Install 4 x HDDs (defiantly Matched in size – preferably matched in brand, model etc) – Setup as a RAID 0 – and Test.

I had 4 x 3TB HDDs from a previous project which were no longer being used – a bit of a miss match of brands (a pair of Seagate 3TB, and a pair of  WD Green 3TB drives). Once these were installed in the Mac Pro I used Target Disk mode via Firewire to a Mac Mini and setup as a RAID 0 using SoftRAID. Using target mode meant that we could install the latest SoftRAID drivers and not have issues later with older versions etc.

This RAID gives over 500MB/s read and write speed (as tested with BlackMagic Disk Speed Test) – and you could expect more with newer and matched drives. Not bad for 12TB of storage!

I used RAID 0 as this Mac will be backed up to a Time Machine server and also be acting as a Media Backup – so failure accounted for.

5) Upgrade the Graphics Card (I used our R9) – you need to have at least 512 MB VRAM.

Video Cards with less than 512 MB VRAM cause issues on these early Mac Pros with the later OSes. I replaced the stock GT with a flashed R9 270x 2GB VRAM. Other cards will work; however the 270x is within the Max power draw spec, has nice out of the box driver support in 10.11.6 and full Dual-link DVI.

6) Install Mac OS X 10.11.6 onto the RAID and modify the boot.efi and <supported platforms> list

I used the Mac Pro in Target disk mode attached to a 2012 Mac Mini running 10.9 – this allowed me to install 10.11.3, create an account and complete all the usual upgrades to 10.11.6 so that I knew it was a fully working install. – Effectively using the Mac Pro as a big hard drive enclosure!

Once it was all working I booted back into the Mac Mini and followed the instructions here:

This involved replacing the boot.efi and adding a line item to the <supported devices> plist. (I went for grey as I am a traditionalist!).

A tentative reboot with the “Alt” key and the 10.11.6 RAID appeared – selected and then the login appeared! It lives! Make sure that the hard drive is selected in the startup disk panel to avoid a long delay on boot and it has been up and running ever since!

So now I have a Mac Pro, running El Capitan 10.11.6 with 32GB RAM, 12TB hard drive operating at similar speeds to a modern SSD, the wonderful R9 270X with 2GB VRAM and two displays. Daily it runs four web browsers with approx 10 tabs in each, Parallels with various older OSes from 10.6.8 server upwards, Photos, eMail, Facetime (with a USB webcam), iTunes, iWork and all the usual office tasks and all for less than the cost of a iPad!



macOS Sierra has gone into beta; but my Mac won’t run it!

So Apple have released several versions public betas for the next version of macOS – Sierra (10.12). With this release, the first since mountain lion 10.8, Apple have introduced new limits to the hardware capable of running it meaning that most Macs made before 2010 will not run it.

So; what does this mean for owners of these “orphaned” Macs?

Not much really – we are starting to see some older versions of the OS’s loose support for modern browsers (10.6 and 10.7) especially some popular sites like iPlayer, Netflix, facebook and twitter (and strangely often reported Even Chrome which has valiantly keep supporting older versions of Mac OS X has stopped supporting below 10.8 with new updates.

This means that now is the best time to get your older Mac up to date, and leave it running “as is” to give it the best chance of still being usable in years to come. Here is a quick list of must dos to make this happen.

1) “Get” Mac OS X 10.11 (El Capitain) from the Mac App Store – with previous releases as soon as the newest is out you can no longer purchase the last one so make sure it is on your Apple ID before it goes (once it is gone you can always re-download from the “purchased tab”).

2) Check how much RAM you have – we recommend at least 6GB to run El Capitain.

3) Make sure you have a working backup. Upgrading the OS should not cause any issues, but if you don’t have a backup and something does go wrong you could loose all your data. – see our Tips and tricks for a Major OS Upgrade for some details on this.

4) Check your hard drive before upgrading. – We recommend two applications which can test your have drive: It is worth running these before upgrading the OS.

i) BlackMagic Disk Speed Test: this tests the speed of your hard drive for use with digital video – very useful as failing hard drives often slow down. Expect a normal working HDD to give 70-100 MB/s – failing hard drives between 10-30 MB/s. If these readings have a high range (i.e. 1st is 90MB/s and then 30MB/s) that can also be a issue.

ii) SoftRAID: This is a great tool for creating an array of disks into a volume for speed or data redundancy. It also reads the extended SMART info which can be a helpful indicator of a failing hard drive.

5) Make sure you have enough time to be without your Mac – if something goes wrong it may take a few days to get back up from your backup or replace failed hardware – not worth doing if you have a major project due in next week!


In summary; now is the time to get these 2008-2010 Macs up to date and current to make sure that they are still useful machines for years to come.

Tips and Tricks for a Major OS Upgrade

El Capitan (Mac OS X 10.11) is nearly upon us – Due for release on 30th Sept so we thought it would be a good time to list some tips and helpful advice to make the upgrade as smooth as possible.

The last couple of releases of Mac OS have not had the same issues as some which came before (moving from 10.6.8 to 10.7 had major headaches!) but it is still a full replacement of the heart of your Mac. We always see an increase in the number of failed hard drive or hard drive upgrades required to support the new versions of the OS and are expecting the same this time.

Tip #1 – Always (ALWAYS) have a full backup of your OS and important files before completing the Upgrade.

We recommend you complete a full Time Machine backup, and also have a Clone of your current OS.

If you use the wonderful Carbon Copy Cloner, you will need to make sure you are running 4.1.4 for it to work in 10.11.

Why Both?

The advantage of a Clone is that you can boot from it and get back to a working state if the worst happens or if some vital piece of software stops working after the upgrade. A Time Machine backup often updates before you have a chance to test everything. The OS may upgrade library files such as the Mail or Photos folders to later versions which may not be compatible on an older version of Mac OS. We recommend unplugging your time machine backup disk before applying the upgrade; and plugging it back in after you are happy that everything is working. You may need to erase and restore to go down to your previous OS.

Tip #2 – Complete all recommended software updates before upgrading.

Most software authors have spent lots of time and effort to make sure that their software will run happily in El Capitan (Mac OS X 10.11). We recommend going through each application you use and applying their upgrades (often in the help menu or a reminder at startup). Completing these updates before hand means give you the best chance that it will work after the upgrade.

Tip #3 – Make sure you have enough RAM.

Apple min spec is 2GB RAM for 10.10 and 10.11. In our experience this is just not enough. (see this article). We recommend 6GB min for 10.11 – preferably 8GB and, if your Mac can take it, 16GB is defiantly worth considering.

Tip #4 – Make sure you have enough storage capacity.

You’ll need to allow around 6GB of space for the download, and 6GB for the installer to work with – this is on top of the recommended 10-15GB of free space on your storage device (SSD or HDD). Running a machine with less than 10-15GB of free space will be very slow and will work the drive very hard.

Make sure you empty your Trash folder and check your “Downloads” folder for any large installers (Office 365 installer image takes over 3GB) or updaters which have been applied. Look out for older updaters (we often see many multiples of Java or Flash updaters which can be deleted once used). This can free up space.

Tip #5 – Plan your time.

Downloading 6Gb of upgrade may take a few hours (especially on launch day) and applying it will defiantly take an hour or two.

Our testing installing a clean version onto a standard rotational drive in an iMac or Mac Pro  will take between 45 mins and 1.5 hours. Upgrading from a pervious version can take a little longer (one Mac in the Office took 2 hours after the download completed). This will be faster on a newer Mac with an SSD and fast internet connection.

This is not something to do when you have a deadline looming or work to be done. Give yourself a day for a work Mac or have another which you can work from for the time being.

For a home Mac; start it early and have your favourite beverage to hand. Once the download is complete you will need to select the destination and hit “continue” – the second part takes a while and will often restart a couple of times automatically! Also factor in time for libraries / databases to be updated (such as Mail)

What to do if it all goes wrong:

Recent updates have gone very smoothly for the vast majority of Apple Mac users, if anything does go wrong we can often help, so give us a call, eMail or join us in our online chat during office hours to go through your options.

What would you do?

Today we were asked an interesting question: A customer was given a 2009 Mac Pro as a work Mac and told he could do whatever upgrades he wanted as long as the performance was improved; up to £1500. What would you do?

This sparked some serious debate in the office; mainly about the order which these upgrades would be installed to give the maximum kick for the buck and completing piecemeal as budget allowed. Below is what we agreed and the order we would do it in to give the quickest improvement first.

i) Install a very very fast SSD for the Operating System (Mac OS X) and applications.

Two options stand out – depending on need for speed and capacity.

The new Tempo SSD (which is a M.2 based Blade solution attaching via PCIe) which is only available in 512 GB at the mo – more than enough for the OS, Apps and some swap files. This is the fastest drive you can attach to this Mac Pro – although it is not cheap (£ 720 inc VAT) it will give workflow changing speed boosts (approx 20 x the speed of a rotational hard drive)!

Alternativly there is the 960 GB OWC Accelsior E2 These give a larger capacity, and are still around 10 x the speed of a rotational drive they are not slow! Nearly 1 TB of capacity gives this card a edge over the Tempo – but the reduced speed makes it the second choice. Also not cheap at nearly £ 640 inc VAT but a great card to breath new life into a 8 year old Mac Pro.

ii) Install a new Video Card

This was the most agreed upon option in the office. The bespoke R9 270x graphics card which we have been selling for a couple of months gives amazing performance for most uses. For £ 300 inc this is a great performance improvement. The only disadvantage is that this card is not CUDA certified – meaning that specific Adobe Apps will not take advantage – Mainly After effects. This is a great speed boost for the whole OS and most Apps – giving 5-10 x the speed of the stock GT 120 and 2-4 x the speed of the best card available for the 09 Mac Pro (the 5770).

iii) Max out the RAM.

Most Mac Pros can take 32-64 GB RAM – depending on if you have the “dual Processor” version or not. the 8GB Modules for the 2009 Mac Pro can be found here (around £90 inc VAT each). An interesting point to note is that adding more RAM will not increase the speed of your Mac, however it will prevent it from slowing down under load. This is why it is 3rd in our “Performance enhancing” list.. and many Mac Pros we see already have 16GB + RAM. If you think you need more RAM check out our earlier post “do I need more RAM?

Conclusion: The 08-10 Mac Pros are still great computers – the Xeon CPUs can still handle all but the most bleeding edge of tasks and for around £ 1200 you can put in an amazingly fast SSD, Fast GPU Upgrade and 16GB RAM, making a really fast Mac Pro for any professional work!

Other Additional Options:

If you need lots of hard drive capacity (Video editing work, Time Machine server etc)

As above but add 4 x 2TB Hard drives into the Main bays and use Disk utility to give you a RAID 0 disk array – 8TB of fast hard drives space available. or if you really need the space you can add 4 x 4TB to give 16TB of available space. – maybe go for the smaller Accelsior to keep within budget.

How to speed up the internet?

One of the regular reasons people ask us for upgrades is because the internet feels slow. Many times this not due to the speed of your Mac; but can be through other bottlenecks which can be fixed without too much difficulty and we will list 3 easy fixes here:

1) Check your DNS settings.

DNS is the system the internet uses to translate the nice human address “” into an address which the network can understand to access resources on the server.

On the Mac a slow DNS server can be seen most commonly as a long delay between entering a web address and the page starting to load (you can tell a page starting to load because the name of the window will change to the proper name given by the website). This may also show itself as a delay between clicking a link and the page changing.

Often your DNS settings are set by your home router; and modern routers include a DNS caching server which stores the commonly used addresses before asking the local network for the answer but as home networks get busier it can be worth adding a secondary DNS server.

One way to find your quickest server is to use this utility from google.

It is also worth taking a look at Open DNS who provide a free to use service for home users.

2) Remove adverts and trackers:

Many websites these days use advertising around their content to make back the costs of running their site. Some even treat this a business model to make their money – sometimes known as “clickbait” where the whole point of the content is to generate page views. We have all seen articles like “20 cutest cats” or “15 silly things to do with a lawnmower”.

Although this may be a legitimate way to market information you might be interested in (there is a whole other debate about the use of such marketing info to categorise your lifestyle and preferences), it most defiantly slows down page loading times and is noticeable on older Macs as it increases the resources needed to display the page.

Two programs we recommend are Adblock and Ghostery both available as Safari, Firefox or Chrome extensions.

Installing these apps will mean that your pages will use less RAM and CPU cycles – as one customer put it the other day “making the internet usable again”.

3) Remove any “Adware” or PUAs/PUPs – Potentially Unwanted Applications or Programs.

A more nefarious trend of late is adding PUPs into installer packages. We have had customers reporting downloads for TV Channels, free movie sites or from torrent sites including these. Often a PUP will change the default search engine as well as inserting additional DNS servers or proxys into your configuration meaning your internet traffic gets re-directed from where you want to go. Examples include Genio and GoldenBoy.

There also appears to be some reports of “MacKeeper” doing the same thing.

These can be difficult to remove; they place Safari extensions and system extensions all over the place. There is a great Application called Adware Medic which can search your hard drive for examples and removed them to the trash. If issues still exist we recommend seeking the advice of someone who can help you (such as ourselves!)..

These are 3 tips which may help you upgrade your Mac online experience. We hope you find them useful.

Update to the Re-flow services – MacBook Pro 15/17″ 2010/11

One of the services we offer is called a “reflow” – it involves heating the logic board – and more specifically the Graphics Processor of a Mac to near to the melting point of the solder used to attach these together.

This has been very successful in resurrecting dead Macbook Pro’s and dead iMacs; especially with graphics artefacts in the kernel panic or in use.

We have recently been trialling the same process with the Macbook Pro 15″ & 17″ 2010 and 2011. These seem to suffer similar issues (dark screen after boot, graphics issues, only booting into recovery mode or only booting in “safe boot” mode – the later two we think is because these do not use the same GPU drivers!).

We have now got a modified “cookbook” for these Macs and feel we can offer this repair with some certainty. It is offered at the same price as previous re-flows (£85 + VAT) and we have had a number of happy customers of this service.

Give us a call and see if we can help you out today.

Do I need more RAM?

One of the questions we get asked often is “Do I need more RAM”.

This question is more correctly put as “If i invest in buying more RAM for my computer; will I see a benefit in how quickly it runs applications, how quickly it boots when I first start up and how quickly I can swap between applications I am working in so that I can complete this task?”

RAM is working memory which allows very fast file access but costs much much more than conventional hard drives – it has the disadvantage that it does not keep data when it is powered off but the speed means that you can load programs into it quickly to be used as needed. In a “money is no issue” world – all your applications and working data would be run off RAM and a hard disk would only be used for archiving and long term storage (i.e. when your RAM is powered off) – this is a decision made many decades ago to keep the price of computers as low as possible.

On a Mac – the Various common operating systems require a min RAM to run:

Snow leopard (10.6) requires 1GB RAM Min.

Lion (10.7), Mountain Lion (10.8), Mavericks (10.9) and Yosemite (10.10) all require a min 2GB of RAM.

This is the lowest value you can have in order to install these Operating Systems.

In our experience for good performance you should have the following amounts of ram :

Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard – Min 2GB,  ideal 4GB or above
Mac OS 10.7 Lion or 10.8 Mountain Lion – Min 4GB, ideal 6GB or above
Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks – Min 6GB, ideal 8GB or Above
Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite – Min 6GB, ideal 12GB or Above

If you are running an older machine with a new operating system we recommend fitting as much ram as your machine can take.

Once you have a number of Safari windows open, Mail and a text editor of choice you start to use up this space very quickly and notice your Mac start to slow down and get the spinning beach ball.

A way to tell if this is what is impacting your performance is a tool called “Activity Monitor”. This is installed as default under each of these OS’s and is located inside your “Utilities” folder – which sits inside your Applications folder. A nice way to get there is the “go” menu which has a “Utilities” option or press”Shift-Cmd-U” when in Finder.

Activity monitor shows you the processes which are running on your Mac, and also has a tab at the bottom of the main window which shows the Memory you are currently using:

Activity Monitor under 10.6.8 Acitivity Monitor 10.6In this example under 10.6.8 you can see that 262.8 MB of RAM is in a Wired (permanently being used) state. 2.06 GB of RAM is Active – or being used but could be pulled on if really needed.  1.16 GB of RAM is inactive – this is RAM which has been used and is still allocated to it’s Applications but can become free for other uses as needed and 537.4 MB is free.

This Mac is not being limited by RAM, as it is currently being used, so would not benefit from an upgrade! (It may still need an SSD as a speed boost but RAM is not limiting performance)

It is always best to look at these stats whilst you are using your Mac – that way it shows what is going on!

Activity Monitor under 10.10Activity Monitor under 10.10So under 10.10 (and 10.9) you have a different view. Memory is used in a much more dynamic way under these later OS’s – lots of special compression and sharing which makes the picture a little more complex. The OS also “Uses” all the RAM as it can and allocates it as it chooses.

In this pic we can see the memory pressure is Orange – this means that RAM is starting to have an impact on the way this Mac is operating. This has a “traffic light” scheme – green is all OK, Orange is middle and Red is causing the Mac to slow down.

So in conclusion:

More RAM is good, if you need it! Using activity monitor you can see if RAM is causing your Mac to slow down and using our site you can see how much RAM you can fit and how much it will be!

Are you ready for Yosemite?

With 10.10 just around the corner – here is our quick guide to what you might want to know.

Why go to Yosemite?

Each new OS add some features, many are visible (such as new iMessage, or iCould Drive); some are not (such as Grand Central Station support). Many features you may not see until your favourite app starts to support them. Sometimes you need to update to give support for a website you want to use (Netflix or iPlayer spring to mind as these have recently been upgraded; loosing support for many older browsers).

General advice is to make sure you are running up to date software (which means if you buy a new printer or some other hardware you should have no problems running it and all the latest security features and malware protection are then enabled). We always suggest caution moving as soon as new software is released – especially if you have a current project which may be affected by it (memorably we had a customer who was printing a book and moved to the new iWork which changed his fonts and changed the whole layout  two days before it was going to be printed!). This is especially true when moving more than one point release (i.e. from OS 10.7 -> 10.10 might change an awful lot with unexpected consequences).

Will it run on my Mac?

So far it appears to run in the same hardware as 10.9 (Mavericks) – nothing in any of the beta versions suggests otherwise. You can search our website by Serial number or Model ID and our pages will be updated as soon as we can after the final revision is shipped.


Mavericks really liked at least 4GB of RAM – the min spec says 2GB – but from our testing and customer comments – 4GB was the min to prevent slow downs. We would recommend that you have at least 4GB.  Our model ID pages will give you an idea of the max RAM you can have fitted.

Clone? Time Machine? Dropbox? or burn off to DVD?

So, if you take away just one thing from this article; please let it be this. The Mantra which must rule any OS upgrade is Backup, Backup, Backup.

OS upgrades reveal issues with hardware like nothing else – they involve moving and removing many gigabytes of data – touching parts of the hard drive which may not have been used since it was in the factory, testing parts of the computer with new extensions and k.exts and new levels of encryption and security. We see a lot of hard drive failures coming in straight after an OS upgrade as the extra strain on a failing drive can sometimes be the final nail in its coffin.

The MacUpgrades preferred method is to clone your drive using the wonderful utility Carbon Copy Cloner. This gives you a bootable volume – so if it all goes wrong you can boot and be where you were before you upgraded.

Time machine has the disadvantage that, other than being told that your data is backed up  in the system preference, it is not tested until after the deed is done. We would probably never hear from customers for whom Time Machine worked perfectly; but we do hear from customers who have lost data because they thought it was backed up. Our advice is to double check you backup – try restoring a file or two to another volume, launch the Time Machine browser and check the backup dates.

An alternative (and rapidly growing in popularity with very fast home broadband helping) is to simply store all key documents in an online storage like Dropbox. This is great if you know where all of your important files are – just don’t forget things like iPhoto Library and eMail attachments folders.

Getting the best from your Mac for Yosemite.

To get the best from any Mac we recommend a couple of simple steps.

1) Make sure you have enough RAM to prevent slow downs.

2) Give your Mac the best speed boost you can – put an SSD in and use it as the Main OS and Apps drive. SSDs really do make a world of difference to the speed of a Mac – see some of our other posts for more detail; but to put it simply; you really do want an SSD.

Issues with TRIM.

TRIM is a standard which is used by some SSDs to clear out data from areas of the drive – usually when the system is idle. This is important since SSDs need to delete data before writing new data; otherwise they need to do it just before writing the data.

Several posts have reported drives with TRIM enabled appear to not work under Yosemite beta. Digging around this appears to be to do with the new security features in Yosemite – that is all kernel extensions need to be signed by recognised vendors and the previous way of enabling TRIM was a custom k.ext!

The advantages of TRIM seem to be limited; the benchmarks disagree between a small speed advantage and a smaller speed advantage.

Will my Apps all run OK?

Many developers do not announce if their pet project will run on a new OS until it is released (or at least left beta testing – a stage call Golden Master). Some will update their site with details – some are tested by users. A great site for checking is RoaringApps which lists from various sources to give you an answer.

The short, short conclusion is that Yosemite (10.10) will be another big step forward for Mac OS and will run on a lot of older Mac hardware without issue. Always make sure you have a backup before doing a big OS update and if you want the most from it, make sure you are running from as fast a hard drive as you can (preferably an SSD). If you want or need the new features and refinements then go for it; if you do not need them at the mo – as the old adage goes “if it ain’t broken; don’t fix it”


Opti-bays – is Optical Media Dead? Long Live Hard Disk Drives!

What is an Opti-bay?

This a special enclosure or caddy made to fit into the form factor of an internal optical drive inside your Mac and give you the ability to add a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or Solid State Drive (SSD) with a SATA  connection (you can even use a SATA drive in a IDE optical drive space, although the performance is too slow for an SSD).

Why do I need it?

These days; we are finding; more and more that you do not need a working optical drive. Mac OS updates across the internet, Applications are downloaded or bought via the Mac App Store. Adobe now have the Creative Cloud. Even Microsoft Office is now a download (some considered this the last of the must have apps to be on optical disk).

So Optical disks are kinda dead (or at least in the last throws) and hard drives are taking the crown. As our iTunes Music, Movies and iPhoto libraries grow we need more and more storage in our laptops and laptop sized drives are limited in capacity. Swapping out the little used optical drive is a great way to get more storage in your laptop. We even sell external caddies for the old optical drive so you can use it external if you ever need it ! (SATA drives only)

Which Machine and which Opti-bay caddies ?

All intel Mac Based laptops, Mac Mini’s and iMacs can use an Opti-bay caddy. They use different ones depending on the height and connection type. Our serial number checker or model ID checker will tell you exactly which Opti-bay you need and which drives will work in it. They exist in two different connection types IDE(PATA) and SATA,and two different heights (9.5mm and 12.7mm) depending on the machine. Below is a picture of the two different connection types.


This is only useful if you’ve taken the drive out, but relevant for identification purposes.

IDE (PATA) optical drive caddies:

These are found in all Mac Minis, iMacs, MacBooks and Macbook Pros produced between 2006 and around 2009 when SATA based optical drives came in. These caddies have an IDE connection on the outside for connection to the motherboard and a SATA connection internally to allow connection of modern hard drives.

IDE is a slower connection type with a limit on how much data can be transferred at any one time. This is not important for optical drives but does restrict the maximum throughput you can get from the Opti-bay in these machines.

Which configurations will work and which are best ?

For machines with IDE optical drive connections we recommend only using a standard rotational hard drive (HDD) in this bay due to the limitation of the IDE controller. HDD options for this bay go unto 2TB in size, a good combination is to replace the main hard drive with a Solid State drive and put a large rotation into the optical drive space. Then running the OS and applications from the SSD and use the rotational for less speed important data storage tasks. There are not external USB caddies for the old optical drives taken from these machines, but we do sell very inexpensive external USB Samsung Optical drives which you can use if you want to keep your ability to use optical media at a later date.


SATA Optical Drive Caddies

SATA connectivity for the optical drive was introduced into the Mac ranges in late 2008 and early 2009. The first iMacs with it were the 20 and 24 inch Early 2009 machines. The first Mac Minis were the Early 2009. All MacBook unibody machines (white and aluminium) and MacBook Pros with black keyboards have SATA optical drives.

The SATA connection allows for faster drives and SSDs to be put into the optical drive space. This second options allows for more options and greater speed.

Which configurations will work and which are best ?

With SATA Opti-bay caddies you can use either standard rotational HDDs or SSD drives in the bay. Using the SSD for fast access for operating systems and applications, leaving the larger rotational for non speed sensitive application.

A good, but a little dated article on how to separate your data out in this fashion can be found here .

Another approach using combination of SSD and HDD is to create a fusion drive. This uses  two physical devices one SSD and one HDD and combines them together in software to give a single logical volume which automatically in software decides which files give greatest benefit from being on the SSD and moves them automatically. Much like the newer iMAcs and Mac Minis offer. You can create a fusion drive with any size of SSD and rotational but it is more common to go with a smaller (sub 500GB) SSD drive and a very large rotational. The setup is more involved (or we can do it for you) but once setup you don’t have to worry about where anything is stored. A good guide from the helpful chaps at  Macworld magazine is here .

iMacs are particularly good for these two types of upgrades as the main drive can be replaced with a 3.5″ drive (unto 4TB at time of writing) and with an SSD in the smaller opti-bay space.

You can of course install two SSD drives into these machines, (unto 1TB  size each at time of writing) for even faster performance, or use a RAID setup to make the machine fly. RAID stripping is great for speed but a good backup strategy must be employed.

We also sell optical drive USB enclosures so you can turn your internal optical drive into an external USB one should you find you need one.

How difficult are they to fit ?

We supply parts for your to fit yourself, or we offer an installation service from our Cambridge repair centre Laptop prices are £29 + Vat and iMacs £49 + Vat. You can send or bring your machine to us for upgrade or use our guides and tech support to install at home. We even offer on site installations on your premises.

Difficulty varies greatly by the type of machine. Generally the optical bay replacements are no more difficult than replacing the hard drive (apart from the White / Black MacBooks with removable batteries). Using our serial or model number checker you can see a link to an instructional video detailing the process but a brief synopsis is below.

The easiest ones to do are the MacBook Unibody and White unibody and Unibody MacBook Pros with black keyboards, they are not much harder than the hard drive and it can be done in half an hour with less than 15 screws. Simply transfer the old mountings and cables to the caddie taking care not to damage the cable.

Then followed by the Aluminium keyboard Macbook Pros, all the screws around the outside and inside the battery bay, about 35 screws and 40 minutes to do (for a first time).

Then the white iMacs, Remove the memory cover, the bottom screws and use a credit card in the back vent to release the white bezel. Then remove the screws holding the screen in place and disconnect the video and inverter cables. The optical drive is held in place with 2 / 4 screws transpose the bracket and screws to the Opti-bay caddy and re-assemble. Takes about an hour.


More difficult are the Mac minis and the later aluminium iMacs, we normally recommend our installation service for these machines are there are more gotchas and potential for problems.

We hope you have found this guide useful. Please contact us if we can be of any further assistance.



Out and about in Cambridge – while your Mac is being upgraded

Being a little outside of the main shopping districts of historic Cambridge has it advantages. There is plenty of free parking and many fewer people on the pavements taking pictures of the historical sites.

However; some of our upgrades take a few hours and if you are travelling some distance to see us (we had some visitors from Manchester the other day) you may want to see the sights. Here is a list of local attractions which you can spend a couple of hours (or longer if you wish) whilst you Mac gets a speed boast!

Places to go:

 Imperial War Museum at  Duxford: Costs from £ 17.50 per Adult – children under 15 are free. 5 miles from our offices. Directions from the office

Wandlebury Country Park: Free to enter, £2 for parking. Over 8 miles of country walks in mature woodlands. 4.5 miles from the offices. Directions

Cambridge Botanical Gardens: £4.50 per adult. Plants from all over the world displayed in a 40-acre oasis of gardens and glasshouses. 6.5 miles from the offices. Parking a bit difficult. Directions

Shepreth Wildlife park: A great time out with the kids. Fanastic wildlife park and children’s attraction. Adults £10.95 children £8.95 9.5 miles from the offices. Directions

Wimpole Hall Estate and home farm: A working estate still guided by the seasons, with an impressive mansion and Home Farm. Admission from £4 per adult. 15 miles from the offices. Directions

Or make a day of it in Cambridge town centre. Punting in the summer, or the amazing Cambridge museums there is a lot to see and do in Cambridge

Best bet for access is to use the Babraham Park and ride to avoid the expensive and very full town centre car parks. Parking for £1 for the day with £2.70 for the return bus fare. Directions

Places to eat

Sawston village has a number of cafes, bakeries and pubs for a snack or lunch. Babraham, Pampisford and Whittlesford have great pubs too. Here are the nearest with the closest first:

The Greyhound Sawston

The George Inn Babraham

The Chequers Pampisford

The Red Lion Whittlesford

The tickell arms Whittlesford

If you would like us to upgrade your Mac on the same day while you explore Cambridge or while you wait please get in touch and book yourself in advance to ensure that engineering space and products are available.