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.

OBHD-SATA-Compare

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.