Monday 4 May 2015

Extend a MacBook Air's life by upgrading it with an SSD drive from Other World Computing

After nearly four years, my MacBook Air seemed nearing the end of its lifespan. Despite using MacPaw’s CleanMyMac to clear unwanted files and Gemini to identify and remove duplicates, it had become impossible to keep the recommended 15% free diskspace available (or 36GB of 240). My MacBook's performance seemed to be slowing and less reliable.

An important benefit of Mac's high-quality hardware is its longevity, but there is minimal support in South Africa for Apple users having more than basic maintenance done (such as upgrading existing hardware). Apple's laptop design focus is on making them attractive, disposable consumables, but providing lighter, thinner options is being done to hackability's detriment. Local Mac consumers are only afforded the option of buying-up {with a trade-in, if lucky}; I could not find any Cape Town company promoting Apple laptop upgrades. Apple's sole South African authorised distributor, The Core Group, has a history of uncompetitive, exorbitant pricing and I was surprised that no local companies promote reasonably priced upgrades. Given the steeply-priced new options available via The Core Group's monopoly, there must be a market need for upgrades that is not being met.

In the absence of local upgrade support, I explored the import options: Other World Computing's (OWC) online store was prominent in Google search for the wide range of Mac upgrade and expansion products it offers. OWC's Mercury Aura Pro SSD and Envoy storage solution upgrade kit promised an impressive upgrade solution that would almost double my hard drive’s space (to just under 480GB), while increasing my laptop's speed up to three times (to 570 MB/S). It's not an inexpensive solution; around R4,050 ($338), which includes US shipping, and R625 on SA Post Office collection. Add in one's time, travel and related additional expenses, this could easily sum up above R 6,000. Still, that's much, much less than a new MacBookAir!

Before ordering, I checked out the installation video to see that I could install the Mercury Aura Pro SSD easily (given that I am far from being a computer technician). It looked to be simple and after collecting my order, the extraction-and-installation process went very smoothly. It took the ten minutes suggested for laptop memory card replacement. Next, I moved the old storage to an external OWC Envoy USB holder. Again, OWC's thorough guidance, this time in a brochure, was easy and quick to follow.

The next phase was to migrate my previous Mac OS X settings and files to the new drive, which took just over a day... I restarted my Macbook Air in a mode to re-install Yosemite. This clean install necessitated downloading OS X {24 hours via entry-level ADSL}, followed by a migration process to import my data {2 hours}. I then ran a software update and repaired the new drive's disk permissions {2 hours} as advised.

This left just four minor issues to sort out; 
1. Microsoft Office required a Java download and re-entry of its product key to launch;
2. I logged out of Google Drive and resynchronised it so that it could re-locate its local files; 
3. I reinstalled my Canon printer's core driver;
4. Backup failed, so Disk Repair's verify-and-repair option was used to fix the back-up drive.

After checking my most heavily used applications and some recent files, I am pleased to report that OWC's marketing promises were spot-on. My hard-drive now affords a capacity of 478GB (much, much more than the latest Mac Air laptop's 256GB!), my laptop starts faster and its speed seems far more responsive.  I'm hoping that the enhanced durability of an SSD drive adds a few years before laptop replacement is necessary.

Hopefully, this post helps confirm to local Mac users that it is possible to save money by taking the initiative to do upgrades. This reduces one's frequency of laptop consumption and can add to those examples helping make 'green computing' somewhat less of an oxymoron.

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