Review: OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD

As computers are the tools that I use to earn my living, I invest in getting the best machine for my needs and replace my main machine about every 2 years. My current MacBook Pro 15″, I bought in October 2008, so when Apple announced an event this past October, I was hoping for a significant update to the MacBook Pros, but instead they announced a new MacBook Air. (Apple did announce a 2.8 GHz option for the Core i7 MacBook Pros, but that wasn’t enough for me.) So I decided to wait until the next upgrade which I hope will be in the first half of next year.

What was I to do to squeak a little more performance out of my aging workhorse? While many developers have decked out Mac Pros with lots of RAM and horsepower, I prefer a laptop as it lets me work anywhere and having a main machine and a secondary machine is just a nightmare trying to find files (I’ve done that before). A colleague had mentioned that he had put an SSD into his development machine and seen a nice performance increase. So after a little research, I decided to get a Mercury Extreme SSD (240 GB) from OWC. Since Macs don’t support TRIM, I needed a drive that wouldn’t degrade performance over time leading me to the Mercury Extreme (since I purchased the drive, other drives have come onto market that apparently don’t require TRIM support in the OS).

Installation was as easy as any internal harddrive in a MacBook Pro (a few screws and presto) and copying my old drive to the SSD was very easy using SuperDuper!. I placed the old drive in my Voyager Q drive dock and waited for the copy to finish. Once the copy finished, I restarted and presto, it booted quickly and my SSD was running.

I’ve been using the SSD for about 1.5 months now and it has been working well with one exception. There is a firmware bug that causes the Mac to crash if the machine goes into hibernate mode and then you try to wake it. OWC has told me that a firmware upgrade should be available soon. I’ve only hit this twice as my machine rarely goes into hibernate.

Most of the speed tests I’ve seen on SSDs compare boot times, but I don’t reboot all that often, so while the speed is nice at startup, it’s kind of a pointless test for me. During everyday operation, I’m actually a little disappointed in the speed. I expected my machine to be blazingly fast after reading all the positives about SSDs. There are 3 factors that affect computer performance, processor speed, RAM, and I/O speed (hard drive/SSD is typically the limiting factor). Maybe I’m spoiled, but this upgrade was a bit expensive for the little gain I’ve seen (or maybe now I’m used to the faster speed and can’t remember the slower speed).

Pros

  • Decreases boot up time.
  • May have a small performance increase in overall machine operation.
  • Silent.
  • Less prone to damage causing by moving the machine (hard drive platters could get damaged if they aren’t parked before moving).

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Performance increase may be minimal depending on how the machine is used.
  • Firmware bug crashes machine on wake from hibernate.

Summary

I’m not sure that adding an SSD is going to be worth it for most people. I’ve read lots of reviews showing the drives as amazing, but routinely show decreased boot up times which I only see rarely as I put my machine to sleep all the time instead of shut it down. SSDs are coming down in price, but still you can get a much larger 7200 RPM mechanical hard drive for a whole lot less and the 7200 RPM vs 5400 RPM that comes stock in most machines may be a better use of money (I’ve had a 7200 RPM drive in my machine since day one).

When I buy my next machine, I’ll definitely get an SSD in it direct from Apple as it will let me eek every last bit of performance out of the new machine. If the price of SSDs drop significantly, then replacing a mechanical drive with an SSD will become an easier decision.

 

15 thoughts on “Review: OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD

  1. Pingback: Unsupported MacBook Pro RAM upgrade | Scott Gruby’s Blog

  2. Richard

    Scott: I guess we'd better start reading each other's blogs:

    http://www.richardsnotes.org/archives/2010/12/10/macbook-pro-ssd-upgrade/

    I do notice a speed increase launching applications and within applications like Lightroom. I've not had the wake from sleep crash ever so maybe I got the firmware upgrade. What I do have is a constantly running fan, very faint, low speed but it's on all the time when the machine is awake. I'm not sure if that was a "feature" of this machine before the SSD as the hard disk made enough noise to drown it out. It's also possible I've had a munged thermostat from before the upgrade, I'm not sure.

    OWC said if I thought the SSD was causing the problem they'd take it back (they'll take it back no matter what) but given that I'm doing exactly what you're doing, using this to get another year out of my computer until Apple comes out with a soldered on solution (SSD is transitional, the Air's setup is no doubt the future). So while I agree $500 is expensive for this it beats $3000 for a new high end MacBook Pro.

    A good friend was over yesterday and he had with him a MBP with an i7, 8 gigs of RAM and a 7200 rpm HD. My machine did at least as well if not better in all comparisons. It certainly booted faster but it also launched pretty much everything faster too. Of course, his machine is much faster than mine sans-SSD but hey, I think the $500 is worth it to get that kind of speed.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    1. Scott Gruby Post author

      Hi Richard,

      Maybe I was just hoping for more and now that I have the extra speed, I don't notice it. In any case, I'm not going back and hoping that the first half of next year brings new machines and I'll upgrade.

      As for the fan, I have noticed the fan coming on more and dislodging the temperature sensor on my machine is far less likely than on your machine as the hard drive is a user replaceable part (easily accessible in the battery compartment). I installed SMC Fan Control and have been watching the CPU temperature and the fans. It's likely that we both never noticed the noise before.

      OWC mentions on their specs page about the hibernation issue. I hope it gets fixed soon. There is also a firmware update that may apply to my drive; unfortunately the process to install it is a royal pain (it requires a Windows machine or a Mac running bootcamp AND the drive has to be formatted with MBR partitioning).

      Reply
  3. Richard

    Scott: I'm on the phone with OWC to cancel my return, I'm going to keep the SSD and live with the fan.

    I installed istat pro on my wife's unibody MacBook (which turned into 13" mbp no doubt) and her fan is also on all the time. I agree, we never heard it before because of HD noise.

    I hope/pray I'm not going to be dealing with a firmware update for this SSD. It's not hard to start from an external and scrub the thing but my pref is not to have to.

    Keep in touch, let me know how it goes.

    Reply
    1. Scott Gruby Post author

      According to OWC's site, there was a firmware update on November 1 which was a few days after my drive shipped. A firmware update on a Mac right now appears to be nearly impossible with a Mac updater due Q1 of next year. The docs indicate it is possible via Bootcamp so I'm trying some ways to see if I can do the update.

      Reply
  4. Scott Gruby Post author

    After a bit of work, I managed to update the firmware on my drive. Unfortunately this required me reformatting the drive with an MBR partition, booting off a Windows 7 DVD, installing Windows 7, then running the updater. There is one line in the updater instructions that may have saved some time and that is that you must run the tool as an administrator (why the tool couldn't prompt you to do this, I have no idea).

    I made 3 backups of my drive before wiping it and am now in the process of restoring the backup. Hopefully the hibernate problem will go away, but I won't really know until my battery goes down to nothing. (I don't want to muck with the NVRAM to set it.)

    I'm kind of surprised that OWC sells this drive as a Mac drive with the inability to update the firmware from a Mac. Just another reason to get a built in SSD drive on my next machine as Apple would have the firmware updater work on a Mac.

    Reply
  5. Richard

    Scott: I guess I got the newer firmware because my machine hasn't had problems waking. In fact, it has problems going to sleep. If I walk away from it the screen will sleep but the machine doesn't seem to go into real sleep mode unless I put it to sleep by closing the lid, using the power button or the apple menu. This may be a piece of the energy preference pane where the machine expects to talk to a HD but in fact, is talking to a SSD. I'm not sure.

    Like you Scott, I'm using this to hold me until Apple comes out with a new MacBook Pro, hopefully with a well integrated solid state storage solution. I know they're using SSDs in iMacs and Mac Pros so all of their solid state stuff isn't soldered on like the Air so who knows?

    I do like the speed increase on this machine, it's worth it to me.

    In other news, it's snowing pretty heavily right now. San Diego sounds nice...

    Reply
    1. Scott Gruby Post author

      Snow, what's that? :-)

      The OS actually knows that it is an SSD; if you go into System Profiler, Serial-ATA, you can see an item "Medium Type: Solid State" so either Apple has started the process of better SSD integration or the OS knows something about SSDs.

      I issued the following command: sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0 to see if it helps. Since I always save my work before the machine sleeps, I really don't need to have the contents of RAM saved out to disk which should also speed up the sleep process.

      I hope with the newer firmware I don't experience the problem you have.

      Reply
  6. Adam

    Scott - Long time no talk. I just purchased the 240GB Mercury Extreme Pro for my 2008 15-inch MacBook Pro. Didn't see your post until now, however! I do enjoy having my apps load instantly. Hope I'll see more performance improvements on a day-to-day basis moving forward.

    Reply
    1. Scott Gruby Post author

      I was expecting my compiles to happen faster! Maybe I just forgot how long they took. This drive should keep me going until the next revision of the MacBook Pro.

      Reply
  7. Andrew Clemmer

    How is you SSD doing? I just installed a OWC SSD in my Mac Pro last week and have had some problems with crashes on wake from sleep. I believe I have the current firmware, 343A13F0. I have tried setting sleep mode to both 0 and 3. Any suggestions or feedback. Thanks,

    Reply
  8. Brian Lee

    Hmm... I can't say the same for my experience. I upgraded my 13inch MBP to a 240GIG OWC SSD, and my optical drive bay to a 60 GIG OWC SSD. I gotta say it's a HUGE improvement over the 5400RPM factory drive it's NIGHT and DAY when you're booting up and launching applications.

    I have 8GB of Ram in my MBP and I can run 2 VM's at the same time Windows Vista and Windows 7. All the Adobe apps take seconds to launch, web surfing is faster because read/writes are near instant. Also the battery lasts alot longer just from personal usage.

    The OWC drives are well worth the upgrade, if you have issues with wake/sleep like I did run this "sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0" in your terminal. That's what the OWC guys told me to do, seems to be working fine.

    I have had some trouble with the "Data doubler" product that they sell it's the drive bay to hard drive conversion kit. Sometimes my second optical drive when the machine is put to sleep dismounts and I can't get it back until I reboot.

    Reply
  9. Ben McMurry

    I'm really thinking about upgrading to the owc ssd. I know this was posted a while ago. How are things going now? Did you upgrade to the new MBP and get ssd instead of the hdd?

    Reply
    1. Scott Gruby Post author

      I did get a new MBP with an SSD. The OWC drive was a stop gap measure until I got my machine. If you're not going to get a new machine, the SSD upgrade is well worth the money.

      Reply

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