Since we first looked at a potential fix for problems with SATA 3.0 operation in the main bay of the 2011 MacBook Pros on April 15, we’ve learned much more.
It’s not so sweet at this point, but I will at least try to keep it as short as possible.
Before going any further, I do want to be clear that, while I believe the issues noted should be and will be resolved, Apple makes no advertisement—in specification or otherwise—that creates any obligation for them to fix the issues noted. Again, I do believe they will… I also believe it is in everyone’s best interest that they do fix it, with respect to the incredible performance that our SSDs unleash in these fantastic MacBook Pro 2011 models. If we’re lucky, it will be a fix handled via some software update; it would seem more likely to require a hardware adjustment, but we’ll see. FWIW, our shielding kit does make a difference for some, but not all, as there is just significant enough variability in the issue which means it ultimately needs to be resolved by Apple themselves.
Ok… To the details…
SATA 3.0 6Gb/s in the Optical Bay?
All of the 13-, 15-, and 17-inch 2011 MacBook Pros we purchased right at release shipped with SATA 3.0 6Gb/s connectivity in the main drive bay and SATA 2.0 3Gb/s connectivity in the optical bay. (Note: For the remainder of this piece – I will refer to the two connections as 6Gb/s and 3Gb/s)
Units we’ve purchased over the past month indicate that Apple seems to be changing over to having 6Gb/s connectivity in both the main drive bay and in the optical bay. That’s good news. I say “seems to,” as we’ve received multiple units with the ‘dual 6Gb/s’ setup, but after getting 17″ MacBook Pros with the dual 6Gb/s setup in multiple deliveries this month, the 17” we received earlier in this week was back to 6Gb/s in the main bay and 3Gb/s in the optical.
Bottom line, it is not a spec Apple includes (what SATA connection will be in each bay) and currently is no correlation we have found to explain why a new unit this week was different than the units received over the past couple. There is no guarantee of a new unit purchased having the 6Gb/s in the optical bay – but I can say that the odds seem fairly favorable based on units we’ve been getting and reports in the field. Also, this is only really important to you if you hope to use a 6Gb/s drive in your optical bay as enabled with our Data Doubler.
Results with SATA 3.0 6Gb/s SSD in the Main Drive Bay
Based on field reports and new units we purchased in May, use of 6Gb/s SSDs in the 17” MacBook Pro is hit or miss. It’s not our SSD (which actually fares better than some others…); it has to do with the ‘luck of the draw’ in terms of the 17” you get. All the recent 17” models we acquired were flops and we’re now waiting for replacements. The first 17” we received in February also had issues, but were resolvable with our shielding kit. Another 17” we purchased in April works as expected with no issues. Field reports also continue to vary. Apple needs to fix this; based on the issue being present in the units we received this week and last, it is not resolved in units shipping today beyond ‘hit or miss’ luck.
There are no issues at all with any of the MacBook Pro 15” and 13” 2011 Models and 6Gb/s SSD use in the main bay—rock solid reliable.
Results with SATA 3.0 6Gb/s in optical bay with an OWC Data Doubler
Apple System Profiler will show you what Link Speed capability are supported up to.
For anyone who has 3Gb/s max supported in the optical bay, the Data Doubler is still a great solution to use any 3Gb/s or 6Gb/s SSD or Hard Drive. The maximum speed will simply be limited to about 300 MB per second, but reliability is 100% in all 13”, 15”, and 17” models for using even the highest performance drive on that 3Gb/s link connection.
For MacBook Pro 13” 2011 model owners who have the dual 6Gb/s connections—score! This model works great with a 6Gb/s SSD in the optical bay. Put two of our 6G SSDs in and set up RAID 0; you can get over 1000MBs per second data rates…sustained! Freaking awesome!
The news is not so good for 15” and 17” models. While the 15” has no problem at all with 6Gb/s in the main drive bay – both the 15” and the 17” are a no-go with all the units we’ve tested here when using 6Gb/s drives in the optical bay. So if you have 6Gb/s link available in your 15” or 17” optical bay, unless this problem is fixed – those with the reliable 3Gb/s optical connectivity are actually better off.
Until/unless Apple corrects this bay issue for 6Gb/s, you are best off using a 3Gbp/s SSDs in that bay. While it’s ok to use a 6Gb/s SSD in a 3Gb/s enabled optical bay (it will work at the 3Gb/s speed just fine); the same drive will want to connect at the 6Gb/s link speed when 6Gb/s is available, and in 15” and 17” models we’ve tested so far, that’s been a no-go.
To this point, we’ve only consistently seen 13” MacBook Pros that, in addition to having the 6Gb/s in the optical bay, have been reliable using 6Gb/s SSD with that port connection.
And since will likely be asked; yes, we did direct-connection testing, Which rules out any possible effect of the Data Doubler with the 15/17” issues. It isn’t the Data Doubler product, which is fully 6Gb/s rated and A-Ok for.
In short – it’s a mixed bag.
- 13” – 100% no issues with 6Gbp/s SSD in any bay that has 6Gbp/s available *
- 15” – 100% no issues with 6Gbp/s SSD in main bay, no-go with 6Gbp/s SSD in optical bay.
- 17” – Hit or Miss for main bay with 6Gbp/s SSD, no-go with 6Gbp/s SSD in optical bay.
Some are suggesting that 10.6.8 might fix these 6Gb/s issues. Maybe there will be an EFI update that will do it (note that the prior update did not). Otherwise, there may very well be a quiet hardware fix that is made. These MacBook Pro models all offer incredible performance capabilities and are further enabled with one of our top-performing OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G SSDs. We’re really looking forward to seeing the issues fully resolved so that 17” 2011 users can confidently move forward with performance boosting SSDs. Hopefully, too, both 15” and 17” 2011 MacBook Pro users can have the same performance opportunity that we’ve now seen out of the 13” MacBook Pro.
The ball is in Apple’s court. Again, they made no promises about 6Gb/s SSD options working at all in these new 2011 models… But it sure is disappointing to be choosing a 15” or 13” model instead of the flagship 17” over the lack of 6Gbp/s reliability. Here’s hoping our next update is coverage of Apple fixing this once and for all.
At this time the OWC Shielding Kit has been discontinued for sale. EFI Firmware Update 2.2 for 2011 MacBook Pro has resolved the issues and this kit is no longer necessary.
MacBook Pro 13″ – 100% no issues with 6Gb/s SSD in main bay and in our testing observed a high rate of success using 6Gb/s SSD’s in the optical bay.