In preparation for our official OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G SSD introduction next week, our team has been focused of all aspects of performance of it and including (of course) that offered by the Apple MacBook Pro 2011 laptops, Apple’s first computers with a SATA 3.0 (6.0Gb/s) drive port. For over a month, we’ve been following reports from some MacBook Pro 2011 model users – almost exclusively those with 17″ models, where issues with other brand 6Gb/s SSDs have been encountered. The main issue reported was that the drive simply wasn’t being seen/working.
OWC makes it a point to have our lab equipped with all model/processor variations of each new generation system so full compatibility and performance testing can be performed. While we did not encounter any issues of non-function with our new Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G SSDs, we did see unexpected results when the drive was installed in the 17″ model. Essentially, the performance was not as high or as consistent as the same drive tested in same speed (2.2GHz and 2.3GHz i7) 15″ or even any of the 13″ 2011 model versions.
When we sent Lloyd Chambers of Mac Performance Guide a sneak-preview of our new SATA 3.0 (6Gb/s) drive, he popped it into his test machine and his results in the 17″ mirrored our own. Lloyd’s initial testing showed the same kind of performance and inconsistencies that were able to replicate here. Further, prior to testing our new 6G SSD, he reported that an Intel 510 6G SSD didn’t show up in his 17″ at all. Rob-ART from BareFeats had a similar experience in his MacBook Pro 17″, yet got the expected high performance results in his 13″ 2011 model, which was in line with all of our lab testing here.
OWC’s conclusion: It is not a drive related problem; it appears to be an internal issue in the MacBook Pros in question. Our own testing has only seen issue with the 2011 17″ MacBook Pros; the 15″ and 13″ models haven’t shown any performance drops or sporadic drive recognition. Confirmed end-user reports with other brand 6.0Gb/s SSDs also appear confined to the 2011 17″ model. When Rob-ART put the same drive that wouldn’t show in his 17″ 2001 MacBook Pro in his 13″ 2011 MacBook Pro, it showed up with no problems, and recorded industry-leading results.
Checking around, some users found that swapping the SATA cable resolved the issue, while others found replacing the cable offered no improvement. An additional data point we have, however, was the difference in performance between the MacBook Pro 15″ and 17″ models. Seeing the 17″ perform poorly compared to the same processor-equipped 15″ versions really drove research as to why this could be and that it was likely that even the ‘working cables’ weren’t providing the full performance they should… so why was Apple’s 6.0Gb/s implementation on the 17″ version not performing as well as on the 15″ and 13″ models?
We looked into the matter thoroughly and are excited to announce that we’ve found a solution.
As it turns out, the cause of the problem seems to be interference possibly related to the battery indicator cable on the 17″ models. With the 13″ and the 15″ models, this cable runs nowhere near the SATA cable, so it doesn’t cause any problems. In the 17″ model, however, the indicator cable runs right next to the SATA cable at one point. We can not say for sure whether removing this cable would solve the problem, but simply disconnecting it from the logicboard did provide a slight, but very measurable, improvement. How signals bounce around inside a device casing can definitely be impacted by how wires are configured, even when just passively present and unpowered. It could be coincidental to a different cause and/or be just a contributor to the issue – but regardless, these issues have been repeatable and documentable in the 17″ 2011 and not so in the 15″ or 13″… And only the 17″ has the battery indicator panel/cable/and connector placed in this proximity to the SATA drive connector cable.
Fortunately, the fix is extremely simple, and it doesn’t involve unplugging anything. Simply shielding the SATA cable protects it from interference and lets you maintain full SATA 3.0 (6.0gb/s) performance. Our OWC Shielding Kit, which will begin shipping early next week, can be ordered now for $9.99. This is far less than the cost of a replacement SATA cable which doesn’t seem to address the actual problem in the first place. Perhaps Apple will implement a change in future production, but our solution will solve the issue in current models.
For MacBook Pro 2011 owners who are ordering one of our new OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G SSDs, we’ll be offering the OWC Shielding Kit at a discounted cost of only $2.99. That way, you can be sure your new Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G SSD will be working to its best capacity.
Note 1: 2011 MacBook Pro 17″ issues, as per our internal testing and available confirmed ‘field’ reports, involve higher performance SATA 3.0 (6.0Gb/s) Solid State Drives. There is no indication of issues being experienced with standard hard drives or even with Solid State Drives of SATA 2.0 (3.0Gb/s) implementation such as our OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro SSD models. While you may still consider purchasing the shielding kit, it does not appear to be necessary unless you are upgrading to a high performance SATA 3.0 (6.0Gb/s) Solid State Drive.
Note 2: There has been some confusion related to SATA version nomenclature. The official terms are: SATA 1.0, which supports up to 150MB/s performance (1.5Gb/s); SATA 2.0, which supports up to 300MB/s (3.0Gb/s); and SATA 3.0 which provides up to 600MB/s (6.0Gb/s). Some naming conventions in use out there, which are not correct, would include referencing SATA 2.0 as SATA II or SATA 3.0G; or SATA 3.0 as SATA III or SATA 6.0G.
While our OWC Shielding Kit has provided a solution to the 2011 MBP 17″ not recognizing a 6Gb/s drive and/or showing reduced performance results, it appears the overall results may vary for some – depending on the type of issue and degree of issue.
Our team is hard at work to reach a further understanding of the matter. Currently we can share the following experiences:
In certain 17″ machines, there may be other factors involved that shielding doesn’t fully resolve.
In two recently acquired factory stock 17″ MBPs with the factory stock cable, no additional shielding was required to be installed to obtain optimal results – those comparable to the 15” results – and we further confirmed no benefit was obtained when additional shielding was added.
The Apple cable (p/n 821-1200-A) is the same in these recently acquired MacBook Pro 17” models as the prior units in testing that needed our shielding solution to deliver expected performance results.
However, when we moved that same cable to another 17″ MBP experiencing drive recognition or reduced drive speed performance, the problem(s) remained. Applying our Shielding Kit did have a positive impact, however, with this cable in that same system.
In a more extreme case where no 6Gb/s SATA 3.0 SSD was being recognized properly at all, the OWC Shielding Kit did solve that recognition issue, but performance remained well below expected. This was the case with both the candidate’s original stock cable as well as one we provided that was shielded here and tested to deliver full performance in one of our own 17” units.
The bottom line here is…
1. With the variety of factors present, we cannot guarantee our Shielding Kit will completely resolve your particular circumstances.
2. In most cases where the 6Gb/s SSD is recognized, but not providing expected data rates – applying the OWC Shielding Kit to the SATA connector cable has shown a good probability to restore expected performance level stability.
3. Whether the OWC Shielding Kit corrects your issue or not, there may be some other underlying hardware issue related to the MacBook Pro 17” 2011 models and 6Gb/s SATA 3.0 SSDs yet to be fully determined and understood. Depending on the variance in the factory stock 17” SATA cable, it would appear that even if a replacement cable alone solves part of the problem – it’s not likely to be the entire solution as evidenced by our example of the standard factory cable operating with no issue in one 17” and with issue in another.
Stay tuned here to this post as additional updates will be posted as we complete our investigation…especially since we are sharing this information with parties of interest.
As it turns out, in the cases where our shielding kit did not resolve the matter, the SATA controller itself may be the cause. When diglloyd continued to have problems with SATA 3.0 SSDs in his 17″ MacBook Pro, even after installing the shielding, he contacted Apple and they had him send the ‘Book back—along with the OWC SSD—“for testing.”
Once he got his replacement MBP back, it seems everything is working as expected.
So… if your 2011 MacBook Pro’s SATA 3.0 speeds and behavior aren’t what they should be when using a 6Gb/s SSD in the main drive bay, perhaps you may have to take advantage of Apple’s warranty service.
We are not seeing any difference or effect on the 6G SSD performance and/or recognition random issue reported on the 17” MacBook Pro after applying the latest EFI update. However, we do have more reports of customers who have gotten a replacement machine from Apple that does solve any issues.
The Story Continues… MacBook Pro 2011 Models and SATA 3.0 (6.0Gb/s) – Update – 5/27/2011
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.