SSDs for Legacy Macs: 3 Cheers for OWC!

There are a lot of companies offering upgrades for new and recent Macs, but not so many that focus on bringing new products to PowerPC Macs.

But Other World Computing is in a category of its own. Founded in 1988, it sells Sonnet and NewerTech products, as well as a wide range of hard drives, optical drives, expansion cards, memory modules, etc. OWC acquired NewerTech in 2002 and PowerLogix in 2005, keeping their products from disappearing. OWC also has its own house brands of hard drives and WiFi hardware, among other things.

Lately, OWC has become known for its Mercury Extreme Pro line of SSDs, which start at 40 GB and $99, ranging up to 480 GB at $1,580. Its premium RAID-ready SSDs range from $180 for 50 GB to $1,650 for 400 GB. Not only are these among the fastest SSDs available – unlike competing brands, performance does not degrade over time.

Problem is, these are all 2.5″ SATA drives, so they can’t be used to replace the hard drive in your iBook or PowerBook. And to use them in a desktop Mac, other than the Mac mini, you need a drive bay adapter.

SSDs for All!

In a series of announcements this week, OWC has changed all that with a range of new SSDs for IDE/ATA Macs that are “up to 41x faster than today’s traditional hard drives” – no mention of how much faster they are than the years-old hard drives in PowerBooks, iBooks, Power Macs, and iMacs.

PowerBooks and iBooks

The Mercury Legacy Pro makes the same SSD technology used in OWC’s SATA drives available in an IDE/ATA design for use in PowerBooks and iBooks. According to OWC, it’s as easy to install as a traditional hard drive. Sizes range from 40 GB to 240 GB, with prices ranging from $199 for 60 GB (no price yet on the 40 GB SSD) to $580 for 240 GB.

Power Macs and iMacs and eMacs, Oh My!

The Mercury Extreme Pro Legacy Edition adapts OWC’s SSDs for the 3.5″ drive bays found in G3 and G4 Power Macs, iMacs, and eMacs. Prices range from $130 for 40 GB to $1,600 for 480 GB. The biggest drawback we can see with these drives is that lots of legacy G3 and G4 Macs only use 33 MBps to 100 MBps Ultra ATA hardware, and even the fastest are 133 MBps, while these SSDs offer performance up to 285 MBps – over twice what the fastest legacy Ultra ATA bus provides in the last generation G4 Power Macs.

Since Ultra ATA/133 is as fast as parallel ATA gets, it might make more sense to buy a SATA card (150 MBps, and twice that for SATA II) and SATA SSD for a Power Mac. That said, regular PCI tops out at 127 MBps, while fast PCI or 64-bit PCI double that to 254 MBps. A standard PCI slot offers more bandwidth than ATA100, so for most Power Macs it still makes sense.

Pre-2010 MacBook Air

The 2008 and 2009 versions of the MacBook Air were hobbled by slow 1.8″ hard drives or slow (especially by current standards) SSDs. OWC addresses that with the Mercury Aura Pro MBA SSD, available in capacities from 60 GB ($200) to 480 GB (price to be announced).

In a demo video, OWC shows a 1.83 GHz 2009 MacBook Air with the Aura Pro MBA booting in just 14 seconds and booting and then loading a range of Adobe apps in just 20 seconds. By comparison, a 2.13 GHz 2009 MBA with the stock 120 GB Microdrive takes 29 seconds to boot to the desktop and doesn’t finish loading the same set of apps until 50 seconds after pushing the power button. Booting to the Finder was a bit over twice as fast on the slower MBA, while booting and then launching the Adobe apps was 2.5 times as fast.

These drives will give older MBAs a new lease on life. No word yet on their impact on battery life, but that should be better as well.

2010 MacBook Air

Apple’s 2010 update to the MacBook Air moved the line to SSD across the board, and reviews have gushed at how fast these models are despite seemingly low CPU speeds – all because of the fast SSDs. Well, Apple’s SSDs ain’t got nothing on OWC’s new Mercury Aura Pro Express, which come in capacities of 180, 240, and 360 GB (prices are $500, $580, and $1,180 respectively). OWC’s SandForce-based SSDs are 22% faster than the ones Apple uses, and you have capacity options Apple doesn’t offer as well.

We Love OWC!

As a leading proponent of getting all you can from your older Macs, we have been huge fans of OWC for years. I have NewerTech CPU upgrades and miniStack drive enclosures. I’ve ordered new PRAM batteries from OWC. And we’re happy that OWC has been hosting XPostFacto, which helps install Mac OS X on officially unsupported hardware, for years.

If you’re using recent Macs, you’ve got a lot of options for hard drives, SSDs, memory upgrades, and the like, but if you’re using older Intel-based Macs – let alone PowerPC Macs – OWC can be your one-stop shopping source.

On top of helping us keep our old Macs in use and out of landfills, OWC’s headquarters have been LEED Platinum certified, showing that OWC is concerned about the environment as well as Macs.

I’m hoping we’ll be able to review some of these new SSDs along with options for using them efficiently in legacy Macs – PCI controller cards, FireWire/USB docks, etc. – so we can help you decide whether they can boost your productivity. I am very curious how much SSD will benefit my dual-processor G4 Power Macs.

* PCI Power Macs is our label for pre-G3 Power Mac with PCI expansion slots that also accept CPU daughter cards. This category includes the Power Mac 7300, 7500, 7600, 8500, 8600, 9500, and 9600, as well as the Umax SuperMac J700 and 900 and several Power Computing models.

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