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Join Date: Jan 2005
2007-04-03, 02:44

For a while I've been struggling to contain all my data in my MacBookPro - external drives were proving a pain to use (I spend a lot of time working on trains and planes) and I rarely need a DVD drive. Finally I took the plunge in January and ordered an MCE OptiBay 160GB replacement HDD and a portable external DVD.

The parcel arrived in the UK 3 days after I ordered it, and was very well packaged indeed. What do you get for your money?
- a 160GB Hitachi HDD mounted on a plastic caddy
- a screwdriver and allen keys
- printed instructions, which are specific for each size of PowerBook/MacBookPro.

In addition, there's the external DVD. The slot-loading drive is mounted in a very nicely machined aluminium case that has an industrial feel to it. It has a a special USB cable, since it requires both USB ports to power it (or the included power supply). One of the ports has a 'USB through' connector so that you can still hook up to other devices.

So far, so good. However, the HDD unit I was sent seemed to be very poorly made, there was plastic swarf all over it and the solder job looked like a Friday afternoon special. Nevertheless, I earthed myself and waded into the instructions.

However, it pretty soon became obvious that the packaged screwdriver was not up to the job (I successfully stripped the head off one screw, and it wouldn't engage with another), so I switched to a high quality set of engineers screwdrivers. The job involves removing about a dozen screws and lifting off the keyboard. Disconnecting the superdrive was simple enough, although one of the screws simply refused to give, so I had to leave part of the mounting in place. Once out, the superdrive connector is fitted to the HDD and the whole lot drops into place very easily. Then it's just a case of putting back together. I used threadlock to ensure that the screws stayed put.

Whilst the instructions were clear and simple to follow. It's not complex, and anyone with a modicum of common sense could do it. That said, I still broke a sweat in the process - open MacBook surgery isn't for the faint hearted! The disconnection of the superdrive is probably the riskiest piece of work, since one slip would damage the motherboard.

Then my problems began. The MBP simply wouldn't recognise the HDD, couldn't initialise it, and no amount of hacking around with disk tools would help. So, I took it apart again and refitted the unit - three times. In each case, it wouldn't work. Finally I refitted the superdrive and gave in.

I contacted MCE, and this is where things went wrong. The email technical support was sporadic, terse, and not very helpful. It included classic lines such as "This is your RMA# 12395. Thank you" and "I understand". Only when I lost my temper did they respond properly, and sort the returns number, although to be fair they offered me a full refund if I returned the package. Not much use, seeing as I'd already voided the warranty on my MBP.

MCE provided a FedEx return number, but FedEx wouldn't recognise it here in the UK so I returned the drive via registered post, and surprise, surprise it never arrived. We then enter into a month of messing about courtesy of MCE's accounts department, but I guess that's not relevant to the story. The outcome was, I was finally in receipt of a brand new HDD.

This second unit was a much, much higher quality piece of kit. The moulding and solder finish were impeccable and made me realise what a duff unit the first drive had been. I fitted it as before, and the MBP recognised it immediately. Format took a minute or so, and I now have a second drive with 148.73GB of usable space

In operation, the MBP runs at the same temperature as before; the fans run at the same speed; and the battery lasts just as long. I'm delighted with the finished result. The external DVD works well, although I'm having difficulty making it work with iDVD, but I'm sure that's a configuration issue rather than a problem with the kit.

My conclusion: if you need more HDD space, and don't make much use of the superdrive, then this is a brilliant solution. Use a decent set of drivers to fit the HDD, and have some threadlock to hand for closing up again. And try not to do anything that requires tech support from MCE, since that's not going to be so much fun.