The MacBook Air has been my favorite computer since its “rebirth” back in 2010. At that time Apple replaced the internal mechanical hard drive with an SSD making it one of the fastest laptops on the market. These models and the 2011 ones topped out at 256GB but most folks like myself bought the 64 or 128 GB versions as they were the more affordable models.
Of course many folks including myself soon realized that 64GB or 128GB is definitely not enough storage capacity. For those who want to run Parallels or Fusion that will eat a fair percentage of ones storage on a 128 GB model.
Back when these machines were first released upgrading to the larger capacity SSD via Apple added some significant cost to the machine. For those regretting not getting a larger capacity drive cry no more.
OWC the company known for their Mac upgrades have released the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G Solid State Drive and Envoy Storage Solution. This bundle includes a faster SSD drive than the native MacBook Air models while providing an enclosure for the original Apple SSD. If you can use a screwdriver, then your can swap out your original SSD for the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD. These drives are designed for MacBook Air 2011 editions and come in 120GB, 180GB, 240GB or 480GB models.
Besides increasing the capacity of your MacBook Air these drives are also faster than the factory installed SSDs. The OWC Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G Sandforce enabled with firmware level garbage collection meaning the SSD’s performance should not degrade over time.
The Mercury Aura Envoy arrives in a black cardboard package with the device visualized on the top indicating it works with either Mac or PC and uses the USB 3.0 standard. On the front side of the package is an actual size image of the external enclosure with additional images on the left and right side. The bottom of the package lists features, system requirements, and specifications along with package contents.
Opening the box we find the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD, the Envoy SSD enclosure, a USB 3.0 cable, Torx screwdriver, a Pentalobe screwdriver and a small Phillips screwdriver along with two adhesive rubber pads, velvet carrying case and owners manual/assembly guide. The SSD comes packaged in an antistatic bag nestled in a plastic clamshell packaging commonly found with computer memory sticks.
OWC offers the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD in 120GB, 180GB, 240GB or 480GB capacities. For today’s review we are looking at the 256 GB model.
The Envoy SSD enclosure is composed of aluminum and has a same tapering incline as the MacBook Air. At quick glance one could mistake it like an external battery more than a storage solution.
On the left side we see the USB 3.0 connector with an LED found on the top. Flipping over the enclosure on the bottom are two screws. Inside the Envoy is a circuit board for connecting the original Apple SSD.
While the 2012 MacBook Airs feature USB 3.0 ports, the 2011 version sadly do not; meaning you will be relegated to USB 2.0 speeds with your old SSD housed in the Envoy enclosure.
To copy your original drive boot from the USB connected Envoy while holding the Option key down. From the drive selction screen choose your original hard drive and hit Enter. You will boot into OS X with the newly installed Aura SSD appearing as an uninitialized drive. Choose the initialize option that opens the Disk Utility application. From here format the drive using Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the file system. Once formatted the drive capacity is 239 GB.
Now start the long cloning process and grab yourself a coffee and your iPad. My 128GB drive took an hour to copy over via the USB connection. Too bad the 2011 MacBook Airs do not have a USB 3.0 port, which would make this process much faster.
So how does the Mercury Aura Pro Express SSD compare to the Samsung SSD 128 GB SSD? My boot time to desktop from pressing the power button dropped from 26 to 21 seconds while the time to my fully functional active desktop went from 38 to 31 seconds.
Using XBench to test the drive speeds the Sequential Reads went from 189.43 MB/s to 297.80 MB/s while Sequential Writes went from 228.19 MB/s to 345.57 Mb/s.
The BlackMagic Disk Speed Test found on the Apple app store produced writes of 245.4 MB/s vs.261.4 MB/s and reads of 263.3 MB/s vs. 468.4 MB/s.
In real world testing a 733.7 MB .avi file took 6.3 sec on the stock SSD and 4.7 sec via the OWC SSD. Moving a larger 2.97 GB iPhoto Library took 63.6 sec versus 25.5 sec on the Mercury Aura Express.
Overall the speed improvements of the OWC SSD were noticeable in both real world use and via benchmarks. While the native MacBook Air is fast, adding the Mercury Aura Pro Express SSD is like turbo charging it.
If you own one of the more recent 2011 MacBook Air models and are finding that your storage capacity is lacking or your machine is not fast enough then OWC’s Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G Solid State Drive and Envoy Storage Solution is what the doctor ordered. Swapping out the original SSD for this new one is a simple as using a screwdriver and replacing a memory stick.
The included Envoy SSD enclosure allows the factory SSD to be reused as an external drive utilizing the faster USB 3.0 port providing additional storage capacity for your Apple machine. While the 2011 MacBook Airs lack this faster USB connection it is backwards compatible with USB 2.0 connections.
Probably the biggest reason why some may balk at picking up the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G Solid State Drive and Envoy Storage Solution is its price. The 240 GB cost a penny under $350 while the 480 GB capacity model comes in at ¾ the price of an entry level MacBook Air making it an expensive proposition. However when comparing the upgrade prices when customizing the MacBook Air these prices are not too out of line.
Overall I am happy with the speed improvements and the increased capacity on my MacBook Air using the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G Solid State Drive and Envoy Storage Solution. For those who regret getting their MacBook Air with a smaller capacity SSD, this kit is a perfect way to remedy that sorrow.
+Increases speed of an already zippy MacBook Air
+Provides larger storage capacity
+Allows the reuse of the factory installed SSD as a USB 3.0 enclosure
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