Review: OWC’s Aura PCIe flash storage lets you upgrade the storage capacity of your Mid-2013 and later MacBook [U: Now works with Boot Camp]

Aura

As an owner of a Late 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina Display, it’s slowly beginning to show its age. However, I find that this machine, an i7-powered rig with 16GB of RAM, is still plenty powerful for the applications that I run on a day-to-day basis. For example, with Final Cut Pro X, it’s not the fastest machine in the world (it lacks dedicated graphics), but it’s still plenty competent when it comes to editing and exporting 4K videos.

The biggest bottleneck that I’ve encountered with this computer is its storage capabilities, and that’s something I’ve been trying to deal with since the day I purchased it. With only 256 GB of flash storage, space has been hard to come by since day one. That wouldn’t be so bad if there was a way to upgrade the amount of internal storage, but sadly there has been no upgrade solution…until now.

Back in early March, OWC made a splash by announcing the very first flash storage upgrade solution the MacBook Pro as far back as the Late-2013 product cycle, and the MacBook Air, as far back as the Mid-2013 product cycle. Yes, finally! MacBook Pro and MacBook Air owners with qualifying machines can come out of the storage dark ages with OWC’s new Aura PCIe flash storage upgrade.

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Eligible models

  • MacBook Pro 15″ with Retina display (Late 2013, Mid 2014, Mid 2015)
  • MacBook Pro 13″ with Retina display (Late 2013, Mid 2014, Early 2015)
  • MacBook Air 13″ (Mid 2013, Early 2014, Early 2015)
  • MacBook Air 11″ (Mid 2013, Early 2014, Early 2015)

Backup first

The first thing that you should do prior to upgrading your MacBook is to backup all of your files. You can do this by using Time Machine or an external drive. If you opted for OWC’s SSD Upgrade Kit, you get an Envoy Pro drive enclosure, which lets you repurpose the stock SSD that’s removed from your MacBook upon upgrade, and all the tools (screwdrivers) needed to complete the job.

Keep in mind that only the stock SSD that you remove from your Mac works with the Envoy Pro. Placing the Aura inside of the Envoy Pro may damage both the drive and the enclosure.

When using the Envoy Pro, you can simply move your data back over to your new flash drive once the upgrade is completed. The point is, there are many ways to backup and recover your data, you just have to choose the solution that you’re most comfortable using.

Video walkthrough

All tools included

Pentalobe Aura

When you buy the Upgrade Kit, OWC ensures that all of the tools necessary to perform the upgrade are bundled with the Aura PCIe flash storage unit. The package includes two types of Torx screwdrivers, the Aura flash storage unit, and the Envoy Pro needed to repurpose the old stock SSD. If you opt for the drive-only, you can purchase the tools separately for only $5.00.

Performing the upgrade

The actual upgrade process couldn’t have been easier. This is helped by OWC’s handy step-by-step videos, which guide you through the entire install process. When it was all said and done, I had my new SSD installed in less than 15 minutes.

Aura Unscrew MacBook

The hardest part of the whole installation was removing the bottom cover of the MacBook Pro. Some of the cover’s 10 pentalobe screws were a little tight. Be sure to apply enough downward pressure on the screws as you turn the screwdriver to make sure you don’t strip the screws. Also, the two screws nearest the hinge are shorter than the other eight screws, so be sure to keep those separate from the rest as you remove them.

Aura Disconnect Battery

Other than that, the upgrade was a cinch. Once the bottom cover was removed, I disconnected the battery connector, unscrewed the single screw for the stock SSD, and removed the stock SSD. After removing the sticker from the Aura’s thermal pad, I installed the new SSD, screwed it back down, connected the battery, and replaced the back cover. That’s it.

Remove stock SSD MacBook

After installation, it was then just a matter of using my handy OS X El Capitan USB startup disk to install OS X. If you don’t have a USB startup disk, you can always go the Internet Recovery route by holding ⌘+R on boot.

Installing Aura MacBook

Repurposing the stock drive

If you opted for the SSD Upgrade package, you’ll also receive an Envoy Pro drive enclosure. This drive enclosure allows you to repurpose the stock SSD that you removed from your MacBook upon upgrade.

Envoy Pro

I like the idea of getting the SSD Upgrade package, because it makes it easy to ensure that all of your data from you Mac is backed up, and it means that you can still use the drive that you removed from your Mac.

Installation of the stock drive into the Envoy Pro, like the primary installation, was extremely easy. It was just a matter of sliding the old SSD into the slot inside of the Envoy Pro, and screwing on the cover.

Envoy Pro Install

The Envoy Pro ships with a USB cable, and features the high transfer speeds afforded by USB 3. That means that not only is it a fast drive in a general sense, but it makes it easy to transfer your original data back to your Mac if you desire to do so.

Performance

After running an extended benchmark using QuickBench, I found the Aura SSD to be similar to my stock 256GB drive for read speeds, but there was a noticeable difference when it came to write speeds:

 

Read Speeds

Write Speeds

As you can see, the Aura 480GB PCIe flash drive was slower when it came to write speeds using the extended test in QuickBench. Keep in mind that the newer your Mac, the bigger the performance difference you will encounter, as Apple has made its flash storage faster in later Macs.

If you have an older Mac, then I don’t think the performance hit is that huge of a loss in a tradeoff for more storage. I haven’t fully used the Aura SSD with my video editing workflow yet, but in my short time with the drive, I didn’t encounter any noticeable bottlenecks.

Boot Camp

Note: OWC’s Aura now supports Boot Camp. See note at the bottom of this post.

OWC’s Aura drives do not support Boot Camp, so those of you who rely on Boot Camp won’t be able to utilize these drives. If you wish to use Windows on the Aura SSD, it requires direct installation of Windows to the drive. That will be an obvious deal-breaker for those who require Boot Camp support, but it’s a side effect of using this third-party flash storage upgrade solution.

Final thoughts

At $347.99 for 480 GB of storage, and $597.99 for 1TB, the Aura isn’t cheap. But keep in mind the amount of R&D that OWC has no doubt poured into this project. This is the only third-party flash storage upgrade solution for these Macs for a reason — it obviously wasn’t an easy (or cheap) feat to pull off.

In this day and age, you can still get the latest 13″ MacBook Pro with 128GB of storage. To go from 128GB of storage to 1TB, it comes at a $1000 premium. Granted, you do get other upgraded specs for that price, but that’s the only path to gain 1TB of storage in a brand new 13″ MacBook. With that in mind, the $347.99 and $597.99 price points from OWC don’t seem as bad. Keep in mind that the Upgrade Kit, which includes the Envoy Pro, adds about an additional $50 to the cost.

MacBook Pro with Aura Drive

Performance, especially if you have a later model MacBook, may be more of an issue. Earlier MacBooks from 2013 are more on par with the read and write speeds that you can expect from the Aura, but late model Macs feature significantly faster transfer speeds.

Boot Camp support, or the lack thereof, is a showstopper for anyone who absolutely needs to use Boot Camp on their MacBook. Users needing Windows will have to rely on a virtual machine solution, or directly install Windows as the only OS.

As far as ease of use goes, this installation couldn’t have been easier. Most users could probably figure out the install without needing any instructions, but for those who do, OWC has produced a high-quality video tutorial that walks you through the process from beginning to end.

Yes, it’s pricey, and yes the read and write performance doesn’t quite match Apple’s stock offerings, but OWC’s Aura can breath new life into a MacBook that’s struggling with its limited storage capacity.

Aura SSD upgrades start at $347.99 for the 480GB upgrade without enclosure, and $399.00 with the enclosure. 1TB models go for $597.99 without enclosure and $649.00 with the enclosure. You can buy an Aura PCIe-based flash storage upgrade via OWC’s website. All Aura drives come with free shipping, a 3-year warranty, and a 30-day money back guarantee.

Update: Windows users rejoice. OWC’s Aura now works with Boot Camp via a Boot Camp enabler utility that was released a few weeks after the Aura debuted. Now you can enjoy the extra capacity of an Aura SSD without sacrificing the ability to use Boot Camp.

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Comments

  1. applegetridofsimandjack - 7 years ago

    Very helpful article bro!!!

    I have 128GB on my Macbook Air because I refuse to give Apple a year’s salary for a simple storage upgrade which costs them as much as a croissant.
    Ok maybe not the price of a croissant, a baguette maybe…

    • srgmac - 7 years ago

      Aren’t their storage prices ridiculous? The iOS range is even worse.
      And they buy that shit in bulk straight from the OEM.
      You can bet they are making assloads upon assloads of money just off of SSDs alone.

      • applegetridofsimandjack - 7 years ago

        Absolutely! And that is why I always take the lowest storage option I can get. My 17inch Macbook Pro which I bought in 2011, had 4GB of ram and a 750GB HDD 5400rpm when I bought it.
        6-7 months later I decided to call Apple to aks how much a RAM-upgrade to 16GB would cost. Fasten your seat belts! 600€! I laughed on the phone and said ‘no thank you’
        I bought the ram online, installed it myself. Total cost? 110€.

        Same with my SSD. Bought a 512GB SSD in 2014 for 300€. Apple asked 680€ for installing me a 512GB SSD.

        Pure theft I call this, I almost called the cops when they told me it costs 600€ to upgrade from 4GB to 16GB.

    • Edgar Barrios (@canelo8) - 7 years ago

      wait a year’s salary ? where do you work at ? you should contact someone that could get something for slavery.

    • Paresh Murali - 5 years ago

      slightly off topic here. Is your 2011 17inch macbook pro still working?

  2. Interesting article. I have a question and a comment.

    As a owner of the same laptop (16 gigs, i7, everything), I’m curious; how is your computer showing it’s age? This computer still feels brand-new, and I really can’t imagine much (besides storage space) that could make this computer feel any faster. Maybe that’s your point. But showing its age? I politely disagree.

    The comment – The Performance chart is messed up. Your upper bound is 1000MBs but 452MBs, the speed the OWC drive clocked in at, is more than 75% of the way there.

    • Jeff Benjamin - 7 years ago

      By showing its age, I mean both physically, and performance wise. Physically, it’s just old. Some of the keys etchings are actually wearing off; the screen has the stain-gate issue, etc.

      Performance wise, it is showing its age when it comes to raw PCIe performance. New MacBooks feel faster (though again, that’s probably just me since I deal with high-bandwidth applications on a regular basis).

      Some applications, like Motion and After Effects, show the age of the MBP as well. Granted, this MacBook only has Iris Pro integrated graphics, but graphically speaking it’s starting to feel slow to me.

      That said, I’m still really happy with this MacBook. Otherwise, I would have moved on a long time ago. I’ve never had a computer for this long, so that says something for sure.

      Feel free to rebut any of what I’ve said here. Makes for interesting conversation.

      BTW, the graph thing was my bad.

      • srgmac - 7 years ago

        IRIS and IRIS Pro were always crappy :)
        It’s a shame that anyone can sell “Pro” laptops without some kind of dedicated graphics solution.

      • Jeff Benjamin - 7 years ago

        I thought Iris Pro was pretty solid. I specifically avoided a dGPU due to heat issues I’ve experienced in the past. Plus, better battery life.

  3. applegetridofsimandjack - 7 years ago

    If you take the 256GB Macbook Air and check the option to upgrade to 512GB, the upgrade costs you 300$, resulting in a 0,85$/GB upgrade price.
    Aura SSD costs 0,73$/GB or 1,17$/GB if you take the 480GB option.
    So while the Aura 480GB SSD costs 347,99$, an Apple SSD of 480GB would cost 562$. Hefty.
    If you take the Macbook Pro, the 1TB SSD upgrade from the 512GB comes in at 0,98$/GB or an exact 1000$ for the 1TB SSD, 351$ more than the Aura one.

    And keep in mind if you do the upgrade on your own instead of doing it when you purchase the Mac, you get to keep your SSD, so it’s extra interesting to upgrade the storage yourself. I guess you could sell the 128GB SSD for 50$ or even more, or like Jeff says, repurpose it.

  4. Manuel José Carvajal - 7 years ago

    I have a late 2013 15″ retina MBP with a 1TB SSD drive and it’s almost full, can I go above 1TB of storage in this machine, and if so, how?

  5. beyondthetech - 7 years ago

    This does not support Boot Camp at all, or cloning a drive that has a Boot Camp partition?

    • Jeff Benjamin - 7 years ago

      It doesn’t support bootcamp at all.

      • applegetridofsimandjack - 7 years ago

        Who still uses Bootcamp really? I had it on my 17Inch Macbook Pro but I gave it the boot when driver issues started piling up. Issues like brightness buttons not working on windows, the volume buttons not working, keyboard backlight buttons not working,… Just a nightmare. I hate overly bright displays, it really hurts.

  6. srgmac - 7 years ago

    Good article but I think you should clarify that when you’re talking about 4K video editing you mean *compressed* — not uncompressed video.
    I have a late 2012 13″ retina (the very first one) and that’s still my primary machine.

    • Jeff Benjamin - 7 years ago

      I shoot 10-bit ProRes 4:2:2. Yes, it’s not RAW, but that’s certainly not the typical 4K video that you get from an iPhone, etc.

  7. I was just looking up info on this sort of stuff. I bet these can be used in the MAC MINI (fusion drive caddy). That’s MY interest.

  8. Jonah Connelly - 7 years ago

    Dear God, please clean the dust from that computer.

    • Jeff Benjamin - 7 years ago

      I actually did. I cleaned it a a lot, but I didn’t have any static free wipes to finish the job. You should have seen how it looked before I cleaned it. It was filled with dust.

  9. Doug Aalseth - 7 years ago

    I went to OWC and got a 1TB drive and a kit to replace the DVR with my stock drive. I use the 1 TB as my primary and the 512GB for Time Machine backups. (And before you say anything I have two levels of backups external to the laptop as well.)
    I just hope this years MacBook Pro lets you update the drive..

  10. bradmacpro - 7 years ago

    I’ve heard of negative experiences with OWC blade style PCIe SSDs and their Sandforce based SATA 2.5″ form factor SSDs are slower than popular competition like Samsung EVO and Pro, which have longer warranty and lower prices to boot, no pun intended.

  11. When you go to “about this mac” does it show the macbook as an upgraded hard drive storage or dose it remain as “Late 2013 (original ssd storage)”?

  12. proudinfidelusmc - 7 years ago

    I’m still not sold on USB3.0 for video editing/transferring. In film school, we stuck to FW800. A lot more reliable than some of the guys that didn’t have Macs or FW drives. They always had problems with dropped frames and whatnot. I wish the external enclosure was Thunderbolt.

  13. taragee (@taragee) - 7 years ago

    i just did this!!! was super easy took 15 mins! OWC support was phenomenal

  14. livejox - 7 years ago

    RAID 0? That means if one of the two disk fails, all is lost!!!

  15. Dylan Thabest - 7 years ago

    Anyone know where I can get a similar thing for my Early 2014 Macbook Air , I do not need 480 GBs Im fine with 256 or 200 GBs but I need a better price is the Transcend JetDrive SSD compatible ?

  16. Ryan Coleman - 7 years ago

    I did this exact upgrade on Friday on my Mid-2014 from work – it was great, easy and REALLY dusty in there… :)

  17. I’m install OWC SSD in Macbook air – mid 2013.
    benchmark result write / read = about 382/326 MBs. <== it's true or fail?

  18. I’m install in Macbook Air MID 2013.
    Why,I’m benchmark OWC SSD by “Blackmagic speed test” result = Write/Read 386/362 MB/s !!! OMG..!!!???

  19. Richard McGeorge - 7 years ago

    Has anyone noticed a drop in battery life since installing this drive? I figure with the extra heat generated it must be using up more battery power to generate the heat.

  20. Hey Jeff.. how do you compare this to the 960gb transcend drive for the 2012 15″ retina . They seem to have functionality with bootcamp I read. And maybe the OWC also has some upgraded drive for bootcamp functionality?

  21. Jeff Benjamin - 7 years ago

    FYI, these drives now support Boot Camp.

  22. Tony Alameda - 6 years ago

    I’d like to do this on my Early 2014 MBA, but I’ve read that the Aura drives get really hot.

    Anyone experience that? Is this a fan issue like in some iMac OWC internal drive updates?

    • Richard McGeorge - 6 years ago

      I have got one and it does get noticeably hot. The battery also took a 40% hit on longevity. Apart from that it’s been great having lots of space and a working macbook for way less than the repair centre wanted to charge me. I get 4 – 5 hours of usage out of the battery at the moment where I was getting 9 – 10 hours.

  23. Alex Cooper - 6 years ago

    Are the SSDs between the Late 2013 13″ MBP (A1502) and the Early 2014 13″ MBA (A1466) swappable?

  24. XB Jiaqiang - 6 years ago

    Bought 1TB OWC for MacBook Pro with Retina 13″ & 15″ Late 2013 – Current. First day working fine, next day died (1 day life span). Generate more heat original stock ssd, Does not fit neatly into your macbook pro since the OWC ssd is thicker than the original ssd, you get a slight bludge at the bottom of your macbook pro. Returning for refund.

  25. Pinoy Uzie - 6 years ago

    Hey great videos.. I’m a subscriber in Youtube. Just wondering of you have heard about the MCE Technologies 1TB PCIe for MacBook Air and Pro that happens to be a full 4 lane PCIE that delivers double the speed of its OCW counterpart… based on what I read it is detected as an internal drive not as an external drive with support for TRIM, SMART & Boot Camp I was searching for a review but I guess no one has considered making one for this specific topic… Hmmm… this sounds like a very nice smackdown review.. :)

  26. clintolsen - 6 years ago

    This drive is a downgrade for anyone with a Macbook Pro 2015.

  27. Brook Lynn - 6 years ago

    Apple Certified Tech… Only buy the OWC if you are on a 2013 early or lower. The OWC does not support SMART, or TRIM, or 4 Lane PCIE which is especially integral to late 2015 Macbook Pros. Trust me I bought all drives from OWC, MCE, and Ebay Apple/Samsung and the crappy Ebay “new” drive that had 4TB of Data written to it and had been used for 31 days ( thank you DriveDX) still SMOKED the OWC and MCE. LISTEN CAREFULLY!! If you do NOT!!! Have a Late 2015 Mac or Macbook Pro then …** Sorry you will not have 4 Lane PCIE and in fact you should buy a MCE or OWC PCIE SSD because … you will not experience a drop in performance. So do your homework. If you do buy a drive off Ebay download DriveDX and pay for it because it’s the only software out there that will tell you how long your SSD has been used. Respect.

Author

Avatar for Jeff Benjamin Jeff Benjamin

Jeff produces videos, walkthroughs, how-tos, written tutorials and reviews. He takes pride in being able to explain things in a simple, clear and concise manner.