Brain Salad Surgery -- New Drives for Aging TiBooks

by Derrick Story

My timing was a little off when I bought my 667 MHz TiBook a couple years ago. The only optical drive that was offered then was the read-only CD-DVD drive. About two months after I had my PowerBook in hand, Apple started shipping them with the combo drive... at no extra charge. Rats! Previous owners could upgrade, but it would cost $299 US, plus we'd have to send in our notebooks for the installation. I decided to pass.

The 667 is my road warrior. I just love it. I can nurse a full day's work out of the battery (by dimming the screen and limiting network activity), it has a standard VGA port so I don't need an adapter for projectors, and it has enough horse power to handle my digital photography and movie making.

But I've always wanted a burner inside, and after working with the 1 GHz PowerBook that has the Toshiba hard drive, I fantasized about replacing my existing 20 GB IBM drive with the more modern Toshiba model.

I visited a parts supplier that I had heard good things about called Other World Computing. They offered good deals on replacement optical and hard drives for the TiBook. Their Mercury Ti-Combo Drive had good specs (8X CD-R/8X CD-RW/24X CD + 8X DVD) and was available for $199 US (You can get a SuperDrive too, but it's pricey at $399). As for the hard drive, they offered a nice selection including a 40 GB Toshiba spinning at 5400 rpm with a 16 MB buffer for $149 US. My existing IBM drive was definitely slower (4200 rpm) than that.

OWC's web site was easy to navigate and their shopping cart was a breeze. I received the two drives within three days as promised, including a terrific installation manual that was fully illustrated. (Nice touch OWC!) The only thing I had to provide was the Torx T-8 and Phillips head screwdrivers.

Installation took about an hour. I didn't run into any problems at all. I had heard horror stories about replacing the bottom covers on TiBooks, but my old back reattached without a hitch.

After a week of use, I feel like I have a new computer. I still have all the advantages of my old 667, but the new Mercury optical drive is much snappier than my older read-only model, and it's compatible with all of my Apple apps and Toast. Best of all it doesn't "whine" like my old drive when I ask it to accept a CD. It just grabs it and goes to work.

The Toshiba drive is wonderful. It's very fast and quiet. The overall improvement is quite noticeable. The site says up to 12 percent better performance with this drive. I have to tell you; it feels like more. But, I should add that I also rebuilt Mac OS X from scratch, and I'm sure that helps too. Plus now I have a 7 GB partition for testing new OSs without disrupting my daily work.

I think older PowerBooks are terrific machines, especially for the road warrior. These new drives from OWC have brought me and my reliable work companion even closer together.


2003-08-15 10:01:29
Brain Salad Surgery
Great title. It reminded me to listen again to an old ELP album which I had almost forgotten. Christ, what an amazing trio of musicians. Thanks for reminding me. The article was pretty good too, BTW.
2003-08-15 10:29:34
More info
Here is a page with all the drives.

Here is another page with a recent (8/13) technical review of some of them:

Just some thoughts..

I am thinking of a new 17 inch PowerBook. According to their PowerBook 17 inch data sheet, they are using a 4200RPM 60GB drive (TOSMK6021GAS ?). Sounds kinda pokey..?

Rumor is they will be coming out with Rev B of the PowerBook line next week. It would be awesome if they would let you choose for yourself which of the 2.5 drives (shown in the review and at the OWC link).

Perhaps I want the 80GB, 4200RPM (I could hold my entire (legal) 43GB MP3 collection at the price of speed). Perhaps I want the 60GB, 7200RPM (and am willing to pay extra for it). I hope Apple gives me a choice this time around (you have no hard drive choices at the current Apple Store online page).

2003-08-15 10:54:57
More info
Good info and good links. And yes, you're right (implied), hard drives are an important part of your PowerBook's ecosystem.
2003-08-15 10:58:37
Re: Brain Salad Surgery
OK, I can't resist the digression...

About 6 months ago I got this itch to listen to ELP, especially the Brain Salad Surgery album. While I was on the road I found a little used CD shop, and sure shootin', they had it for 7 bucks. The disc was in great shape. I ripped it and have played it much louder than I should have, more times than I care to admit.

2003-08-15 11:27:28
I have been thinking about exactly the same surgery myself, but mine is a TiBook 400
I have done it, mainly because I am considering trading it up to a 12" PB (when Apple update the CPU, may be graphic card) and I couldn't get a clear answer about Apple Care from Apple! I got my very first generation TiBook (Can't believe it is kind of became obsolete!) it still has a few more months of Apple Care, I tried to check with Apple if I swap out these drives, would it void Apple Care ... I got confusing answers from Apple, one said such surgery will only void the warranty to the drives; one said it will void warranty to the whole PB; one said that if anything happens after the swap, I won't be able prove I didn't damage the rest of the 'book, it will practically void the warranty period!

So if I don't trade up for a new PowerBook, I may wait till Apple Care runs out in Feburary! Now, if I can get Apple to replace my faulty monitor before Feb!

2003-08-15 11:36:21
RE: the same surgery myself, but mine is a TiBook 400
Maybe you could ask the AppleCare rep is you can do this under the Customer-Installable Parts program. I don't think it will void your warranty, but you might have to order the parts directly from Apple, which will limit your options. It might be worth an inquiry...
2003-08-15 15:22:38
Warranty and Engineering Issues
If you install a drive which takes more juice to run than the factory installed one I would expect it to void your warranty.

If you install a drive which runs hotter than the factory installed one I would expect it to void your warranty.

Heck.. opening the back of the unit probably voids your warranty.

What is Apple's history on this kind of thing?

2003-08-15 21:03:26
Thanks Derrick
I also can't let go of my TiBook 400. Upgrading the CD-DVD drive is about the only thing I haven't done. Just couldn't shell out the $399.00. But for $199 (-$19) rebate for old drive, now that's in my ball park.

Thanks for an informative and timely article.

Bill J.

2003-08-19 05:39:47
Effect on battery life?
And the faster hard drive / combo drive had what effect on your battery life? I suspect a noticable hit, but I'd be curious what you report. Of course, if you never actually *use* that combo drive....
2003-08-19 09:26:38
RE: Effect on battery life?
Well, the short answer is that I haven't noticed any difference on battery life. One of the things I like about the 667 TiBook is that I can work all day on one charge if I have too (dim screen, turn off AirPort, etc). The new hard drive doesn't seem to be using more juice.

As for the Combo Drive, I suppose you're right. If I were burning lots of CDs using the battery, seems like I'd take a hit. But, since I only burn one now and then, I really haven't taken a hit.