After buying an OWC Mercury Extreme Pro solid-state drive for my Mac Pro and another for Tonya’s MacBook late last year, I’ve become a total SSD fan. Our Macs became noticeably faster, and certain activities, like restarting, are now astonishingly quick. SSDs aren’t cheap, but we didn’t need more than the 240 GB models, and they’ve been well worth the cost in improved productivity.
However, SSDs are still relatively new products with occasional problems that the manufacturers address with firmware updates. OWC uses drives from SSD manufacturer SandForce, and until recently, it was possible to update the firmware on a SandForce drive in a Mac only from Windows running under Boot Camp. OWC has now come out with a firmware updater that doesn’t require Windows, though it is not without limitations.
But first, why might you want to update? Apparently, there is an issue with Macs using SandForce SSDs not waking up properly from hibernate mode, which is different from normal sleep mode. In hibernate mode, also called “safe sleep,” the Mac writes the entire contents of memory to the disk in case the battery later drains completely; for more details, see “Stewing Over Safe Sleep” (30 July 2007). You can tell when you’re coming out of hibernate mode because the Mac doesn’t wake up immediately, but instead shows a ghostly image of the screen with a series of white lozenges that fill as the contents of memory are read back from disk. It’s relatively unlikely that you’ll find yourself in hibernate mode much anyway, since it is relevant only to the MacBook and MacBook Pro (according to this post on the Mac Performance Guide, the MacBook Air has a different standby mode), and only when you’re very low on battery power unless it has been forced on manually.
We haven’t experienced any issues with hibernate mode on Tonya’s MacBook since installing the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD, but if you have had problems with hibernate mode, you can now update the SSD’s firmware to resolve them. OWC is clear about the fact that only those who have purchased an OWC SSD before 18 March 2011 need to consider updating at all (newer drives already have the fix built in), and their tech support people seem to agree with my belief that if you’re not having any problems, you shouldn’t bother updating.
OWC has a pair of must-read blog posts, one announcing the availability of the updater and another that explains the updating process. The first post is essential reading because it explains which Mac models are currently supported (not that many) along with which OWC SSDs are affected. The second post provides screenshots of the update process, and reveals that the updater is actually Linux software. That’s why the updater has to be written to a DVD and the Mac booted from that DVD. And no, OWC says a USB flash drive will not work, which is problematic for those who have replaced their MacBook SuperDrives with the SSD.
Though this situation is undeniably fussy, it’s great that OWC has at long last created an SSD firmware updater that doesn’t require Windows for those who are suffering from the hibernate bug.