Other World Computing (OWC) has launched a new line of NVMe SSD upgrades for several Mac models that used Apple's custom not-quite-M.2 form factor. The new Aura Pro X2 is OWC's third generation aftermarket storage upgrade for Apple's custom SSD form factor.

Apple was an early adopter of PCIe SSDs in the consumer space, introducing them to several models in 2013. In recent years they have phased out the use of replaceable SSDs in favor of using their own SSD controller built in to the T2 security chip, but there is still a large install base of pre-TouchBar MacBook Pros and non-Retina MacBook Airs that can accept storage upgrades. Aftermarket upgrade options for these machines were initially very limited until macOS 10.13 added NVMe support, which allowed off the shelf M.2 NVMe drives to be used with a passive adapter—however, those adapters are a bit too thick for Apple's notebooks (they fit just fine in the cylinder Mac Pro).

Before macOS supported NVMe, OWC provided the Aura SSD, which was essentially two SATA SSDs in RAID-0 behind a Marvell controller that only supported a PCIe 2.0 x2 host interface. The Aura's performance was poor, but it did offer the option of upgrading storage capacity, which was particularly useful for the MacBook Air models that never offered a factory 1TB SSD option. The Aura was followed up by the Aura Pro X based on the Silicon Motion SM2260 controller, which meant OWC was still struggling to offer better performance than the Samsung and SanDisk drives Apple shipped. The new Aura Pro X2 uses the Silicon Motion SM2262EN and offers performance and power efficiency on par with current high-end SSDs in standard M.2 form factors, and includes the first 2TB SSD in Apple's form factor.

OWC Aura Pro X2 Specifications
Capacity 240 GB 480 GB 1 TB
(960GB)
2 TB
(1920GB)
Form Factor Apple custom, double-sided
Interface NVMe 1.3 PCIe 3.1 x4
Controller Silicon Motion SM2262EN
NAND IMFT 64-layer 3D TLC
Sequential Read 2989 MB/s 3282 MB/s 3194 MB/s 3194 MB/s
Sequential Write 1208 MB/s 2432 MB/s 2488 MB/s 2488 MB/s
Power Active 5.7 W
Idle 0.3 W
Endurance 150 TB
0.34 DWPD
225 TB
0.27 DWPD
450 TB
0.27 DWPD
900 TB
0.27 DWPD
Warranty 5 years
MSRP $119.99
(50¢/GB)
$179.99
(37¢/GB)
$299.99
(31¢/GB)
$699.99 (
36¢/GB)

OWC sells the Aura Pro X2 as either a standalone drive or in an upgrade kit that includes their Envoy Pro USB enclosure for the stock SSDs the Aura Pro X2 replaces, and the necessary pentalobe and Torx screwdrivers to perform the upgrade. The upgrade kit is $70-80 more expensive than the bare drive.

Prices for the Aura Pro X2 are quite steep compared to retail M.2 NVMe SSDs—they're more like what the MLC-based Samsung 970 PRO sells for, rather than in line with other TLC-based NVMe SSDs.

We have a review sample of the 960GB Aura Pro X2 on hand. It has already completed most of our usual consumer SSD test suite and those results are available in our Bench database, but for the full review we'll also be doing some macOS testing.

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  • Mikewind Dale - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    My takeaway from this article is: never buy a Mac. Reply
  • dgingeri - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    Especially considering their current models have the storage built into the mainboard. They just stack bad decision on top of bad decision when it comes to upgradability and ability to rescue user data when parts go bad. Reply
  • Lord of the Bored - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    Upgradability hasn't been something they've been concerned with for a very long time. If you aren't buying a new laptop every two or three years, they don't want to see you. Reply
  • Cullinaire - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    Never buy a mac, unless you (or someone else) can write it off. Reply
  • GreenReaper - Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - link

    Owch. Not cheap, but it could be worse. 960GB is the sweet spot, but if you need much more than that you might do better with an external storage solution (and doing that might make pairing with the 480GB one a better deal). Reply
  • Cullinaire - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    I see what you did there! Reply
  • mikegrok - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    on the other hand, apple swapped to pcie for their internal SSDs in 2012, long before m.2 became popular.

    On the other hand, this $14 adapter lets you use a m.2 drive on your post 2013 MacBook pro. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FYY3H5F

    -Michael
    Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Thursday, April 18, 2019 - link

    That adapter works, if you're comfortable with having the bottom panel of the case not screwed in fully, or putting significant pressure and weight on the SSD connector. It's a risk I've been taking with my personal machine for months, but I don't think everybody is satisfied with that kind of solution. Reply
  • mikegrok - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    another option for bulk storage on some of the older models is to use an SDXC to sd adapter that is flush with the side of the computer. like:

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012F8ALBC/
    Reply
  • daniel_invents - Wednesday, April 17, 2019 - link

    Thank you OWC, but you are a little behind the game!

    Fledging Feather M13 SSD (for most 2013-2017 Macs) is the same NVMe solution but better, has been out for over a year and a half, and is more affordable across the board.

    -Similarities-
    1) Feather M13 is NVMe 1.3 PCIe 3.1x4
    2) Feather M13 is 64-layer 3D TLC

    -Differences-
    1) Feather M13 has been out for OVER A YEAR, these guys know all the customer support needed for these products, whereas OWC in the past has had historically not-so-great support.
    2) Feather M13 capacities are WHAT YOU GET. For example, the Aura Pro X2 you get a 1920GB when you order a 2TB (that is 80GB less!), whereas Fledging always gives the full capacity.
    3) Feather M13 uses more advanced controllers such as the Phison E12, which is superior to Silicon Motion’s SM2262EN controller.

    -Pricing-
    Feather M13 pricing on AMAZON PRIME (2-day shipping, no hassle, full personalized customer support) is currently:

    https://amzn.to/2V79duW

    128 GB - $95 (compared to OWC’s… oh wait they don’t offer a 128!)
    256 GB - $105 (compared to OWC’s $120 for 16GB less)
    512 GB - $177 (compared to OWC’s $180 for 32GB less)
    1 TB - $278 (compared to OWC’s $300 for 40GB less)
    2 TB - $510 (compared to OWC’s $700 for 80GB less)

    The only reason OWC is able to pull this off is because of their brand awareness and dominance in the market for such a long time. I would much rather support businesses who innovate years before OWC with better pricing.
    Reply

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