Upgrading SSD in Apple MacBook Pro Retina (Late 2012)

For some time now, I have hit the storage limit on the 256GB SSD in my Late 2012 Apple MacBook Pro Retina. I’ve needed to move a significant chunk of data to external drives, which impedes access and frankly is a pain in the butt. I’ve considered a number of methods to upgrade the SSD, but Apple decided to use a proprietary connector for the SSD (rather than using the mSATA or, more recently, the M.2 standards), which has made upgrading more difficult/expensive than it should be. However, even though there were a few minor roadblocks, I ended up successfully upgrading the SSD using a combination of 3rd party modules. Since I could not find anecdotal reports of similar upgrades, I wanted to throw mine out into the ether.

In late 2012, iFixit.com posted a teardown of the MacBook Pro 13″ Retina Display Late 2012 and noted that:

  • The most striking layout change resulting from the shrink from a 15″ to 13″ form factor is the rearranged battery cells. This allowed Apple’s designers to cleverly tuck the SSD away underneath the trackpad assembly.
  • The empty space next to the SSD is very un-Apple. It’s not like them to leave big air gaps in their newest, sleekest designs.
  • Our first thought was that a standard 2.5″ laptop drive might fit in this space, and it almost looks like this little nook was designed with that in mind.
  • Our 9.5mm Crucial SSD didn’t allow the bottom cover to be closed, but just by a smidge. We’ll see if a 7 mm or 5 mm super-slim hard drive could be incorporated into the space.

iFixit later posted a guide to replacing the SSD in early 2013, but at the time, the only SSD alternatives appeared to be 3rd party modules like the Transcend JetDrive ($280 for 480GB drive and external USB 3.0 case) or the OWC Aura ($218 for 480GB drive only).

These 3rd party options, which have been designed specifically for the MacBook Pro’s SSD form factor, have been outside of my price range. However, recently, I’ve seen adapters available that would allow me to use smaller form factor SSDs with my A1425 MacBook Pro. For example:

  • mSATA SSD to MacBook Pro Retina (A1425 A1398) Adapter (Amazon, DX)
  • M.2 SSD to MacBook Pro Retina (A1425 A1398) Adapter (Amazon, DX)

Combine these adapters with either a Samsung 850 EVO mSATA SSD or a Transcend M.2 SSD (respectively) and you could potentially upgrade the SSD for significantly less than the designed-from-scratch modules offered by Transcend and OWC. I researched the adapters a bit more and found that if I chose to go the M.2 route, that I would need to make sure the new drive was SATA rather than PCIe (such as the Samsung 950 PRO). At the end of the day, I ordered a M.2 SSD to MacBook Pro Retina (A1425 A1398) Adapter and a 512GB Transcend M.2 SSD from Amazon and decided to see if I could get it up and running.

I wasn’t sure if there were going to be any performance gains/penalties, so I checked the speed of the original OEM 256GB SSD using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test:

Blackmagic Disk Speed Test  - Apple SSD

Not too bad.

When I received the adapter and new SSD in the mail, I backed up my old SSD onto an external drive using Time Machine. I also created an El Capitan boot drive so that I could wipe the old drive and restore the Time Machine backup to the new SSD. I erased the old drive and although I tried securely wiping the drive, there are some lingering issues with wiping SSDs. Now I was ready for the transplant. Using the iFixit SSD Replacement guide, I removed the old SSD in preparation for the new module.

The M.2 drive fit perfectly into the adapter:

Transcend 512GB M.2 in A1425 Adapter

And I threw the whole shebang into the MacBook’s drive caddy:

Transcend 512GB M.2 in A1425 Adapter in HDD caddy

After reassembling the machine, I started up the computer using the boot disk and… It worked. Awesome. I restored the time machine backup onto the new drive and it booted up without any issues. One little hiccup is that Apple disables TRIM for 3rd party SSDs, so you need to make sure to enable it after-the-fact using trimforce. It’s also faster than the original OEM SSD:

Blackmagic Disk Speed Test  - Transcend SSD

If you have an older MacBook Pro that’s running out of space, this is an easy and very worthwhile upgrade.

25 thoughts on “Upgrading SSD in Apple MacBook Pro Retina (Late 2012)

  1. Just curious how the mSATA adapter is holding up since installing it? Have you noticed any increase in temps, slow transfer/read speeds or anything else out of the ordinary? Thanks

    1. It’s holding up great, no complaints! I use the machine daily and although the laptop runs hot (due to the i7), I’ve experienced no ill-effects that I can attribute to the new drive. Also, just to clarify, it’s an M.2 drive, rather than a mSATA.

  2. Hi Steven,

    Thanks for sharing this out. It’s a great article, well explained and with pictures.

    Did you find any issues with the thickness of the assembly in your MBP?
    We are talking about A1425 13″ Macbook pro right? I’ve seen several of these adapters. As you said, some are M2 compatible (up to 2260 in size, not compatible with 2280, which are more common) and others are mSATA compatible.
    But some vendors say the ‘adapter+SSD’ assembly may be to thick to close properly the Macbook pro 13″ backlid.

    How did it go for you?
    Thanks,

    Alex

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I did not experience any issues installing the M.2 and adapter into my A1425, MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012). No issues with fitting the drive into the machine and no complaints regarding its stability or performance as of right now.

  3. In this article you say “I researched the adapters a bit more and found that if I chose to go the M.2 route, that I would need to make sure the new drive was SATA rather than PCIe (such as the Samsung 950 PRO). At the end of the day, I ordered a M.2 SSD to MacBook Pro Retina (A1425 A1398) Adapter and a 512GB Transcend M.2 SSD from Amazon and decided to see if I could get it up and running.”

    I find the comment about needing to use a SATA drive if you used an M.2 board confusing, especially since you go on to say you used an M.2 adapter with an M.2 SSD. Can I assume you mean if you used an mSATA adapter, you would need to use a SATA SSD?

    I am planning on using a M.2(NGFF) SATA KEY B+18Pin Adapter+M SSD from eBay coupled with an Intel 600P M.2 SSD. Do you think this will work?

    1. The issue is that M.2 is a convoluted specification, which allows for both SATA and PCIe interfaces. Note that I am not talking about using the physical specs (e.g., M.2 vs. mSATA), but rather the drive’s HDD interface. For example of the confusing aspect, these two drives share the same M.2 size (2280, 80mm long), but have different interfaces and different PCB keys (note that NEITHER is appropriate for the Macbook Pro A1425 due to their physical length):

      My point is that you just want to make sure the adapter is designed for the SATA interface if you’re putting the drive in an older Mac. Quickly checking the drive you mentioned, the Intel 600P, it appears that this would be incompatible with the A1425 for two reasons:

      1. The adapter I used can only accommodate a 40mm or 60mm board. The Intel 600P is 80mm.
      2. The drive has an incompatible PCIe interface (the A1425 requires a SATA interface).
  4. I did the upgrade but went with a Samsung 850 EVO 500GB. The adapter fits in fine. but the 850 EVO is 1.5mm too long to screw it down. I had to use a little bit of double sided tape to get it to stay in there. Works perfectly other than that.

    1. I’m glad to hear that the upgrade went well for you even though the size as a little bit “off”. As you noted, the Samsung 850 EVO is 80mm long. I used the Transcend MTS600 instead because it is 60mm long and correctly fit the adapter that I purchased. This is one of the annoyances of the M.2 specification, where there are a variety of sizes and interfaces, so you just need to be aware of the correct drive for a given application.

        1. I doubt it will work since the Samsung 950 Pro appears to use the NVMe rather than SATA interface protocol. M.2 is the physical standard and is independent from the protocol. Any M.2 SATA drive should work fine as long as it fits in the adapter. However an M.2 PCIe or NVMe drive will not work with the 2012 Retina Macbook Pro.

    2. Is there enough space for 80mm ssd? I think I could go for 850 evo m.2 or msata. Same performance but m.2 version is cheaper tho.

      1. Hmm, the 60mm Transcend drive I used was $189.99 at the time of publication (currently $219.00 at the time of this comment). However the Crucial MX300 525GB is only $132.99 the Samsung 850 500GB is $159.99, but both are 80mm. You might be able to find an adapter that accommodates the longer drive, but otherwise you might need to figure out an alternative way to secure the drive to the adapter board (assuming it fits, which the parent comment suggests is true).

  5. Thanks Steven for the guidance. I have successfully replaced 128GB APPLE SSD by Samsung EVO 850 mSATA 500GB. Did internet recovery then restore from time machine. Speed is pretty good. Write is ~481 MB/s and Read is ~502 MB/s. Thanks again for encouraging me(by the post) to do the replacement.

    1. Great, I’m happy to hear that you were able to do the swap and that hopefully the procedure was painless! It also sounds like the speed is as good as it’s going to be on an SATA bus. My next upgrade is to replace the battery (I have one of these on order), which it a little more complex.

      1. I just did the battery tonight. Super easy with the ifixit tutorial. Hardest park was pulling up the batteries due to the glue Apple used to secure the batteries. I used a little bit of iso alcohol to loosen it up. Then used slow steady pressure to pull them up. Good luck.

    1. I ended up wiping it before the “transplant” and selling it on eBay, recuperating the cost of the new SSD and adapter. I know that Transcend includes a USB case with their SSD upgrade, but I’m not sure if they sell the case separately. I’ve seen some adapters for usage with SATA controllers, but, again, no experience with them.

      1. Hi Steven. Thank you for your really helpful insights on the subject.

        Due to size and costs factors, I am looking at getting a Crucial MX300 1TB M.2 (2280) Internal Solid State Drive (CT1050MX300SSD4) , do you think it would be suitable?

        I intend to upgrade my MBP 13 Retina A1425 up to a 1TB from the original 128GB.

        1. The issue with this drive is that it is 80mm long while the adapter board I used only has mounting holes for drives up to 60mm long (e.g., 2260 form factor). However, you may be able to fit the longer M.2 drive in the bay, but won’t be able to secure it to the adapter board (source).

  6. hi steve

    since i read about ” Samsung M.2 Evo 850 ” won’t fit on MBP A1425
    i decide to use ” Msata adaptor and Samsung Msata Evo 850 ”

    any recommendation for msata adaptor?
    and when should i ” TRIM ” it? after i install on my board and restore ? or before i restore?

    thanks alot

    1. Honestly, I can’t recommend a specific mSATA adapter because I have not used one. Unfortunately zico did not mention the adapter he used in his post, but I think basically any A1425 < -> mSATA adapter should work since it is a passive connector adapter.

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