Laptop Diet: Swap the ODD for an SSD or nothing at all!

Owners of older, more traditional laptops eventually get tired of the 2.2-2.8kg weight and the generally lackluster battery life. As time moves on, and newer, lighter form factors become available, the temptation to upgrade to a new device grows.

I suppose if you have the money and time, and you know your laptop well, you would have probably already helped your laptop live a little longer by migrating to an SSD, upgrading your RAM and buying a few extra batteries. But there is something more you can do.

If occurred to me that the optical drive has slowly become rather “useless” in everyday use – the drive itself represents dead weight which we’re lugging around every day and a quiescent current draw from the battery whether in use or not. The obvious answer is just to remove the drive altogether, but that’s not so simple.

In most laptops, the optical drive actually aids the mechanical structure of the laptop and removing it altogether will result in a “flexy” laptop with a gaping hole in the side. Instead, there’s a way around this and give you the option to replace the optical disc drive (ODD) with an SSD or extra hard disk, which could come in quite handy!

What is Needed

What you need is to first determine whether your laptop is of the right age – only laptops which utilize SATA based ODDs can qualify for this particular modification. You can tell if you have a SATA based ODD by removing the ODD from the bay and looking at its connector. If it looks like this, you’re good to go!

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What you will need to determine also is the height of the drive. Older traditional laptops use 12.7mm high drives, whereas the very slim latest drives may be the 9.5mm variety. What you need to buy is an appropriate caddy from eBay using search terms such as “12.7mm SATA caddy”. Its cost is about AU$7 to AU$8.

If it instead has just one rectangular hollow-centre connector, then you have an older IDE based variety and unfortunately, there isn’t a possibility to fit an SSD to those. However, if you purchase the same caddy and remove the adapter board inside, you can make the adapter fit an older IDE-based laptop, using the lightweight aluminium frame as a structural support.

The raw caddy normally ships in a bag or a blister pack like so:

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Included are screws, retainer clip and screwdriver which you can use to fit the SSD if you wish. If you just wish to save weight, and remove the optical drive without affecting the structural integrity of the laptop, then you can just leave the centre empty and remove the HDD retainer clip.

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You might have noticed that the front facing part of the caddy doesn’t look particularly appealing, consisting of slots and plastic cut-outs.

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This is because this is the standard cut-out pattern for most optical drives. In order to preserve the aesthetics of your laptop, you must carefully unclip the faceplate from your existing optical drive and snap it into place on the caddy.

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Notice the clips on the back of the faceplate. Despite all the care, it’s possible you will damage a few – one of mine managed to snap. In general, this is not a big issue, but if the cover is too loose, you might consider securing it with some super-glue or hot glue.

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It will appear just the same as it did before, although the drive will not blink or eject, because it’s no longer an optical drive.

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You’ll also notice the rear of the caddy has some screw holes – you will need to unscrew the securing tab from the original drive and mount it identically on this caddy to ensure it will stay secure in your laptop. Once you have done it, the caddy is ready to insert back into the laptop.

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Reassemble the laptop, and enjoy the slight weight and power consumption reduction, or additional space!

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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2 Responses to Laptop Diet: Swap the ODD for an SSD or nothing at all!

  1. drew wollin says:

    Hi Gough.
    Another way is to replace the HDD inside the laptop with a SSD; they are usually easy to get to. I have done many that way. It is possible to then put a HDD in a caddy, so that it can be swapped with the optical drive if needed (with the machine turned off). Your method has the advantage of retaining the physical protection that some laptops have for HDD.

    The difference with the SSD is huge, especially with Windows 8. It is smaller and more optimised, necessary for tablets. Ten second boots, quick updates, lets you get years more out of a laptop if just used for Office or internet. Battery life is marginally better.

    Windows 8 is best for SSDs as it natively detects and performs TRIM on them. Windows is supposed to, but doesn’t do it very well.

    It is worth topping memory to the max, but some old chips sets are limited to 2G or 4G, plus Windows 32 only uses part of 4G.

    Regards Drew VK4ZXI

    • lui_gough says:

      Thanks for the comment – I normally replace the internal HDD with an SSD as a first line of upgrade along with the RAM, but some users lament the loss of mass storage. Aside from very expensive solutions like the WD Black^2 or Momentus XT hybrid drives that have both HDD and SSD in one, this is one fairly inexpensive method to turn the ODD bay into something useful.

      Sometimes what you really want is *two* SSDs, especially if you’re making use of the earlier “smaller” 60/64/120/128Gb variety or you have access to several cheaper ones. Or in my case, I just don’t want the weight and idle power consumption, but I want to maintain the aesthetic and the structural rigidity – so that’s definitely the best way.

      But definitely agreed – an SSD can easily make an old laptop feel new again. Of note is that Windows 7 is also TRIM capable, and I’ve had little performance issues, but that might be down to the choice of SSD shipsets.

      – Gough

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