Mac Pro Storage Upgrade Guide

Maximize your Mac Pro's internal storage capability

If you purchased a Mac Pro, but find that you need more storage, you have options that don't involve buying an entirely new computer. It's possible to expand the storage on your Mac Pro, but how you go about this depends on what model you have. Here's a look at upgrading storage on older Mac Pros as well as adding a PCIe card to the new Mac Pro 2019.

Mac Pro hard drive sled
Image courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The information in this article applies to Mac Pros from 2006-2012, as well as the newer Mac Pro 2019. Make sure to verify your model by going to the Apple menu and selecting About This Mac.

Upgrade Storage on an Older Mac Pro

Because Mac Pros always had upgradeable storage systems, they're considered quite versatile. Even older models are still sought after on the used market. We're first going to address upgrading storage on Mac Pro models from 2006-2012.

Options for boosting storage on older Mac Pros include installing a hard drive, installing an SSD, using a PCIe expansion card, and other methods.

Installing an Internal Hard Drive in an Older Mac Pro

The most popular method of expanding the Mac Pro's internal storage is to add hard drives using the built-in drive sleds supplied by Apple. This method of upgrading is easy. Pull out the drive sled, mount the new drive to the sled, and then pop the sled back into the drive bay. Here's how:

  1. Move your Mac Pro to a clean table or desk in a well-lit area. Power it down and disconnect all cables except the power cord.

  2. Discharge any static electricity that has built up on your body by touching the PCI expansion slot cover plates.

  3. Remove the power cord from the Mac Pro.

  4. Open the MacBook Pro case and remove the hard drive sled.

    Mac Pro drive sled partially removed.
    Uelef / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
  5. Open the case by lifting the access latch on the back of the Mac Pro. Gently tilt the access panel down.

  6. Once the access panel is open, put it on a towel or other soft surface to prevent its metal finish from getting scratched.

    Apple says it's safe to lay the Mac Pro on its side so that the case's opening is facing straight up. Many prefer to leave the Mac Pro standing upright, putting the hard drive area around eye level. Use whichever method feels most comfortable for you.

  7. Make sure the access latch on the back of the Mac Pro is in the up position, unlocking the hard drive sleds.

  8. Select a hard drive sled to remove and gently pull it out of its drive bay.

  9. Attach the new hard drive to the sled. To do this:

    • Remove the four screws attached to the hard drive sled and set them aside.
    • Place the new hard drive on a flat surface with the printed circuit board facing up.
    • Put the hard drive sled on top of the new hard drive, aligning the sled's screw holes with the threaded mounting points on the drive.
    • Use the Phillips screwdriver to install and tighten the mounting screws you set aside earlier. Don't over-tighten the screws.

    If you're replacing an existing hard drive, remove the old hard drive from the sled you removed in the previous step before proceeding.

  10. Reinstall the sled by aligning the sled with the drive bay opening and gently pushing the sled into place, so that it's flush with the other sleds.

  11. Reinstall the access panel by placing the bottom of the panel into the Mac Pro, so that the set of tabs on the bottom of the panel catch the lip at the bottom of the Mac Pro. Once everything is aligned, tilt the panel up and into position.

  12. Close the access latch on the back of the Mac Pro. This will lock the hard drive sleds in place, as well as lock the access panel.

  13. Reconnect the power cord and all the cables you disconnected. Once everything is connected, turn on your Mac Pro.

Install an SSD in Your Mac Pro

An SSD (Solid State Drive) will work in any of the Mac Pro models. The important thing to remember is that the hard drive sled Apple provides is designed for a 3.5-inch drive, the standard size for desktop hard drives.

SSDs come in a variety of styles and sizes, but if you're planning to install one or more SSDs in a 2006 through 2012 Mac Pro, you must use an SSD with a 2.5-inch form factor. This is the same size drive used in most laptops. In addition to the smaller drive size, you'll need either an adapter or a replacement drive sled designed for installing a 2.5-inch drive in a 3.5-inch drive bay.

Adapters must be able to mount to your existing Mac Pro drive sled using the bottom mount points. Adapters that should work with Mac Pro drive sleds include the Icy Dock EZConverter and the NewerTech AdaptaDrive.

For Mac Pros from 2009, 2010, and 2012, another option is to replace the existing Mac Pro drive sled with a sled designed for both the 2.5-inch drive form factor and your Mac Pro. The OWC Mount Pro is a good option.

Using PCIe Expansion Cards

If getting the last ounce of performance out of an SSD upgrade is important, it's easy to use a PCIe expansion card that has one or more SSDs mounted on it.

By connecting directly to your Mac's PCIe 2.0 interface, you can bypass the slower SATA II interface used by the drive bays. Some PCIe-based SSD cards to consider include the OWC Mercury Accelsior E2, Apricorn Velocity Solo x2, and Sonnet Tempo SSD.

More Options for Internal Storage

If you need more drive space than the four drive bays provide, and adding either a PCIe card or an SSD card still doesn't give you enough space, there are other options for internal storage.

The Mac Pro has an additional drive bay that can hold two 5.25-inch optical drives. Most Mac Pros shipped with a single optical drive, leaving an entire 5.25-inch bay available for use.

Even better, if you have a 2009, 2010, or 2012 Mac Pro, it already has power and a SATA II connection available for you to use. If you're a DIYer, simply mount a 2.5-inch SSD to the drive bay with a few nylon zip ties. If you want a neater setup, or you wish to install a standard 3.5-inch hard drive, use a 5.25-to-3.5-inch or 5.25-to -2.5-inch adapter, such as the OWC Multi-Mount

Mac Pro 2019

The newest Mac Pro model also has a variety of ways to upgrade storage, including installing additional PCIe cards. Mac Pro has eight PCIe x16 sized slots that accept many different types of PCIe cards.

  1. Shut down your Mac Pro and wait five-10 minutes for the machine to cool down.

  2. Unplug all cables except the power cord from your computer.

  3. Touch the metal housing on the outside of Mac Pro to discharge any static electricity, then unplug the power cord.

  4. Flip the top latch up, then twist left to unlock the housing.

  5. Lift the housing straight up and off of the Mac Pro. Carefully set it aside.

  6. Slide the lock to the unlocked position.

  7. Using a Phillips-head screwdriver, unscrew and remove any brackets and slot covers covering the slots where you want to install your card.

  8. Remove your new card from its static-proof bag and hold it by its corners. Don't touch the gold connectors or the components on the card.

  9. Make sure the card pins are in line with the slot as you insert the card into the PCIe slot.

  10. Slide the lock to the locked position.

  11. Reinstall any side brackets you removed, then tighten the screws on the bracket.

  12. To reinstall the housing or top cover, Carefully lower the housing over the Mac Pro.

  13. After the housing is fully seated, twist the top latch right and flip it down to lock it.

  14. Connect the power cord, display, and any other peripherals.

    Some third-party PCIe cards require you to install a driver. After you install it, restart your Mac Pro, then turn on the driver by going to the Apple Menu > System Preferences > Security and Privacy. Select the lock icon and authenticate as an admin. Select Allow and then restart your Mac.