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Upgrading a MacBook's hard-drive! (For a trip)

14 May 2010  |  Tags: , , , , ,

I have a 2006 MacBook for school and travel … base-model. It came with a 60GB hard-drive (5400RPM), and it’s time for an upgrade. So, I bought a 320GB 7200RPM Seagate drive (for about $60) to replace it before my upcoming trip to Japan! :)

Swapping it was pretty easy. The new drive is shown below in a static-proof bag, which is now in a drawer with my MacBook’s original drive inside it. So be careful opening your bag!

The new drive.

Supplies you may need:

  1. A new hard-drive that’s going to fit your MacBook. (2.5 inch)
  2. Various small screwdrivers… (a small flathead, a Torx T8)
  3. Patience
  4. A firewire cable (6-pin to 6-pin), and another Mac with a Firewire port that can hold a single file as large as your current MacBook’s drive. (enough free diskspace)

Step 1: Make a disk-image of your current drive’s data.

First of all, let me emphasize that doing ANY of these steps (not just this one) is AT YOUR OWN RISK. I’m a professional. Be careful. I cannot be held responsible for any damage to your data or yours or anyone else’s computer(s).

Unless you plan on reinstalling Mac OS X and recovering your data separately, you should make a backup image of your MacBook’s existing drive. One way of doing this is using an external disk-drive (with enough space, of course) and a program called SuperDuper. However, since I didn’t have an extra drive, and also didn’t feel like using the Mac OS X Install CD to restore my data… I chose a different method.

"Target Disk Mode" allows you to mount one Mac’s hard drive on the desktop of another. So, I attached my two computers together using a Firewire cable and booted my MacBook (it was turned off) while holding the "T" key. The MacBook’s drive appeared on my Mac Pro’s desktop, which has enough available disk space to hold the MacBook’s data, temporarily. Note the funky screensaver on the MacBook while this mode is enabled… don’t forget to plug in your power cord!

Making a disk image on my Mac Pro using "Target Disk Mode" on the MacBook.

I don’t believe you can do this with a USB cable, and some of the new MacBooks do not have Firewire ports. I agree, this sucks. However, mine is old and from 2006… so it still does! :)

So, now that you have access to the data: let’s make a backup. Open the “Disk Utility” application (from the “Utilities” folder, inside “Applications”) and select your MacBook’s drive. MAKE SURE THAT YOU SELECT THE CORRECT DRIVE. Mine is called “smash’s HD” and has an orange/yellow icon because it’s connected via Firewire. Note that I also have a Bootcamp drive “smash’s Windows HD”, but I’m NOT copying that to the new drive because I never use it. I use VMWare Fusion instead of Bootcamp.


With your MacBook’s drive selected on the left-side of the window, then click “New Image”. This will initiate the process of creating a perfect “image” of that drive, as long as its in working order. It should be!


A window will popup asking you to choose a name for the disk-image, and also what type. I chose “read only” because I don’t need to edit any of the data. I would not choose “compressed”… which is the default. This is going to take longer and slow your computer down while the process is running.


Once you’ve done all that and continued, your computer will begin crunching a copy of all of the data on your existing MacBook’s drive into a single file on your desktop (or other computer). Note that this file will be the same size as your hard-drive on the MacBook. I hope you have enough free space!!


Once this process has completed… RUN THE COMMAND SHOWN ABOVE on the image file you’ve created. It takes 20-30 minutes and you will not be able to begin copying data back to your MacBook afterward until you’ve done this. No idea why.


Step 2: Upgrading the actual drive.

So this was fun, and surprisingly easy. Again, doing this is AT YOUR OWN RISK. On some of the newer Macs you have to rip apart the entire computer (okay, I make it sound way worse than it is… but it’s not so bad) to get at the hard-drive. On this one, it was removing the battery and three screws.

Remove the battery. Use a coin (or something, a key maybe?) to turn the battery lock and it should pop out.

Removed MacBook's battery.

Then, unscrew the three screws (note: they don’t separate from the aluminum, just unscrew them and don’t worry about it) to unmask the RAM. I found that an eyeglass screwdriver from my swiss-army knife worked best for this. Be careful not to strip them out!

Removed RAM cover.

On the left-side, there’s a white plastic tab that’s been tucked-in under the drive. Carefully expose it.

Now exposed hard-drive tab.

Pull gently, and the drive should slide right out!

Pull the drive out.

Then, separate the drive from its tray … you need a Torx “T8” screwdriver. I have one, but I couldn’t find it. So I just gently used pliers to turn the screws loose. :)

Don't have a Torx "T8" screwdriver?

After that, just repeat the steps in reverse order with the new drive, and you’ll be done! Reinstall the battery after everything is safely and properly put back together, and boot the computer once again holding the “T” key to enter “Target Disk Mode”.

Step 3: Reconnect the Firewire cable between computers, and restore your data!

So hopefully by now, your main computer has finished “scanning your image for restore.” So, let’s restore it! :)

The drive should be recognized by your computer if the MacBook is in “Target Disk Mode”, but if it’s an empty drive it won’t show up on the desktop. But it will still appear in Disk Utility.


First we need to create a partition on that drive. So highlight it, and visit the “Partition” tab. AGAIN, MAKE SURE THAT YOU SELECT THE CORRECT DRIVE. It’ll be yellow, same as before. If you select the wrong one you could erase the wrong computer! However, I will say that Macs are pretty “self-aware” about not letting you erase themselves and I don’t think that works… but still. Easy mistake to make if you’ve never done this before.

Once you have the new drive selected (and you’re sure it’s the correct drive) … Choose “1 Partition” from the “Volume Scheme” … most users won’t want more than 1. Name it “Macintosh HD”, but I chose “smash’s HD”… haha.


Then click the “Options” button, and make sure that “GUID Partition Table” is selected.



Then, back on the original “Partition” screen… click “Apply”. Disk Utility will setup your drive and make it usable.

Final step: Put your data back on the [now] usable drive!

Go to the “Restore” tab  …. for Source, select the disk image you originally created and then scanned for “restorability”. From the left-side, DRAG the drive you just partitioned (Macintosh HD, yellow) into the “Destination” field. — You may uncheck the “Erase destination” box since partitioning already erased the drive.


Once your data restores, you may click the “Eject” button at the top of Disk Utility and unplug your MacBook’s firewire cable. Then turn the MacBook off. Boot it again while holding the Option key (this time) and select your new drive from the boot list! It should work just as before, but with the new drive of course! :)

Yay. If you Mac doesn’t boot the next time… hold Option again. To fix this, visit the System Preferences application once inside Mac OS X and adjust the “Startup Disk” preferences. This problem will not occur again.

All done! 320GB to go. :)

Good luck!

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