Upgrade Hard Drive in a MacBook Pro

Last week I was running out of space again in my MacBook Pro. I've gone through this again and again (always running out of space - deleting files or moving them to a separate storage device to get a little more space). I finally decided it was time to upgrade.

Speed has also been an issue. For the last 3 laptops (since 2004) I have always purchased them with 7200 RPM drives. When I purchased this MBP last summer the largest 7200RPM drive they offered was a 160GB drive (with 8MB cache). It's actually a pretty decent Seagate drive.

At the time of this blog post, the largest 7200RPM drive for laptops is 320GB with 16MB cache (or 500GB for 5400RPM). Over the past 5 years I've had a lot of bad luck with 3.5" Western Digital drives (almost all of them have died - poor ventilation in my NAS I guess). But after doing some research I decided to get one of the Western Digital 320GB hard drives (the WD Scorpio Black 320GB drive without free-fall sensor (WD3200BEKT). I made sure not to get the one with the free-fall sensor (built-in shock protection) because there have been multiple reports of people having kernel panics when physically moving the laptop (a conflict between the HD's shock detection and the MBP's head parking technology). Although I could not find any official data (from WD or Apple) to back up this claim, it was enough to make me be more cautious and avoid the possible issue.

The whole process took about 3.5 hours (3 hours to clone the data from my 160GB drive to the 320GB drive, and a half hour to swap the drives).

When I was a PC repair tech and network engineer in the 90's I repaired quite a few laptops. I have to say, they were much more complicated back then than the ones I've taken apart over the past few years (IMO). Apple's was even easier. But I wasn't without help. I found this great walkthrough which saved me a lot of time. If you're considering doing this, let me give you a helpful tip I learned from a tech who trained me back in 1994. Before taking out screws from a laptop, grab an empty egg carton (qty of 12). As you move through each set of screws, use a new compartment in the egg carton (makes things so much easier :) ). Also, make sure you have the correct tools (I was lucky enough to already have precision screw drivers on my workbench - saved me an extra trip to the hardware store).

I also saved a lot of time by purchasing an external hard drive enclosure (I purchased that particular one for other reasons - I have a couple other SATA 2.5 and 3.5 drives I've been meaning to retrieve data from and this will make things much easier. Also, I found that device to be much cheaper on Best Buy, but I've had so much bad experience with Best Buy over the years and great experience with NewEgg that I'll keep going with the better service. I do, however, wish the device had Firewire 800 :) ). I was originally planning to use one of my existing USB external HDDs to clone the data (make an image), and then use the same drive to restore the image back to the new HDD, but I skipped the middle-man by using the enclosure and just moved the data over in one step.

So here's a breakdown of how I replaced the drive (3.5 hours):

  1. Researched some hard drives and chose the Western Digital WD3200BEKT drive for it's overall balance of speed and power consumption (speed being the more important factor for me). Suggest: or
  2. Shutdown all programs on my Mac and disconnected from the web (don't want some auto-update running by mistake)
  3. Mounted the new drive to the Mac (now in the enclosure unit) and formated it (use "Applications >> Utilities >> Disk Utility". Select the new drive (which shouldn't be formatted yet if new) and choose "Erase" with the default setting of "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)).
  4. Used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the data and make the new drive bootable (took 3 hours)
  5. Shut down Mac and installed new HDD
  6. Booted up Mac with new HDD (it was a slow bootup the first time - see next step)
  7. This next part I couldn't find documented anyhere on the web. I just happened to catch some guy talking about it in a forum after having slow bootups from my recent restore.
    • Go into "System Preferences >> Startup Disk", select the new drive, and restart (your bootup will be much faster now).

I'm not sure if this upgrade would void my warranty with Apple (I have Apple Care), but if I have to send my MBP in for repair again in the future, I figure I'll just have to swap out my new HDD with the original before sending the laptop out. It's possible I could have paid Apple a large sum of money to upgrade the drive (note: They don't sell anything larger than 200GB 7200RPM) just to protect my warranty, but after having a bad first experience with an Apple Genius, I'd prefer to just do it the right way myself.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Damon's Gravatar I upgraded my MBP 15" using the same iFixIt guide you mentioned. I originally thought my HD was making 'noise' so I asked the Apple Store to replace the hard drive and upgrade it as well. They quoted me $300 for the work, and $140 to put the same old 80GB drive (5200rpm) back into the unit. I decided to hit Best Buy and get s 7200rpm 200GB model for about $180 and do it myself.

My 'noise' went away for about 2 weeks, and then I discovered the real source. It was the left fan. I re-opened the unit, cleaned out the fan, and put a drop of 3-in-1 oil in the fan spindle and put it all back together. I didn't buy Apple Care, so I wasn't too worried about the memory.

So, my experience with opening the MBP has been pretty good. Glad to hear yours went well too.
#1 by Damon | 9/27/08 10:33 AM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar Just want to say that from reading your detailed post, I am going to attempt the upgrade myself as well. I've built all my PC's but this is my first Mac. I can't take the 200GB limit anymore with my BootCamp Vista running as well. I didn't want the larger slower drives either. I've ordered the drive and the enclosure. I'll let you know.
#2 by Fred Mastro | 9/30/08 1:58 PM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Fred, Let me know how it works out.

Also, I should have pointed out that if you plan to pertinently use the enclosure (for an external HDD powered by USB) there are much better solutions out there that don't keep the drive vertical and (I'm guessing) have better dust control. I chose that device for the reason of grabbing older drives and retrieving data off of them without the need to physically connect them (call me lazy :) ).

I made the mistake a few months ago to purchase a WD Passport Elite 320GB external HD. The device does work really well, however I could have purchased a HD with more space - 500GB for much less cost (the elites are only 5400rpm, but I don't need anything faster for my external HD needs). I'd then would have just used an enclosure device of choice. There are a plethora of usb-powered 2.5" enclosures available (and a few that offer firewire). Just Google around or check out sites

The purpose for my external HD is for hosting my virtual machines. Not only does it free up space on my primary HD, but I can move the VM images around easily (to a different HD). Most importantly I free up resources - I use VMs mostly for server needs (SQL server, etc) and the extra hits to the primary HD went down when I moved the VMs to the external drive.
#3 by Jeff Coughlin | 9/30/08 4:36 PM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar Hey Jeff, do you think I need to do anything special because I run vmfusion/bootmanager of Vista? I'm assuming the cloning software does a clone of the whole drive, not just the partition. Going to start the backup now, got all my pieces in.
#4 by Fred Mastro | 10/4/08 2:44 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar I could be wrong, but I believe you'll need to make sure to tell the cloning software to create an IMG file (otherwise the default just copies files). Then you'll need a way to boot to a device and restore the IMG.

I could be wrong, but I haven't tried it on the Mac yet. Let me know how it works out (now I'm really curious :) ).
#5 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/4/08 2:55 AM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar Hey Jeff, hope you don't mind I used your steps on my blog and added the new steps for the VMFusion issue I had. It all worked out great. Now I have more space for both my Mac and the VM Vista OS.

I basically used WinClone to backup the partition as an image, saved it to my Mac. After the clone/swap I used Boot Camp again to create my new partition again and then restored the image to the partition with WinClone. Rebooted to Windows, ran CHKDSK and then rebooted back to Mac and all was well.

That's the super fast version :) You can go to the blog if you want to see the other steps I added.
#6 by Fred Mastro | 10/4/08 5:46 PM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Fred, Glad to hear it worked out well.

You might want to re-title that to include Boot Camp partition (VMWare Fusion is just a tool that can be used to access that partition). Nicely detailed blog post though.
#7 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/5/08 3:11 PM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Fred, You also had a question asking why your 320GB hard drive reported itself as 297GB.

I'm likely going to be dating myself by answering this :)

The reason why you're seeing a total capacity of 297GB when the drive was advertised as 320GB is due to a thing the hard drive manufacturers use called "rounding". This goes way back to a time before I was working on computers in 1991. Someone at some point assumed that bits, bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, etc were all measured the same (as base 10) when in fact something like bits are measured in base 2 (someone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. It's been a very long time since I had to learn this stuff).

Either way, assuming that multi-gigabyte drives existed back then (to put it into perspective), HD manufacturers assumed that 1 GB was equivalent to 1,000,000,000 bytes, when in fact 1 GB = 1,073,741,824 bytes.

Using the number of sectors in the WD3200BEKT drive (625,142,448 sectors) multiplied by 512 we get 320,072,933,376 bytes, or 298.09 GB (not 320 GB). Then minus a little space for bad sectors (which are marked as non-usable at the factory) and you end up with what is left over (in your case 297 GB).

After all these years HD manufacturers still mis-represent the HD capacities. I'm not sure why they still do other than to guess that it has to do with the fact that their competitors are doing it, so why can't they. It sucks, but that's the way it is and likely will continue for the foreseeable future.
#8 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/5/08 4:11 PM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar Hey thanks Jeff that's good to know. I've seen windows be off a bit but for some reason it had seemed like that Mac had taken even more mystery space off the drive, but yeah that makes sense. I changed the post topic title too at your suggestion to include bootcamp partition
#9 by Fred Mastro | 10/12/08 1:37 AM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar I just got my laptop 18 days ago, just to find out that Apple releases a new model!! I was pretty upset. They even had the upgraded hard drive in the 17" model. Wonder if I could take it back.
#10 by Fred Mastro | 10/16/08 9:13 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Fred, I believe Apple allows a 30-day return policy. If you do decide to go down that route and want to return the new HDD, make sure to wipe it first. I would do a minimum 7-pass zero wipe (unless you're not paranoid about data or passwords on the HDD like me :) ).

The rumors were going around since July that Apple would be releasing the new MacBooks in October (so it was no surprise to me :) ). Might want to check out sites like in the future before buying Apple products :) (there are several sites that are good options to check out).

From my experience Apple likes to make announcements in January (and their Annual Apple event), in June (their annual developer event) and Aug/Sept time frame (it appears that they usually like to release something in the fall). The October MacBook release was a bonus, but no surprise.

Personally I like all the new specs on the new MacBooks (especially the new nVidia chipsets). The only thing that bothers me is the glossy display as the only choice (I have glossy laptops and prefer my matte displays so there is no reflection when near any sunlight). It's cool that it's tempered glass tough - should be more difficult to damage the screens. As a developer, I'd also like a higher RAM limitation (I use up all 4GB in no time) - I just find it difficult to lug around a Mac Pro (32GB RAM limit) on the road or in a plane :).
#11 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/16/08 9:58 AM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar Man the annoying spam posts!

You don't have 4GB now? I thought at first you meant they upgrade them to 8GB.
Do you think they will come out with a 17" version of the same? Have you heard?
#12 by Fred Mastro | 10/16/08 7:50 PM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar Of course I maxed it out to 4 GB on the first day (bought elsewhere for a fraction of the cost and with lifetime warranty). It's just not enough for my needs as a developer.

As for the 17" model, it did get a few minor updates, however Jobs said it was going to be updated to the new specs soon (they're working on it).

As much as I love my 17" notebooks, I think my next laptop purchase will be a 15" laptop (just so much easier to travel with). Next month Apple Is releasing a new 24" desktop display that I could really use to replace my aging 19" letterbox LCD display (removing my need for the 17" laptop screen size while at the office).
#13 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/16/08 10:38 PM
Mark's Gravatar I just finished the procedure. I installed a 320gb Seagate momentus 7200rpm drive. Everything went without a hitch but it is definitely not a procedure for the faint of heart. I think there were 25 screws to complete the disassembly.

Here's a tip though. If you are running leopard and timemachine you can actually restore your new drive from your existing timemachine backup. After installing the new drive, stick in the leopard install disk and go to Disk Utilities to erase the new drive. Then choose restore from the main menu and it will prompt you for source and destination. It will even recognize your USB drives as a source. Really cool!
#14 by Mark | 10/17/08 2:48 AM
Fred Mastro's Gravatar You installed a blank drive and reinstalled from scratch? Why not clone the drive like Jeff suggested? No need to install and restore data in that case.
#15 by Fred Mastro | 10/17/08 7:42 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Fred, no he didn't install the OS from scratch. One of the things you can do is restore from a time machine backup onto the new drive. There is nothing wrong with doing this option (except that I've been told that it's much slower).

I do like time machine, but I also have gripes about it:
* No security/encryption on the files (if your time machine backup drive is stolen, the files are open to anyone - even if you enable File Vault on the primary drive(s))
* No compression
* I've been told it can't backup minor updates to from your Apple Mail DB file(s). Meaning, if I received 2 new emails, time machine backs up the entire mail DB (I have not verified this though, so someone correct me if I'm wrong).
#16 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/17/08 9:40 AM
Mark's Gravatar I didn't run into any problems at all restoring from timemachine. It was quite simple . . . Click one button and let-er-rip. It ended up taking about 2.5hrs to do the restore.

There were a couple of side-effects. The first time I used mail it took about 5 minutes rebuild the mail.db. And of course "Spotlight" had to silently do it's indexing for about 30 minutes after the restore.

So, If you are already using timemachine and have a netflix to watch while the restore is running I recommend that method wholeheartedly.
#17 by Mark | 10/17/08 10:58 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Mark, those tips are helpful. I didn't know about the mail.db rebuild and re-indexing. Now I know what to expect if I ever need to rebuild from time machine. And of course, this is still a perfectly valid way to upgrade your HDD. Thanks.

@Fred, I forgot to mention. The new MacBooks and MacBook Pros allow you to replace the HDD much easier by just opening the battery cover and pulling a release lever (or something) on the HDD (no screws from the way I understand it - I could be wrong). Another cool thing is that the battery cover locks shut if you attach a notebook/laptop cable lock to your laptop (so that thieves can't just take your HDD without a struggle). Either way, Apple was nice enough to make HDD upgrades that much easier (like what many of their competetors have been doing for years).
#18 by Jeff Coughlin | 10/17/08 11:55 AM
Tech News's Gravatar nice info shared buddy!
#19 by Tech News | 11/13/08 2:27 AM
Need more space's Gravatar I have FCP and need more space. I keep all my video on an external hard drive storage but would like to have another hard drive that works like my internal one. Can I do this with an external SATA drive by formatting it and putting Mac OS on it?
#20 by Need more space | 12/29/08 12:41 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Need more space,

If you're asking whether or not you can boot from an external drive, then yes I believe you can. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you can make a bootable external drive. Then when you want to boot to it, first make sure it is plugged into the Mac (and powered if it requires an external power source). Then when booting the Mac, hold the [option] key when you hear the Mac chime. After a few seconds you'll see options of which bootable devices are available to boot from.

However, my first suggestion would be to look at your swap file settings for Final Cut Pro (FCP). I personally don't use FCP (at least, not yet - I mostly use Adobe Premiere), but I recall watching a very good intro-to-FCP video on that talked about setting up your FCP swap folder on a separate (or external) drive and how important it is for performance (and helps to saves you on file space for your primary drive). Even if you don't have a registered account, I'm sure there are tutorials on the web if you search enough.
#21 by Jeff Coughlin | 12/29/08 9:17 AM
Need more space's Gravatar Thanks for the response. I think I understand what you're saying. I was hoping to have two drives run at one, like in a PC, where there are partitions, drive a. drive c, etc. Hope you understand what I'm going for. It's all new to me.
#22 by Need more space | 12/29/08 11:50 AM
Jeff's Gravatar Thanks for the helpful walk through. Following your advice and the ifixit guide you linked to I was able to swap the drives in my MacBook Pro 15". She's purring along faster and fatter now :)

Great Tip: The part about using the egg carton (I used a similar plastic container) to keep track of the screws - very helpful!
#23 by Jeff | 1/5/09 9:57 PM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Jeff, glad I could help in any way :)

I thought people might want to know. After a few months of using the new WD HDD, I've noticed some noise from it (something I didn't notice with the Seagate drive). Before purchasing the WD drive I read about a few other people hearing the same "clicking" noise (so I knew what I was getting into). It's very faint, but noticeable to me. Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I just thought people might want to know before they make a purchase (in case that bothers them).
#24 by Jeff Coughlin | 1/6/09 1:46 AM
jeff's Gravatar FYI all (if this wasn't mentioned before): After swapping out your hard drive, if you use Time Machine, Time Machine will likely make a full backup of the entire new drive. See the Apple Knowledgebase article here explaining this:

Even though I imaged my old HD onto the new HD using SuperDuper! Time Machine still insisted on doing a complete backup of the hard drive's contents.
#25 by jeff | 1/7/09 8:40 AM
daniel lench's Gravatar great write-up Jeff.
I've done the same upgrade to my MBP (scary getting the front of the body to release!)

After a few weeks my MBP has started to loose power at a random point while unplugged even with full charge. It's not a drop sensor either. I've opened it back up a few times and everything looks fine.

I was wondering if you've heard anything like this?

#26 by daniel lench | 8/4/09 9:56 PM
Joshua Hansen's Gravatar Hey, I stumbled on this blog because I just upgraded the HD in my unibody MBP and on the first boot it was REALLY slow. I rebooted and got the same issue. I noticed that it took forever for the Apple logo to show up and figured, "Huh, it doesn't know where to look right away.

I never would have thought to go to "Startup Disk." However, that did the trick. Thanks! (And I'll be weary of the Time Machine full backup!)
#27 by Joshua Hansen | 8/5/09 12:10 AM
Jeff Coughlin's Gravatar @Daniel, it sounds like your battery is just seeing it's end of life (happens to all rechargeable batteries). Apple charges an arm-and-a-leg for laptop battery replacements, but you can get them elsewhere for much less (try a Google search or even Amazon).

If you want to know for sure if it's a dieing battery, find a friend with the same laptop and see if they'll let you borrow their battery (or go into an Apple store and ask them to test it). Probably best to know for sure before you fork up the money (but I'm almost positive that's what the issue is... has happened to all of my other laptops).

Keep in mind that Apple's *new* laptop line has the batteries built-in and can't be easily replaced without cracking open the case. Apple says they have a much longer life expectancy and that to replace it (when that fateful day comes) you'll have to go to an Apple store (or mail your laptop in) and pay them to replace it (how convenient). Although I don't have the new model yet (maybe next year), when that day comes I'm sure there will be third-party batteries on the web to purchase for a discount and plenty of walkthroughs on how to swap them out. I'll be sure to go that route if/when it happens :)
#28 by Jeff Coughlin | 8/12/09 4:35 PM
Ed's Gravatar That system preferences > startup disk pointer is legendary. I've been having the problem of slow boot up for ages and thought it just came with having a large HD now I'm back up to regular speed - Thanks muchly.
#29 by Ed | 8/14/09 5:47 AM
Tunc's Gravatar My bad experience with Seagate ST9500420AS, 500GB. This is an unreliable product. We had bought it for one of our MacBook Pros. From day one it was making a "clunk" noise. We thought it was normal and HDD heads was parking. A month later laptop started being too slow and non-responsive and died. We had to buy an expensive but great software called DiskWarrior and rescue the latest data which worked slowly. Software detected a hardware problem. We have contacted to Seagate and they organised a replacement. We had to pay the shipping to send back. We had to delete all the data in it for security reasons and it took days due to a fact it was faulty and slow. Replacement was a "certified REPAIRED HDD" means it was faulty for another victim and repaired (if). We asked for a brand new one but been told this is not their policy. I have checked our RMA and it says replace with "functioning product". No mention of "REPAIRED" one. Yes, it comes with a warranty but it will cost you: 1) rescue the data, 2) Replace the hard drive on Mac which is fiddly 3) return shipping cost as they wont collect 4) Wasting precious business time and stress 5) Putting the replacement one back into Mac again 6) Wasting time to restore everything back. 7) Not to mention what happens if you did not have a full backups. After reading the similar reviews of this product on the internet we don't think we are alone.
#30 by Tunc | 2/12/10 5:51 AM
daniellench's Gravatar thanks jeff. my battery was at the end of life at 300 cycles

i purchased a new one and things are fine ~3hrs

one thing worth mentioning though is that 2.5" HDDs can vary in thickness a tad. i went with a WD black 320gb and theer is now a gap of about .3mm in the case around where the HDD resides. not a really big deal, just bothers me a bit. WAHHHH

but hey, my MBP now screams and i have much more space, all without a new install and also its an installation on its 3rd upgrade (tiger, leopard, snow) and works fine. we would never be having this conversation with windoze would we.

#31 by daniellench | 2/12/10 3:32 PM
alex's Gravatar With the harddisk became more smaller each days, it certainly will help us on putting more data and easily bring them along with us. But it also means, it will be easy for us missing them too. Especially for someone who very lazy to back them up, like me.
#32 by alex | 7/31/10 7:43 AM

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