Tune Your MacBook Pro (Part 1): The Hard Drive Upgrade

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Like a Japanese import car, this stock MacBook Pro awaits a major tune-up…

As most of you know, last Tuesday morning saw the arrival of my Apple refurbished 17″ MacBook Pro 2.4Ghz with high-res glossy screen.

Why the 17″ MacBook Pro? Some might wonder why I didn’t get the MacBook Air (being a chick magnet and all); my sentiments go towards pure processing power. Mechanically to crunch my massive collection of Firefox tabs; Humanistically to visually process copious amounts of information faster (this HD screen has a 23″ LCD resolution).

From the outset, the MacBook Pro hasn’t changed aesthetically since its introduction in January 2006. This particular MacBook Pro came with a measly 160Gb 7200rpm Apple / Seagate 2.5″ SATA hard drive.

So straight out of the box, I’m going to show you how I double the storage space of the MBP with minimal cost. After the jump, I’ll cover the MacBook Pro strip-down, where to get cheap replacement hard drives, and how to clone your existing Mac hard drive (and Windows Boot Camp partitions) onto your new one.

How to Void Your Warranty” by Josh Bancroft

Step One: To Void or not to Void, that is the Warranty
Technically, since a proper MacBook Pro dissection doesn’t break any seal whatsoever, you could pass this off as a customer install though it’s meant for authorized Apple representatives to perform. You are advised to return the Mac in its original state (e.g. put back the original hard drive) before sending it in for any warranty repairs.

PowerBook G4 Al 17" Disassembly: Installing Hard Drive - PowerBook PartsTech Center at OtherWorldComputing.com

Step Two: Get your free DIY MBP upgrade guides
To start you off, there are plenty of free online guides for taking apart your MBP. iFixit.com has illustrated DIY Laptop Repair Guides for various Macs, while Other World Computing (OWC) has installation videos you could check out. Since my 17″ MacBook Pro is a Core2Duo machine, I wanted to make sure nothing has changed as the available guides only covered the earlier machines, so I dug up the Apple Service Manual specific to my MBP generation (helps if you are an Apple Developer Connections member). If you’re wondering how difficult the strip-down is, I’d say that it’s easy enough for you to redo it without the guides. If you’re still unsure, watch the OWC installation videos mentioned above.

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Step Three: Prepping for Mac surgery
Clear some space for your make-shift operation table, then…
1. Place your MacBook Pro on a thick towel to protect it
2. Print your guide for easier reference
3. Make sure you have all the right tools
4. Get pieces of scotch-tape to collect different screws

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Here’s a closer shot of removed screws organized by sticky tape. Helps me retrace my steps when reassembling the MBP.

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Following your guides should make the disassembly quite easy. The only part you might get queasy about is where you separate the keyboard section from the base of the MBP. This is done when most of the screws are removed, where you’ll then have to pry open the two parts held together by clips. Do it carefully but firmly and work your way around. I suspect that since mine is a refurbish model, it came apart easily. The internal hard drive is located on the left side closest to the front.

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Step Four: Finding a cheap yet big hard drive replacement
You can find plenty of these Western Digital Passport USB 320GB drive which go on sale quite regularly (as low as $129). Sometimes it’s cheaper to get this than to buy the internal drive alone, plus you get a reusable USB enclosure for your spare drive. These enclosures are mad easy to pry open, as seen in numerous Youtube videos. There’s even a guy who does it with one hand! Once opened, you’ll find a WD Scorpio 2.5-inch SATA hard drive, with 320GB storage capacity, 8MB Cache, 5400rpm and 3GB/s transfer speed. Interesting, most 2.5″ drives and laptops only work with 1.5GB/s transfer, including our MacBook Pros, but it’ll still work (least it’s future-proof!).

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Before you pop that WD Scorpio HD into your MBP, take a look at the jumpers as shown above. Usually it doesn’t matter as SATA drives don’t care for the Master / Slave modes like in the old IDE days, but I was curious anyway. Apparently the jumper on the WD Passport hard drives activates Reduced Power Spinup (RPS) mode, which is useful for external USB enclosures so the drive won’t draw power beyond one USB port (some portable hard drives “cheat” by taking power from two USB ports via a Y-cable). To cut to the chase, RPS mode won’t benefit the MBP and might in fact slow startup time by a few seconds, so just remove the jumper before putting the hard drive in. If you want to know more about the RPS mode, see comment #107 by Erik on this MBP disassembly blog post, as well as this official “Reduced Power Spinup Info Sheet” (PDF).

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Step Five: Cloning your Mac hard drives
Now depending on what you have, you can either pop your original hard drive into your spare USB enclosure (like the WD Passport case you just pried open), or if you’re going from an older Mac, do a Target Disk Mode by booting that Mac and holding “T” until the Firewire icon shows up on screen.

Disk Utility: GUID Partition Table

Before you do any actual cloning, be sure to first partition your new internal hard drive using Disk Utility. Click on your new drive, select the Partition tab, click on the Volume Scheme pull-down menu and select 1 partition, then go down to Options and select GUID Partition Table. This ensures that you can dynamically resize the partitions via Boot Camp Assistant later on.

Carbon Copy Cloner

For the actual cloning process, two apps make it really easy, namely SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner. I chose Carbon Copy Cloner for my process. I’ve tried both file-level and block-level copy modes: File-level lets you continue using the startup drive while it’s being cloned, but it’s slower (180GB took me 4-5hrs), while Block-level requires you to free both drives and it’s faster (took me almost half the time compared to file-level copy). Both apps essentially let you pick the source drive and the destination drive, choose to backup all files, then hit copy or clone.


Step Six: Cloning your Windows Boot Camp partition
If you’re maximizing your Intel Mac like me, you probably have a Boot Camp Windows partition that needs to be cloned as well. First create a Windows partition on your new hard drive by using Boot Camp Assistant and picking out the partition size. You can pick a size bigger than your previous boot camp partition as the next tool I’m featuring will handle the copy intelligently.

Introducing Winclone. Unlike the direct disk-to-disk cloning feature of SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner, Winclone first has to create a backup image of your Windows partition, before letting you restore it onto your new partition. Find a storage space to store this Windows image and follow the instructions on the Winclone home page. Take note to “Add generic BCD” if you have a Vista install and make sure to check “Prepare for restoring on a different partition” if you resized the partition space on your new hard drive.

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Even though my physical screen sizes are different, they both feature 1920 x 1200 resolution

Step Seven: Sit back and enjoy your upgraded Mac!
I actually bought 4GB Cosair memory to complete the base upgrade, but the memory was bad (failed ramcheck upon boot) and I sent them back to NewEgg.com for a replacement. If you’re interested, you can see photos of the entire process in higher resolution over here.

In Part Two of Tune Your MacBook Pro…
I’ll show you how to rice your generic looking MacBook Pro. While some of you might be happy with a sleeper, some might want to show some flair. Stay tuned!

40 thoughts on “Tune Your MacBook Pro (Part 1): The Hard Drive Upgrade

  1. Eunice: The MacBook is even easier to swap hard drives. It’s a customer install, just follow this Apple guide. Once you’ve physically swapped hard drives, then follow the cloning process listed above.

    Ivan: To some of us, this is considered “fun”. 😉

  2. Some questions on cloning the Macbook Pro drive. Once I have copied the original drive (Assuming I select to make an image copy(block level)) to the new one, can I resize it to fill the entire drive? Will either of the two utilities you mention allow one to boot from a CD/DVD to do the block copy?

    If I instead do a file copy, will it copy all files from the booted drive? I’ve tried drag and drop of files using Finder for backing up some things and I often get error messages about permissions and it refuses to copy the files. I assume that SuperDuper and Carbon Copy can get around this?

    Finally I see your mention of Boot Camp, which I have never used and have no desire to use, but you say the partitions can be resized using Boot Camp Assistant and Winclone. Does that apply to an HFS+ formatted volume as well or just the NTFS windows volume? If I do an image copy of my MBP drive onto the new one,that will not use all the space on the new drive. So if I can’t resize it I would have to use the file copy. I suppose another option which you didn’t mention would be using Time Machine to restore to the new drive. Would that work as well as the other methods?


  3. great hack….have anyone heard of a way to get a glossy screen for the mabook pro?




  4. Mark D: Sorry for the late reply, but for future readers, either ways of copying (block or file level) will let you fill the remaining space on your newer drive. It doesn’t partition, just puts whatever’s in your original drive and into your new one. With the GUID partitioning scheme, you can resize partitions for Mac and Windows (or any OS), it’s all doable.

    Jesper: Glossy screen can only be gotten as an Apple build to order for the MacBook Pro.

  5. I thank you for the info, u saved me a lot of time since I am a novice in MAC, just got one and found that my 120 GB driver cannot accommodate my XP and MAC OS. Again thank u!

  6. Kevin,
    Is there a way to use two hard drives inside my macbook pro? Is there room for a dual hard drive configuration?


  7. I got kinda lost with the instructions.
    1. Do I install the new hd before cloning?
    2. If so I have to format the hd before installation to journaled htfs?
    3. How can I use CCC through osx if my partition is ntfs?

  8. Got it to work.. i ended up not physically swapping the hd itself since it took more time then the macbook. but i did all the cloning of both drives.

  9. Thanks so much for this guide, right now my drive is cloning in CCC and I *think* it’s all going to be OK.

    If not, though, I’m coming to beat you up 🙂

  10. this is perfect 🙂 this tutorial is exactly what i’ve been scouring the internet for. thank you so much! i’m brave enough to know i can do this, just nervous that i’ll lose my important programs (like final cut pro, etc) and have to locate new copies with serial numbers that i don’t have….i obtained the copies years ago for school purposes and don’t have them anymore. should i be worried about running into any problems? i’m also planning on upgrading to the latest version of OSX, so i should be able to do that once i’ve gotten everything onto the new HD while maintaining the integrity of my software/files, correct?

    i just want to accomplish all of this as easily as possible with as much confidence as possible, hence the need for encouragement. 🙂

  11. Glad you’re finding it useful… but no one’s got anything to say about the little puppy peeing on that Sony Vaio in the second photo?!? ;P

  12. Another option for block copying the old Mac partition to the new drive is to use Apple’s included Disk Utility. I am in a related situation, which is that my MBP won’t boot (looks like a hardware issue, won’t even boot from install DVD) but the hard drive is still working & accessible through Firewire target mode. I was able to scrounge up a spare MBP, use Winclone to create an image of the Boot Camp partition to an external USB drive, boot off the Leopard install DVD, run Disk Utility and clone the Mac partition to the spare MBP internal drive. I’m in the process now, at which point I will be following the instructions above to restore the Boot Camp data.

    Roberts last blog post..Week 16: final report

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