Updated: Adding a New Drive to a MacBook

June 4th, 2009  |  Published in etc  |  2 Comments

Updated below

I upgraded my MacBook’s hard drive from the stock 160GB/5400RPM Hitachi to a 320GB/7200RPM Western Digital Scorpion. The extra space is welcome, but right now it’s in the middle or re-indexing Spotlight so it’s impossible to say whether the snappy will manifest. It was a pretty inexpensive upgrade that ought to help in the short term while I decide what to do about the longer term.

I used MacInstruct’s guide on replacing a hard drive, and the instructions were fine. Some notes on those:

  • There’s an emphasis on FireWire drives for backup and booting from backup, but I’ve got a USB Western Digital MyBook that worked fine. Without looking to confirm this, I think that PowerPC-era Macs couldn’t boot from USB drives.

  • Note that you need a Torx 8 screwdriver. The bracket that protects the drive and RAM slots comes off with a small Philips, but you need the Torx for the pegs of the drive sleeve. Easily found in an inexpensive microdriver kit from Radio Shack, where I got mine when I disassembled the iBook last summer.

  • Inserted properly back into its slot, the drive should offer next to no resistance most of the way back. If you get any resistance, that probably means it’s upside down. Be careful not to push too hard or you risk bunching up the rubber guides on the sides of the drive slot. Seriously: The guide says “push,” but doesn’t hint at how hard. The answer is “not at all.” If you stand the machine on its side and tilt it a little, the drive should slide most of the way from its own weight.

  • Be ready for a long wait when you restore from SuperDuper to the new volume. It took just short of 2.5 hours to move ~90GB worth of backup from the USB drive to the new hard drive. It’s possible, of course, to work on the MacBook while it’s booted from a USB drive, but everything takes forever (especially context menus and folders with lots of stuff in them, even /Applications).

  • I haven’t ever used Carbon Copy Cloner because I got a license to SuperDuper a long time ago. SuperDuper already handles my nightly backups, so preparing for this operation took about five minutes to do one last Smart Backup (SuperDuper’s term for an incremental backup). The only time SuperDuper ever spooked me came between the release of Leopard and the developer catching SuperDuper up to it. No exception this time: It works reliably and well. Like the best apps in its class, it just does its thing mostly out of sight then “just works” with no need to go clawing for a manual when you need it to restore from backup.

So, long and short: Pretty painless process. I’m even a little shocked at how easy it was. If someone told me, “just remove the battery and unscrew the l-bracket, and make sure you have a Torx 8,” there wouldn’t have been any surprises. No harder than doing the same procedure with a desktop machine, anyhow, and my desktop machine usually figures out a way to draw blood.

Update: About the snappy manifesting: Yes … launch times seem to be faster. Some “first-time-after-reboot” things seem to be faster, like the first “open with” contextual menu after reboot. Booting up and getting a usable desktop after login seems to go faster. That’s just physics. But the x factor in the whole deal is that the process of backing up to an external drive then restoring from that backup to the new drive effectively defragments everything. So what feels like a big gain is probably subject to gradual deterioration. I thought to check for fragmentation before performing the operation yesterday, and there was some. I don’t know if it was “bad,” or what would even constitute “bad,” but there was some.


  1. Mary says:

    November 4th, 2009 at 6:39 am (#)

    What do you have to do if the rubber moves out of place?

  2. mph says:

    November 4th, 2009 at 8:36 am (#)

    I ended up taking a pair of small screwdrivers and using them to grip and smooth the rubber back into place.

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