How-To: Upgrade MacBook, MacBook Pro Hard Drive to 320GB/7200RPM for Under $100

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Photo: Inside the MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo

Buying a new computer in a down economy might not make sense but there are plenty of ways to upgrade and get more horsepower out of your existing machine. The most obvious upgrade is to add more memory. The next is to upgrade to a larger, higher RPM drive with faster read/write times.

As many Mac laptop users know, Apple doesn’t offer post-sale hard disk upgrades. The hard disk you specify at the time of purchase is the hard drive Apple expects you to live with for life, short of buying a new laptop. This said, there are plenty of third party Mac hardware sites that offer compatible laptop drives and Do-It-Yourself upgrade kits.

Out of disk space, frustrated with the slow read/write times of my existing 5400RPM drive, and with assurances from reading multiple guides that hard disk replacement was a breeze, I decided to give it a go. (Note: upgrading internal Apple laptop components will void your Apple warranty and Applecare agreements.) Here is the process.

1. Locate a replacement guide for your machine.
iFixit.com has a number of great laptop and iPod DIY articles. I used this one specific to my MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo. (Thanks to fiveinchpixie on Twitter for the iFixit.com resource.)

2. Find a replacement drive.
For the hard drive, I used the Mac hardware finder at Other World Computing and found this compatible Hitachi Travelstar 320GB 7200RPM drive for $89.99 after mail-in rebate. Sweet!

3. Make sure you have the correct tools.
Based on the iFixit.com guide, the only required tool I didn’t have was a T6 Trox screwdriver. I ended up ordering this Newer Technology tool kit which has the T6 Trox and also comes with two nylon pry tools (a.k.a. “spudgers”). Another bonus is that all of the tools have magnetic tool tips which made holding on to the tiny laptop screws a breeze.

4. Backup the drive you are replacing.
There are a number of options here depending how you wish to populate the new hard drive.

Some hard disk upgrade kits from Other World Computing come with USB enclosures and software which allow you to copy over the contents of the existing drive before making the switch. Note: this is probably the simplest solution if you do not consider yourself very tech savvy or do not have an existing backup strategy.

A second option is Time Machine. In this case, replace the drive, boot from the OS X install CD, format the new drive (can provide instructions if anyone needs them), then restore from your last Time Machine backup.

The method I used was to copy my existing drive using SuperDuper to an external Firewire 800 drive which is bootable, installed the new drive, then booted from the external drive. I used Disk Utility (/Applications/Utilities/Disk Utility) to format the new hard disk, then used SuperDuper to copy the data back over.

5. Replace the drive and restore from your backup.
Follow the iFixit.com guide for your machine, format and copy your data over. The hardware replacement was super easy and took me about 20 minutes total. It then took about 2 hours to let SuperDuper copy the data back to the new drive.

That’s it! Enjoy your upgraded laptop.

I now have roughly three times the amount of disk space I had before and the 7200RPM drive is lightening fast compared to the old 5400RPM OEM Apple drive. It’s like having a new computer! Not bad for a $89.99 investment.