MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement

MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement

As some of you may remember, I dropped my MacBook Pro a little over a week ago and killed its internal hard disk. I ordered a replacement from Other World Computing and installed it and aside from some dings on the case I think I’m back up to speed with this computer.

Testing the Internal HD
It wasn’t until I tried to erase my internal hard disk (running from an external backup) by writing zeros rather than a simple erase that I was able to determine for sure that something was wrong with it. I was able to erase it and test it without problem with disk tools but subsequent use showed me there was something wrong. Writing zeros confirmed this. I thought, incorrectly, that writing zeros or “zeroing all data” was a matter of security (not simply killing a directory but killing all data) but in fact, it’s also a test of writing to every track and sector of the hard disk. Once my friend Dale aimed me in this direction I found that Disk Tools choked about an hour into the writing of zeros: it found a track it couldn’t write and sat there clicking. I then knew the hard disk was shot and I’d need to replace it.

Which Replacement HD?
Other World Computing has numerous SATA internal hard disks that will work in a MacBook Pro so the question was, which to get?

The hard disk that I had in it that I was replacing was a standard, Apple installed Seagate Momentus 100 GB 5400 RPM drive. OWC sells Hitachi/IBM, Seagate, and Toshiba replacement drives. Whatever I got had to not only work in the MacBook Pro (any of these will) but it had to be compatible with Apple’s energy conservation software, it’s motion detection software, and given that MacBooks and MacBook Pros run pretty hot, whatever I got ought not be any hotter than what I was replacing.

I decided to stick with Seagate as I knew it would work with Apple’s system software so the question was, 5400 RPM which is what I was replacing or 7200 RPM which is a substantial performance increase. Given that I’m about to install Aperture on this computer, I considered the 7200 RPM drive as it would give me faster performance for what is undoubtedly a disk-intensive application (Aperture does a lot of reading from and writing to the HD as it moves through images as on large RAW files not everything will fit in memory or even in a memory cache). However, my guess was that 7200 RPM is a hotter drive than 5400 RPM and I noticed that Apple offered it in their 17″ MBP but not in their 15″ as standard equipment. This might be simple product segmenting: higher performance on larger, more expensive machine to push people into buying it but it also might be that the chassis on the 17″ is big enough to absorb the extra heat.

In the end, I went with almost a direct replacement: 120 GB Seagate, 5400 RPM.

Instructional Video
I’ve heard that HD replacement in a MacBook is very easy, there’s a bay under the machine and it’s like putting in memory.

HD replacement in a MacBook Pro is more complex and the machine has to come apart. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t bother me but given that I’d dropped and damaged this machine I wasn’t sure how precise the fit and finish was anymore and it wasn’t all that great before this accident: the case was coming apart at the seams. However, I had no alternative as I had to either do this myself or let Apple fix it with AppleCare and given that I’d dropped it, it would have cost some money, more than the part alone.

OWC has QuickTime videos on installing their parts in just about every type of Mac including a longish video on the MacBook Pro for putting in memory, a hard disk or a new optical drive. You should download and watch it if you are considering doing anything to the innards of your computer as it will show you exactly what you will be doing on your own.

MacBook Pro 15″ (intel) Video

Given that I was going to be taking this machine apart I copied the video to my wife’s iBook so I could re-watch and review it there as I did the procedure (you can see the iBook in the image above). If you’ve opened up computers before and are relatively handy, this video is all you’ll need to put in a replacement HD. It’s excellent and very reassuring to watch.

I thought I had all the tools I needed but alas, I found I was missing a Torx T-6 screwdriver so I ended up ordering this excellent kit from OWC:

Newer Technology 7 Piece Screwdriver Kit

You only need two of the seven screwdrivers for this job:

Torx T-6
Phillips 0

It’s also useful to have a tweezers, a long bladed pocketknife and a clean white towel to work on. I took notes and labeled each pile of screws. Be aware, there are many screws that need to come out and many are different and need to go in the right places. Keep them sorted.

Take it apart
I won’t go into all the detail as the video will give you enough of that but my notes may be helpful in addition to the video.

Make sure your computer is backed up if possible. If your HD crashed and you need to do data recovery in it, do it before going further. I’m assuming here that you’re on top of this.

Also, leave the new hard disk in it’s anti-static bag so as not to mix it up with the old hard disk you are removing.

1. Shut the MacBook Pro down (don’t sleep it) and unplug all cables and power cord. The computer is closed and latched.

2. Spread clean towel out on a clear work surface. A large dining room table, well lit is perfect.

3. Turn the computer over and remove the battery.

4. Remove various screws on the bottom: memory cover, inside battery compartment.

5. Remove various screws on the case around the perimeter, back and sides. Open the computer and keep the screen as near to vertical as you can, not all the way opened.

6. Gently pry up the top keypad/touchpad but be aware: there is a ribbon cable attaching it to the motherboard so do not yank it up, just loosen it as the video instructs.

Note: this was the toughest part for me as my computer had been dropped and the fit wasn’t good anymore. A new or un-warped computer should be a lot easier.

7. On my computer, the ribbon cable was taped onto the motherboard. Simply pry up the tape and unplug the end of the ribbon cable from its connector on the motherboard. Make note of where it plugs in, it’s a very small rectangular connector that’s hard to differentiate from other components next to it. Put the keypad/touchpad aside, out of the way.

8. You can now see the hard disk in the bottom left corner. It is held in place by a simple 2 screw bracket but there are various wires tucked in around it.

9. Gently lift up on the wires and plastic pieces tucked in around the hard disk to expose two screws on the right side attaching the plastic bracket to the computer’s chassis. Make sure you’re looking at the correct screws, you don’t want to take apart the actual hard disk itself.

10. Unscrew these screws and be careful not to strip the wires that are now in close proximity. Also, be careful lifting them out; if they fall back in and roll under the hard disk it will be awkward to get them until you get the hard disk out.

11. Gently undo the hard disk from its power/data port in the back. It’s a wide ribbon connector fixed to the back end of the chassis. As you do this, also, un-stick the ribbon cable from the top of the hard disk (it’s just taped) so you can loosen it in back. This is delicate so be careful.

12. Lift the hard disk out of the machine. Make note of how the plastic bracket is oriented and installed on the right side of the hard disk.

13. Remove the plastic bracket from the right side and the 4 screws holding the rubber shock absorbing system. Keep them close by as you will need them for the new hard disk. As you do this, be aware, again, of how the plastic bracket is oriented.

Warning: don’t mix up the old, possibly damaged hard disk with the new one going in. Immediately put the one you just took out someplace out of reach and sight.

Take a deep breath, get a drink of water, pee. The rest is reversing what you just did.

Put it back together

MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement (detail)

In the image above note the area on the left where the internal hard disk goes (now removed). Also note the shock absorbing rubber mounts about to be attached to the new hard disk as well as its bracket.

13. Open the anti-static bag holding the new hard disk and hold the hard disk in your hand with its label facing up and it’s ports facing back (the label will be upside down to you in this orientation).

14. Attach the 4 rubber mounts to the new hard disk and clip the bracket onto the right side.

15. Lift up on the now loose brown ribbon cable under which the new hard disk will go and attach it to it’s power and data connector in the back.

16. Gently nudge it into place so that the right shock absorbing rubber rings are in their correct place and you can see through on the right to screw the bracket in place.

17. When everything is wiggled into place, screw the bracket down and reattach the sticky ribbon cable on top of the new hard disk.

18. Nestle the various wires and plastic stuff back into place around the now secured hard disk. Check the area to make sure things are flush so the keypad/trackpad can fit back on. Make sure no wires are bound or rubbing.

19. Place the keypad/trackpad in place so you can reconnect the ribbon cable. It’s awkward in that you need to hold it at an angle so the ribbon cable will reach. Reconnect the plastic connector making sure it’s pushed down on the right place on the motherboard. If there was tape, push down on that to hold the connector in place.

20. Gently lower the keypad/trackpad into place and starting from the front (away from the screen), snap the screw guides into place. Work your way around, not forcing anything until everything is flush an connected.

21. Close the screen and latch it.

22. Turn the computer over and replace all inner screws, memory cover and all bottom case screws.

23. Replace all perimeter and back case screws. You may need to squeeze down on the lid to hold the keypad/trackpad in place so as the screws line up. Do not force or over tighten these screws. Back off if they’re not fitting as you may have things misaligned.

24. Replace battery and you’re done.


The machine will not boot from this blank, unformatted hard disk so you’ll need to boot from your external backup.

Plug power cable back in and connect external hard disk that you will be booting from.

Turn on computer and boot from external.

Use Disk Tools on external to format the new hard disk. Don’t forget to partition it using the GUID partition table as it’s an Intel-based Mac.

Once it’s set up use SuperDuper! to copy your backup to the new internal hard disk.

When that’s done, set startup to the new internal hard disk and boot the machine.

Enjoy your new hard disk and let me know if you run into problems I might be able to help with.

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