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.

240 thoughts on “MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement

  1. Rich

    All i did was back up my old internal in my external using timeshare. do i have to install the osx leopard dvd after i install the new one ?

  2. Richard Post author

    Rich: Backing up your old HD is important, of course, but if you never moved that information back onto the new HD then how did you expect it to boot?

    You have to first use Disk Tools to format and partition it. Read the notes above on this carefully. Very carefully.

    Then you copy your backed up information back over it.

    Let me know if that helps.

  3. Ants Neo

    I bought a 2.5 drive case with USB2, it costed me only 299 SEK (36 USD) from Kjell & Company. I used SuperDuper to clone all information from my old 80GB drive to my new 500GB in the 2.5 case. Then I followed your tips and switched the discs and plong, it is working exactly like before with the only difference that I have over 400GB free now :-)

    Thanks a lot for your tips, very easy to follow!

  4. Richard Post author

    This is great news Ants. More space to fill up with pictures and music. Better get to work taking more pictures. Congratulations.

  5. Jason Sparks

    Hi There, Great Guide! I’m a user of Macbook Pro 15″ and i’m intending to swap the 160GB HD that comes with it, with a 320GB 7200rpm or a 500 GB rmp HD. I’ve a few question for you sir, and i hope you really help me out here:

    1. Once i change the HD, can i just pop in leopard OSX Dvd and do a fresh installation of the Mac OS X? I’ve already copied and backup all the important work and stuffs to an external HD, and i’d really want to do a fresh installation of Leopard OSX.

    2. For the above mentioned steps, all i need to do is just change to the new HD, on my Macbook Pro, pop in the Dvd and follow the on-screen process yeah?

    Thanks dude! Hope to hear from u about my queries!

  6. Richard Post author

    Jason: You need to make sure that you can start up your computer from your Mac OS X CD or DVD. Put in the disc and restart your computer holding down the “C” key. If the disc will start it up, great.

    While you’re experimenting you’ll need to understand where Disk Tools are on the CD. I’m pretty sure you’ll find them in the file menu. Read my instructions on how to format the new HD. You can’t just install Mac OS X on a blank HD, you have to format it first and you need to read about how to do this, it’s not quite as simple as it used to be.

    Once that’s done, install the system, migrate your data and start up from the new HD.

    All of that said, this is not the best way to do this job. The best way to do it is to make a complete backup of your current setup, then once the new HD is in place format it and copy the clone back. This way you’re sure to get all of your important files.

  7. Jameson

    Hi Richard:

    This looks like a really great guide you have put together here. I’m quickly running out of hard drive space and am looking to upgrade, but since it really isn’t a necessity, I’d rather not do it if there is a substantial risk to damage the computer. I guess my question is: if I take my time and go carefully, is there a significant chance that things won’t line up? I eventually plan to resell it and don’t want noticeable gaps.


  8. Richard Post author

    Jameson: If you take your time and go carefully and don’t force anything off or back on again you’ll be fine.

    Watch the video, keep things sorted out, make sure you have the right tools and that’s it. It’s not hard but there’s no room for mistakes.

    Good luck, let me know how it goes.

  9. Jameson

    Awesome, thanks for the remarkably fast reply. I had heard from a friend that his case squeaked when he put it back together, but he may have been a little careless.

  10. Jan

    Hi Richard, thanks for the tips, I haven’t done any work on computers for years, I now have a 320gb 7200rpm western digital HD, well pleased.

  11. Richard Post author

    Jan: Congratulations, I know you must feel great about having gotten through this. Enjoy the new space and don’t forget to back it up.

  12. Remi

    Richard, Great site! Empowering to unexperienced people for a simple do-it-yourself-er. You’ve contributed to many people saving money and hassle with this website! For under 200$ I’ve upgraded my 15″ Macbook Pro with a 500GB 7200 HD.

    I had a 3.5″ USB external Hard drive. So I took that drive out of its enclosure and put the new 500GB 2.5″ Laptop Drive in the enclosure instead (The two sizes use the same connection). I formatted the new drive and cloned my mac’s HD onto it using SuperDuper! I Tested it by Booting from it through the USB Enclosure. Shut down, took it out, performed the operation, and hit the power button. Voila! 500 GB HD. It made a big difference with Aperture, since I had my Aperture photo library on that USB External Hard Drive. Now it’s all directly on my computer (since I now have the space) and running silky smoooooooth…

    Thanks for the help!
    BC Canada

  13. Richard Post author

    Remi: Great news, glad to help guide the way to tech independence.

    Another bit of information that may prove useful: Firewire 800 is the bomb, it is so much faster than FW 400 that once you try it, you’ll move all external enclosures to it. For running things like Aperture from an external it’s a must. I now have two FW 800 external drives for backup and they cut the time SD takes to back up my internal HD in half. Highly recommended.

    I got my enclosures here.

  14. Remi

    Thanks for the tip. I’ve been considering Firewire 800 for a while now but don’t have any speed rushing needs for my external just yet.

    A resource also worth mentioning for anybody who is looking into this kind of upgrade is the store that I used to get my Hard Drive and RAM for the operation. It’s based out of Victoria BC and they ship internationally. Very well priced.

  15. wendy

    Hi, this is a fab little blog, thanks! Have you learned any more on the 5400 7400 issue as im about to take the plunge? Im running a pro 17″ 2.16ghz, im thinking of buying this item:
    350292570672 off ebay. What do you think?

  16. Richard Post author

    Wendy: If/when I buy a new MacBook Pro maybe sometime next year, I’ll probably put a 7200 RPM drive in it if Apple still offers them as an option ( no reason to think they won’t).

    I would hesitate to buy that eBay deal unless they’ll tell you the brand of the hard disk mechanism and you approve of it. Some are better and more reliable than others.

  17. Pingback: » How to save your MacBook Pro hard drive » Silver Mac « mensonblog

  18. Jim

    Hmmm …

    Very interesting comments. I have a MBP 15 w/ a Hitachi 500GB 5400rpm drive. I just upgraded it to 8GB (from 4GB). I came across a brand new Hitachi 500GB 7200rpm drive and bought it with the thoughts of upgrading the drive also .. hey, why not?

    Never considered the heat issue, but based upon the comments by Mr. Hickstein and the MBP 15 w/ a 7200 drive – gonna bet its from Hitachi and gonna go for it … will see if there is a heat issue with a 7200rpm drive and 8GB …


  19. Richard Post author

    Jim: The 8 gigs of RAM won’t cause a heat issue but 7200 rpm drives definitely run hotter than 5400 rpm drives. The other factor on heat issues is how much the drive spins: doing a lot of web surfing to sites that use Flash (for instance) tends to keep drives spinning all the time and heats machines up quite rapidly.

    I’d say going to 8 gigs of RAM will actually help keep things cooler because there should be less disk use as more things will sit in memory at one time.

    Let us know how it works for you.

  20. Stella

    Richard, thank you – you totally rock! I just replaced the original hard drive on my 1st generation 15in MCB Pro, which had crashed. It was a walk in the park with your instructions and links. I saved both time and money – can’t ask for more!

    250G Seagate, 5400 RPM – and you’re spot on about the backups. My Time Machine backup made the crash way less traumatic.

    All the best!

  21. Rich


    What an amazing resource you have here ! Thankyou so very much !

    I damaged my late 2006 MBP HD with the magnet from an Elgato TV aerial such that the drive clicks and doesnt mount (think I bent the heads)

    I have a new Toshiba 320 Gig HD which I will replace according to the excellent guide you have published.

    Now, my question is this, Richard, can I boot the newly-replaced HD MBP from a new Snow Leopard disk and use that to format the disk and to install OSX, or do I need the original disks from the MBP ? I am having problems finding my original MBP disks despite keeping them safely for the last 4 years !

    If not, do I need to format the new HD in an enclosure ?

    The reason I ask is that I would like to avoid installing the new HD into the MBP if I can only format it within the MBP with the original discs. If that is the case, I’ll place it in an enclosure and use a Snow Leopard disk to format it there. But will it work if I install the HD into the MBP and try to format it with a Snow Leopard disk ?

    Many, many thanks in advance


  22. Richard Post author

    Rich: Good question. You’re just fine using Disk Utility from a generic Snow Leopard OS X install disk to format the new HD and install OS X. Just remember to partition the drive as per my instructions above.

    I take it you lost the entire contents of your old HD? Did you not have a backup? If not, why not? You really need to back up daily and the best way to do it is with SuperDuper from That’s what saved my bacon and I continue to back up every day on two different external HDs that I swap. If you had a backup you could simply use SD to restore the entire thing after formatting with disk tools.

    Anyway, water under the bridge but once you get the new HD installed you really should set up a regular backup scheme, it will save you a heck of a lot of work and worry.

    Good luck, let me know if you need more help.

  23. Tessa

    Hello! Great step by step really helpful. I have the MacBook Pro 2009 sept and I tried to install my laptop with a samsung 2.5 640GB with my time machine backup on a basic Hipoint external. However when I turned on my laptop all I can see is a white background and a question mark in the middle of a folder aka no hard drive but because my external is very basic i dont know how to get around it and try to update the new hard drive!!


  24. Richard Post author

    Tess: By holding down the Option key when booting your machine you’ll get a pre-boot screen showing you all bootable hard disks. You can then use the arrow keys to choose one.

    I wasn’t aware that a time machine backup was bootable. This is why I use SuperDuper to make a bootable backup. But, I may be wrong, TM backup disks may be bootable.

    Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

  25. Meg

    Hi Richard -

    I just wanted to join others in thanking you for putting this up. It was time to sell or upgrade my MBP “pre-Unibody.” I was a bit intimidated at first but thanks to your guide everything went smoothly and I’m really pleased with the results. I’ll get a few more years outta this sucker now!

    Take care!


    ps. I bought SuperDuper as you recommended and couldn’t be happier with that either ;-)

  26. Richard Post author

    Fantastic Meg. If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of HD did you put in your computer? Brand, size, speed?

    As the price of solid state drives (SSDs) comes down you might consider one of those as well, it will make your machine faster than many newer models and will be super quiet and cool. I’m sold on them myself and won’t be be buying machines with internal hard disks again. I still use hard disks for backup but prefer an SSD internal. Check it out if you’ve not.

  27. Meg

    Hey Richard -

    I got a WD 500 GB 7200 – “Scorpio Black” I think is the name. I read yours and other’s concerns about heat and 7200, but decided to go for it anyway, and haven’t noticed any real heat so far, although I haven’t really put it to the test yet. I’ll update if I notice a problem.
    It is a bit louder than the original Hitachi 120 GB 5400 which it replaced but with the very noticeable bump in speed and space I’m very happy with it.

    SSDs are a very exciting development, but still out of my price range. Saw some affordable hybrid drives which were interesting but would rather go whole-hog. Although I must say, I’m pretty sold on SSD by those posts that you linked… I think that’ll be a priority on my next computer! Or perhaps by then, they will be standard as the OS drive anyway.

    Thanks again! Great site, I’ll be hanging around!

    - Meg

  28. Richard Post author

    Thanks for letting me know you successfully did the drive upgrade/replacement. Amazingly it’s not as hard as it might seem although one does have to pay close attention.

    I have two LaCie rugged drives that I use for backup, both of which are 500GB, 7200 RPM drives (not sure of the OEM) and they’re quiet and cool. It may be that my initial concern about heat was based on earlier models of these drives and the technology has improved since then.

    I agree on the price of SSDs but I must say, the speed boost you see with the 7200 RPM hard disk is nothing compared with going from any HD to an SSD. However, this is only really apparent when booting and launching applications. Other than that a fast hard disk is just fine. Of course, an SSD consumes a bit less power and is silent which is also a plus. No doubt, as you say, Apple will put them in all of their machines as flash memory becomes less expensive. Certainly the popularity of the MacBook Air speaks to that.

    Thanks again for your report and let me know how it goes down the road.

  29. Paul-Gabriel

    Richard, I have a similar problem with my macbook pro, also a 2006. It’s a dated machine but has run great until about a month ago when the hard drive began to fail, I want to replace what’s broken rather than buy a new laptop, and was wondering if you could give me advice on which hard drive to go with. Its six years later, so Im sure things have changed, but would almost any 2.5″ contemporary hard drive work? I noticed you mentioned you went with a seagate to keep the heat down, is that still relevant to a 2012 purchase? Is there anything else I should know? Thanks so much for any information!

  30. Richard Post author

    Paul-Grabriel: I don’t know all that much about the various brands these days although my guess is things are about the same: Seagate, Hitachi, Western Digital are all decent brands.

    You also have the option of using an SSD instead of a hard disk which would give you a huge boost in performance.

    I bought my raw drives from OWC:

    Poke around there and see what you can come up with that suits your budget and need for space and speed.

    The only other consideration is whether the drive is compatible with Apple’s sleep and hibernation routines although my guess is anything you buy from OWC for your machine will be. Ask about that when researching.

    Let me know if you need more help.

  31. Chris

    Hey Richard, six years on and still going strong! Let me add my voice to the chorus of praise. The job was a breeze thanks to your clear and precise instructions. I just had to blend out the taunts from my son (“You’ll never get a job in Apple’s Chinese factory working at that speed”). Seriously, pages like this are gonna be important for a few years more, so to all future visitors: just do what the man says and you’ll be fine.

    For the record, like Paul-Gabriel above, the HDD eventually failed on my mid-2006 Core Duo MBP. The data loss was no big deal; it was all duplicated elsewhere on other machines, and the device long ago ceased being a business tool. It now functions as the handily-lying-around family argument settler/media consumption unit.

    My goal in installing an SSD was simply to get another year’s use out of the MBP, so I chose a €70 / $95 Verbatim 64GB (SATA II, not that that’s relevant in this case). Did a completely fresh install of Snow Leopard (Lion won’t work with the Core Duo) from retail disk, manually installed bookmarks, addresses, and a few vital settings and prefs.

    Holy Mother, if I may say so. I always liked that machine, but it has never, ever run better than it does now. We’ll see how it goes down the road, but for now I’m totally happy, so thanks again!

    Inspired by this, I’ve acquired the parts and a Samsung 830 series 128GB SSD to replace the optical drive in my 2009 Unibody MBP (which IMHO was never much of a leap forward from the 2006 model). The job looks easier than the one you’ve guided us through, so I’m hoping for equally spectacular results. Keep you posted!

    Greetings from Düsseldorf, Chris

  32. Richard Post author

    Chris: Thank you for the acknowledgement. I’m delighted my instructions on HD replacement and praise of SSDs for keeping older machines alive worked for you.

    You’re right, the instructions in this post are for now long outdated MacBook Pro bodies that come apart differently from the current “unibody” chassis. However, my wife is using an older MBP of mine that has the older body and a core2 Duo so she’s running Lion on it so as long as that machine is in our family (another year at most) I’ll need to refer back here if I ever need to crack it.

    I think the interesting question is given Apple’s cornering of flash memory markets to feed the storage on iPads and iPhone, will they also do same as they move SSDs in Macs from expensive options to standard setups. As I said a while ago in my praise of SSDs, flash memory and solid state storage is the future although now because of iCloud and other cloud services there is less pressure to have a hard disk or SSD hold everything.

    It’s a fascinating time and while technology marches forward it’s always good to know that people are getting more years out of perfectly fine older machines by fixing and upgrading them. Glad to read your report Chris and I hope you’re not having too much snow and cold over there in Germany. I think you stole our snow!

  33. Bill Lauf

    Richard…you are so analytical and handy…I have need of a brain transplant…can you offer some advice?

  34. Richard Post author

    Bill: Your body is too old and decrepit for a new brain, you’re stuck with the slow and failing one that you’ve got. Try some defragging software, it might help. ;)

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