Friday, May 10, 2013

Hard Drive Replacement in Macbook Pro

A friend of mine had a secondhand 2007 MacBook pro that the hard drive crapped out on. She bought a new hard drive from Best Buy for $40 and took it to one of those "Mac Express" places that litter the malls to ask how much it would cost to have it installed. They told her, "We only use our own hardware. The drive we'd put in would be $120 and it would cost around $150 for labor." The saleslady then added, in an attempt at mock solidarity, "I'm trying to think of someone around here who might be able to do that for you for cheaper, but I just can't come up with anything."

This is disingenuous on too many levels to count. I know she makes her living by selling services--why be timid about it?

Anyway, I love pulling apart computer hardware and sometimes I’m even able to put it back together. And I've replaced a couple of hard drives in my time. So I took her computer home with the promise that I'd have a look at it, and wouldn't break anything I wasn't confident I couldn't fix.

I'd never done surgery on a Mac before. I found a great guide to the hard-drive replacement procedure on line. It mentioned I'd need a Torx T6 screwdriver. What the hell is that? And what's wrong with a Phillips?

Strangely enough, the local hardware store had a set of tiny precision screwdrivers for sale right on their impulse display which included a selection of Torx bits. Armed with this, I set to the task of taking out screws. And more screws. Most were Phillips. Some Were Torx. Some flat, some pointy.

Good lord, Apple uses a lot of screws.

Organization was key.

After they’d used so many screws, you wouldn't think they'd have to use so much glue. But they glue down all kinds of stuff in there—especially the paper-thin ribbon cables which needed such delicate removal.

This is where I got nervous about keeping my promise not to break anything. These cables are cheap and shabby, and it looks like you could tear them with a fingernail. I used a guitar pick and lots of patience to pry them up and work the adhesive off of the back, just hoping that I wasn't straining something at the molecular level that would disconnect this precious chain of copper atoms.

Here's the monster open, with the keyboard and the hard drive removed. When you get a Mac apart you can really get a feel for how cheap and shabby their build quality is.

You can see the pesky ribbon cable on the left.

Putting the new drive in and doing the reassembly was fairly easy after this. Forcing the keyboard panel back onto the base was tricky because the clips didn’t want to re-engage. Again, the cheap plastic around the DVD drive wanted to collapse when I pushed on it, so I had to hold the slot open with a couple of credit cards while pressing down.

Putting the operating system back on there was the next challenge. I had a scare when I turned the computer back on and it didn't detect her Snow Leopard installation disk. It turns out you have to hold the "option key" to boot to the DVD drive. Then, the installation wizard didn't see the new hard drive. Had I severed the cable with my guitar pick? No, it turns out you have to use the disk utility on the install disk before it will see a new drive.You'd think Apple could offer to do this for you, rather than sending you to hunt through menus. Thank goodness for the OS install walkthrough I found here.

I feel like Apple was fighting me every step of the way, here. Which of course they were. Why would they want my friend to fix this old computer when she might be persuaded to just buy a new one?

But once the install got going it was simply a matter of clicking a few menus and walking away for an hour. The computer actually ran great after that. It didn’t in any way feel like it was six years old. It booted in 20 seconds, connected to wifi, did its thing, and felt just as fast as any other PC I've tinkered around with lately.

Good for another 3000 miles or another six years, I hope.


  1. Valiant repair, congratulations!

  2. Congratulations on the repairs!

    I think Apple is no different than any other big corp.: all they want to do is SELL their products, not support or repair them at a reasonable cost.

    I can understand any repair shop not wanting to install a customers part. Then if the product or part would not work they would be responsible, at least in the customer's eyes, to repair it again even if the repair was completely unrelated.

    1. You're right about the selling culture, Bill. But time was that a product would sell because it was (1) reliable and (2) had the reputation of a company that would support its products behind it. It just boggles me how Apple has managed to so successfully market products that have a high cost, are guaranteed to break down in three years, and are nearly impossible to repair. A true triumph of psychology, right there.

  3. Literally just having the conversation about Apple's "Walled Garden" here at the coffee shop. Win for Win!

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