Upgrading a Hard Drive on a Macbook

A little over a week ago, I ran out of space on my 80 GB hard drive. I didn’t think that would ever be possible. For the first time, “df -h” showed available space in kilobytes!

In an ideal world, I’d replace the drive, put a fresh installation of OS X on it, install all my applications anew, and move my data over from the old drive. But since this is incredibly time-consuming, I decided simply to clone everything from my existing drive to a new one. I’d never done this on a Mac before. All seems to have gone well with my upgrade, so I’m posting some notes on my process. Standard caveat: while they worked for me, they may not work for you!

After some hunting and price comparing, I bought a 250GB Seagate Momentus (ST9250315AS) drive at Office Depot and a generic USB disk enclosure at RE-PC. I would have preferred FireWire, but they seem difficult to find in brick-and-mortar stores and they’re more expensive.

Third-party applications exist to clone entire drives, but it turns out Disk Utility works just fine for this. After connecting the drive to the Macbook via USB, it should show up in the application’s drive list in the left pane. There are three steps to prepping the disk (adapted from this site by one “A Brody”):

1) In Disk Utility, select the drive and click the “Partitions” tab. Select “1 Partition” for the Volume Scheme. Select “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” for the format. On Intel-based Macbooks, the drive should have a GUID partition map scheme, so click “Options…” for a dialog and make the appropriate selection. Click “Apply” to perform the partition.

2) Click the “Erase” tab and erase the disk.

3) Open a Finder window, ctrl-click on the newly created volume, and select “Get Info.” At the very bottom of the window, there is a checkbox pertaining to ignoring ownership and permissions. Change it so the computer DOESN’T ignore these!

Now the drive is ready for data. This part is a bit counter-intuitive: in Disk Utility, select the “Restore” tab. Drag the old volume from the list into the “Source” field. Drag the newly created empty volume from the list into “Destination.” Click the “Restore” button to start the copy. Copying 73G (the actual size of the drive was smaller than the nominal size) took a little over 2 hours.

After the copying is finished, shut down the computer, and swap out the drive by following Apple’s instructions. I needed to use a Torx T8 size driver for the screws attaching the drive to its mount. Be aware that Macbooks and Macbook Pros might use different size screws.

And that’s it! The machine should boot off the new drive.