Weekend Project: Macbook Surgery

White 13" Macbook Circa 2006Back in 2006, I bought my wife and me identical Macbooks, the white ones.

When I buy computers, I always factor in the aftermarket enhancements I can make. This is one case where I’m not worried about maxing out memory or storage later down the road because I’m comfortable cracking open a laptop or desktop and doing a little plastic surgery.

If you’re not, you might consider a foray starting with something easy, like a memory upgrade. It’s a great way to save money and buy what you need, rather than what you think you’ll need. I’ve been keeping an old desktop (circa 2000) alive for years by adding memory and disk. The one thing I won’t mess with is the CPU, and at some point, that becomes the weak link. Still, you can bleed a lot of extra time out of an older machine by adding memory and disk to it.

So, those Macbooks came with the base memory (500 MB) and disk (55 GB). About a year ago, I maxed out the memory on each at 2 GB for about $50 and 20 minutes of work. This made a huge difference, and I probably saved a couple hundred bucks over what it would have cost to buy them new with that configuration or to send them to an authorized mechanic.

Recently, I hit the 50 GB wall on my Macbook; VMs eat a ton of disk space, and I had plans to go to Leopard (finally) with iWork 09 and iLife 09, both pretty heavy footprints.

So, I started gathering notes about replacing the disk.

I started with Twitter to get an idea of how easy/hard it would be. The consensus was easy; my query also yielded the instructions from Apple, very useful. An aside, Twitter is a phenomenal resource for technical advice and opinions, if you ever need one.

Then, I went to Google to dig up step-by-step instructions; I read several, all pretty much matching the official instructions (pdf) from Apple. I settled on this one from Instructables, in small part because of the chubby guy in the Apple onesie. Funny stuff.

Instructables is an interesting site, filled with user-generated how-tos, hit and miss, but pretty entertaining.

One very important fact that isn’t mentioned in the Apple instructions is that you’ll need a Torx bit to remove the drive from its casing. This is a curveball I’m glad I saw before cracking open the case. I have a set of tiny screwdrivers, specifically for electronics, but I did not have a Torx bit set, but I do now. This is information that was welcome before opening the case and realizing I needed another tool, a classic DIY problem.

Once I was confident and prepared, I assembled my tools:

  • A copy of Super Duper! (Carbon Copy works too) to clone my drive. Most people will tell you starting clean is better, but I don’t dig that. It’s preference.
  • My assortment of tiny screwdrivers, specifically Phillips (invented by a  Portlander!)  and Torx bits.
  • A blank 250 GB 2.5″ eSATA internal hard drive. Make sure you get this right. Even though I couldn’t find it later, I remember reading that my Macbook would only support up to 250 GB. Better safe than sorry.
  • A USB/eSATA hard drive enclosure for cloning and reusing my old 55 GB drive as a backup disk.

I also had to get a USB hub. My research dug up some complaints that the drive enclosure couldn’t power a drive adequately with only a single USB port. The enclosure I bought came with an AC port that draws its power from two USB ports. The documentation (such as it was) strongly recommended powering the drive with all three at the risk of cold startups. Sounds bad. So, I had to find three open ports for the drive enclosure.

So, the weekend came, and I got started. I waited for the weekend so I could have large blocks of time when I didn’t need to do work on my Macbook. Turns out I needed most of the weekend to finish.

Saturday I erased the new drive, which took about five hours, then cloned all my data using SuperDuper! That ate up most of Saturday. Plus, I had other household projects to keep me occupied.

Sunday I hit my first snag. The old 55 GB drive came out of the belly of my Macbook just fine, but it was uncooperative going into the drive enclosure, which was supposed to be “Mac compatible”. The drive was a smidge taller than its replacement, so I had to convince (ahem, smash) it in there and seal the enclosure. Suffice to say it won’t be coming out of the enclosure anytime soon.

I booted up the new 250 GB drive to Tiger with no worries. It was an exact duplicate, only five times larger.

Then I went to install Leopard and hit another snag. There was no upgrade option available. Apparently, disks cloned from original installs can’t be upgraded, or so it seemed from a quick search. I had no choice but to wipe the new drive (again), repartition it as GUID Partition and build it from scratch. Bummer.

Just as Sunday was slipping away, lost to rebuilding my laptop, OS X threw me a line. The Leopard install could import my old settings and applications from the old drive, the equivalent of an upgrade. There was much rejoicing.

By late Sunday night, I was fully functional with all my VMs (VirtualBox and VMWare) consolidated on one machine. I tweaked the nifty UI candy that’s new (to me) in Leopard ; those “doodads” actually do make a difference, even if Friend of the ‘Lab Michael Krigsman disagrees. I still like Mike, even though he thinks:

Macintosh adherents tend to be frivolous time-wasters dazzled by cheap sensory effects.

I respectfully disagree. I love shiny objects, but I also like rounded corners 🙂

I buried this quote way down here because: a) Mike’s post is funny to me, b) I couldn’t help thinking of him shaking his head as I messed with stacks in my dock and c) I don’t want a flame war. So, be nice.

Anyway, early this morning, I was finally done. I even found some new wallpaper to go with my newly remodeled Macbook. Check it out, very cool.

Don't know who to attribute this to, but I love it.

Don't know who to attribute this to, but I love it.

I found it here, with a bunch of others; also check out these sweet Apple-themed ones (h/t TUAW) for the full-on fanboi experience. Another plus in Leopard, I can finally get the iTunes cover art screensaver working right; in Tiger, all the images were tinged in pink. Ick.

I know, Mike’s shaking his head again. More shiny objects.

So, your thoughts about this rambling post belong in the comments.




  1. Nice job Jake. I have been through the similar thing. Add Macbook Memory to 4G(2*2G DDR2 667), but I haven't replaced the 80G HD yet. Probably will do the same thing shortly. Your article is a great reference!

    I prefer CCC as it is freeware (donation welcomed)^_^

    OS X's upgrade is quite painless (although not as good as rolling update in Debian/Arch and other distros) it's really good. Import and transfer user profiles/settings is straightforward. I remember we can connect two mac using 1394 cable and transfer settings on the fly, which is more than great.

    Regarding VM images, do u shrink the VM from time to time? If u copy/download big chunks into the VM, u may need to do so to reduce the size. Because VMWare Fusion/Workstation does not release the disk consumption automatically.

  2. Removing the disk is as easy as replacing the memory, and if you have the right bits, you'll be in and out in no time. It was all the prep work and data movement that took so much time.

    Super Duper! has a free version that does what I needed. You can upgrade to a paid license, but I'm not sure what bells/whistles you get for the 20-something bucks.

    I agree that the move to Leopard was painless, after my initial shock. If I hadn't had the old drive attached, I would have missed the settings import though. Lucky.

    Re. VMs, I've used VirtualBox most. I find it to be faster and better at resource management, and it's open source. How do I shrink an image in VMWare? I only use that for the OBI image so far.

  3. just went through the exercise on a Intel MB last weekend too. Memory and Disk upgrade couldn't be easier.

    It ran Leopard before I cloned the new disk. I hope I don't hit any snags upgrading to Snow Leopard when it comes out.

  4. I look forward to Snow Leopard with ZFS:) Should be a pain free upgrade again.

    Regarding Shrink: OBI is ugly built VM image. The guys don't clear up the junk leftover after service pack or update. They don't shrink either. OMG…
    At least u can delete:
    %systemroot%$hf_mig$ and %windir% any $NT*$ folders
    No worry about this. If Windows requires files under ServicePackFilesi386, use a XP CD or ISO image and point path to the CD. Not gonna happen often.

    Online shrink (hot): Work for both Linux and Windows VM. Install vmware tools. Check Shrink tab in vmware tools.

    Offline shrink: not available for Mac OS. On Linux/Windows, use command vmware-vdiskmanager -k

    Shrink and check the size:)

    I don't like Vbox as it does not run my all my vmdk images smoothly.

  5. Thanks for the tips. I may get Rich to write a VM post to collect these types of how-tos. I try to stay away from the OBI VM unless I need to use Office on Win.

    I've not had any issues with VBox.

  6. What does Snow Leopard have that's interesting to you? Aside from ZFS, I haven't seen much else of interest, so I'm curious. I tend to lag behind on for-profit O/S upgrades 🙂

  7. Nice, I'll keep my eyes peeled for more news. It'll take a lot of great new features for me to upgrade any time soon though.

  8. Nothing as far as new features are concerned. I just happen to always upgrade my Apple software we a new version is out 😉

    I did hear that Snow Leopard should see improvements in performance and stability which is always nice to have.

  9. I read a list of new features at Mac Rumors or TUAW, one of those, and it definitely seemed like an emphasis on backend stuff, rather than eye candy. The O/S-processor enhancements for dual cores will rock. I may go to Snow Leopard faster than I did to Leopard.

  10. The abdominoplastia is the surgical intervention directed on elimination tummy tuck. Simultaneously at this operation can be eliminated and other accompanying problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.