Guts, Glory, RAM: Replacing the Hard Drive in my Old MacBook

macbook a1278

Newly installed hard drive and battery

I opened up my old MacBook and replaced the hard drive last weekend. It was scary. I was nervous, my girlfriend was really nervous, my cat didn’t care.

It was actually very simple. I had come across a Gizmodo article called “Quick and Easy MacBook Repairs That’ll Save You a Small Fortune,” which led me to the site iFixit. iFixit has repair guides for any type of Apple product, including my late 2008 MacBook Unibody Model A1278, whose full name I didn’t know until I went there. As if this web site is trying to make money, it conveniently sells the products that are needing replacement. Crazy, I know!

(In addition to the Gizmodo article, I was inspired by the “March is for Makers” month on CodeNewbie, a great podcast and online community for new programmers like myself.)

I have been thinking about getting a new computer, even though the ol’ Model A1278 works perfectly fine. It is a bit slow, and the battery sucks, but I didn’t think it was worth it to plunk down $1,000+ on a new MacBook. (I was tempted to get a real cheap laptop and maybe try a Linux OS, but I’m not there yet.) The Gizmodo article recommended a new “solid state disk” (SSD), which apparently speeds up the computer by accessing memory more efficiently. I say “apparently” because I’m no hardware expert, so I take this kind of information on face value.

Taking It Apart

Because my computer is so old, opening it up is only pressing down on a latch on the back. The battery, which I replaced only a couple of weeks before, is taken out by pulling on a plastic tab. The hard drive was just a little more complicated: unscrew the bracket, unplug it from a cable (who knew the HD is just plugged in?), unscrew some screws on the HD. To put the new HD in – a Toshiba  500 GB 5400 RPM SATA Hard Drive – you just put the screws back into the new guy, plug it in, and put the bracket, battery, and cover back. Voila, a new hard drive.

Oops, I Forgot

There were a couple steps I didn’t think about until late in the process. One, I had to back up my original hard drive. For that, I needed to buy a new external hard drive and use Apple’s Time Machine program. Time Machine is seriously as easy as the forums and Apple site make it sound.

The second thing I didn’t do was make a “bootable” OS X for when the new hard drive is installed. You can back up your original hard drive using Time Machine, but once the new HD is installed, the operating system has to be on the new HD first. I just thought you just copy and paste your Time Machine onto the new HD (DUMB APPLE USER ALERT). NOT THAT EASY.

I actually replaced my original hard drive TWICE because of this. I put in the new HD, realized I couldn’t just drag and drop the Time Machine (DUMB APPLE USER ALERT), I put the old one back in, and went back and put OS X Mavericks on a USB drive.

This was actually the most complicated thing I had to do. Luckily, a YouTube channel called GeekOutTech made a very easy to follow video that showed me how to do this. Thanks, GeekOutTech!

Once I did that, I put the new HD in again, followed the GeekOutTech instructions in that same video, used my external HD/Time Machine, and breathed new life into my steam-powered MacBook.

Is It Faster?

Yes, my start up and shut down times have sped up. It’s not like I was watching paint dry before when my computer was shutting down or waking up, but it’s nice watching my little guy work like a sorta new machine. Programs like iTunes and Microsoft Office suite don’t struggle to open and close.

It’s not life changing, but replacing the hard drive (and battery) has definitely improved performance.


I spent about $250 to for the new HD, battery (the most expensive of all), cool little screwdrivers that made me feel like I was a lab scientist, and a new external hard drive I bought at Best Buy to back up the original hard drive. A relatively small investment to keep my computer chugging along for another year or two.


  • MacBook
  • External hard drive to back up my original hard drive
  • Time Machine – Apple’s program on OS X to back up the current hard drive on the external HD
  • New solid state drive and cool little screw drivers from iFixit
  • Heart of a lion

About Jay

Health Policy Wonk. Slow long distance runner. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Cameroon '06-'08. Former Night owl.
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