Speed Up Your MacBook With A 7,200RPM HDD

Originally released in May 2006, Apple’s iconic white plastic MacBook has finally been retired from their main product line in favour of the Pro and Air models. But, while the MacBook is no longer being pushed by Apple, these Macs still have a lot of life left in them yet and below I’ll walk through the steps needed to upgrade your MacBook with a 7,200 RPM hard drive – though the guide will still be relevant for those installing a standard hard drive too.

7,200 RPM hard drives offer a good alternative to SSD’s, as though they cannot reach the blistering speeds seen by solid state drives, the user will enjoy increased speed without the cost per gigabyte incurred with SSD’s. There may be some negligible loss in battery power and a small increase in noise upon fitting a 7,200 RPM hard drive, but honestly, the newer models are so well designed that I’ve never seen any significant difference in either. Naturally, your results may vary depending on model.

Like batteries, cheap hard drives are a false economy and not worth entrusting your cherished data with, so buying from a reputable source is essential. Though it is not necessary to buy a drive specifically marketed toward Apple notebooks, a 2.5” SATA hard drive is needed in order for it to fit properly within the MacBook’s tight enclosure. I decided to go for a 750GB Seagate Momentus and am more than happy with my purchase but it’s worth spending some time reading reviews to make an informed decision.

You must decide whether to perform a fresh install or completely clone your hard drive (you could use Carbon Copy Cloner) or backup with Time Machine. Personally I chose cloning all my data to an external disk, as this gives the option of copying your data exactly as it was onto the new drive. It’s worth reading the steps below in full before beginning, especially because I’ll cover some less-likely issues which can crop up when upgrading a MacBook’s hard drive.

Materials needed:

  • Torx Screwdriver
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • A coin (or something similarly shaped)

Mac-HDD-Replace-01-Overview

First switch off your MacBook and let it cool down for about 30 minutes. Ensuring you are using a suitable workspace, place the MacBook face-down and use a coin to turn the notch which is adjacent to the MacBook’s battery bay clockwise. The MacBook’s battery should pop out slightly and, using your fingernails, prise the battery out. We won’t need the coin again until we’re finished.

Mac-HDD-Replace-03-L-Shape

The picture above shows the empty battery bay, which is surrounded by a thin L shaped strip of metal. This metal strip is affixed with three small screws which need to be removed carefully and placed in a safe place, such as a cup. Directly behind the L shape are the MacBook’s two RAM bays, accessible by pulling on the two small levers visible below. However, we want to go to the area left of the picture, where the hard drive is stored.

Mac-HDD-Replace-03-Pull-HDD

To remove the hard drive, feel for a small plastic tag which should be tucked underneath the hard drive. Taking care to hold the MacBook in place, pull this tag gently toward you while keeping an even amount of force until it is safely removed.

Mac-HDD-Replace-05-Enclosure-2

Unless your new hard drive comes attached with a bracket already affixed, you will need to remove the old drive’s bracket and attach it to the 7,200 PRM one. For this, you should use a torx screwdriver, though while definitely not recommended, in a pinch I have used pliers to loosen the bracket screws when no torx was at hand. Remove all four screws and take care to place your new hard drive in the enclosure in the exact way the previous one was sat.

Taking care to ensure the 7,200 PRM hard drive is facing the correct way up, slowly push it into the slot, applying even force and it should slot in nice and firmly. Ensure the tag is tucked back in underneath the drive, then place the L shaped strip of metal in its correct position. Now insert the screws and make sure the L shape strip of metal is firmly in place. Now place the battery back into the bay and turn the coin counter clockwise until it is back on.

If when attempting to boot your Mac, you get a series of beeps and it fails load, this means that your RAM has become loose when removing the L shaped strip. Repeat the above steps to access the RAM and make sure it is pushed firmly in.

Missing plastic tag – if, for whatever reason, the small plastic tag is missing, it is still possible to pry out the hard drive with some care. Just use a pair of thin nosed pliers to grab hold of the hard drive’s edge and pull it out very gently.

Hopefully the above method of installing a 7,200 PRM hard drive will help breathe life into your MacBook and enable you to hold on to it for a few more years yet. There’s a lot of other steps you can take, such as maxing out your RAM, performing a fresh installation and making sure to repair permissions, along with software aimed at optimising your Mac’s system. I’ll be discussing all of these in future articles but please let us know in the comments if you have any good tips on keeping your MacBook running quickly.