The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

A New Hard Drive Doesn't Have to Be Hard

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WARNING: This blog entry is on the GREAT experience I just had replacing the hard drive on my 17: MacBook Pro Early 2009 laptop and the company that helped make it great. It also discusses the cause of the major slowdown I experienced. If you are looking for a que-based topic go to the next or previous topics.
OK yes, I admit it: It has been a while since I’ve posted a blog. A couple folks used the Contact Me form to see what was up and where I was. Part of it is work has been picking up, part of it was lack of a topic on my part and a big part of it is my laptop had gotten down right poky and simple tasks were taking forever. It was not pretty and it was getting so I was using my laptop only when I had to. BTW this site’s files are on this same laptop. I had a suspicion what the problem was, I just needed some time and a little money to throw at it. I actually do have a two-part blog entry written about Winter Smoking which I will post soon. But first I am going to post this entry about a very pleasant experience I had replacing my hard drive and the great company who helped provide that experience. So like I said: If you are looking for BBQ, go to the next or previous blog entry.

So why is it I am writing about hard drive replacement in my BBQ blog? Well first off, you may have noticed in the last sentence I did say MY BBQ blog. But just like when this site was made in iWeb, hosted on Mobile Me and listed in several directories of iWeb/Mobile Me web sites, I now get visitors who are RapidWeaver/Apple users because this site is listed several places for sites made in RapidWeaver. I also made a post about making the switch to RapidWeaver that was posted in the iWeb forums. So I do get a decent share of folks visiting here who are more RapidWeaver than que oriented, than BBQ oriented. Lastly we are all computer users, me and anyone viewing this site, so I think a computer based ti or heads up every once in a while is not a bad thing. I’m going to start off describing the problem, in case you run into it and then take about the solution and how easy it can be.



The first method to see how much free space you have is to be in the Mac’s Finder and look at the Desktop Icon for your boot drive, usually called Macintosh HD unless you’ve renamed it. This shows the size of the drive 749.81 GB in this case. Then look at the bottom of any open Finder window and at the very bottom will be the free space on your drive. Here we see the figure shown is 457.13 GB. You need to be concerned when this figure is less than 20 percent of the total drive size.

My laptop is currently running Mac OSX v10.6 Snow Leopard. OSX is a UNIX based operating system and has powerful memory management capabilities from it’s UNIX heritage. UNIX uses a lot of virtual memory which affects and is affected by your hard drive. Virtual Memory is where the operating system takes items it currently has in RAM and swaps them onto the hard drive and stores them there. The theory is the next time this information is needed it can be retrieved more quickly from the hard drive than starting from scratch. For example the information for Apps you are not using is stored in Virtual Memory. When you switched to that App, the info can be retrieved relatively quickly vs. having to relaunch the App from scratch. Now Virtual Memory uses the hard drive and is about 100 times slower than having that same info in RAM. As long as there is plenty of hard drive space, the Mac happily swaps information back and forth from RAM to Virtual Memory. When the hard drive fills up things start to slow down. You may be surprised at how much free hard drive space you need to have for Virtual Memory to work smoothly. The rule of thumb I’d always heard was a UNIX based operating system needs 10 percent of the hard drive space free to function smoothly. Now if you think this is a decent chunk of hard drive to leave open, my REAL WORLD experience has shown me that on my Mac’s running OSX 20 percent is more like it. That is a lot of free space, particularly on a laptop which has smaller drive. As far as the 20 percent figure goes I can say the every time one of my Macs got down to 20 percent left on the hard drive, I could tell. The Mac would start getting poky, switching Apps would be delayed and I’d hear the hard drive thrashing. I’d never gotten down to 10 percent or less to see what happens until recently.


The second method to see how much free space you have is to be in the Mac’s Finder and single click to select the Desktop Icon for your boot drive, usually called Macintosh HD unless you’ve renamed it.. Go to the Finder’s File Menu and select the Show Inspector command. This will bring up a dialogue box showing the drive size and the amount used and the amount free.

In the past when I hit 20 percent free hard drive space, I’d have a purging session where I deleted old Apps and moved other data off the computer. This time around I was out of options. The item that was driving this turned out to be my Aperture library and my new 10 mega-pixel camera. The Aperture library alone was taking 150GB on a 360GB hard drive. One of the advantages of Aperture over iPhoto is it is good at managing multiple libraries and these libraries can be on the LAN. The problem I had is I’d already split off my personal and work libraries. The 150GB is my 8 years of food photos, 7 years at 5 megapixel and the last year at 10 megapixel. I couldn’t split off these photos because they would go missing on my website. RapidWeaver tracks them by their current location when you added them to your site. if I moved them they would go missing. When my hard drive hit 70GB left free (+/- 20 percent), I got the usual slow down and thrashing. I discovered I could no longer prune it. When the hard drive got down to 40GB free, it was really getting annoying. Switching Apps often took 30 seconds to 1 minute for the new App to come into focus. You got the colored spinning beach ball cursor often. Using the computer was more annoying than fun. It got even worse when it dropped down to a low of 22GB (6 percent) the computer was unusable. Safari would take minutes to load web pages, Safari would not load lots of web pages - it would lock up and go unresponsive, network transfers were glacial, you waited for anything and everything, restarts took 7 or 8 minutes. Now if this was a PC I might suspect malware or a virus, but I knew this wasn’t from a virus. So one thing to take away from all of this is if your Mac suddenly gets slow, look at your free hard drive space. If it is below 20 percent, take what ever steps are required to get yourself above that 20 percent free hard drive space. It makes me a HUGE difference.

Fortunately there was a relatively simple solution: Put in a bigger hard drive. I’d looked at 500GB hard drives and found it was anywhere from $70.00 to $100.00. I just needed to get some money in from some of my clients. The company I planned to use was Other World Computing. They are a company that specializes in Mac peripheral sales and I have been using them for over 15 years for all of my expansion and peripheral needs. You don’t get someone on the phone who isn’t familiar with Macs or knows just enough to be dangerous. These folks know Macs, their product line is Mac based. They have great tutorial videos for installing RAM, hard drives and other peripherals on your specific Macs. They also have all the tools, software and hardware to make doing your job as easy as possible. When some checks came in and I’d paid my other bills, it was time to get the hard drive. That or throw my Mac out the window and I was very tempted on several occasions. As I mentioned earlier I have a 2-part blog entry written in Pages, but using RapidWeaver under low memory was so painful as to be a non-starter for me.


For a little more money I was able to get a kit with hardware, software and tools needed to install the new drive in the laptop and re-use the old hard drive in a small portable enclosure. This offers many possibilities for using this drive.

When I finally got serious about buying the hard drive, I went back to the OWC website to buy the 500GB drive. Once at the OWC website I started having second thoughts. For every laptop I’ve owned I’ve always gotten a much bigger hard drive than I thought I’d ever need. Not always the biggest, often the middle sized drive. Every time I started using the laptop I thought I’d never fill up this drive. Then 2 years later I’d be tight for space. So I decided to see what the next sized drive was and whether it was affordable. Sometimes the biggest drives for laptops tend to be pricey, particularly if they are a new size. There were 1GB drives, but there were also 750GB 7200 RPM drives and the cost of entry wasn’t that much more than the 500GB drives. Of even more interest was OWC had put together a kit that had the drive, the 4 screw drivers and pry tool (to crack the case) you’d need to use, plus an enclosure you could use to house the old drive so you could keep using it as a transportable external drive. We were talking $150 for the whole package. This made so much more sense. I get a drive that is double the size of the current drive. I get to keep using the old drive as a portable drive and all the tools I would need. I ordered the drive and while I was waiting for it to arrive I watched the How to Videos on the OWC website. By the time the drive arrived I was able to jump in and do it in less than 15 minutes.

The process was very straight forward. I elected to put the new drive in the laptop right away and install the old drive in the drive case before formatting the new drive and cloning it. The recommended method was to put the new drive in the case and format it, then clone it while the old hard drive was still in the laptop. After looking at the instructions for installing the drive in the case I wanted to do this only once. By putting the new drive in the Mac and putting the old drive in the drive case, I was doing the hard work at the beginning and putting a drive in the case only once, not twice plus a removal. The risk I took is I might accidentally damage the old drive or the new drive wouldn’t work once in the laptop. I really didn’t think either of these two events were very likely. So I powered down the MacBook Pro, unplugged it and flipped it over on it’s back. There are 10 screws of 3 different sizes to remove. Next step is to stick the pry tool in the back of the case near the hinges and slide it to the rear corner and then forward along the sides to the mid point. At this point the cover lifts off. You remove two screws holding down a clamp which in turn holds down one side of the drive. The drive lifts out and you remove the jack for the power/data ribbon cable. You remove 4 mount studs from the sides of the old drive and you are ready to reassemble. You repeat the process in reverse to reassemble the laptop. When the back goes on you don’t need to use the pry tool, you just need to push on 4 points that have snap lock connections. Total time 15 minutes or less. I took 10 minutes to do this, but this isn’t the first Mac I’ve disassembled. I will add this unibody Mac is the easiest disassembly I’ve done. Then you follow the instructions to put the old drive in the portable case. While it wasn’t real hard it was a bit fussy in places and I was glad I elected to put the old drive in the case straight away. The other way would have involved installing and removing the new drive and finally installing the old drive. After the portable drive case was assembled it was time to clone the drive.


The built-in Disk Utility App allows you to clone the drive. There is no need to use 3rd party software to do this task.

The old drive in the external case was connected to the MacBook Pro with a short USB2 cable furnished with the drive enclosure kit. The MacBook Pro got rebooted and I held the Option Key down to force the Mac to look for all bootable drives connected to it vs. only trying to boot from an internal drive. The old internal drive in the external enclosure showed up and I told the MacBook to boot from it. I sweated this step a bit. Would the old and new drives show up? Would the MacBook boot from the old drive? I’d done my work correctly and the the answer to both questions was yes. At this point the next step was to launch the Disk Utility App and reformat the drive for MacOSX. Once this was done, it was time to clone the old drive’s content to the new drive. One of the reasons I needed to do this is so the path to all files was identical. This was a way to insure that RapidWeaver would find the files used for my web site in the same relative location as before. This was the one surprise (pleasant) in the whole operation. I thought I was going to have to download a copy of Carbon Copy Cloner to do this task. Reading the instructions on the OWC website showed me how to use the built in Disk Utility App to do this. This must be something fairly new to the Disk Utility App. because I hadn’t seen it before. You basically dragged and dropped the icon of source drive to one well and the icon for the new destination drive to the other well and you were ready to go. The only other step was to make sure a check box for erasing the destination drive was checked. I began the clone process, which is called Restore in the Disk Utility App, and it took it about 10 minutes to put up a progress bar and estimated time. The estimated time was said to be 7 hours using USB2. I left home and came back 8 hours later and it was done, so I have no idea how long it actually took. I held my breath and rebooted the MacBook Pro and happily it booted normally from the new drive.

Happily my MacBook is nice and zippy again. Apps switch fast, Safari loads web pages in a zip, RapidWeaver is nice and fast again and sees all of my photos. So if your Mac goes poky all of a sudden, check to see how much free space is available on your main hard drive. If it is less than 20 percent of the total size of the drive, take steps to get it back over 20 percent and life should be good again. If you need a replacement drive for your Mac, or any other Mac peripherals - you can’t do better than OWC (Other World Computing). Decent prices, extensive Mac knowledge and they’ll hold you hand from start to finish. I guess now that my computer is working well again, I’ll have no further excuses not to get those two blog entries I’ve written posted in RapidWeaver.


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