Q. Can I replace the drive in my 2012 or earlier MacBook / MacBook Pro?

The MacBook and MacBook Pro Mid 2012 and earlier models (excluding all MacBook Airs and the Late 2012 and later Retina MacBook Pro) have hard drives that can be replaced with a larger, faster 2.5″ SATA hard drive or upgraded to a 2.5″ SATA Solid State (SSD) flash drive.

The models vary a bit in how you access the drive.  In general you will need a Philips #00 screwdriver and a Torx #6 (for newer models) and/or Torx #8 screwdriver (for older models). The latest MacBook Pros may require a TriWing screwdriver as well. There are take-apart instructions for all Mac notebook models at ifixit.com.

I recommend that along with your new hard drive or SSD drive, you purchase a USB – SATA 2.5″ drive enclosure for about $20. This makes transferring your data from the original drive very easy.

Note: The instructions below will NOT transfer a BootCamp installation or any of the Windows data. For instructions on copying a BootCamp Windows installation to another drive, go here for instructions on using WinClone ($20).

  • First, download CarbonCopyCloner from http://www.bombich.com/  Consider dropping a donation to Mike while you are there, trust me the time this software will save you is worth a few bucks.
  • Install the old drive into the USB enclosure, install the new drive into the Mac, and attach the USB enclosure with the old drive to the machine.
  • Boot OSX with the old drive. If necessary, hold the Option key down at startup to select the startup drive.
  • Use Apple’s Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities folder) to format the new drive. Choose Partition, and decide at this point whether you want to make any separate partitions on the drive. (For most people, it is preferable to leave it as one partition.) Under the Options, choose GUID as the partition type, and choose Mac OS Extended as the formatting type (see this post for detailed instructions)
  • Fire up CarbonCopyCloner and have it make a bootable clone of your internal hard drive to the new drive.
  • Once the cloning is finished, restart the machine holding Option key down, and select the new drive as the Startup Disk.
  • You can now use the older one in the USB enclosure, as a backup or for transportable data.

The other thing you can do with a MacBook Pro that has an optical drive, is to replace the optical (DVD) drive with either a hard drive or a SSD drive.

In order to do this surgery, you need to have a optical drive bay bracket that is correct for the machine. There are two varieties, the PATA connect version is for early MacBook Pros, and the SATA connect version is for the Unibody MacBook Pro models and later.  The brackets run between $40 and $65, you will need to specify your Mac identifier when you order. (The Mac Identifier will look something like “MacBookPro5,2” – this can be found under the Apple Menu > About this Mac > More Information > Hardware)

MacBook Pro SATA optical 2.5″ drive bay with optional USB external optical drive enclosure.

The optical drive bay data connector in the MacBook and MacBook Pro may not be as fast as the connector for the main hard drive. What you can do if you are installing a SSD drive as a boot drive, is to install the SSD into the main hard drive spot, and relocate the hard drive into the optical bay.

You an also get an external USB enclosure for your DVD drive, so you can continue using it.

List of drives and RAM compatible with all models of Macs

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