It shouldn't be this difficult to upgrade a hard drive


You know what’s a little more difficult than I first imagined? Upgrading the hard drive in my late 2006 iMac. I had initially wanted to upgrade the hard drive so I could finally dual boot between Mac OS X and Windows 7, since the old drive, a 250GB model, was pretty much filled to capacity. (Trying to run Mac OS X with only ~5GB of free space isn’t ideal.) And even though the iMac user manual clearly states that the only user-replacabable parts are the RAM, I figured, “Bah! I think I can handle a simple hard drive replacement.” I did, but not before wishing I had never so much had broken out a screwdriver.

Please note that the following is merely a description of my attempts to replace my old iMac’s hard drive. The primary purpose of this post is to kill time on a Monday afternoon, where even Drudge has had the same headline since this morning. It is, in fact, a slow day, in other words.

So why did I decide to subject myself to such nonsense? Why wouldn’t I merely buy a new iMac? Well, for one, new iMacs cost money, and when you owe Citibank the amount of money I do for the privilege of having attended college, well, money is tight. Besides, it would be a fun adventure, cracking open the iMac, going against the grain (the grain being the manual that says “don’t bother wasting your time, it can’t be done”). And if I ever buy a computer in the future, which is not a guarantee, it most certainly won’t be a proper Mac. Rather, I’ll buy a cheap PC, then Hackintosh it. I get to run Mac OS X, without having to shell out more money than I’m willing to these days.

So let’s get to it!

I decide to upgrade my hard drive. I do a little research just to confirm what type of hard drive the iMac uses (a standard SATA one, so nothing crazy). One trip to Newegg later, I have a nice 1TB hard drive heading my way along with an external enclosure for the old drive, just to make it easier to grab things like music and photos off my old hard drive.

I start searching around, trying to figure out if there’s any unreasonable steps involved. I find a description to replace a G5 iMac’s hard drive, and, wrongly, it turns out, I assume the directions are the same for my iMac. I search a little more, and find a thread on the Apple Discussion Board saying how hard it was to replace an Intel Mac’s hard drive. You mean the steps are different for an Intel Mac? Yes! While the G5’s hard drive could be replaced in what looks to be about five seconds (you slide out the old one, and then slide in the new one), the Intel Mac requires you to break into the iMac and perform a little surgery. Still, no big deal.

My hard drive and enclosure arrive in the mail, and I crack open the iMac as per any number of instructions you can find online. I manage to lift off the plastic cover; my next task is to unscrew the LCD and lift it away. I don’t know about you, but the thought of having to physically removing the LCD from the iMac was a little disconcerting. But we soldier on!

Or no we don’t! It turns out that the precision screwdrivers I had used to perform a little surgery on my PSP—several specks of dirt had gotten underneath the plastic screen protector, so I had to open it up and clean it—weren’t the proper tools for the job, and my other Torx screwdriver set was too big to fit into the tiny space where the screw was located. Fine, that’s my fault. I hop on eBay, because I just have the feeling that the local store isn’t going to have a precision Torx screwdriver set, and order a set. Several days later my shiny new screwdrivers arrive.

Keep in mind that about two weeks had passed between my ordering of the new hard drive from Newegg and my getting the proper screwdriver set from eBay. To say that I had lost interest in the whole project would be correct.

Stupid new screwdrivers in hand, I crack open the iMac again. Take this, LCD screws! Thankfully, the eBay-ordered screwdrivers were exactly what I needed, so that problem was solved.

Remember: all we’re trying to do is replace a hard drive.

Gently, I lift the LCD away, and very very carefully disconnect it all the related wires. LCD totally disconnected, I meet the enemy: that blasted hard drive.

Several screws later, the hard drive is, um, disconnectable. I pry away a temperature sensor, disconnect the SATA cables, then, with all my might, stop short of throwing the old hard drive out the window. Why I’m angry at the hard drive, I don’t know. I should be annoyed at Apple for making it easier to get a mortgage than it is to replace a mere hard drive.

I remove the hard drive; oh, but there’s two more screws on there that you still need to remove, in order to put the new hard drive in a cradle.

To replace a hard drive!

New hard drive installed, I put everything back together. There’s a few screws on the floor, but I don’t even care. They’ll be thrown out shortly.

I turn the iMac on… and it works! Well, it turns on, which is a plus. I then slide in the Snow Leopard disc, and after a restart, it starts installing. Only, well, things seem a little dim.

I mess around for Snow Leopard for a minute, install World of Warcraft, and am convinced that the display is a whole lot dimmer than I remember. In fact, yeah, I must have broken the darn thing during the hard drive install. Terrific.

So I crack open the iMac again, and check the LCD wires. As it turns out, I didn’t break it, I just didn’t plug one in hard enough. Snapped into place, I put everything back in its place. I turn the computer on, and…

Yes~! It’s bright again! The colors were never so bright! Praise Jehovah!

Total install time: I don’t know, like three weeks, give or take. Install time not counting the wait in between hard drive/screwdriver shipments: still a good two hours. It’s very tight inside the iMac, you see, and any sudden movements were liable to blow the whole thing up.

The moral of the story? The next time you upgrade your hard drive of your fancy pants PC, just thank your lucky stars that you’re not working with an old iMac, since Apple, for whatever reason, made it exceedingly difficult to perform such a basic upgrade. (It was easier to upgrade an old Bondi Blue iMac back in 2002ish!)