Upgrading a MacBook (13” Aluminum, Late 2008) – Part 2 (HDD)

I love my MacBook. It was the first 13” aluminum unibody notebook from Apple and although it was launched as part of the MacBook range it has since migrated to the MacBook Pro range.

I run my MacBook through a 24” Samsung SyncMaster T240 and use the wired keyboard and wired mouse. This gives me a nice desktop setup and when I need to be mobile the 13” form factor is perfect.

Lately I have begun to feel the limits of the stock 2GB RAM and the 160GB HDD. So it is time for an upgrade. This post marks the completion of a 2 part project to upgrade both the RAM and the HDD of my MacBook.

No Space

Right clicking on Macintosh HD > Get Info showed that I had around 5GB of HDD space left on my MacBook. I bought the replacement drive for this little project over a year ago but had been putting off replacing my HDD – it was finally time …

Macintosh HD Info

HDD Specifications

I read a number of reviews and posts on various forums and blogs about what an ideal replacement drive would be. I looked at the prices between 320GB and 500GB HDDs (remember this is over a year ago) and finally settled on finding a HDD with a capacity of 500GB. My logic was that the bigger the drive was, the less likely I would have to do this again during my MacBook’s lifetime.

The next challenge was whether to get a 5400RPM or 7200RPM drive. Again there was heated debate in the forums and on blogs. The two contenders for me were:

I liked the fact that the drive in my MacBook was so quiet and wanted to maintain that experience. Western Digital advertised WhisperDrive technology on their Scorpio Blue drives which was meant to yield the quietest 2.5 inch drives on the market. This claim seemed to be held up in the forums and since I was not doing anything seriously IO intensive on the MacBook I decided to go with the 5400RPM Western Digital Scorpio Blue 500GB. I also ensured that the drive was no higher than 9.5mm due to ongoing debates on various forums.

Cloning the HDD

This is the part of the process that kept me from upgrading months ago. The contents of the existing HDD in the MacBook would have to be cloned to the new HDD. I had read a number of blog posts on using the SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner utilities and it all seemed simple enough – but I was still a little nervous. I finally settled on using Disk Utility which is bundled with Mac OS X and is all you really need for cloning your HDD. A simple and easy to understand post by Daryn Cox got me started.

I mounted my new 500GB HDD into an external USB enclosure. I fired up Disk Utility via Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility and selected the Restore tab. I dragged the icon of the existing Macintosh HD from the left pane into the Source box and the icon of the new external 500GB HDD from the left pane into the Destination box. Ensure that the Erase destination checkbox is checked. Double check that your existing HDD is the source and that the new HDD is the destination before proceeding.

Disk Utility > Restore

Click the Restore button.

Confirm Erase of Destination

Confirm the erasure of the destination drive by clicking on the Erase button.

Cloning ...

Then wait… My estimated time fluctuated between 3 and 6 hours initially but I left it running overnight so I’m not really sure how long it actually took. It is probably better if you don’t use your MacBook while this operation is taking place.

Verify Clone

Once the cloning process has completed you need to verify that the clone was successful. The easiest way to do this is to boot from your new HDD. There are two ways to do this in Mac OS X:

Option1: System Preferences > Startup Disk

Navigate to the Startup Disk section of System Preferences. Select the new external 500GB and click the Restart button.

Startup Disk

Confirm the restart by clicking on the Restart button.

Startup Disk - Restart

Option 2: Option Key at System Boot

Hold down the option key during system boot.

Mac - Option Key

Startup Disks

Select the new external 500GB.

Once I had confirmed that my drive had been correctly cloned, it was time to install the new HDD into the MacBook.

Installing the new HDD

Apple provide fairly detailed instructions via their support site on how to upgrade your HDD. See Chapter 3: Boost Your MacBook > Replacing the Hard Disk Drive of the manual for the MacBook 13" Aluminum (Late 2008). I had my cloned HDD, some decent precision screwdrivers this time around and was ready to begin.

Ready to begin

Opening up the MacBook

Turn the MacBook over and push down on the door latch to release the access door. Remove the access door and the battery. The battery has a handy tab on it to make lifting it out of the bay easier.

Remove access door and battery

Make sure to ground yourself before touching anything inside your MacBook.

Ground yourself

Removing the old HDD

The old HDD should be visible on the bottom left of the MacBook.


Remove the bracket holding the old HDD using a #00 Philips precision screwdriver. I finally found a decent #00 Philips and the experience removing my HDD was much better than when I upgraded my RAM… If the only advice you take away from this is to find a really decent precision screwdriver then you will be halfway there.

Lift the old HDD out of the bay using the clear tab and then gently wiggle the connector off the HDD. Remove the mounting screws using a Torx T6 precision screwdriver. Again I will say it – spend the cash and get a decent screwdriver.

Remove old HDD

Old HDD removed

Installing the new HDD

Remove the clear tab from the old HDD and attach to the new HDD. Screw the mounting screws into the new HDD using the Torx T6 screwdriver.


Place the new HDD into the drive bay.

New HDD in drive bay

Replace the bracket using the #00 Philips screwdriver.

Replace bracket

Replace bracket

Closing up the MacBook

Place the battery back into the bay and then replace the access door. Press it down gently until the latch moves to the closed position.


Switch on the MacBook and make sure it boots. Right clicking on Macintosh HD > Get Info now shows my new 500GB HDD and plenty of free space.

Macintosh HD Info

43 thoughts on “Upgrading a MacBook (13” Aluminum, Late 2008) – Part 2 (HDD)

  1. Your description encouraged me to dare that. I am now with with a new 1TB WD HD + 4GB RAM in my macbook. Everything’s fine. Thanks a lot!!
    You didn’t mention one important thing: the HD must be partitioned in GUID scheme (Under ‘Partitions’ -> ‘options’ in the Disk Utility) otherwise it only takes the data but is not bootable.

    1. Glad to hear your upgrade went well !

      The new HDD’s Partition Map Scheme of GUID Partition Table is visible one of the first screenshots but I probably should have drawn more attention to it. I was trying to let the images convey a lot of the peripheral information but I guess that is a pretty major bit of info – thanks for the feedback.

      1. Hi, should you partition before cloning? I cloned the drive but did not partition it before. could I do it after?

    2. You upgraded yours to the 1TB WD HD? Is yours perhaps the WD10JPVT Scorpio Blue 1 TB 2.5″ Internal Notebook Hard Drive? I’m trying to upgrade mine as well but I dont’ see many 1 TB for MacBook.

  2. Hi thanks this is really helpful, If I understand you correctly you transferred the data from the old drive to the new one; but how did you connect the new internal drive to a USB port for data transfer prior to installing, there are no connections on my samsung 500gb other than the ones needed for internal connections?

    1. Under the Cloning the HDD section I mention mounting the HDD into an external USB enclosure. You will need one of these to allow you to connect to the new HDD via USB.

      1. Hi Paul,
        With the external USB enclosure, is there a special lead that you need that mirrors the one used to connect internally

    2. Hi Paul,

      Further to my earlier question re connection, I went ahead and used an external Hard Drive to copy my Mackintosh HD to but now I find that I need that to reboot everytime as it only recognizes that drive as the correct one and will not allow me to change the statup disk to the new drive once copied to and installed?

      1. Check George’s comment above about ensuring that the HDD’s Partition Map Scheme of GUID Partition Table is selected. This may be your problem.

  3. Thank you so much for this tutorial I will be tackling soon. Any recommendations on the best place to purchase the screwdrivers or external USB enclosure? I’m a newbie at this and need all the essentials!

    1. USB enclosures should be available at most computer hardware stores. You may have to shop around for the screwdrivers. Check online for the best options for where you reside.

  4. Hi Paul and thank you for your step by step support.Like you I love my macbook and I can’t afford to buy a new one neither see the purpose of doing this now,My currently have 4GB RAM and 320 HD, so I’ve purchased a 8.0GB (4.0GB + 4.0GB Kit) PC-8500 DDR3 kit for iMac ’09; MacBook-Pro Unibody ’08 which after reading a few reviews I am now sure will work and a Seagate 750GB Momentus XT Serial 2.5 inch 7200 RPM 32MB 6GB/S SATA Solid State Hybrid Hard Drive plus a couple of tools and a data USB enclosure.Only wanting the delivery of the products to have your site opened on my wife’s computer and do it.Can’t wait.Once again many thanks for your help.

  5. Just to say thank you, this overview was very helpful for me. I had purchased the new 750 GB Seagate hybrid drive for my late 2008 Alu MacBook, but had gotten anxious about how to copy my files. Using Disk Utility was such a straightforward solution, rather than downloading new softward, so thanks for suggesting that. Thanks also for suggesting putting the new drive into an enclosure, that was so much simpler than backin everything up onto an external drive, only to copy it back on the new bland HD once installed. Fortunately I knew to format the new drive as Mac OS Journaled, so that was fine.
    Computer runs like a champ now, and next stop is OS 10.6 and then 8 GB of RAM. Whee!

  6. Hi,
    to let you know I have a late 2008 Alu Macbook with OS 10.6.8 + 8GB of Ram and a Crucial C300 256 GB SSD (+ Trim Enabler). I cloned my previous HDD (160GB) using Super Duper ! It was so easy to do.
    I did this one year ago and I’m still using it right now.
    It starts in less than 20 seconds. Word, Excel etc… start in 1sec. Photoshop less than 5 sec.
    It is just a rocket ! I suppose as fast as a 2012 Macbook.
    I just miss a better GPU (graphic processeur unit)

  7. So just to make sure when you plug in the new drive you click on Disc utility select new drive click on partion and click on GUID table? then once that is done you go on and restore the current HD to your new drive? is that correct?

    1. Yes – you need to ensure that your Partition Map Scheme on the new drive is configured to Guid Partition Table before you start the restore. It wasn’t that obvious from my post. Hope this helps.

  8. Hi Paul, great piece on HDD replacement and exactly what I was looking for. I have exactly the same Late 2008 13″ MacBook with 160GB and 2GB RAM. I am looking to replace the HDD and thinking about the WD 500GB Scorpio Blue 5400RPM. Are you aware of any problems with conflicting sudden motion sensor systems between the new HDD and the internal Mac one? Have read a few threads where people have had freezing issues after internally installing the new WD HDD. Any thoughts would be great, thanks.

    1. I’ve had absolutely no issues with my MacBook since the upgrade. I hadn’t read about any motion sensor conflicts and freezing at the time I upgraded.

  9. Hi Paul,
    I wish I saw this post earlier! I could have saved a lot of time researching.
    I have the same MacBook late 2008 with 2GO RAM and 160GB. I love it, It’s been working like a charm for years but since I’ll have to use Photoshop, Dreamweaver and other RAM consuming applications now, I thought I could use of an hardware update.
    I read lots of bad reviews about RAM not working properly after purchase, the fight between 5400 rpm vs 7200 vs Seagate hybrid hdd: space vs speed vs heating vs crashing. I hesitated a lot.
    I finally bought a kit of 8GO, 1066 Mhz (PC 8500) Corsair RAM for mac and a WD Black 500GO, 7200 rpm hdd. But that was the easy part I guess. Now I have to install them and I’m terrified at the idea of my MB not waking up after the “surgery” or worse constant Kernel panic messages afterwards.
    Your post comfort me a little so thank you!

    1. Hi Paul,

      I have an aluminum 08 Macbook like you, and I am facing replacing my hard drive because the original fried. When I install the new drive, will there be any additional steps I have to take to get my compiter running again? For instance, how will I get the applications that were on the computer when I bought it (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, etc) onto the hard drive. Will they already be there?

  10. Hi Paul,
    This post was really helpful. I just finished my switch and I am so happy with the last peek on my HD -> Get Info :).
    So much free space :). It took only 3 hours to finish – I had 250GB and switched to 750GB.
    There is only one thing that Apple had changed since you have done this switch. My Mac has Lion OS X 10.7.5 and in that case there is a hidden recovery partition created as part of 10.7. installation. The only difference is that the Disk Utility has to be started from the recovery partition on the original drive by holding down Command-R. Then you choose Disk Utility to Restore to your new drive. Everything else is the way you describe it and I followed your instructions closely – worked flawlessly.
    Thanks again and keep up the good work!

  11. Hi. I bought a 750gb drive to replace my 250gb on the ’08 MacBook. I have mountain lion and am getting confused with this other partitioned “base system” that pops up when in the disk utility. If I clone mac HD to the new HD then does this base system partition disappear? I literally want the same setup on the new HD! Please help

  12. Paul,
    Thanks for the great article. I have not done this operation before, but am tired of running into the 160GB limit on my 13-inch, Aluminum, Late 2008 Macbook (OS X Lion 10.7.5) Several of the comments above talk about hard drive partitions. I have a partition on my original hard drive that I created using Boot Camp so I can run some windows software that is not available on Mac. When doing the HDD cloning, how do I get both the boot camp HDD partition and the Mac OS HDD partition over to the new hard drive?

  13. hey! i was just wondering if cloning the harddrive keeps the applications as well? i am up to my limit on my adobe products, and would like to keep and continue to use those applications.. does cloning work with the apps? also would doing a time machine backup work? thanks for this tutorial!

    1. The HDD cloning process will make an exact copy of the old HDD. So your new HDD will look exactly the same as your old HDD except it will have more free space.

      So all your apps will be available on your new HDD – you will not need to use your time machine backups.

  14. Hi Paul,
    Great guide! I’ve had my MacBook 13″ Late 2008 now for three and a half years, and it has been used every day since I bought it, and with every passing day, it’s getting slower and slower. I’ve checked with every forum out there to find methods for speeding it up, but nothing works! I’m therefore convinced my hard drive is failing. I want to get a new one, and better memory than the standard 2Gb while I’m at it, rather than buy a whole new MacBook. Luckily, I have a few pennies saved up and want so splash out to get the creme de la creme of upgrades. I notice when you bought your hard drive, it was an old model. Any advice on the latest gadgets? Both for hard drives and memory? Thanks, C.

    1. My only suggestion is to read a few reviews on the hard drives you are considering. You may even be able to get an SSD into your MacBook now with the prices having come down over the last few years.

      1. Really? I didn’t realise you could put a SSD into the old MacBooks! That’s definitely worth considering… Where would I find SSD’s, on the apple store?

      2. You will not be able to use the latest fastest SSDs (SATA III) – check out last answer at https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3065392?start=0&tstart=0. If all you are after is more disk space then it may be cheaper to stick with the RAM upgrade and a HDD. But if you want a little disk speed increase look at the SSDs as an option. Just do your homework so you are not disappointed with the expected performance. Shop around online for an SSD.

    to copy or clone the Previous Hard drive to new Hard Drive Clone it using Super Duper. under free version it allows to clone the hard drive. First Let the existing Hard drive (Old one ) on your system and run the super duper ! then format the new drive with external USB mount . format it to Journal from diskUtility, Change the name of the new drive or leave it as it is . Next use super drive select old drive “TO” New formatted Journal External New Hard Drive. do not disconnect the external USB hard drive , Upon completion restart the Computer with “option” button held (enables you to choose the Hard drive to boot) see if New External Hard drive is Visible and boot from the new external hard drive. the process would be Slow as it is booting via USB but if it comes to your MAC Screen successfully Shutdown the Computer and Remove the Old Hard drive and install the new one . Hard drive change Process is mentioned online Google it.
    As the New System is intact with same files and folder but the recovery boot would be missing , upon this i would suggest install the Mountain Lion again from Internet(apple store) or if have DVD for it reinstall the OSX files on system once again without deleting any partition or drive. This would bring back the Recovery boot back and all other intact as before. You would have new Hard drive installed with everything same as Old Hard drive ” Just run system update for last time.

  16. Hi… I’m about to upgrade the HDD of a friend’s late 2008 mac book and found out about your instructions. Looks pretty straight forward 🙂
    Just one question, any idea what’s the max HDD capacity we can put?

    Thanks !

  17. Went through the same process along with two 4gb memory sticks. Both installs were really easy and now this 6 year old laptop is snappy and ready for another few years. I recommend while you are doing the HD to change the RAM as well. It is easy and cheap.

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