What they forgot to tell you about upgrading your PowerBook

February 4, 2005

What I learned while upgrading my laptop’s hard drive.

Upgrading a PowerBook’s disk drive was a bit more intimidating than I had planned for. I’ve built PC’s,
and upgraded PowerBook memory, and this was a bit worse.

First, all the screws are tiny. Make a really good plan not to lose them. Newer Powerbooks and iBooks require some screw removal for their memory upgrade; the same goes there. The last thing you want to do is drop some itty-bitty screw into the inaccessible guts of your laptop.

Second, the connectors are way scary. The flex cable from the disk attaches to the circuit board with some sort of a magic connector that seemed to “just work” when I reattached it, but I had no way of knowing if things were lined up before I pressed it together. The other end of the flex cable is more conventional looking, but difficult to remove from the disk. The tool I used to get it loose (both ends) was a TupperWare citrus peeler.

This was also helpful in brushing some spring steel contacts back out of the way when fitting the hard drive back into the laptop.

It turns out that the hardest part was getting the data copied onto the new hard drive. I had first tried backing up my drive to another machine by putting my laptop into target disk mode; that didn’t work (I had to reverse the upgrade).

What worked was recommended by a friend, Bob Hood. Before you attempt the upgrade, first by a 2.5 inch firewire drive case. This will convert a laptop drive into a Firewire drive. Mount the new drive on the circuit board, plug it in to your laptop, and use a utility like Mike Bombich’s Carbon Copy Cloner to duplicate your current drive onto the new one. Set your startup drive to be the new firewire drive, and reboot to verify that it contains a bootable drive (full disclosure; the first time I attempted to set the startup disk, my laptop crashed. I rebooted, tried again, and everything worked fine. The point is that you are not committed to anything as long as the old drive is safe in your laptop).

As soon as you feel good about the data on the new drive, it’s time to swap it in. Excepting the precautions above, the instructions that came with my new drive were good enough.

The final step is to install your old disk into the drive case. I had a little trouble doing this because the metal surrounding the laptop mounting points were a little too wide to fit inside the case (red arrows).

To make this fit, I used a rat-tail file, aligned parallel to the long axis of the drive, to remove a little bit of metal. The yellow arrows show you where I was less careful than I wanted to be. I didn’t remove much metal. It’s extremely important to blow the metal shavings off of the drive, and not to get any on your fingers before you handle the drive. The fit is tight, but not so tight that you won’t be able to get the drive out again later.

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