Maxing out your MacBook Upgrade

Running out of space on your MacBook? Things getting slow because you’re low on memory?

Maxing out the disk and memory in your MacBook can be a relatively stress-free and simple process. The only extras you need are an external drive enclosure and software to create a bootable drive image.

Apple charges a premium for upgrades, so here you get both the benefit of less expensive suppliers and the ability to wait until you really need the extra space down the road — when components are cheaper.

What worked well for me (my MacBook is a 1st gen Core Duo) basically fits in 3 steps.

  1. Buy compatible upgrade gear — SATA drives and SODIMMs
  2. Put the new drive in the enclosure, connect it to your MacBook, and create a bootable image of your old drive using SuperDuper
  3. Open up your MacBook, swap the old/new drives and memory

Now the details on each of these …

1. Buy the upgrade gear

You can buy a complete set of compatible gear from a store like Other World Computing, or go shopping for individual pieces as I did.

SODIMM PicOn the memory front, I’ve always had luck with crucial.com in terms of identifying the type and amount of memory that can be upgraded. I bought the 2GB kit (1GBx2), 200-pin SODIMM Upgrade for a Apple MacBook 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo (13-inch White) from them (currently $131.99. I paid $203.99 in Feb)

The MacBook is my first laptop with an internal SATA connector for the hard disk (SATA 150 compatible). That meant none of my existing ATA/IDE enclosures would cut it for the upgrade. When looking for one to buy, I would have liked to find one that supported Firewire 400 for the external connection, since Firewire gets closer to the actual disk throughput on the Mac (and also on the PC, if you have a few other USB devices attached) — but only USB 2.0 was available. If anyone has tried a Firewire 400 enclosure that works, comment and I’ll update this post.

SataI bought the nice little Mini 2.5 inch SATA to USB 2.0 Aluminum Enclosure ($24.98) from satadrives.com.

For the drive, 200GB was the largest available. I bought a Toshiba 200GB 4200 RPM 8MB Cache Serial ATA150 drive ($179.99. I paid $223.99 in Feb)

2. Put the new drive in the enclosure, connect it to your MacBook, and create a bootable image of your old drive using SuperDuper

Follow the enclosure’s instructions. For more on the drive image part, SuperDuper’s defaults do exactly what you want. But if you want to see more, look at MacWorld’s disk cloning with SuperDuper article. Leave a few hours for this step, as the full drive image will be pounding that USB 2.0 connection and drive for a while. I initially did this with the free, unlicensed demo of SuperDuper and it was problem-free. But, especially with your old drive and new enclosure available as a backup destination — it’s worth buying a licensed copy to get the faster incremental backup functionality.

3. Open up your MacBook, swap the old/new drives and memory

Macworld made a great video to watch before you begin all this, giving you an idea of what’s ahead.

But the best video, one that includes key hints like the amount of force required to re-insert the memory DIMMs is from the good folks at OtherWorldComputing:

OWC MacBook Upgrade Video

Watch that one a few times, possibly keep it up on another PC while upgrading to ease any fears you have.

There you have it. How is the performance? Effect on machine temperature? Subjectively, both have been great. The memory upgrade and extra cache in the drive overwhelm any disadvantage from the slower 4200RPM rotation speed. And all that extra space means I finally can develop, listen to music, edit my videos, and still have room for a some VMs or a BootCamp partition on my little wonder laptop.

Notes:

  • Apple doesn’t mind you upgrading memory, but may charge you extra for any future service to a machine that’s had a hard disk upgrade. My local Apple store gave me this warning, but then serviced the machine for free anyway.
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