How to replace and upgrade a MacBook Pro hard disk

Here's how an IT pro replaced a three-year-old MacBook Pro's hard drive with an SSD for less than $80 in about an hour. Now his machine is faster than ever.

Image: Erik Eckel/TechRepublic

Laptops that fail three or four months after the extended warranty expires have always proven challenging. Should you replace the hard drive, reinstall the OS, and recover all the system's applications and data? That's a lot of work. And then, what happens after you invest such time and effort and the laptop's logic board or display fails? Is it worth continuing to invest funds in keeping the system running?

Well, when you have a less than three-and-a-half year-old MacBook Pro that's packed with an Intel Core i7 and 8 GB RAM and is otherwise running perfectly, I recommend replacing the failed drive with an SSD. The hard disk in my mid-2012 MacBook Pro (purchased very late in 2012) gave up the ghost. Instead of tossing the laptop, I purchased a $65 240 GB SSD and had the MacBook Pro back up and working faster than when it was new (with a 750 GB 5400RPM traditional drive). Only about an hour's work was required. Here's how I did it.

SEE: OS X El Capitan: The smart person's guide

First I placed the MacBook Pro upside down on a static-free mat and removed the screws from the laptop's bottom casing. I noted which screws came from which location, as several of the screws are of different sizes. Then I carefully removed the wiring harness that connects the battery to the motherboard, as circled in red below.

Image: Erik Eckel/TechRepublic

For the next step, I removed the two screws from the black plastic hard drive retention piece that secures the hard disk to the motherboard. The hard drive's location within the mid-2012 MacBook Pro is circled in red within the next photo. Note, the photo shows the new SSD drive installed in place of the old 5400RPM traditional hard disk.

Image: Erik Eckel/TechRepublic

After ensuring I could easily replace the hard disk, I found and ordered a compatible SSD on Crucial.com. After ordering the replacement drive, which cost just over $78 including a three-dollar surcharge for expedited shipping, I downloaded the OS X El Capitan install file using another Mac, since I now had the MacBook Pro in pieces.

Next I found a 16 GB thumb drive. Using my other Mac, I connected the thumb drive and opened Disk Utility. I selected the thumb drive and clicked the Erase button that appears along the top Disk Utility's top menu. I made no changes to the Disk Utility's default settings, leaving the format set to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) and name as Untitled.

Once the El Capitan installer was downloaded to my Mac's Applications directory and the thumb drive finished formatting, I opened a Terminal window and typed the following command, which I found on Mashable (they credited MacRumors member tywebb13 with sharing the command):

sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/Untitled --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app --nointeraction

As Mashable notes, Terminal prompts the user for the administrator password. When the correct password is supplied, the command erases the thumb drive media, copies installer files to the drive, and configures the thumb drive to serve as bootable media.

Upon receiving the SSD, I moved the screws from the side of the old disk to the same locations on the new drive, and then installed the drive in the MacBook Pro. I also reconnected the battery to the motherboard and replaced the hard drive retention piece, as well as the bottom cover and all screws.

I connected the thumb drive to the MacBook Pro, booted up the laptop while pressing the Option key, and then chose to boot from the thumb drive that read Install OS X El Capitan. I selected the SDD as the disk to which I wanted to install the operating system, and then I marveled at how easy the process was.

Next, the installation process failed. I was greeted with a nonsensical error that read "This copy of the Install OS X El Capitan application can't be verified. It may have been corrupted or tampered with during downloading." The file was fine; it wasn't corrupt, nor had it been tampered with.

I found the problem's answer thanks to YouTube's Easy Steps, who's posted a helpful video for this issue. The problem occurs, as the video notes, because disconnecting the battery causes the laptop to revert to an old date that confuses the OS X installer. I corrected the problem by opening Terminal from the MacBook Pro's boot screen and typing "date 032301532016," which instructed the Mac to set the date as March 23, 2016 and the time as 1:53am. That did the trick, and the installer continued to walk me through a regular OS X installation.

I ended with a faster-than-new MacBook Pro and a refreshingly clean install. I could have chosen to recover applications and settings from a Time Machine backup, but for this installation I sought to start from scratch with a fresh new install. For $78 and an hour or so of work, the laptop should provide another two years of reliable service. Time will tell.

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Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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