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Ask Max: Should I replace my MacBook Pro hard drive with a larger one?

Asked on 05/04/2009:

Hi Jacob:

I get the Bolt newsletter. I have a first iteration Macbook Pro 17-inch, 2.16 GHz Intel Core Duo processor with a 120GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM. I find that the size of that drive is proving a little small. I'd like to replace it with a larger drive, say something in the 250GB to 320 GB size. I've talked to some local Apple authorized shops (one being the Mac Store in the U District here in Seattle where I originally bought the machine) and they say it's not a good idea to replace the hard drive with a larger drive.

So I'd like to know:

1) is it possible;

(2) if it is possible, what drives would be my best options;

(3) is there any risk in doing so? I would NOT be doing the replacement myself, but would take the laptop to a place that can do such work (such as the aforementioned Mac Store). If it's not a good idea to replace the drive, would there be a good external drive option? I do a lot of graphics work with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, plus some webwork with Dreamweaver (all Adobe CS3).

Thank you very much!



When you are in Apple warranty it is probably a bad idea to upgrade the internal hard drive in an Apple laptop because you will have to put the original Apple drive back into it before you can mail it in for service. Swapping out the drive in MacBooks and new 15" MacBook Pros are fairly fast, so warranty is less of an issue there. It takes a considerable amount of work to swap out your drive in the 17" MacBook Pro.

Outside of warranty, replacing the drive is a great upgrade option. Often you can get better speed out of a new drive, in addition to the increased storage space. The 320GB drive will cost you about $200, and a 250GB should be around $50 less. Both of those should be 5400RPM drives, the same drive speed as you already have from the Apple drive. Priced in between the two drives is the faster, and smaller, 200GB 7200RPM drive. The faster drives are better for reading and writing large files but there is a concern with heat. A 7200RPM drive can generate more heat than the 17" MacBook Pro was designed to handle. If you go to the faster drive you will get better system performance, but you will constantly need to monitor the heat of the unit and not let it overheat.

If increased drive space is what you are after, I think the 250GB drive should be a good fit for you. I was born and raised in Seattle, so consequently I know those Seattle Mac Store people well and send my family there for service. They should treat you well.

Hope that helps,


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