If you’re reading this to figure out how to do the hard drive upgrade on a MacBook Pro that came with Lion installed, I’d recommend either reading all the way through before starting since it will save you some time, or skip to the bottom as it will save you time. If you follow along, you’ll end up doing the same stuff I did which will make your upgrade take longer than it should.

Last weekend (10/2/2011) I picked up a brand new 13″ MacBook Pro (Dual-Core Core i7) from the Apple store. I also picked up 8GB of RAM and an OCZ Agility 3 120GB SSD to upgrade it with.

Both of these upgrades are within allowable modifications for the MacBook Pro without compromising your warranty. Also, for the most part, they are pretty easy upgrades, especially the RAM upgrade. I did, however run into some issues with the HDD –> SSD upgrade which is why I am writing this.

To start with, flip the MBP over and remove the 10 screws from the bottom. I highly recommend getting a small phillips head screwdriver for this. I managed to get it done by using two different small flathead screw drivers but that probably made the physical part of the upgrade take about 4-5 times longer than it would have with the proper screw driver. Take a note of the screws you remove. Three of the ten will be long screws and the other seven are short. It’s vital to put the long screws back where you got them. If you end up messing up or forgetting, the positions of the screws are also noted in the manual that comes with your MBP in the sections about upgrading your RAM and HDD.

After you get the screws out, the bottom of the laptop should come off pretty easily. You should see the RAM chips near the center. To get them out, just pull the little tabs to the side and the chips should pop up and out easily. For the RAM chip on the bottom, you may have to move both tabs out of the way. To install the new RAM, you pretty much do the opposite. Make sure the little notch is on the correct side (to the right I believe) and lines up with the bump in the RAM slot. Once it’s all secured and seated, you should be good, assuming you got the right kind of RAM.

The physical part of the hard drive upgrade is also easy. There is a bar on one side of the hard drive (if the front of the laptop is facing you, it’s on the far side of the drive). Unscrew both of the phillips head screws and remove the bar. The screws are captive which means they will not come out all the way. When they are out far enough the bar should be easy to remove. There’s a plastic sticky tab on the drive that helps remove the drive. Pull out the drive. You can remove the sticky tab and put it on the SSD if you want but I don’t think it is necessary. When hard drive is out of the bay (don’t yank, there’s still a thin fragile cable) carefully unplug the cable from the hard drive.

What is a good idea is to take the four nubs off of the hard drive and install them in the SSD. To do this, you will need a Torx screwdriver. I think it’s a #5 or #6 but I don’t know which one for sure.

To install the new SSD, plug the cable in, slip the nubs into the holes closest to you and to the drive slide in the bay. Reattach the bar and secure it by screwing in the screws. Put the bottom plate back on and put all the screws in place.

At this point was where I ran into trouble. When I started up the MBP, using Command-R as the manual says, I ended up with an icon with a folder with a question mark on it. I googled this and it said that it indicated the hard drive was bad and would need to be replaced. Since the SSD I had was brand new, I figured this wasn’t the case, or at least it was unlikely.

The problem I was facing was how to get OSX Lion on the new Hard drive when Apple no longer includes a DVD with the OS and also does not include a thumb drive or any other copy of the OS in the box.

I replaced the SSD with the original HDD and rebooted. Everything started up and it showed I had 8GB of DDR3 1333Mhz RAM. So at least that part worked. I did some more googling and another one said reboot and hold the option key and it would let you start with the Recovery partition. So I replaced the HDD with the SSD, rebooted with option and… same thing. A folder with a question mark.

Other suggestions I found while googling were to re-download Lion from the App store and burn that to disc. I did not appear to be an option for me as the App store just shows Lion as being installed but not purchased. So the “option-click” on the installed button didn’t do anything.

Some other options that may have worked but I didn’t try were:

  1. Go back to the apple store and buy OSX Lion on a thumb drive. I didn’t want to do this because this is a brand-new machine and I shouldn’t have to pay extra to just upgrade my hard drive.
  2. Go to the app store on another mac, download and burn the Lion upgrade. I didn’t do this for the same reason as above.
  3. Use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the original drive onto the SSD. If I had had an external drive bay where I could mount my HDD, this probably would have been the easiest. However, I don’t currently have any external bays that would take this hard drive.

What I did end up doing is downloading an application call “Lion Recovery Disk Assistant“. You will also need a flash drive for this part. The Lion Recovery Disk Assistant will create a recovery partition on a flash drive or other external drive. I don’t think it works on an SD card though.

After trying a few different things, including a couple of different SD cards in the SD slot, an SD card in a USB reader (none of these worked to create the recovery disk), I borrowed my wife’s 8GB flash drive. I was able to successfully create a recovery disk on this. It will erase everything on the drive so make sure you’ve got it backed up if you need it.

Next up, I re-installed the SSD and then rebooted with the flash drive in and holding down the option key. This time it actually did start up with the recovery tools. There are a few options available. This includes searching the internet for help (it runs safari on its own), Disk Utility, Reinstall Lion and one other that I forget.

I started with the Reinstall Lion option. This tool could not seem to see that I had the SSD installed so I quit the tool and went back to Disk Utility. This tool saw the drive and let me format it. Unlike a windows install where the installation will let you partition and format during the install, the Mac OSX install doesn’t recognize unformatted drives at all. After formatting, I went back to the Reinstall Lion option and it found the drive.

The Reinstall Lion part works by checking that your computer is authorized to download Lion from the app store. If it is, it will start the download. For me this part took about an hour. Once it was done, I was back up and running with 8GB of RAM and a nice speedy SSD.

The plan now is to pick up an external drive bay and use the original 500GB drive for Time Machine for the MacBook Pro.

If you’ve got any suggestions or thoughts on other ways to get this upgrade to work, please leave a comment. I hope this helps someone.

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