Opened hard drive, showing internal components

Macbook hard drive upgrade – easy?

For once I can give something BACK to the Internet community. For many years if I’ve had a tech problem that I’ve been unable to solve I’ve turned to the ‘net (generally the mighty Google) to find a solution.

Recently my MacBook hard disk drive (HDD if ya wanna speak tech) decided to depart this mortal coil – I’m convinced hard drives know the perfect time to die and cause maximum inconvenience. Yes my backup was weeks ago and yes the night before I’d spent 4 hours designing flyers, tickets and promo info for an upcoming 80’s night (where I’ll be DJing). So on the very day that I’m scheduled to present the produced materials to the planning team the hard drive decides to crash – with the click of a drive head my MacBook switched from a graphic editing, media playing, soft synth hosting powerhouse to a doorstop…

So next stop is to get a new hard drive. I ordered one in (from the friendly and efficient IT & comms providers, HJS Essentia) and then waited. Eventually after what seemed like an age (ok two days) the new drive is in my hands. Using the very useful instructions from Apple on how to install a new hard disk drive in a MacBook I managed to swap the drives over. THAT, I thought was the hard bit dealt with – how wrong could I be?!

I started the MacBook with the Mac OS X Install Disk 1 (version 10.4.9 to be precise) which was the disk that came with my Mac when I purchased it. My new drive was a WD Scorpio Blue 250Gb (how Western Digital know what star sign and favourite colour a hard drive has I’ve no idea). Anyway, off it goes and then cheerfully informs me I have a 1.8Tb hard drive (cool! I thought – perhaps Western Digital badged it wrong!) <- that was a joke BTW. No, something was wrong and it wouldn’t partition it either, throwing back an input/output error when trying to create a partition.

So I did the usual Google searches “wd scorpio 250gb seen as 1.8tb in macbook”, “250gb hard disk shown as 1.8tb in macbook” and all I got was rather unhelpful and misleading pages especially from “Experts” Exchange (tip don’t register just look at it through Google’s cache). Most people on there were stating “oh the hard drive’s broken” etc (it’s a brand new drive that works on a Windows system – so, unlikely!)

Here’s the real answer:

The Mac OS X Install disk (10.4.9) doesn’t recognise a 250Gb drive – it was a blooming bug in the Mac OS X Installer!

Now the fun is trying to find an OS X install disk that will recognize it. I have OS X Leopard CPU Drop-In DVD (version 10.5) which DOES recognise the disk but won’t install because it can’t detect an install of Mac OS X to upgrade – I KNOW I’M TRYING TO INSTALL IT!

A little frustrated over what the Apple Genuises said was an “easy job”…


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  1. Mr T · May 10, 2011

    UPDATE: Managed to borrow a Snow Leopard OSX CPU Drop-In DVD (version 10.6) – same problem as the 10.5 one but with the advantage of having an option to restore from a Time Machine backup – happy days! I’m now back in the world of Mac…

  2. Swimdoctor · May 10, 2011

    My issue is twice as bad… Just bought the 500Gb Scorpio and it shows as 3.6Tb. I don’t have Snow Leopard and no Time Machine. But I do have a current backup and an old drive which still lives.

    Does Apple support provide stand-alone drivers?

  3. Mr T · May 10, 2011

    I’m not aware of standalone drivers (or what version your install disc is). Your best bet for wider response coverage would be to post on:

    All the best,

  4. Dave · May 10, 2011

    I’m having the EXACT same experience!! Bought my daughter a new MacBook Pro for college graduation, decided to upgrade her old MacBook (HD had died during her senior year) so her mom could use it. We went to the Apple Store, had a nice ‘Genius’ tell us: ‘Look, you can save a lot of time and money just buying any SATA drive and doing the replacement yourself.’ After many hours of unsuccessful formatting attempts and no small amount of hand-wringing, I found your post. Thanks for the information. It doesn’t fix my problem, but at least it’s saving me the time I’d have taken to keep trying stuff to get it to work!

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      You’re welcome Dave – I know your pain, nothing more frustrating than doing what is “supposed” to work (i.e. the recognized and Apple approved method) only to come up against a brick wall. It did seem strange that no-one had posted about the issue, which is what prompted me to save anyone else undue frustration. Good luck in your quest!

  5. AndyE · May 10, 2011

    Any fix for this yet? I have same problem, was wondering should just return the drive and start fresh with another manufactures drive?

    Btw thx for the info, only lost one nights sleep…saved me hours of frustration.

    Thx Andy

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      Hi Andy,

      No it’s not the drive it’s the OS X disc you’re using (see other comments for lowdown). In a nutshell you need a newer OS X install disc. Happy hunting!

      All the best,

  6. Kamran · May 10, 2011

    Man you are a lifesaver, when I read your comments, it seemed that I was writing about my own frustration with this issue. Thanks for posting your experience with changing the HD for Mac Book. I called everywhere and looked at so many pages on the web for advice. Your advice made sense where no one else had or offered the same.

    The folks at Apple made it sound so easy, and it should be easy if they had told you that the old OS is not going to work, I am using Snow Leopard and I was able to partition the drive without any error.

    Thanks a million.

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      I know Kamran, I know – really amazing that this information isn’t more forthcoming from Apple – but hey that’s why I posted it here (to save others unnecessary grief and time 😉

      Glad you’re back up and running.

      all the best,

  7. Vic · May 10, 2011

    Hello. Wanted to chime in the discussion here about the “input/output” error which I was dealing with. I tried the grey discs that came with my white macbook I purchased in 2004. I know, ancient! I purchased Snow Leopard a few months ago and that worked. I bought the WD Scorpio Blue Internal Harddrive from Best Buy for $65. I did notice that when I installed the Leopard Disc, instead of the new hard drive showing up as being a “2.3TB” harddrive, this time it showed “320 GB” which is what I purchased. Not sure if this will help anyone but wanted to share my experience.

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      Hi Vic,

      Thanks for your post. Yep Apple have resolved the problem on newer install discs. It does mean people with older machines that need to replace their drives will have to buy a new OS install disc (or borrow!) if they want to use anything bigger than the original hard disk size their machine came with. This is sometimes tricky as over the years drive manufacturers will always strive to release bigger drives (which is a good thing!) and the smaller disks fall off the inventory. But hey – that’s progress 🙂

  8. fluolive · May 10, 2011

    Hi. I just want to say thanks to Mr T for that post. I’ll try to make my story as short as possible, but the good news is that there is a happy ending 🙂
    Few weeks ago I ordered a new Hitachi Travelstar 5K750 500 Gb Hard drive to replace the native one in my old white intel macbook (bought August 06).
    I encountered exactly the same problem : no way to partition it, “input/outpur error”, HD not recognized, showed with a capacity of 3.64 Tb in the disk utility, hence no way to install OSX Tiger with the original grey installation DVD.
    I tried everything : direct install of OSX SL with the grey install DVD of my new Macbook Pro, use a external HD box to connect my new Hitachi HD to my Macbook pro in order to partition it, I eventaully sent back the new HD to the seller and had a standard replacement with a new one.
    It was still not working.
    Reading all the comments above, I finally tried this : I connected both macbooks with a firewire cable, booted the old macbook (with the new HD in it) in target mode (pressing T when booting) and booted my macbook pro on its OSX SL installation DVD.
    Then, using the disk utility I could partition the new HITACHI 500Gb (on my old macbook) and then I installed OSX SL on the created partition from my macbook pro (seen has an external drive).
    Having read on the web that it was not possible to make an install with a grey DVD on another Macbook that the one it is delivered with (which is actually true, I tried, I failed), I was prepared for a failure, but it worked.
    So after 30mn of suspense, I could successfully boot my old white macbook with his new 500 Gb HD, running on OSX Snow Leopard !
    Hope that my story will help some guys with the same problem ! And thanks again Mr T !

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      Hey Fluolive!

      Thanks for the additional tips – you’ve probably helped another few (hundred?) people with those – all good!

      All the best,
      Mr T

    • DomDeVito · May 10, 2011

      Thank you so much for all of your help. I am in the same situation. I have a 07 black Macbook and recently the HDD crashed. I overnighted a WD 500 gb internal hd only to find out the grey discs will NOT format the drive. Same error message above. My Macbook also came with the installation discs (10.4 I believe) a 10.5 update dvd and a 10.6 update dvd. When I insert either of those (10.5 or 10.6) it tells me I have to have 10.4 installed before I can update, BUT if I have the 10.5 or 10.6 dvd’s in and running I can go to Utilities, disc utilities and format my HDD without an issue. The BIG issue is that when I put the installation discs in (10.4) it sees I have a partition, but doesn’t mount it, so therefore I cannot select it to install. I click it and press mount, (when I am in disc utilities) but nothing happens. I am assuming it’s because I made the partition using a upgraded installation disc, and when going back to the 10.4 installation disc, it won’t read the partition??

      Ok so after that I took your advice and got a friends Macbook, which is updated to 10.6.6 I think, I connected a firewire. I put my MB with the new HD in target mode. Then I put my installation disc (10.4) in HIS Macbook, restarted it and it boot looped. I looked it up, and since he is running 10.6 it will NOT boot from my install disc because my install disc is 10.4.

      My next idea was to put my 10.6 update DVD into his computer, since his computer was on 10.6, and booted into the disc just fine. From there I installed my 10.6 Update DVD from his computer on to my HDD (still linked through firewire).. It started installing, but it was taking a really long time. Unfortunately he needed to leave so I had to cancel the install. He said he was free this weekend and we could do it then. So Saturday I plan on reformatting my HDD again from his computer, and then installing my 10.6 Update DVD from his computer to mine (basically just repeat the process I did tonight.)

      Once the installation is complete I should be able to power down his computer, unhook firewire, and then reboot my computer and it will run 10.6, correct? I am just trying to make sure I am not missing any steps. I also want to confirm that I can use MY 10.6 Update DVD to install OS X through his computer and it will take. Again, it was installing fine and got to about 10%, but at the rate it was installing it would take about an hour or so. Does this sound like I am on the right track? If I need HIS 10.6 Update DVD I can ask him to use it, but I figure that since the install was going to MY new HDD then I should use the Update DVD that came with my computer.

      Again, thank you for this post. It has really put things into perspective.

  9. postscript · May 10, 2011

    I was having the same problem, a new hard drive in a MacBook, trying to install the OS from the original grey install DVD 10.4.5disk. Disk utility saw the new drive but identified it as being 2.3 TB and would crash. (The drive is actually 200GB). I was able to connect the MacBookt via firewire target mode to another mac, format the new drive with Disk Utility, put an install disk for 10.5 in the working mac, reboot and select the new MacBook hard drive as the destination for the install. I might not ever have figured it out without this page, thanks.

  10. tjingles · May 10, 2011

    so happy for this post I have been dealing with this problem for hours now!! now I can get some sleep and try one of the above methods tomorrow! thanks

  11. Terry Evans · May 10, 2011

    Oh thank goodness. Now i know what i need to do. Anyone out there gotta a new version of the Install Disks i can borrow or copy?

  12. Dan · May 10, 2011

    Thanks for all the comments here. Figured I’d throw in my two cents worth.
    I had this happen with a 2006 MacBook. I replaced the 80GB HDD with a 320GB Hitachi. When booting to the install disc and going to Disk Utility the drive mounted, but it was listed to be 2.3TB. My first thought was HOLY CRAP!!! I tried to partition it and got an a partition error: input/output error. With never seeing this before I replaced the drive and ended up with the same problem. So I connected the drive via firewire device (Newer Technologies Voyager) and it now showed up as the correct size. I was then able to partition it and install the operating system (10.4.6). I then installed the HDD into the MacBook and this time it booted to a prohibitory symbol (circle w/line through it). I then put it back into the external device, installed Snow Leopard and ran updates. Installed it once again into the MacBook and it worked. I felt like Doc Brown saying “IT WORKS, HA HA HA, IT WORKS”.

  13. Jen · May 10, 2011

    You are awesome! Enough said! Thank you so much!

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      Hi Jen – you’re welcome – and thanks for the comment 🙂

  14. Shmurfin · May 10, 2011

    Wow, everyone’s comments are a sight for sore and tired eyes, but I need some assistance with my situation (particularly because I’m not as tech savvy as I would like to think). Same story, HD failed, bought and self-installed 500Gb, used grey disks, read it as 3.6Tb. After reading your comments, borrowed a copy of Snow Leopard, ver 10.6, from a friend’s Family Pack, and after the blue screen, I’m getting a black and white checkered line down the middle of the screen with two gray “stamps” centered on each side of the vertical checkered line, and it won’t load any further, PLUS my mouse has the gray rectangle of lines behind it. Any thoughts what the HECK this means? Has this happened to anyone? So my questions, after reading your comments, I have another MBP, but it has Lion, can I do that whole Target Load / Partition thing in my Lion MBP, using the Snow Leopard Disk? And if so, how do I even do the Target Load / Partition thing? PLEASE HELP???

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      Hi Shmurfin,

      The answer to your “target mode on OSX – how do I do it?” is to press and hold the T key on the keyboard whilst starting up the MacBook. Lots of info in earlier replies as to how to partition an external drive.

      As to the “black and white checkered line” (!?) I did a Google search and found that MacBook Pro (2007 vintage) has a potential issue with the nVidia chip (actually described as vertical black and white lines) – which if it’s what you’re experiencing is BAD news as that’ll be a hardware issue 🙁

  15. Tim · May 10, 2011

    Thanks Mr.T for this post!! Going on day 3 of trying to load OSX onto new 250 HDD Scorpio Blue also showing as 1.8TB! Anyhow, before finding your post I was ready to return HDD to Microcenter. You really helped me out!

  16. Ryan · May 10, 2011

    Not sure if anybody else has tried this, but you can also use an external hard drive enclosure (i.e. usb adapter), and install OSX to the drive while connected through USB. You may need to update OSX before it will be able to boot from the internal hdd connector. Will confirm shortly (working on this for a client as we speak, and just came across this post while researching the issue)

    • Ryan · May 10, 2011

      Yup, update first, then reconnect the hard drive to the internal connectors. No need for a second computer.

  17. HW · May 10, 2011

    Great help from everyone here! I am fixing a friends mid 07′ Macbook and had a succesful fix after taking apart my 160GB seagate freeagent. Seems like any old external hard drive will have the hardware you need to get OSX10.4 to recognize your HDD.

  18. Mel · May 10, 2011

    Thank you for posting this! You saved me countless hours and frustration. After I kept getting the error that it couldn’t partition my drive using the Mac OS X Leopard CPU Drop-in DVD, I put in the newer Snow Leopard 10.6.3 disk (luckily I bought just before upgrading). It worked beautifully on my new WD 500GB HDD! I also thought I would have a problem reloading my time backup (which was on the older Leopard OS), but it flew through with no problems. I can’t thank you enough!

  19. Eneasocampo · May 10, 2011

    Having the exact same problem. Just purchased Seagatebmomentus 500GB, SATA, 16mb Cache, 7200 rpm, installed the drive in my late 2006 MacBook. Put the Tiger cd and when trying to partition, first of all it shows 3.6TB on the screen. I’ll try using Snow Leopard. Will keep you posted.

    • Mr T · May 10, 2011

      Have a look through the replies on this post – there are LOTS of suggestions. The primary one is to have an up-to-date install CD. If you have a Time Machine backup then there’s the option of restoring from Snow Leopard (ver 10.6) disc. Failing that a useful firewire trick is also detailed. ALL the best!