Mac: MacBook Pro hard disk upgrade

It didn’t take long before my requirements for my laptop exceeded the capabilities of the thing.  The bottom of the range specification of a 250GB hard disk with 4GB of RAM is very quickly overcome when trying to run Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010 through Parallels.  The latest refresh of the MacBook Pro didn’t take my fancy either – it just doesn’t seem worth the money and I may as well wait out another year.  So what’s a geek to do when the laptop’s hard disk is straining due to my having carelessly thrown two operating systems at it as well as a couple of development environments (that’s XCode rather than TextMate) and my whole music collection?

Well I could have upgraded the entire laptop but where’s the fun in that.  A quick look on brings up a a very reasonably priced Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB.  Under £50 for a hdd that’s twice the capacity and much faster than my current one – yes please.  Might as well upgrade the RAM at the same time (because modern OS’s need more than 2GB each to run smoothly), but sadly Scan was out of stock.

So the problem becomes very simple: What steps are required to migrate hard disks without losing any data or settings when you run Windows 7 on a BootCamp partition with Parallels (although I imagine the same process applies to VMWare Fusion)?

I needed:

  1. An external hard disk of some description (I bought another 3.5″ SATA, which I was going to re-use after in my desktop, together with an external HDD enclosure that I am already using for my media center). This will preferably be bigger than your existing laptop’s HDD.
  2. A MacBook Pro (mid-2010 vintage although I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with something older).
  3. A tiny tiny phillips screwdriver and a size 0 Torx screwdriver.
  4. TimeMachine (comes with Mac).
  5. WinClone (free download).
  6. The original OSX install CD that comes with the MacBook
  7. Lots and lots of Time…

The first thing I did after connecting the new external hdd to the laptop (via USB) was to partition it into 2.  One partition would be for the OSX backup and the other for the BootCamp image.

Next, run TimeMachine to take a full backup of your OSX installation.  Set the destination to the external disk and wait for a few hours.  TimeMachine will back absolutely everything up… EXCEPT the BootCamp partition.  Which is where WinClone comes in.  After TimeMachine has finished, run WinClone and take an image of the BootCamp partition.  I placed this image directly on the partition of the external HDD reserved for it.

Once both of these processes have finished, power down and swap the hard disks round.  The actual assembly/disassembly time was in the region of 15 minutes – less if you have a Torx screwdriver, but a small set of pliers will do the trick too.  Rather than describe the process there’s a very succinct video on YouTube showing the process.

With that out the way, power up the laptop and pop the OSX CD in.  When the bootstrapping process has completed, OSX will ask whether you want to restore from a backup.  It wasn’t entirely intuitive and in your face like most of Apple’s prompts, but you’ll need to look for a menu item at the top for the utility to restore.  Before you do that though you will need to create a partition on the new hard disk (otherwise there’s nowhere for the OS to install to) and this can be found in the Disk Utility.  You can then set TimeMachine to restore to the new partition you’ve created on your brand new hard disk.  After waiting for what seemed like a long time (overnight) your laptop will be ready to go… almost.

What’s still missing is the Windows installation that’s still sitting as an image on the external hard disk.  Fire up BootCamp again and recreate a BootCamp partition.  As I now have a larger hard disk I can afford a larger Windows partition, so I created it twice as big as my last one.  Once that’s been created (don’t go through the whole process, just create the partition), I used WinClone to restore the image onto the new BootCamp partition.  However, because I increased the partition space and want to take advantage of that exra space, I needed to do one more thing.  The Tools menu on WinClone has a menu option to Expand NTFS Filesystem, use this on the new BootCamp partition and you’re pretty much all set.

At this point, Parallels still complains that it can’t find the Virtual Machine you’ve just lovingly restored into the new BootCamp partition.  That’s because it’s still looking for it on the old hard disk.  Power down the Virtual Machine and look in the Config menu.  Switch the hard disk in the dropdown to point to your new disk and then restart the VM.  Windows will go through a process of checking the disks but after that everything should be back to normal.

And so ends (part of) my laptop upgrade journey.  It was a lot easier than I thought it would be (this being an Apple product and all).  Next up is a RAM upgrade but that should be a lot easier now I’ve opened it up once already.

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