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A Last Chance At Life - A New Brain for My Old MacBook Pro

by lutron

My Problem

My wife and I swapped over to Mac computers in 2008. I had just bought an iPod touch and was eyeing the new iPhone 3G and my wife wanted a computer was easy and fun to use. We bought our MacBook Pro refurbished, it was an early 2008 Intel Core 2 Duo Model. It was fast, sleek, cool, and everything we wanted.

Over the years we demanded more and more of it. I purchased a Time Capsule to augment it's storage capabilities as we moved to an all digital library of movies and TV shows. Our plucky little MBP kept going.

In the summer of 2011, our plucky little MBP hit a snag. It's logic board just fried. The combination of heat and wear and tear had pushed it beyond its limits. After a little searching I discovered that this was a common issue with this model of MBP. I took it by the Apple store and BAM they replaced it for free. So, now our MBP was on it's third life.

It soldiered on for a couple more months, but slowly it got worse and worse, slower and slower. After installing Lion, it was barely able to load and run iPhoto. It got so slow that I basically stopped using it. We had all but given up hope that our little MBP would recover. I had picked out a sleek, new MacBook Air to replace her, but after some research I discovered that the hard drive might be the main culprit. With prices so low, I figured, why not?

So, I decided to upgrade her RAM (from 2 to 4 GB) and install a new drive (also upgrading from 200 to 500 GB). I figured, if it worked she would have a fourth lease on life. If not, well then I wasted $150 and I could use the hard drive on something else.

My Fix

I got the hard drive and tools in the mail, as well as the RAM which I received via a merchant on Amazon.

I installed the RAM first, which was very simple and I saw an immediate improvement - not much, but it was promising.

I was dying to crack my MBP open and swap the hard drive out, but the drive didn't arrive before I left to see family for the weekend. So I had to wait until Saturday night to make the swap.

After reviewing the instructions and setting up my iPhone 4S to capture a time lapse video, I buckled down and made the swap.

You can see two time lapse videos of the install on my Vimeo page. One is fairly fast with no music (http://vimeo.com/36213995), the other one is slower and I add some Coldplay to brighten things up (http://vimeo.com/36352860).

I only ran into three problems.

1) The magnetic clasp and the mag safe power cord were constantly eating and pulling my screws around. It was more an annoyance than anything, but I spent about 10 minutes looking for a screw that ended up being stuck to the mag safe power outlet. Annoying, but not that big of a deal.

2) Pulling off the connections for the keyboard/trackpad and the logic board were a little precarious and I was worried I would damage them. The spudger tool that I got from ifixit.com, however, was a life saver. I wouldn't want to try that task with anything other than that plastic spudger. It is the perfect combination of soft, firm, thin, and sturdy to do the trick.

3) Removing and replacing the ribbon on top of the hard drive was a pain. The glue was extremely sticky and I was again worried about damaging it. Placing it back down was tricky as well because the first time I left too much slack and the connections didn't line up right.

Overall, everything was fairly straight forward. The instructions and pictures on ifixit.com were a lifesaver (couldn't have done it without them). The process took about an hour, and everything works great.

My MBP is like a new machine. I spent all told about $150 and I saved myself the cost of buying a new MacBook Air, for now at least.

My Advice

Use the right tools. It is worth the $5 or $6 for the right screwdriver, spudger tool, etc. I've tried fixing my iPhone(s) and my old desktop with the tools I had laying around and it was more trouble than it was worth. The right tools for the right job, definitely applies when you are performing brain surgery on a laptop.