Friday, February 16, 2007

Replacing the Mac Mini's Hard Drive

The box Other World Computing sent my new drive in. The sticker that says you should reject the parcel if the seal is broken is interesting.

In a previous post, I mentioned that my Mac Mini's internal hard disk had failed. Rather than pay for repair, I opted to do it myself. I've done these types of repairs in the past on other Macs though they were all bigger than the Mini. In the past, I've replaced the hard disk on a PowerPC 6300 and the CD-ROM drive on an orange gumdrop-shaped iMac. Neither one really taxed my prowess but I do have a great knack for breaking off plastic tabs on the cases any time I open up a computer for upgrade or repair.

The drive I purchased was $89. It was somewhat more expensive than a precise duplicate of my former drive (a 4500 rpm, 80 GB Toshiba made for Apple). It's slightly faster at 5400 rpm and somewhat bigger at 100 GB. The folks at Other World Computing are absolute peaches and I'd highly recommend them if you're in need of upgrades or replacement parts. I e-mailed them to verify the compatibility of the drive I wanted to order and their response was fast and friendly. I ordered very late Tuesday night. The drive arrived around 5:30 on Friday via Fed Ex. Shipping was a reasonable $26.

The hard disk was very well-packed and arrived safely.

The drive itself is safely tucked into an anti-static packet. It rather looks like dinner for astronauts. You know, the type where they rip off the end and suck out the contents in the gravity-less environment?

Getting the case open was supposed to be the hard part. It was actually quite easy and I didn't even break any of the tabs. I was lulled into a false sense of security.

Anyway, OWC includes a section on their web site which has instructional videos for performing a wide variety of tasks including installing a hard drive and RAM on a mini. If you watch the video, you can pretty much see exactly what I did.

My installation went almost precisely like the one you see there except for the part where the competent fellow performing the tasks smoothly removes the screws and moves on to the next task. In my case, you can add about 5-10 minutes of extreme frustration for each screw as I attempted to remove screws held in by the approximate gravitational force of a collapsed star. The gentlemen narrating the instructional video mentions that he had already taken that particular Mini apart before. I'm pretty sure that was because the instructional video would have taken an hour if he'd have had to take the screws out before they were pre-loosened.

This also might explain why Apple's tech people have to charge so much. They probably are sitting in the back somewhere swearing and attempting to get enough torque on their screwdrivers to remove the screws necessary to repair the computers they work with. I'm guessing they also probably need several days off to regrow the skin on the tips of their fingers and get workmen's compensation during the healing process. I'm guessing they also have to pay for wholesale replacements when they've totally stripped the head off of most of the screws and have to rip the plastic frame apart to get at the innards of the computer.

Once I finally got the screws out and the drive in, I then had the chance to fight with getting the screws on the fan back in. All the itty-bitty other incredibly short screws just refused to go into their crevices and fell into the guts of the computer instead. The fan screws simply refused to go back in at all. With what little skin I had left, I pushed them in as far as possible and gave up. It took an hour and a half to do and at least an hour and 15 minutes of that was dealing with the screws. I do not exaggerate.

The moment of truth was at hand. I booted up the Mini and loaded the disk utility to erase the drive and it was there for erasing. Hurrah! I did it right and didn't hose my computer. I formatted the disk and prepared to install OS X.

Then, I hit an impasse. See the big red circles with exclamation points in the screenshot above? Those are OS X telling me I can't install the OS on my new hard drive or boot from it. Does it tell me why? No, of course not! What fun would that be!

So, I feel my blood pressure climb and go back to the disk utility and format the drive again. It won't work. I format it using every option available (except UNIX) including MS-DOS format. I partition it a few times in case 100 GB is too big for some reason. I search the internet for advice and find no joy. I erase again and again. Still no happiness.

Finally, I decide to restart. When I restart, the drive has magically become a bootable installable option. At the risk of further angrying up the blood of the Mac faithful out there, I have to sarcastically thank Apple for not telling me that it may be necessary to restart after formatting in order to make the drive bootable.

God, I miss OS 9.


Luis said...

At the risk of further angrying up the blood of the Mac faithful out there, I have to sarcastically thank Apple for not telling me that it may be necessary to restart after formatting in order to make the drive bootable.

Ah, but that would defeat the purpose of charging high prices for repairs--just like making it easier to open up the Mac Mini or iPods or iPhone or what else Apple makes. Only the pro desktops are easily openable, as they must be to be upgraded as buyers expect. Everything else by Apple is locked up.

Congrats on getting it back up and running, BTW! I'm glad the problem was indeed with the HDD, and not something more serious, after all that expense and effort.

Shari said...

I think I was more annoyed at the not being told "you may have to restart after formatting" because this is know, the user friendly OS? Ah well...

The Mini actually wasn't that hard to get into. Aside from the horrifically over-tight screws, it was a doddle. To be fair, it may have been my cheap tools making it harder (they don't have the best handles).

I may have missed a calling though. Perhaps I should have entered the lucrative field of home computer repair. ;-)