Operation: Phoenix Revival Part I

Three years ago, I purchased one of the last early 2008 model Macbook Pros (MBP), shortly after the late 2008 (aka Unibody) Macbook Pros were released. I did this for a few reasons. I’ve owned a few Mac laptops in my time, starting with a Wallstreet model (1998), moving onto a Pismo (2000), followed by the first generation Intel Macbook Pro (2006) and finally, the very model I’m writing about. Out of all the machines I’ve owned, the early 2008 MBP is easily the best of the bunch. I like almost everything about this machine, from the crisp matte LED screen to the removable battery. It’s been an incredibly reliable machine since I’ve owned it. Outside of a RAM upgrade purchased early on, my MBP has been running “stock” with its Hitachi 250GB 5400RPM hard drive.

Alas, time marches on. Faster, newer unibody Macbook Pro and Air models were introduced and my beloved machine was beginning to feel a little long in the tooth. But as sexy and powerful as the newer machines are, I wasn’t willing or ready to part with my existing MBP. I wanted to give my MBP a little more oomph, but the question was “How?”.

Ever since I purchased my first solid state drive (SSD) for my Mac Pro tower, I’d been jonesing to add one into my laptop. Two things kept me from doing so:

  1. funds (or lack thereof)
  2. complexity

Point 1 was remedied with time, but Point 2 remained. The 2006 – early 2008 Macbook Pros didn’t exactly have the reputation of being the easiest machines to upgrade. I did my research, read a few blogs, and came across ifixit’s wonderful step-by-step documentation. I must have read that document at least 20 times. My confidence was up and I knew the inevitable would have to happen, so I plunked down my hard earned dollars to Other World Computing and took a deep breath. Upon the recommendation from Grant Dahlke at OWC, I ordered the OWC DIY 115GB SSD Bundle. This order included:

  • an OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 3G SSD (115GB)
  • an OWC On-the-Go Pro enclosure (for my old 5400RPM drive)
  • a 5 piece toolkit with assorted screw drivers (1 T8 Torx, 1 T6 Trox, a Philips #00, a 1.8mm straight blade, and one nylon spudger

Less than a week after my order was placed (this past Friday), my goodies arrived:

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6121/6198478933_534e77d8bc.jpg

It was a fortuitous arrival; I was on academic break, which meant I could make the necessary time to work on my machine. But given that our Fall quarter was about to start, I knew that I had to install the new drive right away. My plan was to install the OWC SSD and perform a fresh install of the OS and apps and essentially start from scratch. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

In preparation of the install, I printed out all the ifixit document pages and placed them next to my laptop. Why print when I could simply pull up the page on my iPad? Well, simply put – for my sanity. Getting into the guts of the early 2008 Macbook Pro involves unscrewing a lot of similarly sized, but different, teeny, tiny screws, like the ones below. Screws that, if left in a pile, could drive me bonkers. My strategy was to affix tape to secure the screws next to the appropriate step on the printed docs. I did this for two reasons:

  1. to avoid losing the screws (lots of fun on thick, shaggy carpet)
  2. to make it easier to put the whole enchilada back together again, properly

Teeny, tiny screws (I wasn’t lying – they’re small!):

Tiny screws

These screws aren’t going anywhere:

taping screws!

After opening my MBP’s Speck plastic protector, I began unscrewing elements of the case, following the ifixit guide. The OWC toolkit came in very handy.

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6179/6205234363_8963797e1b.jpg

http://farm7.static.flickr.com/6133/6205719118_4c8c1861a0.jpg

After removing about 30 odd screws (seriously, I lost count at some point), I was ready to remove the top part of the case. I started from the back and gently popped the top off. It wasn’t all sugar cookies and cream – removing the top part of the case from the front DVD latch
area took a bit of patience. Three minutes later I was staring into the belly of the beast:

removing the top

I couldn’t completely remove the top case from the unit as the keyboard connector was clinging to the motherboard. Instead of removing it, I used two plastic blocks to prop up the top part of the case, like so:

looking into the belly of the beast

And the fun was about to start…

Come back for Part 2 on Tuesday!

-Krishna

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About the author

Krishna Sadasivam creates custom comics and illustrations for organizations, magazines and companies. A champion of comics advocacy, Krishna speaks, blogs, and writes articles on illustration and sequential arts techniques and the importance of the comics medium in both education and brand awareness. His clients have included Microsoft, Mashable, Other World Computing and EE Times. His work has been featured on many notable websites, including TechCrunch, Gizmodo and CNET. His portfolio can be found at krishnadraws.com.

  • Sam

    Hi Krishna, I just did the same thing with my early 08 MBP and it’s amazing the difference it made!

    What I did and an option to consider (even though you already have an enclosure) was to buy the superdrive caddy, I realised I had used the drive maybe 3 times in 3 years so for all of $20 I was able to mount the 250gb drive into the optical drive bay as secondary storage for those times on the road…

    • Krishna

      great suggestion, Sam. I do use my SuperDrive from time to time, so I hadn’t considered replacing it with my original HD. If I were to do that, how would I perform OS and app installs from DVD?

      • Ex2bot

        Put your optical drive in an enclosure.

        • Sam

          I have a usb DVD drive sitting around in case that eventuates. As Ex2bot says you can get a usb enclosure for your superdrive cheaply as well.

          That said, my lion install is on a usb key and all my apps are downloads or from the app store, all media is ripped to disk on another system so I honestly can’t see me ever plugging it in. Your situation is different so as you say it might be best for you to retain your drive in the MBP, but it’s always nice to know there’s options :)

  • Rob

    Fantastic, well-written excursion into new territory! Thanks for posting this. I’m no DIY (do-it-yourselfer) and even less so when it comes to tech innards. So, while I doubt I’ll do this to my early 2008 MacBook Pro, it’s nice to think it’s an option.

    Maybe instead I’ll pick up an Apple refurbed MBA!

    Looking forward to your next installment!

  • Ian

    FIX YOUR APOSTROPHES!

    • Krishna

      Could you please elaborate, Ian? The apostrophes look fine on my browsers (Firefox and Chrome).

  • Krishna

    I’ve also tested in Safari. No issues on my end. Anyone else seeing weird apostrophes?

    • http://www.multiplexcomic.com Gordon

      I’m using Chrome in OS 10.6.8 and your apostrophes all look like commas to me.

  • Sam

    They look fine in chrome on Win 7..

  • Richo

    I installed an OCZ Vertex 2 120GB SSD into my 17″ 2008 macbook pro almost a year ago.

    Speed difference is night and day compared to a spinning drive, and it definitely breathes more life into the aging computer.

    Please note though the MacBook Pro4,1 runs at SATAI 1.5Gb/s, so it is only utilizing half the speed potential of the SSD….