Macbook 2007 Upgrade and Restore From Time Machine

By   April 11, 2014

Very few things could make me brave finding parking at midday in Washington Heights but I considered this to be a Level 1 emergency: Frankie had just lost his entire iTunes Library. When I saw people triple parked and having lunch in their cars, I knew it would be a while before I could crack open the stingy case of Frankie’s 2007 Macbook Pro.

Frankie wasn’t overly worried as he had 30 GB of his music on his iPhone 5. But the real reason Frankie’s iTunes DB hosed was because he had filled his 250 GB drive up to within 5 GB of its total capacity, well above the “Always Leave 10%” rule of hard drive storage. Given the reputation this model enjoys, I didn’t hesitate to recommend he add more RAM, put in a new hard drive and upgrade the OS while he was at it.

In order to break down his options, I would need to know what model Mac he had, down to the part #. He gave me the serial # and I plugged it into the Chipmunk Klantenservice web site. There are a lot of other good “Mac Born on Date” web sites out there but I like Chipmunk because a) it is as minimal as you can get; and b) nothing can be more fun than reading German-to-English translations. Chipmunk told me Frankie had a mid-to-late 2007 Macbook Pro 15 inch Core 2 Duo. I now knew the machine name, part numbers, history and most importantly maximum supported RAM and type.

Needing to know a little more about the hard drive, I cross-referenced the model with Ian Page’s excellent compendium of all things Apple, MacTracker. I learned Frankie’s Macbook had shipped with a 120 or 160 GB 2.5″ SATA drive; to replace it, any 2.5” internal SATA drive would do. It wasn’t in the budget but how could you help but consider a speedy Solid-State drive? Unfortunately, instead of $75 or so for a TB of spinning disk, the flash-memory-based SSD would run closer to $400. Even for the purported speed boost of 50% Frankie wasn’t going to quadruple his budget. Some would question the wisdom of not sticking with a 5400 RPM drive: installing a 7200 RPM drive was rumored to make it “hella hot” but we accepted the risk and settled on the HGST Travelstar 1 TB 7200 RPM 2.5” SATA drive ranked as the one of the best on Amazon for $75. For RAM we used the Crucial Memory Advisor Tool to get an exact part number and then went with the 4 GB kit found on Amazon for $60. You can unofficially go to 6GB RAM but I didn’t want to tempt the fates by breaking the parity rule. The maximum OS the Macbook Pro 2007 supports is 10.75 “Lion”. I had a Lion build on a disk image and brought it over on a portable firewire drive.

The set up wasn’t ideal. I had no table, no upright chair, and very low light. Sal Cangeloso’s excellent instructable on How to replace the hard drive in a Macbook Pro outlined the exact process on cracking the case but there was no getting around having to remove 21 screws. I looked over my toolkit. I had a #00 screwdriver but no #6 Torx! We went off into the Heights in search of one and surprisingly could not find one even at Radio Shack. On our way up Saint Nicholas Ave, we passed the tiny but well organized Cenares Ferreteria (hardware store) and decided to give it a try. Frankie looked skeptical but we asked and lo and behold, they produced a single, packaged T-6 for $8 bucks! We were in business.

I’ve found a headlamp flashlight works well when doing hardware upgrades, even in a brightly lit room. The RAM was easy, just under the battery cover, 3 screws. The case was not difficult but it took a while. Organizing the screws is the hardest part. I like to use a magnet tray but in this case, Frankie set me up with a couple of saucers. Halfway through the take-apart, one screw fell into the darkness of Frankie’s living room floor; it is so small it didn’t even make a sound as it hit the ground. Frankie’s one tool contribution was a camping lantern, which ended up saving the day in finding that screw… The hard drive was not difficult: 2 screws, push aside the Bluetooth module and unplug the data cable. Frankie had been eyeing this alarming process from underneath the brim of his baseball cap. He was trying to play it cool but you could definitely tell he was nervous. The minute the drive was in he shot forward and said quickly, “So you’re going to sew her up now?”.

We attached the firewire drive with the Lion build to his Macbook Pro and hit the start button. Not finding a bootable internal volume, the Mac smoothly switched over to booting from the 10.75 image I had on the attached Firewire drive. I used Disk Utility to erase his new, blank drive, then chose “Scan Image for Restore” to load the large, Lion image file also on the Firewire drive. It didn’t take long before we were booting natively into OS 10.75 off his new 1 TB drive. We did a RAM check and verified he had indeed doubled his RAM from 2 GB to 4 GB.

To bring back all of his Time Capsule backups, we authenticated to the networked Time Capsule which had faithfully been running Frankie’s backups for 3 years. We made sure to connect his Macbook to the Time Capsule via Ethernet instead of WiFi for maximum throughput. Time Machine does not give you the option to “restore”, it only lets you copy new files to it—this simplicity is part of its attraction but not very intuitive for nervous consumers who want to recover everything from a Time Machine. We could have booted into recovery mode and written his entire former machine’s backup to the new hard drive but he wanted to preserve all of the OS 10.75 goodness we had just installed on the boot volume. After some hunting and pecking on Google, turns out Migration Assistant is the answer. It asked us immediately what we wanted to recover and showed Time Machine as a source. We did not have control over individual backups like you get when Time Machine is set up on a local machine, but we assumed it was restoring from the last good backup.

Having to use Time Machine, Recovery Mode and Migration Assistant was surprisingly unintuitive for a 100% Apple workflow… But once we figured it out, the process worked without a hitch. After several hours of watching the progress bar bring back his entire user folder, he rebooted and was able to log back into to his former account. Frankie could not wait to launch iTunes and when he saw all his songs and playlists, he hugged me so long that I eventually had to break off the contact. He shoved food and drink in my hands before I headed out the door (no doubt to make up for the inevitable New York City parking ticket).