Under The Hood: iMac Hard Drive Replacement

Hard drives are terribly dull things — until you have to replace them, as our own Elly found out recently. Thankfully, even on heavily sealed systems, hard drive replacement is one of those jobs, like interior painting, that you should always do yourself.

There are countless terabytes of data stored on hard drives all over the world… just waiting to die. Over last week Gizmodo Australia's own Elly Hart got a short sharp lesson in hard drive replacement and backup strategy, thanks to the hard drive on her iMac failing.

It's always possible to pay somebody to replace just about any part of your PC you'd care to name, but the costs can be high, and sometimes stupidly so. Elly booked her iMac in with Apple to ascertain the problem — and the genius in charge was nice enough to do so on an out of warranty machine for free - but she wasn't happy with the price that Apple wanted to charge.

Apple wanted $285 for the drive alone and $40 for the labour. The labour cost's quite reasonable, but $285 for a 500GB internal drive? Madness. Elly quickly sourced a compatible 500GB drive for a much more reasonable $79, but this left her with the problem of actually fitting it into her iMac.

There's a side lesson here: Back up your data. Sure, it's boring to be lectured to, but it counts. If your computer flat out died when you finished reading this sentence, what would you do?

Elly's problem was exacerbated by the fact that her computer of choice was an iMac. Pretty looking machines, iMacs, but a right pain to change anything but the memory on, as everything is built behind the screen, and as many online guides will tell you, you need suction cups to remove the screen.

Actually the guides are only half-right here; you do need suction cups to remove the primary LCD screen protector, which is magnetically held in place, but you're not limited to buying expensive tools to achieve this purpose. Elly's hard drive seller was nice enough to throw some suction cups in; I've had similar success with the suction cups on GPS screen mounts.

I've done the same hard drive swapping trick on an iMac myself a while back, and while it's not the hardest job you'll ever do — frankly, a lot of it is rather lego-esque in its simplicity — it's handy to have an extra person on hand to help with all the bits and fiddly lifting and shifting; iMacs are fairly solidly constructed critters. The one thing I'd say here is that it's well worth doing lots of reading and watching online; there are many, many guides but unless they relate to your specific model they're not much cop at all.

Elly reckons it took her about 90 minutes to complete the swap of dead and living drives; that's the one area where Apple's quote was reasonable if not great for semi-specialised help. The actual drive swap's stupidly easy — once you get over the dual issues of cracking the case and building up the nerve to do it.

Images: Elly Hart, mrbill, Collin Allen

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