At one point, Apple made it easy to open a Mac, move a hard drive, and replace the old drive when it was no longer working, with very slow or insufficient power. Those days are long gone for most Macs, leaving readers wondering what the best way forward is.
You effectively have three options:
- Check out iFixIt and other online guides to see how difficult it is to replace an internal drive. Depending on the model, this may be relatively easy for Macs released in 2014. For example, for a 2014 MacBook Pro, you just need to open the back case, open the SSD, and replace it with an Apple-compatible SSD.
- Consider renting a store to upgrade your drive. For some Macs released in the 2010s, especially iMacs, an upgrade or replacement required lots of screws, cables, and seals to be removed and reinstalled. Of course, consider the labor costs: just opening and closing the computer can cost from $ 150 to $ 250.
- Add an external drive via FireWire 800, USB 3, or Thunderbolt 2 or 3 (or even 4).
The last option is the most straightforward and works with any Mac. I’m a few years behind when it comes to the FireWire 800, if it’s the fastest connection to your Mac, it’s a better choice than USB 2.0 (800Mbps vs. 480Mbps). (However, keep in mind that if your Mac has FireWire 800 and USB 3 and it is not an iMac, it probably has an easy drive replacement option.)
Up to 1TB of external SSDs and many terabytes of external hard disk drives (HDDs) have come down at extremely affordable prices. Match the drive with the interface you have: There’s no point in buying a high-performance SSD that can deliver 2 GBps (18Gbps) and plugging in USB 3.0, which is a maximum of 625MBps (5Gbps). However, if you have a newer computer with enough Thunderbolt 2 (20Gbps) or 3 or 4 (40Gbps) interfaces, you can choose a superfast SSD if it fits your budget and needs.
I upgraded my 2017 Intel iMac to 1TB Thunderbolt 3 SSD in 2020, dramatically improving its performance. The iMac died suddenly in 2021 (about five years old), and I decided to move to an M1 Mac Mini. Instead of paying a premium for Apple’s 1TB internal drive on that model, I bought one with 16GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, then moved my iMac’s system to an external drive via the Thunderbolt 4 connection.
Later, I realized that my photo library was too slow on an external HDD. (I have two external 8TB HDDs for time machine backup and media storage.) To improve performance, I’ve moved my photo library to a cheaper 1TB USB 3 SSD, such as “How to move your Mac’s Photos library to SSD for better performance.” Goes “”
You have many different options where you can mix HDD, slow SSD and fast SSD to find the right mix.
With a laptop, you may find an external drive annoying to manage while traveling, but spending $ 100 to $ 300 for an external SSD can avoid costing more than $ 1,000 after hundreds of trade-ins.
This Mac 911 article answers a question posed by MacWorld reader Julie.
Ask Mac 911
We’ve compiled a list of our FAQs with answers and column links: Read our Super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new solutions! Email your [email protected] with the appropriate screen capture and whether you want to use your full name. Not every question will be answered, we do not reply to emails and we cannot offer direct troubleshooting advice.