Cloning my Mac’s hard drive to gain some extra space

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My MacBook (bought in 2008, unfortunately just before the unibody MacBook Pros were introduced) has always been running with upgraded memory and storage but it was starting to creak.  Performance is okay (it’s not earth-shattering but all I do on this machine is digital photography-related workflow) and it won’t take any more RAM than the 4GB I have installed but I was constantly battling against a full hard disk.

After a recent holiday when I was unable to archive the day’s shots and had to start filling my “spare” (read old and slow) memory cards to avoid deleting unarchived images, I decided to upgrade the disk. I did briefly consider switching to a solid state solution (until I saw the price – enough to buy a new computer), then I looked at a hybrid device, before I realised that I could swap out the 320GB Western Digital SATA HDD for a 750GB model from Seagate. The disk only cost me around £73 but next day shipping bumped it up a bit further (from Misco – other retailers were offering better pricing but had no stock). Even so, it was a worthwhile upgrade because it means all of my pictures are stored on a single disk again, rather than spread all over various media.

Of course, no image really exists until it’s in at least two places (so I do have multiple backups) but the key point is that, when I’m travelling, Lightroom can see all of my images.

I didn’t want to go through the process of reinstalling Mac OS X, Lightroom, Photoshop CS4, etc. so I decided to clone my installation between the two disks.  After giving up on a rather Heath Robinson USB to IDE/SATA cable solution that I have, I dropped another £24.99 on a docking station for SATA disk drives (an emergency purchase from PC World).

I’m used to cloning disks in Windows, using a variety of approaches with both free OS deployment tools from Microsoft and third party applications. As it happens, cloning disks in OS X is pretty straightforward too; indeed it’s how I do my backups, using a utility called Carbon Copy Cloner (some people prefer Super Duper). Using this approach I: created a new partition on the new disk (in Disk Utility), then cloned the contents of my old hard disk to the new partition (with Carbon Copy Cloner); then test boot with both drives in place (holding down the Alt/Option key to select the boot device); before finally swapping the disks over, once I knew that the copy had been successful.  Because it’s a file level copy, it took some time (just under six hours) but I have no issues with partition layouts – the software simply recreated the original file system on the partition that I specified on the new disk.  There’s more details of the cloning process in a blog post from Low End Mac but it certainly saved me a lot of time compared with a complete system rebuild.

Now all I need to do is sort out those images…

8 thoughts on “Cloning my Mac’s hard drive to gain some extra space

  1. For disk to disk clone in mac os x there is no need for any 3rd party application. Disk Utility does a good job. Just need to boot from install DVD or USB and use disk utility.

  2. Thanks for that feedback Andrius. I’m curious as to how that would handle different sized disks. I’d assume it’s a block-level copy, so would I be left with a load of unused space at the end of the disk?

  3. I’ve used superduper on a couple of occasions. One of which was moving our head of tv from an Oldish dying mac to a brand new one. He had 400gb of data an only took a couple of hours via FireWire. (different situation I know!)

  4. @Rich it may be a different solution but it’s similar enough! As for your faster transfers, that sounds about right: USB 2 is only 480Mbps cf. FireWire’s 800 and, as far as I understand (I haven’t verified this), FireWire does the IO processing itself, whereas USB uses the CPU (which can slow things down). eSATA would have been even faster (I don’t know much about Thunderbolt).

  5. Oh man have I ever been through this. I finally ‘bit the bullet’ and got two 1.5TB drives, but before that I ended up in a scenario with about 6 200-250Gb drives with all my stuff spread across them. Nightmare. The biggest problem I found was that after using carbon copy cloner, if I accidentally booted up off the wrong drive (i.e. if one had become disconnected) I might not notice. And then ending up not knowing which drive the most recent versions of certain files were on! I couldn’t be sure that CCC was going to keep only the most up to date file, so I ended up going through and comparing the dates on everything… scary.

  6. I Used Stellar Drive Clone which is newly introduced in the market but has a remarkable features, like clone your drive,volume clone,even you can create a bootable clone of your drive..cheers!!

  7. Mark,

    Use MacTracker, on the app store … if you’ve got latest bios, you may be able to stick 8GB ram into your macbook. My 2008 model unibody macbook offically only takes 4GB, but Mactracker and a few other mac sites suggested that latest bios would allow it to unofficially run with 8GB.

    I ordered and installed 8GB this week, the difference is night and day!

    I’m in the middle of cloning my 500GB lion install across onto 1TB disk using Disk Utility, fingers crossed!

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