Fire Your Mac Up! 9 Essential Mac Upgrades (Plus More Power Tips)

Zack Stern's picture

Fire Your Mac Up! 9 Essential Mac Upgrades (Plus More Power Tips)

STORAGE: More Room to Roam


Like the universe, our iTunes libraries, movie folders, and photo collections are in a constant state of expansion. You should always leave at least 5GB of free space on a startup drive so that your Mac has ample room for virtual memory and caches. If you're going to break this rule, you need to add - or replace - hard drives. Hard drives operate at different speeds. If you use resource-hungry apps, you could boost performance by upgrading from a 4,200 or 5,400 rpm drive to a 7,200 rpm drive.


Tower-style Macs are the most upgrade-friendly, but notebooks and iMacs can also take a new hard drive. Of course, you could always add an external drive - pick FireWire over USB for the fastest speeds - but we'll focus on internal options.


On iBooks and PowerBooks, you'll always replace the drive instead of adding one. Notebooks take 2.5-inch ATA drives. (Some PowerBooks include a convenient door for easy drive access - check your manual - while others require the removal of dozens of screws and parts.) If your notebook doesn't offer easy drive access, a company like TechRestore ( can install a new drive for you.


When upgrading a tower Mac's storage, be aware of its built-in limitations. The easiest way to connect an extra drive is to chain it to the original ATA drive. However, an old ATA bus may only let you access 137GB of the drive. (In general an ATA/100 computer won't have this limit, while an ATA/66 or slower will. Use the Apple System Profiler or visit to get your system's specs.) If your Mac can't take a big ATA drive, first install a PCI upgrade card with an ATA/100 or newer interface. (When connecting the fat ribbon cable, be sure to position it flat against other surfaces so air can circulate properly.) Or jump to Serial ATA, the latest internal drive standard on the Mac Pro, and install that interface.


TO INSTALL Before you install a new hard drive in any type of Mac, back up all of your data on an external drive or optical discs. If you're sticking with conventional ATA on a tower Mac, check your user manual for precise details to make the connection. (If a notebook supports simple drive upgrades, that information will be in the manual, too.) ATA drives have small jumper pins that need to be set properly depending on how the drive is used. Most Macs use "cable select" mode - again, check your manual. In this case, set the jumper pins for cable select and connect the new drive. Use the original ribbon cable and attach a free power connector. The oldest ATA Macs, like most G4s and G3s, use a "master/slave" system. These require the jumpers on one drive to be set as "master" and the other drive as "slave"; both are connected to the same cable.


Serial ATA (SATA) requires no jumpers and uses a different physical connector than ATA. If you're adding SATA storage, use the data cable that came with the drive and connect a free power cable to a SATA power adapter. Once the drives are connected, restart your Mac and format the drives with Disk Utility. (If you're replacing the startup drive, install OS X first.)


> WHO'S IT FOR? Media users and everyone who wants more space
> PRIORITY: Medium
> OPTIONS: Western Digital Caviar SE16 ($86.99 to $199.99)
> SUPPORTED MACS: Towers, PowerBooks, iBooks


Yes, bigger is better.






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