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Al Powerbook G4 15″ Hard Drive Upgrade

Apple Powerbook G4When I originally ordered my Apple Powerbook G4 1.5 gHz laptop computer I ordered it with the default configuration which included an 80gb 4500 rpm hard drive. I love the laptop but have always been a little disappointed with the speed that applications or data seemed to load. When I found a good bargain on a faster hard drive I took advantage of it.

The hard drive I selected was a Seagate Momentus 7200.1 ST910021A 100GB Ultra ATA/100 7200RPM 2.5in Mobile Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer. I felt that this would give me the speed I was looking for without much of a penalty in terms of lessened battery life or increased heat and noise. The Seagate drive has a five year warranty which is a plus. At the same time that I purchased the drive, I also purchased an external 2.5 inch firewire/USB hard drive enclosure from OWC.After a long search on the Internet the best instructions for replacing a hard drive in a Al Powerbook G4 were located at These instructions were clear, easy to follow, and over-all very good.

Before beginning with the instructions I installed my new drive into the new enclosure and used SuperDuper to make a complete copy of my current drive onto the new drive and marked it as bootable. When the duplication was completed I removed the new drive from the enclosure and begin following the hard drive replacement instructions. There were twenty screws to remove and as I removed each screw, or each set of screws, I placed them in order on my work bench so that I could easily replace the correct screws in the correct order upon reassembly.

The most difficult point in disassembly was dealing with the catches over the CD/DVD drive. There were no pictures of the catches in the instructions and all they said was that you had to use a small hook to pull them forward as you pry up on the keyboard panel. What it didn’t say was that you need to only hook the front part of the catch and pull it forward away from the rear post which it latches on. If you blindly catch both with your hook you will be frustrated, as I was, by being unable to pull them forward or triggering the release. It was with much trial and error that I finally managed to release them. Once I saw what it was I had been dealing with I believe I could now quickly release them.

The actual replacement of the hard drive was done quickly with the removal of two screws and some tape, unplugging a ribbon cable, and lifting the right side of the drive from the drive mounting slots. Four mounting post were transfered from the old drive to the new drive and then it easily slipped into place. The instructions were followed in reverse to reassemble the laptop.

Once reassembled the Powerbook successfully booted off the new drive. I then placed the old 80 gb drive into the external housing to be used as a back-up drive for the laptop.

Subjectively the Powerbook seems at least 20% faster and I’m very pleased with the results. This Seagate drive doesn’t seem to be any noisier then the default Fujitsu drive and it appears to run about as cool.

Opening a Al Powerbook Laptop is not something for the faint of heart. If you’re careful and follow the instructions it is within the ability of most users. Trust your own judgement.

Revised – 07/27/06 – Added diagram of latches over the CDRom drive.

This diagram is done from memory and may not be 100% accurate.


Revised – 08/28/07 – Added photo of the above keyboard latches, thanks to Marc.


91 Comments on Al Powerbook G4 15″ Hard Drive Upgrade

  1. Southside Bruce // 20 Aug ’08 at 9:12 am // Reply

    yeah – it was really difficult at times… was thinking that I was going to have to live with the 80GB drive when I couldn’t get the stripped screws out of the bracket… was pushing so hard on the screwdrivers that I thought I would crack the case… ended up bruising up my palm abit from pushing on the screwdrivers, etc… but all in all it was worth it as now I have a bunch of disk space, and have experienced taking apart a notebook computer that wasn’t meant to be serviced by laypeople/users… I changed the hard drive in my Mom’s Sony VAIO notebook a few months ago – and it was a snap… there is a drive compartment that is accessible with a few screws – a few screws that secure the hard drive – and that’s it… presto chango… but the Sony isn’t as aesthetically pleasing and it doesn’t run Mac OS/X, so no comparison there… I have REALLY liked my POWERBOOK AL 1.25 Mhz and plan to get whatever Apple has to offer in notebook/laptops – when I end up upgrading… this blog is VERY informative and it was encouraging to see that others had taken the massive plunge in changing out their PowerBook harddrives…


  2. Thank you so much for posting this, what a relief it was to find it! My 15″powerbook g4 1.5 SMART system is telling me that my drive is failing. I am backing up what I can right now, but I am going to have to replace the drive. As of now, Sept. of 08, what is the fastest/largest drive that is compatible?
    I read all of the posts above, but I’m still not sure what I should get. I use my laptop for video editing and heavy graphics work so, what ever I can put in it would be good without compromising battery power and getting too hot, and still being stable and reliable. Can you break down the specs for me so I know what to order?

    Thank you!!!!!

  3. @Wendy: I don’t know exactly which what size or speed drive you currently have, but as a safe bet I would suggest something like the Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9120822A 120GB 5400 RPM 8MB cache ATA-6 notebook hard drive. I’ve read reviews on this drive from people who’ve install it in PowerBooks with great success. They report it’s quiet, doesn’t run hot and is not a battery hog. You can find them currently at around $65. If you’re looking for a place to purchase it I can recommend “” – I’m not affiliated with them…just a very satisfied customer.
    Personally I’ve had good luck with Seagate drives.
    Good Luck

  4. Lou Firmann // 10 Sep ’08 at 11:04 am // Reply

    Just installed a Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A 160GB 5400 rpm hard drive to replace the 4,5 years old original 80 G0 4200rpm HD. Have to say I am very pleased with the upgrade: twice the storage space, faster access, read & write times, all that without any noticeable variation in battery life or generated heat. Got the drive here in Switzerland for the equivalent of $77.
    I would recommend this upgrade without hesitation.

  5. Thanks so much you guys, I am going to order the 160 gig drive tomorrow and follow your detailed instructions on how to install. This laptop is my baby. I actually brought it to work with me today because it felt wrong to leave it at home alone, and so sick. Thanks for helping me out. I will post my progress.

    By the way, superduper crashed in the middle of my cloning. I am sure it was my sick drive giving it problems but has anyone else ever had this happen? I will try to clone again tomorrow.

  6. Earl,

    One quick question. I started with the same hard drive as you, the 4500, 80 gig (toshiba MK 8025GAS). If I go up to the 7200 can I put in a 160 giger? Or is that going to be a problem?


  7. @Wendy:
    A 7200rpm 160Gb drive would work as long as it’s: 1) a 2.5 in drive; 2) has an ATA 100 compatible interface ; and 3) is no thicker then 9.5mm.
    There are a few 2.5in drives that are 12mm thick which will not allow you to reassemble the laptop.
    So actually, any drive that meets those three criteria should work.

  8. Lou Firmann // 11 Sep ’08 at 1:39 pm // Reply

    From my own experience: I haven’t been able to find any 2.5, 7200rpm ATA 100 (aka PATA) hard drive back in July/August, it seems the manufacturers ceased production in Spring this year. They now only manufacture them (the 2.5, 7200 rpm drives) with a SATA (Serial-ATA) interface, which is different from the PATA interface you will find in you PowerBook, and therefore not compatible. For reliability and the safety of your data I wouldn’t recommend buying a used/refurbished HD (this was confirmed by several local Apple techs). Your best bet would then be to get a 5400rpm PATA hard drive.

  9. Southside Bruce // 11 Sep ’08 at 9:53 pm // Reply

    as I mentioned above – just be careful when taking the screws out (especially the hard drive bracket) and putting them back in – don’t accidently put them in the DVI connector holes… other than that, take your time, don’t panic… I also have REALLY enjoyed my Powerbook 1.25GHz AL that I bought 4 years ago… I look forward to getting a new MacBook Pro – or whatever Apple has available when we get ready to upgrade – look forward to a speedier Intel chip with multiple cores (possibly taking advantage of the next OS/X release – SnowLeopard – ability to work with multiple cores)… Also, having the instant Virtual OS capability of running Windows if I need that (not that I have for the past year or so, so prob not really important at this stage of my adult life)… But other than that, our Powerbook is running OK after the upgrade – been going on about a month now… All seems to be OK (knock on wood)…

    As for SuperDuper failing – never happened to me – yet… Not sure what I would recommend… Try the SuperDuper forum – the lead developer always seems to answer questions pronto… Great customer service!! I have 3 external drives now, and I have bootable images on all 3 of them… So, although I don’t use Leopard’s timemachine to back up (found it was taking too much time/processing time/etc) – I feel pretty safe with the manual backups that I am doing… Also, Leopard runs OK on my 1.25 GHz, 1.5 Gig RAM, Powerbook AL… Abit on the slow side, but have all the AMAZING/GREAT features in Leopard… No doubt – last OS that I will upgrade this Powerbook to… Next upgrade will be a new Mac notebook… Again – this Web site ROCKS for assistance with this delicate upgrade!!

    thanks Earl!,

  10. @Southside Bruce: Thanks for the kind words. It’s amazing how “useful” those G4 PowerBooks still are. You’ll love a new Intel Mac notebook.
    Take care!

  11. Earl-
    I’d like to add my thanks for this informative how-to. I bookmarked this page over a year ago and finally got around to the upgrade after exceeding the capacity of my original 80 GB hard drive many times (and subseqently throwing stuff away or putting it on thumb drives). I ended up going with the Western Digital 250 GB drive from OWC. So far it’s been great…I should have done this eons ago. Thanks!
    PS – One note–I found no reason to remove the trackpad or keyboard ribbon as described in the ifixit guide. It’ simpler to just lean the keyboard against the screen and go about the replacement.

  12. @Dongoose: Thanks and I’m glad that you found it this information useful. Good tip about the trackpad or keyboard ribbon!

  13. Hi guys,

    So I bought the:
    Seagate Momentus 5400.3 ST9160821A 160GB 5400 rpm hard drive
    as recommended, and did the change out. I too had the problem with the screw heads stripping on the last two screws on the bracket that holds the hard drive. I finally got them out with the help of some people. I also found it wasn’t necessary to remove the touchpad or keyboard ribbons.

    However, I just put in my boot cd and tried installing onto the new hard drive and it is giving me a warning saying “You cannot install Mac OS X on this volume. You cannot start up your computer using this volume”

    what do I do? I went into disk utility and formatted the drive as Mac OS Extended journed. Is there something else that I am missing?


  14. @Wendy: With a google search I found the following Apple knowledge base issue relating to the error message you’re getting.

    I can’t be sure if this is what you’re experiencing but it may be of help. I’ll search for more information.

  15. Kevin Marks // 24 Oct ’08 at 1:01 pm // Reply

    I just followed this process (as well as the one shown on to a “T” and it went flawlessly.

    Replacement drive is a Western Digital 160GB 5400rpm 8MB cache. Fry’s Electronics didn’t carry anything else. All is great and the boot up time is superb. No problems whatsoever. THX!!!!

  16. @Kevin Marks: Glad it went well for you and that this post was of some help!

  17. Earl,
    Many thanks for your thoughtful and informative piece.
    My AL powerbook G4, 1.5GH, 80GB hard disk has packed up. I have just noticed that there is a 250 GB, 5400 RPM, ATA, 2.5″ wide x 9.5mm tall /Unformatted/ Western Digital version available. There might be a Seagate version too. You mentioned that 160 GB is the maximum. Can I go for the 250 GB version?
    Thanks again.

  18. @Sami: At the time I did this HD upgrade 160Gb was the max I could find that met the required physical size/interface requirements but you can certainly install a 250Gb now that they’re available. Best of luck!

  19. Earl,
    Thanks a million!

  20. Truly useful article and ongoing comments. I’m considering doing an upgrade on my G4 1.67 15″ (low res) Has anyone used the 250 GB Western Digital Drive Sami mentioned? That appears to be model WD2500BEVE and is available from Newegg for $80. Newegg also has a very cheap external enclosure: Anyone see a problem with this enclosure? Are there good reasons to go with something more expensive?

  21. David,
    I successfully installed (thanks to Earl) the 250 GB Western Digital Drive about ten days ago and it’s working fine. I don’t have an accurate means of measuring these, but it feels cooler, less noisy and definitely faster. Make sure you get the ATA version, because it has a similar product code (WD2500BEVE) to the SATA version. There might also be other 250GB drives made by various manufacturers, such as Seagate.
    Watch out for those 4 latches (see original Earl posting), use a magnetic screwdriver, and keep the various sets of screws in different pots! The rest is fairly easy.
    I strongly recommend the upgrade. It worked for me and I hope it does for you too.
    Good luck!

  22. @Sami: Thanks for sharing your successful experience installing the 250 GB drive. It’s comments and feedback from users like yourself that make this post truly useful!

    @David: Best of luck on your upgrade and let us know how it goes.

  23. I am really having trouble, I hope someone can help me out. I’ve purchased two different WD2500BEVE drives and two different enclosures — I can’t get either drive to mount with either enclosure. When I connect, I get power but the drive doesn’t connect at all, it just makes a a quiet buzzing noise every second or so. Don’t know what to do differently. I’m running OS X 10.5.5.

  24. Disregard the last comment, I solved the problem. The drive wasn’t getting enough power via USB. Luckily, the Vantec enclosure I purchased accepts power from an AC adapter. Too bad Vantec doesn’t include an AD adapter but, luckily again, I had a proper adapter lying around my place. SuperDuper is doing its thing. Buying an enclosure that accepts AC power may be good advce for those who follow.

  25. So close to getting there and I have hit a big problem. The three screws holding in the retaining bracket are super tight. After a while I was able to get out two of the three, but the third won’t budge and I’ve stripped it somewhat. I’ve tried a variety of tactics, but no luck. Does anyone have an approach to offer me? Is there a way to get the drive out without removing the brakcet (since I’ve got the top two screws out, I’m able to manuever the brakcet somewhat)?

  26. SUCCESS!!! But not without travail.

    First, about the screw. I ultimately just went at it with a drill bit until it was obliterated. The bottom end of the screw remained lodged in the hole, but I was able to slip the retaining bracket off. The retaining bracket went back on with only two screws, it seems plenty secure that way. Curse the fellow who put those screws in so tight.

    Anyway, I thought everything would be smooth after that episode, but far from it. When I got everything put back together I couldn’t boot up. I got the gray screen, but then quickly a folder with a blinking “?”. I tried to boot from two different external drives (one of them being the original internal drive) and got the same result. Eventually, I got a firmware screen with the message “invalid memory access”. Crikey!

    I figured the best approach was to take everything apart again and look for any obvious problems. Sure enough it appeared that the hard drive cable was not fully connected. It’s also possible the cable to the trackpad was properly connected (but I’m not so confident about that, and I dont’ see why that would give me trouble with the boot up).

    So on try two I hit the power button, the screen went gray, and back came that folder with the question mark. My heart sunk. But just a few seconds later I got the good ole’ reliable spinning gear and a few moments after that my system was back up and running. Big relief and quite exciting. It’s nice to have 162 free gigs instead of 2.

    I’ll report back down the road after I have a chance to evaluate.

  27. Hi there,

    Apologies if this seems an obvious question to more experienced Mac-ites out there. ..

    I am planning to replace the 80gb drive in my 15″ powerbook with a 250 gb Western Digital one. If I use super-duper to clone everything from my current drive into the new one (sitting in an external enclosure) is that really all I need to do before installing the replacement? And after doing the phydsical replacement is there further formatting or partioning or other technical thingies which need to be done? Does Leopard need to be reinstalled for instance..?

    Basically my aim is to be able to turn on my Powerbook and see exactly what I am seeing now, except it would now be a faster machine with way more memory. If there are other software steps needed other than the original superduper clone I would be really grateful of the advice.

    Final question – will all of my itunes library copy successfully from one to the other, bearing in mind it must have some sort of copy protection data on it.

    Any help appreciated…

    p.s. brilliant site by the way – hopefully knowledge won’t be too dangerous and I won’t knacker my mac….

  28. Thanks David, most reassuring… one small follow up,

    “Just make sure you follow the SuperDuper instructions for choosing the proper file format.”

    Will that be obvious..?

  29. @Nick SP: I believe David answered most of your concerns (David thanks for that.) When I did my upgrade I experienced no problems with iTunes or any application. Data wise, your new drive will be a duplicate of your original drive–there will just be more free space available.

    @David: I also initially experienced the folder with the question mark, which indicates it’s searching for the system folder. Like yours mine was found in a few seconds and all has been well. Those latches…Grrrrrrr! ;-)

    Note: It will soon be three years since the upgrade described in this post and the laptop is still being used daily. IMHO, going to a larger/faster drive was well worth the time, effort and expense.

    Thanks for the comments and feedback!

  30. Just installed a Western Digital Scorpio 250GB drive (model WD2500BEVE). The drive has a strange sound every minute or two, almost like it is going to sleep and waking up. It is very annoying and a support email just came back from WD:

    Thank you for contacting Western Digital Customer Service and Support.
    I apologize for the inconvenience. This issue is caused by a system initiated power management command being interpreted incorrectly by the hard drive. The sound is normal and as of yet, we do not have a fix for it.

    Pretty lame considering they are the only drive manufacturer producing higher capacity 2.5″ IDE drives. I confirmed with tech support over the phone and they have had numerous complaints about this issue. Looks like I will have to settle for a 160GB drive. For those who have a higher capacity WD drive installed and don’t have this noise issue, I would love to know the model number.

  31. HI there, I’m in the middle of swapping out the drive on my PB 15-inch aluminium, and strangely was able to remove the original drive without the 2 screws on the bracket. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a bracket! The drive just slips in and out! Do you think this is a problem? thanks

  32. @Stuart – There should be a bracket to hold the drive firmly in place. If there is not one it could be a problem as it would allow the drive to shift about. Did you buy this PB new and has it ever been opened before?

  33. Many thanks for your reply. The PB was bought new but had a hard drive replacement under warranty within 6 months of purchase. That was about 5 years ago. I’m starting to think the repair may have left off the bracket, which is strange but the only explanation I can think of.

  34. This is fascinating for those of us who love out Powerbooks. My 5 year-old G4 died a month ago when I ran it for too long on a flat battery and corrupted the disk. A replacement WD2500BEVS was available on Amazon UK for 41.95, but they also had an offer for the WD3200BEVT at 39.99 – greater storage, but the ‘T’ signifies a 3Gb/s transfer rate from buffer to memory, and I’m not too sure that my old 2003 G4 could take it. So like the technological coward I am, I’ve placed an order for the WD2500BEVS, plus an enclosure so that I could hook it up to my **brand new** 27″ iMac and restore the disk image from my 1Tb external drive (taken at the time of failure). So I’m looking forward to the Christmas break…

  35. Well, Christmas is ruined! Instead of networking my two machines together and using RemoteMe to play with both machines, I’ve got to pack it up and send it back – Amazon delivered the WD2500BEVT which has a totally different connector, so I have to return it and get a replacement. What an anti-climax!

    Ifixit’s instructions were fine, and I was glad to find no screws done up too tight – but I used a set of jewellers’ (non-Phillips) screwdrivers, which allowed greater purchase. Disassembly’s easy, though – the trick will be putting it back together without dropping anything – once I get the right HDD.


  36. Thanks! They did a good job with the step-by-step pictures. I found some other sites, but this is my exact laptop.

  37. I put a SAMSUNG HM120JC into my powerbook g4 17″ 1.5GHz way back in 2006 when the original 80G disk died after 18 months. The drive has never shown any problem, not even a bad sector in 4.5 years of very hard use.

    I highly recommend this disk. It has kept my 6 year old PB G4 17″ young and sprightly (along with 2G RAM and Leopard) and it’s still not too far behind my 2.8GHz MBP for performance.

  38. Tomorrow i will receive a Powerbook g4 15″ ,15 Ghz without HD. Sold as defect but i’m gonna try to fix it. First concern of course is to get an HD. I still have an Ide HD 80 GB, but it is a bit small to me. Buying an Ide HD of 250GB or bigger is to expensive in my opinion. Sata disks are more inexpensive, so i’m thinking: will there be a possibility (e.g. bij a very small convertor ide>sata) tot equip my powerbook with a sata HD (still have one of those here lying around and doiing nothing…..

  39. There is a web site that offers this, but not many offer PATA to SATA, have a careful look at it.

  40. Rosalia Curz // 17 Jun ’12 at 5:44 am // Reply

    I like your writing style really enjoying this internet site.

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