Considered one of the Big Four technology companies, Apple is a widely known tech developer and manufacturer. They are most known for their wide range of consumer electronics, software, and online services. These include Macs, iPods, and macOS, among many others.

For most Apple laptop and desktop computer users, a failing hard disk drive (HDD) is one of the most common and annoying issues to come across. It can cause the device’s performance to slow down, or even crashes that lead to data loss.

Hard drive failure

HDDs will eventually fail, as they work on delicate machinery to read and write. It is also impossible to make a perfect HDD. Damage or gradual wear and tear can cause the hard drive to fail, which will require a repair or a replacement.

To prepare yourself from the shock and frustration over a hard drive failure, there are a few things that Apple users can do. This can protect you from the tragedy of data loss or system crash. Apple laptop and desktop users can use tools specific to their system to test their hard drives for any signs of failure. If you do need a hard drive replacement, understanding the issue at hand can get you an efficient fix.

If you’d like to know more about HDD issues and why they happen, we’ve put together a guide to help you. We cover the causes of hard drive failures in depth, as well as other tools you can use to diagnose hard drives. Whether you own an Apple, Dell, or Lenovo computer, we can help. Common issues like slow or unsuccessful computer startup can be detected and fixed with simple tools. Read “Top 8 hard drive issues and how to fix them yourself” now.

Types of drives in Apple laptop and desktop computers

Before we get started on diagnosing a faulty hard drive, let’s look at the types of storage drives that are used in Apple devices. Apple has released dozens of models that use different types or combinations of hard drives. It is important to know which type of hard drive you have and need.

In general, Apple hard drives come in the forms of traditional hard drives, flash storage (solid-state drive), fusion drives, or are built into the logic board. The different combinations can make it hard to keep up with the types of hard drives that Apple releases with their computers.

Knowing which hard drive your Apple computer uses can come in handy when looking for a replacement and save you some time as well. We’ll cover more of this when we get there.

Now, we can get started with the tools you need to test and replace an Apple hard drive:

1. Use Apple built-in diagnostics

If you find that your hard drive is not working normally like before, using Disk Utility can help you detect and repair problems. Found on all Apple computers, Disk Utility can find and repair issues like unexpected app crashes and corrupted files. This is done by running First Aid in Disk Utility.

Disk utility first aid

Apple's Disk Utility main screen showing First Aid to test hard drive

What First Aid can do is detect and attempt repairs on bad sectors. For hard bad sectors that are permanently damaged, Disk Utility can be used to mark them to be skipped over. Soft bad sectors that are caused by software errors can be repaired as well.

Another thing that it can do is predict imminent hard disk failure. Disk Utility will tell you if your hard drive is about to fail, and that you’ll need to back up your data. A replacement is usually recommended in this case.

While First Aid can fix some of your hard drive issues, this kind of quick repair can’t always fix your problems. Traditional spinning drives and even flash storage can eventually fail over time. These repairs may only last you another year or two, so replacing your drive might be a more reliable fix.

Now Disk Utility can only be used if your Apple laptop or desktop can boot up successfully. If you are unable to do boot up at all, your other option is Apple Diagnostics.

Apple Diagnostics

Peforming an Apple Diagnostics check

Apple Diagnostics is used to determine hardware issues across hardware components on the device. This includes the hard drive as well. Possible hardware faults in components such as the hard drive, logic board, and fan can be detected with this method. Apple may offer advisory support solutions for you as well.

To enter Apple Diagnostics, disconnect external devices (except the mouse, keyboard, and display for desktops) and press the “D” key when you boot. Hold it down until you reach a language selection screen. Then the scan will begin automatically.

After the full scan, Apple Diagnostics provides reference codes and suggested solutions to any hardware issues found. These reference codes each report different hardware issues on your Apple computer. For example, the codes VDH002 and VDH004 can confirm storage drive issues. You’ll be able to inform Apple Support of the problem with these reference codes.

2. Test hard drive on dedicated free software

It’s possible that you might not find any solutions from Apple Diagnostics. Your computer might not even startup at all. Not to worry, there is still a way to test your hard drive. This involves taking out the hard drive and testing it with dedicated hard drive analysis software

Hard drive analysis software like WD Data Lifeguard tests hard drives thoroughly for any issues. Most of them are also free. Unlike Apple Diagnostics, hard drive analysis software focuses on just the hard drive.

You can do this by testing the faulty drive on a different desktop. Isolating the drive from your Apple laptop or desktop can help to eliminate other factors that may affect the test findings.

All you need to do is connect the drive to another desktop with a SATA enclosure box. This enclosure box is then powered by a different power source, keeping the drive isolated. After some in-depth testing, you may be able to find out the right solution to your faulty hard drive

3. Choose a hard drive replacement

As we’ve mentioned above, Apple computers contain all kinds of storage drive combination and variations. It is important to know which one you need, to make sure you don’t buy the wrong one.

The thing is, Apple seems to be building more and more of their storage drives onto the logic board. That way the drive cannot be replaced on its own. The practice benefits Apple, but puts the consumer and third-party repair services at a disadvantage.

How do I find my hard drive model?

Apple System Overview

Apple Mac users can check their hard drive model from System Information. This is found at “About this Mac”. Here you can find information such as your Mac model, serial number, and your MacOS version. For a more detailed overview, you can click the “System Report” button. This brings us to a report of all hardware and software on the Mac. From the sidebar, pick “Storage” for more information about your drive. You’ll also be able to find out which startup disk your Mac uses from the software section.

Another way to find out which drive model you have is by opening your Mac up to take a look. By taking a hands-on method, you can find out whether your drive is a traditional 2.5-inch one, or other types such as flash storage that are built into the logic board. Then you can you better decide your approach to replacing your drive. Either way, it may be a fun way to learn more about your Mac.

What type of drive should I get?

The main features of a storage drive are: form factor, capacity, and speed. Looking into these features can help you find a drive with the right performance and experience for you.

Form factor

A 3.5-inch hard drive

A 3.5-inch hard drive.

Form factor refers to the physical ‘form” of the drive. That means its physical size. Consumer-grade HDDs come in 2.5-inch for laptops and 3.5-inch for desktop computers, made to fit in the different computers.

For flash storage, they usually come in a 2.5-inch form or a much smaller stick-form for PCIe connections. You’ll need to find out what form factor fits inside your Apple laptop or desktop, so you can properly use your new drive.

Capacity

As computer storage is virtual, it can be hard to quantify how much storage space. You may want to consider how much you need to avoid buying too much space that is just going to waste. This can save you money as well.

In general, personal use of word processing files and photos would only call for anywhere from 250-500GB. Larger files like creative projects and movies would then need more space, something like 1TB or more.

Speed

In HDDs, write and read speeds are determined by how fast the platters spin.  This is measured by its revolutions per minute (RPM). Consumer-grade drives come in either 5400RPM or 7200RPM. The faster the drive, naturally comes better performance. But, higher performance also comes with more power drained by the drive.

Flash storage operates by NAND memory, and does not contain delicate machinery like HDDs do. It offers much better performance and is more durable than traditional hard drives.

Flash storage VS hard disk drive

Flash storage is also commonly known as a solid-state drive (SSD). Replacing a failing HDD with flash storage is a very popular upgrade these days, which adds a huge boost to performance. If you’ve owned your laptop for a few years now, getting an SSD upgrade may be something you’d consider to practically make it fly!

Want to know more about flash storage? Read our guide about solid-state drives for more information. You might be able to learn a thing or two about getting a better computing experience.

Fusion drive

What a fusion drive looks like

A fusion drive is like a 2-in-1 drive. It combines flash storage and a traditional HDD, working as one drive. They are commonly used in Apple iMac desktops, offering both good performance and large storage capacity.

The PCIe flash storage drive and HDD (2.5 or 3.5-inch) are separate from each other, but fused together by software. It can look like any other drive. Combining the two drives is something that needs higher technical skills to do, and is usually done by a technician.

Where can I get a new Apple hard drive?

When you’ve made sure that your hard drive can be replaced, shopping for one is the next time. Now because some Apple storage drives are often made specific to Apple computer models, you can’t just buy any drive that fits into your computer. It may be a good idea to buy storage drives that are made for Apple Macs. These can be directly from Apple, or any retailer that sells them.

4. Replace your hard drive yourself

Time to brush up your DIY skills! Opening up your computer and replacing the hard drive may sound a bit daunting. But trust us, it can be a simple and rewarding process. As long as you follow some simple steps, replacing your hard drive yourself is a quick and cost-effective solution for you. Plus, it’s a satisfying feeling to finish a project by yourself.

Popular tech guide site ifixit offers repair guides for Apple products that can guide you step by step for this. This includes guides specific to different models of Apple laptops and desktop Macs.

5. Install MacOS on new drive

Using macOS Utilities to reinstall macOS

Installing MacOS on a new boot drive takes almost no effort. As long as you’ve installed the drive correctly, Apple will do all the work for you with MacOS recovery.

Hold down the “Command” and “R” key to reach Apple MacOS recovery. Apple will then connect to the internet to download the latest or the right MacOS for you.

If that doesn’t work for you, you may also choose to use a bootable installer. Prepare and download MacOS onto a USB that’s at least 16GB, and install it from there.

Things to keep in mind

If you’re still on the fence about getting your hard drive, think of it this way. Slapping a band aid on a slowly deepening wound doesn’t heal the problem completely. Hard drives will fail with time, and quick repairs may not be all that dependable. Replacing it or upgrading to flash storage can give you better performance.

Professional repairs

Hard drive repair

Not keen on DIY? Then you may want to seek professional advice from the Apple store or an Apple Authorised Service Provider. They can usually offer you replacement and repair services under warranty. Still, Apple may not offer support solutions for Apple laptop and desktop computers from 2012 and before, so it may be a good idea to check beforehand. If that is the case, your best bet is going to a third-party repair service.

With that said, a reliable replacement can be done here in Inner West Sydney, at Safemode Computer Service 🙂 Should you decide not to take time out of your busy schedule to do it yourself, we can offer expert advice and solutions to your faulty hard drive. Our highly rated technicians in Inner West Sydney can help you fully test your computer for issues. We can also help you get the right replacement for your Apple Mac laptop or desktop computer.

Check your warranty

Do check your warranty before getting a third-party repair though. Doing so while your warranty is still valid will void your warranty. If your warranty or Apple Care has expired and an authorised service provider can’t help you, your last option is a third-party repair.

Backup your data

Our final advice to you is: always back-up your data. At any moment, your computer may crash and you lose valuable data. So while you have a healthy drive, keeping regular backup habits may be a safe option for you. 👍