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AppleTV Hard Drive Upgrade Guide - A Better Way (IMHO)
Updated: 3/29/2010 (dimension typo corrected)
Updated: 12/17/2012 (alternate DL links for atvcloner)


FYI: Of course it goes without saying that this mod voids any warranty you may have on the AppleTV. Personally my Apple TV was several years old and long past any warranty coverage. I've seen no issues with this 320GB HD Upgrade on my AppleTV (with firmware 3.0.2 - the latest as of this article's post date) and several readers have used my guide w/o any problems - but as with any mod, YMMV. (If you don't want to/can't do this youself, see bottom of page for Info on OWC's ATV HD Upgrade service.)-Mike

As I mentioned earlier this month (in the news page and AppleTV feedback/tips/mods page) after years of putting it off (always something more pressing) I finally made time to upgrade the hard drive in an early model 40GB AppleTV with a 320GB WD Scorpio Blue. And thanks to a reader (Mike M.) that sent photos of the bottom plate sans rubber cover, I did something that I'd always thought was a better way than ripping off the bottom rubber cover. (Which often results in tearing it.) I cut away the rubber around the screws on the bottom plate instead of ripping the entire cover off. Having the screw heads exposed makes the take-apart much simpler/faster. (And with the screw heads exposed, future take-aparts for other mods (or repairs) is a snap.)

I created the image below in photoshop from a photo of my AppleTV (after holes were cut) and added dimensions to the screw hole locations. I used English (inch/fractions) rather than decimals since I suspect most owners are more likely to have a ruler handy than a set of calipers. It's possible there's some variation in locations due to mfg tolerances, some (very slight) slop in mtg holes/plate position, etc. but the dimensions below should get you more than close enough to trim away the rubber over the screws using an Xacto knife (or similar). Unfortunately I couldn't find my Xacto knife (with a nice sharp/tapered edge) and used an old razor knife (with snap-off tips) that had been broken square instead of on an angle, so my cuts were not "pretty". But since the bottom area is never seen in use it's no big deal. (I could have used adhesive felt dots, etc. to cover the holes but why bother.)
(If I really wanted nearly perfect cuts I'd have dug harder to find an old Leather hole punch I had from years ago with a rotating wheel of various hole sizes. Using that (perhaps even heated) with the proper size hole punch (appx 1/4in dia screw heads) could have made nearly perfect cutouts perhaps - but again it's really not a big deal anyway.

Screw Hole Locations (for cutouts vs ripping off bottom cover)
Hole Pattern
(Ports End of AppleTV)

Use the above pix as a guide to locate the screws using a ruler and mark (+) the locations with a pen or pencil. (You can wipe the marks off later.) Using an Xacto knife (preferably) cut through the rubber cover (it's not very thick over the screws) - and with a sharp knife, you can literally use the edges of the screw to guide a circular cutout around the screw heads if you're careful. The screw head diameter is appx 1/4in, I just used the border of the screw head as a 'guide' for my knife (blade against the edge of the screw head) as I cut around them. (Again how "pretty" the cutout is really doesn't matter since its hidden in use.)

Once you have the screws exposed, it's simply a matter of removing the Torx screws. On my early 40GB ATV, the outer 4 screws are T10, the inner 4 used to secure the hard drive are T9. One reader says his 40GB ATV has T8 HD screws, but I TRIPLE checked mine again - a T9 fits the HD screws without any slop. (I can remove the screws with the next size down, but the sizes I mention are the best fit for my sample anyway. I'm using a Kobalt 8-in-1 Precision Torx Head Screwdriver I bought from Lowes last fall.)
Remove the outer 4 screws first, which will allow the bottom plate to be removed while still having the hard drive retained to the bottom plate. (Note: The 2 screws on the Ports end are fully threaded, unlike the pair on the opposite end - you can see why in the photo below which shows the difference in standoff lengths the screws pass through.)

When removing the bottom plate, take care to not overly stress the hard drive's ribbon cable from the motherboard. The motherboard is secured to the top surface and a folded IDE (PATA) ribbon cable runs from it to the hard drive mounted on the bottom plate as shown in the photo below:

AppleTV opened up

Notice the (adhesive backed) gray pad attached to the corner of the OEM hard drive's top cover. (You'll remove this to transfer to the new HD, although I forgot to do that initially, I did later. Another reason why the exposed screws are a plus - no ripping off/regluing the cover.)
Once you have the covers apart, remove the 4 screws securing the OEM hard drive to the bottom plate. (I found it easier to remove the IDE cable after removing the screws.) The photo below shows me holding the OEM 40GB (Fujitsu btw) and you can see the rubber sheet attached to the bottom of it (insulator sheet between the HD and the bottom metal cover). You'll remove this sheet (and the foam pad on the top corner of the HD) for transferring to the new drive.

In the above photo you can see the CPU fan and to the left of it, the wireless (mini-PCIe) card. (One of the future mods (for 1080P content playback) I may consider is replacing the wireless card with a Crystal video card and using XMBC with drivers for it.)

This photo shows peeling off the green (rubber) insulation sheet from the OEM hard drive to apply it to the new drive.


Cloning the OEM Hard Drive:
And as other readers have noted before, a big thanks to Dynaflash for their freeware ATVcloner app (see note below) that eliminates the need to use terminal commands (that were shown in HD upgrade guides I linked to years ago here).
(FYI: A reader sent a note the link I originally posted here (in 2010) for the freeware ATVcloner app (http://dynaflashtech.net/atvcloner/) fails to load now (checked Sept. 2012) so I removed the link. I do not have a copy of the download anymore (sorry), but Web searching for "Dynaflash ATVcloner app" may find a copy/mirror.)


Update (Dec. 17, 2012): (From a reader mail - I've not used those D/L files personally.)
"Hi Mike, Just wanted to let you know that I have used you walk through several times for upgrading my (1st gen) ATV hard drives and wanted to say thank you for it. I notice that you note the link to download ATVCloner is dead. I have included links to both versions of the files if you would like to add them your page.

Here is the link to the page that I got them from: forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1431132
It seems as though DynaTech is trying to get the page back up, but I only get an empty page when I try.
Thanks again for your guide.
-James S."

Thanks James. (I've also had requests for AppleTV HD images of from failed drive owners but can't help with that, sorry.)


Since the AppleTV uses PATA (not SATA) drives, I used a NewerTech USB universal drive adapter that I've had for years to mount the OEM drive in OS X. ATVcloner made cloning the OEM partitions and prepping the new 320GB WD Scorpio PATA drive a breeze. (I used OS X 10.5.8 and the Leopard version of ATVcloner.) The photo below is of the OEM drive connected to my Mac Pro USB port using the NewerTech Universal Drive Adapter. (After imaging the original drive I used the same adapter for prepping the new drive.)


Once you've cloned the partitions to the new drive. It's simply a matter of attaching the insulation sheet to the bottom of the new drive and the pad to the top corner of it. Then connect the IDE cable and attach the new drive to the bottom plate using the 4 screws removed earlier.

Now just mate the bottom cover and secure it using the 4 screws.

BTW: I did not wipe/restore the OEM HD before doing this as it's not necessary. On first use with the new drive installed (be patient on first powerup), you're prompted to go through the initial setup again. (Including iTunes code entry, etc.) And for those like me with over 200GB of media to sync to the new drive, I'd suggest an ethernet connection rather than wireless. Although the AppleTV's ethernet port is only 100Mbit max, Ethernet is more efficient than wireless, but it's still going to take awhile. (With my 5GHz/wide/300Mbit link it took about 24hrs to sync appx 293GB of content. I literally filled the drive initially to where I had "zero bytes" free, but later deleted some content to free up a couple GB.)

Hopefully the above is useful for anyone else that has wanted to upgrade their AppleTV hard drive but kept putting it off. If you have any questions or comments, let me know .
-Mike


(FYI - For Apple TV 1st Gen owners that don't feel comfortable upgrading the Hard Drive themselves, site sponsor OWC offers an AppleTV Hard Drive Upgrade +Installation Service (including hard drive) - 250GB Upgrade service and 320GB Upgrade service - both include USA ground shipping both ways to lower 48 states with other shipping options available. Since PATA drives are phased out now, prices on the bare HD keep rising and may not be available at some point.)

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