Upgrading the SSD in an early 2015 Mac Book Pro

If you’re like me and went the cheap route with your MBP purchase, you might be struggling for space right now. After a recent upgrade from Mojave to Big Sur, I found that no matter what I did to make space, it was never quite enough. Not being able to update xcode was the last straw.

One of the biggest sins an Apple user can make is skimping out on headroom when buying a system. For my very first purchase, I committed the ultimate of sins:

  • 128GB SSD
  • 8 GB of RAM

While I told myself that it would be fine at the beginning in order to justify not paying an extra $300 up front, I’ve been paying for it with my time and sanity ever since. Updates became like a dance, trying to ensure that enough space stayed on the drive. RAM constantly sitting maxed out. If only I’d payed the extra $300…

5 Years later, I’m still using the computer every day. And while there’s nothing I can do about the RAM problem (thanks Apple), I found that there was something I could do about the storage space.

Enter NVMe support

Evidently with the release Mojave came support for NVMe drives. This meant that with the help of a 3rd party adaptor, you could essentially plug a cheap M.2 drive into the MBP and be on your way. Lots of space, increased speed, all at a fraction of the price of a used drive (Apple no longer supplies the drives, of course).

But what about those OWC drives?

Chances are you landed on this page through googling about doing the upgrade yourself. If so, you’ve probably already done a bit of searching yourself and come across a set of drives from a company called OWC. These drives require no adapter, and they advertise them as being “Mac Replacement Drives”. It sounds really official, and I almost ended up going down that route.

… but then you notice that the price is over double that of an equivalent SSD. And then you see that there’s nothing special about the drives - they aren’t especially speedy, and they aren’t supported by Apple any more than any other NVMe drive.

So I started to search around a bit and came across a wonderful wiki/forum post of info.

Resources

Probably the definitive resource for this effort: the MacRumors thread. If you have not read it, you should go read the first post. And then re-read it again. It will explain everything you need to know, from the supported computers, to recommended drives.

The drive I ended up going with was the Sabrent Rocket, based on the reported performance and temperatures.

You will need to create a bootable installer. I tried without this (using recovery) but had no luck getting my new drive recognized. Plan to do this before you take your old drive out.

This guide details how replace the ssd (early 2015 MBP). Search the site if you’re using a different computer.

Tools

You’ll need the following tools in order to do this project:

  • M.2 drive (see guide for choices)
  • Sintech NGFF M.2 NVMe SSD Adapter Card (MacRumors post HIGHLY recommends Sintech, though many other makers)
  • P5 and T5 screwdrivers (see iFixit page for info)
  • Spudger (hard plastic thing to disconnect battery cable)
  • ~16GB USB drive for boot installer

Guide

This was a lot more trial and error for me than I’d like to admit. Here are the final working steps that I used:

  1. Update my system to the latest OS release (Big Sur)
  2. Make a TimeMachine backup of my system
  3. Using the guide from resources, create a bootable usb drive for Big Sur
  4. Disconnect all USB and power down (don’t sleep!)
  5. Insert the new NVMe drive into the Sintech adapter - you should feel a slight bump
  6. Follow the iFixit guide to replacing the drive
  7. Note: When removing the battery cable, the connector is at the very top. The connector has a very small lip on it, which requires the spudger to create enough of a gap to slip something in and pop it off. I would HIGHLY recommend watching a video on youtube if you haven’t done it before. I started to pry off the wrong piece!
  8. When putting in the drive, you need to keep pushing in until the back side fully clears the screw hole. If it doesn’t completely show the hole, it’s not seated correctly. I had to carefully press in at a slight angle, and the drive pushed all the way in.
  9. When replacing the battery connector, you should hear an audible click when pressed back in.
  10. You may want to leave the screws off of the back cover after clicking it back on - I had to open it back up a few times and it was a pain
  11. Insert the power cable, the bootable USB drive, and open the lid. Press and hold the Options(Alt) key and press the power button.
  12. Screen should pop up where you can connect to WiFi network, and start install (don’t worry, this doesn’t start install)
  13. After a few minutes, a screen will pop up with a few different options. Go to Disk Utility at the bottom.
  14. Find your new drive in the list. If you just bought it, chances are it’s not formatted. Select the new drive, and click the “Erase” button. This will prompt you for a new SSD name (your old one was probably “Macintosh HD”), and the disk type. The disk type you choose will depend on the OS you’re going to install, so check with Apple docs first. For Big Sur, I just used the default settings.
  15. After formatting, return to the previous selection screen. From here I did a fresh install of Big Sur.
  • My original intention had been to restore from TimeMachine, but I was not able to do so with Big Sur. It might still work with older versions of macOS, but I was forced to do the fresh install before I could do the migration.
  1. Allow the install to complete (took ~40 minutes for me)
  2. After install completes, fill out the first few screens until it asks if you want to migrate data. Select yes, insert your TimeMachine drive, and follow the on screen prompts
  3. After about 2 hours, everything was restored and I was able to log back in.