How to Upgrade Your AppleTV with a 160GB Hard Drive

I have posted many times about how much I love the AppleTV, and more importantly, how much my son Jacob loves the AppleTV. But after ripping about 20 DVDs, the original hard drive had just run out of room. 40GB is just not enough.

This afternoon I took an hour and upgraded the AppleTV to a 160GB. The upgrade went pretty smoothly, but I thought it was worth sharing my experience here.

First, instructions. I found a lot of these on the web, but many dated from the original launch, and I found after investigation that they were overly complex. I ended up using these excellent instructions from Engadget, and for the most part, they were complete and easy to understand.

Since I’m linking to the instructions, let me highlight some of the things not typically covered. For example, what did I buy?

I bought the following things:

I love getting new tools, and the Husky Torx set is finally going meet my needs long term. It’s so cool. And you need a T8 and T10 to open the AppleTV, because there are 2 sets of screws. From my old Mac repair days, I had a T10, but not a T8.

I spent a little more on a hard drive case for the old drive because I figured a 40GB portable USB hard drive might come in handy, and this case doesn’t require 2 USB plugs for power and had good reviews.

Step 1: Removing the Old Drive

This went according to plan, except that I ripped the rubber bottom a little when I was removing it. There was no warning about this, so just be really careful when you peel it off. It actually isn’t a big square – it wraps around the edges more than I first thought.

The first set of screws actually come in 2 sizes! Make sure to remember where the long ones go vs. the short ones. It’s easy to tell because when you look inside the box, one set of holes is on posts and doesn’t need a long screw.

Two things are on the original hard drive – a flat, peel off pad between the hard drive and the case, and a small stick-on pad between the hard drive and the internal components. In order to get the hard drive out, it’s best to wiggle the ATA plug free with your fingernails, and then peel the drive free. The instructions didn’t really cover this.

Step 2: Disk image of the old drive

This was much easier than I thought. I just plugged the old AppleTV HD into my new case, and plugged it into my PowerMac G5 running Mac OS 10.4.9. Open up the Terminal application, because as they said in Jurassic Park, “Oh, it’s a UNIX system!”

The drive actually has two partitions: OSBoot & Media. The instructions given by Engadget actually have you back up the entire drive, but since you only need OSBoot, I improvised. OSBoot is only 900MB, and Media is 36GB. Since the copy over USB was handling about 2MB per second, I didn’t have the patience to copy 36GB that I was never going to use.

So, here is the command line sequence that I used:

PowerSmash-G5:~ adamnash$ diskutil list

#: type name size identifier
0: GUID_partition_scheme *37.3 GB disk6
1: EFI 34.0 MB disk6s1
2: 5265636F-7665-11AA-AA11-00306543ECAC 400.0 MB disk6s2
3: Apple_HFS OSBoot 900.0 MB disk6s3
4: Apple_HFS Media 36.0 GB disk6s4

This gave me a much longer list, which I’m truncating here. diskutil list gives you the complete list of mounted drives, and most importantly, gives you the actually volume name for your AppleTV drive (in my case, /dev/disk6)

I then modified the “dd” command that Engadget recommends, truncating it to the size I needed:

PowerSmash-G5:~ adamnash$ dd if=/dev/disk6 count=1335 of=/Users/adamnash/Desktop/AppleTV.img bs=1024k

1335+0 records in
1335+0 records out
1399848960 bytes transferred in 1055.788885 secs (1325880 bytes/sec)

So now I had my AppleTV.img disk image sitting on my desktop. Awesome.

Step 3: Create New Drive

This was a lot more command line fun than I thought. Engadget’s instructions here were spot on. Since Engadget actually doesn’t explain the steps in plain english, here’s what you are actually doing:

  1. Moving the old disk image to the new hard drive
  2. Deleting the “Media” partition, since it’s too small
  3. Creating a new “Media” partition that is as big as your new drive will allow
  4. Formatting the new “Media” partition as HFS+ Journaled
  5. Deleting any Spotlight directories from OSBoot and Media

Through it all, I became really impressed with gpt and diskutil as command line operators. Very powerful.

Step 4: Install New HD in AppleTV

This was really easy. The key for me was to put the sticky pads from the old HD on the new HD first, then reattach the IDE cable. Once that was done, I screwed the HD in place onto the base. I then put the base back on the AppleTV, and put in the 4 screws that hold it together. I then re-applied the rubber.

Step 5: It’s Alive!

I rushed it back to my bedroom and hooked up the power & HDMI. Worked perfectly, and now has 145GB of space for media. Basically, it acted like a brand new AppleTV, so I did have to walk through setup and connect it with my iTunes. But it just worked.

Epilogue: Do I recommend this?

Ironically, Apple started selling a 160GB AppleTV this week for $399. That’s $150 over the $249 for the 40GB version. So why would you ever do this?

I thought about this today, and basically, the only reason you’d do this is:

  • You already have a 40GB AppleTV
  • You love to play with command lines and hardware

Fortunately, these both apply to me. Your mileage may vary.

I’d rate this install as harder than installing a new hard drive in a laptop computer, but only because of the rubber and the command line fun.

4 thoughts on “How to Upgrade Your AppleTV with a 160GB Hard Drive

  1. The 40GB model is $299, not $250, unless you buy a used or refurbished version.

    The command line nastiness is what makes it *totally* worth selling my 40GB version for $250 on eBay and buying the 160GB one new for a $150 difference. Not to mention the fact that doing it that route means Apple will still support the warranty should anything else go wrong later.

    Of course, I’ll probably end up holding out until Apple realizes that the extra half inch or so in height is totally worth the difference between having a 160GB laptop drive versus a 500GB desktop drive. Function over form may not be Apple’s motto, but I have to have faith that they’ll eventually come around when HD storage is concerned.

  2. I received a 160gb Apple TV as a gift but haven’t been impressed with its functionality out of the box. I don’t have any video content from iTunes and I couldn’t justify the ripping time into a format only my ATV would like. So instead, I’m collecting the tools necessary to boot Linux natively on it and turn it into a full-fledged DVR with MythTV!

  3. Pingback: Can You Upgrade An AppleTV Past 250GB? « Psychohistory

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