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How do you upgrade the hard drive in the 17-Inch "Early 2009/Unibody" MacBook Pro?
Upgrading the hard drive in the 17-Inch "Unibody" MacBook Pro -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.66 17-Inch (Early 2009/Unibody) -- is quite easy, just about as easy as upgrading the RAM.
If you're not sure whether or not you have a 17-Inch "Early 2009" MacBook Pro or another model, these models can be most readily identified externally via EMC number 2272 on the bottom of the computer. In software, they can be spotted by the MacBookPro5,2 model identifier (although the 17-Inch "Mid-2009" MacBook Pro models also share this identifier, they use the same type of RAM and have the same maximum capacity).
These models also can be identified by the last three characters of the eleven character serial number using EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature (if it has a twelve character serial number, it's a different model).
Official Hard Drive Upgrade Instructions
The Apple Support Site has posted a detailed article on "How to install a replacement hard drive" in the 17-Inch "Unibody" MacBook Pro and covers the same material in pages 37-44 of the 17-Inch "Unibody" MacBook Pro User Guide (PDF). This likely will provide everything you need to replace the stock hard drive with a larger one.
The support document starts by noting that:
The hard disk drive is located next to the built-in battery when you open the back of your MacBook Pro. The replacement drive must be a 2.5-inch drive with a Serial ATA (SATA) connector.
It continues with detailed instructions, complete with drawings, which absolutely should be read in their entirety before one replaces the hard drive.
However, the basic procedure is to turn off the notebook, disconnect cables, and let it cool; flip it over and unscrew the ten screws (of differing lengths) that hold the bottom plate in place, remove the bottom plate, discharge static electricity, unscrew the drive bracket, disconnect the SATA connector, remove the old drive and install the new one, and reassemble the computer.
It's really quite easy!
Hard Drive Upgrade Video Instructions
The Apple-provided drawings are helpful, but perhaps even better, site sponsor Other World Computing provides a convenient step-by-step video of the process: