One thing they don’t tell you when you start taking digital photos and movies is that you’ll never have enough hard disk space ever again. Ever. Tonight marks the 4th time in about as many years that my MacBook will get a new larger hard drive. This machine shipped with a 60GB disk. I then went up to 100GB. Around this time I started taking photos. I soon needed a 320GB drive and now I am installing a 640GB drive. I now understand that this drive this size is very temporary, though hopefully it will at least last until I get a new MacBook, but that’s another post all together.
If you’re anything like me, you have so much media on your machine that if you ever set out to look at it all again, you’d probably have to take a month off of work just to glance it all over. And that’s assuming you aren’t acquiring more media at the same time!
You also probably have a billion bookmarks, dozens of apps installed and registered, preferences all set just how you like them and no desire to set all of that up again. So what do you do when your hard drive is full and you are all out of files that you have deemed trash?

The quickest thing to do is to buy a new larger hard disk, install it and grab your OS X disc and start fresh. That probably will take an hour. But then you are at square one and all of your precious files are sitting in a disk on our desk completely useless to you. You could put that disk in an external drive enclosure and pull back all the files that you want back. Here is the best bang-for-your-buck 2.5″ enclosure I know of and personally use.
The VANTEC NexStar TX:

The enclosure can be bought right now from NewEgg.com for $11.99 with free shipping.

However, if you are like me, you probably want just about everything back where it belongs which means spending the next 6 hours searching and copying over 100s of GB of data.

Before I talk about what I am doing to handle this, let me emphasize that this is not a tutorial or step-by-step guide. It is intended to give some insight into what it takes to upgrade your hard drive without losing the computer experience you are accustomed to.

What I do is make a clone of my current hard disk that is perfectly bootable. I do this by doing essentially the opposite of the previous method I mentioned. I take the new larger disk and put it inside an enclosure. I then use a program called Super Duper! to make a dupe (get it?) of my system drive. This takes a really long time. Of course, it is entirely based upon how much data you are copying but to give you a point of reference I am now at 3.5 hours and still have quite a bit to go.

Super Duper! costs about $25-$30 if memory serves me.

When Super Duper! is done, I recommend doing a test boot before the disk is installed. In system preferences, select the new external drive as your startup disk and reboot. If it boots without any problems you are set to go. Keep in mind that booting on an external device is most likely going to be very slow compared to your normal experience. Then simply shut down your machine, take the new larger drive out of the enclosure and put it in its new home. The first time booting with the new drive installed has usually been sluggish for me but once it has finished I reboot it right away and it’s ready to go after that. The big advantage with this method is that you now have your old disk to fall back to if something didn’t go to plan. Then after you test everything out and are confidant that you don’t need the old disk any more you have a decent sized portable drive!

You could also do the same thing with another program called Carbon Copy Cloner which some people will prefer, but in the end they do just about the same thing. CCC is actually free now, and they ask for a donation after they’ve won you over. I doubt that this was the case when I was choosing between the two or I’m willing to bet I would have gone for CCC!

You can also do essentially the same thing using Apple’s Time Machine/Capsule products, although the procedure for this is a bit more like the other method. You install your new disk first and then put your OS X install disk in and boot off the DVD (has to be Leopard or Snow Leopard, I believe since Time Machine didn’t exist for 10.4, right?). When the installer begins it will ask you if you want to restore from a Time Machine image (among other options). This is a great solution if you keep up with regular incremental Time Machine backups. I do have a Time Capsule and use it but it doesn’t have the capacity to really perform this function for me, nor do I keep regular backups due to sluggish computer performance while syncing with the Time Capsule.

I’m curious to hear what you all do. Of course the obvious solution is to keep all our media on external drives and leave your system drive for just that-system files and applications. But for me, that just isn’t portable enough. I cant predict when I’m going to want to start editing some photos so I really need to keep everything with me.

**Update**
A few things I remembered now that I’ve finished. A couple of settings do not translate over when you use the method. Nothing major, but your desktop background will be defaulted. And the sluggishness I remembered lingers a little longer than just a reboot or two. It’s because OS X uses spotlight to index the new volume. You’ll see a little dot in the top right corner inside the spotlight magnifying glass. Also, if you look at the activity monitor you’ll see two processes named mds and mdsworker eating up CPU. That means it is indexing. Let it crank away overnight and it should be ready when you wake up!