How to Backup or Replace the Internal Hard Drive.
Updated: June 4, 2013
Who is this guide for?
- Apple TV first generation model only.
- I have version 3.0.2 firmware.
- I used OS X 10.8.2
- I used iTunes 11.0.2
This tutorial is about hacking the first generation Apple TV. You remember, the big silver
I'll teach you how to either upgrade your internal drive to a larger capacity or to
replace a failed hard drive with a hard drive of any size (even smaller).
If your drive has already failed, I hope you have a copy of the data partitions needed to
create it as I will not be providing Apple proprietary files. The partitions in question
are EFI, Apple_Recovery, Apple_HFS OSBoot, and Apple_HFS Media. Maybe you can Google to
find these? They would be large files.
This tutorial will be based on a couple tutorials which described aspects of the
procedure. I've listed some really good tutorials below. Content is repeated on a few
of them but they are all so well done I wanted to list them as they have discussions
attached to them and they may be able to help you out of a jam in case I don't document
how I solved issues that you might run into.
There are essentially two methods to do this: via the Terminal using our friend dd (which
I won't be using) or using the AtvCloner program (which GUIfies the tedious dd process).
- Engadget has a
on how to disassemble the Apple TV and then use the Terminal to copy the internal drive.
I'm not using this method in my tutorial.
- xlr8yourmac has a
on how to disassemble the Apple TV and then use AtvCloner (the method I'll use) to copy
the hard drive.
- iClarified has a
on using AtvCloner. They just left out a crucial step which stupid me took awhile to
figure out on my own to get the program to work. I've added this information to my
tutorial to save you some frustration.
- There is a discussion over at MacRumors about how to do this as well. Check out
This method uses the Terminal which is more time consuming.
- MacWorld has a
on how to disassemble the Apple TV And then use the Terminal to copy the hard drive. I
don't like this method as it copies the entire drive and will take HOURS to complete. You
would then have issues when copying the content to a drive of a different size as you
would be playing with resizing partitions.
Other World Computing still
offers a service
where they will upgrade your hard drive. You better hurry up as I think they are running
out of the particular Western Digital 250 GB or 320 GB hard drives needed to do this. They
do have some smaller drives however. Keep in mind if you just wanted a smaller hard drive
installed (if you are using an external hard drive) this is still a valuable service for
the technically challenged as you need the stock internal hard drive to run the Apple TV
operating system. Amazon and NewEgg may also be good resources for finding older 2.5" IDE
ATA style hard drives. These are being phased out so supplies are dwindling everywhere.
I have one other Apple TV tutorial
about jailbreaking the Apple TV to enable the USB connection to use an external hard
drive and set it as the primary hard drive. This way you aren't limited by what you can
fit inside the Apple TV's cramped enclosure.
I'll show you how to create a new boot drive using the AtvCloner program. In my case I
was able to connect the original Apple TV hard drive at the same time I connected the
replacement hard drive. I wasn't able to make this process work when only connecting one
hard drive at a time for whatever reason.
My replacement hard drive came installed in its own case already. You'll need that case
to connect to the drive. If you just have a bare hard drive you could also purchase a
case or a universal drive adapter. I found that when disassembling a store bought
drive that it wouldn't talk to my Mac using the universal drive adapter, it had to be
attached to its original circuit board which was in the case to mount it on my Mac.
Here is an example of a
universal hard drive adapter.
I use an older version by this same manufacturer. I used this on the original Apple TV
Electrostatic discharge is a serious issue. Do not disassemble your Apple TV while
standing on carpet. You're going to be handling hard drives and circuit boards whose
chips are very susceptible to damage. Also handle the hard drives with care. Move them
Ok, let's take that Apple TV apart. It's really not that hard. Just make sure you have
some Torx screw drivers handy. All the screws I removed were a T8. I've read some Apple
TVs used T9 or T10 screws.
Disconnect all the cables from your Apple TV and flip it over. I was able to peel the
rubber pad back just enough to access all the Torx screws at each corner. Note that
the screws on the same side as the LED and IR Receiver are longer than the screws on the
cable connector end.
Once you have the four screws removed pull the rubber pad back a little more on the front
side of the Apple TV. You'll now see the four screws mounting the hard drive to the
bottom of the case.
Once you have the other four screws removed, lift the bottom of the case off straight up.
Peel back the rubber insulator on the bottom of the hard drive. Mine wasn't a sticker
it's very pliable rubber that stays in place once positioned and is reusable.
Disconnect the cable from the end of the drive. Try to pull it straight back. You
don't want to bend any of the pins on the hard drive. Note the four pins closest to the
front of the Apple TV. They are not used. Remember this when replacing the cable.
Oh, by the way that battery on the motherboard is a CR2032 3V.
Here's my drive hooked up to the universal drive adapter. Note the gray insulating pad
on the lower right corner of the drive. You may want to remove that and place it on
your new drive when installing it.
Here's both drives hooked up. The original drive on the universal adapter and the
replacement drive on the circuit board from the enclosure it came in.
Download AtvCloner from here.
I am also hosting this file here.
There is a version for OS X Leopard users
I am also hosting this file here.
Decompress the file and you'll see the AtvCloner.app. Place this program wherever you'd
Connect your original Apple TV hard drive and the replacement hard drive to whatever
adapters you're using and plug them into your Mac. In my example Apple TV is the name
of the replacement hard drive. Media and OSBoot are volumes on the original Apple TV
All terminal commands that you type will be displayed in red
Go to your Applications > Utilities folder and launch Terminal.app. Type
and press enter. Then enter your password.
and add a space at the end, then drag the AtvCloner.app
icon into the Terminal window. The path to the program will appear. Press enter.
Right click the application icon and select Show Package Contents.
In the pop up window that appears click on Contents, then MacOS. You'll see the AtvCloner
Drag it into your Terminal window and press enter. The program will launch. I had to
do it this way or the program didn't seem to want to function correctly.
AtvCloner will perform a disc scan and display the result in the Activity Log.
It is critical that you know which hard drive is which.
Fortunately my hard drives are all different sizes and I recognize them based on this.
In my example disk0 is the SSD in my MacBook Air, disk1 is my original Apple TV hard
drive and disk2 is my replacement Apple TV hard drive (which is a smaller capacity).
I'm going to use an external hard drive to store all my media so I'm not worried about the
internal hard drive getting smaller. I'm more interested in having backup Apple TV hard
drives in case of drive failure.
Your original Apple TV hard drive will have four partitions: EFI, Apple_Recovery,
Apple_HFS OSBoot, and Apple_HFS Media.
Make sure you are in the Image Source Drive Partitions tab. Locate your original Apple
TV hard drive from the list and input its name into the Source Device ID field. In my
example you would enter /dev/disk1 Leave the Output Images Path as going to
Click the Image Source Partitions ... button. A pop up message will appear. Click
Various messages will appear while the image files are created.
A pop up will appear when it has finished. Click OK.
You should now have these files on your desktop. I found that when creating additional
hard drives as replacements I needed to place these files on the desktop to get the
cloning process to work. This way I never again needed to connect the original Apple TV
hard drive to generate these files.
Click the Partition New Drive tab. Enter the name of your replacement hard drive in the
Target Drive ID box. In my example this is /dev/disk2
Go to Boot Image Path and click the Choose... button. Then select the boot.dmg file.
Repeat this process for the EFI and recovery images by clicking the matching Choose...
button next to their field names. The program should look like this now. Click the
Prepare New Drive... button.
Then click Continue at the pop up.
During the process of creating the new drive you will be warned four times with a pop
up message that says "The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer." Click the
Ignore button in each pop up message to dismiss it.
The process may still be going on in the background.
Another pop up will appear when it has finished. Click OK.
You can check the Activity Log to see what was accomplished.
Your original Apple TV hard drive will be unmounted. You should see the new volumes Media
and OSBoot for your replacement hard drive on the desktop.
Go back to the program and close it. The Cancel button didn't work for me. CMD Q did.
Eject your replacement hard drive and disconnect your original hard drive.
Make sure you either reuse that insulating pad on the bottom of your original Apple TV
hard drive or come up with another electrically safe insulator so the bottom of your new
hard drive doesn't make contact with the bottom of the Apple TV case. Install the
replacement hard drive into the Apple TV. Now boot it up.
I saw the Apple logo appear after about a minute. It disappeared once and came back.
Then I was concerned when I saw only a black screen for about three minutes. Finally the
setup routine started where you pick the language and TV settings. It worked find from
At this point you can continue on to jailbreaking your Apple TV and adding an external
hard drive if you want. Check out
I cover at the end of that tutorial how to unmount the hard drives and shutdown the
Apple TV properly. I like turning off my equipment when I'm not using it. Apple TVs
run really hot and I'd like to increase their lifespan and the lifespan of the hard
Syncing content over Ethernet
In my case it's not possible to have a permanent Ethernet connection to my Apple TV. I'm
just going to set up a temporary connection to get the initial upload of content onto it.
Future updates will be for new content as I acquire it and Wi-Fi will be sufficient as
I'll be transferring 2 GB here and there.
My set up: MacBook Air and the Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter.
You can order this adapter here:
I used an Ethernet cable that had the words "patch cord" printed on it and one that
didn't say this on it. I've read it doesn't matter whether or not you use a crossover
I also synced with an internal hard drive and an external hard drive.
Apple has a knowledge base article on this procedure here:
http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1784 I'll be following the first option under
- Connect Apple TV to your TV (you can also do this headless).
- From Apple TV, connect an Ethernet cable to your Mac's Ethernet port.
- Set up Apple TV to pair with iTunes on your Mac.
- On your Mac, open iTunes and select Apple TV in the Devices list.
- Choose the content you want to sync.
- Select the Sync button to start the process over Ethernet. You should notice a significant increase in performance.
- Once the sync is complete, disconnect from Ethernet.
I had a bad cable the first time as it wouldn't sync. I opened System Preferences and
went to Network. The Thunderbolt Ethernet connection wasn't active. I switched out
cables and it worked.
You'll notice my Wi-Fi is turned off. I've read the Apple TV seeks out an Ethernet
connection then if it isn't available it looks for a Wi-Fi signal. I just wanted to make
When I tried playing one of the movies I had synced I had the common problem where even
though I was signed in on the Apple TV the movie wouldn't play because it wasn't
authorized. This is a bug I've experienced before. Using the Apple TV I downloaded a
free TV show. Once I did that suddenly my movies were authorized. You can read about
this fine bug here: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3508078?start=0&tstart=0
Improving airflow / heat disipation
I did a little bit of searching to learn about heat related issues and methods of
cooling the unit so it will last longer. I came across everything from putting a bag of
ice on the unit (which improved playback and eliminated artifacts), to using a fan under
the unit and even disassembling the unit and placing more thermal paste between the CPU
and GPU and the top of the unit.
Here are a few discussions I came across:
I decided to cut the rubber pad on the bottom (mine gets quite warm) so that the rubber
remains only at the corners of the unit. Since the bottom of my unit was covered in glue
to attach the rubber, I used a ball point pen to poke holes through the glue that covered
any of the holes in the perforated metal bottom plate.
I removed the rubber pad from my Apple TV and marked out 1" squares that I could cut from
Here's the finished product.
I decided to go to the next level and purchased some tin snips
I then cut away a portion of the perforated lower plate until it looked like this.
You may want to file your cuts so that you don't cut yourself reassembling it. Make sure
to wash off any metal shavings so they don't fall into the internals. When you combine
this mod with the laptop fan, the Apple TV runs AMAZINGLY COOL. There is only a slight
difference in temperature from the front of the case to the back where the CPU makes
contact. I'd highly recommend this mod if you want to increase the longevity of your
Apple TV. Here's mine sitting on that fan I linked to earlier.