Fire TV

How to Backup or Replace the Internal Hard Drive.

Updated: June 4, 2013

Who is this guide for?
This tutorial is about hacking the first generation Apple TV. You remember, the big silver one?

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).

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 here. It is 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 hard drive.


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 gently.

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.

Step 1.

Download AtvCloner from here. I am also hosting this file here. There is a version for OS X Leopard users here. I am also hosting this file here. Decompress the file and you'll see the Place this program wherever you'd like.


Step 2.

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 hard drive.

Step 3.

All terminal commands that you type will be displayed in red.

Go to your Applications > Utilities folder and launch Type sudo -s and press enter. Then enter your password.

Type cd and add a space at the end, then drag the 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 binary here.

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.

Step 4.

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 your desktop.

Click the Image Source Partitions ... button. A pop up message will appear. Click Continue.

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.

Step 5.

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. Click Open.

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 there.

At this point you can continue on to jailbreaking your Apple TV and adding an external hard drive if you want. Check out this tutorial. 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 drives.

Additional information

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 cable.

I also synced with an internal hard drive and an external hard drive.

Apple has a knowledge base article on this procedure here:   I'll be following the first option under solution 2.

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 sure.

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:

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 it.

Apple TV

Here's the finished product.

Apple TV

I decided to go to the next level and purchased some tin snips here. I then cut away a portion of the perforated lower plate until it looked like this.

Apple TV

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.