Fixing the MacBook

On Monday, I picked up the replacement hard drive for my MacBook. The technician swapped the hard drive out, so I didn’t have to mess around with all the screws on the notebook myself, but he said reinstalling MacOS and trying to recover data from the broken hard drive wasn’t covered by the warranty: I would have had to leave the MacBook at their shop, pay for it myself, and it wasn’t guaranteed they’d get anything off it at all. I decided to reinstall MacOS myself. I’d have to reinstall all the applications again, but I had a relatively new data backup, and all the really important stuff is in a small one-user Perforce repository anyway.

So I reinstalled MacOS and most of the applications, which I got done pretty quickly. By Monday night, most of the applications were there already. Strangely enough, there are a bunch of problems: The newest version of Quicksilver is crashing now, so I rolled back to an older version. Now it works, but it looks and behaves differently, and I can’t get it set up the way it used to be. iTerm, a terminal replacement, is also looking different, but after a lot of experimenting, it looks the same again now. Setting up Fink took forever, I don’t know why. I hooked the MacBook up using wired Ethernet, so I don’t think it was a bandwidth issue. I don’t recall it taking this long when I installed it the first time, and Cygwin, which is similar, doesn’t nearly take as long either. It literally worked for half a day on downloading, installing, compiling and configuring.

Then I restored my data backup… and got a bad surprise: When I had made it, I had just dragged all files over from the MacBook hard drive to my USB hard drive; apparently when I did that, it didn’t copy hidden files, those that begin with a dot, like .bashrc for example. That’s bad. I had to set up my entire Unix configuration again. But now, I think I’ve got it set up again.

Now I’m looking for a way to make a drive image, so that in the future I don’t have to install all applications by hand again. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a suitable equivalent to Norton Ghost yet, and when I experimented, the computer hung, and after I reset, the “drive header” of the brand new hard drive sustained “minor damage”. I’m really worried that it’s not actually the hard drive but something else, and that it’s crapping up the new drive again before I can create a good backup.

I also got the two mobile drive racks that I ordered: I found a good deal on a lower-quality Kingwin KF21-IPF. They have much smaller, less efficient fans, but they were also a lot cheaper, and I hope the big fans won’t be necessary. Now I put the 160 GB VECTOR\_MEDIA drive and the previously unused 20 GB drive into trays for the mobile rack. Unfortunately the rack does not support hot-swapping, for that it would have had to be SATA or USB, and that would have been much more expensive.

I’m using the 20 GB drive as an additional backup drive, so I’m moving the Ghost images onto it. At the same time, I’m copying my collected resources that I mirror on my web server so I can put them on DVD. The network is a big bottleneck right now. I really hope that by the end of the day, I’ll have finished the following tasks:

  • Existing Ghost images on portable hard drive
  • Backup of my web documents
  • Drive image of “vector”, on internal hard drive and portable hard drive
  • Drive image of the MacBook, on internal backup drive “scalar”and portable hard drive

I really wish there was a way to queue up copying tasks instead of letting them run in parallel, which is killing the network performance…


Somehow the computer gods must be conspiring against me: Copying the web documents across the network, 200 minutes remaining; copying Ghost images, 12 minutes remaining. And I’m merely trying to restart the MacBook, but “FileVault is recovering excess disk space” and that’s been taking 30 minutes already. But I’m glad I had FileVault turned on; because of that I didn’t have to worry about the data on the broken hard drive. Hmm. 30 minutes… Is the drive broken again? Should I just turn off the power? Argh.


Finally, the MacBook shut down, and I rebooted from the MacOS installation DVD. I only figured out how to do that last weekend, when I was trying to fix the hard drive by running the Apple Care DVD: You have to press ‘C’ and keep it pressed until the Apple logo appears. There are other keys too, it just took a long time to find them. I checked the integrity of the new MacBook hard drive, and then I tried creating a drive image on a portable USB hard drive. Thankfully the USB drive is accessible from within the Disk Utility on the MacOS installation DVD.

Copying the Ghost images to the other portable hard drive finished, so now I could create a fresh Ghost image of “vector”… if only I had finished copying the web documents. With less network congestion, the estimate now went down from 200 minutes to 40 minutes, but the estimates vary a lot depending on file size, and the web documents often are very small. I tried creating a ZIP archive of them, and copying them was a lot quicker, but there was a problem with the file size of the archive. Files larger than 2 GB create problems (see above). In retrospect, I should have just created a multi-volume ZIP archive.


I don’t believe it. Disk Utility gave me an error message that the image file will be too large! Now I still have to figure out how I can make that MacBook drive image… Apple’s Disk Utility didn’t work, maybe Carbon Copy Cloner will do the trick. Please… please?


I backed up the web documents and I made a fresh Ghost image of VECTOR\_C. I still have to copy it, and some other Ghost images, to a portable hard drive. The MacBook backup using Carbon Copy Cloner apparently is at 60 percent so far. That’ll still take some time, and then I need to test it.


Carbon Copy Cloner ran out of space, and it doesn’t let me backup directly to the USB drive. SuperDuper! just doesn’t work. So right now I have no clue how I can make a drive image of the MacBook.

It’s amazing how much time all this installation and maintenance sucks up.


In the end, I formatted my GigaBank portable hard drive as an HFS+ drive for the Mac, and that allowed Disk Utility to write the entire big image to the hard drive. Now I can’t read it on Windows (without special software), but that’s ok. I guess that’s why I have two portable drives.


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
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