Papa’s got a brand new drive

I’ve upgraded the internal hard disk of my main MacBook Pro this week, and whilst it’s not the most stunning upgrade in the world, it has left a rosy glow on things. It’s also left behind a very useful little disk drive that will be a constant travelling companion. It has also given me absolute faith in Time Machine as a backup system. You simply MUST use Time Machine – it’s so easy and works so well…

Here’s why:

Two years ago, I had an internal hard disk drive fail the day before going on a job abroad – thankfully it didn’t happen on the job, as I needed to offload SxS cards whilst on site. The only solution that would work for me was to just go out and purchase a whole new MacBook Pro, and ‘restore’ my old identity onto it. That’s when having backups really saves the day – but I learned the value of REGULAR backups after that.

Now, before the failure, I have to say I did notice some tell-tale signs. The hard disk was louder in operation, I had a few odd things happen with software suddenly not working, or losing preferences. But the sound – the sound of a hundred mice tap-dancing in clogs inside my hard disk – will stay with me for a long time. I listened to that sound as I tried to reboot my machine over and over again…

So when I heard my internal hard disk on THIS new machine begin to get louder, and for a couple of FCP plugins to misbehave all of a sudden, I remembered. I tried out SMART Utility

http://www.volitans-software.com/smart_utility.php

and it didn’t like my hard drive either. It reported it as ‘FAILING’. Now, SMART is, and I quote: “Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology … a system built into hard drives by their manufacturers to report on various measurements(called attributes) of a hard drive’s operation.”

It can tell you that your hard disk is working. Yay. It can tell you if your hard disk is broken. Boo. But some would say that diagnosing anything in between is a bit of a crap shoot. SMART Utility has a go, by looking at a variety of reports on read errors and some technical stuff I don’t understand. It also knows how old your hard disk is, and quite frankly I think this is its most reliable feature – a bit like a weatherman who reports rain when his corns hurt.

So, with a two day lull in procedings, and a religiously up-to-date Time Machine backup on hand, I took my MacBook Pro to the Mac Daddy in North London

http://mac-daddy.co.uk/

who took my old disk out and replaced it with a Western Digital Scorpio Black 320GB 7200RPM drive

http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.asp?driveid=477

whilst I tried to purchase some more disks at a local emporium. But that’s another blog.

Back home, I attached the Time Machine drive to the Mac, booted up off the original DVD-ROM and rather than install the OS, I opted to use Time Machine to restore my hard disk. This reformats the entire drive so you start from scratch, so don’t bother doing anything to it beforehand.

The process is simple: select the Time Machine backup you want to restore from (latest, or any other stages in the past), select which drive to restore to, and hit the button. The time it thought it would take varied from three to six hours, but it took two and a bit.

Everything worked straight away, except for Mail where I mistook its desire to reimport – it sounds contradictory, but let Mail do this. If it goes wrong, just use Time Machine to restore the Mail folders in the Library and try again. A couple of FCP filters needed reinstallation (probably because they were damaged).

Totally without drama.

And now I’m left with my old hard drive. It still works. Maybe not trustworthy as a day to day drive, and in its post upgrade state, pretty useless.

Aha! No! Buy, for about a tenner (maybe £15 in your local store), a USB-2 enclosure for a SATA 2.5 inch drive. Pop it open, snap in your old hard drive, plug in a USB cable, and…

No, don’t format it. This is far more exciting:

Shut down your MacBook Pro. Restart with the option key down. Your old hard disk and your new hard disk appear to boot from. Select your USB drive, and lo – your Mac boots from it. Everything functions as it did.

That excites anyone who has faced the nightmare scenario of working on-site and your main machine develops a fault – I’ve had PCs get killer viruses, hard disks fail, machines get dropped, stolen, soaked – and the time involved to ressurect a sick machine, reinstall OS and software, iron out the problems make for stomach churning stuff.

So should you need to bring in a backup machine in a hurry, your little magic drive enables you to imprint it with your apps, documents and plug-ins and work as before – if a little more slowly – until you can make more permanent arrangements.

And I hope I NEVER have to use it.

PS: Update – the MacBook Pro feels a bit snappier and alert – like it’s had the second cup of coffee in the morning. A combination of 7200RPM and having 15-20% free space has improved the general responsiveness of launching apps, working with big files, system stuff and so on. However, I still work with external 7200RPM drives for all footage, assets, project files and renders.

In the future, I will order MacBook Pros with 7200RPM internal disks. And I’ll clone the drives to bootable externals too.

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