Here's another hard truth: Not only can your computer's OS fail at any moment, but your hardware can give up the ghost unexpectedly. Won't do you much good to have a bootable, up-to-date clone of your hard drive if you don't have a fallback unit to which you can attach it. A. D. Coleman discusses repurposing his refurbished MacBook Pro as a backup computer with the addition of Seagate's 5400rpm 1TB Laptop SSHD.
As I described in the first part of this narrative, a massive crash of my mid-2007 MacBook Pro in the face of a looming professional deadline early in 2013 led me to purchase a Mac Mini to serve as my new primary computer.
Why switch from a portable to a desktop model? Three good reasons:
1. I'm not the road warrior of days gone by. I don't do nearly as much traveling as I did when I bought the MBP in 2007, migrating to it from an old PowerBook. Both served me well during my peripatetic phase, but the MBP has spent much more time on the desk of my home office than it did in other cities and countries, especially since 2010.
2. The price was right. With the external disk drive and a 3-year AppleCare warranty, the Mini cost $900. My budget wouldn't allow me to go over $1K, so an iMac fell outside my price range.
3. As solace, I had on hand two working monitors that I’d bought for a song ($110 for the pair) at my local thrift store: a 22-inch ViewSonic and a 19-inch Dell. Plenty of screen real estate, just waiting for a machine that could handle them.
The Mini solved my immediate problem — getting back to work. In the process of grappling with the MacBook Pro meltdown, I discovered the importance of creating and regularly updating a bootable clone of my hard drive on an external drive. Which raises an obvious question: To what would I boot it up to in the event of another emergency?
The answer: Not only do you need backups for your data, you need a backup computer on which to run them.
I'd never given that serious thought, though I've had my share of hardware crises. We have an old eMac in our guestroom running some much earlier OS (Housecat, as I recall). And I still have my Jurassic-era "Pismo" G3 Powerbook from Y2K, which does function, albeit creakily. In a pinch, I could use one or another of those for a week for writing, surfing, etc. But that's not the same as turning on a computer, opening current iterations of your main apps, and getting back to work.
A helpful staffer at Tekserve in Manhattan, who encouraged me to give the Mac Mini serious thought (and eventually sold it to me), pointed me toward the solution. For any Mac that hasn't aged sufficiently to rank as obolete or "vintage", Apple offers a complete prix fixe makeover, officially called a Depot Repair. For $310 ($210 for parts, $100 for labor) plus tax, your computer goes into the shop, gets a complete bench test, and receives any repairs and replacement parts needed to make it fully functional again, effectively like new (cosmetic issues aside). They cover the outcome with a 90-day warranty.
This applies only to parts that came with the original machine or subsequently got replaced under AppleCare. So I took out the Seagate 500GB SSHD I'd installed myself in 2010, substituting the original 160GB Seagate drive that came with the unit. I left in the two 2GB RAM chips from Other World Computing (OWC) with which I'd replaced the original 1GB chips; I didn't have the originals anymore, having sent them to OWC for a rebate.
I turned my MBP in at the Apple Store on W. 14th Street, in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, on a Wednesday. From there, according to the record, it went to an authorized repair center in Houston, TX, arriving back in New York on Saturday. I got an email notice to that effect, and picked it up the following Monday. They'd replaced both the logic board and the hard drive cable — about $800 worth of parts alone.
Hard to beat that. My only regret (not truly a complaint, more a lament): They could easily have brought me up to date by installing Mountain Lion free, as icing on the cake. Or at least making that an option, for the $19.99 they charge for it at the Mac App Store, or some discount thereon. Instead, the invoice stated, they "clean installed the latest Mac OS version verified on your product" — Snow Leopard, in my case. So I found myself running ML on the Mini and SL on the MBP. Apple strikes me as oddly stingy in some ways, such as this (and not giving iWork, but only iLife, to purchasers of new Macs).
In the event, within hours of buying the Mini a year ago I had it up and running, with two external monitors and an Apple Bluetooth external keyboard to which to adjust. I had assignments to complete and projects to pursue. In short, busbusybusy. So I put the MBP on the shelf.
As I've done little traveling since then, and only short trips at that, this setup proved sufficient. But I have trips upcoming this spring, including a month-long voyage during which I'll want access to the most current versions of my main apps and all my document files. Morever, my wife Anna, heretofore a Windows user, has begun to appreciate the Mac platform, using the MBP for Skyping, surfing, and other things, and I want her to experience it at its optimum. Finally, anxiety about some crisis once again leaving me without a backup unit lurked in my psyche. The time had come to take the MBP out of its semi-retirement for an upgrade of both hardware and software.
For the drive, I decided on another solid-state hybrid drive (SSHD), opting to test a review unit of Seagate's 5400rpm 1T Laptop SSHD. (Seagate introduced the SSHD format several years ago; they also offer a 500GB Laptop Thin SSHD for the slimmer new portables.) Note that its $119.99 MSRP gave me twice as much storage as the Seagate 7200rpm 500GB Momentus XT it would replace, whose MSRP in mid-2011 was $155.99.
Before installing the SSHD I put it through the usual procedures — renaming, formatting, GUID partitioning. For the cloning process I popped the SSHD into an external-drive enclosure, connecting it to the Mini with a USB 3.0 cable, and, using Carbon Copy Cloner, created a Recovery HD volume, and cloned the Mini’s entire drive, which has Mountain Lion running. From start to finish, that process took about 3 hours, requiring no attention.
(My iTunes library had grown so large — 450GB or so — that it started to slow down the Mac Mini. So I copied it over to a Media partition on my 1.5 TB ioSafe, where, in a separate partition, I also back up my Mac Mini. The Mini and ioSafe sit just feet away from each other on my desk; the Mini doesn’t get moved, and if the Mini’s on I have the ioSafe running. So I will create a separate iTunes library to take on the road with the MBP — either using its ample internal memory or putting it on an external hard drive.)
I've now slipped hard drives in and out of the MBP often enough to feel confident about doing so again. However, just to refresh my memory I watched OWC's excellent video how-to tutorial. After extracting the Seagate SSHD drive from the external enclosure, I started removing assorted screws from the MBP. I've become adept enough at this that it took me all of 20 minutes to take out the old drive, insert the new one, close the unit up, and boot it up. That included the careful jimmying up of the new flat cable connecting the hard drive to the motherboard, which a staffer at Apple Depot Repair had adhered firmly to the old drive during its flat-rate rehab last spring.
So the MBP now holds recent copies of all my apps and documents, which I can update periodically via Carbon Copy Cloner. Like the Mini, it runs Mountain Lion; I’m not yet ready to upgrade to Mavericks, but when I do I may test that migration on the MBP first, in case problems arise.
However, because I still need access to a few programs that run only in OS 9’s Snow Leopard (such as MacLink), I decided to keep the Seagate Momentus 160GB 5400rpm drive that came with the MBP as a bootable external OS 9 drive. (This will require nothing more than sliding it into an empty OWC enclosure.) Since the Depot Repair by Apple, it had resided back in its old home in the MBP. So, before I began the hardware and software upgrade, I ran some elementary speed tests on it, using Online Stopwatch and the freeware Blackmagic Disk Speed Test (available through the Mac App Store). Once I’d completed the upgrade, I ran the same tests on the Seagate Laptop SSHD, running Mountain Lion. Here are the results, in minutes/seconds and MB/s.
Seagate Momentus 160GB 5400rpm / OS 9:
* Cold start to login screen: 1:04.
* Restart to login screen: 1:15.
* Login to open apps (Safari to home page, Word to new document): 1:37.
* Write/read (MB/s): 22 / 24.6
Seagate Laptop SSHD 1TB 5400rpm / OS X:
* Cold start to login screen: 0:43.
* Restart to login screen: 1:26.
* Login to open apps (Safari to home page, Word to new document): 0:25.
* Write/read (MB/s): 89.4 / 96.9
In both cases individual apps opened quickly, usually within a few seconds, though the new, larger drive always beat the older, smaller one. The difference in write/read speeds is the one that matters.
I realize this is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. As long as I’m doing it, though, let me take it one step further. The Seagate 500GB SSHDthat had survived my multiple kernel panics a year ago didn’t cause those problems, according to Apple’s diagnosis. Still, I felt leery about using it ever again again as a boot disk, figuring that it might have some digital version of PTSD.
So I repurposed it for storage, non-bootable (making it unavailable for comparison testing of start-up speed, etc.), slipping it into a handy OWC external-drive enclosure. However, just for the halibut, I plugged it into the MBP s USB port and ran Blackmagic on it. The write/read results (MB/s): 27.0 / 34.4 -- much closer to the numbers for the 160GB drive than those for the 1TB drive.
Now here's what separates the geek gods, like MER editor Harris Fogel, from the mere servants of the gods like this writer. Was that OWC enclosure USB 2.0 or 3.0? he asked as we fine-tuned this review. Hadn't occurred to me, but, by gum, when I checked the enclosure was in fact USB 2.0. So I slipped the Seagate 500GB SSHD into a Kingston USB 3.0 enclosure I had on hand and ran Blackmagic on it again.
The write/read results (MB/s): 82.8 / 78.9 -- much closer to the numbers for the 1TB drive than those for the 160GB drive, more than twice as fast. Reason enough to wave goodbye to USB 2.0 wherever and whenever you can. (Alas, I m stuck with USB 2.0 ports on the MBP.)
Long story short, I haven't put my MacBook Pro out to pasture, nor even into semi-retirement. I do still travel, and without a computer I feel naked away from home. Indeed, actually unsafe, because I keep so much of my vital data therein: contact info for everyone in my life, for starters. The MacBook Pro, then — on which I've already relied for years and with which I'm intimately familiar — will have an ongoing life as long at it continues to work.
In fact, it’s going to function not just as a sometime traveling companion and a welcome backup unit, but as part of my workday toolkit. Anna and I have been reading about the negative health effects of sitting all day. Though we take regular walks, bike around the neighborhood in pleasant weather, and garden, we don’t get enough physical exercise. We’ve seen standing desks recommended for people like us who do most of their work in offices, at computers. But they can get pricey.
So we took out our tape measures, discovering that the tops of our three-drawer lateral files are exactly the right heights to serve us as work surfaces when standing up. If I move that cabinet alongside my desk, put the MacBook Pro on top of it, and network it with the Mini, I can go from sitting to standing and back again without missing a beat or losing my train of thought. Now faster and more powerful than ever, the MBP will partner with the Mini. They’ll make a great team.
A. D. Coleman, posted 2/28/2014
For more information on the Seagate Laptop SSHD visit: www.seagate.com
For more information on Carbon Copy Cloner visit: www.bombich.com
For more information on OWC enclosures visit: www.macsales.com
For more information on Online Stopwatch visit: www.online-stopwatch.com
For more information on Blackmagic Disk Speed Test visit: https://itunes.apple.com
For more information on A. D. Coleman visit: www.photocritic.com
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