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How I spent the last few days

Finally have my 7 year old workhorse Mac Pro back up and functional. It crapped out hard (not too surprising given its age). It just had multiple failures that had to be dealt with before working again.

Day 1 – Saturday
After a nice brunch, I got to work on my Saturday project – putting in a new video card for my 2008 Mac Pro. The old one would shut down if it was being heavily used. A dying fan was the likely culprit. Plus I had been getting the rainbow spinning ball a lot when redrawing screen stuff.

I put in the new video card on Saturday (which was not quite as easy as the installation video implied ;-) and all I got was a flashing white light on the front of the Mac and no video. Maybe I’d not properly seated the new video card. So some unscrewing and fiddling. Try again. No good. Just a flashing light and no video. Maybe it was a bad card?

Put the old video card back and it would still not start up. Got a flashing light on the front but no video. After much fiddling and an internet search which implied that the flashing white light indicated a bad memory card, found that a memory card was indeed the problem. Took it out and now it would start … but while it would start (no flashing white light), and there was video, there was more problems. The normal Mac screen (the Apple logo) came up, but a progress bar appeared (not something I normally saw) and the computer would hang after about  quarter of the bar had filled in. After about 30 minutes, the whole computer would shut down. Crap. But the video and memory worked.

Day 2 – Monday
Installed my backup on my son’s iMac. No problem – after 3 hours to transfer – but took some time re-signing in everywhere – Apple really is security conscious with iCloud, Messages, etc. And I also needed to update the OS here since this computer had not been used since my son moved out.

Continued trying to get my workhorse to fully load and failing. Had to keep shutting down using the power button. Finally got it to boot in Recovery Mode – which is designed to install a new OS or use Disk Utility to check out disks. The hard drives checked out OK although I could not fully examine the boot disk that the Recovery System was on. Tried booting again. No luck. Still hung.

I tried booting from an external source – a Disk Warrior emergency disk for repairing hard drives. But could not get the disk tray to open (the keyboard command never worked). Went through several start-restart cycles before I discovered that Disk Utility from Recovery Mode had a button that allowed mounting/dismounting of disks, including CD/DVD. So I could open the tray. Finally! 

Put in the disk and restarted by hitting the power button. And Disk Warrior saw there were major problems with the boot volume, It was too messed up to repair.  It was just functional enough to start the process but would then hang. I’d need to wipe the disk and do a clean install of the OS and my backup. Crap. But I had a plan.

Day 3 – Monday
So I used Disk Utility in Recovery Mode to install a new OS on an external drive I had, in order to create a bootable external. While this was happening, I took my wife to brunch and to see Scorch Trials (fun movie although it did not make a lot of sense, which is how I guess teenagers see the adult world anyway ;-) 

When I got home, I booted up from the external – yeah – and tried to erase the boot drive of my Mac Pro. It refused to. First Disk Utility could not open the disk then it could not unmount the boot drive. I finally got it done by erasing the one partition on the disk first and then erasing the whole disk. But this really confirmed to me that this disk, even if I could repair it, would not be trustworthy going forward. So I ordered a new 2 TB disk from Amazon for overnight deliver (and again amazed at getting a 2 TB hybrid SS/HD drive for less than $100. Storage is so cheap!)

Finally got the boot volume erased and did a clean install of the Mac OS. That went fine. Created a new user and that went fine. Finally booted up into a working Mac. It worked fine. I could open up stuff on Safari! But it had none of the applications I use of any of my stuff on it yet. Crap.

Day 4 -– Tuesday
So, all I had to do was transfer over my backup and things would be golden. I boot up my Mac Pro, sign on as the new user and open up Migration Assistant (a great tool for transferring Time Machine backups between computers).  Click the appropriate boxes and I’m off… until it comes back and states there is not enough room on the disk to install the back up that was made from the disk!

It turns out that the addition of the new user, plus the standard set up of Applications and System files from the new user plus my copy of ALL my apps, old system files and working files now took up too much space. I would have to redo everything but not create a new user. Crap. But glad I had a 2 TB drive on the way.

And I knew the computer COULD work.

So, by last night I had erased the boot drive, installed the new OS X BUT this time instead of creating a new user, I immediately transferred over all my stuff from the back-up – taking 3 hours of me wondering if something else would happen. After all this, i booted up fine and before I went to bed, I had resigned into everything, and checked out that things seemed to be working. Yeah.

And the new 2 TB drive arrived.

Day 5 – Wednesday
So I am writing this on my Mac Pro which seems to be working fine. I’ll install, format and check out the new hard drive that I now plan to use, keeping this older drive as a backup. After several days tracking down multiple system failures, I finally have my workhorse back.

With the old video card in it! 

Being the scientist I am, I changed one variable at a time to track things down. The new card was  a possible confounding variable so it has been sitting on the table next to me.

After so many days, I am right back where I started. Well, I got rid of a bad memory card and I have a new hard drive. Guess I will start again to put in the new video card.

But not for a while. I’m going to enjoy my working computer for a bit.

Image: RBG3 (from younger days)