A weekend with FireWire

Sang Tang
S. Tang|08.07.09

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A weekend with FireWire

My MacBook Pro and I had a bit of a rendezvous this past weekend. She's a 15 inch Core Duo with 2GB of RAM. Although she'll occasionally get as hot as a toaster oven (leaving red marks on my lap at times) and mooed like a cow when we first met, she's been a consistent workhorse for me.

But her hard drive needed a transplant. Sick of her sluggish performance and hard drive clicking noises, I decided that it was time to fix her up. So, I replaced her 320GB hard drive with, surprise, a 320GB hard drive -- this time a Fujitsu model instead of the Toshiba it replaced. Not because I thought the Fujitsu was any better than the Toshiba it'd be replacing, but because it was the least expensive drive I could find.

Although the hard drive installation went successful, it wasn't without its fair share of bumps along the road. Hopefully, the bumps I experienced could provide many some guidance on what to do as well as what not to do when upgrading your hard drive.

Friday - 6:40pm: Time machine backup of dying 320GB Toshiba hard drive.

Saturday - 2:15am: After visiting 3 bars and sipping on 4 Ketel-and-tonics, I check up on the Time Machine backup. Good news: 206GB of data backed up successfully.

Saturday - 12pm: Using ExtremeTech's guide as a reference, I swapped out the old hard drive and installed the new one (no easy task on pre-unibody Pro's, I tell you).

Saturday - 12:45pm: Case and keyboard tightly in place, I put in my Leopard DVD and boot up while holding the C key.

Note: holding the C key forces OS X to boot from the CD or DVD drive)

Well, I'll be darned. The Leopard DVD isn't reading. Not that I'm surprised. I've dropped the machine so many times that certain CDs/DVDs -- both originals and CD-R or DVD-R copies -- aren't recognized. I can't even burn CDs/DVDs anymore, that's how bad it's gotten.

Saturday - 1:30pm: I proceed to find my Firewire-based 4th gen iPod so that I could put a Leopard image on it. One neat feature of FireWire storage devices is that you can boot OS X from them. [Also USB devices. -Ed.]

Damn it, Jim! Disk Utility keeps showing input/output errors as I partition. Note: to boot OS X on Intel-based Macs, the partition should be in the GUID format.

Saturday - 2:00: Here's a thought: maybe I could restore the iPod using iTunes, and it'll restore it with a GUID partition. Nope. iTunes will only partition it with an Apple Partition map.

This partition error keeps occurring no matter what I do and no matter which of my Macs I try it on. One workaround is to use Disk Utility from an OS X Tiger-based computer or Tiger DVD to partition, but I lack both.

Saturday - 2:30pm: Go on 4 mile run. It's not like the machine is going anywhere anyway.

Saturday - 3:45pm: After gulping down a Big Mac combo, I'm back at it. Peeling another layer off of the FireWire functionality onion, I proceed toward Target Disk Mode.

Target Disk Mode allows you to hook up a pair of Macs with a FireWire cable whereby the host Mac (in this case my MacBook Pro) can read the hard drive(s) and CD/DVD drive(s) of the target Mac (in my case a MacBook).

Saturday - 4:00pm: In most cases, Target Disk Mode will be used to read the hard drive of another computer, not the CD/DVD drive. Otherwise, it'd be called Target Disc Mode. But, as luck would have it, my MacBook Pro is using it to read the DVD drive of the host MacBook.

To initiate Target Disk Mode, reboot the target Mac and hold down the "T" key. After relaunching, a FireWire symbol will be displayed on the screen. At that point you can plug in the source Mac via FireWire and read the target's contents.

Saturday - 4:10pm: Success! My MacBook Pro has successfully booted up the Leopard DVD -- via another MacBook's DVD drive through Target Disk Mode via a FireWire cable. What a mouthful.

Saturday - 4:15pm: With the Leopard DVD successfully booted, I have two options: 1) install Leopard or 2) perform a Time Machine backup. Before I could do any of these, however, I must first partition my newly installed Fujitsu drive.

Saturday - 4:17pm: One way to format a drive in OS X is to use Disk Utility. Besides living in your Mac's hard drive (in /Applications/Utilities), Disk Utility is also on the Leopard install DVD.

Saturday - 4:20pm: Hard drive successfully partitioned. Now, it's time to perform the Time Machine restore.

Saturday - 4:25pm: After selecting the Time Machine source (the backup I performed the night before, which is an external USB hard drive), the Time Machine Restore process looks for a destination drive to restore data to.

Saturday - 4:35pm: I only see one drive show up. Like the hard drives on all out-of-box Macs, this hard drive is named "Macintosh HD." But, it has a FireWire icon on it. It can't possibly be my new hard drive.

Saturday - 4:40pm: I wait even longer to see if another hard drive shows up.

Saturday - 4:45pm: I come to the realization that I'll probably need to reboot in order for the hard drive to show up.

Saturday - 4:55pm: Well, what do you know? The hard drive shows up as a restore destination. Had I actually used the target's "Macintosh HD" as the restore destination, I would've stabbed myself in the heart with a dull butter knife.

Note: If your hard drive is not showing up as a Time Machine restore destination, try rebooting it. Do not stab yourself in the heart with a dull butter knife.

Saturday - 5:00pm: Time Machine restore begins

Saturday - 1:30am: Dinner in Santa Monica, one lounge visit, six and a half hours and 206 GB later, my MacBook Pro is back to her old self.

And that's why I heart FireWire. Apple received its fair share of criticism back in October 2008, when it was revealed that its newly debuted 13-inch aluminum MacBook (now in the MacBook Pro line) didn't come equipped with FireWire. Perhaps in response to this outcry, it made a return when the model was refreshed this past June. In addition to FireWire, all unibody MacBook Pro models (except the 17") now come equipped with an SD card slot, which Apple states is also bootable. Options are always good!

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