Mac-tacular backups, Apple, and OSX

This post started out as a bit of a rant about back-ups I needed to make, due to a dieing Mac Book Pro.  Over the course of writing it, I’ve come across a few other issues and have looped in some old notes I have about working with OSX.  I’m not really an Apple guy, but I do have a pair of Mac Book Pros that I’ve used for a couple of years.  I’ve come across a few issues with OSX and had to find solutions, so I figured I’d dump a list of tips/tricks I’ve discovered in here, along with a few small rants.

The newer of my two Mac Book Pros is a 2011 model, which seems to be a very buggy version of the hardware.  I’ve had two logic boards completely fail, within a few months of getting the device new.  After those were replaced, and continued to fail, the device was deemed a lemon – and replaced in whole.  The new Mac worked fine for almost a year, but is now having issues with the RAM controller, where only the top slot works.

While dealing with these issues, I’ve been to the Apple store a few times.  One of their more obnoxious policies is that repairs cannot be done with out all of the original hardware installed.  So if you’ve upgraded a hard drive, you’ve got to downgrade things.  In my case, they wanted to RMA the entire device, including a hard drive that contained my personal information.

They do offer the service to migrate your files and applications in the store (probably using the same tool that does it on first boot), but if you tend to encrypt your home directory, even with FileVault, it throws off this process (presumably because it cannot access configuration files in your homedir needed to enumerate what to copy.)

This left me with 2 options: tell the Apple Geniuses my password (sort of defeats the purpose of encrypting, eh?), or get the drive from them to suss out backing up on my own.  Needless to say, I went the later route.

I happened to have an extra Mac, a SATA to USB enclosure, and a 3TB external drive on hand to handle and test the copy.  I also pulled in a generic linux box for fdisk and other toos, to do some of the heavy lifting as I don’t particularly like OSX’s disk management tools and I don’t want my drive to end up HFS.  My plan was to make 2 different backups: a copy of the homedir and a dd of the full disk (call me paranoid, but I like being sure I didn’t forget something.)

I immediately ran into issues when I found that fdisk and diskutility don’t play nicely together.  If one partitions the drive, the other can’t read or use it (the same goes for mounting), which is probably a result of the EFI setup used by OSX.  Additionally, in their infinite wisdom, Apple decided that the only truly cross-platform file system they support would be Fat32, which won’t support large files (like a 500G dd.)   As I didn’t want to leave my Mac tethered to some USB drives for 25 hours, this caused a real headache.

Originally, I had a rant here to the effect of ‘Apple|Microsoft – y u no hav better FS support”, but I decided to do a bit of digging to sort that out.  From what I’ve read, OSX doesn’t include support for things like Ext3/Ext4 due to GPL issues and their lack of desire to publish code.  As far as I can tell, Microsoft is simply ignoring filesystems they’ve got no stake in.  Neither of these reasons really help us, but I suppose when running a business you’ve got to prioritize.  In my research efforts, I did come across a particularly good post on adding support via FUSE drivers and the like – lifehacker.

I ended up reformatting the 3TB external drive with diskutil, so that it was usable with my other Mac, and then hooked up the old drive via the USB->SATA converter.  At this point I started looking at the attached hard drive from the old Mac Book Pro, to ensure I could work with everything in the way I expected.  Part of this involved dealing with the encrypted partition of the drive using FileVault.

While playing with FileVault a discovered two things.  The first is that diskutil reports FileVault volume sizes incorrectly.  I spent a couple hours very confused on why my homedir was 200Gigs larger than the physical disk.  The second is a bit concerning, when I connected the old Mac hard drive and mounted the FileVault volume, it was able to decrypt this with the new Mac’s sudo password.  I’m not sure yet how that works, but I’d assume that the password is stored somewhere that’s root-accessible in a reversible (or decrypted?) format.  Somewhat concerning for a tool that you expect to protect your privacy.

Ultimately,  the transfer took so long I ended up convincing Apple to simply take the trade in with the promise of giving them the old drive.  I’m sure someday I’ll get a call about that…

My other Mac Book Pro has suffered significantly less, with the only real problem being somewhat dodgy internal fans.  I’ve had both fail to date.  After the headache of getting the first fan replaced, when the second fan bailed, I decided to skip the hassle and simply pull it out and run the machine without.  That’s worked “fine” for about a year, minus the box getting a little warm.  As it turns out, the fan is important (but apparently not important enough to use a quality part) and months of Texas heat and no internal fan have caused the display to fail to work.

Luckily for me, the video output from the laptop continues to work.  So I’ve simply hooked it up to my KVM and now have a shiny new ‘desktop.’  The only problem I’ve run into using this setup, is that the MBP doesn’t seem to have an option to run with the lid closed.  The only work around I’ve found is to power the machine on and, nearly instantly, close the lid.  This seems to work, tho as I switch between ports on my KVM the box occasionally loses track of the keyboard.


About samurai

I like computers... A lot. So I tend to spend a lot of time doing varied things with them. Often you'll find me playing with Python or PHP, fighting with operating systems, ranting about some off-the-wall concept, or preparing for zombies.
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