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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What happens when your Mac's hard drive dies

Wednesdays and Fridays see me getting up at 5.45am, due to the demands of some local sushi. My involvement with the local sushi also means I have to have a police check, and unfortunately my last police check certificate has just expired. I must say, I'm glad I've never done anything illegal, as it would prevent me from doing quite a few things I want to do, such as play with Sushi.

It's been a hectic few days. The website project is virtually over thankfully, well, I thought it was, until details of the ongoing maintenance and improvement project emerged. We need to get some plans in place as the uni's Vice Chancellor is coming to visit in a couple of weeks, and we have to tell him all about our exciting future.

Ok, time for a bit of Mac Talk. I know, you love it.

People sometimes say that Mac's are ultra reliable, and never go wrong. This is of course complete rubbish, as anyone with a Mac will tell you if caught off-guard. Look at mine - it's now had over £700 of work done on it in the last 3 weeks, the latest drama being the grinding to a halt of the hard-drive. It may be made by Apple with attention to detail, looks and reliability, but at the end of the day it's a computer made of a load of different parts which in turn are made by various different companies. Like my hard drive - that's made to order by Toshiba.

So whilst I think Mac users experience fewer Where-did-I-put-that-hammer? situations as a result of OS / software issues (at least in my experience), when it comes to hardware all computer users are in the same boat, as Apple have no magic dust to prevent things like optical or hard drive failure.

So how about when the hard drive fails, perhaps one of the most disastrous things that every computer user will experience? What's it like trying to recover from such an ordeal which requires one to start from scratch?

Well, I don't know what it's like with Vista, but I remember with XP a format and reinstall was a major headache, and took what seemed like forever. All those programs to reinstall, settings to customise. Say bye-bye to two-days.

Then of course there's data loss. I used to keep weekly or monthly backups, but a lot happens in a week, making the potential for data loss only too, er, potential. And, there always seemed to be at least one little thing that I'd forgotten to back up.

With Leopard? I tell you, it's a picnic. Time Machine - what did we ever do without it? Every hour it makes a complete backup of your entire hard-drive onto an external drive. Oh, and it doesn't affect performance in the slightest.

So, last night at 9pm I had a new hard drive fitted at the Apple store (I discovered that it's such a simple thing to replace even a child could do it - takes about 90 seconds!), then reinstalled Leopard (this took 40 minutes, whilst I was on the tram on the way home). Once home, I switched it on, it detected my Time Machine backup drive and asked me if I'd like to restore my data from there. I said yes.

I left it for an hour, went back to it, and hey presto - it was exactly as it was just before it died! I mean, identical. Settings, my millions of customisations, and of course all my files. Nothing lost at all. Incredible.

No reinstalling any programs. No reconfiguring any mail applications.

At some point soon I'm going to get another internal hard drive - the current 100GB model is a bit on the small size, and the price of a 250GB drives is perfectly reasonable (just not from Apple! My 100GB disk replacement was billed at £170!!). I'll keep a copy of Leopard and an archive of photos / videos / docs on the old disk, then, next time the hard drive fails I'll be able to keep on working without any downtime at all, Time Machine updating any changes made since the swapout.

So, all's well and groovy. Now I guess I can do some work...

4 Comments:

Anonymous Spinkle said...

That's all well that YOU can recover from a hard drive failure in 2 hours instead of 2 days. However for myself, after my hard disk stopped wanting to boot up properly, as you say it only took a couple of hours to fix, BUT sadly I couldn't quite believe it and spent the rest of the day checking everything was there, only of course to find out that it really was a PERFECT copy. Its strange how an ex-windows user like myself struggles to make the leap of faith, and actually trust software isn't it! Long live OSX with all it's sexy spots. RAAA anyone?

P.s. Whatever became of Pepe?
I missed him since he left Osaka!

6/12/07 03:25  
Blogger Shari said...

The main reason Macs tend to run more smoothly is the hardware is consistent. Apple doesn't have to design its OS to accommodate a ton of different makes and models because they put the same hard drive in every particular model (and they almost always use Toshiba brand). PCs tend to have a greater variety of hardware which means there's an increased chance of driver issues. This makes PCs more flexible and cheaper on the whole, but less reliable.

Macs are supposed to have superior hardware though. This is supposed to be part of the justification for a higher price tag. However, I don't believe this has been true for about a decade now. Older Macs actually are much better than newer ones, though all hard drives fail. It's just a matter of when. There's something called "mean time between failures" (MTBF) and I'd bet a lot of money that it has gone down on hard drives since Apple swapped from SCSI to ATA (IDE) drives. SCSI was much better quality but had device conflict and cable issues and was more expensive. The perception that Apple hardware is superior is based on out-dated fact, and is not utter fiction.

6/12/07 09:42  
Blogger Joseph said...

Thanks for that Shari - I learn something every day!

Spinkle: Pepé's taking a break, at the dry cleaners...

Re. Time Machine, having used it to restore my system again today (swapped my 100GB hard drive for the new 250GB Toshiba model), I note that it tends to restore EVERYTHING, even files that I deleted a month ago but were captured by Time Machine.

It's a shame there's not an option to just use it to restore the latest 'image', rather than the whole lot.

Drop me a line sometime and let me know how things is going in that there there Kobe town :-)

9/12/07 10:44  
Anonymous Thomas Hurst said...

SCSI/SAS (Serial Attached SCSI; same cables as SATA) certainly does tend to have drives with higher MTBF than ATA. Just as well really; we have over 120 in just our databases, and having to swap them regularly would suck given it's 7 hours driving there and back.

Alas, you pay for it too. While a 500G ATA drive might set you back £50, a 36GB SCSI/SAS drive is going to start at £100, plus a similar amount for a controller; somehow I don't think most users are going to appreciate that tradeoff (+£200 on that Mac Mini, which now runs louder and hotter? Mmm ;), even if they are faster and live longer.

You can get "enterprisey" ATA disks though; they're basically everyday drives with better testing and fancier firmware and error correction. e.g. Seagate's ES and NL drives. Maybe worth it for the modest premium they command, but I'd still want to run two of them ;)

13/12/07 23:52  

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