Having trouble restoring Mac OS X system software
April 11, 2012 5:37 AM   Subscribe

Please help me restore Mac OS on my wife's MacBook! I am pulling my hair out.

I've seen this question, which addresses a similar but not identical issue. The problems with this MacBook are a little more ... persnickety.

OK, so.
The hard drive on my wife's 5-ish-year-old MacBook crashed. We bought a new one, installed it, and the computer seems to recognize it. So far, so good.

I dug out the old "Mac OS X Install" discs that came with her computer - they are for 10.4.10. Old, but that's fine: I can update it later.

I can boot from the first of the two Install discs and run, seemingly successfully, the first stages of the system restore. But then, after the computer is done with the process on Disc One, it DOES NOT ask me to insert Disc Two, but, rather, restarts and reboots in COMMAND LINE MODE. I do not know why.

I have not entered any sort of computer code since I took a class in LOGO in fourth grade, so I am baffled. I did find the instructions for "use fsck," which I followed to the letter, but this did not help in any way. So I am stuck with a MacBook with a partially (?) installed, old system, that is running only in command-line mode.

OK, so, in the AskMe thread I linked above, the MeFi user kirilli suggests getting a-hold (ahem) of a more recent version of the system software. I have done this on my own computer, on which I now have a DMG file of that software.

The thing is that I can't install the newer system on my wife's computer FROM my computer, and here's why:

I read the instructions on how to install the new OS using DVD SHARING. But part of the instructions on how to do this is:

On the computer where you're installing Mac OS X, select the Remote Disc under Devices in a Finder window sidebar.

The trouble is that I cannot get my wife's computer into conventional GUI mode, so I cannot access the Finder, or any sidebars in any of its windows! In fact, the only way to start up her MacBook in anything other than command-line mode is to boot up from that 10.4.10 System Install disc, from which point my only option is to run the Installer ... which does not work.

Is there SOME way to get a Mac OS X (old or new) on this MacBook?
Why does it keep booting up in command line mode?
Can I set up her MacBook to "receive" DVD sharing?

Oh I am so confused.

Thank you for any advice.
posted by Dr. Wu to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
If you have a firewire cable, you can install the OS via target disk mode.

If you have an external firewire drive, you can put the .dmg in a partition on the firewire drive and boot from that device.
posted by nickrussell at 5:57 AM on April 11, 2012

If you have a USB stick and since you already have a DMG of the operating system, this is probably the easiest way:

posted by sngbk at 5:58 AM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, nickrussell. I can't seem to locate a FireWire cable, so your suggestion, I'm afraid, will not work.

The USB option had somehow escaped me. I'm going to give that a try. I've also, in the last 60 seconds, dug up a few blank dual-layer DVDs, and am currently burning the DMG file to one of them. Since the MacBook seems to be able to boot from a DVD, I'm hoping that that will work. If it doesn't, I'll try the USB method.

Please, though, keep the suggestions coming. My wife is eager to have her computer back.

Also, does the defaulting to command line mode indicate some sort of larger, more serious problem with this computer? Why is this happening?
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:05 AM on April 11, 2012

Thanks, nickrussell. I can't seem to locate a FireWire cable, so your suggestion, I'm afraid, will not work.

Monoprice has them (in various configurations) for less than $5.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:31 AM on April 11, 2012

Best answer: The second disc contains applications which you can install later. You don't need this disc at this time.

My recommendation would be to perform an "Archive and Install"-style installation. To do this, run the installer again, and after you select the destination hard drive, click on the Options button. Select the "Archive and Install" radio button. This puts a fresh copy of OS X on your laptop, while moving the old copy to a renamed folder.

If you need a newer installation of OS X, make sure it is from a retail copy, however you get ahold of this installation disc. If you use a machine-specific installation disc — for example, you try to use a 10.5 installation disc from an iMac — it may be missing key system and driver files and will not boot your laptop. A retail disc will boot a greater variety of models.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:48 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: OK, the DVD burn screwed up for some reason, so I've abandoned that.

After carefully reading through the steps to make a bootable USB drive, I noted that, once that drive is prepared, it has to be inserted into the destination computer and selected by holding down OPTION as the computer boots up.

But I think, now, that the problem may lie in that very booting-up process. This is why:

I recalled that I had a version of OS 10.6.7 saved on my 2TB external drive, which means that that drive should be a "bootable" source for my wife's MacBook. So I just tried to do just that: hold down OPTION to boot up from the 2TB external drive. The MacBook allowed me to select the external drive, but then immediately went into command-line mode again! AAAARRRRRGH

I am currently doing two things:
- backing up my 16GB USB thumb drive, which is the first step in preparing that drive for, uh, bootability, as detailed in sngbk's link. Perhaps somehow the thumb drive will be a better source of booty than was the 2TB external.
- about to take Blazecock's suggestion about trying the "Archive and Install" method.

If both of these methods fail, do I have no choice but to go to a "genius"? I hate those damn Apple stores, and the ones here in NYC are unfailingly crowded.
posted by Dr. Wu at 6:54 AM on April 11, 2012

If both of these methods fail, do I have no choice but to go to a "genius"? I hate those damn Apple stores, and the ones here in NYC are unfailingly crowded.

Try Tekserve on 23rd. They're great, and very knowledgeable. Catch is that going to the Genius would likely be free, but Tekserve is going to charge. You still might try to get a FW cable and install with the computer in target disk mode, first. You could even go to Tekserve, buy the cable, and just go to a coffeeshop around the corner, see if the install works (assuming you have another laptop), and then just drop it off for Tekserve to work on, if it doesn't.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:02 AM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the tip, Admiral! I'd heard of Tekserve but didn't know their reputation. Glad to know that it's solid. If neither of these current methods works, I am strongly considering paying them a visit.

I'll update with progress. Right now, Blazecock's method is ongoing; nothing conclusive yet.
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:04 AM on April 11, 2012

Yeah, Tekserve has been in business for a million years, and they're very, very good. It's nice to throw them some business as a long-time independent. They did good work on an old iBook I had that suffered from a bad motherboard.

The flip side may be going to the 5th Avenue Apple Store (which is open 24 hours a day) to meet with a Genius at an off hour. I was an early adopter of the iPod Touch (like, first day in 2007 or whenever), but I had some dead pixels. I went to a genius at 5th Avenue about 5:00 in the morning and had the store mostly to myself.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:13 AM on April 11, 2012

Insert the Install DVD in the working MacBook, connect the 2 devices via FireWire Target Mode, boot into target mode on the ailing MB, choose the Install DVD. Can you boot from it? If so, after the first screen of the installer, go to Utilities > Drive Setup, format your internal HD as HFS+, then run the installer. Are you with me, Dr. Wu? Good luck!
posted by porn in the woods at 7:36 AM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: Oooh! Oohooohoooh!
I'm having some kind of success, I think: the Installer just asked me to insert Disc 2 of the System Restore, which I have done -- this is further than I've gotten before, and, most importantly, seems to have circumvented the dread command-line mode!

Hang tight, anyone who's still following this thrilling saga - I sense that the exciting conclusion is on the horizon!
posted by Dr. Wu at 7:54 AM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: By Jove! It worked! Holy crap. DAYS of futility nullified! Thanks, AskMe! My wife will be so very happy about this.

I now have 10.4.10 installed on the MacBook, and I did it using Blazecock's "Archive and Install" method, so I've marked that as "best answer." Thanks, Blazecock. Never woulda figured that out on my own.

I now plan to update the system to 10.6, and then restore my wife's files from a backup, using Time Machine. Any reason that I should NOT proceed with these steps immediately?
posted by Dr. Wu at 8:13 AM on April 11, 2012

Glad to help.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:18 AM on April 11, 2012

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