Should I upgrade the hardware on my Macbook or just give it a good cleaning?
July 17, 2012 6:58 PM   Subscribe

My 2009 Macbook Pro has grown a little too much hair and is in need of a trim and some general cleaning. Could you tell me if my proposed scenario sounds reasonable or is it overkill?

I have a 17" 2009 Macbook Pro (2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo w/ 8 GB memory). When I bought it new it was running OS X Leopard and I have since upgraded it twice - first to Snow Leopard, and now to Lion (10.7.4). None of those upgrades were clean installs (just upgraded one on top of the next), and my cleaning and maintenance has been minimal. This is all somewhat embarrassing, as in a former life I was a Windows system admin and could perform those tasks in my sleep. My inexperience doing them on a Mac, however, has me cringing in fear. Anyway, although I adore this machine, it has started to act the slightest bit funky which leads me to my two part question:

1) Normally, I would just buck up, do the research and perform the maintenance, but with the release of OS X Mountain Lion in a few weeks, and my own desire to upgrade to a solid state drive, I figured I'd make the purchase, swap the drives, make a bootable copy of Mountain Lion and do a clean install, then just transfer the necessary files from the old hard drive via USB and a drive enclosure (mostly just grad school documents and some photos. Music I won't move for the moment since I have everything in iTunes Match & iPhone/iPad backups are stored in iCloud.) Does this seem like a reasonable plan provided I do the necessary drive backups beforehand? Is there anything I'm missing?

2) Assuming #1 is doable (or even if it isn't), can you suggest tasks/programs I can run on a regular basis to keep this thing running smoothly? There are just so many options out there for programs that can help automate this, but I simply don't know what's trustworthy and what isn't, and could use some advice and personal suggestions on best practices. (I also realize that compatibility may well be an issue once Mountain Lion is released, but assume for the moment that it isn't, unless somehow you already know of reliable alternatives that work with it.)

Thanks in advance.
posted by Rewind to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Screw #2. Just do backups. If something royally messes up your system roll back. This is super rare though and makes the tech sites. I don't do anything "on a regular basis" to make my Macs run better. If it has a problem address it, but otherwise, meh.

#1. Once you have installed your SSD and your OS do a migration and take only your user account. Reinstall your apps from source. No need to over think it.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: 1. Get an external hard drive and run Time Machine on your MBP to back up to the external drive.

2. Test the backup, if you can. Shouldn't be an issue, but just make sure the backup proceeded without issue.

3. After wiping the laptop's internal drive, you can reinstall the OS version of your choice (say, Mountain Lion). When the Mountain Lion installation boots up the first time, you'll have the option of choosing to migrate data from a Time Machine backup, i.e. the backup you made in step #1.

Once you're running Mountain Lion, just keep using Time Machine to automatically backup your data.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:45 PM on July 17, 2012

As for maintenance; Applejack just runs Unix commands automatically. You run it from a command line at startup. For a GUI tool I was using IceClean but it seems to be suddenly gone, Onyx is well liked.

If you want to go further than built in system tools then Disk Warrior is good. I’ve never had it screw anything up. I can’t say the same for some other things, but I haven’t used them in years.
posted by bongo_x at 8:28 PM on July 17, 2012

I'm not exactly sure what your question is but I think you want to upgrade your hard drive. Back it up using Time Machine. Install a fresh copy of the OS on the new drive. When it boots it will ask you if you want to restore from a Time Machine backup. Say yes and wait for about 8 hours as it transfers all your apps and settings over pokey ol' USB.

That's it.

Obviously, you should have a second backup before you clobber the drive. Always have at least two copies of stuff you care about.

As for regular maintenance: Mac's don't really need any. There's no registry getting clogged full of old crap and the OS defrags in the background. You should probably run Repair Permissions in the Disk Utility every so often but that's all.
posted by chairface at 10:31 PM on July 17, 2012

Best answer: Just a heads up, that TM verification link either has you selecting an option in the time machine menu that doesn't really work (it just checks the structure of remote disk images) or buying a $100 testing tool. A great tool, but it's $100. :-)

There really isn't a fool proof way to test TM backups other than restoring them, but there a few things you can do from the command line for piece of mind (I do these every once in awhile).

Check out the "mtree" utility (man mtree). You can use this to verify one directory tree against the other, or a directory tree against itself. So to check part of a backup against the real thing:
mtree -p /Volume/x -c cksum | mtree -p /Volume/backup/Backup.backupdb/Latest/Machine/Volume/x
or against itself (to check disk integrity):
mtree -p /Volumes/backup/Backup.backupdb/Latest/Machine/Volume/x -c cksum | mtree -p /Volumes/backup/Backup.backupdb/Latest/Machine/Volume/x
And wait... a long time. Use "size" instead of "cksum" for a quick check of the directory structure that completes much faster.

Now, you need to use "sudo" to make this work correctly for all files on the disk. But as a security measure to keep the uninitiated from screwing up their system, I'm not going to tell you how to do that (or how to get a command line). mtree is relatively harmless, but I don't want to be responsible for destructive typos. :-)
posted by smidgen at 11:44 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the link Blazecock posted:

"From this menu, click 'Verify Backup.' This will cause Time Machine to check your Mac for various files and/or versions of files that may not be backed up. "

This is incorrect. The "Verify Backups" menu item manually invokes the same automatic background verification that Time Machine performs monthly. The verification mechanism is a file system consistency check (partially using fsck_hfs) that is optimized in various ways for network-based Time Machine backups.

Check out the "mtree" utility (man mtree). You can use this to verify one directory tree against the other, or a directory tree against itself.

You will probably find tmutil better for analyzing Time Machine backups, including comparing data on your Mac to the data in the backup.
posted by secret about box at 12:20 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

that TM verification link either has you selecting an option in the time machine menu that doesn't really work (it just checks the structure of remote disk images)

That is basically what it does. But I can assure you that "doesn't really work" is not true. It just doesn't do what the link says it does.
posted by secret about box at 12:35 AM on July 18, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all for the excellent advice thus far.

chairface: I'm not exactly sure what your question is but I think you want to upgrade your hard drive. Back it up using Time Machine. Install a fresh copy of the OS on the new drive.

This is essentially correct, except I was thinking I'd install Mountain Lion on the new drive and just keep regular Lion on the old. I'm hoping such a scenario won't hinder the migration too much, and I don't know that I want to move everything from the old disk over to the new. There's too much junk and a lot of it is unnecessary, so I was planning to just move over individual files and folders (perhaps just a user account migration as cjorgensen suggests.)

I've been using TM for backups all along so will definitely follow the above advice as far as verification.
posted by Rewind at 5:18 AM on July 18, 2012

Best answer: I wouldn't use Time Machine for this. TM is good product, but if you're swapping drives, TM isn't exactly where you want to be. TM is a versioning file level backup system, it will be faster and simpler to test to work at a level below the file.

Thus, I suggest the great app with the stupid name -- SuperDuper.

And here's how I would do the hard drive change. You will need.

1) Your new disk.
2) Your old disk, in your notebook.
3) An external enclosure for the new disk.
4) The correct tools
5) A well lit workspace
6) Time without distractions to do the drive swap.

And here's the process.

1) Install new disk in an external enclosure that can be plugged into the MBP.

2) Plug in, verify disk appears.

3) Run SuperDuper, cloning your hard drive to the new disk.

4) When finished, shutdown the MBP, and power back on, holding the Option key down to boot to Startup Manager. Boot off the external (that is, the new drive that will be installed into the notebook in a later step) drive

5) Wait for Mac to boot, and make sure all your apps are there. Run Disk Utilty's verify disk on the disk, that sort of thing. Test, test, test. Here's where Firewire is a better answer than USB, but USB will work. It will be slower than normal -- it's not the drive, it's USB, so you will not have the performance you will have once you finish. FW is a better buss for busy filesystems, but don't be afraid to use USB -- I have repeatedly for this and it worked very well.

6) Assuming you are confident that the data is solid, shut down the machine, power off the external enclosure, and then swap the drives. I believe this is the correct version of a guide on how to do so, but verify that before you start.

Picky details -- use good screwdrivers. Lay the notebook on a dark towel, which will catch screws if you drop them, make them visible, and not let them bounce into a corner. I would have a container with multiple bins -- say, an empty egg carton, a resistor tray, whatnot -- to put the screws for each step in. Finally, static electricity isn't the problem that it was in the past -- components are more robust -- but it's still an issue. Touch a grounded metal surface before you start and you should be fine. The surface of your plugged in notebook is fine.

As a bonus, while swapping the drive, check every screw that's exposed, even if you don't need to remove it, and if loose, tighten. Notebooks flex, this can loosen screws, and tightening things down can really help the thing last.

7) Once you've swapped the new drive into the notebook, then put the old drive that you removed into that enclosure.

8) Boot and test. If problems, check the swap, if that doesn't help, swap the drive back.

9) Plug in external hard drive, which is your old hard drive. DO NOT write to it, just make sure it mounts and you can see the files on it.

10) Put that external drive aside for at least a week, preferably a month, in case you discover you are missing files, or there is a problem with the new drive. If there are, you can restore the few missing files, use SuperDuper to sync the old drive over again, or swap the drive back into the notebook if the new drive is failing fast -- electronics follow the "bathtub curve", they tend to fail when they are very new or very old, and are generally solid between those times.

What you get out of this...

1) A new internal hard drive, with the same files as the old one.
2) A "copy" of that, on the old hard drive, in an external enclosure so you can safely and quickly get to the copy if needed.

Once you are confident that the swap has gone well and your files are safe, you can then use the external drive for other things -- like backups. And, TM is perfect for file level backups -- or you can get another external, use TM for day to day backups, and SuperDuper to occasionally take a full clone of the disk, and have a fast way back online if something happens to the notebook's HDD.
posted by eriko at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2012

You will probably find tmutil better for analyzing Time Machine backups, including comparing data on your Mac to the data in the backup.
Oh wow. Thanks for the heads up! If the OP wants to deal with the command line, they should ignore my advice and use that, becuase I'm going to. :-)
posted by smidgen at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2012

Best answer: If you are cloning a disk (as in eriko's comment), and you are a Time Machine user, you should be aware of tmutil's associatedisk verb. See the tmutil man page for details.
posted by secret about box at 11:09 AM on July 18, 2012

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