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Other World Computing - MacSales.com
Resolving System Problems
by Larry O'Connor

This isn't the freshest subject in the world, but good for a refresher. While 99.9% of the time we can count on our Macs to behave and provide us with the reliable operation we take for granted, it's that small window for failure that can catch you when you least expect. Oh - and that doesn't include the things you might accidentally do in error.

First and foremost, keep a good backup. Be it work you've invested time into, or your family photos - a good backup of your important data (and maybe less than important stuff to) makes it easy to sleep easy. I happen to recommend the highly acclaimed Prosoft Data Backup III which we sell for $39 alone as well as include with all of our FireWire/USB2 storage solutions - which are excellent backup options themselves.

From here, probably easiest to share a little story. About three weeks ago I wanted to boot my laptop via FireWire Target mode. Something went wrong with the startup and while I could make out that it did get to the log-in point, the video was all messed up and I ended up force powering the Mac down. Well - it did not power down, it just went to sleep courtesy of Apple's sleep via power button option. I didn't hold it down long enough to power down.

I the booted my MacBook up in single user mode and ran AppleJack to make sure any problems were cleaned up. I highly recommend AppleJack, by the way, it is a great application for running some regular maintenance and also resolves some pesky OS X preference and cache corruption problems with ease. Anyway... so far so good - my MacBook was booting fine - with AppleJack run, any OS X permission problems, etc were no longer... just being careful and making sure everything perfect before I tried to boot via Target mode again.

Well, I wasn't that careful as I missed that the dumb light in the power button was doing it's sleep probe thing. Or maybe I did notice, but it was too late when I did. Had the MacBook back in target mode and ready to be booted - but instead, my Tower Mac woke from sleep with garbled screen and all - and proceeded to write whatever data it does at that wake point. Because the system had been booted separately, the directory pointers were way out of synch and although I quickly powered it right back down, the damage was already done.

Now instead of having booting, all I immediately got a kernel panic. I forget the exact error, but now my drive volume was neither mounting nor was it repairable by Disk Utility. The hard drive was physically fine - but some serious issue was now present with the directory structure.

Plan of action.... #1 - I had a recent backup and at most was looking at about a day's worth of new work files that I'd need to recreate. Having the good backup made it easy to breath easy - despite being rather annoyed at myself for the dumb mistake. And while doing the slow breathing, decided the steps I'd take to at least give recovering my recent data a shot.

First I started with ProSoft DataRecovery II. Although the drive was unmountable, DRII had no problem at all doing a full recovery of every file on the drive. I kind of figured whatever damage I did was unlikely to affect my data and if anything beyond the directory issues, probably limited to OS X system files anyway. Either way, I now had all my files recovered and in a safe place. Being back to where I was, fully assured and Data Recovery II worked like a champ so that not even that day's work would be lost.

But I didn't settle for that. I really wanted to have a seamless recovery possibility and that meant getting that drive to mount so I could clone it. And that is where Prosoft Drive Genius came into play. While it was not able to fully rebuild the and restore the drive... at least not with the couple times I let it try - it DID repair the volume enough so it would now mount.

With the drive now mounting, I then used the utility to make a clone of the drive to one of FireWire drives. The clone also mounted and all my data was there and clean... (note, cloning copies bit for bit, if you clone a drive the won't mount, the clone isn't likely going mount either as the problem clones too in the case of a 'soft' directory/corruption problem).

From there I wiped my MacBook drive, did a clean install of OS X, and then used the OS X Data Migration option to import all my apps and user files to the 'fresh' drive. After all of that, I was right back in action as if nothing had happened at all.

Without a backup, I'd have been frantic. Without at least having DataRescue, I'd have likely lost some of my work since that last backup. Without DriveGenius, I'd have ended up re-creating my user instead of having the repaired volume clone from which I instead just had my user migrated in from.

Having a good backup + the utilities available and ready should any kind of disaster strike makes a world of difference. Professionals charge big bucks to run these very same applications (and some others of the like) when clients have software related problems and want data recovered off otherwise perfectly functioning drives.

You can get Prosoft Drive Genius for $67.50 and ProSoft DataRecovery II for $55 from us and have these great applications at the ready for when the unexpected strikes... Or if an emergency comes up before you've bought them - they can be downloaded and purchased online from Prosoft for $99 each. At some time or another, you're probably find use for these applications. We'd certainly be happy with you having them ahead of time purchased from us at the lower cost... but if there's an emergency - price matters less at that time and it is really convenient to have the ability to get it online in a pinch.

Stuff happens - and it's being prepared with the right tools that makes what could be a big deal just a minor inconvenience. First and foremost though - it all starts with having a good backup.

Check out our Quick Tips Archive, Hardware/Software Review articles, and more - all in the OWC Product Reviews and Editorial center.