Death, Taxes and Data Loss

There are two types of people in this world: those who’ve lost data, and those who will. I’ve lost more data than I’d like to remember, and tonight, thanks to luck and some forewarning, I believe I’ve managed to avoid a catastrophic failure.

I’ve owned my black MacBook for just over a year, and it’s been a great machine with several flaws. Everything that’s gone wrong with the MacBook in general has gone wrong with mine: the case is loose on the left side; the case cracked on the front right; the battery lasted less than 90 minutes on a full charge; the screen flickers uncontrollably; and it has the Seagate hard drive that’s been dying in large numbers.

I suppose that’s the price for being an early adopter: I bought the ‘Book September of ’06, shortly after it was released, after my beloved 12″ PowerBook seemingly died. (I managed to recover that machine, but not before I’d place my MacBook order.)

When I first read about the Seagate hard drive issues, I started cloning my system. Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) is a great tool, and has made it easy to keep a backup system going. Then tonight, I decided it was time to upgrade the MacBook to Leopard; it was my last machine (of four that I use; two personal, two work).

Because CCC has worked so well for me, I decided to abandon my normal policy of at least two partitions on my machines ( one System, one User, so I can blow away the OS when things went wrong) and went with a single partition. I cloned things to my (now spare) PowerBook, and wiped out my User and third partition using the Leopard Disk Utilities, expanded the remaining partition to fill the drive, and did an archive install.

Things seemed to mostly work, and I copied my data back to the MacBook, and rebooted to see all my files. Only upon trying to do some additional work on the machine did I encounter trouble, ending in a full out system hang. On reboot, the internal drive wasn’t there. It simply didn’t show up, like it was disconnected. Nothing I could think of would make it show up.


Were it not for the clone, I would have lost dozens of gigabytes of extremely valuable data, including the 1200 or so photos I took on my just-ended ten-day road trip. Had I not backed up tonight, I’d be drowning my sorrows in a bottle of single malt.

I now plan on doing a clone of my clone (paranoid? Hardly!) and get the spare PowerBook booting so I can at least have a portable machine while I take the MacBook into an Apple Store. I’m hoping though that they’ll simply replace the drive on the spot: it’s a couple of screws in the battery compartment. I’d do it myself but I don’t think I should pay the $100 or so for a new drive.

Let this be a warning to you: if you have data you care about, please back it up, then test that backup.

Interested in some backup solutions? Carbon Copy Cloner is great for creating bootable backups and works in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and 10.5 (Leopard). Synchronize! X Pro and ChronoSync are both useful for keeping two drives in sync, and provide more options (though not necessarily needed ones) than CCC. Time Machine (part of Mac OS X 10.5) is great for creating regular snapshots of your drive throughout the day.

Go forth and clone.