Hackintosh disaster recovery part 1
If you use a Mac, making bootable backups are easy, and definitely easier than on a Windows Computer. Using software like Carbon Copy Cloner or Superduper you can clone your Mac’s hard drive to another internal or external USB/Firewire drive. This copy is an exact image of the original drive so you can boot from it and see no difference to using the source drive. Add in smart copies that only copy the changes since the last backup and you have a fast, reliable and easy backup system. Scheduled backups even mean you don’t have to remember to backup, just check it’s working as planed.
I used this method with my Macbook and felt a lot more relaxed making big changes to the system. Updating to 10.5.2 was easily reversible when the wireless networking stopped working. Even the Leopard upgrade from Tiger was no problem when I could easily revert to Tiger if a show stopper surfaced. This ease is one of the factors that made me move my daily computer use to Mac OS, but what happens when you build your own?
As part of my recent benchmarking of operating systems I installed several Linux distributions. Ubuntu and the Ubuntu based Linux Mint installed without a hitch, as did Fedora. My problems started when I tried OpenSUSE. The previous three had installed to my 120Gb hard drive without modifying the separate Mac OS drive, and installed the Grub boot loader to the master boot record of the 120Gb drive. I suspect I missed an advanced option when installing OpenSUSE, and the boot loader was installed on the Mac OS drive.
The result of this was Windows XP, Vista and Linux being available but no Mac OS. I searched for a way of restoring the drive to booting Leopard by default, and although there are some excellent articles on the subject (such as here) is there an easier way? While the Unix foundations of Mac OS are there for us to hack through the command line, what about the Mac’s graphical finery?
I had been making a regular backup to an external USB drive, and although this isn’t currently bootable on the hackintosh it is an accurate copy of the partition. The first step of my restoration was wiping the 500Gb drive and installing a fresh copy of the kalyway 10.5.1 disk. I installed using the Guid partition scheme so the created partition could be resized. Next I created two partitions, one of 425Gb and the other taking the remaining 40Gb. The larger partition received the installation, and after this had the system updates I knew to work it was cloned to the smaller drive. This resulted in two identical installations accessible from the Darwin boot menu at boot. I installed the latest updates that some hackintosh users had reported problems with, knowing that if the installation became unbootable I could restore from the copy. There were no problems with the updates, even the recent Time Machine and Airport update that installed a new Kernel. This was not entirely surprising since the system was using a stock kernel already.
Once all the software updates were installed I connected the USB drive containing the backup and started the Migration Assistant (from utilities) to copy across my user account. This took a few hours to copy 250Gb back to the internal drive. At the end of this I logged out of the temporary account I created for the installation, and Logged in to my usual account. The desktop and all files were where they should be, and only a couple of further steps were necessary. Some of my software asked for serial numbers again, and iMovie wanted to make thumbnails for its project clips again.
Once I knew everything was working I copied the 40Gb installation to an external drive. I then removed it from the 500Gb drive and re-sized the remaining partition to fill the drive using Disk Utility. The copy I made has all the latest updates installed, so next time there is a software update I am not confident installing I can resize my boot partition, copy this ‘minimal’ install to it and test the update.
The next thing to test is trying to install to an external drive to find out if it is bootable. An external drive with a bootable backup and some testing partitions sounds useful, so that’s the target for part 2.