About a week ago, sitting at my hacintosh, my wife had come in to ask me a question and as she stood in the doorway to the office, the second monitor image suddenly got sort of zapped (like you see in TV shows when the bad guys take over the TV feed that the hero is watching) and then went dark. The main monitor flickered and then returned. And no matter what I did, I couldn’t bring back the second monitor. The display was still effective in that I could move windows into the darkness and the windows that were on that display didn’t move to the main display. Downright freaky.
10 months ago, I finally got my new Hacintosh built and got it stable enough to switch to. I had written blog posts about it then but saved them until I had a chance to confirm it was all good. And then I forgot about them and there were some tech issues with the blog hosting provider, etc. not to mention still wanting to get Handoff working and the subsequent problem with the Media hard drive. Now, however, I think I can declare complete victory and finally sum it all up.
Just when I thought everything on my Hacintosh was in good shape, I hit a snag. Shortly after installing the new WiFi/BT combo card to get Handoff working, I discovered a problem with a hard drive. I keep all of my pictures and music and movies on a separate 750GB hard drive. It means that I can back it up separately and that the hard drive can spin down and rest more often than the main drive that sees constant activity. It also means that when I want to upgrade the computer, as I did last year, I just remove the disk from the old computer and install it in the new one.
With all this stuff going on recently with the computer, you’d think that I’d get a back up done. You’d be wrong. So one night when I sat down to finally get to work on some 2015 pictures, I clicked to open iPhoto and it came up asking me where the iPhoto library was. Well that’s silly, I thought it’s right… it’s right… on the disk that is… Uh-oh. Where’s that disk? I rebooted and this time the disk came up with a warning saying that it couldn’t mount the disk. Did I want to reformat? No! Okay, so clearly we have a serious problem with the disk.
The first step was to get my hands on “testdisk” again. I had used it before and while I wasn’t a fan of the tool, it seemed perfect for this – the data appeared to be there but the partition scheme couldn’t be used to mount anything. So the plan was to have testdisk put it back. I tried using testdisk in MacOS and just found it too painful. Everything was super slow. I booted up in Linux and testdisk ran easily and quickly and confirmed that everything about the disk was fine – just bad partition info. I wrote the partition info back to the disk and rebooted to MacOS. No luck, same problem. Hmm.. What now?
Well, given that this hard drive is not new and that this hard drive contains lots of important stuff on it. And given that this 750 GB drive was nearly full. Maybe it’s time to get a new and bigger drive? I made a quick stop at MicroCenter and picked up a new WD Black 2TB drive for $130. I used Clonezilla to clone the existing drive, then I confirmed in MacOS that the new drive was up and working. Finally, I resized the 750 GB partition to now use all of the available space on the disk. And I’m back in business.
A couple of additional thoughts about this failure and the repair. I had problems with the cloning operation and the recovery operation and MacOS wouldn’t do the Repair Disk (necessary after the clone) or the resize when the hard drive was connected through my SATA card. It didn’t matter if the connection was on the internal SATA card port or the eSATA port – either way, it wouldn’t work. I needed to have it connected directly to the motherboard.
And it’s worth noting that when I initially started swapping SATA cables to get the drive connected to a port on the motherboard I discovered that the cable was somewhat loose in the SATA card’s internal port. Those ports aren’t locking ports and the card is right next to the new WiFi/BT card I had just installed. So it’s possible that I bumped the cable and that the problem was my doing where the loose cable caused bad data to be written to the drive. It’s even possible that the drive was actually fine all along and that it was just a loose wire. But I suspect if that were really the case, that I either would have not been able to read the drive at all or that the drive would have worked fine. It doesn’t make sense to me that a not full secure wire would lead to the Mac knowing that there was a drive attached but not being able to mount it. Who knows, maybe the SATA spec is such that the side of the cable that was loose was the data side while the side that wasn’t was some sort of connection info set of pins. Regardless, once the drive started looking flaky to me, it had to go – trust was lost and would never be regained.
One of the main reasons I wanted to wait to build the Hacintosh with MacOS 10.10 is the promise of Handoff. I find that I sometimes start looking for info on the phone but then get to a point where the small size is just too constraining so I want to switch to the computer. I end up e-mailing myself a URL. How primitive! Being able to handoff a URL from the phone to the computer would be way better. The ability to make phone calls on my iPhone using the computer, what Apple calls Continuity, seems neat but that’s a nice-to-have, not a feature that I’d use often. (If I am at the computer, odds are good that I am going to use the landline rather than the cell phone to make a call – nothing like a quality landline with zero delay, zero garbling, and zero signal drops.)
Unfortunately, after I got the Hacintosh working, Handoff didn’t appear to be working. I was disappointed, but I had lots of other stuff to deal with at the time. Now, it’s finally time to get back to trying to get that working. So what is it that might be preventing it from working?
In addition to the normal Hacintosh challenges, I tried to make my life more challenging by deciding to set it up to boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu 14 also. But unlike in my original Hac, where my main system drive was, partitioned to handle all three OSes, this time my main system drive is left alone.
I had started this build last summer when I bought the Dell Optiplex 9020. And a few months ago I got MacOS 10.9 running on it in a manner similar to my past Hacintosh builds. But my plan all along was to wait for MacOS 10.10 and start with that. Historically, I know that upgrading a Hacintosh can be a risky proposition. Why make it harder on myself to build the Hacintosh, then try to do the upgrade right away? Or build the Hacintosh with 10.9 when 10.10 was coming up soon? I figured I’d practice with 10.9 and then do the final build at 10.10. Good plan.
As it turned out, the setting up the Hacintosh to run 10.10 the same way I had done 10.9 didn’t work out for me. My prior Hacintoshes were set up using my past build methodology which is built on the Chameleon bootloader and now it wasn’t working. Well, time to learn a new way, I guess.
I’ve been planning on a new Hacintosh computer for a while and I finally got the hardware earlier this summer, a Dell Optiplex 9020 (MT). I’ve been working on the install off and on and doing some troubleshooting with the hardware so I’m not yet ready to write up a guide. But I did want to start with this post where I will list off some of the challenges faced in getting it running.
In support of creating a dual monitor setup for the Hacintosh (part of the greater effort of building “The Bridge“), I needed to figure out how to get dual monitor output from the Hacintosh without making any significant changes. I remember that getting the video card to work was one of the more challenging things in creating the Hacintosh and since the GeForce 8400GS was working well, I didn’t want to change things significantly at this point in the Hacintosh’s life (due for replacement now, but probably won’t get to it until the end of 2014). While the 8400GS card has 3 outputs, only the DVI is a digital connection. The S-video and the RGB connectors are analog and, as far as I’m concerned, should not be part of a modern setup. So how do I get the dual digital outputs and would it even be possible on the Hacintosh?
I’ve had a working Hacintosh for nearly two years now and really the only snag has been the inability to do normal operating system updates. Normally that just means I miss out on the occasional new OS tweak which is no big deal. But recently, it’s been a bigger deal since the latest iTunes requires the new version of Safari which requires MacOS 10.6 – otherwise known as Snow Leopard. In other words, my 10.5.6 install was now old enough to cause some roadblocks and some of the base applications (like Mail, iChat, etc.) have new features I was missing out on. So I finally decided to bite the bullet and go to 10.6.
What about an upgrade is biting the bullet? Because a Hacintosh is not a Macintosh. Apple has it easier than Microsoft because when they build their OS, they don’t need to worry about any computer hardware other than that which they have created. And since they didn’t create the Dell computer I use for my Hac, that means the installer won’t work out of the box. It needs some minor but crucial additional elements.
Fortunately, the computer I use for the Hac, a Dell Dimension E520, is well known to the Hacintosh community which means that people have figured out lots of the compatibility issues. Two insanelymac.com posters, “wmarsh” and “blkhockeypro19” in particular, have done of lot of the hard work on getting the E520 operational. Despite the insanelymac.com community having such great knowledge, access to it is only through the form of BB posts which makes figuring out what to do very difficult. Fortunately, these two users spend the time to write guides which aggregates a lot of the information into one place. I decided to go with blkhockeypro19’s guide this time and it did work out very well for me.
As of right now, the upgraded Hac is working well. In fact, it’s working better than it did with the 10.5 setup because the bootloader is more solid and because I’ve got the onboard networking working now. I’ll be sure to post again if anything goes wrong!