As many of you know, I took delivery on a brand new 24″ iMac Core Duo, with two 2.33GHz processors, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, and a 256 NVidia graphics card. I did this for a couple of reasons. 1.) I had no Intel Mac and I need to be keeping up with technology, 2.) my main machine was over 2 years old, 3.) my Formac display was taking up too much of my desk, 4.) the cat was chewing through all my cables and I wanted to have fewer (cables), and 5.) and they just came out with MYST Online – URU Live that only runs on Intel machines.

In a previous posting, I mentioned the migration from the PowerMac went swimmingly. One thing I have learned about the Migration Assistant is while it copies over all the files not currently on the new Mac, it copies ALL the files over. Old support files, preferences, junk you have accumulated from previous systems and upgrades. So consider this before you upgrade – Point 1. Your system might run better if you simply move your personal files over manually and reinstall the applications yourself. You will end up with a much leaner and probably smoother running system.

Moving to the recent past, last week I experienced quite a shock. I was transferring files from my PowerBook G4 to my iMac, while burning a DVD using Toast 8 Titanium, my iMac froze. “Well,” I thought, “I’ll wait it out, sometimes it comes back.” It didn’t. “Well,” I considered, “maybe there was a network hang and I will shutdown the laptop and it will come back.” It didn’t. “Hmm,” I said, “maybe I should reboot and it will come back.” It didn’t. You don’t want to know what I said next.

The screen showed me a question mark flashing inside a folder. “Aha!” I shouted, “Merely an OS problem. With all of my data repair utilities I should be able to repair this.” DiskWarrior 4, TechTool Pro 4.5, Drive Genius 1.5 – nothing. Not only could they not repair the drive, they couldn’t see the partitions. For the unschooled, think of a hard drive as a blank CD and the partitions as tracks on the CD for your music. No tracks, no music. No partitions, no files. Now, I was getting worried. I tried the Apple Disk Utility and came up empty. They all thought the drive was unformatted, like an CD with no tracks. That is B-A-D.

Time for Point 2. Always make sure you have your important files backed up. To me, my important files were my client files. For my wife, it was all our digital photos we had never printed. And no, I hadn’t made a backup of either recently, though I did have older backups. I was in big trouble (from my wife and my clients).

Quickly to Point 3. Never, never, never (get the point?), NEVER! reformat, reinstall or otherwise write to the hard drive if you have any intention of recovering your files. Once you write to your drive, you may write over important data that can no longer be recovered. So I tried my last weapon in my depleted arsenal, Data Rescue II, from the makers of Drive Genius and other utilities, ProSoft Engineering. Quick Scan… zippo. Thorough Scan… wait, there is something… I stopped the scan after a few minutes, since it said it would take 12 hours (!) to complete. But when I looked at the results, there was data, names and everything. Whew!

Now came the long wait. I started the Thorough Scan again and went to bed. By 10:00 the next morning it was done. I saw my client files, my photos, my music – pretty much everything. Yes! I started the recovery onto an external hard drive. Point 4. Everyone should have an alternate source of storage, be it another internal drive or an external drive, and make it as big as needed to hold the important stuff. Forget about applications you can reinstall and the OS. You may also want to get one for the new OS 10.5 Leopard, with its Time Machine software that allows you to restore lost or damaged files.

I called Apple during this process and asked for some advice. They pointed me to a Knowledgebase page to try some things after my data recovery. I tried them all to no avail. They made an appointment for me at my local Apple Store in Burlington, so I could get right through. So I went down. There was one guy behind the Genius Bar named Omer. And he was a multitasking fiend. He was talking, diagnosing and setting up with mutliple clients all at once. I have to give him credit, but I have to interject here. Why only one guy? There were several people waiting for service (including me) and the Bar could’ve used at least one more person, there were several Apple Store employees roaming the store, of course they may not have been Geniuses.

Omer reviewed my problem and ended up re-imaging my drive from a network drive, basically restoring the hard drive to its original state when I bought it. Said if there was a problem with the drive it would show up there. It didn’t. So I brought the system back and spent the next couple of days restoring files and reinstalling software. And here I am at the end of the ordeal, no wiser than I was going in.

What caused the problem? I can’t be certain, but I have a theory. Remember when I said the utilities couldn’t see my partitions? Well, I never use partitions, but in this case I set one up for use with Boot Camp. One of the reasons for getting the iMac was so I could test installing Windows XP and running it as a PC. The Boot Camp software allows you to repartition your drive to create a Windows FAT32 or NTFS file system for Windows to be installed in. Well, I saw no evidence of any Windows files during the recovery process. And I read on the Apple Discussion board that it was potentially dangerous to remove the partition using anything other than Boot Camp. So, I wonder if the crash somehow damaged the partitioning scheme used by Boot Camp, thus affecting my Apple partition. The only other potential causes are either the DVD encoding or the file copy or them both combined. In the meantime, I have resorted to using Parallels Desktop for Macintosh to resolve the partitioning issue. It allows me to run Windows in what’s called a Virtual Machine (VM). Basically, it’s a file that acts as self-contained hard drive, and doesn’t require a separate partition. A little slower, but not bad. And less invasive than Boot Camp. So far, no glitches. Now to recap…

Point 1. During a new system install, move your files over manually and reinstall the applications yourself.
Point 2. Always make sure you have your important files backed up.
Point 3. Never reformat, reinstall or otherwise write to the hard drive after a crash if you want to recover your files.
Point 4. Install another internal or external drive for use with backups.

Remember these points before the next time the bell tolls for you.

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