Sunday, November 28, 2010

How I Fixed My Macbook Pro

I've had a Macbook Pro laptop for about 3 1/2 years now.  It's been a great, reliable computer.  I'd sit down, turn it on, and it would just work .. no fuss, no muss.

About 6 months ago, right after I got back from Iraq, I decided to upgrade the operating system to Snow Leopard, and at the same time install another 1GB of RAM (which I bought at the Fort Hood PX).  Both "operations" were relatively simple, and the system worked great immediately afterward.

Then a couple of months back, I started noticing little things ... for instance, any time I opened a video, the fan would kick on (noisily) and work overdrive until I closed the video.  It also seemed to me that I could hear the hard drive working more often than I had remembered in the past.

A couple of weeks ago, things really started to become serious.  My portable backup drives were not always recognized.  Programs that usually opened right up, were taking much longer (watching the spinning ball while I waited, I almost felt like I was on Windows PC again).  And then worst of all, some files and folders just started not opening, or disappearing all together.

I ran one of the diagnostics programs, and it said something about an extra sector on the volume where I had OS X installed .. and gave me a "hint" to boot from my Snow Leopard dvd, and repair the disk.  Sounds easy enough, I can do that.

Woops ... I can't find my Snow Leopard disk !!!!

The box is right there on the shelf of Ana's computer desk, where I left it.  But the disk itself is nowhere to be found.  Ugh.

Oh well, I was leaving for Philadelphia in two days anyway, and Johnathan has an "extra" laptop that I was able to borrow for the trip.    So the problem got put on hold for 2 weeks.  Oh yea, and while I was in Philly I was able to walk down to the Apple store, and pick up another copy of OS X for $29.00.

A couple of days after I got home, and was a bit settled in, I decided it was time to revive my Mac.

Booted from the DVD, opened Disk Utility, and tried to repair the volume ...

"Disk cannot be repaired ... erase the disk, and reinstall OS X"

Ok, no worries, I've got a 1TB drive with about a month's worth of time machine back ups.

Erased the disk, and rebooted the machine again.   This time I clicked "continue" on the first screen to proceed through the install process.

After about 5 minutes, it just stopped, and I got an error message "could not copy necessary support files"

Ok, I'll just try it again ...

No such luck.  After about 5 failed attempts, I just gave up, and started researching how difficult (and expensive) it would be to replace a Macbook Pro hard drive ... since I assumed that's what the problem was.

I unhooked everything from the computer, turned it off, and planned to put it away in my closet until I could figure out what I was going to do.  Yikes, that closet was a mess though ... better clean it ... and wouldn't you know, up there on the top shelf (where there's no way I could "lose" it) was that copy of Snow Leopard I'd been looking for a few weeks ago.  Oh well, now I've got two.

Now we're starting to get close to the good part though ... how I fixed it (without spending a lot of extra money).

During the time that my Mac was in the closet, and I continued to borrow Johnathan's PC laptop, I remained optimistic that I might be able to find a way to fix it myself ... and avoid the hour each way drive to the nearest Apple Store, in Austin.   So,  I continued to do some research on Internet forums ...

As it turns out, my problem was not all that uncommon among those who were having trouble installing, or re-installing, OS X.

And in the overwhelming majority of examples of people who had overcome this problem, the only thing that worked was replacing their machine's RAM.

I'm game ... can't hurt to give it a try.  What's the worst that could happen?  The computer's already "broken".

So, I found my trusty #0 phillip's head screw driver, popped the battery out,  opened up the memory compartment, and removed that store bought 1GB second stick of RAM.

Now the moment of truth ...

Restart the machine, try to the install process again.

Hey, it's working!

After about 10 minutes or so, I started to become pretty optimistic that I had solved the problem ... and it turns out that I was right.

Then I got another very cool surprise about being on a Mac ...

Even though I had "erased" the disk before reinstalling the operating system, when I opened the Applications folder, ALL of my 3rd party programs (Photoshop, MS Office, MarketSamurai, etc) were still there ... and they still worked !!!

The only minor problem I have left, is that for some of the things I do on my computer (ie, photoshop) I really do need a bit more RAM.   But I'll survive for now, and after we pay off some of the Christmas bills, I probably will take a trip down to the Apple Store, and let them install the additional memory.

So the lesson here ...

If you're on a Mac, it's probably not going to "act up".  But, in the highly unlikely event that it does, that RAM compartment is the 1st place I'd start my investigation ... especially if you bought it from a store that wasn't named "Apple", and installed it yourself.

Hopefully you'll never need to use any of this information I've just written above ... but if you do, I hope you find it helpful.

Til next time ...

[todd-sig]

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