Trust your gut, also use SMART Utility

For a while now my laptop has been running *extremely* slowly. Recently it got worse and about every other startup would just freeze until I forcibly powered down and tried again.

I ran Apple’s Disk Utility and told it to check the error messages from the drive’s internal SMART systems: “this drive is verified”. I groused and left it for a while, but performance continued to suck and the whole thing was making me nervous. I told Disk Utility to check again: still no SMART errors from the drives, but this time it found some mis-set permissions. Louder alarm bells went off in the chaos of my mind, so I refreshed a SuperDuper! clone of the drive and over the weekend I ran Disk Warrior to attempt to save the drive, using whatever arcane magicks it employs to do these things. Success! The drive was rebuilt! I had Dodged A Bullet™, all was good in the world, and I went back to mildly grumbling about performance.

Then the laptop failed to boot again.

More permissions errors, despite them all having been fixed previously.

I ran Disk Utility again. “This drive is verified.”

I donned my suspicious face, and, on advice from Twitter, purchased an app called SMART Utility, which claimed to check drives more thoroughly. Sure enough, SMART Utility found enough issues with the drive to report it’s Overall SMART Status as FAILING.

Between ordering a replacement drive and it arriving, working with the laptop was like driving a chocolate car across the desert. Software had to be reinstalled several times, as the sections of the disk holding it became corrupt. Eventually, the morning before the new hard drive arrived, my latop refused to log me in; the area of the hard disk holding the password files had corrupted beyond repair.

Then followed a trip to Maplin to buy little screwdrivers, lots of delicate operations with my tongue stuck out and bits of laptop strewn across the dining room table, but the story has a happy ending and I type this to you from my revived, revitalised and much faster MacBook Pro with a lovely new Solid State Drive (SSD).

This SSD is AMAZING. I can boot Photoshop in seven seconds. SEVEN. SECONDS. Seriously, if you haven’t already, I urge all three of you reading this to immediately stop and order SSDs for your main work machine. The difference is like night and day, I had NO idea how much time I spent waiting for that tired old spinning hard disk. Every cloud has a silver lining, I guess.

Now here comes the lesson. (Can you guess what the lesson will be?)

Remember to backup.

In this case, I needed a fresh cloned drive, from before the data on my old drive started going south on me, so that I could clone a bootable system onto it before installing it in my MacBook Pro. IMHO Super Duper is the best way of creating a bootable cloned drive, and I try to keep a roughly in date cloned drive at home (and another at the office) against this kind of eventuality. Yes, it’s a pain in the arse, but it saved me having to rebuild my development environment, re-install all my software, go begging for files sent to me, and in general has probably saved me days of faff and hassle.

By the way, if you want even more reasons to backup, go and read about the office fire which happened to the inestimable Dave Verwer recently.

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  1. Is your suspicious face portable? That’d be real handy in meetings :)

    I switched over to a 13″ Air in March and the SSD has been like magic… also 7 seconds to “engage the PS drive”!

    1. I rent my suspicious face out at the usual day rate, in case you have need of it at any point. :P

  2. When I moved to this new outfit in March/April they issued me with a £2.5k tech budget to get myself some new equipment. That meant when picking up a new 15″ MBP I could afford the – incredibly expensive – Apple-installed at factory SSD drive. I only went for 128GB as this machine is purely a coding/documenting/web browsing workstation, but it was worth the extortionate amount of money. Every. Penny. Albeit, somebody else’s.

    I was a bit suspicious as I bought one of the first SSD-based netbooks and wasn’t that impressed with the performance. However, switching from my old machine, the difference was incredible.

    Right now if somebody asks for advice on spending on kit, I always say that RAM is the most important variable, followed by getting an SSD hard drive.

    What’s more, drive failure on SSD is nowhere near as bad what people fear – providing you take block size into consideration when doing your reckoning. I doubt I’ll ever go back to magnetic disk if I can avoid it. Even my 1TB Time Capsule is worrying me now with it’s shaky (cheap) mag disk…

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