Monday, November 7, 2016

Return to Apple Computer after 30 years

I became a quick convert to the Apple iPad several years back. I love the way that you can quickly turn it on and find information. I still don't like the way that the device is so tightly tied to the Apple Universe, particularly iTunes and iCloud. It gets very confusing. Due to both cost and Apple's tight control, I started my smart phone history on an Android device. I probably would still be with Android except for a twist of fate a couple years back when I bought an iPhone 4S for my wife and she did not want it due to the screen size. Somewhere along the line, I gave it a try and found that I preferred it to my Samsung Galaxy S3. As related in a previous post, the Samsung has a gorgeous screen and superior hardware, but the iPhone 4S had much better battery life and was much simpler to use.

The last time I substantially used a "Mac" computer was around 1981 or so while finishing study at a community college. At that time, no (normal) person owned a computer and the process was to go to the library (or computer lab). At the library you would sign onto an Apple II…and don't forget your 5 1/4 floppy. Needless to say much as changed since then, but what has remained largely true is that a PC option has been much cheaper than a comparable Mac option. Thus, for the past 30 or so years I have relied on the PC in both my work and personal endeavors.

While technology continues its steady march, it seems that at this point in time you can reach back 10 years or so to technology that can still provide value today. For example, in my workplace we continue to use Office 2010 (although it is now 2016). Similarly, while I would not go out and purchase a $1,000 MacBook the ability to reach back now provides an opportunity to sample Mac on a used machine for a very reasonable price… so can Apple score a trifecta? Tablet, phone and now computer?

As you can probably tell from earlier posts, Craig's list was my first stop. I managed to pick up a "mid 2009" MacBook Pro for $150. The seller was a long term Mac user, but was unfamiliar with routine needed to transfer her Mac. Fortunately she was patient and together we both walked through the online steps to ensure that she signed out of the necessary Apple accounts and then proceeded to follow the steps to reset the machine. (This is a notable difference from buying a PC - both buyer and seller want to ensure that the device is no longer associated to the seller's Apple account. Currently this process is somewhat confusing and it seems like there could and should be an easier way for sellers to quickly find and release their Apple device).

First impressions - As anticipated, I am encountering a normal learning curve to relearn some of the things I had learned over the years on a PC. I am hopeful to write a follow up post in the future after I have had some time to acclimate to discuss my impressions in regards to navigation and software. The good news for iPad and iPhone users is that there is some familiarity of the applications but navigating on the laptop is different than either Apple device and different from a PC. My 2009 MacBook Pro has a sleek, sexiness to it; I don't recall the PC devices of similar vintage in general having the same allure. I have the 13" and I can see where it would be convenient to pack. My 13" MacBook also fits comfortably on my lap and provides a reasonably pleasant typing experience. Also, based on the specs, the battery life on the 2009 MacBook Pro is much better than what was typical for a 2009 PC. Given these virtues, I and can instantly see why this machine would be an attractive option for students. In general, I find the MacBook Pro very nice to use in my lap while on the battery; however, I find that using the AC adaptor is more cumbersome on the Mac versus a typical PC as the cord is just too short to comfortably reach a plug from my chair without using a lead cord.

The mid 2009 13" MacBook Pro was considered a base model when it was released and shipped with only 2gb of RAM (memory). This was probably on the low side even for 2009 as it is apparent that the 15" and larger all shipped with 4gb. It was clear to me from the get go that I would want to try to do some upgrades to my MacBook Pro. My immediate target was to bump up the memory and replace the hard drive with a solid state drive.

One plus for the Mac is that there is a large body of references on the Internet to help with upgrades and you don't encounter the great volume of variation that you find among the many makers of the PC. My experience has been that RAM is generally the easier of the 2 upgrades that I wanted to make so that is where I started. I have heard that Macs can be a bit fussy in regards to RAM so I was careful to scrutinize my choices. I chose eBay simply because I did not find any satisfactory local options on Craig's list. Without too much effort, I was able to find and purchase 4gb (2 sticks of 2gb) for around $13 which seems to be around the going rate for this quantity. Apple provides straightforward support on the memory upgrade process.  I will remark that just the reference to "unibody" was somewhat intimidating as when I think of "unibody" I think of "one body" which infers that it should be one body and not be taken apart. The schematic showing the ten (10) screws seemed to reinforce this concept. Surprisingly, taking off the back cover of the MacBook Pro was a breeze - yes, you do need to be careful with the screws and the small screws are sufficiently small as to make it a little awkward with my big fingers. After the screws were removed the cover lifted off easily unlike some experiences I have had with PC covers where you need to be careful to gently pry the plastic in the right spots. Removing the memory was straightforward. Inserting the new memory was a little trickier as it seemed as though you needed to carefully align the pins, wiggle them a little to make sure they were seated and then gently push down to lock in place. Reattaching the back cover was also simple. Tip: In performing this, I recommend a table that has a wide area of space cleared off. Then place your screws on the table in the outskirts of the laptop so you can easily see which screw came from where. Upon start up, my 4gb was readily recognized and viola… one MacBook upgrade was achieved.

I anticipated that the hard drive upgrade would be a bit trickier as it involves both a hardware and a software component. Fortunately, I had (small) 60gb SSD from my experimentation with Linux and also had the USB connector to attach this SSD externally. When I connected the SSD, I was able to see that my Mac detected the SSD and showed in disk utilities and I was able to format the SSD to the required Apple format.

As anticipated, the software preparation was a little more challenging than the hardware change. My Mac had Yosemite installed and I knew this was a fresh install (having helped the prior owner reset the Mac) so I wanted to switch out the hard drive before altering it further. I sampled a wide range of strategies. From my PC experience, the 2 typical ways of doing this upgrade are to either start over with "restore" disks or to use third party software to clone the hard drive. I preferred not to install additional 3rd party software before doing the install so that option was quickly ruled out. As I was not the original owner, Yosemite was not available in my purchases in the Apple store, nor was I able to find an option to "purchase" or download Yosemite. (I believe Apple has pulled this in favor of newer versions.) I also preferred to work with "Yosemite" as it was so I could preserve the option to return to that operating system if I found the newer option unsatisfactory. In my search for strategies, my initial approach was to follow the instructions to create an install USB memory stick. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that to do this you needed the Yosemite "install" packet which I did not have access to (not found in my Applications folder nor could I download as fore stated from the Apple store).

In my research on upgrading my MacBook Pro to an SSD drive, I read that it is possible to clone your current hard drive using the Mac OS disk utility. This was an appealing option and I initially attempted this strategy but received error messages. I believe this option is viable for many and my error was likely related to trying to clone the existing 160gb drive to my smaller SSD which was only 60gb. Later, I found directions to use this approach which included instructions to reduce the size of the initial disk. 

Regardless, I moved on to a third strategy which was to restore from Time Machine. This strategy involved first turning on Time Machine and making an initial back up copy. When I turned Time Machine on, it asked whether I wanted to use the SSD - I declined as I wanted to use the SSD to install the operating system. I preferred not to use one of the "spare" laptop hard drives that I had so I researched as to whether or not Time Machine could create the back up on a USB "thumb" drive (memory stick). There seemed to be some debate in the user community with some saying that you could do it, but shouldn't do it (because of thumb drives being less reliable). For me at this juncture, reliability wasn't going to be a concern as my intent was to have my original hard drive to fall back on after I installed the OS on the SSD… so I gave it a whirl and formatted a 16gb memory stick and then directed Time Machine to create my back up there. To my delight, it launched without argument but I will note that creating the first (initial) back up through time machine does take considerable time. In my case, it ran for about 10 hours or so. This, too, was fine by me as I was not under any time constraint to make the upgrade.

Upon successful creation of the time machine backup, I simply restarted the machine in recovery mode (having both the memory stick and SSD plugged in to the 2 USB ports on the MacBook Pro - I will note that having both plugged into these ports made for a tight fit). (Additional note, I had also attempted the Internet Recovery, but quickly learned that this option was not available for the mid 2009 MacBook Pro). When recovery mode started up, I simply chose to restore from Time Machine backup and then directed it to restore to the SSD drive. To my delight, Apple's disk utility performed this feat without a hiccup and when finished, I shut down the machine and removed both the memory stick and the SSD and proceeded with the hardware portion of the upgrade.

The hardware component was extremely simple - remove the same 10 screws to remove the back, then there are 2 screws holding down the hard drive which your remove and the hard drive simply lifts up and out where you gently remove the ribbon. There are 4 additional mounting screws directly on the hard drive that need to be moved over. These were a bit of a pain as Apple uses an odd screw head - I was able to very gently loosen each screw with a pair of vise grips but I stress that this is not recommended practice.

After the SSD was physically installed, I simply started up my MacBook and once again the machine handled it without a hiccup. I was very impressed…as reflected in my post entry, I'm a novice to the Mac environment and my reflection is that I was able to complete this upgrade on the Mac as easy or easier than many experiences doing the same on a PC.

Since I had my memory and SSD upgrade complete, I thought it was time to bring my machine up to the current OS. The Apple app store led me to believe this was Sierra. I quickly learned that Sierra was not available to mid 2009… it was only available to late 2009 and later models. Regardless, I was happy to see that while Sierra was not available, the "failed" install did point me to the El Capitan upgrade that was available. (I'll note that I had searched for El Capitan, but was not successful in finding it… I learned that this was due to my unfamiliarity as it was available under "utilities" - when I had spotted it, I thought it was a utility for El Capitan and did not understand that it was the actual operating system.) I "purchased" El Capitan, but will note that before "installing", I made a copy of the install package in the Applications folder so that I can create an "install" USB down the road.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are appreciated. Please note that comments are moderated, but will generally be published if on topic and free from excessive profanity or hostility.