Time to back up Drifter

First off, I finally named my machine. I always name machines from some genre of science fiction, usually Star Wars because the names are short and easy to spell, but in the case of my Mac I figured I would break with tradition and name him Drifter. I have no idea why, it just came to me and stuck. Since this is a MacBook that I constantly grab off the desk and take with me places I figured it was appropriate.

The reason I mention that my MacBook has a name is because it makes telling you about my backup adventures a little more entertaining. I knew I needed to backup Drifter - all of my other machines have backup strategies but they involve moving specific files around to other machines on my network. I don't do full backups of my Windows systems because I've found that with Windows it's a good idea to reinstall the OS on a fresh machine every once in a while and it's better to just reinstall the apps, then restore my data. I only backup my data.

With Drifter I decided to go in a different direction. Instead of just copying files around I figured I would get an external hard drive for it and use Time Machine - the backup utility on Leopard - to save everything. I won't go into too much detail on Time Machine; there's lots of information on it on Apple's site. So far I really like the model that Time Machine has.

I happened to be at Costco yesterday and saw that they had the Western Digital 1TB My Book on sale for $250. I agonized for a few minutes but in the end decided this would be a good deal. I've always liked Western Digital drives and had heard good things on this one.

I brought it home, wrestled it out of the giant "enviro-friendly" blister pack and placed it on the desk. I plugged it into the power outlet but didn't turn it on, then used the FireWire connector to plug it into Drifter.

Pffft.  Huh? Drifter, which had a couple of apps up and running just went dark. Dead, stone dark. I moved the mouse - nope, it wasn't kicking in the screen saver.  In nearly three weeks I hadn't had a single issue with Drifter until now. Really odd.  I powered him back up and he appears to come up fine. I noticed that the power indicator looked a little odd. Oh well - I'll get to that later.

So the drive comes up, appears on the desktop and Time Machine asks me if I would like to use it as a backup drive. Sure! But before I did that I pulled up Disk Utility and reformatted the drive which came with a single FAT32 partition, to a Mac OS Extended partition. That only took a few minutes. I gave it two partitions; a 350GB one for my backups and a 580GB one for bulk data storage.

Everything appeared to be working fine, though the backup was painfully slow. The FireWire connection in the My Book is only the standard 400Mbps - not the newer 800Mbps. I've already got 192GB on Drifter so the backup itself took several hours. It did seem to work though so that makes me happy.

Oh No, Do I Need the Back Up Already?
Now back to my battery indicator. The pull down menu now indicated that I didn't have a battery connected. That's odd - I didn't take it out. I figured I'd pull the power and see what happens.  Pffft.  Drifter went straight down. No kernel panic, no warnings, just dead.

I kept him off the power and tried starting Drifter up. Booted fine and everything looked great. I ran him on batteries for about an hour, getting his level down to about 75%. Then, when I plugged him back in to power the icon changed to indicate that I was plugged in but the battery was not recharging! This was getting kind of scary.

I quickly searched the web and found numerous references from 2006 about MacBooks having problems with the battery suddenly failing. The solution many of them mentioned was to reset the machine's System Management Controller.

I followed those instructions and sure enough, all was well. Drifter figured out that he actually had a battery and that he could indeed charge it. The only thing I could think of was that in the process of plugging in the FireWire connector in the MacBook that there was a small static discharge and it caused the problem. As of right now everything seems to be working smoothly. 

I do think I'm going to get an Airport Extreme though so that I can just hang the My Book off that - one less wire on Drifter.


Vito Traino said...

Wow. That is scary. I would be mortified if my Macbook just decided to die. I forsee about 10 seconds of pure panic before my troubleshooting mindset kicks in. I'm glad you got everything in working order! If it wasn't for your new WD I would have suggested a look at Time Capsule as opposed to an Airport Extreme. But maybe you should think of plugging the My Book into your AEBS....if you can handle the creepingly slow speeds, that is.

David Alison said...

Hey Vito - yeah, it was not fun. Turns out you cannot connect a My Book (or any other external hard drive) to the Airport Extreme and make it visible to Time Machine without using a hack. Bummer.

Not sure what I'm going to do at this point.

Tom said...

The "hack" really is only toggling Time Machine to show all drives instead of just what it thinks are supported. Basically it's just changing a config, similar to twittling a registry entry from 0 to 1. I've running 3 different Macs on network attached storage devices for time machine, and have done two restores off them without incident.

The terminal command to enable it is:
defaults write TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

Now, I haven't specifically tested this to an Airport Extreme, but really, all Time Capsule does different is include the drive internally. I have a feeling AE wasn't supported day 1 due to some bug in a possible rare situation that has likely been fixed for 10.5.2 and Time Capsule.

David Alison said...

@Tom: I used the setting to make the network drives visible and while Time Machine was able to see the drive attached to my Airport Extreme it was not able to successfully back it up. Not sure what the issue was there since the drive worked fine attached directly to the Mac.