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Archive for November, 2017

by Tom Nelson

Installing a new version of the macOS can cause a bit of trepidation. Will all my older apps work? Are there any serious bugs in the new OS? Will my peripherals continue to work, including that wide-format LaserJet from the 90s that hasn’t had any driver updates since the millennium, but continues to be my go-to workhorse for tabloid printing?

You get the idea; upgrading to a new OS can have unexpected consequences that may end up with you wishing you never updated to begin with. And when those consequences are severe enough, you may decide to try to downgrade to one of the earlier versions of the Mac OS.

With the right preliminary preparations in place before you perform an upgrade, downgrading can be fairly easy, though a bit time consuming. Without the proper preparations, downgrading can be difficult, to say the least.

Before you attempt any downgrade, you should ensure you have a backup of your Mac as it currently exists, so you can return to the current state should anything cause the downgrade to fail, or needed files not to work with the older version of the OS.

Downgrade to a Previous Version of macOS When You Prepared Properly
Preparing properly is a two-step process. In general, you need to have a backup of your Mac as it existed before you started the upgrade process; you may also need to have a bootable copy of the version of the macOS installer you wish to downgrade to.

You’ll need the bootable OS installer if you’re downgrading from a macOS version that has an incompatible file system installed. An example would be downgrading from macOS High Sierrathat was installed on an APFS formatted drive to a version of the OS that doesn’t support APFS.

If you’re downgrading and both the currently installed OS and the one you’re moving back to both use the same file system, then you may only need to make use of your backup files.

Downgrade Using Just Time Machine
In this example, you’re going to make use of your Time Machine backup to downgrade from macOS High Sierra to macOS Sierra. In this example, macOS High Sierra was installed on a hard drive that was not converted to APFS, allowing you to use this simple method to downgrade.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To use this method, you’ll need to restart your Mac from the Recovery HD and restore your Mac from a selected Time Machine backup. What you should end up with is a Mac that’s in the exact state it was in before the upgrade.

Warning: Files you created after the upgrade point will not be restored. You may want to make copies of any important files you may need on an external device, such as a flash drive or an external drive.

From the Apple menu, select Restart.

After your Mac’s display goes blank, hold down the command + R keys. Continue to hold the two keys down until you see the Apple logo appear.

The macOS Utilities window will open. Select Restore From Time Machine Backup, and then click the Continue button.

The Restore From Time Machine window will display a few tidbits about what is about to occur. Click the Continue button.

A list of drives containing Time Machine backups will be displayed. Select your Time Machine backup drive from the list, and then click Continue.

A list of backups will be displayed, organized by date and the version of the Mac OS contained within the backup. Select the last backup for the version of the macOS you wish to downgrade to, and then click Continue.

The Restore From Time Machine Backup will begin. This process can take some time; once it’s completed, your Mac will restart.

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by Tom Nelson

“I’m not dead yet” may be the refrain you hear from spinning hard drives when you’re browsing online stores for your storage needs. While that flashy SSD (solid state drive) may be faster, the mature technology used in the production of spinning platter drives helps hard disks maintain a cost advantage, as well as a storage size advantage, over most other contenders.

HDDs have a low cost per TB that makes them ideal candidates for many of the basic storage needs an average user will encounter. And with a bit of planning, hard drives can compete even where performance is a critical criterion.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five places where hard drives shine.

The OWC Drive Dock allows you to quickly swap drives for archival storage or backup use.

Backups and Archives
The low cost and generally high reliability of hard drives makes them very good candidates for use as backup destinations, as well as for archiving information for long-term storage.

Hard drives took over these roles from older forms of long-term storage, such as tape, once drive costs plummeted years ago. With 1 TB hard drives routinely available for around $50.00, they can be very cost effective for building a basic backup system. At these prices, a multi-drive backup and archival system is within reach of just about any computer user who is concerned about the thousands of photos, reels of video, or tons of music they have stored on their computer. And that’s not even mentioning personal data, such as homework, reports, plans, or that novel you’ve been working on.

No matter how you slice it, hard drives are at the top of the list for use in backup and archival storage systems.

Media Libraries
Many people have large media libraries they use to store music, videos, and images on their computers. For many of us, the use for these libraries is a bit on the basic side; we view images, perform basic editing, share them with friends and family, perhaps even print a photo book or two. Likewise, we mostly use our music libraries for listening to our favorite artists, and our video library for watching movies and videos.

What we’re not doing, at least not that often, is performing complex editing that demands high performance storage systems. If that sounds like your primary use for your media libraries, then spinning hard drives may be an ideal storage system.

Media libraries can become quite large; in many cases, they take up the majority of space on our storage system and can quickly become the most likely culprit for using up precious drive space.

Screen shot and photos © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Moving your media files to a separate hard drive has many advantages, not the least of which is the very large storage capacity available from hard disks. It’s pretty easy to find 12 TB drives, and the more common and less expensive 6 TB and 4 TB drives are ideal sizes for most media files.

If you have a need for professional editing, moving your media libraries to a large capacity storage system can free up your high performance, solid-state storage for your current editing projects.

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by Tom Nelson

macOS High Sierra brings with it a new filing system known as APFS (Apple File System). APFS replaces HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus), and offers a new, modern file system that is optimized for use with SSDs (Solid State Drives), while still being usable on hard drives and, in the near future, even on tiered storage systems such as Apple’s Fusion drive.

Image courtesy of Apple

As part of the upgrade process, the macOS High Sierra installer will automatically convert an SSD to the new APFS. The conversion process leaves the drive’s data intact, or at least it’s supposed to; be sure you have a recent backup before upgrading, just in case. At the time of this writing, the automatic conversion process is limited to internal SSDs. External SSDs being used as startup drives seem to be left with their original file system, with no conversion to APFS occurring. However, this could change with the next update to macOS High Sierra, as it seems Apple is committed to growing APFS usage across all Apple devices.

Although the conversion to APFS will happen automatically if your Mac startup drive meets the criteria, specifically, an SSD occupying a connection internally to your Mac, you can choose not to use APFS and force the installation to bypass the conversion process, leaving your startup drive in the older HFS+ format.

How to Prevent Automatic Conversion to APFS
There are a couple of strategies you can use to prevent the upgrade to APFS and retain the older HFS+ formatting:

Use an external drive: You can choose an external drive as the target for the macOS High Sierra upgrade. This will allow you to retain the current formatting on the external. Once the upgrade is complete, you can clone the external drive back to your normal internal startup drive. Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper are two popular apps for creating clones. You could use Disk Utility’s Restore feature to create your clone as well.

Use startosinstall: macOS High Sierra includes a command line tool hidden away within the installer that can be used to control the conversion to APFS. By using this tool, you can tell the installer not to convert to APFS during the installation process.

While either method will work, using the startosinstall utility is the easiest and quickest process. It allows you to perform the macOS High Sierra upgrade without any conversion to APFS. It also allows you to skip the additional step and save the additional time needed to make a clone, as required in the external drive method.

Using Startosinstall to Prevent Conversion to APFS
Startosinstall is included as part of the macOS High Sierra installer. If you downloaded the installer from the Mac App Store, you’re all set. If you happen to have the installer open, waiting for you to start the macOS High Sierra install process, simply quit the installer (Command + Q). You need to invoke the installer from the Terminal command line for the option to not install APFS to be available.

Before you begin, make sure you have a recent backup of all the data on your current startup drive and the target drive for the installation (if they’re different). Better to be safe than sorry.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Startosinstall has a number of options for automating the installation process. This includes the APFS option, which can be used to prevent the conversion to APFS, or for that matter, to force the conversion, making it a bit easier to upgrade an external SSD to macOS High Sierra should you decide you want to use APFS.

When you’re ready, launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.

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by Tom Nelson

macOS High Sierra contains many new features and capabilities, but APFS (Apple File System) is certainly one of the biggest changes. Changing the primary file system used by the Mac, or for that matter, any computer system is a big deal. Apple has only changed the default Mac file system twice in its 33-year history.

Macintosh File System (MFS) was the original file system introduced along with the Macintosh in January 1984. It was designed to meet the demanding needs of a 400 MB floppy disk. The Hierarchical File System (HFS) followed in September 1985, and the last file system upgrade was Hierarchical File System Plus (HFS+), which was released with Mac OS 8.1 in January 1998.

APFS and Time Machine, Boot Camp, and File Vault
While there have been some minor upgrades to HFS+ over the years, the Mac’s file system has stayed pretty much the same since 1998. That makes the new APFS file system a big deal. And like any big deal, there’s a lot to understand about how APFS will work with existing Mac apps and services, including Time Machine, Boot Camp, and File Vault.

We’re going to primarily look at these three Apple-provided apps and services, but third-party apps may also be affected by the change to APFS. It’s a good idea to check any file system utility you may be using for APFS compatibility.

Time Machine
In its current incarnation, the Time Machine app is mostly compatible with APFS; that is, you can back up an APFS formatted drive using Time Machine, as well as restore files from a Time Machine backup to an APFS formatted drive. However, there are some very important caveats that Time Machine users should be aware of.

Time Machine drives must be formatted in HFS+. Time Machine uses the magic of hard links, a feature that HFS+ file systems have to catalog and keep track of which files in a backup make up the current version of an app, document, or directory. Hard links are just one of three types of file linking that HFS+ supports, the others being symbolic links and aliases.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

APFS, on the other hand, does not support hard links. When you convert an HFS+ formatted volume to APFS, any hard links found during the conversion process are automatically changed to symbolic links, thus breaking your Time Machine backup into a collection of almost useless files. Luckily, installing macOS High Sierra won’t automatically convert Time Machine drives to APFS, but it’s possible to change the drive’s format to APFS from within Disk Utility or via the Terminal app. Resist the temptation to go all APFS; Time Machine will not cooperate with you.

If you do accidentally convert a Time Machine drive to APFS, the Time Machine app will no longer recognize the drive as a backup drive. If you select the old Time Machine drive within the Time Machine app as a backup destination, you’ll be confronted with an option to erase all of the content on the selected drive and reformat it as HFS+. (Actually, Time Machine will just warn you that it must first erase the destination drive, but the reason is because the drive has an incompatible format.)

Until Apple releases a new version of Time Machine that makes use of the APFS feature set, such as snapshots to replace file linking, your Time Machine backup must remain formatted as HFS+.

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