Adventures in Mac Data Recovery

June 15, 2018 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment

A few days ago, I attempted to update my wife’s aging iMac (2009 era) to High Sierra.  I ended up at a screen telling me something about a disk error.  After that, it seemed to be in a boot cycle, where it simply returned to a similar screen with a slightly different message.

I found some CLI commands to make my own USB installer.  Ultimately, when I booted from it, I ended up with a message saying it could not install.  Thinking that perhaps the hard drive was going, I think I attached an external drive and tried to install to it, ending with the same failure.  At some point throughout this process I made the colossal mistake of formatting the internal hard drive.  We can get back to that later.

I knew I needed to get my wife a new machine, as this one is quite old and the next release of Mac OS X won’t support this hardware.  Fortunately, Best Buy had a sale on the higher end iMac with the smaller screen, which is just what I thought she needed.

Got it home, booted it up and connected to my NAS to restore her TimeMachine backup.

Uh oh.  It saw her backup there, but it said something about No Volumes.  I tried booting from the same USB stick to reinstall her new iMac, and ended up with the same sort of generic failure reasons I had been getting since after the original disk error on the first iMac.

Apparently, my installer was bad.

I moved her old iMac to my desk and was running a variety of tools to scan the hard drive, trying to recover whatever data I could.  The one that seemed to get the best results was Disk Drill, which seemed to have been able to recover the HFS directory structure and everything.  About $80 later, I could try restoring it.  Unfortunately, it was unclear if it was possible to simply have it restore the files to their original locations, so I tried having it restore to an external drive.  About 30 GB into the copy, it seemed to hang.  The iMac was still working, but no more data seemed to get moved.  I thought that perhaps I should try another method.

While researching my problem, I had previously found a link that talked about fixing Time Machine backups.  This involved running some CLI commands that seemed likely to potentially break things, so I took a few minutes to figure out how to backup my Time Machine sparsedisk bundle.  After looking around a bit, I found a page recommending SuperDuper for the task.  Using SuperDuper, I created a new sparsedisk bundle as the destination, and let it copy.  I think somewhere north of 19 hours later, it was done.

I followed the steps found on this blog entry on my copy of the data, leaving the original unaltered.

Everything went well for the repair portion, but the final steps involved editing a .plist file that should have been sitting in the root of the sparsedisk, but it was missing for some reason.

So, I tried running the repair steps on the original TimeMachine backup.  It failed.

In a last ditch effort to get TimeMachine working, I copied the com.* files from the original TM backup over to my SuperDuper copy.  I figured since the repair worked on it, perhaps I can just take the files that didn’t seem to get copied, and move them over as well, and finish the process.

I built a new Mac OS X installer (using this great little tool that I sorta wish I had found originally), reinstalled OS X on the new iMac, then tried the TM restore.  I pointed to the new TM backup I had made, and was happy to see that it saw it, and that it saw backup data there.  I started the restore process, which, probably around 3 hours later, completed successfully.

I rebooted, and it came up and worked.  I was able to login to my wife’s account and her data seemed to be in-tact.

I have since set up SuperDuper to clone her drive on a schedule to an external drive.  I’ll probably start the Time Machine backup process as well in a few days or so, once we feel secure that her files are fine, so she’ll have a few backups just in case.

Entry filed under: Mac, Storage.

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