Restoring macbook after drive failure

As I noted in my previous post, my macbook hard drive failed while I was flying from Oslo to Reykjavík on the way back to Boston.

I’d done a complete backup of the macbook before I left. Generally, there are just applications and log files on my macbook and imac: I try to keep data off of them. Work data is stored on network servers at work (in Boston), and home data is stored on my RAID NAS (in Vermont). My “documents” folder on my macbook is just an occasional copy of the master documents folder I keep on the NAS. When I have new documents, I’ll typically leave them on the desktop as a reminder to drop them on the NAS. I can access the NAS from outside, but it’s a bit slow.

So, the only files I lost when the drive was replaced were about 15gb of photos (the good ones had been uploaded to flickr, at least, so I could download those), and IM logs which were not so important. But the real question was whether the backup would work. My iMac is backed up nightly (mostly for the Aperture library, but not the image files themselves, which are referenced on the NAS), and macbook every week or two, but I’ve never had to restore from backup.

The apple store had installed OS X for me on the new drive (about 6gb, install took 10 minutes) from a firewire drive, and I’d installed a few apps so I could work (textmate, oxygen, adium). When I returned to Vermont, I restored the data with minimal effort: I installed Retrospect (the backup software which had come with the NAS) on the macbook, mounted the macbook_backup share from the NAS, ran Retrospect, and select full restore.

After I verified a few times that I really did want to do a full restore, Retrospect went to work to find the files which needed to be deleted, restored or left alone, and then did the restore. Macbook is connected to the NAS via gigabit ethernet (through a router); the full restore process took about 45 minutes.


I rebooted, and somewhat amazingly, the backup worked, and macbook was just as I’d left it a couple of weeks earlier, desktops, settings, apps, everything all in order. Quite nice.

One of my colleagues pointed out that I could have used my ipod for photo backup. Oops. But I anticipate getting a larger drive for macbook (160gb 7200rpm Seagate). The current 60gb drive I’ll put into a usb enclosure, and keep a bootable backup of OS X on it. Photos will be backed up to it, and in the unlikely event of another drive failure, I’ll be able to run the mac off the external drive. Not an ideal situation, but adequate for at least copying photos.

conclusion: backups are good 🙂

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2 Responses to Restoring macbook after drive failure

  1. andrew says:

    I really need a backup drive.
    it would have saved my butt a number of times…

  2. Joshua says:

    Hello! I was wondering if you would share the make and model of your NAS. I’m looking into getting one and it sounds like yours works great for you.

    I working between 2 Macs: a MacBook (web work) and a PM G5 (photo editing), and would like to get a NAS for shared storage. Right now I use a 500 GB FW HD between the two of them.


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