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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Snow Leopard: Not So Smooth Upgrade

I arrived home from my business trip last Friday evening to find my longly awaited OS X upgrade to 10.6 (Snow Leopard) waiting at my front door in a box. Having just completed a successful hard drive upgrade last weekend (link here), I was ready to take on a new challenge.

In addition to the new challenge, I had done some previou reading on Snow Leopard upgrades. Pretty much everyone I read had a great experience with their upgrade process and in most cases noticed some significant improvements. In my case, I was hoping for the same and really waiting the outcome of that 1GB of RAM in my 4GB Mac Mini that was not being recognized by the system. I figured this would really be an easy, no issues upgrade for me.

My Mac Mini said not so quick...

I popped in the new Snow Leopard Installation DVD into my DVD-ROM player and I was ready to get started. I started to proceed with the installation and then when I went to choose the disk where I was to install Mac OS X, apparently there was a problem accentuated by the big yellow triangle with an exclamation point in it.

Cannot install Mac OS X Snow Leopard to a hard drive with an Apple Partition scheme rather than a GUID partition scheme

And it was not just a little problem, I couldn't move forward. Basically, I received the message that my newly upgraded hard drive, the Macintosh 320GB HD can't be used because it doesn't use the GUID Partition Table scheme. I had no idea what it really meant, but the message made it sound like it was easy. You know, just use the disk utility to change the partition the disk, choose the Partition tab, select the Volume Scheme and then click options. Piece of cake, right?

No way. If you run into a partition issue, namely that you have the wrong partition scheme, the solution is simply. Start over. After an amount of research, I figured that I had to reformat my 320GB disk to get it over to the GUID Partition Table scheme from the Apple Partition Table scheme. There is no other way around it.

No way to change the partition volume scheme from the Apple Partition Scheme to the GUID Partition Scheme in the Disk Utility unfortunately you need to repartition the entire drive and format

However, it's not that big of a deal really -- it only ended up costing me three hours of time waiting. Why? Because, the easiest way you can do it is to make a fresh backup via Time Machine. I hooked up my old 80GB drive via USB, and started backing up the entire system (~60GB) via Time Machine so it could be freshly restored using the built-in Migration Assistant in OS X -- Snow Leopard. And some good news is that you will end up with a very clean hard drive.

After the backup completed, I rebooted and used the Disk Utility from the Snow Leopard OS X DVD and then I was ready to install Snow Leopard. The rest of the installation went smoothly, with OS X 10.6 being ready in about 30 minutes after I had to setup some basic things about the machine since I was not upgrading including a new user.

Then the scary part came. Would I be able to restore all of the system's data using Migration Assistant from the Time Machine backup I had taken previously? I went to the Migration Assistant to find out.

Migration Assistant for OS X Snow Leopard 10.6 to restore time machine backup to new installation on hard drive

In just a couple of minutes, after walking through the wizard...Migration Assistant found my full Time Machine backup and started to restoring. The process would take a little more than an hour to find out.

Once the process finished, I rebooted -- call it a habit from Windows Vista -- and hoped for the best. When the system loaded, Snow Leopard was in it's full glory -- and all of my files and settings restored. What a great experience, aside from the self-inflicted pain I caused myself from the upgrade a week earlier. Which, while the upgrade ended up spanning 6 hours instead of 1 hour -- it was good it happened. Luckily my drive size was still small enough for an easy backup to the external 80GB drive I have. A few month later, who knows what I would have done.

And initial impressions with Snow Leopard are positive. A few of the disk and system intensive programs like iPhoto seem to be performing better. All-in-all, a pretty good upgrade from an experience and a value add perspective.

On an ending note -- with the Mac Mini, Snow Leopard still does not enable the recognition of 4GB of RAM for those of us that have completed that upgrade. The problem as it ends up is with the limitations of the Intel chipset for this version of the Mac Mini. Regardless of firmware, software, or OS upgrades -- the system is only able to address 3GB of RAM, so there will always be approximately 1GB of RAM not being used. But, at least you can get some minor graphics benefits (about 15%) from the dual-channel, matched 2GB memory chips.