Monday, June 28, 2021

Computer upgrades

A few years ago now I upgraded from my Macbook Pro 2011 to a refurbished Macbook Pro mid-2015. The stuff I was doing was overtaxing the 2011 machine, but I still wanted to stay with a Macbook with a magsafe connector. The last one to have it was 2015. It wasn't ideal in that it only had a 256 GB harddrive, so I knew I would be upgrading it at some point.

Well, that point was about 2 weeks ago. I needed to install Adobe's stuff for the work I'm doing for Lockwood Press. Needless to say, I was already bursting the limits of the harddrive before; Adobe's Suite isn't exactly small! And, at about the same time, my battery started doing the dreaded swelling thing. So, I bit the bullet and ordered a new SSD harddrive and battery.

The web site warned that replacing the battery wasn't going to be child's play; they recommended a professional do it. Well, I've been building computers since 1983, and I've had my Macbook 2011 apart more than once, replacing its battery, upgrading the RAM, and putting in an SSD to replace the 5400 RPM drive, so I figured I could handle it. Replacing the harddrive would be a cake walk, I figured.

Of course, because I needed to upgrade to Mac OS 10.14 to make the new harddrive work (that's the way they designed the Macbook 2015—bad design), I also had to upgrade some other software, such as MS Office 2011 for Mac, since they were 32-bit software and 10.14 didn't reliably run 32-bit software—believe me, I tried it! Word would crash all the time at the most inopportune times. You couldn't minimize a window or change screens without a crash! I decided to wait to upgrade the software until I had the new harddrive in to avoid having to authenticate it twice (a real pain! I've done it before).

Once the hardware arrived, the next evening I proceeded to replace the battery. Because the battery in the newer Macbooks is glued in (actually extremely strong double-stick tape), you theoretically need to use acetone to soften the glue. Not something to tackle in the house—Debbie and I both get headaches from the smell of it, even in small amounts. So, I decided I would disassemble the Macbook in my study to the point where you needed to use the acetone and then move to the garage, open the doors and do it on a table out there.

The disassembly video was extremely good, giving each step in detail. Because I had been inside many laptops over the years, it went relatively well. My eyes aren't as sharp as they used to be, so I had to go slower to make sure I didn't break any of the tiny connectors, but it came apart fine. Because the battery had swollen, I was able to get the double-stick tape off without using the acetone, so that was a huge plus.

Now to reassemble it. I didn't replace the harddrive at this point because you need a functional computer to condition the battery. Reassembly was much slower. If you ever do it, be very careful to keep all the ribbon cables out from underneath the logic board. I missed two of them and had to partially disassemble it again to access them. But, finally, after about two hours total, I got it together and plugged it in. It needed to charge fully before turning it on, so I let it charge overnight. The next day, I turned it on and it fired right up! You need to let it discharge completely and then recharge to condition it, but you can work on it while it discharges, in fact they recommend that.

Next up was the new harddrive. Replacing it physcially is a snap, no more than 10 minutes. The next step was a bit more complicated. Because the SSD in the Macbook was a proprietary style, you can't use a standard drive enclosure to just clone the drive—unless you buy a custom enclosure for $99.00. The upgrade was already running me almost $500 for everything, so I didn't want to drop another $100.00, so I figured I would use my Time Machine backup instead.

So, I booted into Internet Recover mode. It found the correct wireless network, so I figured everything was cool and clicked on it. The spinning disk went nuts for 10 minutes before deciding it wasn't working. Great. Try again. Same thing. Frantic Google search. No joy. Try again, this time, instead of just clicking on it, I hit return. It brought up the password box. Why didn't they mention that??!!

It did its thing for a while, then rebooted into recovery mode again. It wanted to download and install Big Sur (MacOS 11.4), which is what the instructions recommend so you have a recovery partition. But, it said it would take 5 hours! Yikes and then I would still need to take the 3 hours or so to restore from Time Machine. Sorry. Not going to happen! I restored from Time Machine.

Everything worked fine. Except I lost the ability to rotate my monitors 90 degrees. Seems DisplayLink doesn't have the ability to do that above 10.12. Bummer. Meanwhile, I needed to upgrade my Time Machine backup. It was a 500 GB drive and now I have a 1 TB drive in the Macbook. Not using it all, but it seems stupid to have a backup that is smaller than the drive its backing up. So, on our monthly trip to the local big box store, I picked up a 2 TB USB 3.0 5400 RPM Seagate drive. Its working fine; I plugged it into my GUD 300 hub.

Summary: I should have dropped the extra $100 for the custom case, because now I have a 256 GB SSD that I can't use anywhere, even as a portable. And, if you aren't really comfortable inside a computer, get someone else to replace the battery. Given how my eyes are now, next time I don't think I'll do it; I'll hire somebody with younger eyes than I have to do it. I really don't like the fact that Apple has done their best to make the machines nonupgradeable. By the way, because I replaced the harddrive, no Apple store will even look at my machine anymore if I wanted them to replace the battery. That's just stupid.

One final word: I found out last Thursday that DisplayLink now supports rotating displays under Big Sur, so over the weekend I made the move, but that's for another post because it wasn't obvious and Google wasn't terribly helpful. Stay tuned! And hopefully this post will help someone somewhere when they get the dreaded Internet Recovery errors.

No comments: