Another Drive Failure For My MacBook Pro

My MacBook Pro is more lemon than Apple as I woke up this morning to discover that it failed to back up overnight using SuperDuper. When I investigated, I found the same cryptic input/output error that I found a few weeks ago. I knew that wasn’t good and when I ran a SMART Test on it, I discovered that it had bad sectors again. After having Apple tell me not to go to an authorized dealer, I decided to try and make an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar. The wait time was six days which was down from nine the last time I tried. It was way too long for reasons I can explain in a bit. So I phoned Apple and explained that this was the third drive failure I’ve had since June of this year. His suggestion after failing to fit me into a Genius Bar anywhere in Ontario in anything under six days was to take it to an authorized dealer. When I pointed out what was told to me the last time I had my Mac repaired which was “they aren’t Apple”, his response was “we don’t like sending customers to dealers, but given that you have had multiple issues I don’t have a choice.”

Not let me stop there for a second and address this. First, Apple saying negative things about their dealers is really poor form on the part of Apple. If Apple truly hates dealers that they authorize to act on their behalf, then they should take my advice from the last time this happened to me:

if they have this much disdain towards resellers that they authorize, then eliminate them. The fact that they are so public about how they feel about their resellers reflects badly on Apple.

Second, if it’s truly this hard to get a Genius Bar appointment, they should also take this advice from the same post:

if they want people to come to their stores for repairs, open more stores, hire more staff and make it easy to either get an appointment within a day or so. Better yet,  have drop off repair service that allows you to drop off your Mac and it gets into a queue to get looked at.

In any case, when I pointed out that this is the third hard drive to fail, Apple’s response was to say that “if it happens a couple of more times, then they’ll consider replacing it.” I asked for a case number (Tip: Always ask for a case number when you deal with Apple or any other contact center), and ended the call. I was stunned at that response, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I hopped onto the Internet and did some research on what the most reliable drive is for portable computer users. I settled on the Western Digital Black drive. Based on my research, they have excellent reliability and great performance without hammering your battery life. That’s important as this drive is a 7200 RPM drive which are usually faster and more power hungry than the 5400 RPM drive that came with my MacBook Pro. Here’s a review from Storage Review on the Western Digital Black that helped me to decide to buy this drive. Another factor in my decision to purchase was the fact that this is a drive recommended by Other World Computing which only sells Mac related items. Thus I knew it would work in my MacBook Pro.

So a trip to Canada Computers and almost $70 later, I had the drive. The next step is to clone the data. To help me with that is this piece of kit from Thermaltake. It allows me to connect almost any type and physical size of hard drive via USB to any computer. I use it to help my customers move data from their failed computers or old computers to new ones. But I used it to mount the new Western Digital Black drive so that I could format it and use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the contents of the old drive to the new one. Now seeing as the old drive was failing, there was some risk in that. But I did have a good backup from two nights ago as a fall back. Plus Carbon Copy Cloner would list the files it had issues copying for me to look at later. It took two hours but the clone finished and I got a list of 11 files that Carbon Copy Cloner had problems copying. I made a note of those files and shut down the MacBook Pro so that I could physically swap out the drive. Now assuming that you have the proper tools, which are a #0x25 Phillips screwdriver and a T8 Torx screwdriver, swapping out the drive is very easy. Here’s a video from Other World Computing that shows how to do it. It took 15 minutes for me to swap the drive out and I took the opportunity to use some compressed air to clean out the inside of my MacBook Pro. Clearly nobody who’s been inside my computer cared enough to do that. But I digress. After swapping the drive out, I powered on the MacBook Pro and after a 1 minute delay caused by the fact that it had to account for new hard drive being installed, it fired right up. I rebooted it cold a number of times after that to confirm that it was fine.

After that, I did some tests on the files that Carbon Copy Cloner found as being problematic. Some of them were e-mails that I got from backups. Some others were cache files used by the operating system that could simply be deleted using CCleaner which is a utility that I use to delete old cache files on Macs and PCs to reclaim space and improve performance. From there, I tested all my applications. I had to reactivate Microsoft Office. I also had to recreate the backup scripts used by SuperDuper as I remembered from this experience that you had to do that if you reformatted or replaced your drive. But other than that it was all fine. The next thing to do was to back up the data to new disk image using SuperDuper to make sure that it would work overnight. it took five hours, but it ran without issues. My early “seat of the pants” testing shows a noticeable speed boost. As for battery life, I can’t speak to that yet. I will have to find out during my trip to the UK on business in two weeks time. That’s the main reason why I went the route of buying my own drive and doing the work myself. I can’t afford to be without this computer right now.

The last thing that I did was reinstall and test the Recovery Partition. This is a hidden area that’s on every recent Mac’s hard drive that allows you to run Disk Utility, make a Time Machine Backup, or even install OS X fresh. You want to have this on here as it makes life so much easier for you. Not having it means that you have to rely on Apple’s Internet Recovery which works fine, as long as you are on the Internet. If you’re not, you have a problem. Recreating the Recovery Partition was on my list of things to do as It wasn’t done by Carbon Computing a few weeks ago when they replaced my hard drive for the second time. That’s done little to give me the warm fuzzies about them. But I digress. I wanted it back because I always plan for the worst case scenario, which is in this case not having Internet access and needing to fix something that required the use of the Recovery Partition. Now if you haven’t had to replace your hard drive, you don’t have to worry about it. If you have replaced your hard drive, the OS X installer SHOULD create this partition for you. Sometimes it doesn’t, so you have to boot your Mac using the Command and “R” keys to check. If you see the words “Internet Recovery”, it isn’t there. You can try reinstalling it via the OS X installers or using this AppleScript utility, at your own risk of course. I did the latter as I had a fresh backup or two. Even though it says it doesn’t work on Yosemite, it worked just fine.

While it was backing up, I decided to investigate this drive that Apple put into my MacBook Pro the last two times I had it fixed. It was a Hitachi Travelstar Z5K500 that appears to be custom tweaked for Apple. I looked at Storage Review and they were not impressed with the drive. I couldn’t find any reliability data on this specific drive, so in the absence of objective evidence, I have to assume that one of the following is going on:

  • Apple has a systemic problem with the hard drives they use.
  • I am either abusing the drive by running my MacBook Pro 24/7 or by moving it about while it is on, or in some other fashion that I can’t imagine.
  • I have an undiagnosed issue that is causing the drives to fail. This is somewhat unlikely as these are media failures. But it’s on the list because it’s possible no matter how unlikely it might be.
  • I am extremely unlucky.

By using a different brand of hard drive, It should shed light on this. I’ll monitor the situation for 90 days and report back. If everything is fine, that would imply the first or fourth item on that list. If it’s the first one, Apple would be well advised to take a serious look at their product quality as it clearly has taken a dip. They might want to fix that, along with the fact that I had to go out and buy a hard drive to fix an issue with a computer that is under warranty because Apple is unable to not only fix it once and for all, but fix it in a timely manner. Both of those things don’t make Apple look good at all. At least not in my eyes.

File this one under “to be continued.”

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