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#729: TopTen.plist, Hybrid Hard Drive: A Few Weeks In, Meet Ditto, How to Clone a Hard Drive


Happy Tuesday,

Demolition is complete in our new Manchester, NH store, and construction is underway. We’ve been planning for many months now, and it’s very exciting to see this kind of progress.

Katie, Will, and Michelle are living in New Hampshire full time, and the hiring engine is still at full steam. If you live in the area and are an Apple person, by all means check out our job listings and consider applying for one of the positions still open. We are still looking for experienced technicians to staff the tech room in Manchester.

This issue of Tech Tails is focused on the new hybrid hard drives that are still seeing high demand and how to transfer your data from the old drive to the new. It’s a very useful skill that should be in your mental toolkit, so I hope you find the information this week helpful.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  TopTen.plist: Our Weekly Top Ten Favorite Things  

Last Thursday we launched a new feature called TopTen.plist on our blog, Barkings.

TopTen.plist is a weekly list of the top ten items related to our favorite subjects. Our favorite subjects, of course, are basically Macs, software titles for Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, apps, music, dogs, hot dogs, food, gadgets, food, the environment, food, Apple history and culture and food.

Some people say that top ten lists are just a way to grab traffic online. While we can’t deny that the thought never crossed our minds, our lists are truly intended to be a fun way to assemble and rank a bunch of related items. By posting them weekly, we’ll get to explore different topics (though it really will generally stay Mac-related, and we’ll mostly keep it useful for you).

We very much want your feedback for ideas for future lists. And when the lists are posted, feel free to comment on the lists with your own ideas, feedback and suggested rankings.

The weekly TopTen.plist will be posted on Barkings every Thursday afternoon. Again, let us know if you have ideas for future lists!

  Hybrid Hard Drive: A Few Weeks In  

I wrote about hybrid articles in two Tech Tails issues, and installed one in my MacBook Pro late last month. Installation is a cinch in any unibody MacBook or MacBook Pro, and is completely doable for anyone. Of course, you should ensure that you’re properly grounded and ESD compliant, and we won’t be held responsible if anything goes wrong!

After installing it, I used Disk Utility to clone my conventional drive to the hybrid drive. That process is detailed below in a separate article, and left me with an exact copy of my old hard drive. It took about an hour. After the clone was finished, I anxiously powered up the computer with the knowledge that any performance gain would probably take a while to materialize.

I was right that it’d take a while to see performance benefits of the new drive. If you recently bought a new Mac or performed an Erase and Install on your hard drive, you might have noticed that the first launches of any application will be substantially slower than subsequent launches. Mac OS X and your hard drive work together to make frequently executed actions faster, but they need time to learn just how they can do that.

The difference between the hybrid hard drives and all others is the size of the solid state cache the drive carries on board. 32 megabytes is traditional for most conventional drives, but the hybrid drive has 4 gigabytes, so the benefits are multiplied. It does take a little time.

Off the bat, I realized the new drive ran a bit warmer than the old drive. This didn’t concern me too much, knowing what I do from Google’s massive and influential study of the causes of hard drive failure. In fact, I wrote about it in 2007. This was, and remains, a small annoyance.

It took about a week for me to really notice speed gains. I didn’t do any statistically relevant testing before and after the swap, but I do know that programs launch faster than they used to, boot time is greatly reduced, and copying folders full of small files is faster. If only this drive could make my DSL faster! Not even more money can do that right now.

This drive is not faster than a traditional hard drive in copying large files. I keep a library of very large disk images on my computer and copy them to and from all the time. That’s not surprising, especially since these images are often eight to twenty gigabytes—far larger than the four gigabyte cache employed by the drive.

Battery life has not changed on my MacBook Pro.

This drive is an incredible value, and I recommend it heartily to everyone. It’s not going to be like putting your system folder in a RAM disk under OS 9 in terms of dramatic increases in battery life and overall system speed, but it’s an almost universally accessible upgrade that makes everyday tasks snappier. I can’t wait for solid state drives to come down in price so more of us can enjoy their myriad advantages. Just as a 500GB laptop drive cost $300 a few years ago, the days of $2 per gigabyte solid state storage are numbered.

  Don't Fear Terminal; Meet Ditto  

It’s very common for technicians to run into hard drives or files that are on the brink of failure or that contain corrupted files which can hang up traditional backup and transfer methods. Disk Utility can be used to create an image of a folder or drive, but tends to throw an input/output error at the slightest hesitation, like those caused by failing drives or corrupted files.

SuperDuper is much better at making disk images from failing drives or corrupted source material; while not the best tool for the job, it does seem to be the most versatile. I urge you to buy your own copy and support the developer of this fantastic tool:

Ditto is a command-line tool that will copy, block by block, the information from one directory (the source) to another (the destination). It’s very simple and does not care about hesitation from mechanical or logical failures. This said, it will not extract data from a hard drive that’s too far gone. I like to use Ditto in verbose mode, just so I can see that it’s working and how far along it is.

Many people avoid Terminal for fear of typing all those long commands and file paths. Not an unjustified fear, but you can simply drag the source and destination right into the terminal window, and the paths will be automatically entered for you. Here’s how to use Ditto my favorite way.

Assuming you have a Terminal window open, simply type the following (but leave off the brackets):

ditto -v [source] [destination]

If you’re copying a folder on your Desktop to your Documents folder, it’d look like this:

ditto -v /Users/matt/Desktop/stuff/ Users/matt/Documents

The guide to using Ditto, and every other command-line application, can be found by typing man x in terminal, where ‘x’ is the name of the application. So, for Ditto’s user guide, simply type man ditto and then press return.

  How to Clone a Hard Drive  

I wrote about hybrid hard drives in the last article of this Tech Tails issue, and one critical step in any hard drive upgrade or replacement is to clone your data from the old drive to the new drive. There are several ways to accomplish this, but in my book the easiest way is to use Disk Utility while booted from the install disk that came with your Mac. This is the approach I’ll focus on. You will need an external hard drive enclosure like this model from EzQuest.

Once you’ve installed your new hard drive (there are excellent instructions at iFixIt, Apple’s support site and, depending on the model, in your owner’s manual), you’ll want to move your data to the new drive to hit the ground running.

With the new drive installed and your computer reassembled, power it on. A folder labeled with a question mark will flash repeatedly, but a few moments after you insert the Install Disc 1 into your disc drive, the flashing folder will go away. At this point, you’ll be at the gray screen with Apple logo and “spinning gear.” Because your optical (CD/DVD) drive is much slower than your hard drive, the boot process will be considerably slower than normal.

Take this longer-than-normal startup to install your old hard drive into the enclosure, and connect it to your computer.

You’ll be asked to select a language. That done, you’ll arrive at the main installation screen, the top of which will have a Utilities menu; select Disk Utility from there. You’ll see your old hard drive at left once Disk Utility opens up with an orange icon. Notice that this entry will have the device on top, and the logical volume indented beneath. Another entry, with the familiar silver icon representing a hard drive will appear in the same list; the hybrid hard drive entry will most likely read 500.11 GB ST95005620AS Media, as it does on my laptop.

Click on this hybrid hard drive entry, then click on the Erase tab on the right. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) as the format (that’s the default), give it a name (Macintosh HD is traditional), then click Erase. Answer affirmatively to the next prompts.

Your new hard drive is now ready to accept data. You’ll notice that its entry at left now has a logical volume listed beneath it, indented like the orange icon of the external drive.

Now, ensuring that you’ve selected your new hard drive on the left, click on the Restore tab at right. Drag the logical volume representing your external (old) hard drive to the source field. Then drag the logical volume representing your internal hard drive to the Destination field. Click Restore. Wait. It could be a few hours. If it takes more than a few hours, you might be looking at hard drive or related failure.

Once the process is done, you can quit out of Disk Utility, then quit out of Installer, and restart your Mac from your new hard drive!

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