Restore from backup – bringing a Mac back with Time Capsule

My brother called and told me my mom was in the hospital. At 80 her health has been declining pretty rapidly so I immediately booked a flight to California, planning to spend a week there to help my brother with both her and my father. Needless to say I had a lot on my mind as I rushed to the airport in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning last week.

Back at home my wife’s MacBook sat at her desk, left on overnight like she often did so that when she woke up in the morning a quick shake of the mouse would brighten the screen and allow her to check e-mail. From what I can tell in the hourly backup logs, at roughly the same time my aircraft lifted off the runway the 120GB hard disk in her MacBook crashed.

When I checked in with my wife that night to update her on my mom’s status, she told me that her MacBook was dead.

Me: “Dead?”

Allison: “It’s just got a gray screen. I’ve tried restarting it and that’s all that comes up.”

Of course, this has to happen when the only techie in the family leaves on a weeklong trip. Fortunately for us my wife’s MacBook is backed up regularly using Time Machine pointing at a Time Capsule. To make a really long story short, I tried to get our 14 year old daughter to install a replacement drive into the MacBook. The salesman at BestBuy sold her the wrong drive so after trying to jam a PATA drive into a SATA slot, she gave up until I returned home.

Bringing Back a Dead Mac

When I came home from California I promptly returned the incorrect drive and picked up a Western Digital 320GB black drive instead. Fast, high capacity, good reviews and I’ve had excellent luck with WD drives in the past. The installation was a snap as I’ve done this before.

I did encounter a problem when I first tried restoring my data though. Having purchased a number of different Macs over the last two years, I had quite a few OS X install disks laying around, including several for MacBooks since my wife and both daughters have them. Apparently I was using the wrong one because it would not allow me to do a restore from the Mac OS X Install Disc. Once I figured out the correct disk everything went much more smoothly. If you have multiple Macs you may want to label your disk sets to ensure they match up w/ the right Mac.

First I used Disk Utility to format the drive as a single large partition using Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Next, from the OS X Installer menu I ran the restore utility. By following the prompts I was able to select our Time Capsule and choose the correct bundle on it for my wife’s machine.

Though I normally access the network from her machine using WiFi, I took a standard ethernet cable and plugged it directly into the Time Capsule to help speed up the process. It ended up taking about 3 hours to restore her machine. Once restored a quick reboot returned her machine to its pre-hard-drive-crash state.

The Importance of Backups

Do yourself a favor right now: check the status of your backup and—if you’re the techie in the family—do that for all the computers in your home. Make sure it’s running properly and that you have a basic game plan for the day your primary (or secondary) hard drive fails. Your hard drive will eventually fail. It may not happen for ten years, several months or as you are reading this but it will eventually fail.

As more and more of our lives are captured digitally, backups are more important than ever. If all you do is set up Time Machine to point at a remote drive at least you have something to fall back on.

And for those that are interested, my mom is doing much better. My brother and I moved our parents into assisted living apartments. They have help with meals, medical care on site and lots of other folks to interact with. It’s the ultimate backup system for the elderly.

Do you have a backup technique you use that may help others? Please share it below!

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