Tuesday, 26 April 2016

That Moment When...You Think Your SSD is Dead

I use Power Manager to automatically start (and power down) my new MacBook Air at various times on weekdays and with a different schedule at the weekend. Recently, however, the system has got stuck during the boot process and the first thing I see on the screen is the Apple logo with the half completed status bar underneath. I expect to see a fully operational Mac. Usually, it's enough to restart the machine, but today was different.

Today nothing happened on the restart. Nothing, nada, nil, The speakers attached to the device lit up briefly and then the laptop powered right back down again. And again.

I tried various power up options, safe boot - nothing, clear PRAM - nothing, Diagnostics - nothing. Eventually I tried the Recovery mode and that worked, so my first port of call was Disk Utility. Running First Aid on the flash drive indicated that it was OK, but subsequently running the tool on the start-up partition repeatedly failed. I was starting to get a bit nervous, especially given this was a four month old MBA.

Since I run a reasonably effective back-up routine, with a weekly clone in addition to a default Time Machine backup I decided that I could afford to be a bit aggressive in trying to resolve the problem so I opted to reformat the flash drive partition. This also repeatedly failed. I was beginning to think that a visit to the repair shop was on the cards, especially as I was running out of time before having to leave for work.

I closed down the MBA and shoved it in my bag and headed off to the office for the day. There isn't an Apple Store in Prague yet, and although there are Apple certified resellers and repair outfits, my MBA is my most valuable possession here, and I really did not like the idea of parting with it for even a couple of days. So I was determined to fix the problem myself.

During my breaks in the office I tried a few more tricks, and eventually I managed to format the flash drive completely, not just the start-up partition. Of course, this wiped the disk completely so the next time the machine restarted I was presented with an icon of a question mark in a folder. Unfortunately I couldn't get access to the guest WiFi in the office as it needs a browser to log in which meant an internet recovery was not going to happen. So, for the rest of the working day, I was stuck. I got copies of my invoices, proof of purchase and Apple Care documents printed out, just in case, and eventually headed off home. It was Friday, and I had visions of a long night ahead.

Once back at the Pent-Palace (my nickname for Apple Harvest HQ for this trip) I switched on the laptop and launched it into Recovery mode once more. To my relief it worked without any problems. I checked the flash drive again and no errors were reported. An empty partition was already set up and I chose to restore the most recent backup. Everything went according to plan (prayer?) and about three hours later the contents were restored. I rebooted and things started looking good.

But there's always a catch. Once I hooked up the OWA Thunderbolt 2 dock, which included access to a 4 Tb external drive, Ethernet network and second monitor and rebooted both screens were blank. I tried again with the same outcome. Booting into the laptop without connecting the dock was fine, and then reconnecting the dock was fine. So, theoretically, all the hardware was working, all the cables were fine, and all the software was fine.

In the end, I decided to let it be and left things to settle down overnight. First thing in the morning, I rebooted with everything connected and lo and behold - it all worked perfectly.

The bad news is that I have no idea what caused the problem in the first place. Any console logs are long since destroyed. The only clue was in disk utility which seemed to hint that there was a corrupt directory entry on the start up partition, but as to what caused it, I have no idea.

But happily I didn't need to call on the engineers and I didn't even lose any sleep over the problem.

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