The Low End Mac Mailbag

One Drive to Boot All Macs

Dan Knight - 2007.08.24

One Drive to Boot All Macs

Dan Knight wrote:

Thanks for the info on USIB. For years I've been buying FireWire/USB 2.0 drive enclosures because they're more flexible (my current choice: NewerTech's miniStack v2 - and the newer v3 adds eSATA and FireWire 800 to the mix for $50 more). In my mind, eSATA is going to replace both as the preferred way of attaching a hard drive to personal computers. Considering that all Intel Macs uses SATA, I'm surprised that Apple hasn't yet made an eSATA port a standard feature on any Mac. That day will come.

I have also been impressed with the miniStack v2/v3 and have just purchased a couple of v3 units for much needed backup storage drives. I was disappointed that the eSATA cables weren't included. They can't cost more than $2-3 in bulk. That's kind of like leaving the USB cable out of the printer box. Many of the people who will be opting to buy the v3 over the v2 will be doing so because of the eSATA port, not just for FireWire 800. Doesn't make much sense for them to leave the eSATA cables out.

Here's the main problem with eSATA as a competitor to FireWire, and probably one of the main reasons that Apple doesn't want to use up valuable port space to put it on new Macs, especially on portables: No bus power. Every single eSATA device, no matter how small, will have to be powered with a separate power cable from a power adapter or USB port. That's one of those unfathomable design decisions that give us a reason to use the following Three Letter Acronym: WTF? Of course for some reason the power connector for SATA is twice the size of the data connector with twice as many wires, so they were sort of screwed from the get-go when trying to create an external SATA spec.

It's a nice option and the fastest connection for self-powered external drives attached to desktop machines that don't move around, but I doubt it can compete with FireWire in the portability area unless they could somehow manage to integrate bus power without making the connector any larger. The eSATA data-only connector is already wider than either FireWire 400 or 800 connectors. Plus FireWire is not limited to disk storage devices; it can also be used for networking, controlling external devices, etc. Considering all that, I don't think FireWire will be replaced by eSATA in popularity anytime soon. And I seem to recall reading about FireWire eventually working its way up to 3.2 Gbps speeds, which would match even SATA-II. Interestingly the final 1394c spec was just published in June of this year. I wouldn't be surprised if FireWire 1600 ports started showing up in the next Mac Pro generation.

I'm not so sure about USIB. On the one hand, it simplifies things: One USIB device plus a set of USIB adapters works almost anywhere (SCSI is about the only protocol not supported). But it's an expensive solution: $26 for the USB 2.0, FireWire, and CardBus/PC Card USIB adapters, $30 for eSATA. Then add the cost of a USIB enclosure. And there's no pass-through FireWire port, which most FireWire drives offer.

True, going with a USIB device is far from the cheapest or simplest solution, like the many "all-in-one" devices out there, and I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. But it has its purposes, especially if you want to be able to move a device between being docked with a computer in a cartridge system (and connected internally via your choice of IDE, USB, FireWire, eSATA, SATA or SCSI with an IDE-to-SCSI adapter) and being a portable external self-powered or bus-powered device (connected via your choice of USB, FireWire, or eSATA). Want to shift a single backup drive between a FireWire laptop, an IDE-only Windows desktop machine, and a SATA-only desktop machine, with the desktops treating the drive as an internal drive? No problem, USIB can bridge that gap. Get a USIB enclosure for the drive, a USIB-FireWire adapter cable, a USIB-IDE cradle and a USIB-SATA cradle.

If I needed ultimate flexibility, I think I'd pick a NewerTech miniStack v3 enclosure for $120, as it includes USB 2.0 and FireWire hubs plus USB, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 cables. (eSATA is not included.) It's not a small enclosure, but it has a good heat sink.

If an enclosure exists that supports SCSI plus FireWire and USB 2.0, I can't find it. I think you're going to need a separate SCSI drive for your Macs that can't boot from FireWire.

The miniStack is no good as a portable device.

There isn't one enclosure that supports SCSI directly, but a USIB enclosure can be used as a FireWire device with the correct adapter cable, then inserted into a USIB-to-IDE docking cradle which would then of course need an IDE-to-SCSI adapter added on. What is interesting is that behind that SCSI adapter you could have several different combinations of IDE, SATA, USIB to IDE or SATA and so on, but all the computer would care about is the SCSI adapter. Further on down the chain, Addonics makes various IDE, SATA, and size adapters for Compact Flash, Secure Digital, ATAPI optical drives, and 1.8" hard drives, so potentially you could have a stack of USIB enclosures containing any of a half dozen different kinds of media that could be connected to at least a half dozen different kinds of internal and external computer interfaces and shifted at the drop of a hat to any other interface for which there is a USIB adapter available.

So no, it wouldn't be pretty, or cheap, but I bet I could get that SCSI PowerBook booting from any bootable media you care to name, and then use that same media on many other kinds of Macs (without removing it from its enclosure!). You won't be doing that anytime soon with a miniStack.

On the other hand, most folks should just get a miniStack or one of those triple or quad interface portable enclosures, since that's all they will ever have a need for. Only us mad scientist types would have uses for a truly universal interface. The infinite potential combinations has driven me to the brink of insanity. Wait . . . There, I am insane now.[*] Muwahahahaha!

Tell me more about your disk image discovery, as this could be invaluable to those who have to support multiple Macs - or people who need to downgrade from OS X 10.4.10 for some reason. (In my case, because my Brother laser printer doesn't work with it.) This could make a good article for Low End Mac.

Well, I haven't actually had the time or a spare partition to implement it, nor can I remember the exact details of how it's done, but when I was poking around one of the OSx86 site forums I saw a lot of posts aimed at newbies that described basically taking the DMG file and (I think) opening it with Disk Utility and simply "restoring" the image to a spare hard drive partition with ASR, rather than attempting to burn it to a DVD. I think this came up mainly because in that particular forum they were talking about the Leopard beta install DVD images, which are apparently too large for a single-layer DVD, and a lot of people still do not have dual-layer burners, so the only way many of them could boot the image was by creating a small 9 GB hard drive partition on which to install the DVD image. They then proceeded to boot from that partition and do the actual installation onto another partition on the same hard drive.

Of course even for much smaller CD-ROM and DVD images it makes a lot of sense to boot them from a much faster hard disk device if possible. There's no reason that I know of that it wouldn't work, since most Mac boot discs simply contain a standard HFS+ disk image of a system that was originally put together on a hard drive and then turned into a read-only disk image to be burned to a CD or DVD. The system is just tweaked so that none of the software has a problem with being run from a read-only media, that's the only real difference with a typical live system running from a hard drive. AFAIK.

Now, since a standard Mac-formatted hard drive using the Apple Partition Map partition scheme can apparently be sectioned off into at least 16 separate partitions (that's what comes up in Disk Utility anyway, I've never tried more than about six on any single drive), that means it may be possible to have at least 16 different bootable partitions on a single drive, each containing bootable images of various CD or DVD utilities and OS installation discs from classic Mac OS on up through the various Tiger Universal and Intel boot discs (and of course Leopard as soon as it becomes available). They would boot up several times faster than booting directly from the optical media.

Now, this is yet another reason I have been hankering for a FireWire Compact Flash card reader, as it would be a great way to carry around an assortment of bootable disk images on different sizes of CF cards. Even the cheapest CF cards are probably faster than a typical CD, while the newest high-end cards are moving beyond 40 MBytes per second speeds, faster than some hard drives. The final piece of the puzzle is finding a read-only CF card reader with either an IDE or FireWire interface. I found a read-only FW-IDE bridge once meant for forensic investigators making copies of hard drives, but it was priced at $110. Secure Digital cards have a read-write switch, but it seems CF cards and IDE devices in general weren't meant to be made read-only.

A bit much for regular Mac users to attempt, but for techies like me it seems like a godsend that this is even possible. I am somewhat disappointed that I never thought of doing it. I'm sure many technical users have been doing it for years already. Again, I haven't actually implemented this and forget the details of what was posted, so until you or I can verify that this works and what, if any, limitations there are, I wouldn't want to make an article out of it.

That said, I have felt for some time that it is a good idea for a typical Mac hard drive to have a separate small partition for rescue purposes, with a basic no-frills install of OS X along with at least SuperDuper!, if not other troubleshooting utilities like DiskWarrior, DataRescue, or FileSalvage. Now I can also see that it may be a good idea to have yet another partition dedicated to keeping a bootable image of the system restore or retail OS X install disc. A lot of nontechnical people seem to have no trouble with doing an Archive & Install or permission repair from the DVD. Doing it from a hard drive partition would be just as easy and a lot faster.

Imaging your system restore discs to a couple of hard drive partitions would negate the need to keep the discs with the computer and reduce the chance of losing or damaging the discs. This is especially important for notebook users. The images would never change, so backing them up once to an external drive would cover a failure of the internal drive.

Another benefit, what if:

  • your optical drive is busted, or
  • you don't have the restore discs, or
  • you've replaced the optical drive with an MCE Optibay hard drive, and
  • you don't have any bootable external optical drive with you, and
  • you do have a backup drive but it's not bootable for some reason, or
  • etcetera, etcetera.

Well, simply having one of these alternate partitions, especially one containing an imaging utility like SuperDuper (even Disk Utility can do it, technically) can save the user in many of these cases if they need to do an emergency restore in the field, as long as the internal drive still functions or they have a bootable external hard drive containing one of these alternate partitions.

Even notebook drives are getting large enough to make it no big deal to dedicate all that space to something that may never be used but could really save your bacon if something goes wrong. My mind is reeling with the possibilities.

Here's a question for you: Got an open position for a tech writer there? [8^\/)

Kris F.

Kris,

Thanks for clarifying. You've got my brain running in high gear.

Partitioning is a wonderful tool, but the thing that really amazes me is that Alsoft can create a bootable CD or FireWire drive that can boot into various versions of the classic Mac OS and OS X depending on what the computer can run. Just one of the things I love about DiskWarrior, and that should make it a perfect candidate for copying to a bootable partition.

I've been partitioning for years and years: operating system & applications, work files, and emergency, which is a bootable partition for troubleshooting. Every serious Mac user should at the very least have an emergency partition that can hold the same version of the Mac OS they normally use (Disk Utility loses some features if your main partition is newer than your emergency one) plus favorite utilities.

Compact Flash is pretty incredible stuff. CD-ROM tops out at about 52x - anything faster and the discs can literally shatter. There are high speed CF cards have reached 266x and maybe faster, and 266x equates to 40 MBps (320 Mbps)! That's within the bandwidth of FireWire 400 and the top real world speed of USB 2.0. And that's faster than some hard drives. The only real benefit of hard drives is a lot more storage space; today's CF can be faster, albeit more costly. And that's coming down.

Now I understand the attraction of a FireWire Compact Flash reader. Create a set of bootable CF cards, plug in the one you need, and boot a Mac for troubleshooting very quickly and quietly. As CF capacity increased, USB 2.0 and FireWire readers could be a better solution than USIB.

Working with disk images would eliminate one of my biggest problems - locating the Install CD or DVD when I need it. You wouldn't believe how many Mac OS install CDs I have, as well as a few versions of BeOS.

And, yes, we can always use a tech writer who knows the Mac. Tech types tend to gravitate to Windows and build their own PCs or Linux and build their own optimized operating system. Tech types on the Mac are a rare and valued commodity.

Dan

Dan Knight wrote:

Thanks for clarifying. You've got my brain running in high gear.

Partitioning is a wonderful tool, but the thing that really amazes me is that Alsoft can create a bootable CD or FireWire drive that can boot into various versions of the classic Mac OS and OS X depending on what the computer can run. Just one of the things I love about DiskWarrior, and that should make it a perfect candidate for copying to a bootable partition.

I don't think that's a specific feature of DiskWarrior. CDs and DVDs can contain multiple sessions with different bootable images, even for completely different platforms, just as easily as hard drives can be partitioned. The only thing that can choose which image (and the kernel therein) to boot from is the Startup Manager or boot ROM built into the Mac hardware. In the case of the DiskWarrior CD both a Mac OS X "System" folder and a Mac OS 9 "System Folder" are probably installed on the same session and the hardware chooses which to boot based on its built-in capabilities. Systems incapable of booting from an OS X kernel will simply find the OS 9 System Folder and boot from that.

Any Mac-bootable disk image from any media should actually work with the imaging method I described, no matter what kind of media it originally came from. Bootable Mac discs probably all use HFS/HFS+ for the filesystem and APM for the partition scheme, so all Macs including Intel Macs should at least be able to show them in the Startup Manager.

I wonder how many icons the Startup Manager has room for before they start running off the screen. Having multiple drives attached with 16 bootable partitions on each one would really be something to see.

I've been partitioning for years and years: operating system & applications, work files, and emergency, which is a bootable partition for troubleshooting. Every serious Mac user should at the very least have an emergency partition that can hold the same version of the Mac OS they normally use (Disk Utility loses some features if your main partition is newer than your emergency one) plus favorite utilities.

Yes, I noticed that, although I forget exactly which features don't work. The rescue image would have to be kept updated, which complicates things. But for just an emergency partition solely for re-imaging the main partition from a backup, it doesn't have to be up to date. The cloning apps can be told to not copy any files or folders of your choosing. Perhaps there is a way to design a script for SuperDuper that would copy a bootable but extremely stripped-down version of your main system onto the rescue partition. That way you'd only have to keep the main system updated and just refresh the rescue clone afterward. I'm sure this is doable.

In fact I may even email the SuperDuper support guys about the idea of them creating a preconfigured script to copy the smallest, most basic version of your system onto a small partition for this very purpose. The user would then only need to add whatever utilities they want rather than going through the much more complex process of stripping things out. Good idea.

Compact Flash is pretty incredible stuff. CD-ROM tops out at about 52x - anything faster and the discs can literally shatter. There are high speed CF cards have reached 266x and maybe faster, and 266x equates to 40 MBps (320 Mbps)! That's within the bandwidth of FireWire 400 and the top real world speed of USB 2.0. And that's faster than some hard drives. The only real benefit of hard drives is a lot more storage space; today's CF can be faster, albeit more costly. And that's coming down.

Lexar has some 300x cards now, actually, and their current FireWire card reader is FW 800. I think they've discontinued the FW 400 model. There were some good rebates going around for the new cards and the old card readers, but I'm not sure if that's still happening. At one point the Lexar 300x 8 GB card was available for around $150 after rebates. But as you point out, even a 66x card should be faster than even the fastest CD drives, and those midrange cards are cheap.

Working with disk images would eliminate one of my biggest problems - locating the Install CD or DVD when I need it. You wouldn't believe how many Mac OS install CDs I have, as well as a few versions of BeOS.

Oh yes I would. Ah, BeOS, we hardly new ye. R4.5 was a thing of beauty.

It was fun while it lasted. I participated in the community and even conversed a few times with Scott Hacker, the author of The BeOS Bible. But one day I woke up and noticed that there were no applications, and the Internet was leaving NetPositive behind. BeOS was a beautiful toy that was going nowhere. I said as much to Scott, and it was shortly thereafter that he, one of the strongest proponents of the BeOS for years, also started to become disenchanted with the situation, realizing that both Windows and Linux were starting to outclass the BeOS in many areas, or at least they were rapidly catching up. He wrote a couple of articles right about then that must have been difficult but said what needed to be said, and pretty much marked the beginning of the end in my mind. The release of R5 made very little difference at that point. So sad.

I've gotten into the habit of imaging all my software and system discs with Disk Utility just so that I'll have a backup when I can't find the original. At the very least I can burn a new disc. Now it seems like I can also stick the bootable ones on a spare hard drive partition and save myself a lot of time that normally be spent waiting for the system to boot from a CD or DVD. Some of those utility discs take up to 10 minutes just to start up.

And, yes, we can always use a tech writer who knows the Mac. Tech types tend to gravitate to Windows and build their own PCs or Linux and build their own optimized operating system. Tech types on the Mac are a rare and valued commodity.

I did the Linux thing for a while after being burned by the death of Be, Inc. The BeOS died not just because they couldn't break through Microsoft's monopoly but because they kept it proprietary and refused to release it to the community when the company went down the drain. I figured an open source OS would be safer. Well, Linux can't die, but the overall Linux community has a very poor understanding of actual usability and polish. Every distro I tried from Debian to Mandrake to Gentoo was so full of usability potholes that I was constantly spending about half my time in the command line either fixing things or just trying to figure out how to do something that should have been simple, or find and install the software necessary to get feature X working. It was bizarre and ridiculous, and I finally gave up on it and returned to Windows for a while.

Then I got a job as a tech support guy at a small nonprofit that had luckily been switched over to Macs by my predecessor. Power Mac G4s, mostly. They were still running Mac OS 9, but when they got me a computer it came with 10.2, and when OS X finally became really usable (10.3.3) I switched everyone over. That place is where I got most of my experience with OS X and Macs in general. They finally ran out of their cushy government funding and had to let myself and a couple of other people go a couple of years ago, but they recently called me in as an independent contractor, and I upgraded all their systems to Tiger and convinced them to spend a little cash on maxing out the RAM. Things work so well that they often don't call me for several months at a time. Except when someone decides to rename their home folder and then wonders why everything crashes and all their settings disappear after they reboot, like this morning. Hmm.

...I don't think [Linux] will ever be able to rival either Windows or Mac OS X in the usability space.

I still try out the popular desktop oriented Linux distros like Ubuntu, Fedora, and SuSE about once a year, and I'm still fairly unimpressed. Despite advancements there are still major problems with even basic hardware like video cards and network cards. Without a single set of coherent desktop standards to work toward, I don't think they will ever be able to rival either Windows or Mac OS X in the usability space. Well, maybe Windows, since Windows keeps going backwards these days. Good old Microsoft.

Due to the massive influx of BeOS refugees and Linux users who got tired of all the inconsistencies and lack of real progress, I'm not so sure that technical Mac users are as rare as they used to be. Then again, the technical users who can also write in coherent sentences may be a little more rare.

Kris F.

Kris,

This discussion has got me making some changes in the way I work. Instead of a folder with an archive of Low End Mac, which is just a huge amount of files for the OS to keep track of, I'm going to keep my archives in disk images. Only one file for the OS to track. Much simpler.

I'm going to give your image-to-partition trick a try after I finish updating the site on Friday. Mac OS X 10.4.10 works just fine for me, except that I can't print to my b&w laser printer. So I'll be doing a clean Tiger install, upgrading to 10.4.9, and stopping there. Should be a lot faster from the hard drive. Thanks for the tip!

I don't know the ins and outs how how DiskWarrior does their "boot any Mac" trick, but it sure is clever.

The feature that doesn't work in Disk Utility if you're using an older version of OS X to try to fix a newer one is Repair Disk Permissions. I discovered that the last time I tried to run it, because I had 10.4.10 on my boot partition, 10.4.7 on my emergency partition.

SuperDuper does have a "sandbox" feature that lets you experiment with an OS update before committing to it. I wish I'd tried that when upgrading to 10.4.10. The minute I discovered I couldn't print to my Brother laser printer I would have reverted to 10.4.9. But it was a few days between the update and the next time I tried to print. Sigh.

BeOS had some great ideas, and it was a lot of fun to play with and show off. It could have been a contender, but Apple chose NeXT and most Windows users won't ever consider another operating system for their hardware. And when they do, nine times out of ten is some Linux distro.

As Mac users, we're spoiled. Apple understands the importance of the user interface, Microsoft understands the importance of emulating that but doesn't really understand it. And Linux seems to be mimicking Windows. Almost all of the good UI work seems to be going on at Apple. So if Windows is a commercial knock-off of the Mac OS (in most ways), Linux is a free knock-off of Windows without the pretty interface.

There's a reason a lot of Linux users bought PowerBooks and are now buying MacBooks. It's not just the excellent Apple hardware design, it's the Mac OS X experience as well. It shows them how good an operating system can be when people really understand interface issues.

Dan

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

Today's Links

Recent Content

back to the Low End Mac Mailbag index

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Custom Search

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Favorite Sites

MacSurfer
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
MacInTouch
MyAppleMenu
InfoMac
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
RetroMacCast
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
DealMac
Mac2Sell
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

Affiliates

Amazon.com
The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac
eBay

Low End Mac's Amazon.com store

Advertise

Open Link