OS X recovery “gotcha” when using (most) clone apps

An integral part of any digital workflow are applications that move data from one hard drive to another with  more control and reliability than either the Finder on the Mac OS or Explorer on the Windows OS. Many of these also create bootable clones, an important safety net in the event that your main hard drive fails. I have used 3 versions of these over the years, SyncProX, Carbon Copy Cloner, and Chronosync. I usually recommend Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) to my less tech savvy friends because it has the easiest interface to navigate. SyncProX is an excellent software, but it is relatively expensive at $99 compared to $39.95 for CCC and $40.00 for Chronosync, (all single user prices). Mostly due to my friend Peter Krogh’s recommendation (The Dam book author), I’ve been using Chronosync both for moving files and for doing nightly automated backups of all my working drives as well as maintaining a bootable clone of my main hard drive. A recent experience with a corruption of the mach kernel brought to light an interesting vulnerability in my clone backup system. I don’t know how the kernel corruption happened or when it happened, and it didn’t even impact my system until I did a restart on the computer. I don’t restart my computer on a regular basis, but every once in a while, I think it is a good thing to do, particularly if you have been working in Adobe Premiere for an extended period. I often clean the Premiere cache and then do a restart to keep the disk clutter down. In any case last Monday (I hate Mondays) I did a restart and when the computer came back up, I was looking at Mac OSX utilities instead of my desktop. If you’ve never seen this before, you are faced with 4 options:

• restore from a Time Machine Backup,

• Reinstall OS X,

• Get help online, and

• Disk Utility.

In my case, Disk utility did not reveal any disk problems- so it was purely a software issue. Then that’s when things got interesting and I learned something. I tried a boot from the clone- thinking that a restore from the overnight clone would be relatively quick and easy. Trouble was, whatever had become corrupted had been copied over to the clone. Here is where a Time Machine Backup can be a benefit. The only problem with that is how far back do you have to go? And if you have to go back more than a day or so, too much work might be lost.

Before going back to the main drive and doing the inevitable OS X reinstall, I decided to look at the reinstall OS X recovery option on the clone drive. Here is where I got a surprise and learned that my clone backup system was not fail safe. The version of OS X that the clone was offering was Lion (10.7) instead of Mountain Lion (10.8) which was what I was running on the main start up drive. As it turns out, the reason was that Apple started installing a hidden recovery partition with OS 10.7. If you remember, that was when you no longer got an installation disc, the OS was downloaded from the App Store. Not having a disc meant that Apple had to have a scheme whereby you could recover your system without having a physical disc. The recovery partition is exactly that, an approximately 650MB actual partition of the main drive. Normally this partition is hidden from view. You can unhide it by following the instructions here: http://osxdaily.com/2011/09/23/view-mount-hidden-partitions-in-mac-os-x/.

Anyway, back to the clone drive, the reason that the recovery partition contained code for reinstalling 10.7 and not 10.8, was because the clone drive had originally been the main drive and the 10.7 recovery partition was created during the 10.7 installation. What I learned from Chronosync support, was that “…ChronoSync does not create nor copy the Recovery partition when creating a bootable backup.” OK, so why might this be important? Let’s say that instead of a software glitch, you actually had a hard drive failure. No problem, you say, you will install a new drive, clone to it from the clone backup and be good to go. Except, in this case, you would have the wrong recovery partition. You could go back to 10.7, or you could then go to 10.9, but there isn’t any way you could restore to 10.8.

In another scenario, let’s say you are running 10.8, and you decide to make a new clone with Chronosync. You would think that everything is fine, even if you do a test boot from the new clone, but if you hold down the option key on restart, you might notice that the new clone doesn’t have any recovery option at all.

The work around, which is what I did, was to create a new clone drive with a recovery partition by formatting and partitioning a drive. I created 2 partitions with the first partition as small as Disk Utility allows, which happens to be just over 1 GB. The other partition is all the remaining space. Then I copied over the recovery partition from the main drive (after I made it visible and mounted it as per the instructions above) to the small partition. Next I ran Chronosync to create a bootable clone from the main drive to the larger second partition. Once all that was done, I did an Option/restart, and verified that the clone drive now has a 10.8 recovery partition.

Further research revealed that the same work-around is necessary with SyncProX. SyncProX’s response outlined yet another way to get a recovery partition installed ”…Synchronize! Pro X does not create a recovery partition. You can have a recovery partition on a disk by doing a standard install of Mac OS X on a disk, and then using Synchronize! Pro X to make a ‘Bootable System Backup’ to the normal partition on that disk.”  What they leave out here is that you may not be able to find the particular version of OS X you want to install if your main drive is dead.

OK, so what is the easy way to do this? Buy & use Carbon Copy Cloner instead. One of CCC’s features is to “Clone Apple’s proprietary “Recovery HD” volume (Lion+).” Clearly CCC has pulled ahead of its rivals in this case.

Why, you may ask, is it important to me to stay with OS 10.8 instead of going to 10.9? Well there are several reasons. One is that Apple dropped support for all PCI slot E-Sata host cards on the 17” MacBook Pro with 10.9. The other is that Adobe Encore has stopped working in 10.9. Adobe doesn’t seem to have any plan to update or replace Encore. Seems that both Adobe and Apple have decided that optical media is an obsolete notion. Meanwhile, if you are a filmmaker, you have plenty of reasons to still want to produce DVD/Blu-ray discs. Film Festivals and sales of your output on DVD or Blu-ray are just a couple of them.