Dec 11 2017

MacBook Air issues

Published by at 1:23 pm under Apple,Technology

I’ve had MacBooks for several years now.  I’m NOT a fan of the latest designs of the hardware by Apple where they make it impossible to upgrade your memory or hard drives on your own without completely replacing the laptop but the older ones have been great.  To the tune that I own three of the them – a mid-2010 MacBook Air 11″, a mid-2013 MacBook Air 13″ and a mid-2010 MacBook Pro 17″.  They’re all running High Sierra which has been a really nice operating system to work with.

Recently I decided to upgrade the MacBook Air 13″ from a 128GB SSD to a 480GB Aura SSD from Macsales.com.  I bought the drive back in January of 2017 but never got around to installing it until a week ago.  And that’s where I discovered some interesting technical issues that I didn’t expect.  Had I originally installed it and migrated my data while that MacBook was running Sierra I would never have encountered these problems and wouldn’t be writing this post – but, such is life sometimes.  Now, this is an ongoing issue that I am trying to resolve but at the very least the MacBook is back up and running now.

I’ve replaced all the hard drives in my MacBooks over the past few years.  I’ve replaced the original 64GB drive in the mid-2010 MacBook Air 11″ with the Aura 256GB drive without a problem; the original 120GB drive in the MacBook Pro was replaced with a 256GB SSD drive; and the time had come to replace the 128GB SSD in the 13″ MacBook Air.  The process is simple enough – unscrew the back cover, remove the old SSD, put in the new one, put back the cover, reboot to the OS X Recovery partition, reinstall and then migrate the data from the old SSD.

Well…that’s how it would have gone had I done this while I had OS X Sierra as the running OS on the system.  With High Sierra there’s a bit of a hitch.  I installed the new drive into the MacBook, replaced the cover and booted it.  Pressing Command-Shift-R allowed me to boot using the Internet Recovery so that I could install High Sierra (rather than Mavericks which is what would normally be used).  When the OS X Recovery finally loaded I went to Disk Utility to format the drive – except that it wasn’t showing up.   I found that odd and immediately thought that this was a defective drive.  Except, when I placed it into an external enclosure and connected it via USB to my MacBook Pro – it showed up just fine.  After a quick Google search I found several references to problems with the OWC Aura drives and High Sierra (see here – the others pretty much point to the same link).  After playing with it a little more I contacted Macsales.com and they recommended that I try the following:

  • Do a PRAM reset on the initial boot after installing the drive
  • Boot Using Command Option R
  • Select Disk Utility,
  • Select View All Devices
  • Quit Disk Utility
  • Open Disk Utility Again (This Step may need to be repeated three or four times)

Well after trying the above the drive was still not showing up (or – if it did show up it only did it in Drive Utility but then when you would go in to try and install MacOS X it would fail the install).  After playing around with it some more and having no luck I decided it was time for an RMA and to ask for a replacement drive.  While discussing everything I had done and putting together the RMA the Macsales tech support happened to mention the idea of resetting the SMC.  I realized that I hadn’t tried that.

Following the tech’s suggestion I reset the SMC and booted the MacBook.  Finally the drive showed up.  I went into Disk Utility to erase the drive and format it and realized that it was going to be formatted as an HFS+ Journaled drive.  The Macsales tech suggested that I should use the command line driveutil tool rather than the GUI Drive Utility.  In fact OWC has a blog post on how to format a new internal SSD in High Sierra and they recommend using the driveutil tool.  Following the steps in the post I was able to format the drive as an APFS formatted drive, rebooted into OS X Recovery and installed MacOS High Sierra successfully.  After rebooting again I migrated the data from my old drive to the new one…I figured I was done.  I was wrong.

The next morning when I booted the machine from a full shutdown I noticed that it was taking unusually long to boot.  After several minutes I watched the machine boot into the OS X Recovery.  I was, to say the least, surprised.  I figured something went south with the drive and that I would have to reboot once more.  I went into the Drive Utility and discovered that the new SSD once again did not show up.  I was even more surprised to see that.  Looks like I would need to reinstall.  To make sure I booted into the High Sierra OS X Recovery I rebooted the machine and discovered that the new drive was suddenly available to the system and it was booting off of it.  After some more experimentation I discovered that if I restarted the machine (i.e. a “warm boot”) then the drive worked fine.  If I shut the machine down fully then when I rebooted it couldn’t see the drive and would go into OS X Recovery.

I rebooted the machine once more and pressed the D key to enter into diagnostics.  After a couple of minutes the diagnostics system came back with the error: “VDH002: There may be an issue with a storage device.”  Really?  You think?  So, I rebooted and the machine came back up fully.  After more trial and error I’ve discovered that if I clear the SMC before I boot the MacBook then it will immediately find the new SSD on the next boot.  However, if I shutdown the Mac fully and try to restart it without resetting the SMC – it will not find the new SSD.  I’m still trying to figure out how that piece fits into this whole puzzle.

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