Thinking of updating your mac to Snow Leopard? Do this FIRST!

While I’m here on my 3rd Apple Store visit in as many days to try to recover from a disaster triggered by my attempt to upgrade my Mac to the Snow Leopard OS X, here are some tips that might save other Mac users similar pain and frustration.

1. Back up your entire machine onto TWO EXTERNAL DRIVES. It’s a good idea to run Time Machine backup as often as possible. But when you’re running the risk of having to hand over your mac AND your backup drive to a technician (which is always the case when attempting a significant operating system update), it’s a good idea to have a separate copy of your backup in your own possession.

2. Verify the condition of your hard drive. Apple is marketing Snow Leopard chiefly as a way to enhance performance. However, if your hard drive is developing problems (as mine apparently was), that will impair performance. Installing Snow Leopard won’t fix HD problems, and it may even cause your drive to fail during installation (as mine did)

So Verify your disk using your Mac’s Disk Utility before you upgrade. That can indicate HD problems. It’s not a perfect predictor of problems, but it’s at least some help. Had I thought to do this, I might not have lost 3 workdays and be freezing my ass off in an over-air conditioned Apple Store right now.

If your disk verification process indicates problems, and if you’re experiencing decreasing performance, it’s probably a safer bet to get your HD replaced and data restored correctly BEFORE attempting to upgrade your operating system. If you have to go to the Apple Store to do this, make sure they put in the work order that you do NOT want the OS upgraded yet.

3. Check your warranty coverage. I purchased Apple Care when I bought my mac a couple of years ago, and it’s still in effect. So Apple replaced my HD for free. I’m not sure whether the warranty covers drives that are having problems (rather than have already failed), but it’s worth asking about.

4. Line up a backup computer. If, like me, you work or life could get seriously screwed if you lose your computer for a few days or more, make sure you have handy access to a functional backup machine BEFORE doing a significant system update. Load it up with all the software & data you’ll need to do what you need to do, and test it.

Personally, I’m getting a Linux netbook ASAP.

5. Check your ProCare staus. ProCare is Apple’s preferred service program. It costs about $100/yr, and it’s worth it if you depend in your Mac. If you need a speedy repair, make sure you have current ProCare coverage. You van buy it on the spot at the Apple Store if you need it.

6. Don’t leave the Apple Store without your computer the way you need it. If your OS X update goes dreadfully wrong (as mine did), required them to wipe your drive, have the Apple Store staff restore your operating system and data from your Time Machine backup. Don’t do all of that yourself.

My experience shows that this installation/restore process is trickier than Apple claims. It’s surprisingly easy for the Time Machine restoration to not work right with a freshly installed OS. Make them do everything you need do your machine is up and running. Bring this blog post with you if they balk, and stick to your guns.

This means bringing your external HD with your current Time Machine backup to the Apple Store with you, of course. And before you leave, sync your iPhone and make sure it works. My iPhone sync is not yet working, so I’m staying put in this store for now.

7. Check the “Lemon Law” in your state. The details if this federal consumer protection law are defined by each state. In many states, including CA, lemon laws cover not just vehicles but also consumer products. This may give you recourse if you get screwed by Apple on mac-related issues, like a disastrous OS update you paid for.

Also have the phone number of the local Better Business Bureau handy, and be willing to file a complaint if necessary.

8. Don’t attempt a major system update a couple of weeks after having knee surgery. I’m just saying, it makes everything that much more difficult, aggravating, and risky.

3 thoughts on Thinking of updating your mac to Snow Leopard? Do this FIRST!

  1. A few things:

    1. Backing up to two drives seems like overkill. You should always have a backup, whether you’re upgrading to Snow Leopard or just doing your taxes, but Snow Leopard won’t go out and erase your backups just out of spite.

    2. The Apple Store, in my experience, won’t upgrade you to a newer version of the OS. In fact, they typically use the restore disc for your model of Mac, so if your machine shipped with Tiger you’ll get Tiger back, even if you had Snow Leopard on already. Some stores may not do this, or the policies may have changed.

    3. Apple (and its retailers) will repair a drive that is failing, if they can determine that it’s failing. If you get to the point where the SMART status shows the drive is failing (it will show up in GIANT RED LETTERS in Disk Utility), they won’t usually waste time asking questions. At least, they didn’t for me.

    4. As with #!, most people aren’t going to need a backup computer, but it’s always good to know your options. Some third-party Apple-authorized repair centres have plans or extra services that will give you a loaner machine while yours is in for repair.

    5. AppleCare can be thought of as $100/yr, but it generally comes out to $200-300 to extend your Mac’s warranty to three years from the purchase date. It can’t be bought incrementally, and it can’t be extended past three years. Typically, I wait until my one-year is almost up before buying it, in case something happens that isn’t covered (e.g. I crack my LCD somehow) and I have to void my warranty to fix it on the cheap.

    6. This is excellent advice, but it goes for any time you take anything in, be it your iMac or your Prius.

    7. The ‘lemon laws’ generally cover defective products; the defect in your case was your machine, whose hard drive was damaged, and they fixed that anyway so it doesn’t apply. Snow Leopard isn’t defective. Also, calling the Better Business Bureau because of a botched OS upgrade? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

    8. Hope your knee gets better. A coworker wrecked his snowboarding, he hasn’t been the same since.

  2. I really hate to be posting this, especially considering how close I have been to the painful process you have been going through.

    I did the Snow Leopard upgrade, and it was painless and fast. I did, however, verify my hard drive and do a full Time Machine backup beforehand just in case.

    If I had had any hard drive issues reported by Disk Utility, I definitely would *NOT* have continued with the upgrade.

    The bottom line here is Apple has done a great job of taking a very powerful, complex operating system (BSD Unix) and making it usable to the masses. However, in doing so, in some cases they have oversimplified things to a point of absurdity. There is no good reason that you, as the person doing an OS install, should not have 100% access to the entire Time Machine history, regardless of file permissions. I understand why it works the way it does. But it makes no sense from the perspective of an individual user on his or her own machine. You are effectively ‘root’ and you should have access to all of that.

    In spite of Apple’s smarts and successes, computers are still way, way too complicated and unreliable.

  3. One more thought ….

    Generally speaking, when it comes to *any* OS upgrade (Windows, Mac OS X, whatever), it is *probably* best to wait a week or two after the release to read what other people’s experiences are.

    I sort-of did that. I went ahead with a “blind” install on my Mac Pro (by “blind” I mean I didn’t bother waiting for reviews). It went fine. But I paused on the MacBook Pro when Amy had her problems just at the same time I was reading about other people’s issues. Most people are happy with Snow Leopard, it appears. But some had the same problem Amy was having.

    Why rush? Wait a week or two. See what other people are saying. Figure out which of those problems you can defend yourself against, and then go ahead.

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