My backup Mac setup

My MacBook Pro recently died. It wasn’t a sudden death, since it started to exhibit video artefacts a few months ago.

Being my main computer, obviously I could not close the shop and take a vacation.

Fortunately, my setup was designed with a bit of redundancy, and now this redundancy had a chance to pay off.

Mac Mini

As computers, my setup includes, apart from the reasonably powerful MacBook Pro 15″, one Mac Mini with almost similar specs (i5 instead of i7) and an older Mac Mini in a secondary location.


So when the MacBook died, the first priority was to salvage the disk. Removing the disk from a MacBook Pro is relatively easy, take the back cover off, remove two screws and the disk is free.

The first thought was to open the Mac Mini and replace the disk; unfortunately the Mac Mini is designed quite tightly, plus that it uses mostly torx screws, in various sizes. With my available tools, I decided that this is too risky.


USB disk

The next choice was to keep the disk externally, and hook it via USB. As opposed to Windows, OS X boot disks have no problem to run in a different machine, including booting from external USB disks.

The solution was to dismantle a large LaCie casing, replace the 3.5″ disk with the laptop disk, and hook it to a MacMini USB port. If not providing the fasted connection, at least it provides a reliable interface.

Ideally the external disk should be hooked to the Mac using the fast thunderbolt interface, but currently I do not have such a thunderbolt disk casing or adapter.

To make the system boot from an alternate volume, keep alt pressed during startup and select the USB volume.

For subsequent boots, configure the external disk as boot disk from the System Preferences.

Select the boot disk.

Select the boot disk.


A further improvement I discovered after the crisis was over was the possibility to use the FireWire 800 port available in my Mac Mini.
Functionally there would be no differences from the above USB case, just the speed increase by a factor of 2.



The Mac Mini obviously does not include a screen. Fortunately I already had a large second monitor for my laptop, which has dual DVI inputs, and it was already wired to the Mac Mini.


For regular usage, booting and running from the old USB 2 port is acceptable. (FireWire 800 would be about twice faster).

The only application that was not usable in this configuration was Parallels Desktop. Actually starting virtual machines was functional, but writing to the virtual disk was way too slow.

Fortunately the Mac Mini had enough space on the internal disk, so I copied the virtual machine folder to the internal disk and everything was fine.


In production environments, for MacBook Pro laptops, if mobility is not absolutely mandatory and an external monitor is available, a Mac Mini is a perfect backup solution.


About Liviu Ionescu (ilg)
Hi! My name is Liviu Ionescu (ilg, ilegeul or eunete for colleagues and friends) and I’m a senior IT engineer. Or should I say a real programmer?

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