Thursday, May 29, 2014

Apple Mac Mini Repair, Yet Again

Agata's Apple Mac Mini (2012, i7, 16GB) has recently experienced a partial disk failure.

We already performed some very awkward surgery on this Mac Mini and I had previously thought never again.

Oh well, welcome to 

Mission Disk Repair

a) take out boot SSD and failing Apple spinning disk
b) Replace with larger OCZ Vertex SSD, which will revert the config back to a single disk machine.

First gather the specialist tools bought previously from Ifixit,  and a Powerful Petzl Nao headtorch, some watchmakers eyeglasses and a head-mounted magnification lens.

Before opening Mac

  1. New OCZ Vertex3 SSD drive checked  (HDtune Pro under windows)
  2. Connected to the running Mac Mini with a USB converter cable
  3. Using OSX Disk Utility then Carbon Copy Cloner I  partitioned the disk, then copied over recovery partition and OS partition.
  4. Machine is then booted from externally connected disk.  OSX boots fine, therefore we can be sure copy is made OKay

Now Disassemble

Cover is off, memory is out,  remove fan, and beeper, and upper hard disk.

What you see here (click to enlarge) are the already damaged connectors from the last surgery attempt.  These small fragile, don't every touch me connectors are on the point of breaking.

Using a special ifix tool once connectors are disconnected slide out motherboard.

This is the ifixit guide 2012 mac mini

(note: Remove the Motherboard screw before sliding out motherboard, not mentioned by ifixt)

Motherboard is out finally, top disk removed.  To remove the lower disk you need to unscrew the hex bolts holding drive, also part of plastic frame on bottom.  Jiggle and pull lower drive free.

Those damaged connectors again.

A small Problem

New Single disk inserted, Motherboard replaced, fan replaced, memory reinserted, beeper replaced.


Apple Support: Flashing question mark

The system did not boot and only offered a flashing question mark.

No amount of pressing the Option key on the Apple keyboard would get to Startup Manager

So Mac Mini is opened up again, connectors off, disk removed, connections check, all put back ...

2 hours later ...

STILL a Flashing Question Mark

Startup Manager

It did not make any logical sense (since it worked from the Apple keyboard when I was cloning the disk) but eventually I found how to get to RELIABLY get to Startup Manager.

Use a WIRED keyboard

In my case, a black, wired, Asus keyboard.  Hold down ALT key,  startup manager appears.

No disks are visible!

Booting OSX for diagnostics

I connected the original boot disk on an external USB converter and OSX booted fine  to that external  (no Startup Manager required)

Of course verbose boot is enabled and I noticed a disk error message, as shown here (click enlarge) indicating some read problem, I presume to the new internal disk.

Lots of weird inconsistent errors

With OSX booted to the external I tried to view the Internal disk that I previously cloned and booted from ...

OSX can see the disk but seems it blank (no partitions!)

Disk utility claims that the new Internal disk is Master Boot Record.  Incorrect!  It has to be GUID and must have been otherwise the clone would have failed.  Hmm

Re partitioning with Disk Utility fails

Waiting for the disks to reappear message bottom right of screen.   It waits infinitely. (Error)

Formatting with Drive Genius 3 seems to hang indefinitely

I created a bootable MAC based OCZ tools disk  (not easy!). This booted and secure erase worked!  Also status worked!

I created a bootable Windows 2012 installation USB key.  You cannot install Windows  due to no drivers, however you can start a Administrator command prompt.  From that prompt you can view disk drives ... OK. Create Partitions ... OK.  Format partitions ... ERROR

So right now there is some sort of error, but what?

Desperate times!

The initial configuration had 2 disk drives.  So on a whim I decided to dismantle yet again and connect the disk drive to the other internal SATA port, and use the other SATA cable

Note the non standard and fiddly SATA connector from drive to Motherboard.

Reassemble  (You have to remove motherboard to get access to hard disk)

Thus far, we have spent about 8 hours buggering about.  I am ready to throw Mac Mini out of the window ...

Connect old OS disk via external USB cable

Power on and boots from external disk

Now Partitioning of Internal disk works OK!  (Although I previously cloned the disk I had made many partitioning changes so figured I needed to start from scratch again)

Next step is to copy recovery partition from USB to new Internal

Next, copy entire OS disk partition to new OS partition on internal ... Hours later ... OK

Shutdown,  (this system currently booted from external disk)

Remove external disk and power on

Of course the system is security protected so even if the Option/ ALT PC key is pressed Startup Manager needs a password.

Enter my secret password

Boot from OSX volume ->

OSX boots fine from internal disk!  Wahoo

In Control panel, Startup Disk, make sure this is set correctly.


Power On, wait.

OSX boots fine!


Drive Genius 3 and OSX Disk Utility agree that the disk structure looks fine

Notice bottom right of Disk utility shows GUID Partition Table

What did I learn
Well nothing really!

I just confirmed what I already knew.   Apple computers are a nightmare to service.   Not just today, but ever since the transition from Apple II to Macintosh ...

But don't take my word for it, watch the above video!
Opening up the 30 year old MAC

Mac or PC