How to turn a fanboi into a gibbering wreck

When Mood Music
2012-10-12 03:26:00 bitchy optical drive grunting

It’s taken me the better part of three hours (time when I really should have been sleeping) to persuade Iggy to not boot into Windows 7.

You may recall that Iggy is a 2009 Mac Pro with 4 hard disks:

  1. boot disk (actually a 512GB SSD) with MacOS 10.7.5 (‘Lion’), apps and data
  2. 1TB hard disk partitioned into two volumes
    1. TimeMachine back-up of boot disk
    2. CCC clone of MacOS 10.6.I_forget (‘SnowLeopard’) in case I ever get truly sick of the iOS features in Lion
  3. 640GB hard disk with nightly CCC clone of boot disk, just in case I stuff that up – the plan is I can boot from the CCC clone, clone it back to the boot disk and all should be well. (It has worked!)
  4. 170GB hard disk containing various VirtualBox virtual machines.

I also have a MacBook Air called MIA, which can boot into either MacOS 10.8..2 (‘Mountain Lion’) or Windows 7 – thanks to the magic of BootCamp. It seems I’m likely to need Win7 and Office 2010 because the current module requires a lot of grubbing in MS Access. While the Win7 VM on Iggy works well, it doesn’t make full use of Iggy’s firepower. A virtual machine is, very roughly speaking, just a program running on top of a host OS, competing with all other programs for RAM, processor time, etc. BootCamp should have allowed me to run Win7 natively, just as it does on MIA.

Because I didn’t want to risk Iggy’s boot SSD, I chose to install windows on a 60GB partition on disk 4. Installation seemed to go smoothly, at least as far as installing MS Security Essentials. However, installation of MS Office failed, so I thought I should can the Windows stuff for the night, reboot Iggy in MacOS for his nightly CCC clones and other housekeeping and go to bed.

Imagine my joy when Iggy stubbornly kept rebooting into Windows, each time installing a fresh set of updates. Even when the update process appeared to have finished, Iggy seemed stuck in Redmond. Using the BootCamp control panel to tell Iggy to restart in MacOS didn’t work, nor did holding down alt at restart to get a choice of boot devices – Iggy just hung until force-restarted. Booting into mac safe mode and single-user mode didn’t work – more hanging. Booting into firewire target mode: nada. (All these were tried several times, with the keyboard plugged into different USB ports.) Pulling out the HD with windows got me occasionally the message that there was ‘no boot device’ but mostly just more hanging. Removing and reinstalling the BootCamp software from windows didn’t help either – and I had to spend a lot of time finding how to do that. Booting from Lion and SnowLeopard USB installers: yet more hanging. I was beginning to run out of hemp by this stage.

I was convinced that the other HDs were OK – using a naked hard drive adaptor (every hardware munchkin should have one) I could boot MIA from Iggy’s normal boot SSD, the CCC clone thereof and the CCC clone of SnowLeopard. (Incidentally, this was proof of how much faster SSDs are than hard disks: under a minute to boot from SSD, several minutes to boot from HD). Also all the disks appeared in Iggy’s incarnation of Windows as they should have done.

I began to fear that some bit of firmware within Iggy (probably the EFI gubbins) was hosed so that it could no longer recognise Mac boot partitions, and began reading up on that. I don’t advise going anywhere near this subject unless you’re a seriously masochistic hardware munchkin. I soon realised I didn’t want to try anything – everything I read advised ‘if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t even begin because it WILL go wrong and you WILL end up crying’ or words to that effect.

I began to realise that the external CD/DVD drive I use with MIA wasn’t showing up in Windows when plugged into Iggy – presumably due to lack of drivers. However it struck me I’d not tried anything using Iggy’s built-in optical drive. I popped a SnowLeopard installer DVD into that drive and, as it should have, it appeared in Windows and gave me the options of sharing Iggy’s optical drive to MIA or reinstalling (again) BootCamp drivers. What I’d forgotten, in my gibbering-wreckness, was that I should be able to boot Iggy from this DVD.

While all the other variations of ‘hold down this key to boot that way’ hadn’t worked, holding down the C key to boot from the optical drive worked, but only after what felt like hours of optical-drive grunting noises. At long last, the prelude to installing MacOS screen appeared. As soon as I could, I legitimately got out of the installation prelude and hence to the ‘choose your startup disk’, chose the normal boot disk and restarted Iggy, yet again cursing myself for trying this Windows-on-Iggy’s-bare-metal approach. Iggy properly booted into Lion and appears to be working fine. I’ve dumped the Windows partition and will stick with the VMs – they just work and can be dumped and reinstalled with no loss to anything else.

Here endeth the tale of woe, at least until I find that I’ve truly hosed something else.

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