Sunday, October 23, 2011

Macbook Rescue Attempt Fail

Someone gave me a broken Macbook in the hopes of my being able to salvage it. It was a Core 2 Duo Macbook from years ago with 2GB of RAM. The Mac OS disks had long been lost, and OS X was incredibly slow (1 minute from logon to a "usable" finder display, and the finder itself was incredibly slow). Since I didn't have any Mac OS licenses sitting around, but I did have a spare Windows XP license, I figured that I would use that instead. My old Mac Mini is doing very well at my parents' house running Windows XP, so I figured a Core 2 Duo Mac would run XP just as well. (I wouldn't have considered Windows 7 or Vista, for instance)

I popped the XP CDROM into the Macbook and tried to boot from it, but the drive immediately ejected it. I immediately suspected that the drive was bad. My original Mac Mini suffered the same fate. I popped in a Music CD to see the same immediate eject reaction, and even after forcing the disk to stay in Mac OS wouldn't read it, so I conclude a broken CDROM drive. I was going to conclude that Mac CDROM drives were always bad, but then the original owner told me the machine had been dropped. Unfortunately, this Mac's long out of warranty, so time to switched to plan B: booting from a USB key.

Unfortunately, Macs will not boot Windows from a USB key. The Mac uses EFI instead of BIOS, and for whatever reason, booting anything other than Mac OS from a USB key will not work. Plan C: external CDROM drive, which I had sitting around from 2006. Install rEFIt, install the CDROM drive via a free USB port, reboot and hold down the option key, and viola, now I have the option to boot from the USB CDROM. Awesome, I'm in business... except it turned out that my 5 (really 7) year old CDROM drive was flakey, and after it had gone ahead and reformatted the hard drive and started copying over Windows setup files it failed, leaving me with a brick. Wow, that was lame.

The lessons:
  1. Don't drop your laptop.
  2. Don't lose your Mac OS X disks.
  3. If you do try to install XP on a Mac from an external CDROM drive, make sure it's not flakey.

I guess there's hope if someone has a Mac OS X install sitting on a USB key somewhere, but for the moment, I've got an unfixable brick.
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