Monday, June 20, 2016

How I added 2tb of storage to my Macbook Pro

So I bought a Macbook Pro without looking at storage...

I love my Macbook pro.  That probably doesn't need to be said, but I do.  Well, actually I mostly love it.  External storage is a problem.

I professionally supported Microsoft products for well over a decade but after making the decision to drop the IT support side of my business I wanted to stop using Windows entirely.  Trying to use hardware an software that was trying to be all things to all people was proving too frustrating.  So I bought my Macbook Pro in 2013.

When choosing my Macbook I chose the Macbook pro because it has a SSD (solid state) drive, something which at the time was not incredibly common.  The first few days after I made the jump from Microsoft to Apple were a dream.  This was a laptop that ran like a dream.


The Macbook pro storage problem.

The SSD hard drive fitted in my Macbook pro sure was fast, but after just a few days I realised that I had potentially made a huge mistake in buying an Apple machine with an SSD hard drive.  The problem was that the hard drive on the Mac was only 128gb.  When choosing my first Apple computer I didn't think 128gb was a problem.  I had a stack of 6 massive external hard drives connected (via a hub) to my Windows computer and so local storage never seemed to be an issue.

But of course the Mac OS (operating system) handles storage differently to Windows computers.  For reasons I neither had the time nor the particular inclination to figure out my new Macbook just wouldn't play nice with my external drives.  They would randomly eject, fail to save data, corrupt.... you name it they did it.

I had a 2tb NAS (network attached storage) drive elsewhere on my network but transferring data to and from it was heinously slow.  The NAS worked fine as a backup drive for Time Machine but was useless for anything else.

The other problem with the way the Apple operating system handles storage is that it creates a HUGE file of temporary data.  This data is what enables Macs to 'wake up' really fast.  Apparently you can switch it off, but I leave my machine on all the time to having it wake fast is really useful.  But it was a problem, these temporary files were occupying more of the SSD drive than anything else.  In fact they still do today, below is a screen shot of my the storage status on my Mac.



You see that big yellow 'other' portion?  Well a lot of that is the temp files that allow my machine to wake from sleep swiftly.

The other problem I was having was that every time I imported video from an SD card to edit in iMovie the OS created multiple copies of the footage.  After just a few weeks of Mac ownership my hard drive had a handful of MB left of storage and was totally un-usable.  Even when I deleted iMovie projects the multiple copies of the movie files remained in place.  Eventually I resorted to using a bit of software called OmniDiskSweeper to track down these unwanted files and kill 'em.

Out of desperation I bought a 1tb external portable hard drive.  It wasn't a Mac specific external hard drive but from what I could figure out at the time my Mac should be able to handle pretty much anything.  It didn't.

I experienced the same problem with an portable external drive on my Mac as I did with the big stack of external drives.  The drive would dismount (disappear) constantly.  If I wanted to save to the drive or access it I had to unplug it then plug it back in again.  The final straw was when the external hard drive corrupted and I lost several week's worth of InDesign work.  This happened at the worst possible time, it was just a few days from the deadline for a very long project I had been working on for a big client.  No software could recover anything from the drive and because the drive was external it was not backed up by Time Machine.  I was livid.  So I gave up on the shitty portable hard drive.

As a quick aside I have since learned that if you are using an external drive that you want backed up by Time Machine then you need to make sure that drive isn't on the exclusions list in your Time Machine settings.

If you're saving work to an external drive on Mac OS and want your work backed up by Time Machine make sure your external drive isn't listed on the Time Machine exclusion list.
I got desperate.   I even bought some software that claimed it could reliably connect my Mac to the Amazon S3 cloud storage system.  If this software had of worked well it would have effectively added a hard drive of limitless capacity to my Macbook Pro.  The software was 'alright' but I was at the mercy of my Internet connection.  I'm with Virgin Media and when the kids get out of school, or when there's any other type of demand on the system my Internet connection slows down considerably.


How to fix the external storage problem on a Macbook Pro

I considered getting a big SD card and leaving that permanently in the SD card reader on the side of my mac.  There were two reasons why this solution wasn't going to work.

  1. I need that SD card reader to import video footage
  2. SD Cards are about as reliable as a condom at a hedgehog orgy
I toughed it out with my Mac and just put up with horrible lack of storage for about two years.  I decided that I would buy a desktop Mac with a HUGE hard drive one day and that would be the solution to my problems.

One day a video editing project landed on my lap that I quite simply wouldn't be able to take on unless I bought a new computer.  My Macbook Pro was just as fast as it was the day I bought it.  Now that I was regularly clearing away unwanted files using OmniDiskSweeper I even had a nice bit of spare space on my internal SSD.  Unfortunately the amount of video footage heading my way was far larger than my SSD, let alone the spare space on my SSD.

The answer came in the form of a portable hard drive that claimed to be specifically for Mac.  I was highly sceptical.  The price was much lower than any of the Mac specific external hard drives the used the Apple only Thunderbolt connection.  A LOT lower.

I've been using this new portable external storage on my Mac for a while now and it's amazing.  In fact it's so good I leave it plugged in all the time.  Even when I travel with my Mac I leave the drive plugged in and take it with me.  It has given my old computer a new lease of life.  It always stays connected, is incredibly fast and surprisingly small.

I set up a new iMovie catalog on my external storage and can now edit as much video footage as I wish to without bunging up the internal hard drive.  Happy days!

So what is this amazing external hard drive for Mac?  It's a Western Digital WD My Passport for Mac.  I bought the 2tb version for around £70, but there is a smaller 1tb version going for about fifty quid.  There's also a 3tb version for just a few quid more.  



The cheapest place to buy these external drives appears to be Amazon, click here to get the best possible price right now...


The photos below show what the My Passport for Mac looks like attached to my Macbook Pro.  I keep my Macbook in a protective shell, which is why it's dark grey in the photos rather than silver.  I attached the drive to my mac with some really good strong velcro.  I bought a really short USB 3 lead not just to keep things tidy, but also because travelling with a long lead between the Mac and the external hard drive was just asking for trouble.  Long leads have the tendency to get caught on things!







Sunday, June 19, 2016

The first forty years of me!

Somewhat to my astonishment today marks the completion of my first forty years on planet earth!  I've never really thought about how I would feel at forty years old, partly because I try and live in the present but also because it always seemed quite far away.

I feel very blessed to have the friends and family I have.  Being 40 years old doesn't feel any different to being 20, 30 or (probably) 50.  It just means I've had 40 years of fun, and here's to (at least) the next 40 years!

The image below is the birthday card that my dear friend Graham Birks made for me.  We first met twenty years ago, and this card is made up of photos he has taken of me over the years.  Starting top left is a photo taken of me when we all lived in the nurses' flats near Ipswich Hospital.  Bottom right is a photo of me laying on the dance floor at Graham's wedding a couple of weeks ago.  I wanted to share this photo with you, not out of self-interest, or any other egotistical reason.  I wanted to share it because it's quite simply one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.  What a lovely thing for an old friend to have done for me.  Thank you Graham, you are wonderful.

Click for a larger version