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An Apple Silicon Mac won't boot if the internal storage has failed

Discussion in 'off topic' started by Darth Vader, May 21, 2021.

  1. Darth Vader

    Darth Vader From the Dark Side

    I had a problem today with cloning Big Sur - it wouldn't! This means that my usual way of making bootable clones now for macOS 11 onwards won't work thanks to Apple making such low-level access proprietary (by using a Sealed System Volume). Up to Crapolina I could make bootable clones so that I could run any suitable OS X or macOS via a USB HDD or SSD. For example a machine running Big Sur could be booted into El Capitan if needed. I can make an external bootable Big Sur but it won't be a clone and will need to use a Time Machine backup to restore users, apps and data.

    This affects 3rd party cloners such as CCC and Super Duper.

    A bit of research later and I discovered this bombshell "An Apple Silicon Mac won't boot if the internal storage has failed". So if the internal SSD gets corrupted it will brick the machine!

    "What did come as a surprise, however, was a very subtle logistical change noted in a Product Security document published in February(link is external) regarding the new Apple Silicon Macs. A footnote at the very end of the document notes that, regardless of where the boot device is physically located, the boot process is always facilitated by a volume on the internal storage. The lightweight operating system on that volume ("iBoot") evaluates the integrity of the boot assets and authenticates the OS on that external device, then proceeds with the boot process from that external device. What does all of that mean? In theory it means that Apple Silicon Macs cannot boot at all if the internal storage fails. Lacking a Mac whose internal storage I was willing to damage to prove this, I contacted the authoritative experts within Apple in April and they unambiguously confirmed that that is the actual result – you can't boot an Apple Silicon Mac if the internal storage has died.

    If you were making your backups bootable in case of hardware failure, then that's an extra logistical chore that you can now retire from your backup strategy."

    Something to bear in mind if you are thinking of moving to an Apple Silicon Mac.


  2. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I’m not sure how much of a logical change that is in reality as all Apple laptops have had soldered-in SSDs and no internal bays or upgradability for years now, so if the on-board SSD fails they are effectively done for. This has been the case for at least five years now, surely? IIRC my mid-2012 pre-Retina MBP is the last model with actual drive bays and RAM sockets. A generation or two after that had a M.2 or whatever it’s called, but then they just started to solder-in.

    I assume it has slightly more relevance for a Mini which could at least sit next to a bootable drive, but MBAs or MBPs are no more upgradable or serviceable than an iPad really. I notice they have reduced the iMac to iPad-like ‘thinness’ now so that will be a throw-away device on HD failure now too. It is all highly annoying, and make no mistake, everyone else will just copy Apple’s lead….

    PS I hear the low-end M1s batter the SSD too, so one should never get the base level RAM. As ever try for as little swapfile use as possible.
  3. Darth Vader

    Darth Vader From the Dark Side

    If the internal soldered in SSD dies you can still boot and run the machine from an external SSD very successfully be it macOS, Windows or Linux. I carry a small M2 SSD in a small ali case that fits in a shirt pocket and can boot Apples and PCs with a suitable OS via a USB 3 port. A USB 2 port will work but is too slow for everyday work although helpful for recovery purposes.

    The 'heads up' was to make peeps aware when considering Intel vs Apple Silicon. At the end of the day its their choice.



    PS I missed your reference to M.2. I have in front of me a 2014 Macbook Air and it has a proprietary Apple 'M.2' form SSD. Another nice earner for Apple! Its a fast NVMe SSD within an M.2 form BUT a) it is longer than the standard 80mm max and b) the key slot has been moved so these two changes makes the SSD incompatible with off shelf devices. Not so long ago I checked prices and the 256GB Apple version was reduced from over £500 to around £350 or so! I managed to buy off Amazon a Chinese (of course) adapter for around £8 and plug in (on offer at Amazon) a WD Blue 1TB NVMe SSD for around £80. This says a lot about Apple.

    I thought about reusing the Apple 128GB SSD but the quality adapter was over £120 and the cheapo Chinese version around £60 so sod it!
    Last edited: May 21, 2021
  4. MJS

    MJS Technical Tinkerer

    Part of my arsenal of techniques for cleaning macs was to blitz the partition table on the affected drive thus making it look new to Disk Utility. Is it now the case that doing this will kill an M1 machine?
  5. slavedata

    slavedata pfm Member

    This can't help Apple getting adopted for corporate systems. If you make products increasingly difficult to support remotely that factors in a massive increase in cost of ownership.
  6. robs

    robs should know how this works by no

    was to never get one in the first place... ;)
    doctorf likes this.
  7. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The problem is if Apple are doing it this year you can pretty much guarantee everyone else will be doing it next year. There are technological gains in this LSI etc, e.g. the RAM being part of the M1 SBC will bring real speed advantages over traditional socketed RAM etc, as will removing sockets from an SSD and burying it deep in the mainboard architecture, but it is also a corporate culture issue, and that is what I want to fight/push back against. I think we deserve the right to choose whether to sacrifice some nth degree of performance for serviceability and long-term usability. The whole culture annoys me to the degree I honestly can’t decide what my next computer purchase will be.
  8. garyi

    garyi leave blank

    They couldn't care less. 89 billion revenue last quarter. They sell more airpods revenue than music streaming service combined, corporate is off the agenda.
  9. Darth Vader

    Darth Vader From the Dark Side

    I haven't had an M1 machine so my guess is - I don't think so.

    I haven't been able (yet) to clone Big Sur and even my beloved low-level bit copier that always works 'dd' fails. The reason? Well for dd to work you have to unmount the disks. The 'Sealed System Volume' works just like that 'sealed'. When you try to unmount the bootable system disk it fails with a message that 'one or more Volumes can't be unmounted'. Nice one Apple.

    However I still have a few tricks up my sleeve to try for cloning Big Sur. I like the challenge! Oh and it keeps my brain active even though I forget why?


    naimplayer likes this.
  10. s1h1

    s1h1 performing within expectations

  11. Darth Vader

    Darth Vader From the Dark Side

    Thank you but nothing new there. This approach:-

    "Basically, bootable backups of your Big Sur System and Data volume groups aren’t allowed, but complete duplication of just your Big Sur Data volume can be made.
    This is the approach ChronoSync takes when creating bootable backups on Big Sur and this tech note will outline the steps for doing this.

    is covered in my first post above. Although I mention Time Machine you can also use Super Duper to do the equivalent.


  12. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    This raises questions with regards to being able to reverse-out of a bad OS upgrade. As an example I tried Catalina, hated it, so actually physically swapped the SSD in my MBP over to my last CCC backup of Mohave taken a few hours earlier (on a similar 1tb SSD). I know that’s a fairly extreme way of doing things (I did it as it was by far the quickest option) but I’d certainly not want to lose that ability to crowbar an unwanted OS out by some method, and Apple really don’t like you moving backwards with their OS no matter how BTF the latest offering may be. I’d be interested to know if you can actually move an M1 back in time, or whether an OS upgrade is a one-way thing like iOS etc (I assume you can jail-break, but I’m not talking hacks here - if I’ve bought the hardware I believe I have an absolute right to install whatever I like on it).
  13. Mullardman

    Mullardman Moderately extreme...

    Gentlemen. I have almost no clue what you are talking about except 'problems with Apple.'

    My daughter uses a 27" Mac along with other kit such as a WACON (sp?) for her design work. As I understand it Macs are pretty much industry standard for design. She told me a couple of days ago that she thinks she may need to buy a new Mac as hers is pretty old and is failing.. though I need more info. She basically cannot work without one.
    She lost her job during the first lockdown and has since been earning what she can by freelancing and selling stuff she produces independently. Plus.. she is expecting in a few weeks...
    I don't think she can afford a new Mac.. so it looks like I may have to step in. Would what you are discussing make you caution against me stumping up £2k or thereabouts?
    Also.. how repairable are older Macs?
  14. Joe Hutch

    Joe Hutch Mate of the bloke

    I can only answer the last bit. If my experience with trying to get a 2011 Macbook Pro repaired is anything to go by, not very. It started to go wrong late in 2019. A faulty HDD was diagnosed, and replaced with an SSD, supposedly more reliable. Then it failed again early in 2020. This time, the fault was traced to the logic board, which was replaced. Then it failed again. Apart from the cost, as this was during lockdown, it was a PITA, so finally I admitted defeat and got a new one for my birthday last year. The old one is sat in a corner. I can't bear the thought of spending any more time or money on the wretched thing, but it seems a shame to just bin it.

    Disclaimer: I am a total ignoramus as to how computer stuff works. No doubt someone more knowledgable than what I am will be along shortly to point out where I went wrong, 'any idiot could have done these repairs at home for nowt', 'you should have bought a refurbished Lenovo for ten quid instead', etc etc.
    Mullardman likes this.
  15. MJS

    MJS Technical Tinkerer

    Wacom. They make pen tablets for design work. Much loved by video editors and designers.

    Older macs are very repairable. Mind you I have a 2010 mac pro that died on me a couple of weeks ago. I slipped the SSD into a mac mini and have been using that instead and haven't really noticed any major issues with performance for what I use it for.

    If anyone does want a 2010 mac pro it doesn't boot but does power up. Front power button flashes 3 times which suggests it's a memory issue but have swapped it all out. It could be logic or processor tray. I'd recently put a GTX680 in it too.
  16. Darth Vader

    Darth Vader From the Dark Side

    I think those flashes may mean incompatible RAM types. Do you perchance have two different types of RAM cards installed? Or perhaps just one bank has gone faulty. Long shot but worth a punt.

    Sell as 'spares or repair' or break it up and sell on the working bits.


  17. garyi

    garyi leave blank

    The reality is laptops have a life span, macs included. 10 years ain't at all bad.
  18. boneman

    boneman pfm Member

    The discounts given to the corporate world are such that if it goes irreperably wrong they just swap out for a new one. As has been mentioned above computers, like phones, are more and more becoming appliance items, not things that you repair and keep going for years and years. It is exactly what the big firms want as it's a consistent stream of revenue. Sadly it's probably the worst way of doing business for the environment.
  19. sq225917

    sq225917 Bit of this, bit of that

    Joe hutch, there's a brilliant component level mac repair guy in Leeds, no fuss or bullshit and cheap as they come. I highly recommend them.
  20. MJS

    MJS Technical Tinkerer

    Yep, it had mixed RAM of 40GB. But it still fails with any 2 sticks of any one type and none of the RAM error LEDs light up. I've been through the service manual so this one is for someone who can swap bits out with another one.

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