Raise your hand if you were excited about Snow Leopard coming out last Friday? I admit, I was intrigued, and went ahead and picked up a copy at my local Apple Store. But before I even got to open the package, I started reading reports that people had problems with older applications not being compatible, and even newer applications needing updates and patches just to be compatible. A personal computer having problems isn’t that big a deal. Maybe you’re inconvenienced because you can’t sync the latest songs to your iPhone, or can’t use Tweetdeck or who know’s what else.
But what if this is your work computer? What if your entire business depends on this computer? What if Snow Leopard creates incompatibilities that wouldn’t just inconvenience you, it would prevent you from working? Think I’m kidding? Adobe CS3 application users have already expressed concerns, and you would think CS4 users are safer. Maybe not.
If only there was a way to test out Snow Leopard on your system, without jeopardizing your current setup. Well, there is, and it’s not very complicated. So if you’re an expert level user, I won’t be sharing anything too mind blowing. However, for the novice to intermediate user, this may just make your day. Read on for more.
First things first, here’s what you’ll need:
- The latest updates for all your software. Developers have been scrambling to put together updates and patches for Snow Leopard. At the very least, update the software you use the most. Read any information on the developer’s site to be sure that you updated properly.
- An external hard drive. You could use pretty much anything, so long as it contains enough space to hold all the files on your current Macintosh HD. It could be a flash drive, one of those portable drives that don’t require power, or a full fledged external drive. Try to connect via Firewire 800 if possible, if not 400, and if all else fails, USB will do just fine. Oh and it should be empty. You’re going to have to format it.
- Carbon Copy Cloner is free (donationware) software that allows you to easily make your external drive a copy of your current Macintosh HD. Done right, you can boot from this drive (basically run OS X from the external drive). Which makes it a perfect guinea pig. Please download and install it.
- A copy of Snow Leopard. You can get it at the Apple Store, or buy it online. At 29 dollars, it’s pretty affordable, and if you have multiple Mac’s, 49 dollars gets you a 5 license family pack. There’s also a full version, in case you’re not currently on Leopard. For the purposes of this post, we’re using the upgrade.
- Time. Using CCC to copy everything over took a few hours, which was 100GB of data, via USB, to an external mini hard drive. Basically, the slowest possible drive I had handy. That’s ok. Just take a nap or go to lunch while this runs.
- More time. Ya, installing Snow Leopard took about an hour on my drive. Maybe a little less. Again take a nap (I did. That’s why I said it took about an hour, I’m not really sure).
Ok so let’s begin. In order to format your external drive, go to your Utilities folder (shortcut: Shift Command U). Then select Disk Utility.app. This utility provides basic functions for formatting, erasing, partition, etc, of all your data drives, both internal and external. You can even set up a software RAID.
Using Disk Utility, go to the Partition tab (up top, middle), then select your external drive. It will be listed by its size (in my case 232.9GB) and manufacturer (WD). Note mine already has “BOOTABLE” as the name under it. That’s because I’ve already done this. But in the case of your external, it should match the name of the drive that appears on your desktop when you plug in.
Under Volume Scheme, select 1 partition. type in any name (I like BOOTABLE, it’s very clear that way). Set the Format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled). And one last bit: select Options, then choose GUID Partition Table. It even explains that you need to select GUID to use the disk to start up an Intel-Based Mac. Hit Ok, and then go ahead and hit Apply. It shouldn’t take too long. Once it’s done, you can go ahead and close out Disk Utility.
Now that you have a freshly formatted external drive that you can boot into, you need to load it with your data. Start up Carbon Copy Cloner. At this point, you need to select your Source Disk (which is the disk you want to copy), and your Target Disk (the disk you wish to copy to). It’s fairly straightforward, but just in case:
For Source Disk, please select Macintosh HD. This is where OS X is installed, complete with all your applications and other files, such as settings, are written to. All your other drives, internal or external will not be affected by the upgrade, so we don’t need to worry about them, but you could unplug them just in case.
Then, for your Target Disk, please select the drive that you just formatted. In my case, it’s titled BOOTABLE. I labeled it as such in order to make it pretty obvious which drive I would be copying to. Be careful in selecting the proper Target Disk, so you don’t accidentally erase any important data. Again, if you wish to be totally safe, you can disconnect all your other drives except for the Macintosh HD and your external bootable drive.
Once you’ve selected your Source and Target Disk, choose the Backup Everything option. You can leave the “delete the items that don’t exist” option unchecked. If everything is fine, you should see the green light below the options, stating that this volume will be bootable. That’s exactly what we need. Select Clone to start the process, and let it run to completion.
With your external drive now a clone of your current Macintosh HD, it’s time to boot into it, so we can proceed with the Snow Leopard install. To do this, reboot your Mac, and hold down Option as it starts up. You should see a screen with various drives. Select your external drive (it’s the orange one), and press Return. For more info, click on the image to go to the Apple Support page about Startup Manager.
Booting into your external drive may take a while longer than your standard startup procedure, again depending on various factors. This isn’t about speed, it’s about safety.
Once you’ve booted up, you are all set to install Snow Leopard. Insert your Snow Leopard disc into your Superdrive, and select Install Mac OS X.app. You’re now on your way to installing Snow Leopard. Just follow the instructions and let it run its course. When asked which drive you’d like to install to, just select your external drive.
Once you’ve finished with the install, you’re ready to test your Snow Leopard install. Just run all your usual apps, and see if any of them pose any problems. For me, I had a few key apps fail. You can try and see if reapplying any patches, or updating will help, but if you did that before installing Snow Leopard, then there’s not much more you can do.
So now what? Well, if you’re in the same boat I’m in, just hold off on upgrading your Macintosh HD. Simply reboot back into your main drive, and that’s it. This is a very safe way to test things out. And once more Snow Leopard updates come out from both Apple and the software developers for your most used applications, you can try the test install again. Simply format the external drive, and follow the steps above.
But what if Snow Leopard worked out well? Then you can simple boot back into your Macintosh HD, and run the Snow Leopard install on that drive.
I would still suggest you play it safe, and reformat that external drive, and then use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone your Macintosh HD again before it’s upgraded. If anything happens to your Macintosh HD after upgrading it to Snow Leopard, say a week down the line, you can just clone back the info from the External to the Macintosh HD.
It’s definitely time consuming, but the few hours it took me were well worth it. I experienced color shifts on my monitor, some key apps did not work, and I generally was not prepared for the upgrade. If I had gone about it on my Macintosh HD, I might not have been able to blog about this experience.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me or leave a comment below.