Fun with SSDs and Time Machine

I’ve written and rewritten this post a few times. Originally I figured that I’d write up a glowing post about my awesome ExpressCard SSD that is now my boot disk for Snow Leopard. The thing is, as cool as it is, it’s not “game changing” by any stretch. Don’t get me wrong, my MacBook Pro boots very fast. I went from a boot time of over a minute to around seventeen seconds. Applications also launch fast. Most times my application icons don’t bounce in the doc. Photoshop and Aperture only bounce once or twice. It’s just that I don’t spend most of my time booting up or launching apps. Most of my time is spent using the apps after all the speedy stuff has happened. It’s obvious that SSDs will replace spinning platters. I’m just going to wait on Moore’s Law a bit and get a cheap 1TB SSD to keep all of my data. I think my 200+ GB Aperture library will like living on an SSD someday.
SSD 324/365
Now here is my real frustration with moving to this two drive setup on my Mac. Time Machine. Before installing my ExpressCard SSD I made sure my Time Machine back up was up to date and complete. I assumed that I could just pull over any data I wanted on my new setup. That assumption was wrong. Certain files cannot be dragged over due to permission problems. Even using the same user account with the same password I was blocked from coping over my iPhoto and Aperture libraries. This was my own Time Machine backup and I wasn’t really allowed to access it. I spent hours changing permissions and giving my admin password when asked. Nothing worked. I’m sure there are command line unix ninjas who could have fixed this, but sadly, that’s not me.

My next plan of attack was to use Migration Assistant. The flaw here is that Migration Assistant wants to put all of my data onto my boot drive. The boot drive is only 48GB and that just won’t work. Since my new setup has my home directory on the original internal HDD, Migration Assistant kept telling me that I didn’t have enough room to move my documents. I’m assuming that using Migration Assistant would have solved my permission problems, but I don’t know for sure. It just didn’t care that I had two drives now.

On to my solution. I popped out my SSD, booted from the Snow Leopard DVD and completely restored with Time Machine. This is where Time Machine is such a great product. Next I backed up all of my data to a separate external drive. After that I could once again format my internal HDD and use the SSD to boot Snow Leopard. Lastly, I moved my home directory back to the internal HDD. From my second external backup I could copy everything I wanted to where ever I wanted.

What’s really bothering me? Apple is now shipping new iMacs with solid state boot drives for the OS and applications with secondary HDDs used for data. Anyone moving from a Mac with more data than the SSD can hold will not be able to use Time Machine or Migration Assistant to move to their new Mac. I consider myself to be fairly geeky when it comes to computers, but even this exercise was frustrating. I cannot imagine my family or friends being able to move from one Mac to a new one equipped with a SSD boot drive. I’ve come to expect more from Apple with this sort of thing. I can’t believe that they didn’t think about this problem ahead of time. I hope a solution is not far off.

Why does this bother me? Apple tells us that Time Machine is “the way” to back up our data. If you’re left with only a Time Machine back up and you need to get your files you could end up very disappointed. There should be a way to authenticate yourself to a Time Machine disk so that you can always get the file you need. There should also be a method to move from a Mac to a shiny one with different drive and boot options. It seems to me that this is something that Apple would normally think about and handle elegantly.

What you should know:

I am not a writer. I also know that I don’t know everything. This was simply my experience and my thoughts about that experience. Your mileage may vary.

I also left out descriptions of how to do things along the way. I figure that most people who would want to tackle this sort of thing can use Google just as well as I did.

*Update* I should mention that spotlight does run a fair bit faster with SSD boot drive.