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Process to backup imac and reinstall OS

Posted on 2016-11-02
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2016-11-07
I am not a huge fan of Apple so I have not done a huge amount of work on their products.   I do however backup and reinstall Windows OS for clients every week.  And we dont lose any info.

I have a client with an iMac.  The computer is horribly slow and no software tools I have used will fix it.  The system is about 6 years old and running 10.11 I think it is.  

So I am wondering if anyone can tell me the most appropriate way of backing up user data and then formatting and installing a fresh copy of the OS.  The owner does not have any software discs for the computer.  They do also have Office for Mac 2008.  Is there a way of finding their license key and reinstalling that software.   They are unable to purchase a new iMac so we are going to try refresh it.
Question by:mbelletty
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LVL 32

Expert Comment

ID: 41870157
The best way to backup user data is to copy to an external drive their /Users/<username> directory.

In the Mac OS, all applications contained in a single app(a folder really).  As long as you back most of those up, they should re-install and successfully run on a different system.  There are some  caveats with this as usually serialized software will as for a license key to function.

Run this application to find all license keys on his/her system to recover this information prior to formatting their drive.

LVL 53

Accepted Solution

strung earned 2000 total points
ID: 41870276
I am not a big fan of doing OS re-installation on a Mac. That is a Windows thing.

You haven't told what you have done so far, but before you do anything, you will want to check the following:

1. Check to see how much free space there is on the hard drive. Macs slow down if there is not enough room on the hard drive for things like cache files and spotlight indexes. A good rule of thumb is to make sure 10-15% of the drive is free.

2. Check to see how much RAM the user has. If he does not have a minimum of 4GB he is going to have trouble running 10.11.

3. Finally, and most important, boot into recovery mode by booting while holding down Command-R. Then go to Disk Utility. You will see two lines at the top left of the DU window. One will show the name of the manufacturer of the hard drive. Below that is a line with the name of the boot partition, typically Macintosh HD.

Click on the line that shows the name of the drive manufacturer and to First Aid (or Repair Disk, depending on the version of Disk Utility). There may be a "Show Details" button.  If so click on it.

Assuming that checks out, click on the line with the name of the partition (typically MacIntosh HD) and repeat. Make a note of whether DU finds any errors and whether it is able to fix them.

Nine times out of ten a really slow Mac problem is caused by disk directory corruption which Disk Utility will detect (and perhaps repair) as above.
LVL 53

Expert Comment

ID: 41870311
If you do decide to reformat and re-install (perhaps because Disk Utility found errors in the drive it could not repair), I suggest you do it this way:

1. Get an external USB drive at least as big as the drive on the Mac.
2. Connect the USB drive to the Mac.
3. Go to Disk Utility (found in /Applications/Utilities - or just type Disk Utility into the Spotlight search on the menubar.)
4. Reformat the external drive as Apple Extended Format (Journalled).
5. Click on the Partition Tab and make sure the partition map is set to GUID rather than MBR. If it is not, click on the options button and reset it to GUID.

6. Reboot the Mac into Recovery Mode by holding down Command-R.
7. Go to Disk Utility in Recovery Mode.
8. Click on the Restore button and restore the existing boot partition to the external drive. This will create a bootable clone of the internal drive on the external.

9. Once that is done, reboot while holding down the Option (Alt) key to bring up the boot picker and select the USB drive. The Mac should then boot from the external - but it will be slow because it is probably USB2 on such an old Mac. This step is only a  precaution to make sure you got a good clone of the internal drive.

10. Assuming you got a good clone of the internal drive, shut down, disconnect the external drive and reboot into recovery mode.
11. Once in Recovery mode, go to Disk Utility, select Erase and erase the boot partition setting it to Apple Extended Format (Journalled).
12. Back out of Disk Utility to the main window and select Install Operating System.
13. The OS will install and the computer will reboot. During the reboot process it will ask you if you have another Mac, drive or backup you want to retrieve files from. At that point, reconnect the external and check all the boxes to bring over all apps, data and settings. Everything will go automatically from that point.

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LVL 53

Expert Comment

ID: 41870374
You will want the user's Admin password as well.

Expert Comment

by:Tim Lapin
ID: 41870601
In addition to the above, please consider replacing Office 2008.  It is quite old and no longer supported.  I'm surprised it would even run on 10.11 (a.k.a "El Capitan").  The latest version is Office 2016 (or Office 365).

As far as the license files go, they should be buried in the system's Library folder:
/ Mac HD (or whatever the user called his main drive) / Library / Preferences

It's been a while since I've used 2008 but I would look in Preferences for files that are called something like:

Other application info can be found here:
/Applications/Microsoft Office 2008/Office/OfficePID.plist

Finally, user preferences for Office are stored in the user's Library folder:
~/Library/Preferences/Microsoft/Office 2008/Microsoft Office 2008 Settings.plist
LVL 53

Expert Comment

ID: 41870617
I would also suggest you run the diagnostic tool Etrecheck:  https://etrecheck.com/#download

If you like, post the results here and our experts may be able to point out things that need attention.
LVL 30

Expert Comment

ID: 41870653
Office 2008 for Mac can just be copied.  Except for a few licensed apps, most can just be copied.  You can always get a new SSD, instead of an HD, install a new OS, then use migration assistant to move everything over.  The old HD may also have a lot of disk fragmentation, and that will slow things down.  SSDs don't suffer  from fragmentation slowdowns.

To install onto the external SSD (or HD):
You connect the SSD to the Mac through USB.
Boot into recovery mode.
Install OS X onto the external disk.
Once done, reboot to the new disk by holding down the option key during bootup, then select the SSD.
Boot up with a new account and start Migration assistant to Migrate your data.  It's a bit faster than cloning.

If you want to do everything manually, create a 2nd admin account with a different name than the accounts you wish to migrate, and log in with that.  Copy everything in /Applications and everything in the User's folder in /Users/username

rsync -av /Applications   /Volumes/ExternalDiskName/Applications
rsync -av /Users/username   /Volumes/ExternalDiskName/Users/username
LVL 30

Expert Comment

ID: 41870673
Mac Office 2008 and Mac Office 2004 can just be copied from the Applications folder.  OS X was such a small niche market back then, they probably weren't as worried about people copying it back then.

Office started using the licensing file in Office 2011, but that should be able to be copied and transferred.  Starting with Office 2016, they generate a key file that's tied to the system.  Copying the Office 2016 Key File will work when you are replacing the disk in your current system.  If you are switching systems, you will need the original product key.

Author Comment

ID: 41872122
Thanks for the feedback all.

I have run the Disk Utility in Recovery mode and it did not do too much to improve it.  Basically the system takes about 20 minutes to boot up to the desktop.  Then to start any program is painfully slow.

I am just booting it up now again after running the Disk Utility again.  I will let you know the spec so someone can tell me if it should be able to run the version properly.

Another question I have is in the Recovery Mode there is an option to reinstall the OSx system.  Does that install the current latest version on there or is it a version that it came out of the factory with, which we then therefore will need to update to the latest version again?  

Also the system has a timemachine setup and the timemachine has run and backed everything up in that respect.  Can I be confident everything is backed up and thus will be accessible after a reinstall to reinstate to the proper locations from the TimeMachine or should I make a manual backup on another drive for this situation?  

Strung - Really appreciate your post.  i will follow your steps as soon as I am confident the backup is good.

Strung - I will see if I can get to the diagnostic tool and post results.  Lets hope its not Xmas by the time I can get this done on the slug of a machine.
LVL 53

Expert Comment

ID: 41872137
Did Disk Utility show any errors when you ran it on the two different lines? If so, did it say whether or not it repaired the errors?

The re-install in recovery mode should re-install the currently installed version of the OS.

The symptoms you describe sound like a dying hard drive.
LVL 10

Expert Comment

ID: 41872996
OSX does not provide complete S.M.A.R.T. info.
The new version of Disk Drill does. (click tiny info icon on Mac HD line)

An optimized directory done by DiskWarrior will often help.
A SuperDuper clone to external and cloned back to internal often helps.

Hard drive health, directory health, and RAM installed are the most important things to check.
Etrecheck is fast and free. Designed to diagnose Macs.
If the system is faster in Safe Mode, or with a Test User, it probably is corrupted plists in the user profile.

Author Comment

ID: 41878159
Strung - Your suggestion of running the Disk Utilities seemed to work for this issue.  I ended up running the First Aid about 4 times.  After about the 4th time, it miraculously sped up.  The system now starts up in about 1 and a half minutes as opposed to about 10-15 minutes previously.

The system is a 20inch 2008 Model iMac with Intel Core2Duo 2.4ghx, 4GB RAM and running oSX 10.11.6 El Capitan.

So I am going to assume this is the best it will work given its age and the OS it is running and the hardware spec.  This is certainly a lot better than what it was running and I did not have to re-install the OS!

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