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Recovering From HDD Failure Is Much More Difficult With Macs Shipped Post-Lion

Recovering From HDD Failure Is Much More Difficult With Macs Shipped Post-Lion

After ordering a 15″ 2011 MacBook Pro on OS X Lion’s launch day, suspecting that there might be some interesting differences, I was disappointed when I finally received the new machine today, and found out what those differences are, the main one being that purchasers of a post-Lion MacBook Pro no longer have a quick and Apple-sanctioned way to recover from hard drive failure without Apple’s intervention.

I compared the new Lion-enhanced unit I received to a second machine with identical specs that I’ve had since March. I compared the packaging, the manuals, and the MacBook Pro itself in order to discern all of the differences, most of which are relatively minor.

The Differences

1) Apple no longer includes restore discs with new Macs.

The below images illustrate the difference between the included pull-out packed in the old 2011 MacBook Pro (pictured first) versus the post-Lion version.

One of the most notable differences between the two units is the fact that the new post-Lion 2011 MacBook Pro no longer ships with restore DVDs, or restore medium of any kind for that matter – Its pull-out packet only includes Apple stickers, a warranty pamphlet, a screen cleaning cloth, and a booklet entitled “Hello.”

The older machine, on the other hand, includes an “Everything Mac” booklet instead of a “Hello” booklet and two restore DVDs – one for Snow Leopard and one for the bundled iLife applications installed on the machine.

2) Apple has updated the keyboard design, packaging, and even manuals of all Macs shipped after Lion’s release.

The external packaging of the new MacBook Pro 15″ includes a picture of a MacBook Pro running Lion rather than a picture of one running Snow Leopard. Also interesting is that the new model has both a different SKU and a different model number than its older but identical twin. The part number and SKU for the old unit are ZOM12LL/A and 8590948120, respectively. With the new unit, however, both the model number and SKU reflect a new number – ZOM10008A.

Also notable is that the F3 and F4 keys have been redesigned for Mission Control and LaunchPad, whereas the same keys on the older unit are the function keys for Expose and Dashboard. Additionally, the “Hello” book, which is basically a renamed version of the “About This Mac” book, has been updated to reflect Lion’s new features, as well as the new gestures in Lion.

3) The new MacBook Pro I received contains build 11A511a rather than the build 11A511 that comes through the Mac App Store.

Another intriguing tidbit is that the new unit comes with a revised build of OS X Lion – rather than including the 10A511 app that comes from the Mac App Store, this machine featured a slightly revised built – 10A511a – although I have not yet found any differences between the two versions.

The Investigation

I initially looked at all these changes as positive ones that reflected Apple moving forward – moving away from optical discs towards features such as Internet Restore, the Lion Recovery partition, and so forth. Since the unit lacked any physical restore medium, I naturally suspected that, like the new MacBook Airs and Mac Minis that Apple just released, it must include Apple’s new Internet Restore feature. That’s when the disappointment began.

I tested out my theory that the new machine might have Internet Restore by removing the hard drive, and then attempting to boot the machine while holding down Command-R. Unfortunately, instead of being given the option to use Internet Restore, I instead merely got a picture of a folder with a question mark on it.

I tried two additional times, first plugging in a blank FireWire hard drive, and then installing a blank 2.5″ internal SATA drive. In both cases, I was NOT given the option to use Internet Restore, but was instead greeted with the same flashing folder with a question mark on it.

The Concern

At this point, it seemed clear to me that the new 2011 MacBook Pro I received does not include Internet Restore. Ordinarily, I’d simply shrug the matter off as inconsequential – but the fact that Apple includes neither any physical restore medium NOR Apple’s interesting new Internet Recovery feature troubles me.

If a user were to experience hard drive failure under these conditions, they’d no longer be able to restore their machine themselves – instead, they’d be required to make an appointment with an Apple Retail Store or Authorized Service Provider, dropping the machine off, and depending on whether they had a new hard drive to install (they often don’t), you’d then have to wait at least a full business day and possibly longer before you could use your machine again.

With the previous unit, however, it was a simple matter of swapping in a new hard drive, using your restore discs to re-install, then then restoring the machine from backup – a process which only takes a few hours.

While I respect Apple’s decision to stop including restore DVDs with post-Lion Macs, I’m extremely concerned that they haven’t given their users any means to restore from a hard drive failure short of packing up the entire machine and taking it to Apple.

To further fuel this concern, I wonder what’s going to happen to users that experience hard drive failure after Apple’s 1-year warranty or even their AppleCare agreement have expired? Presumably, they’d have to a pay a premium price for the repair, whereas previously a user could simply swap in a new hard drive and restore their machine.

Further, while it’s true that a user that knows how to obtain an installer for Mac OS X Lion (considering that if you purchase a new machine with lion you cannot download the Lion installer from the Mac App Store) could then dig around in the package contents and create their own bootable Lion installer, this is still a significant hurdle for someone to jump through – and it’s a course of action that Apple doesn’t sanction, as you’d essentially be forced to download and use a bootlegged copy of Lion in order to make it work.

The Solution?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as though there is a solution to this problem for all users – at the moment of my writing this report, it seems very much that the only ways around this problem are to obtain and download a Lion installer through an unauthorized method, or to take your computer to Apple or an authorized service provider in case of such a failure, and possibly incur significant repair fees if your warrantee is intact.

I should hope that Apple will respond to this problem by either making Internet Restore available in all of their currently shipping Mac models, or to being including a physical restore medium of some kind with shipments of new Macs, while offering to send a restore DVD or flash drive to users who are left stuck in a possible predicament. They could also make a downloadable restore disc available, along with instructions on how users could burn it to a DVD or copy it to a USB drive or external hard drive.

Fortunately, it does appear that Apple will be making a USB drive containing OS X Lion available in August – perhaps they could ship some out early to users affected by this issue. In the meantime, however, I will be reaching out to Apple, who will hopefully be able to provide some answers about this matter soon.

What are your thoughts?

Update: Apple resolved this concerns initially by providing free USB restore drives for OS X Lion to customers. Later, they issued an update that brought Lion Internet Recovery to the affected MacBooks.

  1. Steve Martin says:

    First FCP X, now Lion. IS THE PARTY OVER?

    1. chas_m says:

      Everyone will be in love with FCP X again in a year — that community hates change more than most and are all pouty at the moment (not without SOME good reason, I admit). One good “service pack” if you will and FCP X will be seen as an industry-changing Good Thing. It’s a pity they rushed it out, but by now everyone should know that ANY new version that’s a radical shift away from the old version (Pages from AppleWorks, InDesign from PageMaker, iMovie 07 from iMovie 6 HD, etc) has teething issues and should govern themselves accordingly. Only the real rubes totally jumped ship without looking, IMO.

  2. Lhtd says:

    It doesn’t seems like a great idea to me this lack of bootable drives in case of failure. Will they make bootable keys as the ones for bds or linux ??

  3. I have no confidence in Apple.  I was a mac user, but my old Macbook kept having hard drive problems.  When I had it at least I was able to re-install apple myself, given this, I do not know why anyone would go to mac.  I’M quite content (though my computer is uglier) with my windows pc.  On more than 5 occasions I had problems with my OS being deleted or corrupted or whatever. This was my only problem I had with my macbook.  Not enough to make me excited about returning to windows, but enough to make me decide to do so. 

    1. Grammar Police says:

      I have no idea what you just said. Makes no sense.

    2. Tim Riggs says:

      Errr… What?… Say again!!??

  4. Disappointing that Apple have taken this Stance.

  5. PC have been doing this for a while. I was surprised when Apple didn’t include restore discs.

    1. oakdesk23 says:

      True, but every PC I’ve encountered that takes this approach has three solutions.

      1) When you boot Windows for the first time a utility runs that offers to burn back-up discs. Apple doesn’t offer any such utility or even a real means to do so on your own.
      2) Manufactures will sell you restore discs. It’s usually around $20. While barely less than Lion, Apple is only selling you a download and not a physical disc or a sanctioned way to create one.
      3) The restore partition on PCs is a full copy of Windows and bundled software. The recovery partition on Lion is enough to boot and connect to the internet to download the 4GB installer. Not very convenient if you don’t have an internet connection, or it’s slow, or bandwidth capped.

  6. chas_m says:

    There IS an easy solution (apart from the HD/SSD having failed out of the box, of course) — one simply clones their boot drive to an external drive using either rsync/bless or a third-party GUI tool like Carbon Copy Cloner, thus creating a *bootable* backup drive.

    I do take the writer’s point, however, that there is no *Apple provided* solution to the problem. Seems like a rare oversight. I hope the company will address in August by providing bootable USB keys to buyers.

  7. Allan says:

    Apple is just thinking ahead – in two years, they won’t be shipping hard drives in their laptops. It will all be SSDs which are less likely to go bad than spinning hard drives.

    1. Mat Pancha says:

      THere are other reasons… like upgrading hard drives.  The cloud is great in concept, but certain tasks such as video (be it pro or just some guy at home with home videos) requires hard drive space… people, myself included, still keep their photos and videos with them on their laptops.

      End of the day, an Apple product is still just a computer, and the reality is there are many people who format at least once a year due to software/hardware failure or just needing to upgrade hardware.

      Apple isn’t thinking ahead, its shoving something down people’s throat.

      I love my Mac, but I’m glad I bought my MBP pre-Lion, I have media and I’ve made my own bootable USB drive for when i do format.

    2. AA says:

      SSDs have a high failure rate, moreso than regular hard drives.  The hype of reliability due to lack of spinning parts is just that, hype.  They are more durable, that is, they can take a hit better, but the probability of them just up and dying on their own is higher.
      Eventually they may be more solid.  They’re getting better.

      1. jfried says:

        Any refrences to back this? I’m new to ssds but aside from their maximum # of writes what sort of failures would one encounter?

    3. Industrialphreak says:

      SSD’s are nifty, but think of it this way Mechanical hdds’s for the most part you can retreive your data one way or another. either swap out the pcb on the physical disk or retrieve the platters in a clean room and swap them into the same make/model disk. you have a failure with a ssd aka a electronic failure your really SOL…. unless you work for gov forensics department with access to the right electron microscope, and plenty of time.

      1. Industrialphreak says:

        Additionally maybe this is a very good thing… maybe it might get folks to try something non NeXt based and Dl something open sourced.

    4. sr.ragu says:

      2 years later…

  8. Christopher Cobble says:

    This might be a little off the topic…but if you’re unhappy with the lack of restore disks for Lion, you can send that Mac to me!! And if you’re okay with it…you can send me your old one!

  9. JNSC says:

    What happens when they release the Lion Thumb Drive in August? Could you reinstall it on a new hard drive from the flash drive that they’ll sell? Or is that only for upgrading from Snow Leopard?

  10. Nick says:

    Apple is rushing down the “move it to the cloud” (and then lock it down) street, perhaps going a little too far.

    What if you don’t have internet access when a problem occurs? Or it’s too slow? Or you need to go through a pay wall (hotel, airport) to get online?

    Don’t sell me a crappy flash disk for $69, give me a tool to create my own.

  11. Nick says:

    Apple is rushing down the “move it to the cloud” (and then lock it down) street, perhaps going a little too far.

    What if you don’t have internet access when a problem occurs? Or it’s too slow? Or you need to go through a pay wall (hotel, airport) to get online?

    Don’t sell me a crappy flash disk for $69, give me a tool to create my own.

  12. Mr. up says:

    No media = Restore Partition on the OEM Hard drive and a Utility to burn a restore DVD.
    ie. like IBM/Lenovo has done with the Thinkpad. 

  13. Jordan Bartschi says:

    Good reporting.

  14. Jordan Bartschi says:

    Good reporting.

  15. Roman Goldman says:

    May I ask what is the big functionality difference between the downloaded Lion OSX from App Store or the one that you can download from any other site other than Apple??  Its not like it uses any of the licences like Windows does nor any activation’s. Also there is a guide on how you can make a boot CD/USB version of a Lion OSX downloaded from App Store.  

  16. Heather says:

    Startup manager on my new macbook (post lion) revealed a 650MB partition to reinstall Lion which also has all the standard install disc utilities – less AHT.

  17. I just buy the Mini 2011 with Lion Pre-installed. I am not smart enough to back it up before I first boot. 
    My Mini was custom built with SSD + HD. I tried command-R start up then hope to download the installer, to install to the 2nd HD. It takes quite a time, I go away and when I’m back, it’s automatically installing and almost finish. Knowing the the installer will “gone” after install. I am stupid enough to stop it (forget the method, may be by power off)
    Now the pre-install partition is still works fine. But the recovery HD even in the SSD do not work. When I command R start up again, it goes to the installer, and it says it cannot install. Option Command R to start from internet also goes to the same installer that cannot install. I am stuck there.
    I tried one from an unauthorized source, the installer says that it cannot install on this mac.
    I want to spent $29 to buy one with another Mac, just worry will it works. Or should I wait for the $69 USB drive to release.

    1. Before you spend $29, call AppleCare. They’ll help you.

      1. I’d prefer to spent USD29 than calling Apple Care. However, the one that I download from App Store (with another machine, the mini even have 10l.6.8 installed/booted indicated that Lion was installed and do not allow me to buy) and transfer to the Mini (before install), do not runs in the mini.

        The final solution is still calling Apple.

  18. Meethugh says:

    Like all companies Apple is interested in making money and that’s that. They couldn’t care less about their customers. They are just the bottom feeders. And why should they have any respect for someone who is willing to throw bundles of money at them the way their customers do. They don’t have to change a thing, they have them wrapped around their little finger. These customers are like a dog the owner kicks. The poor thing just keeps coming back. I have no idea what it takes for their customers to wake up. At least the poor dog may find another master and stop being kicked.

  19. core says:

    This is probably a dumb question, but could I use the recovery disks provided with a 2011, pre-lion, 13 inch macbook pro with the equivalent post-lion version, if necessary?

      1. core says:

        hmmm, that would be good to know…

        1. It’s unlikely that older software will work on newer machines. I’d encourage you to create another partition on your drive or use an external hard drive to test it out.

          1. core says:

            I appreciate the response, but I’m not tech savvy [trying to learn, though] and don’t know how to do that. I’m trying to decide whether to return a pre-lion macbook pro [my very first mac] that I purchased recently, or return it and get a post-lion version–looking toward the future…

          2. core says:

            any advice?

  20. madrock says:

    Firstly, my apologies if this is old news.

    I was quite shocked to find that there were no system software discs included with my new MBP.

    I thought this a little odd and suspected that Apple may have adopted the Dell type approach of including a hidden partition. Turns out this is the case and it can be burned using disc utility.

    I have verified that it works on both the new 15″ core i7 MBP and late 2009 15″ core 2 duo MBP.

    As always, YMMV.

  21. Sheku Kumar says:

    I think the difference between the lion builds is that the pre-installed one contains a link to user manuals in the root of the boot HD. I recently bought a mbp13 which came with lion pre-installed but for some reason I had to reinstall the OS. After reinstalling I found the the link was gone and the build was 11B26 (10.7.1). Can you confirm this?

    1. Yup. I can confirm that on my own machine.

      1. Sheku Kumar says:

        Can  please tell me the original folder the link points to, so I may be able to locate the manuals on this reinstalled lion build.

  22. hello my name is pedro and i’m from mexico i just bought my new macbook pro and it dosn’t come with the restore DVD and i’m looking for some tutorial that could help me if i have a poblem with lion or something… please if you know about some tutorial please share it.

  23. Lawrence says:

    Can’t you just initiate an Internet Recovery by pressing Option at startup, logging into a network, and requesting Internet Recovery?

    1. Raymond says:

      This is the correct way to do it. 

      1. Yup – that’s right. But at the time this article was written, that option only existed for the 2011 MacBook Air and 2011 iMac.

  24. Pwells1122 says:

    You just talked me out of buying one right now. I am 2.5 hours from nearest Apple Retail store.

    1. Fortunately it’s no longer an issue – it was only a problem with one batch of MacBooks sold around the same time that Apple released Lion. And they mailed USB keys to all who were affected.

  25. Bobbi Wehrs says:

    I have been trying to locate something about this.

  26. I really like your writing!

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