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Author Topic: Making a Lion Upgrade Worth It  (Read 1468 times)
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« on: July 25, 2011, 12:00:09 PM »

As I posted in Kurdt's thread about the properties of Lion, I am disinclined to recommend it to the broad user base until they grind it out a bit. But that said, I had my own reasons for forcing the upgrade early.

Abstract for the Impatient:
  • Creating a bootable Lion disk
  • Installing an SSD into the Mac Pro
  • Installing Lion on the SSD
  • Migrating old settings to the new system
  • Moving the user directory out to another disk, saving SSD space for system and apps

Machine State
My machine is now over 3 years old and is working of an upgraded-upgraded-upgraded path all the way from early OS-X 10.4 on my previous Mac Pro. It is an 8 core Intel that is pre-hyperthreading with 10G of Ram. I've had a 300G boot/home drive, a 2T drive Time Machine drive and 2 2Ts in a RAID 1 for my movies/music content, virtual machines etc. Over time I've installed, uninstalled, modified, upgraded etc so many pieces of software, devices etc that it's no wonder my machine gets peanut buttery. Recently it's gotten to the point that kernel_task will start small then build to 100-140% of CPU usage alone and leak memory that slowly takes my machine out. Multitasking makes it so that other apps still work fine when it's doing this, except for browsers and the Finder which seem to be overly affected by this kernel_task issue.

So I decided that I'd use this opportunity to do a clean install on my machine and an upgrade in the process. What I wanted to do was change out my primary drive with an SSD, then push my user stuff (home dir) out to one of the 2T drives and let my home folder look like a normal home folder rather than all over the place because of drive size.

So I purchased this drive:

as my new system and application drive and dug in.

First step: a bootable Lion disk so that I can do a clean install.
Apple wants everyone to download Lion and that's cool, but bad for my purposes. So I purchased and downloaded Lion then made a bootable install disk. To do this:
  • After Lion downloads you click "No" as in "I don't want to install you right now."
  • In the Applications folder is the Install Lion file. Right click and select "Show Package Contents." Navigate through the Contents folder into SharedSupport. In there you will find InstallESD.dmg. This 3.74G file is the entire bootable image you need.
  • Copy that file out do the desktop. There are ways of doing the burn without this step, but this is the easiest. Obviously you need a spare 4G on your drive to do this.
  • Fire up Disk Utility. Insert a blank DVD. Click "Burn." It will ask, "Burn What?" select the dmg on your desktop. You may start playing solitaire now, this will take a while.

Once the disk is ready, we are good to go. Leave the DVD in your drive, then down your machine and pull the primary drive (Obviously I had backups before I started - you'll want to do the same). Here's where I found my first real issue: the Crucial SSD is 2.5" factor, Mac bays are 3.5". Using a highly technical and bleeding edge technique I managed to install the SSD as seen here:

Yes, that's packing foam on the bottom and business cards on the top. This created the right height for the drive to sit at, since drives hang upside down in the bays.

Installing the Lion
Start up your machine. It will automatically try the DVD because there's no boot drive. When you come up to the install screen, click on Disk Utility again. Select the SSD and "erase it" with Mac OS Journaled file system. This should go really quickly. Once this is done, quit Disk Utility.

Now back at the install screen, select Install Lion. Use the defaults but no migration just yet (because your drive is out, remember?) This reports that it will take quite a while - installing to the SSD takes about 2/3rds the time it reports.

After a few reboots, downloads and such you will have a working Lion system off your SSD. Here's where I wanted (and received) the most benefit. System boot for me is about 17 seconds from black screen to log in - a VAST improvement over past performance. Apps snap open. Safari really performs. Caching is blazing fast. SSDs make it like you have a new computer.

Next step: moving my home directory out off the system drive. This actually was what I did, but not what you should do and I'll tell you why in a moment. But first, here's the procedure.
  • Down your machine. Install drive you wish to be your "home"
  • Turn on machine. I had to use Disk Utility to erase my drive, as it was full. Obviously wide open format, Mac OS Journaled.
  • Create a folder somewhere on your new drive that you will want to be your home folder. I created "home." Then drag your f'reals home directory out to that folder. So I dragged my perk folder from the SSD system drive out to the new 2T.
  • Go to System Preferences, Users. Right click on (your user). You may need to unlock the screen to make changes first.
  • Select Advanced Options. On the Home Directory item select browse, navigate to the new folder you created. Select your user folder.
  • Changes will not take affect till you reboot. There is a dire warning that things may not work if you do this. WGAF. Save and reboot.

You'll now find that the home icon is on your outboard drive rather than the SSD drive. You may safely throw away the user folder on the SSD drive, it is no longer necessary.

Now to get stuff from my old system drive. Down the machine again and install the old system drive. Turn up. After a moment of sorting out, you should see your old system drive on the desktop and ready for you to copy stuff. Here's where we will use the Migration Assistant, which does an almost perfect job.

The issue is that the migration assistant will only migrate to a user folder on your system drive. This means that if your user folder size is greater than the remaining room on your SSD this will not work. Fortunately, I slipped by with about 8G to spare. I used the MigAsst to port my old stuff to the SSD, took about 5 hours. I selected "replace user" in the hopes that MigAsst would see the location of my home folder and dump stuff out there. It did not. Simply abandoned the outboard drive folder and copied everything to the system drive.

Out to dinner, not sitting around while that goes on. 

Once it had finished, I shut down, pulled the original system drive and re-upped. All good. Next step, moving the home folder out to the 2T drive again. Drag and drop man. That's about it. Once completed, execute the steps listed above to set the outboard drive to be your home folder. Reboot again. You should now have the outboard folder as your home. You can safely delete the SSD version again.

At this point I was about 95% happy. Unfortunately I was incorrect about drive sizing - in migrating apps and many settings it didn't work because I didn't have enough room. So the MigAsst put symlinks into the system for them and was relying on my original system drive. So I downed again and put the old drive back in. Now that there was plenty room on my system drive (the migrated version of my home folder was deleted) I could move apps over, as well as many support things I keep off the root. A couple hours later I downed my machine, pulled the drive again and was up completely on the new system.

Other things to do like getting a new TimeMachine drive in there (I'll be keeping both my original drive and old TimeMachine drive for a few months just in case). And various installs that had to be redone like Office, iWork, iLife and Adobe products.

Final Thoughts
But I got what I wanted, it's like a new computer. System access is blazing fast, apps load really quickly, caching things like Photoshop rock. Combined with Lion's resume feature, the OS is pretty tight. Shutting down is no longer an issue. It's really fast and things come right back to where I left them. That's probably the single largest benefit I've received from Lion.

Unfortunately things like animations are no faster (this is to be expected). Mission Control is doggy and flashes uncomfortably, but it works OK. My intention is to keep everything off my new system drive except for (obviously) the OS, apps and cache/swap stuff. Everything works just fine with my home folder out on the external drive, however I do notice that things were faster when my home folder was on the SSD as well. Another Duh, but slightly unexpected.

Now into day 4 of Lion and this rig and I'm quite pleased. Lion has its issues and much of what I've described here neither affects or is affected by it - it's the SSD and clean install that's given me much of what I wanted. But combine this with Lion and a trackpad to do it "the way Steve wants it" and it's a pretty strong experience. The future, as they see it, is pretty obvious. Looking forward to iCloud and the rest of the Lion/iOS5 suite to come online, where we'll see really just how much this upgrade is worth it.

« Last Edit: July 25, 2011, 07:19:27 PM by perkiset » Logged

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