One day in March, 2018, I woke up feeling pretty good about the day ahead of me. Coffee, a little light internet and then a good two to three thousand words on my book.
That was the plan, anyway. About three quarters into my coffee, my screen turned to black and white vertical lines and became unresponsive. Fearing the worst, I pushed the power button and held it, cutting the power.
This machine, a 2012 single die, quad core, Mac Pro, is my daily driver. It is my work machine. I’ve written three (and nine-tenths!) books and a bunch of short stories on this thing. It is my music and photography workstation. It’s where the shit happens.
I’ve been worried about a hardware failure. This machine is too expensive to replace, and in fact, they don’t make ’em like this anymore. The Darth Vader Garbage Bucket Mac Pros aren’t really user serviceable like this one is. Half the point of the original Mac Pros was you could buy after-market RAM and stuff’em with hard-drives. You could upgrade the video card, up to a point. Macs being “special”, you need a specially flashed card to work on one. There is no equivalent machine in 2018, short of a PC “hackintosh” running macOS through sorcery and vile magicks.
So, with terrible dread, I pushed the power button. The fans and drives spun up. The startup chime sounded and then… repeated. Like an echoing, quieter version of itself, the sound replayed over and over again, while the screen stayed black. I tried recovery mode and single-user mode, but without a display, the machine wouldn’t get that far. All signs pointed to either a dead video card or RAM or maybe CPU. I opened it up and after vacuuming out all the dust, tried it again with the side panel off. LEDs flashed on the motherboard near the CPU, but nothing else. No red lights indicating a RAM failure.
Anybody know what a Mac Pro (2012) starup chime that repeats (echoing, like BONG, ong-ong-ong-ong… approx 1/sec) means? Guessing video card since, black screen, but power to drives and fans all spin up. No red lights on mobo or DIMM sockets…
— Rob Campbell 👽 (@robcee) March 12, 2018
I was worried about the machine, but fortunately, my data was safe. I let Time Machine backup my main drive to an outboard USB drive. My (current, working) photos, software and user data all live there. My “slow” archival storage is all on two 3TB RAID1 mirrored drives. That’s where my music collection and older photos live. They’re all backed up to local storage on the network, so even if I lost the machine, I’d still have most of it.
My writing is all backed up to the local network drive and synced to DropBox.
ONE MONTH LATER
I had been getting by just fine on my laptop, it turned out. A ten dollar Display Port cable plugged into my monitor allowed me to get full resolution out of the thing. A firewire adapter cable connected to my audio device, enabled all of my desktop audio gear, and USB to laptop meant I could use my mouse and keyboard.
The video card arrived in packaging that did not inspire confidence. It was a used card from some machine that was bundled up in a Mylar bag with bits of foam and old newspapers around it. It did have the two molex connectors I’d need, though. After more cleaning and some careful installation, I powered up the beast and…
… it worked! It lives!
The tl;dr of this story: Keep your shit backed up! If you have a catastrophic hardware failure, at least you’ll still have your stuff. I still have a few things I need to automate to ensure I don’t lose a week’s worth of photos and music the next time this happens. Also, I learned that if my machine does go sideways again, it’s not the worst thing that can happen. I can live pretty well on a Macbook plugged into a monitor with external mouse and keyboard. Some stuff is trickier, and the newer laptops with the sparse USB-C connectors are going to be a real pain in the arse, but there aren’t a lot of alternatives.
Anyway, so it goes. Now back to our regularly scheduled book writing.
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