Death of a MacBook Pro

I’ve been hanging on to my old 2015 MacBook Pro for awhile now, though I’ve been contemplating an upgrade for over a year. This is how an OS upgrade may have hastened its demise.

Warning: updating my Mac to Big Sur, necessitated by the recently announced spyware update for Macs, iPhones, and iPads, may have hastened the demise of my beloved MacBook Pro. Apple should warn about or check for adequate disk space before attempting a major upgrade. They don’t, so be cautious when upgrading from one version to the next. If you have an older Mac, you might try upgrading to Catalina first, and running the security patch on it.

I might have saved myself some hassle if there had been better information about the dangers of upgrading older Macs to Big Sur. I’ve been contemplating it for awhile, and the security issues gave me the impetus to do it, but I might have been warned not to install without adequate space left on my drive.

I had quite a bit of free space on a 1 TB drive, so that might not have been the issue, though that’s what I suspect. SSD drives can also fail suddenly, so I feel kind of lucky that mine did in the midst of an upgrade, when I had just done a fresh backup. I shouldn’t lose any data, and I knew this computer was getting pretty long in the tooth, but it was still chugging along okay.

Nonetheless, I had had to replace a swollen battery about a year ago, and it had started to do the same thing, so I knew I had another repair in the near future. After the first battery replacement, I realized they had messed up my power key, so I could only start when the MacBook was plugged in. Recently, I had an experience where the computer would’ve start at all after I had shut it down. No key combination with power on would jolt it to life. Fortunately, the next day it worked. I think this was because I have the computer set to restart every night, so when I plugged in the next morning, it started right away.

All, this is relevant to my current situation. when I installed Big Sur, it froze about halfway through the install. I let it sit for over 16 hours, but it never budged. at some point in those initial hours, I tried to do a hard shut down, but the power key wouldn’t make it turn off as it should. Eventually, I realized that my only hope was to let the battery drain all the way down, and then hope that it would start again.

It did, and at one point it appeared like I was able to install Big Sur in Safe Mode, but it didn’t recognize any of my old data. It wanted me to set up the computer as if it were new and import data using Migration Assistant. I skipped that step, and completed installation so I could,see what was on my drive, but when it restarted, it froze again.

I’ll spare you the full rundown of all the steps I took, but if you’re curious, you can see them in this Apple Support discussion. In a nutshell, after repeated restarts from a crashed state, I could only start into Recovery Mode, where I could not repair the SSD hard drive, could not erase it, and could not install any system because it appears to be full. It also seems to think there are more volumes on this drive than there should be (Disk Utilities sees 4 instead of 2), and it tells me there is a disk error it can’t repair.

Did this happen because there wasn’t enough free space on my drive when I upgraded? Or did it happen because the drive was failing and the OS upgrade made it use parts of the drive that were bad, or was there another reason? I may never know.

I could replace the drive and the battery and keep using this MacBook for another year or so, but that would take time and cost more than I really want to put into an old computer. And it may not fix the power button issue.

I found a good deal on a refurbished 2020 MacBook Pro that has everything I need, so I’m not sad about being pushed to the inevitable upgrade. I might wish I had gotten a few more months out of the old MacBook, maybe even another year, but I,m mostly glad it happened when I had just made a backup, and I’m glad that I can use my iPad and my work computer as a replacement until my new computer arrives in a few days.

I will have been without a home computer for exactly one week when all is said and done. If I had given up sooner on trying to fix the old one, I might have been able to get a new one sooner than that. I’m always one to try to fix things before I give up on them, but there comes a time when replacement is the best option.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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