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I had a nearly full 500GB drive in my MacBook Pro, running Snow Leopard. As the near-full capacity was becoming problematic, I bought two 1TB drives, went home, ran Time Machine on one of them, and then returned to my local Apple store (here in Taiwan), where they installed the other new drive.

While I was not present (and therefore did not see what was happening), they swapped one drive for the other, and set up my MacBook with Snow Leopard and what looks like most of my old applications. By this I mean that the operating system works and the Applications folder is full of familiar faces, but the desktop background is gone, the multitude of folders (full of my beloved data) on the desktop were gone, and none of my system settings or preferences were the same as before this process began.

They told me to go home, enter the Time Machine, and restore the system from the last update. I went home and dutifully complied (I thought...). As there was a lot of data, this took a few hours. Returning to the computer later on, I saw that the Time Machine progress bar window was gone, which I assumed to mean the process was done. I ejected the Time Machine drive and restarted the computer (as it still looked the same to me...) to find it in the same state as it was several minutes, and in fact, hours, before.

Thinking I could repeat this process but get different results, I returned to the Time Machine and tried again, with predictably similar results. This time, however, I noticed three things of note:

  1. using "Get Info" on the "Macintosh HD" icon on my desktop (now the only icon to be found there) revealed that the 1TB internal drive was about half full, and
  2. using Spotlight I found that some of the contacts in my Address Book are somehow still here; but there's a confusing bit: when I open the Address Book, there are only 2 contacts there. The others that I can see all appear in Spotlight, but by hovering over them I cannot seem to reveal their location, and
  3. when I enter Time Machine now, the icon for the backup drive has changed from the blue circle-having Time Machine icon to the standard orange USB-type icon, and once inside, I cannot find the backup point for the last backup before replacing the 500GB drive with the 1TB drive. I can see these Contact cards, but using spotlight to find my music, movies, or data files (like Pages and other text stuff) does not make them apparent. I cannot figure out why the internal HD is so full if the data is not there somewhere. The applications and system-related info on my HD was never all that space-consuming before. It was my increasingly large collection of photos and data that seemed to be eating up the old drive.

Happily, nothing has happened or been done to, the old drive, except it is now in a case as an external HD. I plugged it in to one of my USB ports, and it appears on the desktop, complete with its old special icon, and full of its beautifully-not deleted contents and data. I know this because I used Finder to explore it, and it looks like everything is there where it should be.

I am hoping there is a way to run Migration Assistant, or to follow some other process, and restore my computer to its former health and strength. I've done this kind of HD swap before, but I've never run into this problem before; the staff at my Apple store have always been highly competent, efficient, and professional. This time around, my main concern is that if I take it back to the shop again, this problem may worsen, and I'd like to get back to working with my personalized system, and especially the files and data I know are here somewhere as soon as possible. The only solution I've been able to come up with after struggling with it for some time, is to put the old 500GB drive back into the laptop (assuming it will run as it did before.), run Time Machine again, put the new 1TB drive in a second time, and then restore from the backup under responsible, knowledgeable, Apple Store supervision.

Similarly, can I plug in the old drive, somehow use Time Machine to back it up, and then run the restore from there? Or does anyone have a better method?

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2 Answers

There is an alternative method, although cloning the original drive to the new one is a better method, as is likely faster, but this is an option...

Create another admin user, one that does not exist on any of the systems you use, and then delete your current user account (assuming you've backed up new stuff to another drive).

Login to the new account and run migration assistant, and get it to restore from your old 500 GB drive.

Once it is done you will be back up and running with your old user account. Login to it and delete the extra admin account you created.

Enjoy...

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So, to summarise, if I understand correctly, you have:

  • old 500GB drive in an external case, with good data
  • new 1TB installed internally, with bad data

I would do the following:

  1. Plug in the external 500GB drive.
  2. Hold the option (alt) key whilst turning on the Mac, then choose to boot from the external drive.
  3. Erase the internal drive using Disk Utility.
  4. Copy the contents of the external drive to the internal. This can be done using the Restore pane in Disk Utility, or alternatively Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper!. SuperDuper is perhaps the easiest to use here.
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