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I recently installed Snow Leopard on a 2 TB USB 3.0 hard drive for my 2009 White MacBook, since the internal hard drive is broken (it no longer shows up during boot or in Disk Utility).

The external drive boots to the login screen in 1-2 minutes. But then it becomes completely unresponsive for about 10-20 minutes (I can move the mouse around, but I can’t click or type anything).

After 10-20 minutes, everything works perfectly and behaves just like when Snow Leopard was originally installed on the internal drive.

I am wondering if this “load” time is expected when using an external hard drive for your operating system.

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The external drive boots just fine to the login screen in 1-2 minutes. But then it becomes completely unresponsive for about 10-20 minutes after that (I can move the mouse around, but I can’t click or type anything).

10-20 minutes seems a bit long, but not far fetched; remember, you are actually connecting via USB 2.0 to a spinning hard drive. The White MacBook in 2009 came with a USB 2.0 port; even if you plug in a USB 3.0 drive, it will "fall back" to USB 2.0 speeds.

Maximum theoretical data transfer speeds:

  • USB 2.0 = 480 Mbit/s (60 MB/s)
  • USB 3.0 = 5 Gbit/s (625 MB/s)
  • USB 3.1 = 10 Gbit/s (1.21 GB/s)
  • SATA III = Up to 6 Gbit/s (750 MB/s)
  • SATA II = Up to 3 Gbits/s (300 MB/s)

USB 2.0 is more than 10x slower than SATA III and 5x slower than SATA II (3Gbits/s or 300MB/s). If you have lots of things being loaded, it's going to take some time.

...since the internal hard drive is broken (it no longer shows up during boot or in Disk Utility

Why not get a new hard drive? You can use any SATA III drive as it's backward compatible to SATA II. In fact personally, I am using a Samsung 850 EVO in a White 2007 that runs a dual boot of OS X Lion and FreeBSD. Any SATA II or SATA III drive will work.

This is super easy to change out and only requires removing three screws in the battery compartment. Ifixit.com has an excellent step by step tutorial.

  • Your data transfer speeds (MB/s) are wrong. E.g. USB 2.0/3.0 use 8b/10b encoding which reduces bandwidth to 400 Mbit/s and 4 Gbit/s. Due to mode (bulk/iso), bit stuffing, overhead etc. the net data transfer rate is even lower. – klanomath Aug 12 '17 at 12:43
  • @klanomath - I was using the theoretical maximum as a best case scenario as a point of reference - basically, the fastest it could possibly go in a lab, going downhill in a vacuum with a tail wind since I can't account for any of myriad of variables that occur in the real world :-) – Allan Aug 12 '17 at 12:47

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