I recently acquired a 17" MacBook Pro 2011 (the one known for GPU failure) and I'm trying to get macOS High Sierra on it.
I first tried to install High Sierra via macOS internet recovery (Cmd+Opt+R). Sometimes this stalls completely, showing only a screen with the Apple logo with a progress bar. Rarely, it goes to completion and once I was somehow able to get to the install screen but am prompted with "Unable to reach High Sierra server". I heard this was shut down recently, which makes sense given how old the OS is. I also tried the date trick but it didn't work.
I then tried a USB bootable installer using Apple's guide. I tried the High Sierra installer from both the
softwareupdate CLI tool and gibMacOS. I am able to see the bootable USB when I hold Opt when the computer starts. It ends up stalling on an Apple logo and the progress bar slowly creeps to the end but never goes anywhere.
After resetting NVRAM and SMC, I let it boot to the normal Recovery Mode using Cmd+R. This allows me to install OS X Lion. I decided to try to do incremental updates from OSX Lion to High Sierra but was never prompted an entire software update, only some minor security updates, iTunes, etc. While on Lion, I tried to access Apple's page where you can directly install macOS installers, but I'm unable to connect to the page (even on wifi) likely due to security reasons or an unsupported version of Safari.
In hopes of going from OSX Lion -> El Capitan -> High Sierra, I got the El Capitan installer on my newer Mac and transferred it to the 2011 MBP via USB. I ran the El Capitan installer on Lion and when it restarts, I see the Apple logo and progress bar briefly and then a white screen. When I restart, it tries to finish the installation but the same white screen occurs.
I suspect some sort of hardware failure such as the GPU even though there are no artifacts. I ran Apple Diagnostics and the only thing it brings up is a bad battery, which I have since then removed. When I was on OSX Lion, the GPU appeared under system report but it could still be defective, correct? I am out of ideas.