A Weird macOS Sierra Installation Problem

January 5th, 2017

I’m not traveling as much as I used to, so I don’t use my vintage 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro all that much. I do take it out to recharge the battery and run OS updates from time to time when I’m not otherwise using it. My son, on his annual trek home from Madrid, now says I should just sell it. It has been updated with a 500GB SSD and an extra 4GB of RAM, and it runs about as well as a recent MacBook Air. At least that’s what Grayson says. So it should command a decent sum on eBay.

However, when I am on the road, I need to be able to essentially duplicate my home office environment, which means being able to record and edit two radio shows. I have the USB mic to carry along. I’m all set. But without a Mac notebook — or something from Windows that can do the same sort of work — I would be in trouble. The iPad is no substitute, since there is no apps that can replace some of the ones I need, such as Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack to capture sound from Skype and other apps.

So the MacBook Pro stays until I’m ready to replace it. True, it could use a new battery, but most of the time, there’s an AC socket nearby.

During his visit, Grayson spent a lot of time on it, so I decided spend a little more time making sure everything was current. and that started with the OS. Since I hadn’t installed any updates on it in months, I noticed a 10.11.6 update or El Capitan in the App Store, plus a very big plug for macOS Sierra. Apple even put a convenient button in there to download and install the upgrade.

Now the 2010 MacBook Pro is one of the oldest models that still supports Sierra. I suspect 10.13 won’t support this computer, and that may be the time it needs to go. Still, I expected — or at least hoped for — decent performance from that upgrade, so I dutifully started the download and went about my business.

A while later, I returned to see the Sierra installer ready to roll. But I never made it past the prompts to accept the terms and conditions before I hit a roadblock.

Whenever I tried to select the MacBook Pro’s internal drive for the install, I found that it wouldn’t work. The drive icon was grayed out, and a tiny tip-stye message appeared about needing to upgrade to macOS Server 5.2 first. Only thing, I have never installed any server software on that notebook — ever. So why the message?

I went through a couple of diagnostics, consisting of restarting, resetting NVRAM and the SMC, not that I expected anything would happen. I even tried restarting in Safe Mode, with the Shift key held down, and it didn’t make a difference.

Sure, I could have backed up and restored the computer in the hopes that would cure the problem, but I decided to try something that would be less time-consuming, and that was to use the macOS Recovery feature, which involves restarting with a Command-R.

But it didn’t work. For some reason, there was no Recovery partition on that drive, so I had to use the more drastic solution, macOS Internet Recovery. The startup command is Command-Option-R, and as the title applies, it downloads the recovery partition from Apple’s support servers.

The setup complete, I ran the First Aid function from Disk Utility, which found nothing wrong, I choose Reinstall macOS from the macOS Utilities menu. But even though I was using OS X El Capitan, the only available option was to upgrade to macOS Sierra. Was Apple pulling a stunt similar to what Microsoft did with Windows 10, to force Mac users to switch to the new OS? Or was this a peculiarity of the curious problem that made it otherwise impossible to install that upgrade?

Oh well, might as well go with the flow.

I had no expectations of what might happen during the reinstall process. I half expected to have to backup and restore the MacBook Pro, and I had only delayed the inevitable.

Or maybe not.

So I started the setup. Within a short time, I saw the standard Sierra installation screen. This time, the internal drive was available to select, and I began the install. This time, the entire installer has to be downloaded as part of the process, which can take a while.

The rest was anticlimactic. macOS Sierra 10.12.2 is now running on that MacBook Pro. Performance in all respects that I have tested appears to be about the same as its predecessor. So if that’s the last operating system upgrade for that Mac — aside from maintenance updates — so be it.

As I write this, I’m following the usual steps to attempt to recondition the battery, which essentially involves charging the unit, leaving it connected to the charger for a couple of hours, and letting the battery run down till it goes to Sleep mode. After it shuts off, you give it a full charge. These steps are supposed to optimize battery life, and I’m not eager to put any more money into this computer. But selling it with a nearly-new battery should command a better price.

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