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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

Elsewhere

Moving macOS (Big Sur) to a new drive

In a previous post I mentioned I was trying out the Big Sur beta. This was actually on my iMac with a fusion drive that I wasn’t using for much else, but now that I had Big Sur on it I started using it more and the slowness of the fusion drive started getting on to me. It’s been a while since I used regular drives, and while the fusion drive is supposed to be better than regular drives due to the 32GB (in my case) of SSD caching it provides I hated it. Any other time I wouldn’t have purchased an iMac with a fusion drive, but I bought this iMac at a time when I wanted something urgently and if I switched the fusion drive to an SSD it added a couple of days to the delivery times and so I skipped it. 

Anyways, fast forward and now I have Big Sur on it and it was slow as hell and irritating. Then I read somewhere that one can boot macOS from an external drive. In fact that’s how sensible people tried out their beta versions – not by installing it on their primary partition like I had done. :) So I decided to go down that route. I could have got an SSD but I went ahead and bought a 2TB NVMe drive and an USB-C to NVMe enclosure – which on paper is expensive, and it really is mind you, but is still cheaper than buying something like the Samsung X5 of a similar capacity (the price difference being due to the fact that the X5 has Thunderbolt to NVMe and so you get 40Gbps bandwidth whereas the UBC-C one I went for gives me 10Gbps – which was fine in my case, I don’t need 40Gbps, and I couldn’t find any Thunderbolt to NVMe enclosures either). 

First I thought I’d try something like Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the internal drive to the NVMe. That didn’t work coz CCC doesn’t work with Big Sur yet and gives a warning that the destination drive won’t be bootable (it does so even before I select a destination drive). I tried to clone and boot anyways and it didn’t work as expected. So what I did instead was the following:

  1. I erased the NVMe disk as APFS via Disk Utility.
  2. Then I took a Time Machine backup the installed macOS. 
  3. Rebooted and went into recovery mode (press Cmd-R while rebooting).
  4. Tried to do a restore of the Time Machine back to the NVMe but it said I must reinstall macOS first. It gives an option to do so there itself, which I did. (Or you could choose to reinstall from the initial menu itself. (Here’s the Apple document to recovery mode for some pictures). Either ways, this will install Big Sur to the disk you specify. 
  5. While booting up into this newly installed OS (it does automatically after the install) I was asked if I want to migrate from a Time Machine backup. I selected to do so, pointed it to my previously created backup, and it restored everything. 
  6. Rebooted, and I was now booting Big Sur from the NVMe disk (speedy!!) and all my data and settings were there. 

Some things actually worked better after this. Previously in Big Sur I wasn’t able to get the default colourful wallpaper working as it would bring up the Catalina wallpaper instead. On the new install that works fine. Some apps like Witch and Alfred etc. bring up their permissions dialog again on first login – no big deal. And that’s it really. But boy, macOS runs so blazingly fast now. Every task which used to take a minute or two of me staring at the beach ball previously is now instant. Nice!

Update: Note to self. When rebooting the Mac press the Option key so I am asked which drive to boot from. The NVMe (or any external) disk can sometimes take a while before being recognised and in such case the Mac boots to the fusion drive by default. Also, press Ctrl when selecting the NVMe so it remembers that as the default (not that it matters because I should always press the Option key when rebooting). 

Trying out macOS 11 (Big Sur)

So WWDC 2020 was this past Monday. I didn’t watch the keynote but I downloaded macOS 11.0 soon after that from Beta Profiles. Not sure what I was thinking really, it’s a bit of a silly move downloading a beta version of macOS, especially considering even “stable” versions like 10.5 have been flaky. Anyhoo, too late to think about it now … the only solace is that at least I didn’t install it on my primary Mac, so assuming it doesn’t cause any data corruption like delete my iCloud files or emails I am good. Worst case I will just re-install the older version. 

First impression – the new look took a minute to get used to, but once I did I started liking it. It feels a bit too bright to me, but that’s probably just my eyes. 

I couldn’t try the new colourful wallpaper as it would keep going to the Catalina wallpaper whenever I’d select that. I was able to use the Big Sur mountain wallpaper though – that works. 

Funny this, just earlier that day I was reading a blog post about monitors (yay for the author – good post!) and had turned off font smoothing in the OS. Interestingly, after upgrading the option is no longer available. Has Apple turned off font smoothing for good in macOS 11? That’s good if they have. 

I love the newish Music and Podcasts app. They are new in the sense that they are newer than the version in 10.5. I prefer the new look and I enjoy using these apps now. I also like the new look of the Dock, how it has rounded corners and is slightly lifted from the base (bottom or sides of the screen – wherever it is placed). For some reason with macOS 11 I have moved the Dock to the left side as I find it better there. Somehow the change in look has made me feel like putting it there (when I had put it there with earlier versions of macOS I didn’t like it). 

The upgrade broke a few apps as expected:

  • Bartender is unable to control the menubar items any more.
  • Karabiner Elements is broken (you can follow this issues page for a discussion). I simply turned off Karabiner and stopped using the Microsoft Sculpt keyboard for now (that’s the reason I was using Karabiner Elements) and went back to the Magic Keyboard.
  • Toothfairy works as usual – good!
  • No issues with Alfred 4 either.
  • Contexts works but the theming is broken. Not a big deal.
  • Homebrew broke. Thankfully the fix is simple – download the latest Xcode and CLI tools from Apple. Thanks to the people at this issues page for pointing me in the right direction. 
  • That’s it for now! This is not my primary Mac so I don’t have too many apps there. The only other apps I have are stuff like LastPass, Bitwarden, BBEdit, TextMate, iTerm2 … and all these work fine. 
  • Oh, forgot! Safari Developer Edition doesn’t even launch. Expected I guess. (Update – 26th June – now fixed in an update)
  • The Music app still has this bug wherein when I am listening to a song and I add it to my library it stops playing the song. I’ve had it since macOS 10.15, I just put up with it.

Checkout this WWDC 2020 music playlist from Apple while you are at it. Good stuff!