As I have mentioned in days gone by I use a USB “Tech HD” to do a lot of my maintenance on the computers that I service, both my own and other peoples. A Tech Drive is an invaluable resource, even if you are just pulling maintenance or troubleshooting your own or families Mac’s.
It is not that expensive to create and maintain a Tech HD. The initial expense may be a bit daunting, but just build it one piece at a time. All you really have to do is buy a cheap 2.5″ laptop HD on Amazon or someplace and then an inexpensive 2.5″ HD enclosure. This will be a slow system, but it will not receive that much wear and tear, especially for home use. You could do all this with a Thumb Drive probably, but Thumb Drives are notoriously slow. Here is what my Tech HD looks like:
It is an old USB 2.0 enclosure, old enough to have Firewire. I put an inexpensive (slow) Toshiba HD in it. It did not cost much at all. How you setup the drive is really up to your personal taste and needs.
Tech Drive Setup
My Tech Drive is large enough to create several partitions. I partitioned it and made installs of various older Mac OS’s in each partition except the main Tech partition that holds all my maintenance software. You can do anything you want with the partitions or don’t create any at all.
To setup the Tech area you need to put an OS on it. I install the latest version, in fact I just updated my Tech area to El Capitan. That way I can do tech stuff on all OS’s from El Capitan backwards.
Next come the maintenace apps. There are many of them. Of course, Apple has some applications like Disk Utility which are handy, but if you want to do serious maintenance then you need apps like Disk Warrior, Drive Genius, etc. Here is the Dock of my Tech partition with the apps that I use the most:
These apps are indespensable for teching Mac computers. But, they are not cheap!! I have used them for years, they really are invaluable. The way to do this, in my opinion, is to buy one of these apps when you can afford it. They are listed in the order that I would buy them, just some friendly advice.
DiskWarrior is great for finding messed up OS’s on a Mac, repairing and replacing it with a cleaned up OS directory. It can also detect a failing HD and do a few other things. That is where I would start.
Drive Genius is a jack of all trades app. It does all kinds of things like cloning, repairing the directory, checking a HD for physical damage, etc. I use the HD Physical Check the most. It is invaluable in determining if a Mac HD is failing.
Data Rescue is the last third party software that I use. This app is great for recovering people’s stuff off of dying HD’s that will not function otherwise. It even works with PC drives!! You will secure peoples undying adulation if you can revcover their stuff (especially their photos) from a Mac that’s HD is not working correctly.
Disk Utility is an Apple app and is free. So is Onyx . They should be on your Tech Drive for sure. With Disk Utility you can check the general health of your Mac HD. It is not terribly sophisticated, but still useful. With Onyx, you can clean out a bunch of cache files on your OS X system. Some of those cache files can get corrupted. Onyx is an invaluable tool for doing routine maintenance on your system.
Are you detecting a pattern here? Troubleshooting Mac problems is either software or hardware related. These tools can send you down the right path by a process of elmination. If you check the hardware on your Mac (Don’t forget you can use AHT, Apple Hardware Test, as well) and it is OK, then you troubleshoot software and vice versa.
The way you use these tools is to connect the Tech Drive to the Mac, Restart and then hold down the Option ⌥ key. This is called a “tech boot” or “option key boot”. It will bring up a list of bootable partitions. If you wish to install another OS just select the OS partition from your Tech Drive and it will proceed into the install. If you wish to run maintenace apps then select the “Tech” partition. Once it is booted in then run the apps that you need.
I don’t believe everyone can or should create a Tech Drive for themselves, but for the more technologically inclined users it is a real life saver let me tell you.