Challenge: you have 8 hours to rescue data from a 2006-era iMac, what would you bring?

I’ve made my own supply list and plan for this, but am curious to hear what others would do.

Non-hypothetical scenario:
You have a 2006 iMac (top of the line at the time) with an iPhoto library and possibly other data on it. This is sitting in a storage unit in City X. Due to reasons beyond your control, the data is not backed up in the cloud. There may be external drive backups stored with the iMac, but you don’t know until you are there.

You will land in City X at ~10am and be at the storage unit by 11am. The storage facility closes at 8pm so you need to have returned the iMac to storage by then. (Your flight leaving City X is at 6am the next morning and you cannot bring the iMac with you.)

What gear would you bring with you?

In what order would you try to retrieve and backup the data? What would be your plan?

Bonus question: what code name would you attach to this mission?

I would bring a hard drive and a USB stick - the stick would have Carbon Copy Cloner or another cloning software on it; the drive would be for the backup. Then I’d hope that the 2006 era Mac doesn’t have much storage space and therefore the clone would finish in time.

The hard drive would then come with you and the data on it could be retrieved at leisure - though a backup of it would be wise if you intend to delete anything on said drive :wink:

Code name: My Mac and Back


If you’re grabbing certain items off the hard drive and don’t need the whole disk, just doing a regular copy using the finder might be faster than CCC.

If the iMac doesn’t need to remain operational at the end of the process, you could take it apart and yank the hard drive in addition to copying the data onto an external disk. This probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but it might be a good idea to bring the tools to do this as a backup in case you run into unexpected issues (machine refuses to boot, etc.).

Another possibility would be to box up the iMac and ship it, then get the data off at your leisure.

Code name: Total Recall


I would ask Ethan Hunt to choose to accept the mission…

Code name: Next Blockbuster


Bootable hard drive with Carbon Copy Cloner installed on it, several additional pre-formatted hard drives at least 1 TB in size each partitioned into 2 segments
spare keyboard, mouse
cables to connect the iMac directly to another system
Portable mac with it’s own full complement of cables
sparepower cords and wall warts as needed for all devices
firewire to USB cable (the backup disks might be firewire)

Plan of attack
Set up 2 desks so you can swivel from one system to the other. Get portable set up on one, iMac on another

I would first boot up the iMac and see how much stuff is there. If not too big start a CCC clone of the drive onto one of my backup drives and while that’s running search for additional hard drive backups in the storage shed.

If I find any use my laptop to see what’s on them and start another CCC of those drives.

If there is too much to do a clone I’d first dump all user data onto a drive and then start cherry picking preferences and unusual apps. Be sure to gather the e-mail, wherever it is located.

Code Name: Operation Hypatia
Alternate Code Name: Farenheit 2018

Looks like the max stock hd is 250gb, so a 500gb or 1T should handle it.

The USB ports are 2.0, so be sure your external can use 2.0. If you take a thumb drive with CCC on it, same applies.
Hm. Be sure CCC can retro back to whatever OS X is on it.

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External HD and clone with dd_rescue. iPhone with hotspot, in case I need to install anything. And I have built an USB drive with a lot of rescue tools, I have that always on my keychain. Bootable HD with OSX supported by that Mac.

I wouldn’t use CCC, doesn’t deal well with problematic file systems and bad sectors.

From the CCC HP:
"If there are filesystem problems or corrupted files on the source, will these be propagated to the destination?

Not only will these problems be propagated to the destination, it is also unlikely that a block-level copy will complete successfully if there are corrupted files (i.e. bad sectors) on the source volume…"

So, no idea why CCC is recommended. I`d go for dd_rescue.

I would rip the old White iMac open pull the Hard Drive out and put the remains in the electronic recycling bin…

Once back home put the drive in a 3.5" HD enclosure and copy the data.

A screwdriver: that hard drive is coming out!

I seem to have a completely different approach. I’d bring my 2011 MacBook Pro which has FW800 and a FW800-FW400 cable. That’s all, assuming the data would fit on the MBP. I’d connect the cable between the iMac and my MBP then boot the iMac in Target Disk Mode. I wouldn’t even need the login credentials for the iMac. I could then access all the files on the iMac’s drive from the MacBook Pro as though it were an external drive and copy whatever files I wanted. As for the external drives, they would be either FW400 or USB2, so would also connect to my MBP.

The MBP is fine carry-on on the airplane, I’d need no tools, and the iMac would be unscratched. I’d only be foiled if the iMac had FileVault enabled, but that’s not likely.

In my experience old hard drives can be very slow. It often takes me more then 12 or even 20 hours to copy a couple hundred GB.
At least bring the tools to pull the drive if you run out of time…


Several questions:

  • does the iMac boot?
  • target mode can be blocked by a system password

This also applies to all the cloning suggestions.

The best approach would actually to get the HD out. Does anyone still need that iMac? If not, don’t even be gentle

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The iMac doesn’t boot. Hopefully there isn’t a system password set (frankly, not likely to be set!) but this doesn’t require any login password.

The problem states the iMac must be returned to storage, so I assume needs to be intact. Taking at least that vintage iMac apart (providing it’s pre ambient light sensor) was a piece of cake. Easiest iMac ever. But I’d say still would involve carrying lots of gear, which isn’t very stealthy.

That in a storage facility and you might be arrested for possession of burglars’ tools!

I realized I never closed the loop on this thread.

Just to report back that the original trip to City X that was planned for late 2018 was cancelled, but I had a more leisurely trip to City X in mid-2019 and successfully booted the iMac and carbon copy cloned it to several hard drives. I’ve been happily working through old Photo libraries ever since. (And, my plan would have worked in the original tight timeline!)