Yes, you can boot Mac OS 10.6.4 via eSATA

As my MacBook Pro enters the twilight of its long and storied career as my day-to-day ¬†working machine, I have begun to back it up obsessively. I have Time Machine back up to a 500GB La Cie drive attached by USB to an Airport Extreme base station, and I clone the laptop disk each night (well, early morning—the backup is scheduled for 4 am) using SuperDuper! to a G-Drive 500GB portable. The G-Drive is definitely stylish looking. Its FW 800 ports seem to have quit, though (or maybe the MacBook Pro’s?). I think there’s a loose connection somewhere. It derails the SuperDuper! cloning routine, and, even though the cables are pretty well-seated in the ports on the laptop and the drive, the drive disconnects itself at random. I was at the Apple Store today—shopping for a new MacBook Pro, I might add—and I saw the same thing happening to the G-Drives connected to the laptops on display. So beware the G-Drive.

In any case, I was at the lab, and feeling *really* obsessive, and I started cloning the laptop to the 1TB LaCie drive I have there. I have that drive connected to my MacBook Pro by eSATA (External SATA), using the expansion card slot. I didn’t even consider whether the machine would boot from the eSATA drive when I started. I probably shouldn’t have admitted that—who would listen to someone who just goes right ahead without even doing a cursory Google search? Caveat lector—but, well, the cloning came off without a hitch, as did booting from the eSATA drive. Also: it was FAST!

I am still using the G-Drive at home, via USB, with SuperDuper!, which results in bootable clones. It’s definitely slow. I am a little nervous that the problems with the FW ports are not isolated, but everything seems to be working, and I have the Time Machine backup and the lab backup now too.

One of the benefits of having a clone is that you can boot from it to recreate your work environment, including all applications, preferences, files, folder and directory organization. So, for instance, if the laptop does give up the ghost before I get a chance to replace it, I can cart around the G-Drive in my bookbag and continue working without interruption on any mac I can get access to. I learned that one summer when I spilled coffee into my iBook that, even if all the files in my home directory are backed up, it’s not just files that I need. There’s really no good time for an accident to happen, and I swear they happen more often 48 hours before an important deadline. I don’t have a whole day to install this and that application or to configure a new setup. With an up-to-date clone, I know that whatever happens to my laptop, I need not fear having my various projects or teaching disrupted at a critical point.

I think that anything that’s really that important should probably be under version control, something I haven’t fully committed to yet. As I begin new projects, I add them to my central repository; but there are some papers and other things I have been working on that haven’t yet been guided into that safe harbor that is subversion.

I Googled “boot from esata drive mac,” and I didn’t find anything really informative, so I am hoping that this posting saves someone out there some trouble.

A final remark—devising backup strategies and testing them is a great way to procrastinate. Everything’s got to be backed up, right? No time like the present. And it would be wrong to do anything besides surf the web or watch the new tweets come through while the backup is running. Right?

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