MacBook Mayhem


It's not often I get stumped on PC issues. No, I'm not bragging - well, maybe a little. I've been working with PC based computers since the mid-80's, and besides the architecture changes, not a lot has really made a huge impact on how they operate.

Especially if they're running a Microsoft operating system. Now, Apple Mac based computers, that's a different story. I've used Linux quite a bit, and Raspberry Pi Raspian a fair amount also. 

 Where i lacked some skills was with the Apple Mac systems. That's changed drastically recently. Late last summer, I was contacted by a business that ran exclusively Mac OS based machines - Snow Leopard to be exact. These machines were iMac 10,2 all in one computers, from around 2009. As these computers were Intel based, I at least had familiarity with the components used to make these machines tick. Also, I had a MacBook donated to me around the same time, a 5,2 circa mid-2009, running Snow Leopard as well. Computer networking is pretty much standard regardless of OS, so I was able to help this client with networking issues immediately. Learning the MacOS was a different story altogether.

During this same time, a critical machine that was quite a bit older decided to throw a temper tantrum, presumably because it wasn't getting the attention it felt it deserved. An iMac fruit CRT, PowerPC based computer circa 1999. The hard drive had seen it's last days. So, I spent an evening diagnosing this one, ordered a 'new old stock' 80GB drive from eBay and waited... In the mean time, the client ordered a replacement iMac just in case. The drive came in in three days (amazingly), and I spent an evening learning the hardway how to reinstall Mac OSX on to a fruity iMac with a questionable CD-ROM drive, and ended up using a USB drive. After a bit, this was successful, I downloaded the necessary software and the next day the client was almost as happy as I was when they were able to access their financial records again.

 The latest Mac experience I've had was with a MacBook 2,1, hence the title of this article - MacBook Mayhem. This one involved the afore mentioned 2,1 and a retired gentleman whom inheretied the equally retired 2,1 that had previously been the the property of someone else. The gentleman couldn't remember his password. This usually isn't a big issue on any Mac until you get to 2011 and newer models. This one, naturally, was a much bigger problem than I anticipated.

 Generally on Mac's of this vintage, you can boot to a recovery partition or an install disk and use the password reset tools to change account passwords and even firmware passwords. Pressing the 'Option' key or 'Command' + 'S' should give you boot options. Not so on this one, my friends, not so... Turns out that, in addition to the account password, there was also a firmware password that prevents access to alternative boot methods. Without this password, you cannot boot from a USB drive, CD iinstallation or recovery drive, or even the recovery partition.  On SOME MacBook models there's a way to reset the NVRAM which is supposed to remove this firmware password. 

  1. Turn the MacBook on while holding 'Command', 'Option', 'P' & 'R' until you hear the startup chime three times.

 Rumor has it, this will reset the NVRAM and you will no loinger have the issue with the firmware password, unless you set one. I say rumor has it, because in my case, it was just that, a rumor. The MacBook I was working on this key combo DID NOT WORK. In fact, no key combo would work except 'Option' which would take me to the firmware password request box. This was a problem because the gentleman didn't remember his user password, there was no way he was gong to remember a firmware password. So, after calling it quits for the night and making myself a strong rum & Coke, I chilled for the rest of the evening.

The next day I did some research and found an article that stated if you change the memory configuration in your MacBook, on boot up it'll allow a key combo regardless of any firmware guards, and holding the four keys mentioned above will allow you listen to the three chimes, which will reset the NVRAM. So, I tried it, and well, the key combo worked and I kept the keys pressed untill I heard the three chimes, then a reboot. The result? No bueno. No change, whatsoever. By this time, I was cursing Steve Jobs and his turtleneck....

 So, I tried RAM removal again. This time when I rebooted, I let it boot up and insterted an install CD for MacOSX Lion, then shut down the computer. I reinstalled the RAM, and rebooted the MacBook holdig down 'Command', 'Option', 'P' & 'R' until I heard the chime three times. This time however, I after the third chime I held down the 'Option' key and was allowed to select the CD/DVD ROM as a boot drive. This allowed me to use the utilities to remove the firmware password and change the user password as previously requested.

This isn't so much a tutorial about how to fix a MacBook that needs a password reset. Honestly, I am willing to share my knowledge. However, there are far better teachers than I. If anything, this is a lesson about not giving up. No matter how frustrated you are at what you are working with, there are always answers to be found, workarounds and solutions to almost any problem. 

You just need to be more stubborn than what you're working with...