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macOS 10.13.2 and Disk Utility = Atrocious Bug-Ridden Disaster

Yesterday I needed to wipe the iMac Pro on loan from B&H Photo.

In all past machines and OS's, this has always been a quick and easy thing. Not any more with macOS 10.13.

To start, I first used the diglloydTools commands dgl wipe and then dlg wipeFree (twice since it’s an SSD) to wipe out all trace of my data—no problem there, works great (use 'sudo' if there are any protected files).

That was the easy part.

But I had partitioned the internal SSD and that presented a thorny problem: Disk Utility is 95% broken if you actually try to use it. Meaning that it can do a few basic things, but most everything else either fails 100% of the time, or most of the time.

Ultimately I failed to be be able to use Disk Utility at all to restore the system to a single volume. Total brick wall impossible. That Apple can ship this software to customers is appalling—where’s the pride in a job well done, let alone respect for customers?

  • Disk Utility repeatedly fails to erase volumes (any kind of volume). One often has to try 4 or 5 times before it works. The issue might be as simple as unmounting the volume, plus other things. But it also fails even if the volume is already unmounted. But this was not my issue since with patience it eventually finally succeeds. But volumes are not a drive, so that’s not a fix-it step for a partitioned drive.
  • The Disk Utility partition approach failed to be able to delete partitions of any kind—APFS or HFS. Every attempt (numerous) failed, and after trying rebooting was sometimes needed, with something hosed beyond recovery. All this booted off the recovery partition of course.
  • Disk Utility was unable to initialize the internal SSD (perhaps because I was booted off the recovery partition), but accordingly this makes it impossible to delete any volumes. There exists no feature to “delete all partitions except the recovery partition”. Well, actually there is, it is the partitioning tab, but that fails 100% of the time as per the 2nd previous point.
  • macOS goes ahead and tries to install on a RAID (LaCie Bolt), or any RAID, failing to recognize that this can never work, because macOS is broken for a bootable RAID, period. Then the install fails mid-way and hoses the unit, leaving it with a dead unusable and undeletable partition and broken to the extent that the RAID can no longer be deleted.

I could go on—Disk utility is software that isn’t even sub-alpha-quality—a buggy disaster foisted on customers by the wealthiest company in existence.

Exercise extreme caution with Disk Utility and go buy SoftRAID to have around—because you’re gonna need it at some point what with macOS getting worse every year.

How I finally recovered

After hours of trying, the ONLY thing that finally saved my bacon was SoftRAID 'certify'. The SoftRAID certify command overwrites drives at a low level. It is the one thing that ignores everything else... SoftRAID certify is basically “whack a disk”—wonderful feature that bypasses partitions and formatting, returning a disk to its original factory-uninitialized state, ready to be initialized as if new.

This is what I had to do, courtesy of Apple incompetence:

  1. Important: boot into recovery mode and using the Security Assistant thing to allow booting from an external drive (this is prohibited on an iMac Pro by default). Then reboot.
  2. Booted off the internal drive still, SoftRAID certify the LaCie Bolt (both PCIe blades) so that they are now uninitialized independent blades, each of which can be initialized separately (one need only let it run for 10 seconds or so). I did not use a USB3 SSD because of a 100% failure to boot an iMac Pro any of them (hang/fail part way)—a Thunderbolt drive works.
  3. Erase one of the blades of the LaCie Bolt to an APFS volume (macOS might fail to boot off macOS Extended on an external drive, though I have done so with an internal one).
  4. Clone macOS to the new APFS volume (on the LaCie Bolt).
  5. Boot from the new volume. This is impossible without first doing step #1.
  6. Erase the entire internal SSD with Disk Utility, thus wiping out all partitions. This works apparently because of being booted off the external drive. Attempting to partition away the extra partition fails, even booted off the external drive.
  7. Clone back to the internal volume (now freshly erased).
  8. Boot off the internal recovery volume (courtesy of the Carbon Copy Cloner clone). First use Disk Utility to erase the internal boot volume (this works), quit it, then reinstall macOS onto that.

It took me hours to get this all done.

Got it? Enjoy. This is what Apple has come to in making machines hard to use and inaccessible.

My advice at this point to most users is to never partition with Disk Utility. As for APFS, I observed major performance problems at the end of the 'dgl wipe' just as I have observed in other scenarios. And yet given all the issues with macOS, it’s a bit scary not to use APFS on the internal SSD.

More joy coming?

More hassles like this are surely coming with whatever disingenuous Mac Pro is coming—it surely will have the same software problems (probably more, not fewer) and the same secure enclave hassles—there is nothing pro about that, it is not even ameteur grade.

John L writes:

I was having similar problems with DU in Sierra: kernel panic when I tried to erase disks. I had been communicating with Mark James at SoftRAID.

BTW, you don’t have to finish the SoftRAID Certify command: I found that just running it for 30seconds or so was enough to make the Disk unreadable and so could be initialized by DU, removing the partitions.

Oh, and the 8 TB HGST NAS drives are/can be a disaster in a 2010 Mac Pro when upgrading OS. I had created a 3 x 8 TB RAID-5 internally with SoftRAID while running OS 10.10.5. Worked fine. Multiple attempts upgrade the BootApps SSD from 10.10.5 to 10.12.6 in situ failed, probably because the HGST NAS drives won’t remount following a restart (known issue: restart required) screwing up the installation. Had to remove the 8 TB drives, put the old 3x3 TB Raid-0 set in and was finally able to successfully install Sierra on the internal Pro6G 480 Gb SSD. What a goat rope! (several other terms come to mind...).

I wasn’t trying to boot from the RAID. I was trying to update the OS on an OWC Pro 6G that I use for a Boot Apps volume. The RAID had only data partitions. I think it was the drives (or perhaps having a RAID5) as there was no issue with the old 3 TB Toshiba drives installed. But I’m no expert. Interestingly, MacSales changed their web page for the 8 TB HGST drives. It now lists NAS as the only use for the drives.

When I purchased them last summer, they included multiple other applications including desktop RAIDs, workstations, etc. Customer “Service” even said it would work fine in a 2010 Mac Pro. I’m running 10.12.6 on a used 2015 MBPro Retina I bought used from OWC through your site. The internal original 500gb SSD is partitioned into “BootApps” and “Data” partitions with DU as per your previous recommendations. So far, it still works. Somehow, I was able to keep it as HFS and not CoreStorage.

MPG: It is correct also that SoftRAID certify for even 10 seconds gets the job done in making a drive factory fresh initialized to Disk Utility.

There have been off/on problems with HGST firmware. My understanding is that OWC has tried to get HGST to fix the problems some time ago, but it sounds like HGST has not solved the issue.

(John not doing this but worth knowing): It is not possible to boot off a software RAID in macOS 10.13, though SoftRAID might enable it for 10.12 and possibly 10.13 at some point.

Don H writes:

Perhaps you’ve already packed it up, but in reading about your trouble trying to configure the SSD in the iMac Pro, I wonder if you could have bypassed 10.13.2’s Disk Utility by instead starting up the iMac Pro in Target Disk Mode and then configured it from another machine with an earlier OS?

MPG: great idea! I hadn’t thought of that, but it should be possible to start it up in target disk mode and to have fixed it from my iMac 5K. But... in target disk mode can one completely erase the entire SSD? I am not sure. And, no earlier OS with Thunderbolt 3.

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