After years of avoiding it, I finally decided to do something about running Snow Leopard on my iMac in order to keep Final Cut Pro 7 available. Because it took a couple months of looking into the best way to go about getting Mavericks onto the iMac without losing my Snow Leopard environment, I've detailed here both the options I considered and the process I finally took when I did make the upgrade.
Considering the Options
My 24" early-2009 iMac was still running Snow Leopard 10.6.8 a couple years after I would have usually upgraded because I have several FCP7 projects that I would still like to be able to open and edit. Since eligible, I wanted to finally upgrade the iMac to Mavericks to sync it better with my other Apple products, so I set out to find the best option to keep 10.6.8 around so that I can run Final Cut Studio and open my FCP7 projects.
Since I hadn't done any sort of partitioning or virtualization before, I wasn't sure what the best route would be, but I considered these four options:
Option 1: Buy an old Mac Mini and install 10.6.8 on it. [Most expensive.]
Option 2: Partition my iMac into two 500GB partitions and keep 10.6.8 on one and install Mavericks on the other for dual booting. [Free.] (Relevant thread on the Apple Support Community.)
Option 3: Install 10.6.8 onto an external drive to boot from. I was concerned that this could be unstable. [Cost of the hard drive.] (Relevant thread on the Apple Support Community.)
Option 4: Upgrade to Mavericks, then install Parallels 9 and Snow Leopard Server for access to FCP7. [$40 for Parallels 9 academic price, $20 for SL Server] (Relevant thread on the Apple Support Community.)
Partitioning & Upgrading
As you can guess, I went with Option 2 from my above list. I figured that free was the best price to start with, and then I would try Option 4 if I needed to, because I've heard that Snow Leopard Server might not be available for much longer (currently, it has to be ordered over the phone directly from Apple). The whole process for me to backup my iMac, partition the drive, restore my data, and upgrade to Mavericks took close to three days, but a huge chunk of that was from trial-and-error and moving close to 700GB of data back and forth between drives. Here's the process I took:
- Because my 1TB hard drive already had about 700GB of data, and I wanted to create two 500GB partitions, I started out by running a Time Machine backup, then also manually migrating all of my photos and music to an external drive to get down below 500GB. Not wanting to risk ANY of my data, I also created and tested a bootable clone on a second external drive using the 30-day free trial of Carbon Copy Cloner. CCC is intuitive, easy, and works fantastic—I highly recommend it.
- Once below 500GB, I tried the partition in Disk Utility and it didn't work because of an error (I didn't write down which one, but I'll look for it and note it here).
- Booted from my Snow Leopard install disk and opened up Disk Utility to repair my internal HD and the internal HD disk permissions.
- Booted from my internal hard drive to try again. This time the partition froze, so I let it sit for an hour before forcing a restart. The lesson here is: don't partition a drive while booted from that drive. Seems obvious now but I didn't know. Anyway, what happens when you restart during a partition is all the space that had been there gets eaten up and hidden away. So I had to go into Disk Utility and erase the free space.
- Booted again from Snow Leopard install disk to repair the internal HD.
- Still booted up from the Snow Leopard install disk, I then tried a couple of times to partition again and kept getting: "Error: -9899: The partition cannot be resized. Try reducing the amount of change in the size of the partition." So I tried erasing free space, booting from my internal HD to move more files to the external drive to free up more space, and so on. At this point I finally figured out that the data was fragmented, and the drive would need to be defragmented or erased. Since Macs don't have an easy way to defrag (for reasons I probably would understand if I knew computers a bit better), I opted for erasing.
- Again not wanting to risk any data, I created another clone with Carbon Copy Cloner--this time a disk image on my first external drive. This was more because of the fact that my second external drive with my bootable clone has had issues in the past, and though I had tested it and it was working, I wanted to guarantee that I wouldn't lose any data.
- This time booting from my Snow Leopard install disk I created two new partitions--the riskiest thing I've ever done on my computer as it complete erases the hard drive to create the two 500GB partitions. It worked instantly!
- I couldn't resize them from 500GB, so the next step was to get my data back onto the iMac, one partition at a time. I booted from my bootable clone, and copied the clone to each partition, one at a time.
- Next I deleted what I didn't need on each side (such as my music and photo libraries from my Snow Leopard side, and my Final Cut Studio applications from my soon-to-be Mavericks side).
- Last but not least, I booted from the Mavericks partition and upgraded using the App Store--easiest step of all!
Summary of Steps
For those of you not wanting to repeat my mistakes (hopefully everyone!), here's a quick summary of what to do:
- Back up your data! Carbon Copy Cloner is a perfect way to create a bootable clone of your drive to an external drive.
- Boot from your Snow Leopard install disk and open Disk Utility.
- Create two new partitions, erasing your internal drive completely (this is why the backup is so important).
- Boot from your bootable clone and copy your data back to each partition.
- Boot from the partition you want to upgrade to Mavericks and upgrade through the App Store.
As you can tell, this wasn't the easiest process for me. But through the trial-and-error—spurred on by a certain amount of fearlessness since I had a good three copies of my data—I finally got my iMac running on the latest version of OSX without losing the option to open and edit all my FCP7 projects. And I learned a lot about partitioning in the process! I hope this helps anyone else trying the same thing or also attempting their first partition.