Installing El Capitan on my 2008 Mac Pro

My 2008 Mac Pro arrived, and it’s a shiny beast of a machine 🙂  It’s sitting beside a younger relative, a 2002 Power Mac G4 Quicksilver.

It came with OS X 10.5 Leopard installed – it looked like it was a clean install, but as for any used machine, I like to do a clean install so I know what I’m starting with. Downloading OS 10.11 El Capitan from the Apple Store from my MacBook Pro, I created a bootable USB flash drive using the steps described here.

On my first attempt to install, it looked like after about 20 mins of install when it attempted to reboot for the first time, I had a blank screen and no activity. Rebooted back to the USB flash drive and started the Disk Utils, the drive checked clean and everything was good, but there wasn’t a bootable partition.

On the second attempt, I think what had happened the first time was the powersave settings had kicked in and the monitor output had turned off, but it wasn’t waking from keyboard or mouse input. The second time the screen turned back on, and the installer was stuck at ‘about a second remaining’,

but pressing Cmd-L to see the installer logs, there was a huge amount of errors scrolling by to do with TSplicedFont and Noto fonts. This seems to be a common issue with El Capitan, as described here. Ignoring the errors and waiting it out though, after about 20 mins stuck at ‘about a second remaining’ it did reboot and the installation continued as expected.

After successfully completing the install, it started up successfully, and after walking through the installation dialogs to select language preferences and create an account, I was up and running with 10.11 El Cap.

First impressions: for a 9 year old computer, this thing is pretty snappy. It’s comparable to my 2012 MacBook Pro with an i7 in responsiveness, although from only having a regular mechanical HDD, it could be faster booting and loading apps, but it’s definitely acceptable. For a desktop daily driver, it’s definitely perfectly usable. The dual Xeon 2.8GHz CPUs are holding their own, I haven’t seen anything beyond 5% to 6% CPU usage from using Chrome and browsing the web with about 20 or so tabs open. Where I think I might start to suffer though is this machine only came with 4GB RAM. With my current Chrome usage it’s eating up about 3GB so I have some to spare, but the interesting thing about these Mac Pros is the expandability – the 2008 will support 32GB per specs and 64GB unofficially. I bet if I put in 16GB or so I would get a much better experience. Time to plan the upgrades 🙂

 

MacOS start up key combinations

MacOS had a number of start up options that you can select buy holding key combinations on boot.

Most useful I’ve found are:

C = boot from removable media,  e.g. a usb flash drive

Option = show the boot menu to select which bootable partition you want to boot from

Getting status from dd when writing disk images on MacOS

dd is a pretty useful tool for creating and writing disk images from a source to a destination, for example writing disk .img files to SD Cards for your Raspberry Pi (see here, and here).

The trouble is if you’re writing images that are several GB that can run for 20mins or so, you don’t get any feedback on the progress until it’s complete. Well turns out if you send a ‘kill -INFO’ signal to the PID of the process, it will output the current status of bytes written and bytes remaining. Found this tip here.

MacOS: Opening a Terminal from a folder in Finder (plus, taking and annotating screenshots)

In Windows I like that you can Shift-Rightclick in Explorer and select “Open command prompt here”. During development I often want to do the same on my Mac, and this feature is provided too, but not enabled by default. To turn it on, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts, select Services on the left, and then check the option “New Terminal at Folder”:

If you want to go in the other direction, you can easily open a Finder at your current folder in Terminal by running ‘open .’

A couple of bonus tips:

  • To take full screen screenshot on the Mac, press Shift-Cmd-3. A file will be saved on your desktop. To take a screenshot of a selection of the screen, press Shift-Cmd-4, then drag to outline your selection.
  • In the Preview app, there’s a neat feature under Tools > Annotate where you can annotate your screenshots with highlighted sections, boxes, arrows, text etc. Just open your screenshot file in Preview, and then you can easily annotate and save the image: