The nightmares of MacBook Air data recovery

This is an on-going story but I’ll update you as I get pieces of the puzzle solved.

The beginning…

Before 2017’s year end I was given the job of data recovery from a old MacBook Air that stopped charging, and then it couldn’t power back up because obviously the battery was flat. I accepted the task and put it on my workbench, immediately running into the first roadblock: the fucking pentalobe security screws!

So around $110 bucks later and fast forward a week, I had my iFixit Professional Toolkit that had everything I needed to take the fucker apart plus the kitchen sink. Soon after I unpacked the kit I got the fucker apart, after being extremely paranoid about the placing of the screws extracted, because I am a clumsy idiot at the best of times.

I also checked the voltages from the AC adapter in the meantime to ensure that it was within the Apple specifications – around 9V when the charger is idle, and around 14 (?) volts when plugged into the laptop.

Unfortunately the charge light did not light up, so I assume the poor laptop had power supply issues even though it was registering voltage coming in at the power contacts on the motherboard. Anyway, my main task was to retrieve the data off the MacBook Air. What could possibly go wrong?

The pain…

Well, to be frank, I hadn’t researched and found out that the MacBook Air, at least the model the client had, used a PCIe Apple SSD. Since none of my workbench gear had PCIe slots for said SSDs, I had to buy a Apple SSD to M.2 adapter from Amazon which took like 3 weeks to arrive. Scratch another $20 on the debt list.

I booted up Linux Mint 17.1 to see if I could access the drive and unfortunately I was unable to do so because the M.2 adapter didn’t come up in Linux – for whatever reason, the 4.10 kernel didn’t appear to “talk” to the M.2 slot on my workbunch computer’s motherboard. So I booted up a Windows 10 install off a HDD I had installed the OS on earlier and sure enough, Windows device manager showed the device as “APPLE SSD 256G0F”. Cool!

Using Diskpart to identify the disk ID – it was Disk 1 while the OS disk was Disk 0, I was able to locate the 232GB Mac OS X HFS+ Journaled partition. Of course, Windows is not smart enough to know what the fuck to do with Apple filesystems, so it came up as “Unknown”. I grabbed DD for Windows and made a disk image of that partition just for good measure in case shit was going to hit the fan.

The frustration…

With the disk image finally obtained and safely stored on my workbench transport HDD, I needed a copy of OS X I could work with. Looking around for guides on how to install OS X inside VirtualBox, I went with Yosemite. Unfortunately, 6GB of downloading data later, VirtualBox threw a fatal error (Guru Meditation) after setting up the VM the way it was recommended to do so according to the guide. I double checked settings and it still didn’t want to play ball. Probably due to the fact that my workstation is a Ryzen 7-based beast and not some overpriced Intel shit.

Throwing my hands up and going “Okay apple, you win for now”, I looked around my office. Somewhere buried under bunches of boxes where both my two legendary boxes I built – my Phenom II X4 which survived overheating and bad cooling as well as my Core i5 Workstation that I had before I migrated to my Ryzen 7 beast. My eyes locked onto the Core i5 workstation. That thing was about to become a emergency hackintosh.


Armed with a old “scratchpad” hard disk, Coburn adventures into the bad lands of the Hackintosh world. Will he succeed and retrieve the data he needs for his client? Or will it spell doom for him? Find out next in this exciting story of how a on-demand IT support person beats the odds and delivers the goods…