A Single SSD’s Journey From System 7 To High Sierra

With some time to kill and an array of old Apple computers on hand, [Pierre Dandumont] wondered if he could continuously upgrade a single OS drive from the oldest system he had, System 7.1 on a Performa 630, to the latest version of MacOS on a MacBook Air. He recalled watching an old video which demonstrated a continuous upgrade from DOS to Windows 10 (we think this video from 2016 may be the one), which gave him the inspiration for this journey. [Pierre] documents his efforts on his blog (in French; English translated link is here).

Along the way, he installed 24 different operating systems

  • System 7.1.2, 7.5
  • Mac OS 7.6
  • Mac OS 8.0, 8.1, 8.5, 8.6
  • Mac OS 9.0, 9.1, 9.2
  • Mac OS X 10.0 – 10.11
  • macOS 10.12, 10.13

on seven Mac computers

  • Performa 630 (ca. 1994, Motorola 68040)
  • Power Mac G3 Beige (ca. 1997, Motorola PowerPC 730)
  • Power Mac G3 Blue (ca. 1999, Motorola PowerPC 730)
  • Power Mac G4 Digital Audio (ca. 2001, Motorola PowerPC 7400)
  • Mac mini G4 (ca. 2005, Motorola PowerPC 7447)
  • Mac mini 2009 (Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn)
  • MacBook Air 2012 (Intel Core i5/i7)

across three of the four processor families spanned by the Macintosh line of computers since their introduction in 1984. You can see in the lead photo the success, where the Mac OS 8 search tool Sherlock is shown in the dock of a MacBook Air running High Sierra.

The process was not without its glitches, most of them having to do with the OS disk partitioning and format. [Pierre] selected an M.2 SATA solid state disk drive, which with the appropriate adaptors, can present itself as a parallel ATA drive, a serial ATA drive, or just used directly as an M.2 SSD in the more modern computers. Making the project more challenging was that [Pierre] wanted to record the video of the process, which involved capturing the computer screen during all the various upgrades. He kept a disk image backup at each stage of the process, so he could recover from errors without having to start all over again.

What eventually stopped the journey was the file system. [Pierre]’s SSD began using HFS file system, but somewhere during the Power Mac G3 Beige phase of the migration, he had to upgrade to the HFS+ (extended HFS) file system, an exercise not for the faint hearted. This HFS+ file system had to be extended and tweaked a couple of times along the way, as well. But the journey came to an abrupt halt at macOS 10.13 High Sierra. The next release, 10.14 Mojave, requires the APFS file system (not to be confused with the now-deprecated AFP file system). [Pierre] believes even that could be overcome, as the issue seems to stem from the minimum block size of 4096 bytes imposed by APFS. It seems possible this could be overcome by cloning the drive, but that would go against the spirit of his original challenge.

Be forewarned, the video below the break is a 2 hour “abbreviated” version of the whole process (the DOS to Windows 10 video clocks in at 11 hours). We’re not sure what practical purpose this serves, but it was certainly intriguing to read about the process and the hiccups that [Pierre] had to solve along the way. What’s the longest that you’ve kept migrating a system drive on your computers? Let us know in the comments down below.

8 thoughts on “A Single SSD’s Journey From System 7 To High Sierra

  1. Traditionally, my OS partition would shit the bed long before an upgrade was even available. Stability improvements have reduced the pain considerably, but between flaws in the upgrade process, failure in system tools (especially filesystem tools), and general user error, I don’t think I’ve never had a major OS upgrade go smoothly.

    Keep backups of anything you care about. And keep backups of those backups somewhere else.

    1. I’ve never had an issues with OS updates on OSX other than having to rebuild brewed apps. My current Mac isn’t the original SSD, but the install has been upgraded through 12 years of updates.

  2. Longest I’ve been upgrading though not technically on the same drive, has been from OS X Panther to macOS High Sierra. I could go to Big Sur but I’ve been a bit lazy. Each time I’ve needed more space or moved to a new machine the drive has been moved or cloned. I’ve got files that have been in that filesystem since 2005. It’s quite strange to think my machines filesystem has its lineage all the way back to my G4 Mac mini. I’m sure I have tons of useless junk lurking all over the drive that would fee up at least 10s of gigs. It’s quite interesting for me when I find old screen grabs of various old desktops and see how different my system used to look.

  3. I have a multi-boot 2TB hard drive in a MacBook Pro 2007, with Mac OS 10.4, 10.5, 10.6, 10.7, 10.8, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, Windows XP, Windows Tiny7, and Ubuntu 10 all being able to boot from different partitions. It’s quite fun to restart and hold option, and see all the possibilities.

    It is actually possible to run Mojave 10.14 on HFS+, though it requires installing onto APFS first and then using Carbon Copy Cloner to copy the system back.

  4. I’ve upgraded the harddisk pretty consistently ever 3 years or so. Moving the data drive to the OS drive and upgrading the datadrive as it became too small to hold the data.

    ROM MSX1 OS DATA: tape
    ROM MSX2 OS DATA: floppies BU: none
    80MB Amiga 1200 OS/DATA BU: floppies
    240MB Amiga 1200 OS/DATA BU: floppies
    1.2GB DOS6/Windows 3.11 OS/DATA BU: zipdrive
    6.4GB Windows 95/98 OS/DATA BU: CD
    30GB Windows 2000 OS/DATA BU: CD
    250GB Windows XP OS only DATA: 500GB DATA: 1TB BU:DVD
    1TB Windows 7 OS only DATA:4TB BU: external usb hdd 4TB
    500GB SSD Windows 7 OS only DATA: 2x4TB HDD BU external HDD 4TB
    500GB M2 PCI express Windows 7/10 DATA: 2x4TB + 1x2TB HDD BU external HDD 4TB

    I also have an assortment of laptops ranging 2006-2014 (6 iirc) with harddisks and ssds ranging from 128 to 960GB.

    I think the 500GB M2 PCI express will be the longest surviving harddisk seeing the most operating systems, not planning to upgrade it for a long time. 500GB for OS seems to be the sweet spot for me. I won’t install more applications or larger ones in the foreseeable future.
    Next upgrade will probably be 8TB SSD for semi permanent data storage, I want to get rid of most mechanical hard disks. I’ll use 2x 4TB HDD probably for some temporary video storage. Once multiple M2 slots are more common I’ll probably move the data SSD to OS and upgrade data once storage space runs out.

    I’ve captured the data from the MSX1 tapes and MSX/Amiga floppies (success rate around 99.8%). I’m a happy owner of my full digital life ;)

  5. I think that if [Pierre] got ahold of a Mac SE he could go all the way! I had a floppy with System 1.0 back in the day although 1.1 was way more common. It used a different system font, as I recall.

    1. Then he’d need an SCSI adapter. I’m assuming the list stops because before that they took SCSI drives, or no drives.

      I have a tower powerpc that handles both, so I was able to consolidate some SCSI drives on an PATA drive.

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