can I upgrade the harddrive on a machine with a firmware password?

beachball doom

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Original poster
Feb 1, 2016
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Hi

My girlfriend has a macbook pro, second hand which she has been using for several years.

I am preparing to update the harddrive and I thought I would test to see if it would boot from the new harddrive externally. Booted with option key down and voila - firmware password box.

I've been using macs for many years and I didn't know this was even a thing.

Should I go ahead and install the new harddrive internally or will the firmware password box come up?

What other limitations does the firmware lock impose on this machine?

Are there any ways to override the lock? ie hardware tweaks?

This is a second-hand machine and there is essentially no way of contacting the original owner, and of course even if we did they may not know or remember the firmware pw.

btw this is a 15" mid2012, mbp 9,1 model
 

chscag

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Feb 17, 2008
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Remove one of the ram sticks and boot while holding down command+option+p+r. This will clear nvram.
That may or may not work depending on the age of the MacBook Pro. For the past 5 years or so, that method of removing the firmware password does not work. The only sure way is taking it to Apple with the original receipt or bill of sale and your ID. In other words, you must prove ownership first. Apple will then remove the firmware password.

He can try what you said first, but since it's a 2012 model, it may have to be brought to Apple before the firmware password can be removed.
 
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beachball doom

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Feb 1, 2016
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Thanks for the help. There is no receipt as this is a second hand mac, so I'm doubtful apple is going to bother, and they would probably charge rather a lot I would think. However I will look into it.

But in the meantime, does anyone know the answers to my other questions? The firmware lock isn't a problem unless it impacts on installation of new drive.

I guess my main concern that the board will permanently lock us out. Is there any risk of that?
 

Audit13

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Apr 19, 2017
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That may or may not work depending on the age of the MacBook Pro. For the past 5 years or so, that method of removing the firmware password does not work. The only sure way is taking it to Apple with the original receipt or bill of sale and your ID. In other words, you must prove ownership first. Apple will then remove the firmware password.

He can try what you said first, but since it's a 2012 model, it may have to be brought to Apple before the firmware password can be removed.
I thought this method might work and is very straight forward, depending on the os installed, which is why I suggested it.

I haven't owned a non-retina MacBook pro for a few years and no one I know has used a firmware password.
 
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velocityg4

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Dec 19, 2004
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Thanks for the help. There is no receipt as this is a second hand mac, so I'm doubtful apple is going to bother, and they would probably charge rather a lot I would think. However I will look into it.

But in the meantime, does anyone know the answers to my other questions? The firmware lock isn't a problem unless it impacts on installation of new drive.

I guess my main concern that the board will permanently lock us out. Is there any risk of that?
No, it won't work. That is the point of the firmware password. In combination with Filevault 2. A Macbook is turned into a paperweight when stolen. Without Filevault it can only use the original boot drive. You can't swap drives or boot off any other drive. I think it even blocks the recovery partition. When the Macbook hard drive fails the computer becomes a paperweight.

I've never tried removing the hard drive on a firmware protected computer which I didn't have the password to. My assumption is if you do this and try booting with it removed. When you put it back in. It will never work again.

If you can't prove ownership with original receipt or invoice. The Apple Store won't help you. You can try adding it to your iCloud account first. If you have any receipt from eBay or something. That might help.
 
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chscag

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But in the meantime, does anyone know the answers to my other questions? The firmware lock isn't a problem unless it impacts on installation of new drive.
The machine will continue to function provided that the hard drive remains healthy. You can perform normal maintenance to try to eliminate the beach balling. However, if that hard drive dies, you'lll wind up with a non functioning 2012 15" MacBook Pro. As a long shot... maybe your girl friend can contact the previous owner and see if he/she remembers the firmware password that was entered?
 

beachball doom

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Feb 1, 2016
28
4
Hi I just dropped in here for another reason and thought I would post an update...

I paid someone (handy with a soldering iron and microscope) to replace the bios chip replaced on the aforementioned board. Price was reasonable, took an hour or two and I picked it up the same day.

Macbook now functions as normal. I updated the hard drive. All good. :) Thanks for the feedback and advice.
 

Peter Franks

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Jun 9, 2011
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Is it something that's recommended, setting a firmware password on a MBP? First I've even heard of it after owning one for 8 years
 

chscag

macrumors 68040
Feb 17, 2008
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Fort Worth, Texas
Is it something that's recommended, setting a firmware password on a MBP? First I've even heard of it after owning one for 8 years
I personally don't recommend it because if you ever forget that password and something happens to your machine - like replacing the hard drive - you will not be able to do so without entering the password. You can see from the OP's experience above what he had to do in order to have a functioning machine again.
 

jlc1978

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Aug 14, 2009
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Is it something that's recommended, setting a firmware password on a MBP? First I've even heard of it after owning one for 8 years
It depends on the level of security you want to protect your data. A firmware password prevents someone form bypassing your login password by booting from an external drive, recovery mode, etc. It only lets you boot from the internal drive. In cases where yo have data on your Mac that you don not want someone to access in the event you lose your Mac or even while you are away from it you can set a firmware password. I have one for that reason, along with an IronKey for client data.
 
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velocityg4

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Dec 19, 2004
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Is it something that's recommended, setting a firmware password on a MBP? First I've even heard of it after owning one for 8 years
The only reason I see doing it on a Mac is to make it more difficult for someone to profit from stealing your computer. Either they have to find someone who can bypass it. Which most people won't know or they can only sell it for parts and not make as much money.

I personally don't recommend it because if you ever forget that password and something happens to your machine - like replacing the hard drive - you will not be able to do so without entering the password. You can see from the OP's experience above what he had to do in order to have a functioning machine again.
That is a concern. Although it shouldn't be too great a concern if you are organized and good about keeping records on such information. Now if you are a mess about passwords and constantly losing them. It is a bad idea.
 
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Peter Franks

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The only reason I see doing it on a Mac is to make it more difficult for someone to profit from stealing your computer. Either they have to find someone who can bypass it. Which most people won't know or they can only sell it for parts and not make as much money.
Sounds like a good idea then. Is it a big thing to set up, and when would you ever need to use the password, just when changing the SSD? Not something you input every time you turn it on?
 

velocityg4

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Dec 19, 2004
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You won't need it for normal booting. Just when you try to change the boot drive. Meaning if you try to boot off another drive or the recovery partition. Another drive is any other drive be it internal, external, thumb drive or DVD. They can be plugged in with no hassle, just booting off them. The same would also hold true for another partition on the boot drive.
.
It's easy to setup in recovery mode. I believe it is in the menu bar. You can also remove it in recovery mode if you change your mind.
 
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Peter Franks

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Jun 9, 2011
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Thanks for that. It is something I’ll wager most don’t even know about. I know it doesn’t say much that I never knew about it, but for all the years in here I’ve never read anything about it.
 

Ahmad Nabil

macrumors newbie
Jan 28, 2020
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0
Hi. May I know if I want to upgrade from macOS High Sierra to Catalina, does it trigger the firmware password if I update it normally through the Mac App Store? Or it will run the update onto other partition?
 

4sallypat

macrumors 6502a
Sep 16, 2016
637
632
So Calif
Hi. May I know if I want to upgrade from macOS High Sierra to Catalina, does it trigger the firmware password if I update it normally through the Mac App Store? Or it will run the update onto other partition?
FW password will not be needed for an upgrade thru the App Store or OSX USB drive.
Only time FW password will be needed is if you wipe clear and try to install a fresh copy of OSX or replace the hard drive or trying to get into the recovery partition.

Another security issue you may run into if the laptop was second hand is DEP / MDM enrollment. That will show up when you wipe, install a new HDD or upgrade OSX.
 

Tvmaceditor

macrumors newbie
Apr 6, 2020
6
0
Just found this thread. I have a similar problem but was hoping for clarification. Bought a used macbook pro 13" running Yosemite. I upgraded out to high Serra so i could run a specific editor software. All works great. Ssd drive. I also have an external harddrive running el Capitan for some legacy software I need to use still. From high Sierra I went to startup and selected the external to start up instead if internal. It did no problem. But now when I try to go back the internal drive doesn't appear and will not mount in disk utility. When restarting holding option to switch that way it has a firmware lock and, same problem, the previous owner doesn't remember it or have original receipt so I can't get past it. Question is, do you think the drive went bad or do you think i did something wrong when i upgraded to high Sierra. I tested booting from both when it had Yosemite and it went back and forth no problem. I need to be able to boot from either drive so I need to make sure I do it right the next time
 

4sallypat

macrumors 6502a
Sep 16, 2016
637
632
So Calif
File format issue ?
Since High Sierra can run in both APFS or HPFS, the older OS may not be able to access the different format ?

Try disconnecting the external, boot from internal in safe mode.
Or boot from USB bootable Mojave or Catalina and see if it can see both internal & external ?
 

Tvmaceditor

macrumors newbie
Apr 6, 2020
6
0
File format issue ?
Since High Sierra can run in both APFS and HPFS, the older OS may not be able to access the different format ?

Try disconnecting the external, boot from internal in safe mode.
If I disconnect external it won't let me boot from internal. It just wants to find the external because that's what I have it set to. And because the firmware lock I can't change the boot order from startup
 
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