Trying to install a newer OSX on an older MBP. Unstable nightmare. Help?

sarpler

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2019
16
0
Hey folks.

I have in front of me an older 2007-era Macbook Pro. It came with 10.4 Tiger and according to Apple can officially be upgraded to 10.11 El Capitan. It runs 10.6.8 Snow Leopard just fine, but any later OSX I try to put on it is a completely unusable unstable mess that locks up and reboots every couple minutes. I'm out of ideas and I'm wondering if anyone can think of something I haven't.

The machine constantly locks up (mouse freezes, clock stops, etc) when you do basically anything. Like for example, copying files off a USB drive is 100% guaranteed to cause a lockup (any/every USB drive), trying to do a verify permissions in Disk Utility is 100% guaranteed to cause a lockup, etc. Additionally, lots of other basic stuff like "plugging in an ethernet cable" or "right-click the desktop" has very high chance of causing a lockup. Turning on the "zoom screen by holding control and using the mousewheel" option often crashes system prefs app or just plain doesn't work. Trying to download system updates off the app store either errors out during the download or crashes and reboots during the install.

Thus far, I've tried 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.10 Yosemite, and 10.11 El Capitan. I've tried installing a fresh copy of Snow Leopard from DVD and upgrading, I've tried the 'createinstallmedia' script and installing a new copy onto a blank drive. I've re-downloaded the installers both off the app store and through direct links on Apple's support website. I've swapped out the internal drive with a different one, I've pulled out the internal drive completely and run the machine from an external desktop drive via USB adapter. I've spent 2.5 hours running the Apple Hardware test DVD for this machine in extended mode (it passes), I ran memtest86 (it passes). I've zapped the PRAM and reset the SMC before every re-install. According to the system profiler the firmware and SMC are up to date.

Normally I'd say the machine has a bad board or RAM or something, but it passes all the hardware tests, and again everything works fine in Snow Leopard- you can copy stuff off USB disks just like normal and everything's stable. All the later systems INSTALL perfectly fine with no errors, but once you get to the desktop it goes south pretty quick. I'm really at a loss as to what's going on here. Has anyone else ever experienced something like this and do you have any hints or thoughts or anything else I could look into or test?
 

Ruggy

macrumors 6502
Jan 11, 2017
280
160
I'm guessing that whatever it's supposed to do officially, either the EFi has an incompatibility, or something in the hardware.
It's quite a lot to hope that a piece of hardware will still be compatible 11 years later.
So I would look closely at the hardware and check that the components individually are actually compatible, and see if there's something in the Efi (which is effectively the BIOS and is something I know nothing about).
Good luck anyway.
 

Zippy99

macrumors newbie
Oct 26, 2017
16
10
I've had bad RAM that passed the hardware test, so that's worth swapping out to see if it helps.
 

maik_is_here

macrumors newbie
Nov 4, 2019
5
0
Might be annoying, but really do a fresh install of the newer OS. I doubt you will have these issues then. It’s an unusual/upgrade scenario that a unlikely to be tested well.
 

sarpler

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2019
16
0
It's quite a lot to hope that a piece of hardware will still be compatible 11 years later.
OK sure, but NONE of the newer OSs are working (at least, nothing from 10.8.x on forward. I dunno if it's worth throwing down another $20 on 10.7 Lion just to test if it's the exception). I think it's a bit much to say that 4+ full versions of OSX aren't actually compatible even though Apple says they should be. There's nothing really "in" the EFI either, on Macs there's no menu or anything you can bring up to change any settings. Like I said I already checked that it was on the latest version, and that version came out back when Snow Leopard was released and was installed automatically when you installed Snow Leopard, so all OSXs forward from then would be expecting it.

I've had bad RAM that passed the hardware test, so that's worth swapping out to see if it helps.
Hmmm, I guess that's a thought. I'll have to see if I there are any other compatible sodimms around.

Might be annoying, but really do a fresh install of the newer OS. I doubt you will have these issues then.
As I stated in my post, I already did that several times for each of them.
 
Last edited:

iluvmacs99

macrumors 6502
Apr 9, 2019
278
130
Hey folks.

I have in front of me an older 2007-era Macbook Pro. It came with 10.4 Tiger and according to Apple can officially be upgraded to 10.11 El Capitan. It runs 10.6.8 Snow Leopard just fine, but any later OSX I try to put on it is a completely unusable unstable mess that locks up and reboots every couple minutes. I'm out of ideas and I'm wondering if anyone can think of something I haven't.

The machine constantly locks up (mouse freezes, clock stops, etc) when you do basically anything. Like for example, copying files off a USB drive is 100% guaranteed to cause a lockup (any/every USB drive), trying to do a verify permissions in Disk Utility is 100% guaranteed to cause a lockup, etc. Additionally, lots of other basic stuff like "plugging in an ethernet cable" or "right-click the desktop" has very high chance of causing a lockup. Turning on the "zoom screen by holding control and using the mousewheel" option often crashes system prefs app or just plain doesn't work. Trying to download system updates off the app store either errors out during the download or crashes and reboots during the install.

Thus far, I've tried 10.8 Mountain Lion, 10.10 Yosemite, and 10.11 El Capitan. I've tried installing a fresh copy of Snow Leopard from DVD and upgrading, I've tried the 'createinstallmedia' script and installing a new copy onto a blank drive. I've re-downloaded the installers both off the app store and through direct links on Apple's support website. I've swapped out the internal drive with a different one, I've pulled out the internal drive completely and run the machine from an external desktop drive via USB adapter. I've spent 2.5 hours running the Apple Hardware test DVD for this machine in extended mode (it passes), I ran memtest86 (it passes). I've zapped the PRAM and reset the SMC before every re-install. According to the system profiler the firmware and SMC are up to date.

Normally I'd say the machine has a bad board or RAM or something, but it passes all the hardware tests, and again everything works fine in Snow Leopard- you can copy stuff off USB disks just like normal and everything's stable. All the later systems INSTALL perfectly fine with no errors, but once you get to the desktop it goes south pretty quick. I'm really at a loss as to what's going on here. Has anyone else ever experienced something like this and do you have any hints or thoughts or anything else I could look into or test?
I work part time in a computer recycling and refurbishing store and we routinely get older Macbook Pros from schools, institutions and individuals as donations and we refurbed them and installing the max OS that it could take. In fact just last week, we sold a few 2007 Macbook Pro with El-Capitan on them with 4Gb ram and they never crash.

When we do refurbed them, we did take these Macbooks apart, clean them especially the fan and components and then take out the heatsinks of the CPU and GPU and repaste them and then put them back. When these Macbooks are at this age, you definitely do need to take it apart and repaste the CPU and GPU or otherwise, it will overheat and shutdown or crash the computer as more modern OSX demands. Heat is the enemy of those Macbooks and when the machine innards are filled with dust, then they will impede the performance of the cooling system and whenever you are doing something demanding like file copying and so forth, it can crash the system. Another possibility of crashing is the hard drive. With 4Gb of ram, the computer will page in and out of RAM to the hard drive more often and if the HD is almost full or is suffering from some hardware issues, it can also crash the computer or freeze it. Now is probably the time to update the 2007 Macbook Pro with an internal SSD as we would recommend our customers do as well to extend its life. Or else, you can install a dual boot system via rEFInd and put in both Snow Leopard for legacy Mac applications and then Ubuntu 16 LTS on the second partition. With Ubuntu and security patches, you can browse the net on the latest websites and be able to watch Youtube and netflix perfectly. That's what I did with my older Macbook which could only go up to Lion, but installed Ubuntu 14 LTS so my dad could surf those modern banking sites that Ten Four Fox can not get in with Linux Firefox. You can literally extend the life of an older Macbook simply by allowing it to dual boot and get the latest security patches with Linux.
 

sarpler

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2019
16
0
I put Snow Leopard on it -- and "leave it there".
Well I mean I'd love to but nothing runs on Snow Leopard anymore. Even web browsers and email clients all dropped support for it years ago.

In fact just last week, we sold a few 2007 Macbook Pro with El-Capitan on them with 4Gb ram and they never crash.
Yeah I'm pretty darn sure that these OSs are SUPPOSED to work which is why I'm so baffled. It's not like I'm trying to hack Catalina onto this machine or something.

it will overheat and shutdown or crash the computer as more modern OSX demands.
Well, I'll take it apart again and have a look but I'm pretty sure heat isn't the issue here. It doesn't get hot when it's doing any of this stuff and the few times it does get hot there isn't a correlation. This machine also has a removable battery and it's one of the models where removing the battery causes the machine to automatically underclock. I suspected maybe the battery was failing and would crap out under high power draw like what happens with older iPhones, but running it without the battery I get the exact same issue. The CPU isn't going anywhere near max speed under that condition so being a heat problem doesn't really line up. And anyway, I'm not sure why copying files off a USB disk would suddenly be way more CPU intensive in 10.8+ than 10.6.

Another possibility of crashing is the hard drive.
Now is probably the time to update the 2007 Macbook Pro with an internal SSD
Already tried all that. As I wrote in my post, I've tried a few different drives at this point including a fullsize desktop one. The original drive I was going to put in this was an SSD.

and then Ubuntu 16 LTS on the second partition.
Seeing if a non-mac OS also craps out would be an interesting data point, although I'm not sure what it would tell me. I'm also really leery of messing with an alt EFI booter since I don't know what's going on with the machine.
 

kohlson

macrumors 68020
Apr 23, 2010
2,029
548
Well the good news is with everything done so far you've narrowed down the possible issues. I would have guessed the disk, but you've covered that.

Have you created a completely new user, and does that exhibit the same behavior? Sometimes "things" associated with the existing user can cause issues with newer OSs. For example, what's in Login Items? I've cleaned out things such Blackberry cruft from in there, with good results.

Next, have you swapped RAM chips and seen any changes, for better or worse? Could be contact-socket issues, or RAM with bad cells. On the late 2013 MBP I'm typing on right now, it passed the Hardware test, then crashed, then passed again. All in front of an Apple Store tech. But in my experience, the symptoms you experience are examples memory issues.
 

BrianBaughn

macrumors 603
Feb 13, 2011
6,365
938
Baltimore, Maryland
All 2007 MBP models can use 6GB of RAM (see everymac.com). We have one with 6GB RAM running El Capitan with an SSD and see no such issues. I wouldn't even try using it without the SSD and 6GB.
 

sarpler

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2019
16
0
Have you created a completely new user,
As I already said, I've tried several fresh installs on different drives. They all exhibit the exact same behavior.

Next, have you swapped RAM chips
I'm still trying to scare up compatible ones to use. There's another laptop I think I can borrow from temporarily, if that works out I'll post the results. I'd already tried reseating the sticks in this one but that didn't seem to change anything.

All 2007 MBP models can use 6GB of RAM (see everymac.com).
So your quote made me look into this again. Officially the machine maxes out at 4gb. Apparently this 6gb trick only works with a specific pair of chips and there appears to be mixed reviews (some machines just won't accept it for whatever reason). I'll keep this in mind for future reference, but with how flakey this machine is already being I don't want to try to debug another issue on top of everything else right now.
 

sarpler

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2019
16
0
Welp, so trying other ram certainly shed more light on the issue...

We found two other 1gb sticks that are compatible with this machine. I took out both of the 2gb sticks that were in it and put in just one of the 1gb sticks into slot 1. In that configuration, copying files locks up after 300-500mb, every time. If I then take that exact same stick and move it to slot 2, the copy locks up after 2-5gb, every time. Same files off the same USB disk, I tried this several times back and forth between the slots.

Clearly this machine has some kind of gremlins in the motherboard which somehow pass the Apple Hardware test, that's about all I can guess at this point. Anyone have any ideas on how to narrow this down further? Does Apple have a more modern hardware test suite that actually works?
 

BrianBaughn

macrumors 603
Feb 13, 2011
6,365
938
Baltimore, Maryland
One thought: Is there a possibility that specification correct RAM could pass Memtest, or whatever RAM test, and yet be somehow incompatible with a particular Mac?

I don't know the source of any of the RAM you've tested but I've never had an issue with any that I got from macsales.com.
 

kohlson

macrumors 68020
Apr 23, 2010
2,029
548
I'm still trying to scare up compatible ones to use.
I can now see I should have elaborated a bit more. By swap I mean change the slots of the exisrting RAM you already have.
I can't say I'm surprised a 1GB stick doesn't work. If memory serves those systems may have required memory in sets. And, 1GB is pretty small, allowing a total of 2GB to the system (1GB actual and 1GB VM). You probably ran out of memory. Hard for me to know for sure from here. Can you put both 1GB sticks in?
 

sarpler

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Oct 20, 2019
16
0
This isn't a ram issue guys. The machine locks up regardless of what stick(s) is/are being used, but WHEN it locks up is dependent on which slot the stick is in. Bad sticks don't act that way and even if they did they wouldn't all go bad like that identically. Also, macs don't lock up when they run out of physical memory, they just page to disk like every other system.

Whatever the problem is it has to be in the motherboard. At least, I can't come up with any other explanation that would fit these symptoms. I guess my next step is to try to see if there's corrosion on the slot contacts, but a brief glance with a flashlight indicates they're ok so who knows.