Oops – How to brick a MacBook Air

In a previous post, I was all happy and whatnot about finally getting Windows 8 RC installed through BootCamp on my MacBook Air and with fully functional Clear 4G service. 

Now, the computer gods love nothing more than some snotty, arrogant person declaring victory to soon, and revel in any opportunity to bitchslap the bastard down.  Or something like that.  So, they gave me a good lesson in “um, you might want to think a little harder before doing that.”

I learned a couple of things here.  One, it is possible to (almost entirely) brick a MacBook Air.  Two, Apple’s Internet Recovery functionality built into OSX Lion actually works.  Sort of.  Three, when deciding to wipe a computer totally, you might want to backup the system first, in case it doesn’t go quite as smoothly as one might like or otherwise change your mind and want to go back.

To recap, when installing the Clear software, it uses some ‘Sierra Filter Driver’ or something that is unsigned, and Windows 8 doesn’t allow you to install/use unsigned drivers (well, there is a work around, but it doesn’t appear to alleviate the issue, though God knows at some point I’m going to try it again, because I’m an idiot).  I appeared to be able to get it to work by using Windows 7 compatibility mode, and wrote the previous post.

And then I rebooted.

The Windows 8 splash screen popped up.   It was live and not frozen (the clock would advance, and I could see the network connection get automatically resolved), but the trackpad didn’t work.  More importantly, an keyboard input was ignored.  Okay, that’s not optimal for a usability standpoint.  I can generally get around without a mouse if forced to, but no keyboard, that’s not good.  Multiple reboots got the same thing.

So, what would you do if you were faced with this situation?  Decide to boot from your Windows 7 DVD, wipe out all of the existing partitions, and restart from scratch?  Only an idiot would do that. 

My excuse is that it was after midnight, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Fast-forward a day, and same experience:  install Windows 7, upgrade to Windows 8, get trackpad working, install Clear 4G software, verify that it works properly, then reboot and find yourself at the splash screen.  And no keyboard or mouse support.


Now, the best I can tell of what is going on is something like this:  once you reboot, the ‘nasty’ Sierra driver tries to reload itself as part of the entire USB stack.  Since it does it outside of any compatibility mode, it ‘infects’ all USB functionality.  Guess how the Apple keyboard connects?  That’s right, through USB.

I suppose at this point one could buy some keyboard/mouse product that connected through the magical FireWire/ThunderBirdBoltWhatever ports and try to get around the issue in the short run this way (I’m obstinate enough that I will probably try this at some point).

Instead, I decided to boot from my Windows 7 DVD and just reinstall that and work from there.  Except that no longer worked.  Hold the C key while rebooting and….either a total system lockup or it boots back into Windows 8.

Fantastic.  A nice shiny MacBook that is totally unusable.  Mad scramble to Google on other machines and….Internet Recovery, what is this?  You can connect to Apple Servers directly and once it verifies your computer (not sure how that is done), it gives you the ability to reload OSX onto your machine.  Awesome.

<digression>Just about every Windows system I’ve ever bought comes with recovery CDs to restore the machine to factory settings.  I’ve never used them, since I normally wipe those systems and rebuild from scratch.  Who knew the only time they would be useful would be on a system that doesn’t have them.</digression>

So, apparently, the only way I’ll be able to use my Clear services for now is by installing Windows 8 RC into Parallels, and using the Clear connection run from OSX.

For now.

posted on Monday, July 16, 2012 10:22 PM Print
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