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How I fixed an old iMac using Time Travel

Had I Googled the error message we got, I would have learnt that time travel was the answer a lot sooner.

Today I encountered a bit of a strange problem while helping a friend fix his newly acquired 21.5″ 2012 iMac. He tells me it’s been wiped clean and he’s having issues re-installing macOS.

He was getting the following error about a minute into the El Capitan installation:

No packages were eligible for install. Contact the software manufacturer for assistance.

Before I Googled anything, I decided the fix would be to attempt something like this to re-install macOS:

  • Boot into Recovery, by holding CMD + R while booting the machine up.
  • Boot into Internet Recovery by holding CMD + OPTION + R while booting the machine up.
  • Go to Apple and beg for help.

I didn’t feel like going to Apple today, so I opted to attempt the recovery options. However, it turns out that on this machine, there was a firmware password that had since been forgotten, rendering my attempts useless.

We tried a few things, including removing the RAM and attempting a PRAM reset to circumvent this password. Turns out this only works on older Macs manufactured in 2011 and before.

Defeated, we returned to the original screen which was causing us problems. Could there possibly be a way to coerce the installation forward without any access to the built-in recovery tools that Apple have given us?

Yes, actually. And it involves us going 88mph…

Fixing an iMac by travelling back in time

Back to the future screenshot
© Back to the Future, Universal Studios

We stumbled upon this thread on Apple’s support forum which suggests simply turning back the clock to 2017.

From the main screen after turning the iMac on, head to the top of the screen and click Utilities. Then, click on Terminal to open up a command line.

Type the following command:

date 0115124517

Hit the enter key – the iMac now thinks it’s January 1st, 2017.

Exit the terminal and head back to the install screen and give it another try. If it starts working, congratulations! You’ve just fixed your iMac with time travel, and you didn’t even need a time machine.

Lessons learned

Even though I’ve been fixing things for ages now, I still sometimes forget the basics. I didn’t Google the error – I just assumed I knew what was going on and dived straight in, rather than assessing all my options.

The recovery tools might have worked, but that wasn’t really addressing the first issue we ran into. In pursuing this course of action I jumped down the rabbit hole and spent more time attempting to fix new problems than the one at hand.

Had I Googled the error message we got, I would have learnt that time travel was the answer a lot sooner.

So, I guess in summary, don’t forget the basics – even if the basics, in this case, do send you back in time.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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