Running SpinRite 6.0 on MacOS (Part 1)

Running SpinRite 6.0 on MacOS (Part 1)
Running SpinRite 6.0 on MacOS (Part 2)

SpinRite is an excellent disk maintenance and recovery tool provided by Steve Gibson over at https://www.grc.com. There are many success stories from its use provided by Steve frequently on his Security Now! podcast.

There are various guides online for running SpinRite on a Mac but none that I found worked exactly as described, so this is my guide based on how I got SpinRite to work on my Mac. The basic principle is to set up a virtual machine on your Mac and give it raw block access to the disk and then run SpinRite as normal within the VM.

This guide is written using the following versions of software so your experience may differ if you are using different versions:

MacOS Sierra 10.12.6 (also works with MacOS High Sierra 10.13)
SpinRite 6.0
VirtualBox 5.1.26 r117224
PlayOnMac 4.2.12

This guide is designed for more advanced users as granting anything raw block access to a disk can be dangerous, especially if you select the wrong disk! Please be careful while following these steps.

This guide does rely on you connecting the hard disk up to your Mac via USB using a caddy. It may be that the disk is so far gone that it will not mount in MacOS and if that is the case you will not be able to use this guide. However it may still be possible to run SpinRite on it by connecting it directly to the motherboard of another computer via SATA or IDE.

Creating an ISO from the SpinRite.exe provided

When you first purchase and download SpinRite you are given the file SpinRite.exe to run which you can use to install locally or create an ISO to boot from. The easiest way to get the ISO is to run SpinRite.exe on any Windows system you have available, or even a Windows VM running on your Mac and copy the SpinRite.iso file across to your Mac. However if that simply is not possible for you an alternative way is to run SpinRite.exe in Wine on your Mac. I prefer the implementation provide by PlayOnMac so I will be using that in this guide. If you can create the ISO in Windows skip ahead to the next section.

The first step is to download and install PlayOnMac. Once you have it, launch it and select Install a program. In the new window that comes up click on Install a non-listed program.

Click Next on both “Please read this” windows then Next again when the Manual Installation wizard comes up. Select Install a program in a new virtual drive and click Next. Give it a name (SpinRite will do) and click Next. Do not tick any of the before installation options and click Next. Select 32 bits windows installation and click Next. Click Cancel on any additional installations that Wine prompts you about (such as Wine Gecko) until you reach the select set-up file to run screen.

Click Browse and select your SpinRite.exe file.

SpinRiteonPlayOnMac

When you click Next SpinRite will launch!

SpinRiteonPlayOnMac2

Click Create ISO or IMG File and then Save a Boot Image File. When the folder structure appears select Users > your username > Desktop to save the SpinRite.iso file to the desktop on your Mac. Once that has been successfully created exit SpinRite and PlayOnMac.

Running SpinRite on your Mac in a VirtualBox VM

The first step here is to download and install VirtualBox. There is nothing special about the installation so just follow the wizard through without changing any of the options.

Attach the hard disk you want to run SpinRite on by connecting it to a USB caddy and plugging the USB into your Mac. Unplug any other external drive you may have connected. Next, open Terminal and enter the command diskutil list to see the disks attached to your Mac. The disks prefixed with external will be the one you have connected up, followed by physical or virtual. In my example these are /dev/disk4 (physical) and /dev/disk5 (virtual). You may have multiple virtual entries depending on how many partitions are on the disk. You can also use the size of the disk to verify it is the correct one. Write down each of the disk identifiers that relate to the external drive.

diskutildisks

The next step is to unmount the virtual disk partitions, but not the physical disk. In my case that means unmounting /dev/disk5. To do this type diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk5. Repeat this for any other virtual disk partitions your drive has.

UnmountDisk

Now you need to create a vmdk file that will be attached to the virtual machine. This vmdk will direct all input and output to the physical disk you have connected. This is done using the following command:

sudo /usr/local/bin/VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename RawDisk.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/disk4

Note that for this command you must use the disk identifier for the physical disk and not any of the virtual disks. In my case this is /dev/disk4. If you get an error stating VERR_RESOURCE_BUSY make sure have you have unmounted every virtual disk. When you run the command you will be prompted for your password, enter it and press enter.

Createvmdk

This will create a file RawDisk.vmdk in the root of your home directory. This will also re-mount the disk. Unmount it again using diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk5 (virtual ones again).

Now you need to launch VirtualBox as root which can also be done using Terminal. This is required to allow read and write access to a raw device. Launch VirtualBox using the following command:

sudo /Applications/VirtualBox.app/Contents/MacOS/VirtualBox

launchVirtualBox

Do not close this Terminal window. As VirtualBox was launched through Terminal you must keep Terminal open throughout the rest of the process and while using SpinRite.

Create a new VM by clicking New, give it a name, select Other under Type and under version select DOS, then click Continue.

NewVM

Under Memory size the default of 32 MB is more than enough so accept that and click Continue.

VMmemory

Under Hard disk select Use an existing virtual hard disk file and click on the little folder icon next to it to bring up the file selection prompt.

SelectexistingHD

As you are running VirtualBox under root you will be taken to the folder structure for the root user account. However the RawDisk.vmdk file is saved in your user area. At the top of the file selection window click on the drop down box and select Macintosh HD (or whatever your Mac’s hard drive is called). From there select Users > your username.

SelectMacHD

In this folder you should find RawDisk.vmdk. Click on Open.

If you get an error VERR_RESOURCE_BUSY when trying to open RawDisk.vmdk make sure that the external virtual disks haven’t been mounted again (check using diskutil list and fix using the same diskutil unmountdisk command as before).

SelectRawDisk

As soon as you click Open Mac OS will actually remount the disk – how annoying! This must be rectified again by using the command the same way as before. In my case it is  diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk5. You will have to do this in a new Terminal window as you can no longer interact with the one you launched VirtualBox from until you close VirtualBox.

Once that is done click Create.

NewVMHDSelected

Open Settings for the VM and go to Storage and select the CD icon underneath RawDisk.vmdk. Next to Optical Drive click on the small CD icon and use the file explorer that pops up to select your SpinRite.iso file. Once that is done click on OK.

SelectSpinRiteISO

Power on the VM and it should automatically boot from the CD and launch SpinRite! Assuming you already know how to use SpinRite make your way through the menu and select the disk you have attached to your Mac.

SpinRiteStarted

Start the SpinRite process and let it do its magic!

SpinRiteRunning

That’s it for running SpinRite on your Mac. Phew! … Bring on the future releases of SpinRite 6.x and 7.0 for better Mac compatibility!

11 thoughts on “Running SpinRite 6.0 on MacOS (Part 1)”

  1. Thank you for this report! I just purchased, downloaded, and installed SpinRite to perform a Level 1 scan of new drive before installing into my MacBook pro. Your tutorial worked exactly as you described.

  2. Thanks for ‘giving back to the Internet!’ Your instructions assume running SpinRite on an external drive. How would they change to run it on the internal drive? Boot from an external drive and proceed as described?

    1. No problem! 🙂 I think this would be hard to do for two reasons: You would have to get SpinRite (which runs on top of the operating system FreeDOS) to boot natively on your Mac somehow (this may be possible using some trickery with Bootcamp) but even if you managed that Mac’s use EFI rather than BIOS and I don’t believe SpinRite 6.0 works with that. The easiest option here would be to remove the hard drive from your Mac and attach it, either internally or externally, to another PC and run SpinRite on it from there.

    2. I’m pretty sure you can scan your internal drive by booting a macOS that you have installed to an external drive. I’ve done it on a Mac but with Linux as the host OS instead.

      Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the great guide! Just like you say, most of the other once out there don’t work anymore, when using them exactly as described. I actually found yours while looking for updated instructions on how to run Spinrite on the Bootcamp partition on my internal drive. I have done this before, but it’s almost 2 years ago and due to Mac OS and virtual box updates it doesn’t seem to work exactly the same way anymore.

    What I did back in the day was booting into Mac OS, run virtual box with raw access to just the Bootcamp partition on the internal drive and then run Spinrite on it. I have to use Bootcamp a lot for bigger work projects, so 80% of my internal drive are occupied by Bootcamp. I figured running Spinrite on 80% of the drive is better than not running it at all. Back in the day this worked well, but now I can’t get it to work anymore.

    I tried using your instructions with some minor adjustments to get it to run on the Bootcamp partition, but terminal doesn’t seem to respond to any commands anymore once I have used it to start virtual box with root access, which means I can’t run the diskutil unmountdisk command anymore, which I believe could be the issue.

    At the moment I can start Spinrite, but it gets stuck when it is looking for mass storage devices – I suspect because it still doesn’t get access to the Bootcamp partition. Any suggestions?

    1. Have you tried opening a second Terminal window and running the unmountdisk command again in that? Hopefully the problem is just what you think it is; that the disk has mounted again. If you try that before you boot the VM perhaps Spinrite will be able to see the partition.

  4. Does spinrite need to be installed on the disk you are going to scan? Could I install it on a small USB flash drive and then run spinrite from that (after booting from an internal or cloned external HDD) and having done so, can I scan any of the connected drives?

    Thanks for such an awesome walkthrough. I’ve been wanting one of these for ages.

  5. Kevin,

    Great article and Steve Gibson referred me here himself.

    For some reason I am not able to create the VMDK. I’ve included the target drive below as shown by diskutil list, followed by the sudo command for disk1, then the multiple errors. Can you tell me what might be wrong here? Thanks.

    ================

    /dev/disk1 (external, physical):
    #: TYPE NAME SIZE IDENTIFIER
    0: GUID_partition_scheme *2.0 TB disk1
    1: EFI EFI 209.7 MB disk1s1
    2: Apple_HFS Backup 1 2.0 TB disk1s2

    MM:~ polymer$ sudo /usr/local/bin/VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename RawDisk.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/disk1
    Password:
    VBoxManage: error: VMDK: could not open raw disk file ‘/dev/disk1’
    VBoxManage: error: Error code VERR_RESOURCE_BUSY at /Users/vbox/tinderbox/5.1-mac-rel/src/VBox/Storage/VMDK.cpp(3428) in function int vmdkCreateRawImage(PVMDKIMAGE, const PVBOXHDDRAW, uint64_t)
    VBoxManage: error: Cannot create the raw disk VMDK: VERR_RESOURCE_BUSY
    VBoxManage: error: The raw disk vmdk file was not created
    MM:~ polymer$

    1. Hey Leo, did you try running diskutil unmountdisk /dev/disk1 before running the command to create the VMDK (MacOS seems to remount the disk several times during this process)? If that doesn’t work, one of the other people who commented on this mentioned that the command diskutil eject /dev/disk1 worked for them. Hopefully one of those helps!

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