I have a MacBook Pro from 2012, now running Catalina. I bought it second hand with international keyboard, 8 GB and 512 SSD. Indestructible (I tried). The display hinges are a bit loose, a known problem and easy to fix.

After playing with multi-boot, EFI, Linux and bootcamp, things got messed up and I needed to recover from time machine. Not a big deal, it’s all spelled out over the internet: restart with CMD-R, select your time machine backup and wait…

But wait, there are two extra variants to this, SHIFT-CMD-R and ALT-CMD-R. Reading the “Guides” and Apples own info, the differences have to do with new installs, so not for me, I just want to restore from a time machine backup.

Wrong…

Trying to recover my 2012 MBP running Catalina using CMD-R yields the following:

  • Time machine server running on Mac is not found.
  • .backupbundle extension (default on Catalina) is not recognised as backup.
  • Disk Utility cannot handle APFS filesystem.
  • Restore quickly fails with vague error message.

Looking at the GUI details, you’ll notice the recovery software is from the 2012 era. So I tried the ALTernative: ALT-CMD-R. Interestingly this loads a much more modern GUI and guess what, TM server backups are found immediately and restore went without any issues.

Thinking about it, (restore took 4 hours) this all started to make sense. CMD-R loads the recovery software from the time the MBP was made. At that time, APFS, TM server on Mac and .backupbundle did not exist. So CMD-R for time machine recovery only works if you had the original OS installed or maybe a newer version without major changes like APFS. In all other cases, use ALT-CMD-R.

Please Apple, just add one line to your description: “…you can use Option-Command-R during startup to be offered either the latest macOS that is compatible with your Mac, or in some cases the macOS that came with your Mac or the closest version still available. Use this option for Time Machine recovery if you have updated to a newer macOS.”

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