Steam download causes M2 MacBook Pro SSD to became so full that data couldn't be deleted — user had to wipe SSD to make system functional again

A Sad Mac
(Image credit: OpenClipart / Pexels)

An Apple Mac expert has written at Six Colors about an unfathomable issue one of his children faced after trying to download a Steam game to an M2 MacBook Pro with an almost full SSD. You might think the problem would be like water off a duck’s back for Seattle-based technology journalist Glenn Fleishman, but increasingly technical and sophisticated attempts to free up space on the SSD failed. Poking around the Finder, issuing commands in the Terminal, and delving into the Disk Utility all drew blanks. Ultimately, Fleishman resorted to drastic measures – completely wiping the SSD for a fresh start.

The MacBook Pro in the headline was equipped with a 1TB SSD, and was part of a home network with regular Time Machine backups scheduled. Before asking dad to banish the Mac’s disk full alert, their offspring had tried the most obvious thing – emptying the trash to make room on the disk. Fleishman tried that again, and was greeted with the unhelpful message “The operation can’t be completed because the disk is full.”

Expert Mac user unsheathes his sharpest tools

Attempts to use Terminal, the Mac’s powerful command line interface, also fell flat, with the system grumbling about lack of space. Moving to the disk utility hit a brick wall, with the same “No space left on device” error.

Fleishman still had some tricks up his sleeve but, you guessed it, restarting and clearing caches was fruitless, as were subsequent recovery disk shenanigans.

Drastic measures were obviously called for. Erasing the drive and installing various versions of the MacOS was the next step – ‘safe’ in the knowledge that there were a series of Time Machine backups to restore or part restore once everything was back to normal.

However, the version of MacOS on the restored machine was found to have an issue with “the SMB/Samba-based networking mount procedure for Time Machine restores,” wrote Fleishman, and most exasperatingly “no one had found a solution.”

Luckily his offspring didn’t seem to care about many of the old files created, saved, or downloaded. So, they seemed quite happy to start afresh after grabbing a few files salvaged from a Time Machine backup saved on an external 1TB SSD.

“Systemic, cascading failures”

Fleishman’s conclusion is that perhaps he would have tried further recovery techniques, but after already sinking a day of effort into resolving this disk full issue, enough was enough. He hates to think about how less experienced Mac aficionados would cope with “systemic, cascading failures like this,” as do we.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • MacZ24
    You can see the error right on the first paragraph : trying to game on a Mac. It went downhill after that.
    Reply
  • ohio_buckeye
    Add to this on the Mac the ssd is likely soldered on so you couldn’t just swap it to grab data later either.
    Reply
  • kenyon.jonathan
    An Apple Expert, I think not. Several easy fixes for this. The problems is with the Steam client not Apple. As for Apple Games, I have played them for years with no issues.
    Reply
  • Neilbob
    I see an enormous opportunity for Apple here: $999 for a support representative (trying hard not to snort my drink across my screen as I type that) to resolve the problem (i.e. delete a file).
    Reply
  • J4ck1nth3b0x
    Instead of wiping the SSD it would have be a better choice to either boot in single user mode, or as target disk mode on another mac and investigate from there. Where the use chose was a silly mistake. This could be fixed in terminal within minutes.
    Reply
  • PEnns
    "You might think the problem would be like water off a duck’s back for Seattle-based technology journalis...'
    This is a self inflicted problem.

    The problem is, these days everybody claims to be technology expert or a tech journalist. In this case, this gentleman is neither.
    Reply
  • mac2net
    kenyon.jonathan said:
    An Apple Expert, I think not. Several easy fixes for this. The problems is with the Steam client not Apple. As for Apple Games, I have played them for years with no issues.
    So please tell us what the fixes are...
    Reply
  • dtemple
    MacOS is, at its core, still based on Unix; Unix has always been more sensitive to extremely full disks. Perhaps the actual issue here is that Unix, being more powerful than Windows, is able to fill every last nook and cranny of the disk until its ability to function is compromised, where Windows would not allow that.

    Macs have a "target mode," I'm not certain if it still exists on new models but it did back in the Intel Mac days. You'd boot the Mac while holding the T key for Target mode, and then the Firewire port would host the system's SSD as an external device. Meaning, if you then plugged your Mac into another system using a Firewire cable, the Mac's internal SSD would be accessible that way. Attaching your Mac to another Mac, it even allows you to unlock the disk's encryption on the other Mac. There's also the option to boot the system from a Linux flash drive and access the internal drive that way, but only if the drive is not encrypted.
    Reply
  • Dementoss
    Many here claim the journalist doesn't know what he is doing and, that the solution is simple.

    Put your money where your mouth is, tell us the solution, or are you as ignorant as you claim the journalist is?

    PS, I'm not proffering a solution because I have no idea, as I have never used MacOS. But, I am also not making, probably false, claims about the journalist as some of you are, despite your knowing nothing about him.
    Reply
  • mac2net
    dtemple said:
    MacOS is, at its core, still based on Unix; Unix has always been more sensitive to extremely full disks. Perhaps the actual issue here is that Unix, being more powerful than Windows, is able to fill every last nook and cranny of the disk until its ability to function is compromised, where Windows would not allow that.

    Macs have a "target mode," I'm not certain if it still exists on new models but it did back in the Intel Mac days. You'd boot the Mac while holding the T key for Target mode, and then the Firewire port would host the system's SSD as an external device. Meaning, if you then plugged your Mac into another system using a Firewire cable, the Mac's internal SSD would be accessible that way. Attaching your Mac to another Mac, it even allows you to unlock the disk's encryption on the other Mac. There's also the option to boot the system from a Linux flash drive and access the internal drive that way, but only if the drive is not encrypted.
    Target mode might have worked. I used it quite a bit with Firewire, It works now with Thunderbolt. For conventional users, I am not sure booting Linux from a flash drive on the Mac would work because the file system is probably unreadable.

    https://support.apple.com/en-euro/guide/mac-help/mchlp1443/14.0/mac/14.0#:~:text=If%20you%20have%20two%20Mac,computers%20using%20a%20Thunderbolt%20cable.
    Reply