An Improbable, Yet Successful MacBook Hard Disk Fix

by Jochen Wolters

Last week, I got a call from a friend in dire straits: his MacBook would no longer boot and he hadn't yet made a backup of an important documentary project he was working on as a freelance photographer. When I had a first look at the MacBook, it did start booting, the "progress rotor" did show up, but instead of presenting the OS X welcome screen, an icon appeared after a too-long wait, indicating the disk could not be found. Ouch.

So I inserted the OS X installation disk, re-started the machine courtesy of the Power button, and held down the Option key to be able to select the DVD as the boot volume. Interestingly, the Mac's internal drive was among the boot volume options, but when launching the Disk Utility application from the OS X installation disk, the software could not find the internal HD. As the next step in the quest to revive this Mac, I booted it from a TechTool Pro 4 DVD and launched TechTool Pro, but, alas, the internal drive again failed to appear.


Rick Wintheiser
2007-08-27 14:00:56
I had something very similar happen. I was so happy, backed up everything and then about a month later the disc went away for good. I would have it replaced, personally, or keep meticulous back ups. YMMV
Jonathan Wight
2007-08-27 14:14:22
Be really careful sliding in and out the Macbook drive.

There are two rubber "shims" that are glued into the drive bay on the left and right sides of the drive. The glue is pretty bad and the shims can come lose. The first you'll know of this is when there is some resistence when you slide the drive back into place. Do not force it but use a pair of tweezers (longer the better) to feel for anything obstructing the bay (you might be able to peer into the bay too.

The shims are little buggers to replace properly.

Max G
2007-08-27 14:18:28
My old 3G iPod 's battery failed a while back, so I opened it up to try to remove it (and replace it) and on a whim reconnected the battery (and hard drive, which was also giving me problems). Now it works fine. Even the battery life improved, but it is dwindling now.
Scott Fannen
2007-08-27 18:42:11
I've had my MacBook for just over a year and it's had a full (clickedy-click) hard disk failure twice. Both times while I've been using my Mac on a stable flat surface. Either I'm really unlucky or...well, I don't know. Anyway - backup, backup, backup! SuperDuper's saved me twice now.
2007-08-27 21:47:53
Why is there so much bantering about pc vs. Mac? PC's are a veritable magnet for every hacker, whack, virus, worm and now that the einstiens that created this crap are marketing programs to fix wahet nightmares they created. They can't screw up Macs. Win o/s's are so over-engineered and bait for trouble that why do people keep coming back?
Jochen Wolters
2007-08-28 00:31:34
Thanks for your comments and additional tips.

And, yes, backing up your data regularly (preferrably with a fully automated setup) will do wonders for keeping one's stress levels in check when a drive does go down! ;)

Robert Sharl
2007-08-28 04:09:17
Hmm, I'd watch this one carefully too. My MacBook (white, first release) had very similar symptoms, and they seemed to presage a logic board problem (one of the RAM slots didn't like anything in it). Along the way I got a HD error which neither TechTool nor Disk Utility could fix. Disk Warrior seemed to fix enough of the problem to do an OS X reinstall, and I lost very little data (a couple of corrupted files, but mostly all fine - and backed up anyway!). Eventually it stopped booting at all and I had the board replaced.

One great thing about being able to remove the HD so easily is that you can swap it with another MacBook's drive if you happen to have access to a loan machine. This really saved me, as I had an overseas trip just at the time the logic board died. I borrowed another MacBook from the office and had all my system up and running in about 5 minutes.

Matthew Sporleder
2007-08-28 18:16:34
You might want to get a copy of DataRescue II ready for when this drive completely fails.
Jochen Wolters
2007-08-29 00:51:14

"and backed up anyway" -- That's the key to peace of mind, eh?

Also, I totally agree with your view of being able to easily swap the drive between MacBooks. In case this trusty machine here will ever need a repair, I'd probably put in a blank drive, so I don't have to worry about privacy or data-loss issues while the 'Book is beyond my (access) control.


There's an interesting claim on the Data Rescue II webpage: "Do you have a corrupt hard drive or one that no longer mounts? Are other tools failing to even recognize your bad drive?"

Makes me wonder whether Data Rescue II would have been able to access the drive even when TechTool Pro and Disk Utility wouldn't. I'll keep this in mind when (probably not "if" *sigh*) I run into a similar problem next time. Thanks for the info!

2007-08-29 11:01:47
You could also insert another drive and select the startup drive again with it and re-insert the original. This saved me once after a faulty boot-camp windows install.
2007-08-30 13:48:42
The very same thing saved our PowerMac G4 at work, and for the life of me I still don't know why. I'm wondering if it needed to just be powerless for a while to lose some weird static build up.
Daniel Ringwalt
2007-08-31 13:50:12
Um... doesn't that void your warranty too?
Jochen Wolters
2007-09-01 03:53:21

Apple provides a DIY manual on exchanging the hard drive in a 13" MacBook. On that document's first page, it says:

Failure to follow these instructions could damage your equipment and void its warranty.

Hence, I'd assume that performing this operation does not void your warranty, as long as you follow the instructions outlined in this official manual.

Mike Nicastre
2007-09-21 11:43:54
Same problem. Macbook less than a year old. HD won't appear and that Data Rescue II was a total waste of time. Wouldn't boot or even stay in the drive. Kept popping out. Got a sore finger holding down the "c" key. Now what? Buy another one?
2008-01-10 02:00:02
I wish I'd found this before taking my daughter's MacBook to Applecare! I asked if they could return the old hard disk(useless I thought, but perhaps not) so I could try to retrieve the data on it but they wanted HK$3100 (about US$400) for it!!!!!!!!!
2008-02-06 20:07:00
Please does anyone have advise for this situation: 2 dif diagnosis of the same hd (I just can't believe there is nothing I can do to at least get some data recovered)

Seagate hardrive (used in a Macbook)
Model: ST98823AS
Serial: 5PK140S4

One Data Recovery diagnosis is:
Physical damage to the read/write head assembly.
Minor media damage located throughout the platter surface.
Multiple read errors located throughout the platter surface(s).
File structure damage.

Seagate on the other hand is saying: the discs, that make up my drive are damaged beyond repair. Therfore,it is not possible to retrieve any info, based on what the Seagate tech has told me! the ring or clamp on one disc is broken, and the other bearing on the top disc, that makes up the drive is broken and or fractured. So, no one will be able to get a image of the files on the your drive!

Is this true or is there another way?



Jochen Wolters
2008-02-07 04:10:26

Have the drive checked by a company that specializes in retrieving data from physically damaged hard drives, e.g., DriveSavers (just an example, not an endorsement). If, however, they cannot get any data off the drive, then, I'm afraid, you're out of luck. Sorry!

anthony mellor
2008-03-21 02:20:40
I am working on what looks like this very problem as I type. I have MacBook Pro firewired to MacBook with MacBook as a target disk (boot holding down the T button and connect machines with a firewire cable). MacBook did not appear in my finder on MacBook Pro, until quite a few minutes had passed; then it announced there was a big problem with the target MacBook disk and I am being given "limited access" to it for data backup purposes, after which I must erase and reformat the disk.

There is no warning about having to wait a few minutes (five or even ten before the MacBook Disk appears).

I am now running the MacBook off an external firewire disk, booted therefrom and copying files to it.


Jochen Wolters
2008-03-22 03:30:37

Have you tried the remedy outlined in my post? If so, did it "fix" the problem? Then again, if the MacBook's disk does eventually show up every time you connect it in Target Disk Mode, but causes an error message, there is probably some wrong with the drive itself. Do you have access to TechTool Pro to have it check the drive? If not, a first step would be to run Disk Utility on the drive and see what it finds.

Whatever the outcome, backing up those files right now is a very good idea, though. :)

2008-06-07 07:53:30
My hard disk in Mac Book crashed recently. Suddenly my macbook froze while working and tried to boot. Then flashing question mark appeared. I had tried to troubleshoot by following the instructions given in User Guide but disk utility did not show the internal HD. I did hardware test and it showed that the test was successful but it also did not show any test on internal HD?
Then I had called Customer Service they had sent a new hard disk (I have to send them back the crashed one). I did not back up my data :-( :-( Had to reinstall OS again on the new hard drive.

The crashed hard disk in my macbook was from SeaGate. I was actually very surprised to see hard disk crash with in 1.5 yr of buying the product.

Jochen Wolters
2008-06-09 04:02:59

Sorry to hear about your hard disk problems. To prevent any data losses in case something like this should ever happen again, have a look at these Best Practices for Personal Backups:

Henry Mantilla
2008-06-12 07:48:35
I am having a similar problem with my note book icon comes up and the the progress rotor comes up but thats how it remains i pulled the battery i also reseated the rams still nowhere anyone can help!
Jochen Wolters
2008-06-12 08:19:25

Have you tried booting from the OS X install disk? To force your Mac to start from a CD or DVD, hold down the "C" key during the boot process. If the machine can boot from the DVD, launch the Disk Utility application from within the installer -- do **NOT** re-install OS X just yet!! -- and check whether it can "see" the internal disk drive. If so, try repairing it with Disk Utility.

2008-06-30 21:21:41
also experiencing this problem (hard drive won't recognize in disk utility). tried re-seating, no luck. nothing was out of place after close examination. will try accessing data on it via firewire and another macbook when i can...
Jochen Wolters
2008-07-01 09:15:44

Another thing to try is to use a hard drive adapter, which is basically just a simple cable that you use to connect a "naked" drive to a USB port. Here's an example by Newer Tech:

Good luck!