Merry freakin' Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, the universe gave to me...

Woo freakin' hoo.

...a big fat Macintosh disk error.

(When it's doing an operating system update, and it goes to sleep in the middle of it, and then it won't wake up again, that's bad.)

I know very little about fixing Macs.

Well, I knew very little.

Now I know that when it boots to a blue screen (then a different shade of blue with a pointer, then the first shade of blue, repeat until bored), and the problem's not an incompatible login item, and this procedure ends when fsck announces that the volume could not be repaired, and five million Web pages say that the next step is to try fixing the drive with DiskWarrior, but the computer will not boot from your DiskWarrior 4 CD (that you got from the only place you can get commercial software from on Christmas Freakin' Day, nudge nudge), no matter how hard you hold C on startup, and the Mac goes into target disk mode just fine, but the only device you then get to see on your Windows PC via MacDrive as you hopefully try to copy files off it is the optical drive which still contains the apparently perfectly valid DiskWarrior CD, so you have to boot with the mouse button held down to get the bugger to eject, and you then plug in some random spare drive via a FireWire doohickey, then install OS X (v10.4) again to that drive, you can then boot the computer from the external drive, put the DiskWarrior disc in again, fail to run DiskWarrior because of some folderol with permissions, fix that, eject and replace the disc, run DiskWarrior again, then it'll hang the whole operating system at "Step 9: Waiting For Mac OS X system services to complete...", and you figure that maybe that's because your old hard drive is overheating, so you'll point a little USB fan thing at the drive and power cycle everything yet again, and now the drive runs a lot cooler but it'll still hang at exactly the same point, leaving the computer unable to do anything but blank its screen according to its default power settings...

...then you're screwed, right?

I'm thinking that the first thing we should have done with that computer when we went to my mum's place for Christmas was, perhaps, to make that first backup she'd never gotten around to, not to click "yes" to the months of queued-up update requests and then leave the room.

But we didn't, and now it's like this, and I'm thinking all I'm going to be able to do is try an erase-and-reinstall of OS X on the munged hard drive, destroying all of my mum's un-backed-up data.

And, if that doesn't work, go shopping for a new hard drive.

Unless one of you has a better idea.

(Yes, I'll buy a legit copy of DiskWarrior when the shops are open again to sell me one, if anybody thinks it will actually have any value to me.)

Note that "Take the computer to the friendly staff of the Genius Bar at your local Apple Store!" does not qualify as "a better idea", unless you also send me the money to fly to a country that has Apple Stores in it.

Here in Australia, our Apple retailers appear to favour the more rugged "Jeez, Yeah, That's Buggered. Wanna Buy Another One, Mate?" Bar.

13 Responses to “Merry freakin' Christmas”

  1. JoeyLemur Says:

    Can you get it to boot in single-user mode and do the manual fsck hokey-pokey?

  2. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yes, but fsck fails, as I mentioned not too far into the Great Sentence above :-).

  3. ryan Says:

    if you boot to the new disk, does the old disk fail to mount? have you tried mounting it from a shell session?

  4. AndyF Says:

    this sucks, but your best bet overall will probably be to replace the drive. note that this is not a fun time with the eMac. Once you've gotten the old hard drive out, you might have a better chance getting it mounted on an external adapter...

    Before you do that though, you may want to run the apple hardware test, as it could be a logic board or IDE controller problem. (disk 1 of your restore DVDs, or a separate and labeled cd. For the DVD, hold the option key immediately after turning on the machine and choose the AHT boot option.)

  5. Moetop Says:

    AT this point I useualy go into "Rescue Mode". Since I probably know a little less than you about MAC's im going to pretend they make versions of Linux than can read OSX partitions (not actualy knowing if they do or not). I would take the drive out of the MAC and put it in a Linux box and then copy all of the contents off to a safe place. Double check to make sure you have all the important data, then nuke the drive from orbit (clean format / reinstall)

  6. Moetop Says:

    When I say your Linux box I mean any PC that had a bootable CDrom drive and the CD bootable distribution of Linux that would support the OSX filesystem (Maybe Yellowdog). I have used Knoppix several times in this capacity for PC rescue.

  7. DanC Says:

    Dan, you may have already tried this, but I've found some odd problems regarding hard drives in the new Intel iMacs at a company I work for. I found the best combo, was to take the original Tiger (or supplimental CDs), and boot from them. Then, after the installer picks a language, one can find the "hidden" top menu bar, and select Disk Utility. After entering the Disk Utility, I've found an oscilating combination of the "single user mode fschk hokey pokey" and the "Repair Disk / Verifiy Disk" and about 5 reboots usually brings it back from the dead. FYI, the "Mac Genius" people use Drive Genius.

    Only other thing is find a Mac Boot Cheat Sheet and try and boot it with "Extensions Off" that will ignore the startup items and such.

    best of luck!

  8. therealbartron Says:

    I hate to say it but it sounds like the drive is screwed. OS X shouldn't sleep if it's doing an update so it's quite probable that the drive was going to die anyway.
    If it was a drive data error then you should be avle to boot off your firewire drive and at least 'see' the drive. When the hard drive in my G4 Mini died though I couldn't see a thing (not even the CD drive) until I removed the dead drive, then all was hunky dory (except my data).
    If you 'can' at least see the drive then try something like Data Rescue II on it and see what yopu can recover. There is a demo version that will go through the motions for free and let you know if it can do anything with your drive (

  9. Daniel Rutter Says:

    When I boot from the external drive and run DiskWarrior, it says "This disk does not appear on the desktop" about the internal drive (I haven't dug in any further, but mounting the thing seems to be out of the question; the very presence of the drive causes the hold-Option-on-startup boot device selector to hang, too...).

    I've let it sit for some time twice now, with zero progress past that end part of Step 9. The computer just hangs.

    I'll give Drive Genius a try, though. There's no big rush, at least; I won't be taking the computer back down the mountain (and across the plain...) to my mum until the new year, whatever happens.

  10. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Cancel (most of) that last; DiskWarrior's problems would appear to have been because the crusty old external drive didn't like spinning up again after the Mac helpfully spun it down.

    So, after giving the drive a few of the old wrist-flicks to get it to spin up at all, I turned off the Apple power saving stuff, ran DiskWarrior, and it made it to completion!

    The Mac still can't actually boot from its repaired drive (yea, the list of stuff that couldn't be fixed was long), but at least now I get a folder-with-a-question-mark before the broken boot procedure. So now a not-totally-destructive reinstall may actually be possible.

    Hurrah, I guess.

  11. Daniel Rutter Says:


    It worked. Computer is back up. Drive is not toast. User data appears to be intact.

    Thanks, everyone!

  12. Jaymis Says:

    You forgot to add "Backups in progress".

    Congratulations. Drives borking themselves is scary. Drives borking themselves while filled with stuff you know your mum spent days two-fingering her way through is apocalyptic.

  13. tomsk Says:


    I did a very similar thing a couple of years back with my mother-in-law's OS 9 iBook when installing software updates. I got it fixed in the end with the help of an old-skool Mac guru friend. It was a chilling day. On the upside, I don't get asked to provide her with free tech support anymore.

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