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I have a 3 1/2 year old Snow Leopard iMac on my hands that crashed, lost its disk partition (or was unable to recognize it...) when booted from install disk, froze twice while booting off the install disk, then rebooted as if nothing bad had ever happened. Twice. What is this computer's damage?
November 8, 2011 1:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a 3 1/2 year old Snow Leopard iMac on my hands that crashed, lost its disk partition (or was unable to recognize it...) when booted from install disk, froze twice while booting off the install disk, then rebooted as if nothing bad had ever happened. Twice. What is this computer's damage?

I have an Snow Leopard iMac on my hands that does weird stuff. One time in the past, after a shut down, it lost its startup disk. I had to run disk first aid and correct some hard drive errors, then it was back in action. Today, this happened again. I got the blinky folder with question mark. I booted from an install disk and run Disk First Aid, and the partition was completely gone. The drive showed up with no S.M.A.R.T. status and claimed to have 0 bytes available, but there's no partition underneath. I couldn't repair because according to the install disk OS, there was nothing to repair. There is no data, only drive.

I tried some low-level copying hackery from the raw disk with dd to see if I could recover something by copying the disk over to an external hard drive, but then the install disk operating system froze. I tried again, and it crashed again, this time before I even got to the dd -- the operating system just freezes, which leads me to believe that maybe the issue is from the motherboard. I turn the computer off.

Later, I turn it back on to try the low level recover again, because why not, and it's back. The whole deal -- no lost startup disk, boots right into the OS as if nothing bad had every happened.

Needless to say, I am apprehensive about using the computer in this state. I have copied all the data off. What could cause this? Does it sound like a bad motherboard? Overheating? The hard drive partition just vanishes, so I initially suspected a bad or corrupted hard drive, but now that everything is completely back, that doesn't sound like the right explanation.

Has anyone ever experienced this? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
 
I have a 2007 iMac that behaved similarly before ultimately throwing its hard drive. If you had Apple Care, it may not be too late to take it to a Genius Bar and have them take a look at it and if it is the hdd, replace it. I got mine replaced for free even though I was out of Apple Care a few months.

Either way, odds are pretty good that a new hard drive will resolve your issue.
posted by The Mysterious Mr. F at 1:34 PM on November 8, 2011


sounds like the hard drive is about to fail. consider yourself lucky.

maybe try installing another hard drive and copy everything onto that one. work with it for a while, and if nothing else happens you found the source of the problem.
posted by cupcake1337 at 1:35 PM on November 8, 2011


Yep. Likely hard disk. We've had 3 of them fail at work here. They're not 3.5 years old, but 2-3. I've replaced 4 or 5 of them myself (not fun) on different imacs.

Sure, it could be another hw problem, but I'd go with the disk first.
posted by bitterkitten at 1:42 PM on November 8, 2011


If you are saying that it froze while booting off the install DVD, then I don't think it's a HDD problem. It could be memory, or motherboard. Does this have 3rd party memory in it? I would take it to the genius bar, if possible.
posted by nightwood at 2:08 PM on November 8, 2011


I'd download and run SMART Utility (there's a free trial). If it says your hard drive is failing, I'd replace it ASAP. If it passes, it probably isn't the drive.
posted by Utilitaritron at 2:32 PM on November 8, 2011


I've also seen weird HD-related behaviors result from a bad cable, but the drive, with all its moving parts, is more likely.
posted by Utilitaritron at 2:34 PM on November 8, 2011


The crash when you were starting off the disc makes me think it's more motherboard and less hd. Could be multiple things too.

1) download the Smart Utility and check the drive status. Replace if bad.
2) If good then use DiskWarrior to see if it's a software thing. If you need to spend the $100 on DW then do it: it's worth even more than that. It solves all sorts of deep down problems. Saved me many times.
3) If DW finds nothing, or does and the problem persists then erase drive, zero out data, install OS freshly.
4) If problem persists then it's a motherboard or other large issue that's most likely not worth it to fix (be more to fix than you could sell the machine for, most likely). Take it to Salvation Army.
posted by Murray M at 2:59 PM on November 8, 2011


Have you run the hardware test CD? I think it's the hard drive, but the Apple HW test will check the RAM, the motherboard & the video card as well as he disk. One of your original install disks should say hardware test on it -- see here.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:59 PM on November 8, 2011


Thank you all for your answers.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night at 3:53 AM on November 9, 2011


Seconding run the Apple supplied hardware test. If it has extra ram fitted you might have poorly seated memory sticks, the hardware test might pick this up.
posted by epo at 11:08 AM on November 9, 2011


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