How do I rescue files from an internal drive when OS X won't boot?
October 1, 2009 10:26 PM   Subscribe

OS X won't boot. Time Machine stopped working at noon. How can I nab some files before I reinstall Leopard?

Due, I think, to my son playing with the power strip one too many times, my iMac will not boot. I can boot from the Leopard system disc, and I've run Disk Utility. It repaired problems, but it still won't boot.

I run Time Machine, so I'm willing to restore from that and/or reinstall Leopard. But I got a lot done today and would like to copy some PDFs I crated today. The last Time Machine backup was at noon. But I worked until five. I don't know why Time Machine stopped backing up.

When I use the "burn" option in Disk Utility, I can see the files I created, including the ones that are not in the most recent Time Machine backup. Is there a way to get them? This is my only Mac, so target disk mode isn't an option. What should I try?
posted by wheat to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Best answer: From Disk Utility, are you able to choose File > New >Disk Image from Folder? If so, do that, then select the folder that contains your PDFs and click Image. Save the image to the top level of your internal drive. Now burn the image to a CD or DVD.

If you can't do the above -- I don't recall if the disk image option is available from the install dvd -- then choose Terminal from the Utilities menu. I'll assume the PDFs you want to rescue are in a PDFs folder in your home folder, for simplicity. Issue this command to copy the PDFs folder to the top level of your Time Machine disk, replacing items in brackets with the correct info:
ditto /Volumes/[HD name]/Users/[username]/PDFs /Volumes/[Backup]/PDFs
Saving temporarily to the top level of the Time Machine drive shouldn't be a problem. Once that's done, reinstall the OS, restore from Time Machine, reboot, log in, and then drag the PDFs over.
posted by pmbuko at 11:27 PM on October 1, 2009

If you have a PC with firewire, you can use MacDrive to open up target disk mode.

You also can probably boot from an Ubuntu LiveCD since they all have HFS+ support now. Boot from the CD, copy from your iMac HD to your Time machine backup drive (or a thumb drive, or etc), then do the time machine restore, then copy back the PDFs.
posted by CharlesV42 at 4:33 AM on October 2, 2009

Best answer: FYI If Disk Tools "repaired" the problem and it still won't boot then you may want to reformat/repartition the drive. You most likely have a borked directory structure. Of course this will erase everything...
posted by Gungho at 6:07 AM on October 2, 2009

Response by poster: pmbuko, I am able to choose File > New Disk Image from Folder. I followed your advice and was able to create an image to the top level of the internal hard drive. But, when I try to burn it, I'm unable to as the system disc is in the drive (and it can't be ejected because it is in use). Is there some trick to that?

I'm able to see my USB thumb drive in Disc Utility. I'll try using the Terminal to copy my directory over to the thumb drive, and then follow your reinstall/restore/reboot sequence.

Gungho, won't reinstalling Leopard require reformatting? Is there some install option that doesn't require a reformat?
posted by wheat at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2009

You might also try describing the problem, maybe we can fix that:

What happens when it boots? Does it get to grey screen, grey apple, blue screen, desktop, etc?
posted by CharlesV42 at 8:03 AM on October 2, 2009

Response by poster: I get the grey screen with the Apple logo and (usually) the spinning gear beneath it. It doesn't get past that.

I tried starting in single-user mode, which dies with the following error message: Error reading driver 'System\Library\Extensions\IONetworkingFamily.kext\Contents\Plugins\AppleIntel8254XEthernet.kext\Contents\MacOS\'

(I'm not sure of the exact capitalization, as I scratched it down in a notebook by hand, but I It hink I got the rest down correctly.)
posted by wheat at 9:06 AM on October 2, 2009

Something has gone awry on the disk and a required hardware driver can't be loaded as a result. You may be able to get past this in safe mode by holding shift when you turn the computer on. Hold shift until the Apple logo appears and a progress bar begins beneath that.
posted by secret about box at 4:13 PM on October 2, 2009

Response by poster: Update: copying files to the USB drive was successful. I'm reinstalling OS X right now. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
posted by wheat at 6:26 PM on October 2, 2009

Response by poster: Update: OS X seemed to install w/o a hitch. After it installed, it asked me if I wanted to start from scratch or from a Time Machine backup. So I picked Time Machine and started the transfer. I let it run overnight. This morning, the Transferring Information dialog's status bar is almost all the way across, it says "Transferring files to support applications" beneath the status bar and "About 3 minutes remaining below that.

The only problem is, it still says that, nine hours later. There doesn't seem to be any disk activity (on either drive). I still have control of the mouse, but there's nothing to click. Should I risk powering it down? How long should I wait it out?
posted by wheat at 3:27 PM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: Other people seem to have this problem. It seems to be something to do with Spotlight. So, I guess I'll have to crash out, figure out how to disable Spotlight (for the duration of the transfer process) and then re-enable it.
posted by wheat at 3:35 PM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: Finally gave up, powered down, booted from the DVD, and am now restoring from the most recent Time Machine backup (the one from noon of the day of the crash). Current time estimate--not that those mean anything at all--is 7 hours, 20 minutes, though that keeps inching upward.
posted by wheat at 6:22 PM on October 3, 2009

Response by poster: I blogged the resolution of all of this in detail (link is in my profile), but I'll summarize here, by way of a follow-up:

I was able to use pmbuko's advice to rescue a few work files that didn't get backed up. I ended up having to take the iMac in for a warranty repair. The internal drive failed completely.

When I got it back, I was able to use the Migration Assistant to move all of my files over from my Time Machine backup. There was an issue with Migration Assistant, which caused it to stop working near the end of its process (while "transferring files to support applications") a call to AppleCare got me around that one. I ended up killing that process and starting it again, this time deselecting a certain folder in the the Migration Assistant settings. So, on the second try, it worked. The only things I've had to reinstall are my printer software and iWork. And I had to reauthorize iTunes.

But I'm back to good. My new drive is zippy and my iMac is performing very nicely. I took the added precaution of starting a brand new Time Machine backup using a brand new drive, just in case there was any weirdness with my original one. And I've also subscribed to BackBlaze as added insurance in case things go south ever again.

Thanks to everyone who chipped in to help me out during what could have been a really disastrous situation.
posted by wheat at 1:21 PM on November 2, 2009

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