Can I get my data back? Or am I asking for a rainbow pony?
May 29, 2010 2:14 PM   Subscribe

My 9 month old Macbook Pro flashed the gray screen of death. Is there any way to recover the data?

Yesterday, while finishing a paper for school, my beloved Macbook Pro froze and I stared at the lovely spinning wheel of doom for a minute before shutting it down. When I attempted to start it back up, all that would come up was a gray screen with a file icon and a question mark. No good!

Fortunately I had an earlier draft of the paper saved as a google doc, and after a lot of frazzled running around I was able to finish the paper on a different computer. Whew!

The computer is under warranty, but the man at the Genius Bar said that apple may need to replace my hard drive, in which case I would not be able to retrieve my data, and they would keep my old hard drive.

I didn't think that apple could take my hard drive without offering data recovery. I realize it's my own fault for not backing up the hard drive, and I've learned my lesson, but is there any way to recover the data from my old drive? On a message board I read that Apple UK does offer data recovery - do they offer it in the US? Is there some kind of magic that the genius can do to recover my files?

I realize that I may come across as entitled, all "where's my free stuff?" But I'm totally shocked that my laptop could have such a massive failure within a year of purchase. I've never dropped it, spilled anything on it, opened it up, upgraded it or anything. I use it daily for school work, but it's my baby and I'm gentle with it. Sorry, I think I'm still in a state of shock, but I'm just surprised and upset that my data may be gone for good, when there was no indication that there was anything wrong with my hard drive. I purchased AppleCare, and have generally heard good things about Apple customer service. Perhaps I'm asking for a magical rainbow pony.
posted by ladypants to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Your data more than likely isn't gone. What I would do in your situation is to buy an external USB hard drive enclosure (they cost around $15), pull the hard drive out of your Mac, stick it in the external enclosure and then plug the external drive into a friend's computer to back it up.

THEN, once you have a backup of your data, put the drive back in your Mac and let Apple do its thing to fix whatever's broken.

And in future: keep backups of your stuff. Hard drives, and especially laptop drives, since they're jostled around so much in the course of day-to-day usage, are notoriously fallible beasties.
posted by killdevil at 2:23 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It could be as simple as just some of the boot record were damaged and your files are fine.

Do you have access to another Mac and a firewire cable? If so you can try and mount your drive using the firewire mode. From there you can copy the non-damaged files onto another drive. It is odd the Genius didn't offer that for you. Once you have your files back, they can repair your computer and replace the drive.

You should also be able to boot with the startup disks that came with your mac. There should be an option to "archive and install" the OS for you. It will rewrite the OS but keep a copy of your data for you to retrieve later. However if the OS can't fix the boot record, this won't work.

Even on Macs, hard drives fail. Apple will replace the drive for you but as they say all over the AppleCare and other materials, they can't be responsible for the data.

Next time, you should buy a USB hard drive and use Snow Leopard's built in Time Machine backup. If you had been doing backups and the drive failed, you'd be able to restore to where you left off losing at most the last hour worth of work.
posted by birdherder at 2:26 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: THEN, once you have a backup of your data, put the drive back in your Mac and let Apple do its thing to fix whatever's broken.

While this is normally what I'd recommend, be careful; doing this may easily void the Applecare warranty.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:29 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: You can also try (from a working computer) to download a copy of a LiveCD such as SLAX or Ubuntu. Booting to the CD will skip whatever is on the hard drive and will let you access the files. Inside of the LiveCD you can copy the files off your drive to a different one or even send them to a FTP site or webpage.
posted by msbutah at 2:29 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: The same situation happened to an iMac at work. After just over a year, freeze->spinny wheel->question mark folder. When I took it to the Genius Bar (in the US), I was offered an attempt at data recovery for free. I got it by explaining that if they had to replace the hard drive, could I please have the old hard drive back? They said that is not normally their policy, so they would instead attempt to retrieve the data for me. Unfortunately, they were not able to retrieve the data, but they did end up giving me the old hard drive (from which I also did not recover anything, but that's not to say it's impossible).
posted by dayintoday at 2:30 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: Here is a nice video showing how to remove the drive from a late-model Macbook Pro.

And if you go to Newegg, the best online store for this sort of thing, you can find a bunch of external USB enclosures for 2.5" SATA (Serial ATA) hard drives - like the one in your Mac - for under ten bucks.

You will also need a Torx screwdriver to open up the computer. You can get one of those on Newegg, too.
posted by killdevil at 2:37 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: Nope, no data recovery in the US. There are plenty of companies that will do this for you, but it's not going to be free (but totally cool that the UK includes this.)

Also, If you open that machine, the system is no longer covered for warranty (the one year warranty you have.)

Your best bet? Get them to replace the HD and see what you have to do to get your original one back (even if it's just for 48 hours.) Put it in a USB case and see if you can do any recovery.

Kicker: if it's clicking? Or if you power on your system (which I'm assuming you haven't gotten repaired yet) and you don't hear it spin up and unpark the magic software will fix it.
posted by filmgeek at 3:03 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: Everyone on here claiming you'll void your warranty if you take your hard drive out is wrong.

You're free to remove it, but if you break anything in the process then you will void your warranty. If the hard drive is definitely the only problem, you might like to consider replacing it yourself. Obviously this'll cost you money, but the process is practically painless and you may prefer this route because you'll be able to install a larger hard drive. You might not have been short of space, and of course the repair from Apple is free, but you should also take into consideration the inconvenience of being without your computer for however long the repair is likely to take when you could get yourself back up and running in a matter of hours.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 3:31 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: As mentioned above, firewire target disk mode (details) may work for you.
posted by thewalledcity at 3:33 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: 3rding Firewire / "Target Disk" mode as my first plan of attack. It's a wonderful feature, and has saved my behind in the past.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 4:18 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: Do the target disk thing, if that doesn't work, take it out and put it into an enclosure (or even use a simple SATA to USB adapter) and copy the data. You will not void your warranty.

No, Apple isn't obligated to worry about your data, they're obligated to give you working hardware.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:23 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: I've had very good luck with diskwarrior when all seemed lost. It's $90 new but you might be able to find a "full demo" on the internet and buy a retail copy to support them if it works.

Target mode is also worth a shot.
posted by laptolain at 5:06 PM on May 29, 2010

Best answer: You're a bit unclear about what was done at the Genius Bar (if anything).

I would try booting the mac up with the shift key down. If that fails I would try running an fsck.

If that failed I would try an archive and install of the OS.

The I would move onto Diskwarrior (linked above).

And the assumption with any computer is that the data on it is yours to manage. One would hope the laptop wouldn't fail in the first year, but it's not uncommon for this to happen. This is not a mac vs. pc issue. It happens.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:25 PM on May 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help! In the end, the Genius figured out that the problem was with the cable to the hard drive, rather than the drive itself, and I got to keep my hard drive and everything on it. That was so scary. Thank you for explaining how to rescue a disk. I'm looking into backup options, so hopefully it won't be necessary, but it's a huge relief to know how to rescue data before going to the Genius Bar.
posted by ladypants at 6:31 PM on May 29, 2010

Glad it worked out for you!

For future reference, if you should have a catastrophic hard drive crash and you don't have a working backup, and it's worth a significant amount of money to you to get your data back, DriveSavers can do wonders for you. They recovered almost all of my data on a hard drive whose platters apparently were Swiss cheese. (mind you, it cost about $1800. But I really needed the data. )
posted by leahwrenn at 8:08 PM on May 29, 2010

I just went through the exact same thing.

This helped me, because even the Firewire boot method wouldn't work.

If you bring in your dead Mac and an external HD to the Apple Genius Bar, they will make a full backup of the drive to that external HD if they need to, before they service the Mac. The Apple store even sells them, though I ended up getting an Iomega 1 TB drive from Amazon. I did this just today, in fact. Turns out that in my case my HD is toast and they have to replace it, but I feel better now that I have the data backed up. (And, when I get it back, I'm setting up a regular backup schedule!)
posted by spinifex23 at 10:21 PM on May 29, 2010

A further note - Apple in the UK offers the service of retrieving data from a drive that is in working order, but it is not a free service; £30 will get them to recover your data if it doesn't involve taking the drive out of the system and (if I recall correctly) £80 covers it if they do need to open up the case. On every system excluding the MacBook Air, both of these processes can be performed by the owner at no cost should they have access to another Mac; and if done correctly, will not affect the warranty. Instructions for removing the drive can be found in the user guide included with your system.

If, however, the drive is not in working order and data cannot be retrieved in the normal way, Apple does not have the equipment to perform this service and will refer you to one of a number of specialist data recovery companies who are extremely good at extracting data from the deadest of drives, and are accordingly expensive. Although I am no longer an official representative, assuming the information hasn't changed since I left, the companies a customer would be pointed towards in the UK are (as leahwrenn said) DriveSavers, and OnTrack Data Recovery.
posted by fearnothing at 2:42 AM on May 30, 2010

Next step: buy an external 1 Tb hard disk, and turn on Time Machine...
posted by DreamerFi at 6:07 AM on May 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

(Future suggestion: when you're working on important files, install Dropbox and save them directly to your Dropbox folder. They will awesomely sync directly to the cloud and update every time you hit save, so when you spill Lucky Charms over everything you won't be totally borked.)
posted by thejoshu at 7:26 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Everyone learns the impermanence of hard drive data the hard way.

Smart people only need to learn it once. You got off easy!
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:50 AM on May 30, 2010

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