My mac has crashed; restore disk is not working.
April 20, 2005 9:23 PM   Subscribe

If anyone can help me with my Mac problem, I will be eternally grateful and may even send brownies. Really, really good brownies.

My mac has really taken a bad turn. It's a G4 PowerBook. Earlier this evening, it started to have problems opening programs. The icon would bounce in the bar for a long time, the little annoying spinny circle would spin, but the program wouldn't open. Force quit didn't work. I powered down and restarted, but the same thing happened. I powered down again, and this time I got stuck at the grey apple screen indefinitely. I've tried everything I can think of to fix it. I tried booting from the install CD, but it didn't work. I could get the computer to read the disc, and the computer was responding to movement of the mouse, but clicking (on either the trackpad or a wired mouse) didn't do anything. Without clicking, I can't use the restore CD.

I also tried to firewire boot to an iMac to try to at least get a couple of highly critical files off of it, but the iMac didn't recognize it.

Please help if you can. I am sitting here quietly trying not to lose my shit.
posted by LittleMissCranky to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
If it acts funky regardless of whether you're booted off the hard drive or the CD, that suggests that the problem is not the hard drive. So your files are, I would think, intact.

Any way you can get another Powerbook and swap the hard drive into it?
posted by bac at 9:32 PM on April 20, 2005

You could try starting up in single-user mode and running fsck. This is like running Disk Utility from the command line, and has helped me in the past. Directions. Good luck to you.
posted by hwickline at 9:32 PM on April 20, 2005

If the Powerbook gets stuck at the grey apple, putting it into verbose mode may help tell you what's wrong. Turn on the Powerbook and hold down Command-V (Apple-V).

My guess is that either a memory chip is bad, or the hard drive is either badly fragmented or not working.

What error messages do you see when you turn on the Powerbook and hold down Command-V?
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:35 PM on April 20, 2005

You could try starting up in single-user mode and running fsck.

Note that fsck will not help if the hard drive in the Powerbook is formatted as an "HFS+ (Journaled)" disk. Disk journaling was invented to get around the need for fsck.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:38 PM on April 20, 2005

Are you unable to run any programs whatsoever or are some running and just running slow?

If you can get some running and are patient, start by trying to repair your disc permissions. I use a freeware app called Onyx to do this (available from but you can do it with the Disk Utility program that ships with your Mac (in your Utilities folder in your apps).
posted by dobbs at 9:43 PM on April 20, 2005

Perhaps resetting the PMU?
posted by odinsdream at 9:59 PM on April 20, 2005

I second the Command-V recommendation.

Hy head is screaming out some sort of hardware problem....Try running the Hardware Test CD that came with your computer?
posted by trevyn at 10:40 PM on April 20, 2005

Is it a stock Apple computer, or have any alterations been made? Was there anything unusual that happened before the change (i.e. you had to force quit or hard power off or something else that may have corrupted the disk directory)?
You say that clicking doesn't have any effect, but what about keyboard shortcuts? You can navigate and open using the keyboard. Odinsdream's suggestion is certainly a good idea as well.
posted by birdsquared at 10:44 PM on April 20, 2005

Good point. If you have more than one stick of memory in it, you could try removing one then the other.
posted by trevyn at 10:50 PM on April 20, 2005

Note that fsck will not help if the hard drive in the Powerbook is formatted as an "HFS+ (Journaled)" disk.

Actually, yes, it will, but you have to do fsck -yf /.

Disk journaling was invented to get around the need for fsck.

True, but sometimes it doesn't quite get there, which is why it's a good thing fsck can be forced to verify the integrity of a journaled volume.
posted by kindall at 11:59 PM on April 20, 2005

Pop the keyboard and remove any extra RAM.
Yeah, what trevyn said. Try this before you do anything to the hard drive.
posted by squirrel at 12:02 AM on April 21, 2005

I can't help you with your mac problem, but still want the really, really good brownies. What can we work out? B)
posted by wsg at 12:47 AM on April 21, 2005

How full is your hard drive? OS X needs a lot of elbow room, and if your drive is more than 85% full, it may not function properly.

The "fsck" (filesystemcheck) routine gets run with every startup; there's not much sense in doing it over. if that helps, a simple restart would do the same thing.

There's also a chance that your directory is muddled, in which case, a handly application called DiskWarrior (bootable) may help.

once you get this problem sorted out; i recommend you install a script called Applejack. Applejack can do a lot of your troubleshooting routines from single user mode (booting while holding down CMD and S keys).
posted by reflecked at 3:15 AM on April 21, 2005

Thanks a lot for the replies. Still no progress. Here are some answers and clarifications:

I ran fsck, but it didn't turn up anything.
I can't get the computer to start up in verbose mode at all. It just ignores me.
I can't run any problems at all, since I can't get past the stupid awful grey apple screen.
I reset the PMU. No effect.
It is a stock apple. Only modifications are extra RAM. Nothing unusual happened before this started, but I did have to hard power off after it started.
I've swapped out the RAM. No effect.
In booting off the restore disk, clicking the mouse doesn't work, nor do shortcut keys.

/melting down.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:04 AM on April 21, 2005

I would say get that hard drive in an external enclosure and get the data onto another computer before something gets lost and you're totally out of luck.
posted by craniac at 7:11 AM on April 21, 2005

Nobody has suggested repairing permissions yet?
posted by influx at 7:15 AM on April 21, 2005

I've had something similar happen to my old G4 desktop, though I've always been able to boot from the CD. Usually, it's a problem with your disk catalog getting corrupted.

First, zap the PRAM (Command-Option-P-R). Hold it down a couple secs until you hear it reboot again. This ought to let you boot from CD. Fire up your restore CD and run Disk Utility from there.

DiskWarrior is a great investment. It can generally deal with these kinds of problems.
posted by mkultra at 7:27 AM on April 21, 2005

influx, I think it's been suggested, but the problem is the laptop can't boot, and even though boot CDs work, the input doesn't... so they're useless.
posted by odinsdream at 7:38 AM on April 21, 2005

"In booting off the restore disk, clicking the mouse doesn't work, nor do shortcut keys."

That's bad. Like your-hardware-is-dying bad, and all the software solutions being suggested won't do squat as they don't change the way a restore disk works. Try to find someone who can help you make a backup of your stuff, because this machine may not be long for this world.

Someone who can help you will have a Mac with a firewire port. You will start up in "Target Disk Mode", by holding down the T key while turning on the machine. Then plug a firewire cable in between the two systems.

The working machine will mount the dying portable as an external disk; save your stuff from it!

Now you're going to go to Apple for repair or replacement. Expect this to be potentially frustrating if you are no longer in warranty or under AppleCare. Apple's hardware repair services vary enormously depending on who you talk to and which third party repair depot they send the machine out to.
posted by majick at 7:40 AM on April 21, 2005

Majick--I think she tried doing the target-mode trick.

Littlemisscranky--I don't know where you are, but if there's an Apple store in your area, try bringing the patient in to the genius bar and see if they can do anything for you. Worth a shot. I've got a friend who's received free help with her old PB at the local Apple store.

One longshot possibility comes to mind: the various bootup modkeys might not be working because there is a keyboard problem. Try plugging in an external keyboard and trying the target-disk boot again, maybe. Obviously that's not the full extent of your problems, but there might be two separate problems at work.
posted by adamrice at 8:38 AM on April 21, 2005

You keep referring to clicking the mouse -- you aren't actually using a mouse with your powerbook, are you? (Using the trackpad.) You should unplug anything USB related when trying to troubleshoot.
posted by jca at 8:46 AM on April 21, 2005

clicking (on either the trackpad or a wired mouse) didn't do anything

Did you try removing the external mouse? It may be set to ignore trackpad input when there's a mouse attached, and it may not be handling the mouse input correctly.

Just to make sure: you're running OS X, not OS 9, right?
posted by Sibrax at 9:04 AM on April 21, 2005

I took my dying iBook to the local Apple Store. They ran Disk Warrior (off the record), ended up sending it off and replacing the logic board free (waay out of warranty, but acceptable for the iBook, as it was recalled for this). But they did get DW to boot it up, I took it home first, transferred the data, watched it die again, then returned it for a repair.
posted by ValveAnnex at 9:23 AM on April 21, 2005

My PowerBook G4 did something like this once. I eventually gave up in frustration, left it turned off for a few days, and then... the next time I powered it up, it was working again!
posted by sad_otter at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2005

I had a similar problem not long ago, and all the usual troubleshooting tricks failed me. By disconnecting anything plugged into USB and Firewire, and also disconnecting from the network, I was eventually able to get it to boot from a Jaguar install CD. From there, I wiped the drive and started over. Everything worked fine after that.
posted by spilon at 10:16 AM on April 21, 2005

There is a thread here that seems to be describing a similar situation. It appears that the original poster's problem turned out to be a damaged hard drive, although she was also having trouble booting from some CD's for some reason. Btw, for dead or dying hard drives I've heard it suggested to put them in a freezer for a short while which may allow you to recover your data before they die completely (this would be a last resort).
posted by harmfulray at 2:12 PM on April 21, 2005

Just something else to try.
Loose airport cards have been known to cause kernel panics. You may want to just try making sure it's firmly in place:
getting at your airport card.
posted by johnjoe at 2:52 PM on April 21, 2005

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