How to backup a Mac that won't start up?
March 29, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

My MacbookPro crashed last night, and I need to access my hard drive before going to the Apple Store. Right now I can't get past the start up screen with the Apple logo.

I was playing Minecraft last night when my screen froze and was covered by what looked like a red lace pattern. A few days ago I also had a screen freezing problem, only this time it flashed white in a strobe effect. But both times the computer simply stopped taking any keyboard or mouse input, and I had to do a hard shut down.

Last night, however, after trying to restart, it put up another weird video effect on the screen (this time looked like blue lace), and would not go past the gray Aplenty logo. The spinning gear stopped spinning. I did another hard shutdown and left it overnight.

Tried booting in safe mode this morning, still stuck. I have an appointment this afternoon at the Genius bar, and based on my research, it seems there was a recall on the NVDIA graphics card in my machine. What I want to try to do is get a backup before I go over there. I have a Time Machine backup from this weekend, but I have not done a full bootable backup in a while. I'm not really sure how Time Machine backups works, and so I'm concerned about accessing my documents.

If it is a graphics card problem, then they shouldn't have to mess with e hard drive, right? But they also tell you there are no guarantees, etc. Also, there is student data on my hard drive that I'd prefer to delete before handing it over to Apple.

So how can I access my hard drive if I can't get the start-up sequence to finish? This is a mid-2007 MacBook Pro running the latest update of 10.6.
posted by DiscourseMarker to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you boot into target disk mode?

Hold down the "T" key while booting, the Y-shaped firewire logo will appear on the screen if successful. This will allow you to access the hard drive as if it were an external drive from another (firewire equipped) mac.

Otherwise, yeah, if you have a TM backup, you should be ok. It should have a complete copy of your user profile, which includes all of your documents and settings.
posted by Oktober at 8:03 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

The original problem sounds like a bad video chip, at first blush. You may need a new logic board.

Short term, to get booted again, have you done a couple housekeeping tasks to see if they help, like booting into single-user mode and running fsck? Hold down the S key at boot, then when the text stops flowing by,and you get a terminal prompt, 'type /sbin/fsck -fy'

Alternately, boot off your install DVD, open Disk Utility and run Repair Disk.

You can also do an "archive and install" which will overwrite the operating system, but give you option to keep your users and applications directories intact. It takes a while, but should do the trick.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:11 AM on March 29, 2011

oops, to get out of single-user mode when it's done running fsck, just type 'exit' and it'll finish booting into the GUI.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2011

You could try to boot with a linux live disc and copy files to an external drive.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:19 AM on March 29, 2011

Best answer: When I still had my mid-2007 MBP, it suffered the same fate. I have no advice, but I hope it's true that yours is covered by the NVidia recall (mine was.) Otherwise, new logic boards are expensive repairs if you're not still covered under Apple Care.
posted by emelenjr at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: I'm trying single user mode now, but I'm not getting any text or a terminal prompt, just the Apple logo and spinning gear. Aaaaand now it's stopped spinning again.

I will try target disk mode next. I have an old PowerBook here. I seem to recall reading once that you can't connect an intel Mac to a PPC Mac throu target disk mode--does anyone know if that's true? If so, I have an iMac at work I could try connecting it to, if it will boot.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:36 AM on March 29, 2011

If all the above suggestions don't work you would be in the same sort of situation as I was. Here is what happened to me. I went to the store and explained my situation. They would not take the drive out because it "might be part of the problem" or something but they did have some options for me. They could back up my drive on to their server for some absurd fee ($100 maybe) or I could have it backed up on to an external disk for free. Of course I did not have an external disk so they were more then happy to sell me one... for $100 for 350 gig... sigh. Anyhow the moral is buy a external drive on the way there.

If you have something you don't want them to see... sorry dood.
posted by d4nj450n at 8:40 AM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: When I still had my mid-2007 MBP, it suffered the same fate. I have no advice, but I hope it's true that yours is covered by the NVidia recall (mine was.) Otherwise, new logic boards are expensive repairs if you're not still covered under Apple Care.

The really annoying part is that the logic board was replaced in October (when i was still under AppleCare). So I guess they gave me the same crappy graphics card? Grr.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:40 AM on March 29, 2011

Oh! be sure to tell them the logic board was replaced! Be like "you guys just replaced the board in Oct and now it is busted, again!" But you know, nicely. They very well may fix it for free.
posted by d4nj450n at 8:43 AM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: Success! I got the MacBook Pro to boot into target disk mode, and it is showing up on my PowerBook, so I should be able to copy my files. Thanks all!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:57 AM on March 29, 2011

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