Getting content from a drippy Macbook
February 16, 2012 8:16 AM   Subscribe

How can I access a perfectly functioning Macbook hard-drive in an otherwise not perfectly functioning computer?

I have a four-year-old Macbook, and AppleCare and all that stuff are finished. A couple of days ago, my wife spilled a tiny bit of water on the front left corner of the computer. It was working fine after that (though I hairdried and hairdried just in case) - I'm not even sure that any water got inside. But when I came home yesterday, I found that the computer had not been charging, and will no longer respond to the charger. With the remaining few minutes I had, I saw the computer was otherwise functioning perfectly well; the only issue is that it won't charge.

(This is particularly frustrating as I had JUST ordered an external hard drive to back everything up, as well as more RAM, the day before this happened.)

My questions are threefold:

Were I to get a new computer (a Macbook Air/Pro), is there a way to plug the old hard drive into the computer?

Is there a way to install the old hard drive into the new computer?

If the answers to the above are "no," what is the best way to get the contents of the hard drive off of the hard drive without paying a data recovery center too much money?
posted by taltalim to Technology (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: there are plenty of tutorials on how to remove a macbook hard drive, i'm not sure the type that you have, but enter how to replace a macbook harddrive, and just remove the old one. Then buy a Harddrive enclosure for that harddrive, and you can then hook it up like an external drive to any system.

any of these should work

for removing check:
posted by fozzie33 at 8:25 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could always open the case, remove the hard drive, and plug it into an enclosure. At that point, it'd basically function like an external drive.

I've never pulled a hard drive from a Macbook, but I've done this with iMacs probably 20 times, and it's no big deal unless there's a wrinkle because of laptop engineering.
posted by COBRA! at 8:26 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: Are you saying the computer won't charge, or the computer won't run? If you can take out the battery, and the computer will boot, then you can back it up.

If the computer won't boot, then you've got another problem altogether. You would need to remove the HD, plug it into an adapter which are available for $20 these days, which could then be plugged into another computer via USB and the contents transferred.

I'm a little out of date on the hardware these days so don't know if your model's HD and battery are easily accessible. They may well be, or may well not be easy to get to.

If the computer is running/booting, then you can put it into target mode (hold down the 'T' key at boot) which makes the entire system into a kind of USB drive which can then be mounted on another system via USB or firewire. Or if it's running, get on a network and transfer the contents, or plug the system directly into your new Air/Pro and use the migration assistant to transfer the data.

Best bet if you're hosed on the computer's operation would be to take it to the vendor where you are buying the new system and tell them the scenario and ask for them to remove the HD and transfer the contents to your new system. Explain there's no backup, ask for special attention to this, go somewhere you trust. I wouldn't do this at an Apple Store for example, more likely a local vendor with Mac credibility.

My two cents worth.
posted by diode at 8:26 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: So, it won't charge, but will it run on power without the battery installed? It might be a problem with the battery, not the computer.

It's easy to pull out the hard drive and put it in an external enclosure. OWC will sell you a USB3 enclosure for $30 or so. It's even possible to pull the optical and put in a 2nd drive directly in a laptop.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: I assume that the computer will not get power any longer. Your options are to

a)Have the computer fixes so it receives power at least (DC-in Board, or the cost prohibitive Logic Board.

b) Have someone (or find a take apart on line if you're handy and comfortable with it) remove the hard drive.

And I just realized, if this is just a MacBook, I believe you can remove the hard drive through a simple port in the battery compartment. It's like 3 screws to take it out.

Removing MacBook Harddrive
posted by Debaser626 at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: How easy it will be depends on which Macbook it is. iFixit has good guides.

I have a Macbook from late 2007 that I replaced the hard drive recently and it was really easy so don't be too timid. If you use a screw driver you can do it.

If it's not charging then take a pencil with an eraser and use the eraser to make sure the contacts on the charger end are "springy" and clean to meet with the contacts on the machine, sometimes dirty accumulates there and it causes it not to charge.

Otherwise take the HD out stick in in an external case and you will have full access to your data.
posted by boomcha76 at 8:35 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: A note of moral support--getting the hard drive out of a Mac Book and into an external enclosure, and then getting the data off the drive onto the new computer using Apple's migration assistant--and THEN using that external drive as a bootable clone of the new machine (using Super Duper!) or as a time machine drive (or whatever the hell you may decide you want to do with it) is very, very easy.

I have done variations on this six or seven times now, and can have the whole process done in well less than 10 minutes.

And, I assure you, I am no computer boffin.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:42 AM on February 16, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, all! The computer was running fine while it had power, but I'm not able to get more power to it. I'll try cleaning off the charger when I get home tonight.

Diode and Mad_Carew, what do you mean by booting or running on power without the battery?

I didn't know it was so easy to remove the hard drive and get a hard drive enclosure (though it's perfectly logical). If all else fails, this is what I'll do.

Thank you for the moral support, Admiral Haddock! Based on the other instructions, I think I could manage getting the hard drive out and into an external enclosure. How does the migration assistant work, and how can I set up the stuff you mentioned after that (bootable clones, Super Duper! time machine drive, etc.). Easy instructions somewhere?

Is there any worry about the hard drive losing its contents due to not getting power for an extended period of time? I remember hearing somewhere that if you don't plug in an external hard drive often enough, then it can die, taking the contents with it. True?
posted by taltalim at 8:48 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: If it has firewire, IMO, the easiest thing to do would be to connect to it in target disk mode and copy your stuff over.
posted by empath at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you live near an Apple Store? The Geniuses will look at your computer for free even without AppleCare. If your battery has never been replaced, that could definitely be the culprit.
posted by radioamy at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2012

Don't mention that you spilled anything in it.
posted by empath at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: Not to put words in their mouths, but I think Diode and Mad Carew are talking about plugging the computer into the adaptor without the battery installed. As in, your computer will have a big hole in the bottom. You don't need a battery installed to run the computer (but it will go off immediately if the Mag Safe connector comes out...).

When you are setting up your new computer for the first time, it will ask whether you want to import any users from a Time Machine backup or from another computer. Just say "yes" and point it to the old hard drive in the external enclosure--it will do the rest. It just moves the things it should (i.e., it won't move old system files), and when it's all done, the new computer will be pretty much the same as the old computer--bookmarks in Safari, all your Word templates, your mailboxes all will work the way you're used to.

PRO TIP: Do this the first time you're setting up the computer, and don't come back to it later. Each time I've done this, I've thought I would play with the computer for a few days and then import. So I set up my user account on the new computer /Haddock. BUT BUT BUT my user account on my old computer was also called /Haddock, and now importing it is impossible or a headache or just dreadful. Do the import before you start playing (or call your first user account on the new Mac /test123 and then import /taltalim later and delete test123).

Super Duper! is a great program from Shirt Pocket, and I think invaluable. Very easy to use. What I like about it is that it makes a clone of your computer, rather than an archive. Time Machine is great for versioning (I use it, too)--but at the end of the day, it's nice to have a drive that IS your computer. That is, if you have a SD! clone, you can boot someone else's computer using your drive as the startup disk. No need to import your user onto their machine--just boot it up!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:02 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The admiral is correct. I mean pull the battery out of the laptop, optionally put the battery cover back over the empty slot, place the battery on the table beside you, and plug in and see if the computer powers up.

The adaptor is more than just a charger, it also provides power to the system directly. If this resolves your problem you may even be able to salvage the entire computer with a replacement battery ($100-$150, IIRC).

BTW, if you're in the New York metro area (and I think you may be), the not-Apple store I recommend is Tekserve on 23rd St. They're great for out-of-warranty stuff.
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:22 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks again! I've seen Tekserve advertise in the Onion before.

Admiral_Haddock, is there a way at this point to make the old hard drive bootable? As in, set the old hard drive up in such a way that I could boot it from a different computer? Is it possible to boot from a PC?
posted by taltalim at 9:28 AM on February 16, 2012

Look at my link about loading it in target disk mode. You don't even need to pull it out of the macbook.
posted by empath at 9:35 AM on February 16, 2012

You don't specify the model, but you want to try resetting the PMU ( Power Management Unit). Google it, find the method for your model. Otherwise you have to remove the drive as mentioned above.
posted by Gungho at 9:43 AM on February 16, 2012

Response by poster: empath, will that work for hooking up the Macbook to a PC? It sounds like both of the computers need firewire. Sounds good for when I purchase a new Mac, but will that target disk mode enable me to plug into my work PC?

Gungho, are there any downsides to trying that? I have a white Macbook ca. 2008
posted by taltalim at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2012

Yeah, you need another mac. You were talking about getting a new computer in the question, so I assumed you were.
posted by empath at 11:20 AM on February 16, 2012

According to the Goog (which reinforces what I thought). Target disk mode looks like any other Firewire drive to a PC or linux system, so they can see the device.

They can only mount the device if they have software installed that can read the Mac drive's format. If it is (the normal )HFS+, there are apps you can get, but they're not in Windows by default.
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:31 AM on February 16, 2012

Once you take the drive out, you should be able to boot another mac (at least of the same type/vintage) with it. So, you may not be able to boot a new i7 Macbook Air with the hard drive from your 2008 Macbook (or whatever).

You're not going to be able to boot a PC with it, but the PC may be able to read the disk. I don't know, honestly.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:19 PM on February 16, 2012

There are no downsides to resetting the PMU other than it may not work...
posted by Gungho at 9:45 AM on February 18, 2012

Response by poster: thank you all! resolved
posted by taltalim at 1:58 PM on February 21, 2012

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