72 year old woman with iMac issues...
November 2, 2012 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Help my mother with her Mac? iMac with question mark and/or question mark on folder after booting. Won't safe boot or anything. Diagnose or recommend a technician in E4E (New Brunswick)?

My mother lives in New Brunswick where she says Apple support at stores and such is non existent.

Out of the blue her computer will not work. She turns it on and gets a question mark or question mark with folder.

Googling, I found Apple's support forums recommended booting while holding Cntrl or Shift. Neither work for her.

She took it to a store that says they deal with Macs and they tell her the motherboard is shot. I would think the machine would not turn on if the motherboard was shot. I got her to ask if the hard drive was intact and could be removed and / or accessed. The tech told her the drive is too old and is "unserviceable". (Which wasn't my question.)

Sounds to me like her tech people don't know what the hell they're talking about and are just trying to get her to buy a new computer. I believe the machine is four years old, five at the most.

posted by dobbs to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Not the motherboard, in most likeliness.

Have her find the OSX system disk that came with the system. Boot the computer, insert the disk, hold down "c" for good measure. If the system on the internal disk is shot, it will boot up on the DVD, and you can use "disk utilities" to try to repair the disk, or perhaps just try to backup the most important files onto a flash-drive or somesuch.
posted by monocultured at 10:14 AM on November 2, 2012

Firstly, which iMac is it?

In my experience, it's likely to be a hard drive failure. I've experienced this error myself, as have a couple of my friends, and it was a dead hard drive.

She can try resetting her PRAM, but I'd imagine that would be one of the first things the technicians would have tried.

I would also try what monocultured suggested.

I'm not sure who this would help, but there are lots of repair guides on iFixit, just in case she feels like ripping it apart herself, or you are in the area and want to try yourself.
posted by Magnakai at 10:15 AM on November 2, 2012

Details are available here.

This usually has nothing to do with motherboards. Perhaps there is some circumstances under which motherboards are suspect, but that's not a default explanation.
posted by dfriedman at 10:30 AM on November 2, 2012

I had to replace the hard drive when mine did this.
posted by shoesietart at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2012

Oof. It sounds like a hard drive to me.

If her data was not backed up, and she really needs it, I have had very good luck with DriveSavers for data recovery. But they're expensive.
posted by leahwrenn at 11:03 AM on November 2, 2012

Thanks, all. She's running diagnostics off the install disc now.
posted by dobbs at 12:38 PM on November 2, 2012

She had originally booted to the install disc with holding down C and it worked but then in disk utility her hard drive was not even listed so presumably the drive.

There's no way she's going to be able to install a new drive in her aluminum iMac and it doesn't seem there's anyone there local to do it.

If in fact it's the drive, could someone lay out the steps that she'd have to go thru to have the computer completely operate off an external drive? How does she install to it and then boot to it from now on?
posted by dobbs at 12:40 PM on November 2, 2012

She ran the full diagnostics program and it told her there is nothing wrong.

I then told her to reboot with the install disc and try and reinstall the OS and when she gets to the "choose destination" page, there are no hard drives listed.
posted by dobbs at 12:52 PM on November 2, 2012

From what you're saying, it seem almost certain to be a hard drive problem. Either the hard drive has died, or the cable connecting the hard drive to the motherboard has broken. The good news is that the latter is much more likely. When I had the same problem with my Macbook, the Apple Store replaced the cable for $10 and everything was fine.

My advice would be to get a hard drive caddy like this one. Go online, and find instructions for getting the hard drive out of your particular iMac model. Then pop it out, and use the caddy to back up all her data onto another computer. Assuming, of course, the hard drive really isn't dead!

Once that's done, you can try to find someplace that'll replace the internal cable, or look for instructions on how to do it yourself.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:35 PM on November 2, 2012

Almost certainly a hard drive. You need to physically take out the hard drive, put it an an external SATA to USB enclosure and attempt to recover the data from it with the appropriate software tools. Put a brand new 3.5" SATA2 HDD of your choice in the iMac and reinstall the OS.
posted by thewalrus at 2:00 PM on November 2, 2012

Thanks for the answers.

There's no way she's going to open the Mac--she's 72 and not at all tech savvy and she's in the middle of nowhere and can't afford an inhouse technician.

Can she plug an external USB or Firewire drive into the back of it and install OS X onto it and run it from there?

The data on there is not the main issue.
posted by dobbs at 4:36 PM on November 2, 2012

Yes, she should be able to just plug in an external USB drive, and install OS X onto it from the DVD.
posted by vasi at 5:50 PM on November 2, 2012

You might want to check if her iMac qualifies for Apple's HD replacement program.
posted by tommasz at 5:58 PM on November 2, 2012

The hard drive with flashing question mark symbol indicates the computer is unable to find a valid operating system to boot from. This CAN be due to a faulty motherboard, but it is the least likely cause of such an issue. Your possible causes and solutions for this are as follows:

1. Faulty hard drive (will require replacing the drive)
2. Corrupted drive/boot sector/missing critical operating system files (means you need to reinstall the OS, possibly reformat the drive as well)
3. Cable connecting the drive to the motherboard is faulty or not properly connected (might be fixed by simply taking the drive out and putting it back in, might need more extensive repairs)
4. Faulty motherboard drive connector prevents it from recognising the drive.

I see that you've booted from the install disk and the drive is not listed in disk utility. That eliminates possibility (2).

All of these issues will be bypassed by using an external firewire drive. However, if it IS option (3) or (4), you could get things working by buying an empty firewire HDD enclosure and putting the internal drive in that.

In my experience, the quality technicians in Apple's partner stores varies hugely; some are excellent, some are crap. If you want to get an idea of whether these guys know what they're talking about, ask them how they narrowed it down from my list to the fault they quoted to you.

Happy to answer any questions you have in MeMail.

- Ex Apple phone support technician
posted by fearnothing at 2:45 AM on November 3, 2012

« Older Arabic translation help   |   Free non-sports fantasy draft website? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.