Have I managed to brick my elderly new to me iMac by updating Avira?
November 22, 2014 5:39 PM   Subscribe

My brother gave me his 2008 27" iMac. I tried to update Avira on it and now I can't turn it on. Help! I don't know from Macs - I have always had PCs.

The iMac has been updated as far as it could go and is running OSX, or so I heard from my brother. It ran fine - I have had it about a month, played Minecraft, surfed the internet, watched a couple movies via disc and Netflix. Through all of this it ran fine but had a persistent annoying bouncing Avira icon that would. not. go. away, So, a couple days ago, I followed all the various steps to update Avira (which I have always had on my PCs, so I'm not unfamiliar.) Must reboot, it said, so I said fine and waited. . . and waited. . . and finally tried a hard reboot. Turned it off and tried to turn it on again and - nothing.
What I get every time I try to turn it on is as follows:
1. The startup chime.
2. A white screen.
3. The apple logo
4. a gray spinning wheel
5. A gray progress bar that starts to fill in but only gets, like, 1/20th of the way through, just the left hand edge of it
6. It turns off completely, all dead, black screen no lights.

I have tried with the same results:
Holding the power button for a second.
Holding the power button for longer.
Unplugging and replugging the power supply
Resetting the PRAM as detailed in this page
And I have not gotten any further. I would really like this thing to work. My only other computer is a 2004 custom built PC that was rebuilt in 2010 but is also showing signs of age (as are we all, or, at least me) and I was kind of counting on this iMac to last a few years yet.

And, I am not actually very tech savvy, so please talk slowly to me in words of small syllables and steps that happen one at a time. Thank you!! I want this thing to work so badly, words cannot say, my old PC is making noises that strike fear into my soul.
posted by mygothlaundry to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to add, I have no money. As in NO money. As in, I could possibly come up with $30 to fix it but that would be the absolute beyond all end of what I can sink into a computer right now.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:42 PM on November 22, 2014

Get started booting into safe mode:

.. followed by uninstallation of Avira:
posted by the Real Dan at 6:12 PM on November 22, 2014

Response by poster: Well, no, trying to boot into safe mode didn't work - same exact result as above. Thanks, though!
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:29 PM on November 22, 2014

Does it start in Target Disk Mode? If so, can you access another Mac and connect your Mac in that mode to the other Mac, perhaps delete Avira that way?

This might be Windowsthink here, but is there any CD/DVD in the optical drive, and can you eject that? Can you remove all USB devices and try booting?

Alternately, can you obtain and boot from a Linux LiveCD (either on disc or USB), which may get you access to the disk to delete Avira?
posted by Sunburnt at 7:06 PM on November 22, 2014

If the operating system has been updated as your brother suggested, there may be a "recovery" partition. You can boot into recovery mode by holding down Command and R during startup.

When you’re in recovery mode you can restore from a Time Machine backup (do you have a Time Machine backup?) or check the hard drive with Disk Utility (sometimes doing “Repair Permissions” from here can be enough to get you booting again). You can also run the Terminal application and try uninstalling Avira using the command from the Avira site that The Real Dan posted above:
sudo sh /Applications/Utilities/Avira-uninstall.app/Contents/MacOS/uninstall

posted by bcwinters at 7:20 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

more about recovery mode: http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT4718
posted by blob at 8:32 PM on November 22, 2014

You could try booting it in Verbose mode - this will output all the messages it generates when booting to the screen, rather than the progress meter. This could potentially contain some clues as to what's broken. You can do this by holding down Command and V while booting. You can then post that here and someone may know what to do.

You can also try booting into Single-User Mode and then run the uninstall command bcwinters posted; in Single-User Mode you don't get the graphical interface, but you can still type and run commands. Single-User mode is Command+S while booting. Be careful while in this mode; all the normal OS X protections and stuff are turned off. (Also, caveat: I have no idea if that tool is designed to be run purely command line or not; if it needs a window it'll fail to run there, but won't do anything.)

The Recovery mode will let you reinstall from scratch as well, and you can do something called an "Archive & Install" which will essentially package up your existing, broken copy of OS X and install a new one that's fresh. It won't fiddle with any of your data or apps, though they may be in different places afterwards. You may need to reinstall some of your apps, and don't put Avira back on there. More info about Archive & Install here.

Yosemite (the latest OS X) would have created a recovery partition when it was installed since it installs itself from it initially, but it's a thing that is removable if you know how. If for some reason you don't have a recovery partition (Cmd+R doesn't work) and you don't have the DVDs it shipped with, you may be able to get a free copy from the Apple Store if you've got one near by. (Or a local Mac-centric repair shop may be able to get you a copy - the OS that machine shipped with doesn't require an Apple ID or a serial number or anything so it doesn't care what it's installed on.) That machine shipped with Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6), so you'll have to update it to Yosemite (10.10) afterwards through the Mac App Store. The later versions of the OS are free (or at least cheap; I can't remember if Lion [10.7] was paid or not).
posted by mrg at 9:15 PM on November 22, 2014

Since you've said you're not very technical and want it explained in simple terms, I hope this helps:
  • "Have I managed to brick my elderly new to me iMac by updating Avira?" Short answer: Likely no.. Longer answer: You have almost certainly not done permanent damage to your machine, but.. the operating system may have been corrupted, in which case you may need to back up the data and applications on it, reinstall the OS from a DVD or bootable flash drive, and then restore the data from the backup you made.
  • Your first priority should be triage -- find out how much damage has been done do the information stored on the machine's hard drive. If you have a techie friend, especially one with a working Mac system, and preferably with a disk repair utility, offer them a pizza, a six-pack, or a batch of homemade cookies if they'll help you, and then have them start the machine in "target disk mode" (which makes your computer mimic an external hard drive hooked up to another computer, allowing the other computer to mount its hard drive and look at what's still there and back up anything that can be found) or else boot from removable media (USB stick or DVD.)
  • Second priority is making a backup. Back up any data that can be recovered from the disk at this point, before proceeding to attempt repair.
  • Depending on what's actually wrong the repair may take any of several forms. If the problem is just minor damage to the file system it may be repairable with the Disk Utility program that comes with MacOS -- it will be on the computer of whoever's helping you if you are using Target Disk Mode or it will be on the bootable installer if you are using that method. More-than-minor damage may require an actual suite of disk utilities to fix the filesystem without reinstallation; unless you have a techie friend who has proper disk repair tools you probably won't be able to do this as good tools cost more than your $30 budget. But you still should be able, ONCE YOU HAVE DONE THE BACKUP FROM THE EARLIER STEP, to boot from install media, wipe the existing install and put a fresh new OS install on, and then restore files and applications from the backup you created.
Don't panic, and don't start wiping things until you have a chance to look and save whatever you need. But likely the situation is not all that serious.

Once you do get things back up and running, try to find a cheap external hard drive you can use to make Time Machine backups -- they're not perfect but they're easy and they'll give you a lot more peace of mind.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:18 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, in single-user mode (startup holding down command+s) you can run a hard drive repair routine.

At the prompt, type "/sbin/fsck -yf" (without the quotes) the y flag is "yes, repair problems" the f flag is "force repair"

This basically will fix corrupt directory structure problems, but maybe you have a friend who has a DiskWarrior CD which does the same thing, though more thoroughly. Just in case it's directory corruption.

Hopefully though, the recovery partition thing will work, otherwise. If you're on OS 10.7 or newer, you should have this option.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:15 AM on November 23, 2014

You've gotten some great advice already so I won't repeat what's been said. But I do want to reassure you! It's really easy to freak out and/or get super frustrated when computers do inexplicable things like this, but as Nerd of the North said, it's probably not that serious, and with a bit of time, effort, and luck things will hopefully be up and running again soon.

Also, for what it's worth, I recently had a very similar issue with my iMac, and while I did end up having to completely re-install my operating system, I was able to get a complete copy of everything on the computer before wiping it. (And actually, the machine runs much better now than it had been before.)
posted by mr. manager at 9:06 AM on November 23, 2014

Best answer: Nerd of the North and others have good advice.

If you find these sorts of steps intimidating, that's not unusual. It might be a good idea to ask around, and see if any of your more techie friends are willing to help. Maybe try on Facebook. If folks need encouragement, offer caffeine or food :)
posted by vasi at 10:46 AM on November 23, 2014

Depending on what version of mac os is installed on your imac, you might not have recovery mode. That was something added within the past couple years as an update you had to manually install, not something that's just there by default. And the most recent free update was Mavericks, which you may or may not have. Don't panic if holding in option doesn't show the wifi menu or "recovery". That just means you need to the OS disk that came in the box with the imac, or an install disk from someone else. If you end up using an older, or the original install disk i'd recommend wiping the drive though and not trying to save anything. Mixing newer and older system files is a pathway to madness.

As a potentially easy solution, if you take this imac to an apple store they will reinstall mac os for free, and do it without deleting any of your files if they can. They have all the disks there for obvious reasons, and are happy to either start the process and walk you through or just hand you the disks and let you "borrow" them to do it there on one of their counters. I have never, ever heard of them charging for this. The only trick is that you have to transport the imac to the apple store... which can be unwieldy if you have the 24in(the 27 didn't exist until 2009). Still, this may be your easiest lowest stress solution, and they'll have it done within an hour or so. This has saved friends, acquaintances, and internet strangers asses many many times that i've heard of.(as in you're traveling, in some distant city and encounter a problem like this... but there's an apple store and they just reinstall it for you while you go grab some lunch)

As an after-the-fact comment, once this is sorted, you do not need AV software like avira on a mac. Once you get it going again, just get rid of it.

I've never seen any mac AV or firewall software not cause tons of stupid problems, and i just really don't think it's necessary at all. The default configuration on the newer versions of mac os disallows installing malware(or even unvetted software) without digging in to the security settings and forcing it, and lots of other nice security features.

You just don't really need it.
posted by emptythought at 2:44 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh one more thing, after letting this marinate in my brain for a minute. i think i might know what avira could have broken, and something to try before you do anything else.

1. boot to the recovery mode mentioned above, or get an OS disk from anyone. it doesn't have to be the current one.

2. once you're either in recovery mode or started to that install DVD, go to "utilities" or "tools"(i think they've switched it up over the years) then select "disk utility"

3. on the left side, you'll see your hard drive, and the install DVD. you'll see both the hard drive itself and "macintosh HD" or whatever you named the partition OSX is on.

4. once you've selected macintosh HD, look down and you'll see "repair disk permissions" on the bottom left, just to the right of the list of disks and such on the far left.

let it do its thing, i bet it'll find some stuff and fix it. Then click "repair disk" on the bottom right while you're at it.

if that doesn't work move on, but i've seen programs like this(and as i said, stupid firewall software) screw up system files so bad that it wouldn't start up like this, or was having serious issues.

I saw that bcwinters mentioned this above, but yea, as i said at the start of this post... after thinking on it for a minute, that's exactly the kind of thing antivirus software can and will break. Best of luck on that being the only problem.

To buoy your spirits, I once bought a macbook air for $150(when they were going for >$1000 used even for a crap one!) as "totally broken" because the permissions needed to be repaired, and it was only powering up to a black screen. Seriously. Permissions on important system files can break _everything_ in mac os.
posted by emptythought at 2:51 PM on November 23, 2014

Response by poster: Belated thanks to everyone for all the great advice! I ended up luring a clever friend over for Thanksgiving dinner and he finally got it working again. It took hours, though, had to be booted from a laptop and then a complete wipe and reinstall. But I am typing this reply on it, so, all good! Thanks again!
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:41 PM on December 10, 2014

Response by poster: Update! Just in case anyone is reading this for research: Avira was not the culprit after all. The culprit was the hard drive, which was slowly dying. Three days ago it repeated the exact same crash and I took it in to a local Mac place (not a real Apple store but still) and now it's definite: hard drive dying, dying, dead. So before you go through a wipe and reinstall, oh unhappy older iMac user, consider that depressing possibility.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2015

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