Why is my Mac stalling?
July 20, 2007 10:03 AM   Subscribe

My Intel Macbook is failing to boot past the gray Apple screen, just displaying the spinning progress icon forever. I'm still a Mac Newbie, so I could use some help. Any ideas on how to fix my Mac?

My Macbook first started starting up slower than usual, and then freezing for long periods when coming out of sleep (accompanied by that infuriating spinning ball). Now it won't boot up at all, and I'm not familiar enough with Macs to figure this out. When I boot to the install disc, the Mac partition has a yellow triangle with an exclamation point in it.

Things I've tried:

--Using Install Disc 1 to run Disk Utility
--Using Single-User Mode to run fsck
--Resetting the NVRAM and the SMC

Both Disk Utility and fsck report that the disc is OK.

Also, I've got Boot Camp and Windows XP installed and can boot into Windows without a problem, so there's nothing physically wrong. Is there a way to access my Mac partition from my Windows OS so that I can get my files off? If so, I'd be able to backup my most recent work and just reinstall OS X. Still, I'd rather fix the problem itself (and learn what's causing it). Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by mdbell79 to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I had a similar problem with my iBook, it turned out that my hard disk was busted. As in, a mechanical problem, rather than software related.

If your computer is relatively new (and it sounds as though it must me if you describe yourself as a Mac "newbie"), then it may still be under warranty.

Bring it to your local authorized Apple service place, and they can probably help you-- for free.
posted by dersins at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2007

Yeah, this just happened to me. Actually, after the grey screen sat there for a while, a little file-shaped icon showed up where the Apple usually does. It had a frowny face.

I had to put in a new hard drive. No big deal.
posted by padraigin at 10:45 AM on July 20, 2007

Dersins may be right but boot from the install disk again and use one of the utilities (look throught the menus, I forget ehat it is called) to set your HD as the start-up disk. I had this same problem a few weeks ago and that did the trick.

Also if you have access to another mac (friend, office) try to see if you can get your ibook to start in target disk mode. If it doesn't work you HD is probably hosed. If it does, it can probably be saved.
good luck
posted by chillmost at 10:50 AM on July 20, 2007

Ehm . . . I'm not sure I know the answer to this problem, but I just wanted to make sure--

You're quite nearly certain your harddrive works, because you can boot into Windows and everything is fine, yes?

Is your disk partitioned, and if so, can you get to the mac partition from windows? Maybe something happens in the boot sequence?
posted by that girl at 11:03 AM on July 20, 2007

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. To clarify, I KNOW my hard drive works, because the windows partition is bootable. In fact, I'm typing from it right now. Is there a way to access the Mac partition from here? It's never shown up in My Computer before, but maybe there's an access setting?

I'll try using Disk Utility to sit the HD as the start-up disk and see if that works.
posted by mdbell79 at 11:19 AM on July 20, 2007

The recently released HFS Explorer will allow you to read Mac disks from Windows, but that won't be much help.

It's not a startup disk issue. If you get the spinning progress cursor, that means it found the boot disk. This sounds like a system software issue. You may need to reinstall the OS. You can do this without losing your own files by doing an Archive and Install installation that preserves your user folder and network settings.
posted by pmbuko at 11:53 AM on July 20, 2007

You can reinstall OS X with the option to back up all your user data (everything in your home folder, that is). I think if there are applications you have installed, you would lose those, though.

This doesn't give as clean a slate as erasing the disk, but it'd be something to try.
posted by zadermatermorts at 11:55 AM on July 20, 2007

You can't see the Mac partition from Windows, because it uses a different formatting method (HFS+) that Windows can't read. Windows usually uses NTFS or FAT; on a dual-boot MacBook the usual recommendation is to format it as FAT if you want the Mac to be able to write to it, as Macs can natively read NTFS but can't write to it. The problem is that FAT doesn't work for partitions larger than 32 gigabytes.

Your HDD is probably fine though, physically. A dead drive means you can't boot period. Because you can boot into Windows from the same physical disk, you probably have a screwed up disk, but not a dead one. Some critical system file (that is needed for booting) or journaling allocation table (that tells the Mac where files live on the disk) is borked.

I think Target Disk Mode is your best bet, if it works. Second-best is an authorized Mac repair place (I say "second best" because quite often repair shops are concerned with fixing hardware, and do not generally give a crap about your files: If you didn't back up data, it isn't their fault, nor is it Apple's responsibility to recover your data for you. Warranty pretty much covers hardware and preinstalled system software only; your user files are your business, not theirs.)

If you have the cash to spare, Mediafour sells a program (MacDrive) that will allow your Windows partition to read from/write to the Mac partition on your laptop. $50, but depending on the importance of your data, it might be worth it.

As a free alternative, this guide is old (2005) but describes how to boot from an Ubuntu Live CD, and mount an OSX partition.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:09 PM on July 20, 2007

Archive and install, and then use the combo pack to update your Mac OS to the latest one. This is what I had to do when my Intel Macbook did an auto update and the same thing happened to me, and my hard disk was fine, too.

After that, I have had no problems!
posted by misha at 1:10 PM on July 20, 2007

Oh, and you will need to press and hold the power button for 5-10 seconds and then do the (shift, control or squiggle?) + C button thing to get it to see that install disk again, if it isn't booting at all. I was in a huge panic, but eventually this worked. Also, if the batteries are low, charge them up or use your power cord. The Intel Macbook got finicky when there wasn't much charge (though certainly enough usually) and I was trying the install disk. I don't know why, but some tech person probably will.
posted by misha at 1:17 PM on July 20, 2007

to boot from the CD, you just have to hold down 'C' during/after the boot chime until the apple logo appears.

to use a boot picker from which you can select any available boot disk, hold down option during/after the boot chime until icons start to appear.
posted by pmbuko at 1:55 PM on July 20, 2007

« Older Getting Used to Dating and Sex with a Changed...   |   Realistic space simulation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.