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January 21, 2008 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Oh god please help. MacBook hard drive failure. Oh god.

Uh. So, I get the blinking question mark folder when attempting to boot up my intel macbook. My apple care has expired. I am assuming this is a hard drive failure. I do not have a lot of money. I need my freakin laptop to work in order to make money. What are my options?

I'm in the process of taking the laptop apart at the moment to see if there is anything I can do. If that doesn't work, do I send it in to apple? How much would that run me, seeing as how my apple care has lapsed?
posted by lazaruslong to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You backed all this up onto a separate drive, right?

I would have the geniuses inspect the drive. I bet if it is bad you can buy and install a new one on your own. That would be a snap in a Wintel box, but who knows with Apple.
posted by caddis at 7:24 AM on January 21, 2008

Yeah, the data is no problem. I have multiple backups. I just need the laptop to work.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:25 AM on January 21, 2008

Is your problem related to the data you have on the flaked-out hard drive? If not, laptop hard drives are cheap. You shouldn't need to pay Apple to replace your HD, and presumably you have a copy of OSX lying around that you can reinstall from...
posted by killdevil at 7:25 AM on January 21, 2008

Ok, so since the data is not a problem, I should not send it in to apple. I can just pick up a new hard drive and pop it in? And yeah of course I have my os cd's lying around.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:26 AM on January 21, 2008

Where can I find an intel macbook compatible hard drive and how much do they run?
posted by lazaruslong at 7:27 AM on January 21, 2008

Whoa! Slow down there. Why are you taking it apart? That is NOT the first step for a blinking question mark, and it may be easy to restore to health with DiskWarrior or TechTools Pro.

Did you first try booting with the shift key down (extensions off)? Then try booting from an install cd.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:28 AM on January 21, 2008

OWC Computing is a good vendor for Mac compatible hard drives. Other places may be cheaper but OWC is very careful about matching your model with the correct drive.
posted by bcwinters at 7:29 AM on January 21, 2008

Here are DIY MacBook hard drive replacement instructions (official instructions, from Apple). I'm sure there are other tutorials out there as well.

Drop-ship yourself a new hard drive from NewEgg, a reliable and very price-competitive vendor. Here's the relevant link. Any Serial ATA (SATA) laptop drive should work fine.

And... don't panic. As long as you have backups you're in good shape.
posted by killdevil at 7:30 AM on January 21, 2008

kyoto: I tried booting in safe mode, no dice. Same thing with trying to boot with the install cds.

bcwinters and killdevil: Thanks for the link. Hard drive replacement looks pretty easy on the macbook. Gonna shop around for a drive now.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:34 AM on January 21, 2008

Whoa! Slow down there. Why are you taking it apart? That is NOT the first step for a blinking question mark, and it may be easy to restore to health with DiskWarrior or TechTools Pro.

Did you first try booting with the shift key down (extensions off)? Then try booting from an install cd.
posted by planetkyoto at 10:28 AM on January 21 [+] [!]

exactly. first diagnose, then repair. those things might help you to diagnose it on your own. if not the Genius Bar can diagnose the problem for you.
posted by caddis at 7:35 AM on January 21, 2008

the genius bar?
posted by lazaruslong at 7:37 AM on January 21, 2008

fuck me, the cpu i am using at the moment at work needs to be taken over by others, so I have to run out. thanks for the answers guys, you got me on the right track for sure.

i apologize if my tone seems frantic, i just have several deadlines this week and I am now really worried about how I am going to meet them.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:38 AM on January 21, 2008

back to check on this later if any new ideas arise.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:38 AM on January 21, 2008

I had a similar, although slightly different, problem and it turned out to be the motherboard, not the drive. If you can't boot from the CD it might very well be a problem other than the hard drive. Why would a problem with the hard drive prevent you from booting from the CD? Perform a thorough diagnosis prior to operating on the patient.

The Genius Bar is just Apple's cute little name for in-store repair centers.
posted by caddis at 7:41 AM on January 21, 2008

If you've already pulled out the drive, check whether it is a Seagate Momentus 5400 with the 7.1 firmware. Those drives have been failing in Macbooks, and if you are getting your symptoms with that drive, I would not bother trying to fix anything. The drive would seem to be dead for good.

I always buy computer odds and ends from If you're not worried about your data, you are in good shape. Installation of the new drive is a breeze. Just load up the OS and you'll be ready to go.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:25 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Consult MacFixit for step by step instructions on how to replace a Mac drive and some indications on what drives are compatible. To reiterate other people, replacing a Mac drive is a snap. However, failing to boot from the CD is odd. Good luck.
posted by outlier at 8:38 AM on January 21, 2008

I tried booting in safe mode, no dice. Same thing with trying to boot with the install cds.

Slow down, son.

What exactly happens when you try to boot from the install CD's? You are holding down 'c' while booting, to force it to boot from CD, right?

If you truly can't boot from CD, then then the problem isn't your HDD. It's probably something like the logic board, which is like the Achilles heel of Macbooks. If you can boot from CD, run Disk Utility from there (it's somewhat hidden, you need to go to the menu bar to find it during the install screens). Sometimes your disk gets stuck as unmounted and forcing it to mount via Disk Utility can help; if you can mount it, run Repair on it.
posted by mkultra at 8:40 AM on January 21, 2008

Ach, sturm und drang, I meant IFixit, not MacFixit. Sorry.
posted by outlier at 8:42 AM on January 21, 2008

This exact problem happened to me!

But i have Applecare and the computer was still under warranty. Apparently we are not alone and Apple is investigating whether there is a defect in the MacBook drives. Rumors indicate an epidemic of this. Based on my experience, the drive is unfixable and you will need to replace it. Don't bother trying to deal with it, just get a new one as quickly and cheaply as you can and document your repair and save the bills for the class action lawsuit.
posted by zia at 9:20 AM on January 21, 2008

On preview, by all means, run disk utility. But according to the links I just posted and from my own experience, you will never get the disk to mount.
posted by zia at 9:22 AM on January 21, 2008

Don't bother trying to deal with it

is not good advice. There are many reasons why the OP could be getting the question mark, a failed HD only one of them. The links are good, though!
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2008

kyoto: I tried booting in safe mode, no dice. Same thing with trying to boot with the install cds.

You can't boot from CD? That doesn't sound like a hard drive problem.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2008

Exactly the same thing happened to me about a week and a half ago. I hadn't been so diligent and lost lots and lots of supahdupah precious stuff. Luckily it was in warranty so the Apple Store took care of it for me.

While you're getting a new hard drive, you might as well get a good one - try for a 7200rpm. It'll eat sliiightly more battery life and be sliiightly more expensive, but everything'll be a lot snappier.

Also, you probably CAN boot from CD, just keep the button held down for ages, even after the flashing folder icon appears. It took far longer than normal on mine. It's well worth trying all the obvious stuff. Booting from CD and running Disk Utility and resetting your PRAM are worth a shot.

But it's likely to be your hard drive. Put your ear to your laptop when it's starting up - is there a grinding/clicking sound? Is there a really sad, struggling motor in there? Then it's going byebye...

Anyway, good luck with it! It's a real shame, but one of those inevitable computer problems that plagues everyone.
posted by Magnakai at 10:50 AM on January 21, 2008

Did you just update to 10.5.1 or did you just install Leopard?
posted by snownoid at 1:48 PM on January 21, 2008

Thanks everyone. Here's an update:

I was able to boot from CD after holding down the button for much longer than usual. Drive would not mount.

When starting the computer, there is the usual hard drive boot sound (AHHH oooo AHHH ooo AHHH ooo) followed by a loud clicking and grinding sound.

I took the hard drive out (it is, in fact, the 80g Seagate Momentus 5400 with the 7.1 firmware) and opened it up. Huge gouge, exactly as that link described.

Thankfully, a client was able to give me an old iBook as a loaner until I get a new hard drive. I will be purchasing a non-seagate 7200 rpm drive for sure.

Thanks again for all the links, looks like I am certainly not the first person nor the last to experience this issue. I bought my MacBook in August 2006 just like most of the folks having these same random failures. Ugh. Seagate ftl.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:32 PM on January 21, 2008

Seagate is actually not a bad company, overall, and I've been quite happy with their drives over the years. It doesn't hurt that I live in their hometown, though.

Your drive is probably an OEM version (and thusly not under warranty with them) but it doesn't hurt to check, anyway. sometimes you get lucky and score a free replacement, especially if Seagate acknowledges a known problem w/ that drive.

That being said, I *wholeheartedly* second the suggestion to pick up a 7200 RPM laptop drive. Hitachi GST (the former IBM drive shop, making the Travelstar notebook drives amongst others) sells the most of these, and they have been making them longer than anyone else in the notebook arena. I've upgraded every mac notebook I own to these drives and especially on machines that are showing their age, it makes a huge impact. For video/photo work it's a must-have.

The macbook is pretty easy to take apart, you've lucked out there :) the iBook (and the macbook pro! for shame!) are total PITA's.

I'd suggest checking out NewEgg (, as a pretty reliable high-volume online reseller - I haven't had a problem with them yet, over many years and lots of orders. You can of course check out to see what all the bottom-feeders are pricing the drive at, if you'd like to get an idea about what the best possible price you might get for it is... but caveat emptor, the cheapest is not always the best choice!

Seriously though, if you've got all your data backed up, go for a good drive if you can - otherwise go for the cheapest SATA 2.5" drive you can get, pop it in and reinstall, and worry about upgrading later. That overpriced 200GB 7200RPM Hitachi drive will be available as an open-box clearance item in a year. I wait a bit and swap out each year like this and use the old ones for coworkers/friends in a pickle - like yourself - or for backup drives in external cages, etc.

Good luck, Lazarus!
posted by EricGjerde at 11:29 PM on January 21, 2008

Thanks for the suggestions, EricGjerde! I'm sure Seagate isn't bad, I suppose I'm just biased at the moment. =)
posted by lazaruslong at 6:31 AM on January 22, 2008

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