Recovering from a Computer Hard Disk Failure on the Mac

This is never a good feeling when you get the “Sad Mac” icon when you want to hear the glorious ‘Bonnnggg’ of a happy Mac booting up. The first and best thing you can do to avoid this catastrophe? BACK YOUR SYSTEM UP! A solid backup scheme and regimen may seem like a pain, but when trouble strikes, theres no better feeling in the world – well, almost no better feeling – to recover all of that work that had been lost to the ether.

Recovering your data is no guarantee. The best thing to do when a drive fails is to stop using it immediately. If data gets lost or corrupt, the computer can overwrite your precious bits in the process of trying to fix it. Turn off the machine, and try the steps below, in order of least painful and expensive, to most.

First, do you have the system CD’s/DVD’s that came with the machine? If so, put them in the drive and power up your computer with the “C” key depressed. That will force the system to boot from the optical drive on the installed system on the disk. Once it’s up, you can run Disk Utility to repair (or at least try to) the drive.

If you don’t have your original boot disk, do you have access to another working Mac? If so, you can connect the two via FireWire and enter the ‘dead’ computer in Target Disk mode by powering up the machine and pressing the “T” key. This will, in essence, turn your computer drive into an external disk that you can hopefully mount and do some scanning and repairing with Disk Utility.

If neither of these are an option, you can try to get a hold of a DiskWarrior or TechTool Pro disk that has some higher firepower disk repair utilities. We don’t have one for any OS X systems, unless it’s 10.2 or 10.3. A current version may set you back $99 or so, but that may be worth it to you.

Beyond that, there are services that you can send your disk to for a data recovery attempt. Here’s a link to a Utah business that does this sort of thing: 

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