Mac Flashing Question Mark

The Mac startup screen gives very little away about what is actually happening at boot time. There is the familiar 'chime' that indicates that POST has completed successfully, but little else that makes it obvious what is happening.

That is of course, excepting the grey screen on which you would normally expect to see the Apple logo - if you are seeing this on startup, all is normally well, if you are not you may have an issue with the storage media that your Mac is attempting to boot from.

The Flashing Question Mark

One of the first things that your Mac will try to do following POST is find a volume that it can boot from. Normally this happens without incident and your Mac boots as you would expect it to. If you hard disk, SSD or boot volume is damaged or corrupted you may be presented with a display similar to the one that you see below:

What Does it Mean?

The display shown above means that your Mac has tried but been unable to find a volume that it can boot from, there are many possible causes for this but the most common are detailed below:

  1. The internal hard drive or SSD has failed and is unreadable.
  2. The /System folder cannot be found  on the storage or is unreadable.
  3. Mac OS X system files required for the boot process are missing or corrupt.
  4. The storage inside your Mac is disconnected.

There are other scenarios that can lead to this issue but all of them revolve around your machine being unable to read its startup disk.

What Can I Do?

The first consideration when a storage device fails or becomes unreadable should always be the importance of the data.  The more important the data, the more important it is that precautions are taken to prevent the problem from worsening.  TRC recommend:

1.Turn on the Mac whilst holding the ALT (option key), see if your hard disk is recognised at all or if the system is trying to boot from the wrong volume/device.

2. If the above is unsuccessful, power down the system once you have attempted to boot a few times and are sure that the problem is not just a one off freak occurence.  Do not power it back on if it can be avoided.

3. Decide whether a backup exists, if it does you can take your computer back to Apple or the supplier for replacement or repair.  If it doesn't you need to contact a Data Recovery company.

4. We do not recommend disassembling the Mac or removing the storage medium, it is unlikely that the fault is user serviceable.

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