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Hard Drive Problems on Intel iMac

Posted on 2010-09-22
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Last Modified: 2012-05-10
My client has an Intel iMac 20" 2.16 Ghz w/ a 250 Gig HDD. He had recently been getting a message that the startup disk was almost full but he didn't free up any space and now the system consistently gets stuck at the spinning circle on boot-up.

I tried holding down shift key on boot to try to go into Safe Mode, but still fails to boot to desktop.

I booted into Target Mode but when I connect the Firewire cable to my MacBook, it does not show the iMac HD. However it will show the Snow Leopard DVD that is inside the iMac. However, if I eject the DVD from the Finder on my MacBook, then there is nothing showing under Devices other than the local MacBook HD.

Holding down Command S to boot into Single User Mode will not work. It gets through most of the boot-up, but never makes it to the command prompt. The last thing it displays is a "system bootstrapper has crashed" error message.

I can boot to the Snow Leopard Install DVD. Clicking on Disk Utility reveals that there are only 882 megs of free space available on the HDD. Obviously I need to free up several gigs of space, but kinda hard to do when I can't get the thing to boot into either Target Mode or Single User Mode.

When I run Disk Utility this is what I get:

>>>
Invalid Leaf record count
(should be 22513 instead of 22514)
Checking catalog file
invalid key length
The volume could not be verified completely
Error: this disk needs to be repaired. Click Repair Disk


Checking journaled HFS plus volume
Checking extents overflow file
Invalid leaf record count

Checking catalog file
Invalid node structure
The volume could not be verified completely

Updating boot support partitions for the volume as required
Error: disk utility can't repair this disk

Disk Utility stopped repairing
Can't repair this disk. Back up as many of your files as possible, reformat the disk and restore your backed-up files.

<<<<

Client does not have a complete backup so reformatting & reinstalling is not a good option at this point.
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Question by:anuneznyc
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LVL 12

Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33736304
ITEM 1
Re: "I booted into Target Mode but when I connect the Firewire cable to my MacBook, it does not show the iMac HD. However it will show the Snow Leopard DVD that is inside the iMac. However, if I eject the DVD from the Finder on my MacBook, then there is nothing showing under Devices other than the local MacBook HD."

Did you try booting into target mode without the DVD inside?

"FireWire Target Disk Mode works on internal PATA or SATA drives only. Target Disk Mode only connects to the master PATA drive on the Ultra ATA bus. It will not connect to Slave ATA, ATAPI, or SCSI drives." http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1661

ITEM 2
"I tried holding down shift key on boot to try to go into Safe Mode, but still fails to boot to desktop."

How far does it get?

ITEM 3
Diskwarrior can often fix problems that Disk Utility can't. However, in this instance, it would be prudent to try to back up the data first - if you can get at it in Target Mode, do that first. If you run diskwarrior, it has an option to preview the repaired disk before you write the repaired directory. That would be prudent as well.
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33736463
Thanks nxnw!

>> Did you try booting into target mode without the DVD inside?

Yes, I did and then nothing shows up under devices other my local HDD.

Safe Mode gets stuck at the spinning circle, just like the regular boot does.

I have a copy of Diskwarrior but it's 2 years old. It says DVD Rev. 901 on it. Will this work OK with Snow Leopard? Also, will Diskwarrior be able to operate properly w/ only 882 megs free on the HDD?
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Accepted Solution

by:
nxnw earned 350 total points
ID: 33736599
Diskwarrior: Your DVD may not boot the machine, but you can download an updater to make a new DVD (that STILL may not boot the machine, but WILL have the newest version of Diskwarrior on it).

Before you go that route, try:

1. Booting from the Snow Leopard Install DVD and go into terminal. You should be able to access the drive and clean it up a bit. I would go for the caches and VM files. Further, this should enable you to back up the disk using ditto. (look at "man ditto" for details. Pretty simple and preserves ownership, privileges, and resource forks (use the -rsrc option for resource forks).

2. Trying target disk mode from the other direction (boot your macbook into target disk mode, then try to boot the imac - hold option key to select startup disk). This will also give you the opportunity to clean up the disk, try disk utility again, etc.
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LVL 53

Assisted Solution

by:strung
strung earned 150 total points
ID: 33736709
You could try Disk Warrior, and it would probably work, but it might screw things up more.

If the data is valuable, your best bet is to download DataRescue III to your good Mac and use it to recover the data from the bad Mac to an external using target disk mode

There is a free demo of DataRescue here:  http://www.prosofteng.com/products/data_rescue.php

The demo will give you a list of recoverable files and allow you to recover one file free. Once you are convinced it will work, then you can pay for a serial number to unlock the software.

After you have recovered your data, either use Disk Utility to reformat the drive, or if you are so inclined, take a shot at DiskWarrior without concern about losing your data.
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33736764
Thanks nxnw. Great suggestions. I hadn't even thought of using my MacBook as a startup disk!

Yesterday I did try running Terminal from the OS X DVD. I was able to get to a command prompt. Unfortunately my skills at the command line are extremely limited. When I typed in /dev/disk1s3 to try to browse files on that volume I got a "Permission Denied" error message. I tried typing ls to list files in whatever directory I was in, and I can't remember for sure, but I don't think it listed any files.

I suppose I should run Terminal off the OS DVD on my own MacBook so I can figure out how to browse directories and delete files.

Where would I find the VM files & caches?
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Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33736827
NB: Since the author can mount the disk from the installer DVD, he may yet be able to back up the disk relatively intact, using one of the methods suggested in post 33736599. Won't DataRescue, even if it recovers everything, leave him with thousands of unorganized files to sift through?

If he can't mount and back up the disk using either of the methods in 33736599, it makes sense to try to recover the data as strung suggests, before using diskwarrior (or anything else that will make changes to the disk).
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33736846
Thanks strung. But I'm not sure if DataRescue III would work here since my MacBook is not recognizing the iMac HDD when it is booted in Target Mode. It only sees the iMac DVD player for some strange reason.

Also do either of you know what the "system bootstrapper has crashed" indicates when I try to boot into Single User Mode?
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LVL 12

Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33736934
Go the the Volumes directory:
cd /volumes/

lit the contents:
ls

cd 'volume name'   -- use the quotes if there is a space in the name

since you are unfamiliar with the command line, don't try to delete more than one file at a time.

the VM files - big ones will be in  
/volumes/<dirive name>/var/vm

delete a single file by going to its directory and typing
rm <filename>

Ordinarily, you would need superuser access, but I think the drive will be mounted without restrictions
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33736991
Thanks for the clear instructions, nxnw. I will do a trial run on my MacBook before I head back to the client.
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LVL 53

Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33738052
DataRescue will recover files even if the volume won't mount. Since the demo is free, why not give it a try?
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33745203
I am scheduled to go see the client again on Friday. From both your personal perspectives, what do you think is the likelihood that this is a failing HDD versus one that is just too full & has some fixable errors??

I'd really like to avoid having to replace the drive b/c doing so on this model of iMac is very involved.

Once I (hopefully) manage to recover their data, I would like to test the physical integrity of the drive. Is Diskwarrior capable of doing this? If not, is there software available to accomplish that? I've used Spinrite on PCs before, but that disk won't boot on an iMac.
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Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33745955
If you are satisfied with SMART diagnostics, disk utility will report the SMART status.

There are other utilities that will scan the media, but I don't know what the gold standard is these days. If it's just a few bad blocks, reformatting and zeroing it will map them out (I am pretty sure).

If the errors are fixable, it would still be prudent to
1. clone contents of the entire drive (superduper or, if command line is required, ditto),
2. reformat (and zero),
3. install OS and all updates,
4. reimport data from backup using migration assistant.

Most likely, its just directory damage. Since the effects are so serious, it is prudent to assume that there was some system corruption, and repair will be more satisfactory with a clean format and install.

If you have to use DataRescue to recover the data, do it before you run diskwarrior. Then run diskwarrior, because it may be able to give you a functioning drive with an intact directory structure, which you can clone and use for the above steps (but save the files recovered by datarescue for backup).

If you have to use DataRescue to recover the data and diskwarrior does not help, you still have to do steps 1 to 3, but I don't know whether you will be able to use migration assistant to restore it (I do not believe datarescue is able to preserve or recreate the original directory structure). If that is the case, the files will have to be organized manually, mail reimported, software reregistered, application prefs and templates reconfigured, etc.).
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:gecko_au2003
ID: 33749186
Create a bart pe / win pe / linux live disc that is bootable and compatable with the intel imac and boot it up using that holding down the C key - you will need another computer to create the disc obviously

Once created you should be able to load that up and use that to backup the vital data to an external hdd or the likes and then delete what you dont require off of the main hdd of the imac

Try and reboot into OS X normally on the mac, if its still the same then may just be easier to re install OS X and all software / running software updater to ensure all updates are applied.

I normally run disk utility before and after installing major update revisions so as to repair disk permissions

Hope this helps :)

http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/

http://www.knoppix.net/

I think assuming you still have apple care you can download a diagnostic cd for apple macs but am not sure if this will assist with the data recovery

Also if you have an external hard drive that is connected by firewire 800 or something that is quick enough otherwise it will take a long long time you could use disk utility when you boot the imac with the snow leopard installer disc and make an image of the macintosh hd ( Main hdd ) and then wipe it and re install although I am not sure how safe the data would be doing this method as never tried it so I would try one of the boot discs above to be on the safe side

Tech Tool Deluxe

https://support.apple.com/techtooldeluxe/main?id=dl
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33749486
Didn't think about booting using a Live Linux CD. I have a Puppy Linux & several Live versions of Knoppix. If I can boot of one of those, that could be a good way to browse, copy & delete files instead of having to use Terminal.
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Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33751528
Don't use Linux to back up or copy files unless your mac native efforts fail (or unless you know how to do it without losing critical metadata).

For more info on metadata and mac files, see:
http://www.n8gray.org/blog/2007/04/27/introducing-backup-bouncer/
http://www.haystacksoftware.com/blog/2010/06/the-importance-of-metadata-on-the-mac/
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33753494
Excellent point, nxnw. Definitely want to maintain that metadata intact. Thanks.
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:gecko_au2003
ID: 33753667
Thanks nxnw - sorry to the OP as I was not aware of that and is a valid point

also have you got any good guides on how to retain / keep the meta data when using a linux live disc - the other thing not sure if its an issue is with the liux live disc because the Macs FS will be HFS+ or similiar would the linux live disc ( whichever distro ) support HFS or similiar ??

If you have the tools / patience you could follow a guide to remove it and attach it to another mac so as to mount it as a physical ext drive and copy the data over and then re install it back into the imac and re install the OS / Software etc after a wipe and running the relevant drive tests using the disk util when you have booted up with the leopard or snow leopard disc.

the ifxit.com should give you relevant guides or youtube should have plenty of how to videos

http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Browse/iMac

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Expert Comment

by:gecko_au2003
ID: 33753696
There is carbon copy cloner

http://www.bombich.com/

More for imaging but may be able to help as it does state about if you dont have your bootable OS X disc ( just a thought )
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Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33753721
If your client values his data you shouldn't use Linux. Use DataRescue III which is designed specifically for the Mac file system and is the best Mac recovery tool available. Search these forums for DataRescue for posts from others who have had success.
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33753726
Thanks Gecko, but I want to do my best to avoid removing the drive. The guide on ifixit.com indicates that it takes 23 steps to remove it. :-(

http://www.ifixit.com/Guide/Repair/Installing-iMac-Intel-20-Inch-EMC-2105-and-2118-Hard-Drive-Replacement/1092/1
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Expert Comment

by:gecko_au2003
ID: 33753754
yes and 23 to put it back together again :) no probs

Am surprised that firewire target disk mode does not work - is this down to the amount of space not free ?

If you check your router to see if it is able to get a valid ip address - maybe use the network to copy the data possibly ?

Although as above maybe use the suggested utils / tools to backup the data
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Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33753770
Target disk mode won't work if the disk won't mount. But target disk mode may work with DataRescue which can retrieve files from disks that won't mount.
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LVL 53

Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33753778
There is a free demo. Why not try it?
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33753893
Yes, I will give DataRescue a try. But it's odd that the HDD will not mount in target disk mode and yet it does mount when I boot the iMac from the OS X DVD?
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Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33753899
"also have you got any good guides on how to retain / keep the meta data when using a linux live disc".

I don't know how, or even if it is possible.

"would the linux live disc ( whichever distro ) support HFS or similiar?"

It would have to support HFS+. I do not know if it does, but I am pretty sure you can modify it to read and write to HFS+.

Please note, however, that this alone would not address the metadata issue. If you refer to the links I cited above, you will see that many mac applications or terminal commands are deficient in this regard. This is why, earlier in this thread, I suggested superduper or (only because the author specified the system being used was 10.6) ditto.

In fact, not so long ago, almost nothing worked right. If you can't count on native mac backup applications to copy files intact, I wouldn't count on a linux application to do it.
0
 
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Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33754121
Please refer to 33736599 before going the datarescue path. I have not used it, and ask strung to clarify if datarescue is any better in this regard, but every such product I have ever used has left me with a dumpster load of thousands of unorganized files to sift through.

If you are out of options, and this is the only way to recover documents that  are irreplaceable or would otherwise require many hours of work to recreate, it is a lifesaver.

However, if you want to restore everything as it was without many, many hours of manual searching, sorting and filing, you should first look to alternatives that may still allow you to mount the drive and do a proper, usable backup.
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Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33754218
I don't think it was mounting from the DVD. I suspect it was just being shown in Disk Utilty without being mounted. Disk Utility, like DataRecue, will recognize unmounted disks.

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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33754285
Thanks Guys. I guess it will come down to whether or not I can successfully mount the iMac's drive after booting from the DVD or using my MacBook as an alternative startup disk.
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LVL 12

Expert Comment

by:nxnw
ID: 33754709
… and, if that fails, THEN use datarescue and THEN try diskwarrior.

If diskwarrior makes the disk usable (it has saved a disk for me on many occasions where disk utility failed), archive the files recovered by datarescue, back up the repaired disk, reformat, reinstall and restore from the backup (as detailed above).
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Expert Comment

by:gecko_au2003
ID: 33755846
As a last resort if none of the disk warrior etc works you could possibly buy a SATA drive ( unless the imac is covered on apple care or under the 90 days etc ) and swap the Drives and buy an external caddy and mount the current drive via the caddy and access the data assuming the drive is still ok.
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Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33815677
Sorry guys. I was out of town for the past week. I will assign points & close this out on Sun. Thanks!
0
 

Author Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33828145
So I went back to the client, I was able to use my MacBook in Target mode as a startup disk for the iMac. It let me copy files from the iMac to an external HDD, but would not let me delete any files.

Discwarrior found errors on the internal HDD but was unable to fix them.

Client did not want to spend time trying to recover files from the HDD, so as per his request, did a format of the HDD and reinstall Snow Leopard from scratch. iMac is now working OK.

Going to split the points b/t NXNW & strung.
0
 
LVL 53

Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33828174
Suggest you install the freeware SMARTReporter on his hard drive to monitor its health. There may be a reason it corrupted. If the drive is dying, SMARTReporter will let you know:

See:  http://download.cnet.com/SMARTReporter/3000-2086_4-49263.html?tag=mncol;1
0
 

Author Closing Comment

by:anuneznyc
ID: 33828176
I was able to use my MacBook in Target mode as a startup disk for the iMac.
0
 
LVL 53

Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 33828203
Set SMARTReporter''s prefs to Start at Login and Don't Check When Running on Battery.

You an also set it to send e-mails to various addressees when an impending drive failure is detected.
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