Mac Mini woes

Hi folks
My mac mini (circa 2007/8 model MB138XX/A, which as had no upgrades) has suddenly developed a problem where it will not login to my account. What happens is that after normal startup, you get to the accounts screen, and after selecting your account and typing your password, you get a screen transition to a blue screen which doesn't change to my normal desktop. The mouse pointer is there, but ther's nothing to click on.

I need help to get it started again. I was contemplating wiping it and starting over with a fresh OS & software install

Other information:
1) The hard drive was almost completely full. I was in the process of removing data (turned it off one night and next day this happened)

2) I use a standard 101 key USB windows keyboard

3) I have tried booting off a bootable OS X disk while holding "c" with no effect. Also tried starting with the option key held down, control -s, the PRAm reset combo, all with no effect (just takes me to the login screen.)

4) I have held down the menu key on the apple remote but it doesn't give any option but booting from the hdd

5) I have created an emergency boot USB drive but I'm unsure how to make it work

6) I don't have another mac to firewire into this with or an external case to plug the hard drive into.

Any advice is greatly appreciated.
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speed_54Asked:
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strungCommented:
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speed_54Author Commented:
Forgot to add that the mac is running 10.6.7 so that support article is not valid. Besides, I can't get it to start in safe mode
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Eoin OSullivanConsultantCommented:
All those keyboard options SHOULD work.  

Is there any chance there's something wrong with the keyboard?

Do you have another USB keyboard you could use?  Ideally an Apple Keyboard as there may be an issue with OSX recognising the windows key layout or something like that.
At least try a different keyboard.
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speed_54Author Commented:
OK will try another kb
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speed_54Author Commented:
Borrowed a mac keyboard. Wow. Who knew that the windows keyboard would prevent the snow leopard disk from booting.
I've run disk utility & done a disk repair, which has corrected a number of errors.

I tried to startup the machine normally but still get the blue screen after logging in.

I suspect I will have to reformat & wipe to make it go again but I'd rather not if I can avoid it.
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mccrickCommented:
Backing up data, wiping the drive and reinstalling OS would probably work and probably give you the best results. You will probably enjoy a little speed boost as well. If you are really trying to avoid that, however, you should use Alsoft Disk Warrior. It will repair behind-the-scenes disk problems that will of allow your OS to work as normal. If DW does not solve your problem then you need will probably need to do the wipe and reinstall. DW is still handy to have around.
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Eoin OSullivanConsultantCommented:
The curse of the Windows keyboard!!

Is there any chance you've a TimeMachine or similar backup?
Do you have an external USB drive bigger than the MacMini HD where you could keep a backup of the MacMini HD?

Otherwise if you've a lot of valuable data a backup and repair with DiskWarrior is worth a try.
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mccrickCommented:
Also, As you mentioned in your initial post, having a second Mac and using Target Disk mode can be a very important tool. You said you don't have it, but you might want to borrow something if you can.
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strungCommented:
Now that you have a Mac keyboard, try the suggestions for the Blue Screen in the Apple KB that I linked for you above.

BTW, after you ran Disk Utility, did it say it had repaired all the errors?

Will the Mac boot in safe mode (holding down the shift key) now that you have a Mac keyboard?
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speed_54Author Commented:
Ok mac boots into safe mode with the borrowed keyboard (must get me one soon) and in this mode the computer logs into the account correctly. I've taken 25GB of data off onto a usb hdd.

I thought that while I had disk utility running, I would use the restore function to clone the small 80GB to a bigger 160GB USB HDD.  (My boy was horrified when I said I was going to wipe the drive and reinstall because he has no backups of many of the CD's he has ripped into itunes)

However, after selecting the 80GB hdd as the source and putting the usb drive in as the destination, I get the following:

Restore Failure
Could not validate source - bad file descriptor.

I did run a repair disk from first aid (I've now run it three times) which reports the volume appears to be OK.
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speed_54Author Commented:
BTW I can't afford to get disk warrior (it's that or the keyboard)
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speed_54Author Commented:
Tried to do a restore again after moving the data off, but now I get the error
Restore Failure: Could not restore - input/output error.
The external drive had been formatted and partitioned as Mac OSx journalled with GUID.
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Eoin OSullivanConsultantCommented:
Try using a free program called Carbon Copy Cloner to create the backup.

Backup to a sparse disk image file.

Then wipe and reinstall osx on the Mac mini. Make sure osx is updated to the latest version available.
You can mount the disk image file and use migration assistant to restore the user accounts, files and applications.
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strungCommented:
Or alternatively, you could clone the internal drive to the external using CCC and make the external bootable.

Then boot from the external, reformat the internal and clone back.

That way at least you will know the external clone is good.

Before you do any of that, though, pull down the Apple Menu to System Preference and go to the Users and Groups preferences pane. Click on "Log on Items". Highlight each item in turn and remove it using the minus sign at the bottom left. (You have to remove these items entirely, not just uncheck them). One of them is what is preventing you from booting in regular mode.
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mccrickCommented:
I was going to suggest CCC, but it is no longer free; cheap, but not free unless you can find an old version.
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speed_54Author Commented:
Thanks folks. It was the keyboard that really threw me
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