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iMac Question Mark Folder / Startup Problem

Posted on 2013-11-09
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Last Modified: 2013-11-15
Hi Experts -- I have an iMac here in the shop that is showing the question mark folder icon when it turns on. I am unable to access the diagnostic utility by holding down the D key during startup as I typically do. I can, however, get it to boot to a Snow Leopard disc but none of the diagnostic utilities are available (greyed out).

Any thoughts? I have some suction cups coming in the mail so I can take a look at the hard drive and connections and I'm hoping that's what the problem is.
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Question by:ttotus
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strung earned 250 total points
ID: 39635885
Flashing question mark means the computer cannot find a valid system to boot from.

If you cannot get disk utility to work while booted from the Snow Leopard DVD, my guess is the hard drive is dead.
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by:Eoin OSullivan
Eoin OSullivan earned 250 total points
ID: 39636794
I'd second strung's diagnosis.  The Hard Drive is at issue.  Problems could range from damaged system files which prevent the boot-up from recognising the OSX system folder and starting up.  This is a pure software fault and easy enough to remedy.  Also it could be a failed hard drive or damaged sectors in a critical area which prevent it from even spinning up properly.
Usually it is simplest to remove the hard drive and trouble-shoot with another Mac.


The iMac (depending on the model - some are easier than others) can be opened up and the HD removed and diagnosed externally plugged into another Mac via USB adapter.

If the iMac is under warranty or Apple Care then I'd recommend you go that route rather than dissassembling especially for the newest superslim iMacs.  The older ones are a doddle to open and extract/replace the HD you just need the correct screwdrivers and a steady hand.
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Expert Comment

by:strung
ID: 39636991
This site will tell you how to remove the hard drive:

http://www.ifixit.com/Device/iMac

If you have a second Mac, in the shop, you can diagnose the first one by using Target Disk Mode:

http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1661
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Author Closing Comment

by:ttotus
ID: 39651761
I appreciate the help. It did end up being the hard drive. Swapped it out and all is well. I thought I had closed this question--Sorry for the delay!
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