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How can I fix an iMac partition that suddenly is "unformatted"?

Posted on 2014-09-24
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Last Modified: 2014-10-03
I have an iMac that stopped booting, even in Safe Mode. It has Mountain Lion as its OS. I cleared the PRAM/NVRAM. It makes the Apple sound, but then there's just a white screen.

I ran Apple Hardware Test in extended mode, and it comes back saying that no problem is found. However, when I go into Disk Utility I see the 1TB partition as "Unformatted". See attached file.

The iMac does boot into Target Disk Mode and does show the lightning bolt in the circle that moves around the screen. I have connected a Thunderbolt cable from my MacBook Air (mid-2013) running Mavericks to the iMac (mid-2012).

My idea is to make the hard drive show up on my MacBook Air as an external drive through Target Disk Mode (TDM). Then I should be able to gain access and use EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard for Macs.  However, I have not been able to make that connection despite having the cable connected.

I'm trying to avoid taking the hard drive out of the iMac, and I'm pretty sure that EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard has a fighting chance to recover the partition and make it bootable again, if it can see it as an external hard drive.

Can anybody help me with making the hard drive in the iMac assessable as a drive on my MacBook Air , or offer another solution to fix this problem? Thanks in advance, all you experts out there!
2014-09-22-17.10.51.jpg
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Question by:timinoldsmar
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by:strung
ID: 40343736
I am not sure what you mean by "you cannot make the connection". If the disk shows as unformatted, it won't mount on the desktop of the iMac, but a good data recovery program should be able to read it anyway.

Try downloading DataRescue III. There is a free demo:  http://www.prosofteng.com/downloads/download.php?prodID=94

The demo will list what files are recoverable and allow you to recover one file. Once you are convinced the program will work, you can pay for the serial number to unlock it.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40343748
The Target Disk Mode connection via the Thunderbolt cable.
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by:Davis McCarn
ID: 40343801
I don't think that Target Disk will work unless the volume is mountable and would mention that that drive, the ST1000DM003 is known to have issues which cause data corruption.
AFTER you have recovered your data, here is a firmware update: http://knowledge.seagate.com/articles/en_US/FAQ/223651en

You need a product which provides a bootable CD/DVD so it can address the native drive:
http://www.stellarinfo.com/mac-osx-recovery.php

I cannot place a value on your data; but, if it is relatively high, the right course is to remove the drive, clone it using a sector-by-sector copy utility, and then try the recovery on the copy so you don't risk the original.
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by:strung
ID: 40343805
If the disk is unformatted, it won't show as connected under target disk mode - at least it won't show up in the desktop because the disk won't mount if it is unformatted.

But a disk recovery program such as Data Rescue 4 (they have just updated it) should be able to recover the data anyway.

See if the free program you bought will see the iMac when connected by target disk mode. If not, then download the trial version of Data Rescue 4 and see it it will work.
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by:strung
ID: 40343819
Data Rescue 4 will also provide you with a DVD for recovery. The two programs are the same price.
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by:strung
ID: 40343823
Data Rescue's website says it will work with target disk mode.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40343831
Excellent comments. Thank you. I will try out an alternate recovery program and then post the results.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40344316
Okay, here's where I stand right now. I downloaded the demo of Data Rescue 4. It allows me to make the bootable USB flash drive. When it boots, it stops with an "Error 6" (see attached JPG). I contacted them and sent them the information on what happened, but I haven't heard back yet.

Then I downloaded the trial for Mac Data Recovery, but it doesn't offer a way to make the startup disc. That has to be purchased. I talked to them, and their only advice was to buy it and try it. I'm hesitant since Data Rescue's 4 bootable USB flash drive didn't work, and I don't know why yet.

I'm MORE than willing to pay for either of these products, if I can get some assurance or guarantee that at least their bootable discs/flash drives will at least boot to the place where I can at least try to do something.

It was mentioned that Data Rescue 4 will work with Target Disk, but that's probably only if the volume is mountable. I don't think there's anyway that I can see the drive through the Thunderbolt connection like I could see it in Disk Utility.
2014-09-25-10.52.50.jpg
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by:strung
ID: 40344336
Connect by Target Disk Mode, then start Data Rescue from your Air's hard drive and see if it will recognize the iMac's drive. It should recognize it, even it if is not mountable.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40344347
Okay, I'll try, but if it doesn't show up in Disk Utility, I doubt that it will show up in Target Disk Mode.
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by:strung
ID: 40344356
It won't show up in your Finder, but start Data Rescue and go to "select disk to scan" and see if it show up there.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40344395
Update: Data Rescue 4 people got back with me. They said Data Rescue is not designed to fix a drive to a working state, which is something I kind of figured. When they it can recover lost or damaged volumes, they mean they can see them to recover data from them. So now I know that this is a recovery operation, and that OS X will have to reinstalled afterward.

They also said that "Error 6" is a failure of copying the Recovery partition, which is evidently why they say the flash drive has to be 4GB or more. I thought that maybe the flash drive itself wasn't just right or big enough, so I created another BootWell flash drive that is 8GB, but I got the same results - Error 6.

They say that the workaround to Error 6 is booting the BootWell flash drive on another Mac (so it will copy that Mac's Recovery partition), and then try booting from the iMac again.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40344460
Update 2: The workaround for getting the Data Rescue 4 BootWell flash drive to boot worked. It is presently reading the drive. However, it is having trouble with "slow read access", "which may be a sign of a failing drive". (see attached JPG) I told it to ignore, so it is scanning on, but is racking up the slow-read count. This obviously tells me that the reason this all started is because of a failing drive, so since the drive is obviously going to need to be replaced, I'm going to have to take it out anyway. I'll probably have to run something like Spinrite on it to fix bad sectors before resuming with Data Rescue 4, which I am almost certain at this point that I will be purchasing.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40344467
I forgot to attach the JPG showing the slow read access warning.
2014-09-25-13.05.40.jpg
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Assisted Solution

by:strung
strung earned 250 total points
ID: 40344623
Do not attempt to repair the drive before running DataRescue. That is likely to increase the damage. Continue with Data Rescue as long as it takes. Leave it running overnight if necessary.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40344665
It already warned not to continue like that. It said to stop and get a sector-by-sector backup and then restore to a good drive. Then to continue with the repair.
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Davis McCarn earned 250 total points
ID: 40344764
Do you have access to another PC that can handle multiple drives?
If you do, buy another 1TB drive, connect the iMac's drive and it as 2 & 3, then use RawCopy to "clone" the failing iMac drive ( http://www.roadkil.net/program.php?ProgramID=22 ).  It often works better if you check the box to do reverse order.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40345020
Awesome. That was my next step - to determine what cloning program to use.

My main concern now is cloning to this new drive right, because I believe I will have to reinstall OS X (Mountain Lion) using Internet install, and I think that I have to do that from the recovery partition, which hopefully will still work after the cloning. It didn't come with an install disc.
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Expert Comment

by:Davis McCarn
ID: 40345039
The recovery partition is after the one you use and, from experience, is very likely to clone just fine.
Once you have the clone in place, you might want to try GPartED ((see #21) http://gparted.org/faq.php ) or REFind ( http://www.rodsbooks.com/refind/ ) on the clone.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40345104
Uh oh. I might be getting in a little too far if I have to edit partition tables to make things work afterward.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40345111
Oh, okay, I see. That's to get the un-formatted partition to look like it is formatted again and to make it boot, which will make it so I don't have to re-install the OS. That would be worth the try.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40347455
After reading about the pains of replacing a hard drive in this iMac, decided to take it to the Apple Store on Monday. After that sometime I will begin the recovery operation.
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by:timinoldsmar
ID: 40359222
Okay, here's the last update on this. At the apple store the Genius Bar Work Authorization says this:

Issue: Computer boots to grey screen with flashing folder/question mark.
Steps to Reproduce: Visually infected computer, booted normally to verify issue as described. Ran Storage Diagnostic, which failed almost immediately. Disk Utility sees the drive as unformatted.
Cosmetic Condition: Normal cosmetic scratches, no indication of many liquid or other significant physical damage found upon initial inspection.
Proposed Resolution: Replace hard drive. Customer wishes to keep old drive.
Quoted 5-7 days.
Estimated Turn Around Time: We'll call you in 3 - 5 days
Mac OS Version: 10.7.5
Hard Drive Size: 1 TB
Memory Size: 24 GB

We already knew that. Apple is going to replace the drive.  

And at the last minute the owner of the iMac said she didn't want to recover the files, after seeing Apple had to charge the full price of the hard drive to give it back to us.

I will award points based on what would have been solutions to recover the data on the failed drive.
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