Dead MacBook Pro with Flashing Question Mark


I had the classic, well it worked when I booted, but as soon as I wanted to do real work, it dies problem. Basically, when I try to start the MacBook Pro now, I get the grey screen and the startup chime. Then it sits there doing nothing (I can actually hear the click as the hard drive tries to move). After about two minutes, a folder with a question mark comes up. Not good. Hope everyone is religious about backing up. (I’d recommend the “Simpletech”: that is just about $140 and works very well.

The mac is so graphical it isnt clear how to even query google. In this case it is called a “Flashing Question Mark”: The main thing you need is a System CD. Of course who carries one of these around (I will from now on!) and then you run the Disk Utility from it to see if you can uncorrupt the hard disk as “Apple”: recommends. If you can not even see the disk then you do the PRAM reset described below.

Here is what I’ve tried as “Apple”: recommends and I’ve learned some cool command keys too

# First reboot. Apparently, holding the Option key, Command key and the Power button down is the equivalent of Ctrl-Alt-Del in the PC world.
# Reset the PRAM which is the equivalent of the CMOS reset on PCs. You do this by hitting power and before the grey screen comes up you haver to hold the Option, Command and the P and R keys down. It then reboots and again and when you hear the chime you are done.
# Reset the Power Manager chip onboard by taking out the battery and removing from AC power and holding down the power button for five seconds

To see if it is really a hard disk, you can hold a different keys to get different things to boot according to “Apple”:

Press C during startup Start up from a bootable CD or DVD, such as the Mac OS X Install disc that came with the computer.
Press D during startup Start up in Apple Hardware Test (AHT), if the Install DVD 1 is in the computer.
Press Option-Command-P-R until you hear two beeps. Reset NVRAM
Press Option during startup Starts into Startup Manager, where you can select a Mac OS X volume to start from. Note: Press N to make the the first bootable Network volume appear as well.
Press Eject, F12, or hold the mouse (/trackpad) button Ejects any removable media, such as an optical disc.
Press N during startup Attempt to start up from a compatible network server (NetBoot).
Press T during startup Start up in FireWire Target Disk mode.
Press Shift during startup Start up in Safe Boot mode and temporarily disable login items.
Press Command-V during startup Start up in Verbose mode.
Press Command-S during startup Start up in Single-User mode.
Press Option-N during startup Start from a NetBoot server using the default boot image.

Alas none of these worked for me. I lose quite a few hard disks with laptops mainly I think because I travel alot and run them hard. This particular macbook has been running hard but it was powered down properly and so forth, so maybe just early mortality. I’m sure glad we bought Applecare.

4 Replies to “Dead MacBook Pro with Flashing Question Mark”

  1. try holding down option during start up – and keep it held down and you should get a list of available systems. This can sometimes happen if you select a different start up disk or if no disk is set. Did you by any chance have bootcamp installed? I have seen this problem with bootcamp.

  2. Another option is starting up with your install cd and running the disk utility to repair your disk. Works for fixing dead ipods too!

  3. I have a macbook with the same issue. we replaced the hard drive with a new one but the problem persists. We tried installing a new system but the macbook will not go past the flashing question mark. We replaced the hard drive connector to no avail. We connected a firewire to try to book it up form my macbook. No success. Nothing again. We are ready to tear our hair out.We have tried Norton Utilities. The cd starts up but the macbook still will go no further HELP!!!!!

  4. @chloemorgan4unc: Sounds like your system board is gone. We were able to get things working by just doing a complete reinstall. Sorry, you are much sicker I’m afraid.

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