Flashing question mark folder at start up, is there anything else I can try?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by tinselworm, Jul 12, 2015.

  1. tinselworm macrumors newbie

    Mar 24, 2012
    Hi all,

    I'm seeing a flashing question mark folder at start up. I know what it means, but I'm struggling to get any response from the computer when I follow the usual tips regarding fixing this kind of issue.
    It's a Macbook Pro early 2009 model with DVD drive, supplied with 10.5 but prior to dying was running (I think) 10.8.

    The computer didn't exhibit any signs of imminent hard drive failure BUT ... prior to it dying I encountered a few failed backups via my Time capsule and I'm wondering if this is possibly a contributing factor, and perhaps it's somehow screwed up the location of the startup disc.
    .....or hey.... maybe the drive really has just totally died.

    Here's what's not working....
    - Holding down the option key at startup does nothing (no startup manager, no flashing folder, just a grey screen)
    - I can't engage recovery mode, pressing command-R does nothing (just a grey screen) — not entirely sure this would work on a mac of this age anyway but I thought I'd try.
    - Safeboot (shift at startup) is not working (flashing folder and question mark appears after 30 seconds or so).
    - Reset PRAM does nothing
    - Verbose / single user modes do nothing (flashing folder and question mark appears after 30 seconds or so)
    - I don't have the original install DVDs to hand, but I have the original installation disc image on an external firewire drive. I plugged in the drive and held down the option key at startup to see if I could select the drive as a temporary startup disc but nothing happens (just a grey screen)
    - I've tried booting the faulty mac in target disc mode .... I see the target disc mode icon flashing on the faulty mac but no drive is appearing on my other Macbook.

    I'm pretty much out of options. I've tried a few other things not listed above, none of which have worked. The computer seems so unresponsive that I can't even decipher whether or not the hard drive is dead, although I'm sure it's likely it is.

    Is there not a way that I can boot off my time capsule somehow? I also tried plugging this in via USB and holding down option at startup but nothing is happening.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  2. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    Flashing question mark means that it cannot find an OS to boot up from. You can try to boot up from the optical disk by inserting your 10.5 system discs in the drive and old the C key down on booting up. I realize you don't have the original disks but in this case, I think you need them. Cmd-R is for newer versions of OS X, it won't do anything for you on 10.5

    Have you ever booted up on the external drive?
  3. tinselworm thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 24, 2012
    Thanks, it sounds like I'll have to dig out the original optical discs when I'm next back at my parents place.

    (also to answer your question, I thought I had booted off the external drive but I might be mistaken)
  4. Gav2k macrumors G3


    Jul 24, 2009
    Do you have access to another computer and a USB flash drive?
  5. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    Worst case scenario is the hard drive is toast, so going off the original system disks are needed.
  6. tinselworm thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 24, 2012
    Another computer, yes. A USB flash drive, no, not exactly. Got a bunch of external HDDs but they're firewire and thunderbolt. One of the drives has the 10.5 install disc image on it; the more I think about it, the more certain I am that I formatted this drive as a startup disc with 10.5 on there when the same computer died on a previous occasion. So holding down option at startup and booting off this disc should work, but it isn't.

    As maflynn said, I think my only option now is the original install dvds.
  7. subsonix macrumors 68040

    Feb 2, 2008
    At times I've resolved a situation like this by holding down the option key while rebooting, which made the boot volume show up as a boot option.
  8. tinselworm thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 24, 2012
    Thanks, but that was the first thing I tried.
  9. Fishrrman macrumors P6


    Feb 20, 2009
    Sounds like the internal drive has died, and you're now flopping around like a fish out of water because you don't have a bootable external backup from which to get it running again. If you DID have such a backup, you wouldn't be posting here today.

    What you need to do now:
    1. Get another drive. If you plan to keep the MacBook a while longer, might be worth getting an SSD (but I wouldn't pay for more than a 240gb capacity drive for an older MacBook).
    2. Get an external enclosure or USB3/SATA docking station. You'll need this to "prep and test" the new drive before you install it (internally).
    3. Get ahold of the installer for the OS you want to put on the new drive. You mentioned 10.8 -- can be found if you know where to look.
    4. You mentioned that you have access to another Mac, is this correct? In that case, use that Mac to initialize the new drive and install a clean copy of the OS onto it.
    5. Once you have the OS installed, connect the new drive (in the external enclosure) to the MacBook, and see if you can boot (use the option key to invoke the startup manager at boot time).
    6. If the boot is successful, NOW is the time to "do the swap".
    7. BE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB. The wrong size screwdrivers can STRIP OUT the screws -- major headaches.
    8. If you've gotten this far, you should now have the MacBook bootable again, even though the clean copy of the OS doesn't have your accounts, apps, and data on it. It might be worth doing the necessary OS updates to bring it up to the final version of 10.8, which is 10.8.5.
    9. At this point, I would suggest using Migration Assistant to "bring that stuff over".
  10. tinselworm thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mar 24, 2012
    Thanks. Flopping around like a fish out of water? :D
    Just to confirm, I do have a bootable backup as mentioned above. We've got quite a few macs in the house, I've just tested this drive on an identical macbook of the same age and it boots.

    It's less an issue of knowing what to do next... more an issue that I can't even get the computer to boot off a bootable drive to confirm that the internal drive is faulty. Alas... will pick up the original install discs when I get a chance. Hopefully I'll get it booted on these.
  11. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I think your best bet is to try to find those system disks, so you have something to boot up the computer with. If you cannot find them, you may be able to snag some off eBay relatively inexpensively.
  12. CoastalOR macrumors 68020


    Jan 19, 2015
    Oregon, USA
    There is another alternative. Your 2009 MacBook Pro will support OS 10.10 Yosemite so you could use another Mac to download the complete Yosemite installer (if not already available), quit the installer, create a bootable USB flash drive installer, boot from the bootable flash drive, run disk utility, and check the 2009 MBP internal HDD. This test would let you know if the internal HDD has completely failed or not. If Disk Utility can see the drive then there are some options like trying to repair or reformat (you would lose all data on the disk) and install a new copy of the OS. Let me know if you are interested in some more detailed instructions.

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