Late 2009 Mini Won't Load Boot Drive Selector

timidpimpin

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I run El Capitan on my late-2009 mini, and all of a sudden it will no longer load the boot drive selector when you hold down the option key while booting. I know I can select a boot drive in the startup disk preferences, but this won't allow access to the recovery partition. You have to access the recovery partition in that drive selector that comes up when you hold option at boot.

The system boots fine and runs fine otherwise... it's very odd.

I just want to be able to use that recovery partition if I ever need to do a Time Machine restore.

Any ideas?
 

DeltaMac

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I can't explain why the recovery system no longer appears in your option-boot picker screen.
But, you can get there by booting with Command+r, too.
 
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timidpimpin

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I can't explain why the recovery system no longer appears in your option-boot picker screen.
But, you can get there by booting with Command+r, too.
That also doesn't work for some reason.

Also, it's not that the recovery drive doesn't come up on the picker... it doesn't even get that far. Just a blank white screen.
 

DeltaMac

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Try an NVRAM reset:
restart, while holding Option-Command-p-r
You should hear a boot chime.
Continue to hold those same 4 keys until you hear the boot chime 2 more times, then release keys, continue to hold Option. That hardware reset should then allow the Option-boot picker screen to load.
Keep in mind that the recovery partition does not appear in the boot picker screen on newer macOS systems, so you should not expect to see the recovery system appear there.
Command-r should work, however, assuming that you have a good install (and also that your hard drive is working OK)

If all that does not help you boot to the recovery system, then I would suggest that you boot to an El Capitan bootable installer, which will give you what you need to do with a recovery system, AND you can run Disk Utility to test your hard drive. If you DON'T have a bootable USB installer, it's pretty simple to make one yourself.

That laptop hard drive in the Mac mini, if it is original, may simply be close to failure. The Recovery partition is on that hard drive, and if your hard drive is not working properly, that can explain why you can't boot to the recovery partition - and another good reason to try out the external boot solution.
 
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timidpimpin

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Already did the NVRAM before making this thread. I guess I should have mentioned that.

Until recently I was seeing the recovery partition in the drive picker. Also... the El Capitan installer doesn't offer Time Machine recovery. Only the recovery partition.

This is all very odd.
 

DeltaMac

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I suggest that booting to the El Capitan installer (don't just run the installer app, boot to the installer. You have to create one if you don't have that. I can give you some help on that if you haven't done it before) will give you access to test the hard drive by running Disk Utility, and trying the First Aid on your internal drive. Do THAT first, so you don't waste your time by trying to get your hard drive working again, when it might possibly show problems in Disk Utility. Examples of "problems" would be very slow to respond, a long time (I would call more than 10 minutes to run First Aid possibly suspicious) to test, even if the drive eventually passes.
Finally, if you have a current Time Machine backup, this would be a good opportunity to use that.
I would suggest then booting to your El Capitan installer, then Disk Utility to erase your drive, then reinstall El Capitan to that freshly-erased hard drive. The "new user setup" after the system installs will give you the choice to use your Time Machine backup to get all your apps and files back.
One last thought: regardless of what you think about the condition of your internal hard drive, if you are restoring from scratch -- this can be a great opportunity to swap that old hard drive for an SSD. That's absolutely the best way to discover new life in your old mini.
 
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timidpimpin

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Yes, but only by selecting it in the startup disk preferences. Still no drives at all show when holding option.

I did get to the wifi menu that shows at the bottom of the drive picker after the last NVRAM reset, but it still didn't show ant drives at all.
 

DeltaMac

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I sometimes see a delay on that boot-picker screen. I usually get it to work with an NVRAM reset. Try that again, with this difference: continue to hold the Opt-Cmd-P-R keys until you hear the boot chime sound 4 times. I don't think you will ever find a technical reason for that, other than guesses that hardware "settles down better" after a couple of extra reset cycles. And, then simply release the other 3 keys (holding Option continually until you see that boot-picker screen appear. If you see the network chooser, then there's no reason to continue to hold the option key -- but just wait a few minutes longer.
So, wait for the boot drive(s) to appear. If you don't see anything, just continue waiting. 5 minutes, IMHO, should be long enough.
(Check that you don't have ANY other storage drives attached, other than the thumb drive and anything internal, of course.)
 
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Fishrrman

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OP wrote:
"Yes, but only by selecting it in the startup disk preferences. Still no drives at all show when holding option."

Off-the-wall thought...
Could you be having a problem with the option key on the keyboard?
Either, the key mechanism itself is bad, or...
... for some reason, the OS is not recognizing the option key AS BEING "the option key"?
 
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timidpimpin

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OP wrote:
"Yes, but only by selecting it in the startup disk preferences. Still no drives at all show when holding option."

Off-the-wall thought...
Could you be having a problem with the option key on the keyboard?
Either, the key mechanism itself is bad, or...
... for some reason, the OS is not recognizing the option key AS BEING "the option key"?
That's an interesting thought. I will look at that.

Still no go on getting it to work. I tried the 4 PRAM chime idea that @DeltaMac had, and still no drive picker screen love. This is very perplexing to say the least.
 

CoastalOR

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Jan 19, 2015
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OP: Did you try Disk Utility to check your Drive, as suggested by @DeltaMac? If the drive passes the DU test then...

How about trying a reinstall with the El Capitan full installer.
Do a fresh backup, download the full El Capitan installer from the App Store which will automatically launch and let it install over your current installation.

Let the installation complete then check to see if you can boot to the Recovery partition (CMD+r) and check for access to the Startup manager at boot up.
 
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DeltaMac

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How long did you wait for the boot-picker screen to appear?

I suspect that there is something wrong with the system installation, and CoastalOR has a great idea to reinstall El Capitan.
But, I would choose to use a bootable installer for that, and not just run the downloaded installer app for that. That, I think, will give you some assurance that there is nothing about the drive formatting that affects booting of your system The installer should take care of any formatting issues - or may even report that you have a problem with your hard drive - and you have the best chance for that report if you are booting to the installer, and not just running the installer app. I hope that makes sense.
 

timidpimpin

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This current install of El Capitan I'm using originates back to October 2016, so maybe that has something to do with it.

That's the last time I did a fresh install of the OS. Everything since then has either been a Time Machine restore, or a SuperDuper copy.

For the record... the Mini has a WD Black 750GB in the internal HD bay, and then a Samsung EVO 850 250GB SSD in an OWC data doubler. A drive adapter that allows you to install a second internal HD in the optical bay of the 2009 and 2010 Mini's. I boot from the SSD, and recently added the data doubler, but this issue existed before I even got the data doubler.
[doublepost=1551039702][/doublepost]
How long did you wait for the boot-picker screen to appear?
I have waited up to 5 min.
 
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timidpimpin

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I just did a fresh install onto a spare USB hard drive, and while I still can't get to the drive picker screen, I can at least now load the new recovery partition it put on the USB drive by using command + r.

Do you think the fact that the original install is still on the SSD is the cause of it still not getting to the picker screen?

My next task will be installing el cap over the original install, and if that doesn't work I will try a fresh install on the SSD. Then there would be no remnants of the original 2016 install left. I simply dread the idea of setting up everything again from the ground up. For me that's a solid week's worth of spare time gone.
 
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CoastalOR

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Jan 19, 2015
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This current install of El Capitan I'm using originates back to October 2016, so maybe that has something to do with it.

That's the last time I did a fresh install of the OS. Everything since then has either been a Time Machine restore, or a SuperDuper copy.

For the record... the Mini has a WD Black 750GB in the internal HD bay, and then a Samsung EVO 850 250GB SSD in an OWC data doubler. A drive adapter that allows you to install a second internal HD in the optical bay of the 2009 and 2010 Mini's. I boot from the SSD, and recently added the data doubler, but this issue existed before I even got the data doubler.
SuperDuper! clone does not copy the Recovery partition, so that could explain one of the problems. I use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) since it will also clone the Recovery partition.
 

timidpimpin

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SuperDuper! clone does not copy the Recovery partition, so that could explain one of the problems. I use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) since it will also clone the Recovery partition.
An extremely fair point... and I never even thought about that. Maybe I need to start using CCC.
[doublepost=1551050291][/doublepost]
OP: Did you try Disk Utility to check your Drive, as suggested by @DeltaMac? If the drive passes the DU test then...

How about trying a reinstall with the El Capitan full installer.
Do a fresh backup, download the full El Capitan installer from the App Store which will automatically launch and let it install over your current installation.

Let the installation complete then check to see if you can boot to the Recovery partition (CMD+r) and check for access to the Startup manager at boot up.
I did the DU test and it passed just fine. Next I will trying installing it over the current install on the SSD.
 

timidpimpin

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Good news! I reinstalled El Cap over itself on my SSD, and I can now load the drive picker screen, and it shows the recovery partition on the USB drive.

It takes about 1-2 minutes for the drives to come up though, and they all show at once. Before this issue the drives would all show within 5-10 seconds.
 
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DeltaMac

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I suggest that the slow loading in the boot-picker screen is possibly a symptom of a failing drive, likely the spinning hard drive. This could be the culprit, despite the fact that it might pass testing. Maybe just slow response from that drive, which Disk Utility doesn't really give you any information, just a pass, or fail. You might try a utility that will test and give full results for a SMART test. Even that may not really show anything that might cause slow response. In my experience, a slow-to-respond drive can just be a feeling - a suspicion that something isn't quite right.
You did say that the trouble started before you changed to the data doubler adapter.
So, one thing that is still the same would be that W-D hard drive, correct?
Test, by disconnecting that drive, then boot to the boot-picker screen. If it then responds like you remember, then you can look at the W-D as the source for that slow response. In that case - SSD prices keep going down... (Just think about it!)
 
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timidpimpin

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No, the SSD was the lone HD in there before the data doubler. The WD Black is only about a year old, and it performs exactly as it should. There is also no OS on the WD spinner, and never has been. So no recovery drive either.

Also... the issue existed before I put the WD in there. So I'm 99.99% sure that the issue is caused by the bad health of some part of the OS on the SSD. The SSD also performs exactly as it should.

I should also add that I have an enterprise level version of Disk Drill installed that watches for any SMART issues.
 
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timidpimpin

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Is there a possible firmware update for the SSD?
I will certainly look into that.

Regardless though... I will eventually be doing a complete reinstall and rebuild of the boot drive anyway. I used to do them annually, and never ran into issues. It also tends to speed your system up about 10%. This time it's been about 2.5 years since I have.

Let's consider this 99% resolved, and I will report back once I do a complete reinstall and rebuild of the drive. Then I will see if that improves the wait for the drive picker.

Thanks to all of you for your help on this!
 
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