The blinking folder and question mark is bad, right?

Just over a year after buying my Macbook and it has quite possibly died. While using it, it stalled, keyboard wouldn’t respond, and I had to shut it down. When I started it up again I heard 3 distinct clicks which is never a good thing, and after a few minutes of staring at a grey screen a flashing folder appeared with a question mark in the middle.

It has happened to others and the prognosis isn’t good. A reinstall of Mac OS X is required, but those clicks I heard disturb me. I get the feeling I’ll be finding out how good Apple Support are. Does anyone know how to eject a DVD without the OS running? The Bourne Supremacy is in the drive and I haven’t even watched it yet!

I’m paranoid about backups, and what has been bugging me over the last few weeks is that all my email was on the Macbook, and I hadn’t got around to backing it up because the wireless connection was too slow. I’ll find an older Thunderbird directory on my Linux box and fire that up, but if you’ve sent me email over the last few weeks that needs a reply, send it again. I think I’ll allow Gmail to store my mail in future.

If for some reason the machine can’t be resurrected, it’s definitely the last Mac I’ll buy. What with the flickering screen too, I think I might be better off spending the extra pennies on better hardware from a PC manufacturer.

Update! I rang Apple, who put me on to their local reseller/fixer-upper, and they have the laptop. Hopefully I’ll hear back from them before the end of the week. They’ll try to fix the flickering screen too. That’s apparently caused by a missing piece of rubber on the mother board.

Update on Aug 24! The service center rang yesterday evening to say the machine is fixed so I picked it up this morning. All data is gone but I won’t put anything on there I can’t afford to lose. I hope the flickering screen problem is gone now as they replaced a “board, inverter” and “cable, inverter” too. OS X is 10.4.10, and Software Update picked up one iPhoto update. Now to reinstall Firefox and other apps ..

58 thoughts on “The blinking folder and question mark is bad, right?

  1. Uugh. I know what that’s like. You go to check your mail and then for a minute you realize you may never see any of those messages again. Makes you feel kind of sick at your stomach. 🙁

    Sorry to hear about the possible death of your Mac, but just remember it can happen on a PC too. Don’t know how many times I’ve lived through this thusfar.

    One strategy I have adopted however is to use Foldershare to keep a near-realtime backup of all my important stuff on another machine.

    Essentially the software mirrors content between directories you set up through an encrypted session via the Internet. It’s not fast – typically using only about 50-70kbps, but since you leave it on all the time it just keeps doing it’s thing in the background keeping all of your files synced.

    This allows you not to worry about having to wait for large files to backup because they just do it on their own constantly.

    Give it a try and see if it’s of use to you. It’s free!


  2. Is the clicking coming from the hard disc? It could be HD failure, I might have something to help that (mail me directly while I ask more questions)

    as for the DVD, there should be a little hole somewhere on it. Typically you can poke a paper clip in there and it will release the drawer (or force an eject).

    1. I had the same problem with my Mac and the blinking folder with question mark however mine doesn’t seem to be making any weird noises and I can’t figure out a way to get it back on and I have too much info on that computer not to somehow save it. Any advice because I definitely need that info. 🙁

      1. I have the same problem — to reboot, hold down the “option” key and then you will see a disk icon in the middle of the scree and an arrow key on the right side of the screen — click on that arrow.
        There is another icon on the left, which I did not try clicking on.
        But for now, that is how I am getting by — I need to update my
        OS system and will do it soon.

      2. Heyyyyy I had that problem and I fixed it by booting up my Mac and holding down shift as soon as I hear the chime it boots up in safe mode. Then when u restart it’s fixed. Please reply of helpful

    2. Last night my Macbook pro froze and i restarted it. Now i’m getting the blinking folder when it starts. The thing is i’ve had this notebook for about 2-3 years and have no clue where my start up disc is. What should i do in this situation?

    3. Hey my macbook pro has gotten the blinking folder is there any way i can personally fix it without bringing it in like holding keys fown or using the cd i got with the computer

  3. Stumbled upon your site using google (the os x hosts article).

    Had this problem recently… this may or may not fix your problem:

    pop in os x CD and hold C while the computer boots

    go to the disk utility and run a repair on the disk. when this happened to me it was because my home directory’s permissions had somehow gotten screwed up.

    Anyway, hope you fix your problem… but Apple should replace a failed piece of hardware if you go to the store and sweet talk the store manager (and for free, too).

  4. Thank you all for the suggestions, and I’ll try the paper clip trick tomorrow. I did spend the extra bit of cash on the 3 year Applecare protection plan and there’s a phone number to call but that will have to wait until Monday.

    I generally use backuppc on my Linux box for backups, but it was horribly slow over the wireless connection, and actually killed the networking on the Dell D630 because of the amount of traffic, and beause it has to use a Windows driver I think.

    Yes, I’ve heard the click of death before too, and lost a month’s worth of photos from Chicago because of it. No matter how many backups one makes a crash still bites hard. Grr.

  5. My ibook shows that icon also, but thats just because i changed the hdd. there is other stuff wrong with it. most days it won’t start up at all and the screen just stays black.

  6. On older macs, you can eject removeable media (I forget if this only works for the floppy or for the CD as well) by holding down the mouse button while the system powers on. I’m not sure if this still works on newer systems.

  7. Sadly with the MacBook there is no hole for a paper clip.

    Which needless to say is an absolute pisser.

    I have to agree with Dan, the clicking noise is almost certainly the hard drive. I would love to know the make of the disk itself because there has been some problems with Fujitsu disks, not just in Macs.

    Anyway, to eject the DVD/CD make sure it is powered off, then press turn it on holding down the F12 key.

    Just tested it on my own MacBook and it worked.

  8. Bummer dude. I have a five year old iBook and three years in I heard noises that worried me. Soon after the hard drive died. Apart from that however it hasn’t missed a beat for five years and a lot of abuse.

    To eject the DVD, another trick is to hold down the mouse button as the computer starts up. Has worked for me in the past.

  9. JDM and The Swiss Job – holding down the mouse button worked and the DVD ejected. Thanks! I’m going to try the AppleCare CD, it might be able to tell me more, but I suspect it’ll just say it can’t find the drive.

  10. Thanks Twenty for the link but I think the disk is possibly too far gone. The click click sound usually means a physical failure unfortunately 🙁

    I’ll send them an email, just in case.

  11. Ugh!
    I’d be screwed as well what with my Mac being dead. It’s even a pain in the ass to pull data off the HD. I’m thinking a NAS box with a RAID 6 volume for passwords, mail, music, movies, photos to ensure I don’t end up in the same situation the next time I suffer a hardware failure.

    Fortunately I started using GMail to check my POP accounts at the start of this year so the past six months of mail is archived online.

    The 9 years of other email however is still sitting on the Mac’s HD..

  12. 9 years of email? You used to make fun of my obsessive archiving of my mail! hehe.

    I need to dig up my old Thunderbird folder and get things working again. I think I may have lost the last year’s worth of email though.

  13. Todays massive hard drives are a boon and a curse. It made me lazy about deleting stuff. I was thinking of using an online backup vendor like Carbonite or Moxy but the question is if I want a DR restore via broadband and a crummy upload speed?

    Lets face it, we’re all too lazy to bother with backup. It either happens in the background or it won’t get done.

  14. I have a Western Digital external that does that some times — three clicks, then it spins down and plays dead. What happens is that the drive runs really, really hot, and it either shuts down thermally, or the connectors work loose due to the heat expansion and contraction. I’ve modified the case so I can slip it off to cool, and so that I can reseat the connectors. Usually, once the connectors are reseated, it runs fine — for a while.

  15. yup had the same blank screen folder with question mark crisis as well…and it is not a good thing at all….

    my mac crashed in the middle of my dj set with a packed nightclub floor on saturday, sound went out first, then the swirly thing, i panicked, i did a “hard power down”, pulled out the battery, replaced it to only see the question marked folder of death….
    after i sobbed for a few minutes in my car, i went home…the next day my buddy said to make an appt to see an “apple genius” at the apple store at the grove in la, went and he told me the HD was fried…oh well…
    i wanted a 2nd opinion, so i went to the mac store in manhattan beach, yup same thing, no HD detected, and my warranty had just run out too…dammit!!!
    so now im searching for HD’s on ebay…

    i lost all my stuff, music, emails, remixes, music i was working on with production software, GONE…i backed a few things up here and there, but not thoroughly..

    and this was my first mac….i think im going back to PC soon…..

  16. so last christmas i gave my mom a macbook for christmas and went i got to my house this friday she gives it to me and tells me i got a blinking folder seems to be this problem and by now im guessing the Hd failed because it doesn’t do anything at all when i try the options is kinda sad.

  17. Hi my name is Anthony and I also got the folder with the question mark!! 🙁 It’s a very sad thing really it never ever happened to me when using windows. I would just take the hard drive out and that was it. It’s my firt mac and to tell you the truth I’m not that happy. I hope that we all learn a lesson and let’s all make backup’s!!

  18. I have the same problem, but i cant find the cd. My brother just purchased a mac book pro, can i use his cd even though it is lepard.

  19. Hey, ya sadly my mac book froze in the middle of surfing the web and when i turned it back on i herd 3 clicks, which made my heart drop, =[, so by now i know there is’t much any one can do for it but is there any possible way to get that information, Geren you say on your external HD, you just reconnect something, is there any way i can do that for my mac HD to fix it temporarly to get my data back, and i have djed a few times with my mac, that sucks it failed in the middle thank you

  20. Your hardware is no different to anyone elses. All computers, hard drives and processors will die some day. Add to this that any warning you get is likely more than a tell tale sign of trouble but a post disaster obviousness. In essence you cant restore unless you have previously backed up and secured your backup. This is not helpful to the original poter who lost all his data but will be helpful to you if you heed it. I backup on line. There are a large number of companies doing this.

  21. Just a note: this is the second time this has happened to my work MB in the past 2 months. The computer isn’t even 6 months old and all I use it for is programming.

  22. I have the same thing and my MB is only 3 months old! Shitty quality overprized Apple! I’m going back to PC. Never had any problems with them. I wanted more processorpower with Mac for music programs but everything seems to be a problem with it. PC:s have the same power and more anyhow.

    I’m soooooooooooooooooooooooo disappointted! What a sad, sad day for me and for rotten Apple.

  23. got the flashing question mark folder 2 weeks ago, the hd is dead, didn’t get boot disc with it and cant buy it in the store (tiger), rang apple and need to get it looked at, luckily i rang on the 25th june and my warranty went up on the 27th, would still stick with mac no matter what though

  24. I have the same problem. My macbook, purchased very recently, towards the end of June 2008…I’m not even sure if its a month old…turns on…loads for a while…and then all of a sudden the folder pops up…but i dont hear the clicking noise…also…wen ii put in the install disc for mac os x leopard…i saw that macintosh hd was in the left pane in disc utility but wen i went to startup disk macintosh hd wasn’t there….so wen i got fed up wit it..i decided to reinstall mac os x…but about 3 minutes into the installation it said that the installation failed…what should i do???

  25. Dude i went through the same thing listen Boot Your ibook and hold “X” and it will boot and keep holding it and it will restart and still holding it it should reboot back on OS X…..Hope that helps

  26. thanks robert about the F12 eject disk trick. my mac is still stuffed with the flashing question mark folder thiung. will try more.

  27. i have had my macbook for 3 days and the folder thing has happened. this is extremely frustrating. gah.

    1. Bring it to the apple store – they’ll clean up your hard drive & desktop, most likely & get you going. Whether under warranty or not it’s a relatively easy fix, and doesn’t always mean the hard drive has crashed. I just came back from the Apple store with this problem & is working great now.

  28. I have had that problem too. I am sorry to hear it because it is such a pain to get taken care of.

  29. Grrrr! the EXACT same thing has happened to my macbook! im really not pleased to hear i will lose all my data my LIFE is on it!! 🙁
    damn it!

  30. ohhh and 1 more thing any1 who has this problem with a cd stuck in there macbook, (yes there is no hole to stick a paper clip in) i got mine out by holding down the eject button 4 about 2 mins as it powered up after that the cd poped out

  31. I’ve got the folder with the flashing question mark. Bought the mb back in December 07 and poof, don’t work no more. The first strange message I recieved on it when I was typing was a Alert-could not locate Spell Check. Tryed to reboot because it was frozen then I got the question mark. I think we have a year on the warrenty. Lost everything. I’m buying a pc, never liked the mac from the get go.


    I had this happen to me a year ago (and yesterday it happened again). Go get a fire cable and you can transfer all your stuff to another Mac. Then, you can go in and erase your entire hard drive and start fresh. Then transfer all your stuff back onto your computer. I did this and although it was a huge pain, it worked!

  33. All hope is not lost at all!

    I’m a 2nd year Biomed student and this happened to me A WEEK BEFORE FINALS! Losing my notes, lectures, labs, and research was not an option. Here’s what I did.

    My Macbook Pro would NOT recognize my drive and I tried everything! I finally took apart the computer and took out the hard drive. I used sata 2.5″ external case (to usb) and hooked the drive into a windows (yes windows) based computer. Then I used a program called HFSExplorer 0.20.1 to recognize the drive. Then I used the extract option to copy all of my files to another external hard drive. I have a Time Machine backup (of 42 days ago… I was without my drive for a little while) and plan to start over using that image. Good luck to all.

  34. im in the middle of a HDD crisis.. im getting the folder with ? too.. but now i get an apple with a thing moving round n round like trying to load.. but it wont load.. :S

    i tried disk repair but it goes to gathering information but doesn’t go above that and i cannot reinstall os x again caz when i go to the installation it wont recognize the the HD but it does at the beginning.. strange..

    anyway i hav warranty so i can get a new HD but i need to transfer my data.. hey Tommy at what stage do you plug in the firewire cable?? can i use a PC to copy the data from..

    if not il hav to try Bennets pulling apart the hard drive method..

  35. I have the same problem, but with the extra fun of my dvd/cd drive already being broken (months ago). Anyone know how I can work around the dvd/cd drive as I try some of these solutions? Can I just plug in a fire cable to another machine and try to use an OS X cd from there?

  36. I got the question mark and replaced my hard drive, but disk utility still won’t recognize a drive even being there. Any suggestions?

  37. I had the question mark file folder of death on my macbook pro, and I brought it to the genius bar at the Apple store where they were able to help me to make space on my startup disk by deleting redundant files, loading a new version of OS, and voila, the computer is working fine – no cost & under an hour!

  38. Just had the same problem, easily resolved with Phil’s advice; reboot with os disks, run disk repair in disk utility, restart, and hey presto, much relief! Now I’m gonna back up everything before i really lose the HD!

    Thanks Phil!

  39. omg.
    basically the apple stores are robbing you by saying that you need a new hard drive. if you see this folder with the question mark it just means that your disc has stopped spinning and you need to make it spin.all you need to do is put your mac book on a straight surface and bang it a bit. then turn it on and it works perfectly. my friend spent money on a new hard drive and returned it because all i did was bang it andthen it started to work.
    trust me it works.

    hope i helped x

  40. Hey Deepika! thanks for the bang bang tip lol…it worked for so happy now I would die if my apple mac died

  41. Deepika, thanks so much for the tip! It worked… I could not believe it…
    Basically, as you said, I just put it on the floor and then I “banged” it a little bit with my fist… and then it turned on again!!! wow!!
    thanks again for the great tip!!!

  42. I recently had an issue with my mac where the folder with the question mark popped up and I couldn’t do anything. Took it in to an apple store and the guy told me it was the logic board and it wasn’t worth fixing. Needless to say I was not happy that my 3.5 year old computer was completely dead. So I took it to another apple store the next day and was told it was either the harddrive or the keyboard, but definitely not the logic board. Since the plastic on the computer was cracked, he said they would replace that for free and at the same time replace the keyboard for free. They called me a few hours later and said it was the keyboard and my computer is now fixed. I’m not really tech savvy so I’m not exactly sure how the keyboard affected the entire computer, but I’m just happy it works.

    As a side note, I would not recommend the Short Hills, New Jersey apple store to anyone. The people there are very rude and not willing to help. On the other hand the Bridgewater, NJ store is great!. The techs there are very knowledgable and will actually try to fix the problem instead of telling you that you need to buy a brand new computer.

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