MacBook – Flashing Question Mark Folder on Startup

I have been having alot of fun with my MacBok of late. I think one of the kids sat on the screen and cracked the LCD screen, and I have been putting off getting that fixed, due to both the cost and downtime involved. This will have to be addressed soon though as the cracked smudge is spreading rather rapidly across the screen and people are commenting on the fantastic screensaver I have.

Prior to the broken LCD screen I had a problem, which a number of people seem to have, where on bootup a question mark folder appears, accompanied by around 5 clicking noises. All this seems to point to a faulty hard drive. Well after googling for a solution and finding none that worked for me I have discovered one that does work.

The question mark folder, as most people have found out, is a result of the MacBook not being able to determine a valid operating system location. This can point to a faulty hard drive, but in my situation it appears to be something else. Now this has happened to me a few times so I really need to get a permanent solution, but I have a workaround that enabled me to recover long enough to get a time machine backup, and continue operating.

Firstly, I strongly recommend you follow all the proposed resolutions to the problem, as your situation maybe resolved by following one of these processes, eg resetting PRAM

You can start here: –

If none of these fixes work for you as they did not with me, then what I ended up doing is taking out the battery. This is a very simple procedure of turning the screw on the back 45 degrees and removing the battery module. Once you have removed it, wait a few seconds, replace it in slot and power the macbook on again. If this does not work then I would suggest removing and reinserting the hard drive using these instructions (this is for swapping drives but can obviously be used to reinsert the same drive).

I have used this workaround a couple of times in the last 3 months and it appears that my disk is not faulty as I ran a first aid disk utility over the disk by using the Disk Utility and it reported no faults. Some of you guys may have genuine hard drive faults and this will not work for you, but for those of you who dont, this will work and save you some quid. Any further insight into this is welcome.

8 thoughts on “MacBook – Flashing Question Mark Folder on Startup

  1. Hi Nick.
    I have the same problem:
    Flashing question mark folder on startup;
    No hard drive shown in in disk utility when booted with the OSX installation disk.
    Only I’ve never dropped this computer, but I have moved it around a lot using it as a DVD player.
    The computer starts normally if it has been left alone for a half an hour or so, but once you switch it off it’s screwed, and you’re back to the wait.
    The computer gets really hot on top of the screen, but it’s some time after the aluminium cools before it will switch on normally- I’m not so sure anymore the two are related.
    Anyway, when it does come on it works well to a point, but given any kind of workload (operating a couple of programs at once) it then just loses it, coloured pinwheels and all that crap.
    The flashing folder thing started a couple of months ago, but the pinwheels and freezes during operation have started happening only recently, maybe a week or two, and now it’s getting BAD!
    The kind of bad where you’ve got about 50gig of personal stuff you actually want to keep, no external drive that works for mac, and the friggin’ imac can’t copy stuff onto a big USB card fast enough: It says like, I’m gonna take 35 hours to do this, man! And then it punks out, can’t deliver the goods.!
    Well, er.
    This is driving me crazy- What do I do?
    During normal ops the disk utility won’t finish verifying the drive when it does appear, much less let me press that elusive “repair drive” button.
    Anyone! Please Help! If you know anything, say something!

  2. Thankkkk You!!!!!! I was NOT ready to give up on my macbook after everything was pointing to faulty harddrive…. and sure enough…. a battery pull was the simple quick solution and Ta-Da!! all my things are still there!!! Love it.

    1. Hi Tania,

      Glad it helped.

      I am amazed at the number of occurences of this problem. There should be something more official on it from Apple.

      Thanks for feedback

  3. Hi, Nick.

    I was having the same problem. Taking the battery out and putting it back in worked. I’m in love with you. 🙂

  4. mine also made the clicking noise so thought it would be hard drive failure. took battery out , and put it back in and its fixed itself just from that!

  5. My macbook has done this around 5 times over a 2 yr period now. Seems to be whenever the laptop is closed with too much vigour. The Mac store people told me the first time it happened that the HD needed replacing and all my data was lost…

    I have found a low tech fix… while it is making the clicking noise I give a gentle but firm slap to the bottom of the hard drive. Has worked everytime most recently just 10 minutes ago!

    I am guessing the spinning disc can get out of alignment and that a gentle tap can be enough to rebalance it… but am sure there is a more technical explanation.

  6. Just want to share this story.
    I have a Mid2009 Macbook Pro (MBP) – model A1278

    – Got the questionmark sign by starting up the laptop
    – Disk Utilities didn’t reconized the HDD
    – Opened the MBP, removed the HDD, put it in a External Sata drive case
    – Connected the drive via USB to the MBP
    – Disk was reconized by Disk Utilities after starting up with Mac OS Dvd
    – Repaired disk
    – Put back the disk, but still question mark sign
    – Called Icentre and they told me that the cable from the Mainboard to the HDD might be defective. The SATA driver on the mainboard hardly never fail (they told me)
    – Purchased a new HDD cable via Ebay (nr 821-0814-A)
    – Replaced the HDD cable to the original HDD and laptop restarted.
    – Due to the fault, the HDD might have damages.
    – I bought the following disk: Seagate Harddisk 2.5″ 500GB, SATA300, Hybrid 4GB, ST95005620AS

    Yesterday after all software installations I got all the time the spinning colored wheel, but today my MBP is working fine and I hope it stays like this.

    Hope this info is helpfull for others who have the same problem as I had.
    Most of the time you got the questionmark sign, you software is corrupted or your HDD cable is defect.

    MBP Mid2009 can go up to a max of 500Gb (is what Icentre told me and is what you can find on the internet)


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