Getting files from a failed hard drive

September 18, 2009 By Jim Rossman

A friend whose iMac's hard drive had apparently died called recently, wondering how she might access the files on the failed drive.

Because she was using a Mac, she had an option that PC users lack: Target Disk Mode.

You use a FireWire cable to connect the "target" Mac (the one with the bad drive) to a working Mac. Then power on the target Mac and hold down the "T" key as you hear the start-up chime. A large FireWire symbol will show up on the target Mac's screen, usually in less than 20 seconds, meaning you can let go of the "T" key. That FireWire symbol will appear in different spots every few seconds like a screen saver.

If everything is working correctly, the target Mac's hard drive should show up as a second drive on the working Mac. Once that happens, you can open the drive and copy the files.

I've had to do this plenty of times. The tricky part is when the target Mac's is too far gone.

I've seen Target Disk Mode appear to be working, but if you happen to be copying a file that's on a bad place on the drive, you might just lock everything up.

If that happens, the FireWire symbol on the target Mac's screen will stop moving around. Feel free to try again. Press and hold the target Mac's power key until the screen goes dark and boot into target mode again.

If copying the same file or folder locks up the Mac again, try some other files. Sometimes certain files might be a lost cause. Sometimes the entire target drive is a goner.

My friend didn't have the best outcome, but at least she knows what steps to follow next time.

I don't know of a similar mode on Windows PCs, though I have had friends pull a bad drive out of a PC and use a specialized USB adapter or external drive enclosure to mount the drive for copying.

(c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News.
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3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 18, 2009
This makes little sense without further deeper explanation. IF the hard drive is broken, why would another motherboard make it work? What you seem to be talking about is some sort of motherboard problem, not unknown in Macs.
4 / 5 (4) Sep 18, 2009
I'd say a mac would be even more difficult to use if the hard drive had actually failed. In this case it seems it was another problem as the HDD could still be accessed.
not rated yet Sep 19, 2009
ignore bob_kob and ormondotvos. they didn't read the article. or they failed to understand what it clearly said. By powering up a mac and holding the letter T it uses the macs on board bios to change the function of a mac to work as a simple firewire hard drive enclosure that allows a second mac attached with a firewire cable to read the hard drive of the first mac just like is was removed and put in a physical hard drive enclosure.

Also when that fails. . . Data Rescue II worked for me. see the review here http://www.macwor...ue2.html and no I don't work for them, or get anything for this. P.s. people who don't pay for software and get to try all the stuff to see what really works and what's a rip off recommend data rescue II as one of the few worth the money they ask for.

finally, why is this on physorg when the info is freely available and has been for a long time in forums or just calling the mac support?
not rated yet Sep 19, 2009
designmemetic, you explained it better than the article did.

I don't know what the rationale was for having the article here, but I don't have the newest Mac, and didn't know about this feature. I do, however, have a PC with RAID, where I lost all my unbacked data. Who knows what the logic was of sticking this in physorg. If you hadn't said anything, I still wouldn't know.
5 / 5 (3) Sep 19, 2009
Macs have few software options compared with PCs. Mac owners can't do much unless Apple does it for them.

And it works because when clusters go bad on a hard drive (PCs or Macs) it has a chance of effecting the Operating System (OS), or the user's data, or both. If the corruption affects the OS, then it will not boot, so this built-in Mac feature allows another Mac with its own hard drive with a good OS to boot up and "slave" the bad hard drive. Meaning that you can access the files but the OS files (some fo which are bad) are not needed for booting.

You can do the same thing with PCs. It's just harder because you need to physically take out the drive and put it in another computer rather than the easier Mac way of using a firewire cable...

It won't be long until PC motherboard makers follow suit.
5 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2009
"I don't know of a similar mode on Windows PCs, though I have had friends pull a bad drive out of a PC and use a specialized USB adapter or external drive enclosure to mount the drive for copying."
Isn't this supposed to be somewhat scholarly? Writing so vaguely taints my opinion of's credibility.
Sep 20, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Sep 20, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2009
This is hilarious. Joeviocoe, you're absolutely right. Of course there's a way to do it on a PC. You make the drive a slave and copy the files. Of course you need to know how to follow a hard drive picture and move a jumper over. And if "you're a Mac" you don't know how to do that, because you've been drawn into a false sense of security by Apple making everything proprietary.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
@Joeviocoe -- I do not believe thsi would ever be a PC solution. Reason: This would have to be implemented at the Bios level before the OS takes control of the system. This means mobo makers would have to uniformly agree to implement this option. The only force strong enough to encourage this type of change in the non Apple market is MS or NVDIA IMHumbleO. Combined pressure from the HD manufactures might work but they rarely work together.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
@El Nose. You do know that BIOS level programming is only done by a few companies, right? I do very much agree with the rest, though, the fact that it probably won't be implemented. The fact is, why bother? All you need to do is switch a jumper. Bringing another computer into the mix would actually make the process more complicated. An now with eSATA you could probably switch the primary drive to an external one right in the BIOS without even opening up the computer.
not rated yet Sep 25, 2009
Writing so vaguely taints my opinion of's credibility.

You must not read much of variety on physorg then if this is all that has tainted your opinion of their credibility. This is just another internet media outlet that will put out anything if it gets them clicks.

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