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When good Macs go bad: Steps to take when your Mac won't start up

By Lex Friedman, Macworld
December 11, 2012 12:11 PM ET

Macworld - My friend Julian Velard is a musician and a geek. But as hard as JV drives his MacBook Pro -- and he does push it to its limits, using live audio plug-ins for his keyboards onstage -- when the computer acts up, I'm the one he texts for support. (Fair's fair: If I can't remember how to play a minor/major seventh, Julian's the one I call. Were all experts in something.)

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When Julian called late last week, his MacBook Pro wouldn't turn on; it would get stuck on the Gray Screen of Stomach Pain Inducement and never move forward. Over chat, phone, and then in person when he made the trek from Brooklyn to my New Jersey home, I walked JV through my steps for resuscitating a Mac that wont start up. Let me share them with you too, since you may not have my number.

Step 1: Run Disk Utility

If your Mac won't boot, there could be many issues at play. But the one I like to rule out right away -- or repair, if possible -- is any problem afflicting the hard drive. The easiest first step on that front is to run Disk Utility. On a Mac running Mountain Lion, you can run Disk Utility by booting into OS X Recovery Mode.

Make sure the Mac is off. (If its not responsive because its stuck on a gray, blue, or white screen, just hold down the Macs power button for several long seconds until it gives up and shuts off.) Hold down the Command and R keys, and power the Mac back up again.

Eventually, you'll end up on a screen headlined OS X Utilities. (Once you see that screen, you can release the keys you were holding down.) Click on Disk Utility. Then, click on your Macs built-in hard drive in the left column of Disk Utility. (Usually, you'll see two listings for your built-in drive: The first includes the drives size, like 500GB, in its name; and nested underneath it is your drives friendlier name. You want that second one.) On the lower right of the Disk Utility window, click Verify Disk, and then wait while Disk Utility does its thing.

In Julian's case, Disk Utility said that it had found errors and we ought to repair them. We clicked Repair Disk, and Disk Utility eventually claimed it had repaired some problems. But Julian's Mac was still misbehaving, so we moved on to step two.

Step 2: Safe Boot

Safe Boot limits what checks and functionality your Mac focuses on during startup, and performs certain diagnostics. Its rare, but sometimes you can get your unhappy Mac to start up successfully with a Safe Boot, and then restart it normally, and everything returns to hunky-doryness.

Shut the Mac down, and start it up while holding down Shift. Safe Boot can take a while if it does indeed work. To get some feedback about what's happening, you might choose to start up while holding down Shift, Command, and V: That enters both Safe Boot and something called Verbose Mode, which spits out some messages about what Safe Boot is actually trying to do as it goes.

Be patient during your Safe Boot. If the Mac does start up, restart it from the Apple menu once the desktop finishes loading completely. If the Mac starts up normally, go on with your day. Otherwise, keep working through this list. In JV's case, his Mac wouldn't restart normally following a successful Safe Boot. So, we moved on to the harder-core options.

Originally published on Click here to read the original story.

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