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A couple of days ago, my three-year-old iMac locked up. When I rebooted it, it only displayed a folder icon with a flashing question mark. After a couple more reboot attempts, it booted. I ran Disk Utility, which told me that the file system was corrupted and needed repair.

I booted with my Snow Leopard DVD, did a repair with Disk Utility, and now everything seems fine.

My questions: Should I be worried about my drive? Should I go ahead and replace it now, or wait to see whether there are any more problems?

(FWIW, I've already purchased a replacement drive, and plan to replace it at some point. I'm really wondering whether I should do it as soon as possible, or whether it can wait until I have nothing better to do on a weekend.)

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IIRC some iMacs have problems after replacing the hard drive –  user6124 Jun 25 '11 at 7:51
    
Mid 2009 iMac models and later have temperature sensors and/or firmware on drives. Putting in a drive that isn't exact can cause iMac blowers to run faster than if the temp sensor was present. This shouldn't be a problem with a three year old iMac. –  bmike Jun 25 '11 at 17:05

3 Answers 3

Short answers to your questions:

  1. Some concern over the drive is good, noticing there may be an issue and proactively thinking about what could happen is a good place to start. If you don't already, I would make a backup/clone of the entire drive or at least a backup of all the files important to you. Think if the HD goes bad tomorrow and you could get nothing recovered from it, what would you say "I wish I had a copy of..."

  2. If you have a backup and see no performance degradation I'd say use the drive until it dies. Unless the new drive is bigger and faster. Then, you are killing two birds with one stone. Getting rid of a potentially bad drive and upgrading.

Some background:

The folder with a question mark means that upon booting the iMac can't find an operating system. This can happen because the hard drive is going bad, is bad or it can't find a startup disc (HD or other). This can be related to physical hardware or software issues.

Had you done any recent system updates prior to the machine freezing up? Sometimes after an update, example 10.6.7>10.6.8 some corruption can occur. If not, it still does not 100% rule out some sort of OS/software issue.

Did you recently boot from an external HD, netboot or optical disk? Sometimes the OS cannot find the last disk it was booting from and you will quickly see the folder with question mark flash on the screen, but then the machine sees an operating system and boots from it. I would look in System Preferences>Startup Disk and make sure you select the drive you want to boot from. Most likely, Macintosh HD, unless you renamed your HD. Press the restart button and now it knows for sure to use that drive to start from.

Disk Utility is usually pretty good and seeing errors and then correcting them. This could be a simple directory issue that is now fixed and it won't happen again or it could be the early stages of a failing drive. You could purchase any one of many software disc checking tools to see if the drive is having hardware malfunctions or has bad blocks. Disk Warrior is excellent and so is Drive Genius. Unless you plan on using these utilities a lot, it may not make $ense to buy them and rather just use the replacement HD you purchased.

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I would check the SMART status of the drive. It can be an early warning sign.

Or better yet, you can try to run the Seagate Seatools for DOS on your mac via CD. It's compatible with every iMac, but if it works with your Mac, you can do detail diagnosis on the drive.

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The only true way to know is to isolate the drive from the mac. I wouldn't go in and replace a drive based on needing an erase install. Maybe on my third erase/install I would for a home machine.

A work machine is different, since down time is usually more costly than paying a tech to replace the drive if it's failing diagnostics and to know professionally when it's time to do a swap.

Unless there are hard problems like SMART failure, DriveGenius reporting failures of many blocks or a very large slow down of raw speeds, it might be too early to go in and do a swap based on evidence rather than a hunch.

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