I have an iMac 2008/2009 issue and recently the computer would not boot and I would get a flashing question mark. Ran through all the usual steps, try boot in safe mode, flash RAM, try single user for fdisk, put in OS disk and boot from CD, etc... No dice.

Replaced the hard drive and put the OS disc in the system, press and hold option. (holding C didn't work) I can see the OS disk but when I click on it the system will act like it is going to run and then freeze. The best I got was the OS X disc that changed the screen to dark grey and told be the system had to restart.

Purchased a usb mount for an external hard drive. Was able to mount the old hard drive to a laptop and run disk utility. Everything checked out.

At this point I am pretty sure it isn't the hard drive.

Any other hard ware items this can point too? My iMAC can also "see" the hard drive (and the recovery partition) when connected via the USB and I hold "option" on start up. But it crashes when trying to boot from either.

I am going to take out and re-install the RAM for giggles but I am not sure what else to do.

Ideas are welcome.

  • Flashing question mark usually means the startup disk can not be found. Booting from the DVD like you did is a good option. Can you boot he iMac from an external drive (like the one you bought)? Pressing Alt during boot will find it. Furthermore, can you boot your secondary mac from the harddrive or install DVD? (it might be broken as well). You can run RAM checks with Command-R (? not 100% shure) at bootup, but that will take a while. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 14:20
  • I can get the mac to boot as far as asking if I want to boot from the external hard drive or OS dics. Once I select it fails. So the computer is recognizing the CD/DVD drive and the USB and can read from them at some point in time.
    – zerob
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 17:28
  • Can your working computer boot from the broken computers disk? Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 7:08

3 Answers 3


If you see a folder with a question mark appear instead of the Apple logo, it means your Mac couldn't find a local or network-based startup disk. This can happen if the disk selected in the Startup Disk pane of System Preferences isn't available. Wait a few seconds to see if your Mac is able to locate the startup disk you specified.

If you still see a question mark after waiting a few seconds, use Startup Manager to start up your Mac, then select your startup disk from System Preferences.

If a question mark appears after you install a software update, select your startup disk again using macOS Recovery (Power off Mac, then power it on while holding Command+R until you see the Apple logo).

Reference: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204156


You need a USB drive with a bootable OS/installer on it to test this...

This is probably a long shot but, open the machine and disconnect the SATA cable that connects to your optical drive. Leave the cable disconnected and attempt to boot up the machine via USB. If everything works try connecting the SATA cable for the optical drive again and retest. My theory is the optical drive's SATA cable may be malfunctioning and causing interference on the SATA bus, making it look like a hard drive failure.

Its worth a try, if it doesn't work please let me know.


Understanding the process of events, is sometimes 1/2 of the way to a solution.

When you turn on the power to a Mac, it activates the BootROM firmware.


which is part of the computer’s hardware, has two primary responsibilities: It initializes system hardware and it selects an operating system to run. Two

BootROM components carry out these functions:

• Power-On Self Test (POST) initializes some hardware interfaces and verifies that sufficient memory is available and in a good state.

• Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) does basic hardware initialization and selects which operating system to use.

If multiple OS installations are available, BootROM chooses the one that was last selected by the Startup Disk System Preference. The user can override this choice by holding down the Option key while the computer starts up, which causes EFI to display a screefor choosing the startup volume.

EFI can get corrupted in rare cases, and needs to be restored.

  • Holding down option is the only way I can get anywhere. And it can read the disc and the external hard drive connect via USB b/c when I do hold down option I get all the choices. I will look into EFI and how to restore. Worth a shot.
    – zerob
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 17:30

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