I have a MacBook Pro with a dying hard drive. It was working poorly for the last month or so and the last 4 times I turned it on it booted correctly once, issued a boot sector not found twice and a kernel panic the remaining time.

I have backups but I'd rather try to get the information from that hard drive (it's more up to date). My original plan was to just plug it in and let macosx migrate the account, but I don't think that's such a good idea as the hard drive is so flaky.

My current plan is to copy everything to a directory using rsync so I can re-issue the command as many times as needed until everything is copied succesfully.

Does anybody have any advice?

I also have some questions:

  • Once I have everything in an alternate directory, how do I restore the configuration of a running macosx? Should I do it with a sparate account.

  • My current installation is using FileVault. Should I try opening and then rsyncing or should I try rsyncing the big bundle file?

  • Use caution with rsync - if good data goes bad, you can overwrite the good destination on subsequent passes. if it weren't for file vault I would recommend data rescue. It dances around bad data far better than rsync can.
    – bmike
    Jul 22, 2011 at 1:31

4 Answers 4


Use the drive as little as possible. Plug it into an enclosure or simply boot the machine in TDM mode and connect it to another machine.

Pull over only the files you need (to minimize the time you spend accessing the drive).

You may want to do something like, just your ~/Desktop, ~/Documents, ~/Pictures, ~/Library/Mail, and ~/Library/Mail Downloads.

Do either: a) the biggest folders last, again, so that if the drive suddenly dies on you, you got as much stuff off it as possible, or; b) the most important folders first, such as any pictures you don't have backed up.

  • 1
    Always most important = least replaceable first. If you are serious and the data you need is not encrypted, data rescue and an external sled can not be beat.
    – bmike
    Jul 22, 2011 at 1:33

Can I suggest you go back in a time a month and hit the person using the computer with a a large stick screaming "Always immediately replace a failing drive. Always immediately replace a failing drive. Always immediately replace a failing drive. Always immediately replace a failing drive." I suggest you do this until blood is oozing out his ears because that guy back a month is extremely slow on the uptake.

Boot off another drive. Pray to whatever God you most trust (or Stephen Fry if, like me, you are an atheist).

Anything that is totally irreplaceable, such as photos, get off as quickly as possible using drag and drop in the Finder and forget the rest. (Of course you might want to ask yourself why you put the only copy of irreplaceable photos on a failing disk drive. Take out the stick again while asking the question.)


If you have a PC available, you could run Spinrite on the drive to try to recover the data on those bad sectors.


Sometimes it's best to use Terminal to copy data from a failing drive, it's always worked for me. Mount the failing drive using either Target disk mode or using a Hard Drive caddy(Enclosure). In Terminal use the command SUDO then drag the folders you want to copy into the terminal window in the format "SOURCE then Destination" There is a space after a SUDO command.

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