I have a late-2010 MacBook Air (11inch, 3,1), running Snow Leopard. I hadn't run software update in a month or two, so I plugged it into the wall and ran software update last night. Unfortunately, the update failed, giving the informative message "An error occurred." Nothing happened for an hour or so after this, so I forced a restart.

Now the MBA won't boot up at all. It hangs on the grey screen, with the little grey wheel spinning forever. I was wondering what additional steps I should take before bringing it in to the apple store? I've already:

  1. Booted from the provided USB drive and repaired permissions. Permissions repair finds lots of SUID issues it can't repair, but I guess I can ignore these.
  2. Booted from the provided USB drive and run disk utility. It runs without issues.
  3. Re-installed Snow Leopard from the USB drive.
  4. Re-set PRAM
  5. Re-set the PMC
  6. Ran the apple hardware test (the short one, not the long one) from the USB drive. Everything passed.

None of these procedures fixed the issue. Ominously, when I try to boot in single user mode, this also fails. It displays lots of errors messages, and never actually gets to a command prompt.

Have there been any recent firmware updates for the 3,1 macbook airs? It doesn't seem to be a software problem, but I'm stumped, and any help is appreciated.

Thank you.

Edit: Here's what the screen looks like: Gray Screen

Edit 2: I did a "Safe Boot" and that appears to hang too. Here's the last few lines of output:

fsck_hfs: Volume is journaled. No checking performed
fsck_hfs: Use the -f option to force checking
launchctl: Please convert the following to launchd: /etc/mach_init.d/dashboardadvisory.plist
systemShutdown false
AppleMCP89TMS::powerGatingDown(0): Done

and nothing more for over an hour now.

  • Do you know what update you were installing that failed?
    – Daniel
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 14:07
  • Is the Apple Logo drawn on the grey screen? This will narrow down exactly what part of the boot is failing. You might also boot in verbose mode to see what exact step is the last to execute. Knowing what step is the last to run might help us help you.
    – bmike
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 15:59
  • @Daniel: Unfortunately no. It's actually my girlfriend's laptop. She hasn't updated in a while, and it was a few hours into the process before I figured out something was wrong.
    – Zach
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 16:35
  • @bmike: The Apple Logo is drawn on the screen. I'll boot in verbose mode in a few minutes and let you know what I see.
    – Zach
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 16:37

3 Answers 3


You can try the following steps :

  1. Backup all your data
  2. Perform a clean install from the Apple-provided USB drive (boot from the drive, choose your language, then go in the utilities -> Disk Utility. There, you can re-create a new partition in order to eliminate drive partitionning problems).
  3. quit the utility and re-install SL

If nothing helps, that probably means that the mac encountered a hardware problem.

Perhaps you could post here the error messages you encounter in single user mode, that could help understand the problem.

  • Unfortunately, my external HD just died (when it rains it pours, amirite?). I have a new one coming from amazon that should be here Tuesday, at which point I'll do a backup and and complete wipe and re-install.
    – Zach
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 16:39

If single user mode boot fails, the OS is broken on a fundamental level and since you already did the reinstallation of Snow Leopard the mac now should boot into safe mode or single user mode if it were working properly.

No matter how bad your user account or third party software was corrupted, a safe boot after a reinstallation of the OS should work. It's odd the installation didn't flag an error since i've almost never seen an install complete and not be able to get a safe boot/single user mode boot afterwards.

You did a great job of following the steps in Mac OS X: Gray screen appears during startup - I'm assuming you checked the peripherals, etc...

It's probably time to make a call to Apple for service, but if you care to try some more - here are two things I would do.

  1. fire up disk utility and repartition the drive - make three partitions to see it can accept a new partition map, then make it back to one.
  2. write zeroes to the entire drive

It's rare, but sometimes the drive needs to be really cleaned out and installing into the existing partition clearly didn't help you. Both of these make it almost impossible for even a professional to do data recovery if you don't have a backup - so use care before trying these.

  • I did not know about "safe boot" or that "grey screen" article. Thanks for the tips. I'll post the results of a safe-boot in a few minutes.
    – Zach
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 16:42
  • I did a safe boot and appended the result to my original question. The safe boot seems to fail.
    – Zach
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 17:06
  • 1
    I would recommend against doing a write all zeros on an SSD - it doesn't really do the same thing that it does on a disk and you use up quite a few of the write/erase cycles. The repartition sounds like a good idea.
    – cftarnas
    Commented Aug 15, 2011 at 17:22

Try checking your /var/log/system.log and look for some recent errors. In my case the curl library was broken (dyld: Library not loaded: /usr/lib/libcurl.4.dylib) after PLAY ONLINE modem installation, so I've fixed it by copying it from MAMP directory.

See also some command-line hints here: http://www.westwind.com/reference/os-x/commandline/single-user.html

As well as Startup key combinations for Intel-based Macs: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1533

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