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I got the flashing folder with a question mark on my 2014 MacBook Pro, running High Sierra. Internet Recovery looked like my only option. The recovery version of the OS loaded and I was able to get to Disk Utility. Unfortunately, all I can see is OS X Base System:

A screenshot of details in Disk Utility

There is only one disk image visible and here is some of the info:

  • Volume name: OS X Base System
  • BSD device node: disk0s1
  • Volume capacity: 2.01 GB
  • Available space: 721.2 MB
  • Bootable: No
  • Disk number: 0
  • Partition number: 1
  • Ejectable: Yes
  • Parent disks: disk0

It seems, most likely, I have an issue with the SSD or the physical connectors to the SSD. If that is the case, where is this OS X Base System being stored? Is it stored on my SSD somehow or is it using RAM or is there some hidden storage somewhere that I don't know about?

3 Answers 3

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The installer creates a RAM drive (a disk container in the systems memory) that can mount like a normal file system.

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    Ram drive - I remember when they were all the rage when trying to increase speed...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 15:23
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    @SolarMike - oh yeah...when memory chips were put in by hand on expansion cards...minuszerodegrees.net/5150_5160/cards/5150_5160_cards.htm
    – Allan
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 15:27
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    I soldered memory chips over existing memory chips to get my Atari ST to 4meg of memory ... :) that was when 4 meg was a lot !!!
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 15:57
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    Hey... 640K ought to be enough for everyone (yeah...there's debate about it, but I had an actual WAV of him saying it - out of context no doubt) as my startup sound for OS/2)
    – Allan
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 16:06
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If all you can see is base system than it is likely that your internal SSD is toast and needs to be replaced.

I am not familiar with exactly what Apple loads on the recovery partition but I would imagine just enough to boot the system and a couple of utilities (disk Utility.app, etc.). If a recovery partition is unavailable everything is downloaded over your network connection.

After you boot into Recovery Mode the entirety of macOS will be downloaded over your network connection. Once you have a bootable sytstem you will need to restore your files/apps from a backup.

You could take the Mac into an Apple store or independent Apple repair shop and have them verify that your drive is indeed toast, which you may have to do anyway unless you are handy enough to replace the drive yourself.

You could have a look at that procedure at ifixit.com I have no relation or interest in that company, just a happy user.

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    Thanks for your insight. I'm not near a major city right now, so I may need to handle this myself, but I have tiny screw drivers. Do you think it would be worth buying an SSD enclosure first and trying to boot from the enclosure first to see if it might be the connection to the drive? (I also have an older MBP that I can use for tests)
    – Lyndon
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 19:39
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    Depending on the state of your finances ;-) one can never have too many external enclosures. No computer nerd's toolbox is complete without at least a couple. Even if it fails at it's intended task you now have increased your gadget load by one device and made your Mac toolkit that much more complete. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 19:42
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    An enclosure it is!
    – Lyndon
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 19:45
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    Are the SSD's in Macbooks physically different from the little SSD's I use in my self-built desktop? My Samsung 850 Evo doesn't need an enclosure, just get a SATA to USB adapter. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 19:57
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    Yes they are different, they look like a circuit board with a dual connector on one end. I believe it is PCIe, different from SATA. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 21:16
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Just in case someone finds it useful, this has just happened to me. Fortunately, I was able to solve it without purchasing an enclosure, or worse, a new SSD. In my case, the behavior described here was intermittent, sometimes I could boot my Mac seamlessly and sometimes not so. What was weird to me is that whenever I was able to boot in Recovery Mode and could see my SSD, every time I ran Disk Utility it didn't find any errors. I figured something could be wrong with the SSD connector (worst case, don't know if that would have needed a motherboard replacement) or the SSD itself could have been damaged, but since every result from Disk Utility said it was alright, I decided to check my device and notice some dirt accumulated on my SSD and nearby. I followed iFixit's guide for replacing the SSD, but only cleaned it and used a can of compressed air to clean the connector. Then, after a reboot, I could finally install Big Sur from Internet Recovery Mode (I had previously deleted and erased any partitions). I'm getting myself some more cleaning supplies to avoid this happening in the near future, but for now I am able to continue my work. My MacBook Pro is a mid-2014 13 inch model.

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