It seems it was just 2013 when Yan asked a question about a Mac showing a strange display. I'm now getting exactly that display, on a Mac that seems to me to be around the same vintage as Yan's, 2010.

The responses to Yan's question talked about plugging in an external monitor. But if the video card is bad, won't the image in the external monitor be just the same one Yan photographed? In other words, doesn't the video signal to every monitor emerge from the same bad video card?

What can I do to retrieve the files from my Mac without allowing anyone else access to these files? I would be willing to replace the Mac if that would somehow facilitate. Is there really a way to just plug in another monitor, or some other new hardware, into the old Mac? If I have to take the Mac to the shop to replace the video card, will that allow the repair shop access to my files? Is there a way to get the files from the Mac without replacing the video card? What are my options?

2 Answers 2


This answer is based on the assumption that you've got an iMac, however, the general solutions (not anything iMac specific) presented here will work for virtually any Mac model.

Use Target Disk Mode

If you can boot your computer (even if the screen is dead) put it into Target Disk Mode by booting it while simultaneously holding the T key. The computers need to be connected by a Thunderbolt or FireWire cable. The iMacs from this vintage (through late 2011) all came with a FireWire port. Thunderbolt didn't come onto the scene until 2012.

Once connected, you can boot the computers and copy the files over.

Remove the Hard Drive

Since your graphic card has died and they are quite expensive on the secondary market, it makes sense to simply extract the drive and connect it to a USB adapter to copy the files over.

The iMacs through late 2011 all came with the removable glass where you could simply use a couple of suction cups to pull the glass off. The display panel was held in with 12 Torx screws. Once removed, you have access to all of the components. Ifixit has an excellent step-by-step guide to do this.

* Source: iFixit.com. Photo credit: Sam Goldheart and licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Remove the HDD and connect it to another Mac with a USB to SATA Adapter with Power. The drives in the iMac are 3.5" so they need a 12V supply - more than what a USB port can provide by itself. If you have a spare 3.5" drive enclosure, that will work as well.

Again, once connected, you can copy your files over from the drive to your connected computer.

  • In pursuit of your "Use Target Disk Mode" instructions, I bought a new Mac and the cable you linked to. I cannot find any way to plug either end of the cable into either Mac. There are lightning bolt symbols on the cable and the new Mac, but the cable does not fit the socket. The cable came with a little diagram showing the cable plugged into a second cable, but I don't think I have this second cable.
    – Chaim
    Mar 5, 2020 at 23:34
  • What year is the Mac? When you say "the cable doesn't fit the socket" do you mean on the new Mac or the old one?
    – Allan
    Mar 6, 2020 at 0:41
  • I cannot find any way to plug either end of the cable into either Mac. I assume that the lightning-bolted end is supposed to plug into the new Mac, but it does not fit any socket. The other end of the cable seems to be a receptacle for the other cable rather than a prong to insert into the old Mac. I don't know off-hand the age of the old Mac, but I guessed it be around 2010, and I'll try to figure it out tonight.
    – Chaim
    Mar 6, 2020 at 0:54

You can get the year by going to About This Mac under the Apple Menu. If you know where on your computer the images are stored you can copy them to another external drive or onto a flash drive and once your sure they have copied properly you can delete them from your internal drive. If you do this the Apple repair person will have to use a data recovery tool to try and get your files back. In other words, it will require a deliberate act to recover them. If that's not secure enough then erasing your disk and overwriting it may be your only option. Or replace your internal drive. If you decide to copy them to a flash drive or external disk be sure not to take it with you to repair site. There are maybe other ways to do this. Future answers may offer a better solution. But this way will work.

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