I am looking for a way to recover files from a Mac. Following facts:

  • The files I want to recover are on Mac #2. I have another Mac if I need it.
  • Mac #2 no longer turns on. It no longer boots up. It powers up, but it won't come to the login.
  • On the Mac that works, I can't enable FileVault. I can't because it's a company laptop and without the admin password that goes through the Apple ID, I can't turn on FileVault. However, I think FileVault should actually be enabled on the broken MacBook? It probably isn't.
  • It's really just about a file that is in the home directory.
  • the Macbook is already a bit older. It should be around 2015.

Now the following questions:

  • Would it be possible for me to take the hard drive out of the broken Macbook and connect it externally to the working Mac and have access that way? And if so, can I then access the files at all? It is possible that they are encrypted.
  • When I turn on the mac in recovery mode and do "reinstall macos", will the personal files be deleted?

Or in general, what can I do? Time Machine is probably not an option.


The file is extremely important and of high value. Also, I have a lot of knowledge in Linux. So I can practically handle very well the shell of the laptop and then drag files to a USB if this were possible.

  • You say "It no longer boots up. It powers up, but it won't come to the login." Can you boot to recovery mode? Or can you boot using an external bootable macOS? If so there are possibilities like mounting the internal disk and copy stuff to another disk or network share. Or even just displaying the important file in a terminal window. Much of that depends on the type of file, version of macOS. Just suggestions - I don't have clear recovery path for you. Failing the pay the $1K for professional recovery and lesson learnt (always have backups of important data). – Gilby Feb 17 at 5:31

The more valuable the files, the slower you should be and refrain from trying command line tools on your only copy of the drive. Test with a rented Mac first to be sure you have control of the system and tools you’re using. That being said, here is general advice for anyone needing data recovery:

  1. You can take a Mac to Apple for repair and ask they transfer the data to a drive you supply. (Pay the pros - get data maybe and a working Mac back)
  2. You can destroy data by mounting a drive in Target Disk mode if you don’t prevent the second system from running a filesystem check. (The filesystem assumes you have a backup and restores consistency, rolling back changes and orphaning files if needed to provide a sane filesystem that accounts for space. It doesn’t set out to destroy data, but it can in some cases make things worse - why risk it?)
  3. You can get a file recovery specialist to get your data, and save the repair expense (Pay the pros to get the data - fix the Mac later)
  4. Reputable vendors like OWC will help you determine how feasible a storage swap is. Figure out precisely what storage costs and what surgery entails and you could be $20 of parts to remove the storage and safely try to recover files. (Pay for software and support once you run the free trial. Spend time learning)

If care to preserve the data, try booting your old Mac in target disk mode but use a write block tool like Data Rescue to safely scan the old Mac and see what is retrievable rather than letting the OS “repair” the drive.

  1. https://www.prosofteng.com/
  2. https://support.apple.com/guide/mac-help/transfer-files-mac-computers-target-disk-mode-mchlp1443/mac

I would exhaust all options before working on an Apple portable or try a DIY recovery effort using non-paid tools if you care about getting valuable data off. If you just want to learn and the data is low value, dive right in with https://ifxit.com and disk drill or dd - both of those are amazing tools at a low price to obtain, but in skilled or unskilled hands alike are also known as the data destroyers.

  • The data is very high value. So I can't really risk anything. The apple repair guys (official from apple store) want to charge me over 1k € for it and it will take a loooot of time. So I don't really want to pay that, even the value of the file is over 1k. I would also pay for some tools. Wouldn't be a problem if they cost something. – JuniorDev Feb 16 at 13:51
  • I've also updated my question. – JuniorDev Feb 16 at 13:53
  • Yes, get Data Rescue and then see if you want to pay for recovery. Your bill will likely be less than 200 US - possibly much less. The high cost is repair, not recovery. Apple doesn’t do recovery unless it’s tacked on to repair. If you can’t find a recovery specialist locally, ask Apple for vendors in your region. We use Drive Savers I mostly, now. – bmike Feb 16 at 13:55
  • so basically pay the pros. Okay, I will have a look at it! – JuniorDev Feb 16 at 13:56
  • No - the last part of my answer is free and DIY. Low risk to boot to target disk after you have ProSoft trial installed on Mac 2 @JuniorDev – bmike Feb 16 at 13:57

When recently I had pretty-much that problem, I was more than surprised… in fact, I was gob-smacked… by how little I had to pay for a solution.

It was Stormfront that rescued both my Mac and my stuff and while I have no brief for Stormfront I do think you'd have to go a long, long way to get either a better or a cheaper service, let alone both.

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