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Mac Flashing Folder with Question Mark Error: What it Means and How to Fix It

Does a flashing file folder with a question mark appear when you start your iMac or MacBook? If you’re an avid Mac user, you know that this sign is never a good one.  However, there are multiple different reasons this may be occurring. Before you panic, read on to learn more about why it happens and what you can do to possibly fix the problem. 

What Does the Flashing File Folder with a Question Mark Mean?

The flashing file folder with a question mark icon is essentially saying “no boot device found”, meaning the Mac is not able to find its startup disk, therefore unable to boot. There are two different scenarios that are common with this error. The first one is when a flashing question mark with folder pops up for a few seconds upon startup but your device continues to boot. In this situation, you may simply need to re-select your startup disk. This can easily be done in System Preferences. After re-selecting the startup disk, re-start your device and the issue should subside. 

In most cases, the flashing file folder with a question mark will pop up and the startup process will not continue. Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 times this is a strong indicator that your HDD/SSD/Fusion has failed or died. If this is the case, it is important that you have all of the data from your computer backed up on an external drive as you may need to reformat your startup disk. 

What Causes These Errors?

Unexpected Power Cycles

An unexpected power cycle can kill solid state drives. If the device was doing a garbage collection or routine sector reallocation and the power gets pulled, that can cause the device to “brick” . On HDD’s, it can make the heads into the platters. This happens a lot when external hard drives are not ejected safely.

Power Surges

Power surges can fry components on SSD/HDD’s that make it so they can no longer function.

Device Age

The older a device gets, the more wear and tear it goes through, therefore the more likely it is to fail. Additionally, NAND’s on SSD’s have a number of read/write cycles before it degrades and no longer works.

Do you have questions about the Question Mark error?

What Can You Do About the “Flashing File Folder with a Question Mark” Error?

Restart Your Device

The first thing you should try when you come across this error is to restart your device. In some cases, this will fix the problem and your device will startup just fine. In other cases, the problem may be more complex and require a more in-depth solution.

Run First Aid

If restarting your device does not work, you may want to try running first aid. This can be done by opening “disk utility” in the MacOS Utility window and selecting the “repair disk” button. Once this process is complete, navigate to the Apple menu and click on “startup disk”. Be sure that your computer restarts after this process and the flashing question mark with a folder error should subside.

Backup and Reinstall Mac OS

If neither of the above solved the problem, you will most likely have to reinstall a new version of Mac OS. Make sure that you perform a backup of all important data before reinstalling as it will completely delete everything that is stored on the computer.

Mac Data Recovery

There are many cases where unfortunately, none of these fixes work and you are stuck with a broken computer and none of your data. The good news is, Gillware can help you get that data back. Our engineers have years of experience working with all types of Mac devices and are your best bet at getting all the valuable data from your device back in your hands.

Don’t let the Question Mark Error keep you from your important data

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