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Video: Access the hard drive of a Mac that won't boot with Target Disk Mode

To recover files off a Mac that won't boot, you could remove the problem Mac's hard drive and attach it to another machine. But, there's an easier way. Bill Detwiler shows you how Target Disk Mode let's you access the hard drive of a Mac that won't boot.

If you're a PC pro who needs to recover files off a Mac that won't boot, you might think to try the old PC trick of removing the problem Mac's hard drive and attaching it to another machine. But, there's an easier way. In this IT Dojo video, I show you how to use Target Disk Mode to access the hard drive of a Mac that won't boot.

What about security?

After watching the video, you may wonder if Target Disk Mode (TDM) grants unfettered access to the data on the target drive, which is an obvious security risk. The answer is "it depends." Accessing a drive through TDM bypasses most security for local accounts and even network accounts. I could find only two exceptions. First, if you configure an Open Firmware Password, the machine will not enter TDM. Second, if you encrypt your home folder using FileVault, you won't be able to access the data without the FileVault password. You'll also have to find the hidden FileVault image using the "Go to Folder" menu option or terminal.

For information on using TDM, setting up an Open Firmware Password, and information aboutFileVault, check out the following articles:

For those of you who prefer text to video, you can go to the video player page for this IT Dojo episode and click "See Full Transcript," or you can also read William Jones' original article, "Boot a sick Mac into Target Disk Mode for troubleshooting," on which this video is based.

You can also sign up to receive the latest IT Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

24 comments
melekali
melekali

If you have a boot disk, rescuing files and folders from Windows is as easy as booting from the CD or DVD, connecting a USB or other drive and copying whatever you need. You can format the drive you are working on or do anything else with the tools on the boot drive. You can download any of a number of free boot disks for windows on several web sites.

m_strin
m_strin

How to connect PC Host and a Mac that won't boot? Are there any way to do that?

stdo57
stdo57

you boot a pc from a cd-dvd os loaded and copy disk to disk and diag and/or recovery and imaging. Os doesn't matter. Even apple is recoverable this way.

07558599d
07558599d

Good use of a Mac, thanks, I have got a problem Mac Harddisk with me, "probably" the TDM would help me to save my files. I will try some days later. Would love to give further comment once I get through~ Anyway, thinks a lot, ITdojo~

Spiritusindomit
Spiritusindomit

Everyone knows that apple hardware never fails. ... *snicker*

mark270864
mark270864

The title "Video: Access the hard drive of a Mac that won???t boot with Target Disk Mode" is ambiguous. It suggests that the article is about how to get into a Mac that will not boot when trying to use Target Disk Mode. This is the opposite of the actual intent of the video. Edit the title to "Video: Access the hard drive of a Mac, which won???t boot, with Target Disk Mode" to avoid confusion. Mark

kurt.sampson
kurt.sampson

I have a Mac that won't boot with Target Disk Mode, this article does not help me access the hard drive at all.

tom
tom

My Goodness, a Mac that won't boot? Is such a thing possible? I thought Mac's were immune to all the frailties of real computers due to their Karma. Holy Moley, I am crushed and disillusioned, a Mac won't boot! Please don't report a Mac could crash. I could not take the shock of hearing this.

issy_3
issy_3

Not a mac user but this is a great feature I am sure microsft is working on it for windows as we speak (trust me)

mail.dave
mail.dave

Long a well-loved aspect of Macs for data recovery, that is far and away more ready & easy to use than is possible with BIOS-based PCs. This has been possible for a very long time, with pre-Intel (Open Firmware - based) Macs, and still is via Apple Intel (EFI) machines. And Bill's points about security are good ones, with the standard noted/available measures. PGP also has had their whole-disk encryption product available for the Mac.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Are you saying the operating system won't load, of the machine won't power one. If the machine won't power one, Target Disk Mode won't help you.

bvega
bvega

I know this is an Apple forum but since TechRepublic emailed this solution, I will comment. In my PC experience, I have saved several "Dead" or non-booting PCs with the help of Knoppix 5 Live-CD and USB Key/Drive. After CD boots directly to desktop, I see the "Dead" hard drive icon, a-la Apple desktop, and double-click it and see all residing folders/files. Now, I plug a USB key/drive in and a USB key/drive icon magically appears on desktop. Hmm! How come Windows can do that simple trick?! Anyway. I drag and drop files from the hard drive to usb device. Or, I can repair and/or open web browser and download fixes. Or, just browse while copying files. I hear that there is a Live-CD version that can boot on Apple PCs. What do you think?!

miker7301
miker7301

Is this a professional forum? If this is the level of a "How To" aimed at professionals, then I might as well close my account. Waste of space.

aaron
aaron

However, i could see it being a big security risk on a windows platform. I am definitely fond of windows systems, but I am very impressed with this feature on Macs. Let's just hope I don't have to use it anytime soon ;)

amcclellan
amcclellan

Render unto Mac, that which is Mac. Let PC make their own way in the world.

vitec
vitec

Bill, one big thing here... If the target Mac is powered on, you shouldn't NEED to put it in Firewire mode. If it is having issues, you should simply run the built in diagnostics (Disk Verify and Permissions Repair) from the Disk Utility screen. Also, you may want to note to your followers that if they don't see the HDD come up on their other Mac, that they probably aren't going to see it from an external enclosure either. Gotta love that good old "click of death". I am a PC technician that has been essentially forced to work on Macs (because of where I work) so I have had to become very familiar with them. Now unfortunately, Macs don't "just work" as Apple would like to claim, but they are certainly less buggy on the OS side of things and they manage the memory better thanks to their Unix-based system. I have seen far too many people walk into my office with MacBook laptops whose hard drives have simply dropped dead anywhere from 2 days old to 6 months old (and beyond) and seen people cry because their data HAS been catastrophically lost due to this problem (and the lack of foresight to do a backup now and then). Long story short, learn your lessons before they force you learn them. If you're not a Mac user and you are trying to work on them, take it to a technician and let them do it. And... If you have a bootable Mac, there probably isn't a need for Firewire mode.

mail.dave
mail.dave

Is this even possible with/via BIOS-based mobos ?

rocky
rocky

You may not have a second mac from which to access the target drive. One tool that I ALWAYS have with me is Disk Warrior. It servers as a boot disk and performs disk analysis and recovery (e.g. rebuild directory).

dbridwell
dbridwell

If it will not boot, and will not find Target Disk Mode, then an enclosure might be needed. The disk might mount when used in a FireWire enclosure, it isn't a sure bet, just a last ditch effort. Just for kicks, re-seat the memory and the hard drive and see what happens.

shannyhan
shannyhan

A little cranky, wouldn't you say?

Vitreketren
Vitreketren

Maybe if Microsoft left it to only in safe mode, or in another problem only mode that this could be done, so that this couldn't be done willy nilly, keeping some security on a personal drive

jeiche
jeiche

The poster has a point; TDM isn't strictly necessary *as a diagnostic tool* for a Mac that boots, but it's handy nonetheless: 1. Disk Utility can't do all its magic on the current boot volume. TDM lets you boot from Mac A and run Disk Utility on the hard drive of Mac B. (Yes, you could also boot from the install disc--if you can find it!) 2. Migration Assistant is where TDM really shines. Moving user accounts and even programs from an old Mac to a new one is a snap. (So why did Apple leave Firewire off the new MacBooks?)