How To Resolve Macbook Problem: OS X Leopard cannot boot

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Using my Macbook for one and half year now, crash it several times (cannot count anymore), installed countless of fresh OS X 10.5.

Okay, now hope my post below will save your ass and precious time.

Your Mac OS X Issues

If you have problem like below:

  • Cannot start up Mac OS X Leopard, freeze on start up
  • Never get into login screen, or stop in the gray Apple screen
  • After booting, go to gray screen, wait a long time, and mac is shut down by itself.

It might be caused by failed update (you tried to update 10.5.2 to 10.5.x) or some system files corrupted, or some devices failed to load.

Mac Boot Key Options

First of all, you need to know several ways to boot Mac OS X.

  1. Press and hold C button while pressing Power button -> Start boot from CD/DVD
  2. Press and hold Option button while pressing Power button -> Force Macbook to display all available boot options (Harddisk, DVD)
  3. Press and hold Shift button while pressing Power button -> Start in Safe Boot mode and temporarily disable login items and non-essential kernel extension files
  4. Press and hold Apple-V button while pressing Power button -> Verbose/console mode.
  5. Press and hold Apple-S button while pressing Power button -> Single User mode, also end in console

First before performing any actions: you have to make sure that your problem is repeated all the time. That is, whenever you press Power button, hear 'dong' sound and display Apple logo on gray screen. After a minute or so, Mac is shutdown by itself.

Fix Options

To fix this issue, try these:

  • Boot in Safe Mode (see boot button above). In most case Leopard can be loaded in Safe mode.
  • Boot in Verbose Mode. You can see last line of console which causes your problem. Then search google or Apple Knowledge base for fix.
  • If none of above helps you, try using Time Machine if you have (read below)
  • Try to use Time Machine even if you don't have it (also read below)

Using Time Machine to restore

If you have regular backup using OS X Leopard's Time Machine, then be relax.

  1. Insert your Leopard DVD or recovery DVD came in your Macbook package,
  2. then press Option button while pressing Power On button (hold the Option button until you see any different in screen)
  3. Wait until Mac displays 2 boot options: your Harddisk and DVD.
  4. Select DVD to boot.
  5. When you see welcome screen, plug your Time Machine harddisk into USB port.
  6. Select Utilities > Restore System From Backup menu (from menubar on top of screen)
  7. Then select your Time Machine backup volume, choose the latest full backup you have
  8. Follow on screen instruction and pray.
  9. When it asks you to restart, just restart it normally.
  10. Hope this works for you.

No Time Machine?

How about if you don't have Time Machine backup? Now you have to options:

  1. Clean Install OS X Leopard from scratch. This means all your date is gone (unless you have backup elsewhere),  you have to install all your applications, hours of work and pain. If you prefer this, please read my post about how to backup data when OS X cannot boot.
  2. Trying to recover your system. This may work, may not work. But in my case it worked. Let's continue below procedure.

Use Time Machine even you don't have it

Now, Find an external USB Harddrive, should be a blank one, large enough to hold all your mac system and data. We'll start using Time Machine to perform full backup. So, better late than nothing.

Then follow steps below:

  1. Eject DVD disc if any, and also all USB devices.
  2. Press and hold Apple-S button while pressing Power button to start up your broken Mac. This will load OS X into console and single user mode.
  3. Wait until console prompts you
  4. Now type /sbin/fsck -fy. It is basically perform disk check. You might see error like Invalid key length, just ignore.
  5. Now type  exit .  Leopard will load its GUI.
  6. If you can see your lovely desktop and dock, then relax because we can start to use Time Machine.
  7. Make sure all your data is there, you can plug external USB to perform manual backup on some important folders.
  8. Open System Preferences from dock, choose Time Machine.

    • Switch On Time Machine
    • Choose Disk / Change Disk to select your external USB. (You might need to format/erase it)
    • Click Options button to exclude folders if your external drive is not big enough to hold all files.
    • Tick "Show Time Machine status in the menu bar"
    • Now force Time Machine to start.
  9. This may take hours to complete. Better to get a good sleep.

  10. When finished, insert original Mac Recovery DVD and shutdown your Mac
  11. Start Mac from DVD drive (hold C while press Power On button)
  12. Follow steps mentioned above : "Using Time Machine to restore"

Hope this tricks is also worked for you. If so, please drop me a comment or buy me a beer :).

Additional readings:

  • Startup buttons : http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=105570
  • How to start up in single user mode : http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1492
  • Resolve start up issue : http://support.apple.com/kb/TS1417
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