Flashing Question Mark On Mac

| January 17, 2011

If you try to boot your computer and see a flashing question mark on Mac display instead of your desktop, this means your Mac cannot find the system software it needs to boot. While it’s not uncommon for a Mac to occasionally have this issue, the flashing ? on your screen could mean impeding doom if it happens a lot. When it does happen, the question mark could eventually disappear and your OS will load, or the question mark will remain on the screen and your system will never boot. The following will address the steps you should take if either of these situations occur.

Flashing Question Mark On Mac

If the flashing question mark on your Mac goes away and your system loads normally, you can try the following to make sure it doesn’t happen again:

The first thing you can try is opening your System Preferences and making sure your main hard drive is selected as the Start-up disk.

flashing question mark on mac

Under the System Preferences, click the Start Up disk icon in the System area.

select start-up disk

Next, make sure you choose your main Mac hard drive as the start up drive and then click Restart. If you have other drives installed in your Mac, or if you have an external hard drive attached, your computer might occasionally get confused about which is the boot drive that contains the system software it needs to boot. Designating your main hard drive as the boot drive should fix this issue.

The Flashing Question Mark on Mac Remains

If the flashing question mark continues to flash on the screen, you will need to try the following to resolve the issue:

  • Reset the PRAM. To reset the PRAM, press the power button to turn on your computer and immediately press and hold the Command, Option, P and R keys. You should eventually hear the start up sound again that indicates the PRAM has been reset.
  • If that doesn’t work, insert your system installation disk and reboot the computer. When the system begins to boot, hold the C key down to boot to the DVD. Note: if you have a bluetooth keyboard, you may need to get a USB keyboard to perform this step.
  • Under the Apple menu, click Disk Utility.
  • Under the First Aid tab, click Repair Disk.

If the hard drive is not present, the drive could be dead. But if the drive is present and the repair completes, restart the computer and see if the flashing question mark on Mac is gone and the system boots normally.

If you have and problems or questions about a flashing question mark on Mac startup screen, join our free forums and ask.

Category: Mac


About the Author ()

Dave has been providing free computer repair and tech support advice online since 2002. Join us on our forums and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for weekly tips and other helpful computer articles. Connect with me on: Google+

Comments (4)

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  1. A1Tvyu says:

    Hi, thank your help that I have this way to look at flashing question mark in a folder icon appearing in the center o the I Mac screen. I tried your method but every way that you told me was failed.
    Would it be the hard drive was dead already?
    Please show me how to disassemble I Mac, so that I can test the hard drive itself. Thank you.

    Thank you
    My dear teacher

    • Dave Dave says:

      Not necessary. If you have an external drive you can plug it in and install the Operating System on the external drive. You will then use the Install Disk to select that external drive as the drive you want to use to boot. If it works, then you can either keep that as your setup or buy a different internal drive. Good luck.

  2. A1Tvyu says:

    Today I disassemble it & take away the HD for testing; it is not good because it can not be seen in my PC computer. The hard drive indeed no good I can not access it via my PC, or format it via my PC. It is dead. I put in the new HD into imac, but It still show s me the Flashing Question mark, I try to put the leopard 10.6.3 install OS disk & try to install it, but still fail to set up OS. Please tell me how to install OS.

    Thank you
    My dear teacher

  3. A1Tvyu says:

    Now, the flashing Question mark is gone. The white screen become dark for three or 10 second and then at the left top most corner has a text “error loading operating system”. I try to use external DVD drive and input the Mac OS 10.6.3, but it did not boot up. i don’t know what to do next.

    Thank you