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Fix Flashing Folder with Question Mark on Mac without CD (2022)

Updated on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

iBoysoft author Jenny Zeng

Written by

Jenny Zeng
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee

How to Fix Folder with Question Mark on Mac (MacBook) without CD?

Summary: This article explains why you encounter the flashing question mark folder on Mac at startup and how to fix it. Detailed solutions are offered to help you boot up your Mac and secure important files.

how to fix Mac folder with question mark

Without warning in advance, a flashing folder with a question mark appears when your Mac starts up.

What does it mean? The question mark folder on Mac shows up when your startup disk or Macintosh HD is not detected or doesn't have a usable Mac operating system.

You may experience the Mac flashing folder with question mark after replacing hard drive, booting from an external system drive, or updating macOS. Usually, the MacBook folder with question mark results from either software or hardware issues.

Fix Mac Folder with Question Mark at Startup

For the worst situation, you can't go past the Mac question mark folder icon, even with a restart. So, to avoid data loss, recover files from your Mac first. Then, follow the solutions below to remove the blinking folder with question mark on Mac and boot up your computer as usual.

Guide to fixing flashing folder with question mark on Mac:

Recover data from a Mac showing a flashing folder with question mark

You can watch this video to learn how to recover data from Mac that won't turn on due to the MacBook question mark folder.

 Recover data from Mac that won't turn on 

Data recovery is the first thing to do when there's a file with question mark on MacBook Air or encountering other "MacBook won't turn on" issues, as it can prevent forever data loss caused by some fixes. As the Mac is unbootable, you can only recover data with data recovery software like iBoysoft Mac data recovery.

You can run iBoysoft Mac data recovery software in macOS Recovery mode to get the lost files back. If you don't want to check the details, watch the above video instead. Also, it's advisable to back up your Mac with Time Machine regularly so you won't need to worry about lost files.

How to fix flashing folder with question mark on Mac without CD?

You can see the flashing folder or file with question mark on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, or Mac mini. But anyway, you can try to reset NVRAM on your Mac first. If it doesn't fix the flashing Mac folder with question mark, try the following solutions one by one.

How to fix flashing folder with question mark on Mac without CD:

Which solutions have you tried already to fix the MacBook flashing folder? Share your thought with your friends.

 

1. Check Startup Disk preferences

If you find a Mac question mark folder at startup, you can wait for a moment and see if it can boot past the icon.

If, fortunately, it continues booting up, congratulations! But just in case, you can reselect the built-in startup disk in the Apple menu > System Preferences > Startup disk.

If your Mac can't boot past the flashing question mark folder, you can manually select the right startup disk. You can do this by restarting your Mac while holding down the Option key.

If you boot from an external drive, you can check these factors.

  • Make sure the hard drive is powered on, especially for some desktop drive that needs an external power source.
  • Make sure the USB port and cable are working.

Select startup drive to get rid of flashing folder

Did that fix the flashing question mark folder on Mac? If not, continue with the next solution.

 Tips: If encountering MacBook Pro folder with question mark on some older Mac OS X machines, you can boot from the installing DVD or CD that comes with your Mac in the optical drive.

2. Reselect the correct startup disk in macOS Recovery mode

If you can't fix the flashing folder with question mark using the first method, try booting into Mac Recovery Mode and reselect the right startup disk. The built-in recovery system of your Mac allows you to reselect the boot volume to fix the flashing folder with a question mark on Mac without CD.

How do I get rid of the question mark on my Mac by selecting the correct startup disk:

  1. Unplug any external peripherals like the external drive connected to your Mac.
  2. If your screen is stuck on the question mark folder, force your Mac to shut down by pressing the power button for seconds.
  3. Identity if you are using an Apple Silicon M1 Mac or not, restart your Mac and immediately press one of these key combinations to boot into macOS Recovery mode.             
    Note that the way to boot into macOS Recovery Mode on M1 Mac differs from Intel Macs.            
    macOS Recovery mode
  4. You can let the keys go when you see the Apple logo or its loading recovery options. Then select your Mac user account, type in your password, and hit Enter.            
    Once you see the four macOS Utilities presented as the image below or a similar one, you have booted into macOS Recovery mode.            
    Boot into macOS Recovery mode
  5. Then, you can click on the Apple logo in the upper left and choose the Startup Disk option.
  6. Reselect the correct Mac startup disk (Macintosh HD) that holds a macOS.            
    select the boot volume for Mac with flashing folder

After you click the Restart button, you should start up without the blinking folder with question mark on Mac. Suppose the issue persists, move on to the next fix to eliminate the MacBook question mark folder.

 Tips: If you can't boot into macOS Recovery Mode from the local recovery system, try Internet Recovery Mode by replacing the keys in Step 2 with Option + Command + R (or Shift+ Option + Command + R). Make sure your Mac is connected to the Internet at the same time.

3. Use Disk Utility to repair the startup disk or Macintoshtosh HD

If you can't see any startup option in the Startup Disk window, probably, your built-in startup disk or Macintosh HD is corrupted, causing the Mac folder with question mark to appear.

Then, you need to check and repair the startup disk with the First Aid feature of Disk Utility in macOS Recovery mode with the following steps:

  1. Restart your Mac in macOS Recovery mode.
  2. Select Disk Utility from the macOS Utilities window and click Continue.
  3. Choose your startup disk (Macintosh HD) from the left side of the Disk Utility window.
  4. Click "First Aid" at the top and hit Run.

It may take some time for Disk Utility to verify your startup disk. After it finishes repairing the Macintosh HD, you can click the red cross to exit Disk Utility, click the Apple menu, and select Restart to reboot your Mac.

Suppose Disk Utility finds issues with your startup disk that it can't repair. In this case, you need to move to the next part to resolve the "flashing question mark folder" issue.

If, in rare cases, you don't see your built-in startup disk even in the Disk Utility window. It indicates that there's a hardware issue. You need to check the connections of your hard drive or contact the Apple authorized service for Mac repair.

4. Format the startup disk via Disk Utility and reinstall macOS

If you still see the MacBook folder with question mark at startup after scanning with Disk Utility First Aid, it means your startup disk (Macintosh HD) has serious corruption. You need to reformat it and assign it a new file system in Disk Utility.

However, reformatting will wipe your files off the hard drive. If you don't have a backup of your Mac, you will lose important files after reformatting.

Luckily, you can follow this safe guide to reformat startup disk without data loss to get rid of the MacBook Air file with question mark:

  1. Recover data from Mac that won't turn on using iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery software. (Of course, you can ignore this step if you have a backup.)
  2. Boot your Mac into macOS Recovery Mode and select Disk Utility from the macOS Utilities window.
  3. Select the startup disk (Macintosh HD) in the Disk Utility window and click on the Erase button at the top menu.
  4. Name the startup disk as Macintosh HD, choose GUID scheme, and APFS format if you want to use macOS 10.13 later.

You'll now have a fresh new Mac hard drive with no operating system. To boot up without the flashing folder with question mark on MacBook Air, you still need to reinstall macOS in Recovery mode.

Hopefully, you have fixed the Mac question mark folder with the solutions above. Don't forget to share this post with your friends.

 

5. Check and replace the startup disk (HDD) SATA connections

Your internal Mac hard drive is working based on an HDD cable transmitting the electronic signals between the logic board and the hard disk drive. Therefore, once it's loose, damaged, broken, or deformed, you might get the Mac folder with question mark at startup.

Here is how you can check the connector of the startup disk if you notice a file with question mark on MacBook Air. Note that asking someone professional to help you do this job is necessary. 

  • Check and remove any foreign object on the connector.
  • Make sure the connector is clean and corrosion-free.
  • Check if the flex HDD cables are broken or damaged due to overstress and bent.

The SATA hard drive is connected to the logic board on your Mac in the way of bending 90 degrees twice. This particularly can be seen in the 13" MacBook Pro 2012 model (on the edge of the super drive).

Check and repalce the Mac startup HDD cable

So, it's likely that the copper wire inside the flexible plastic cable is broken or damaged in the bent section, rendering your Mac displays the flashing folder with a question mark.

Then you'll need to replace it with a good HDD cable.

You can check the SATA connection if you still see the Mac mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro folder with question mark.

1. Open up the cover of the Mac.

2. Find the SATA connection of your startup disk. You can remove the connection and then clip it back firmly.

Check connections when Mac shows the flashing folder with a question mark

This works well if your Mac doesn't recognize the internal hard drive for booting up. But if it doesn't help the flashing question mark folder on Mac, either the hard drive or the SATA connection is damaged. You can ask for a repair or replacement service from Apple. 

6. Update firmware of your Mac Computer

If you see the Mac folder with flashing question mark after a recent macOS download and update, it may be a result of incompatible firmware that should be automatically upgraded by the installer.

Possibly, the firmware fails to complete the update during the whole system update. Then, the new system can't be recognized by the old firmware, causing boot issues and the MacBook question mark folder.

To re-update the firmware, you can manually format startup disk in Disk Utility and reinstall the Mac operating system with a stable network connection and enough free disk space. Once the reinstallation is done, you should no longer see the Mac flashing folder.

Suppose you still boot up to a flashing question mark folder on Mac, then keep reading the other fixes.

7. Check the lifeboat connector on the logic board

Inside MacBook Pro in 2016 and 2017 with Tochbar, a critical bridge connector called lifeboat is used to connect the SSD circuit to the CPU so the CPU can read and write data to the SSD chips.

If you start to experience the flashing folder with question mark after replacing hard drive, you might have forgotten to put on the lifeboat connector. Other than that, you may get the blinking folder with question mark on Mac if the lifeboat connector cap is not functional.

Check the lifeboat connector when see flashing folder on Mac

Here are some basic checks you can perform to make it work again (Do these checks with someone professional):

  • Make sure there is a lifeboat cap, and it's on.
  • Remove the lifeboat connector cap and check if it's corroded or dusty.

If these checks aren't helpful, proceed with the following solution to fix the Mac flashing folder.

8. Check the faulty SSD socket or hard drive on the Mac logic board

Sometimes, Mac can't find the startup disk (Macintosh HD) just because the drive itself is in trouble.

Your removable SSD drives on the Mac logical board are connected using SSD sockets. Once these components are corroded, damaged, or dusty, you'll receive the "Mac folder with question mark" error on Mac booting up.

So, think if you have spilled any liquid on your Macbook Air or Pro. If you see the SSD socket is corroded, you can cut off the corrosion and map the pins with 99% alcohol. If it doesn't help, you need to replace the socket.

For most Apple iMac, pre-2013 MacBook, and MacBook pro that use mechanical hard drives, the flashing folder with question mark on Macbook Air appears when there is a mechanical disk failure, and you might hear a beeping or clicking noise. Or, if you can't feel the vibration of the hard drive spin motor, the hard drive is dead.

Go ahead to replace or upgrade it with SSD, and reinstall macOS. After that, you won't start up with the Mac flashing folder with a question mark.

Conclusion

Most of the time, errors like the circle with line through it and the flashing folder with a question mark on the Mac/MacBook screen signify a system software issue. A simple fix is to reinstall macOS (Remember to recover data first).

If you can't fix the MacBook flashing folder issue by reinstalling the Mac operating system, it likely results from hardware issues. In this case, you'd better send your Mac to a trusted repair store.

Read also:

How to fix Mac stuck on loading screen?

Have you gotten rid of the question mark folder on Mac? If yes, please share this post to help more users.