How to Recover Data from Mac That Won’t Turn on? 

By Katrina | Posted to Mac Data Recovery, updated on March 24th, 2020 |

Summary: You can recover files from a Mac that won't turn on. Many ways are available, including backups, disk image, and Mac data recovery software.

Your Mac could not turn on or boot up for different reasons. In this situation, you can't open your important documents, photos, files, videos, etc. Or at least, you can't access them as easily as before. You might have read guides to fix the unbootable Mac, but you still need to keep an eye on your data security.

recover lost data when Mac won't turn on

Why? Because fixes like macOS reinstallation and startup drive erasure could overwrite your original data. And some would wipe things off your Mac hard drive directly.

Therefore, you should back up the Mac that can't turn on. Or you should recover files from the Mac first. And after the problem gets fixed, you can restore your files with ease.

According to your situation, you have many ways to get files off the unbootable Mac.

Method 1: Restore files from Time Machine Backup

The best situation is that you have backed up the Mac before it becomes crashed. It makes things easier if you have a Time Machine backup. Rather than the clumsy copy-and-paste task, you can follow these steps to restore Time Machine backups.

  1. Step 1: When the Mac turns on after macOS reinstallation, you can connect the Time Machine backup drive to your Mac.
  2. Step 2: Open Migration Assistant. You can access it by the Utilities folder.
  3. Step 3: When you're asked how you want to transfer your information, select the option: From a Mac, Time Machine backup or startup disc. Then you can click Continue.
  4. Step 4: Select your Time Machine backup and then continue.
  5. Step 5: Select the files and click Continue to restore your files to the Mac.

It might take hours if you have lots of data. Anyway, you'll get them back.

Method 2: Back up files by copying your Mac hard drive

Things will be different if you don't have a Time Machine backup when Mac can't start up. Fortunately, you still can back up your files by creating a copy version.

There are many ways to do this. Namely, you can create a disk image from the startup disk. You can access and copy your files via Target Disk Mode. You can also copy files with Terminal command in macOS Recovery Mode.

Here takes disk image as an example.

  1. Step 1: Restart your Mac and immediately hold Command + R options. This will boot your Mac into macOS Recovery Mode.
  2. Step 2: Select Disk Utility in macOS Utilities.
  3. Step 3: Connect an external hard drive to your Mac. The hard drive should be empty and have a large capacity.
  4. Step 4: In Disk Utility, select the external hard drive. And then choose File at the top menu, click New Image, and then choose Image from [device name].
  5. Step 5: Enter a file name for the disk image, add tags if necessary, then choose the external hard drive to save it.
  6. Step 6: Choose an option from the format menu: read-only, compressed, read/write, or DVD/CD master.

However, if your Mac hard drive is damaged or corrupted, the backup file method will fail.

In some cases, your MacBook's startup disk may not show up in Disk Utility. Then you need to ask help from Apple support. But If you see the corrupted Mac hard drive in Disk Utility, you can try the next method.

Method 3: Recover files with Mac data recovery software

Mac data recovery software can help you get files off the unbootable Mac, even if the Mac hard drive is corrupted. 

iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery is a Mac data recovery tool. It helps to recover data when Mac won't boot up. This software can recover data from Mac hard drives, Macintosh HD, and encrypted APFS startup drive.

Besides being Mac hard drive recovery software, it's also powerful in recovering lost data from formatted, unmountable, unreadable, inaccessible, and corrupted external drives. It supports data recovery from external hard drives, USB flash drives, SD cards, memory cards, Pen drives, etc.

To recover data from crashed MacBook, iMac, and Mac mini, you can use iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery in two ways.

1. Recover data from unbootable Macs under Recovery Mode

This approach is highly recommended because it’s efficient and easy. To recover lost data from the unbootable Mac, you can run iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery in Recovery Mode.

Note: To use this simple way to get files off, the only condition is that your Mac has an Internet connection.

  1. Step 1: Press the power button for seconds and force the Mac to shut down.
  2. Step 2: Restart your Mac and immediately press Command + Option + R keys. You can release these keys when you see the Apple logo. This will boot this Mac into Internet macOS Recovery Mode.
  3. Step 3: Click Utilities and select Terminal from the drop-down menu.
  4. Open Terminal in Recovery Mode
  5. Step 4: Type or copy the following command line into the Terminal Window. Then you can hit the Enter key to launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery.
    sh <(curl
  6. Step 5: In iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery window, choose the startup drive. And then you can follow the on-screen wizard to recover your files.
  7. recover lost data from macOS drive

If the Mac hard drive is not showing up in iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery, it might be a hardware issue. You need to check the SATA connection inside. The worst case is that your Mac hard drive is damaged or dead. Then you need to send it to a local data recovery service.

2. Rescue data by creating an external bootable drive

Even though the first way is much more efficient and easier, you still have another option.

You can to use iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery to create an external bootable recovery drive. It requires that you have another workable Mac and an empty external USB drive.

Tips: Don't use this way if your Mac has the Apple T2 security chip. It could fail or can't work to the most extent. This feature affects iMac Pro, Mac Pro introduced in 2019, Mac mini introduced in 2018, MacBook Air introduced in 2018 or later, and MacBook Pro introduced in 2018 or later.

Well, if you insist on trying this, You can download iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery on another bootable Mac computer. And then follow these steps.

  1. Step 1: Install and launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery.
  2. Step 2: Click iBoysoft Data Recovery on the top menu bar and then select Create Boot Drive.
  3. iBoysoft Data Recovery create bootable drive
  4. Step 3: Insert the empty USB drive that you have prepared into the workable Mac computer. You probably need to format this USB drive, so make sure that there is no data on the USB drive to avoid data loss.
  5. iBoysoft Data Recovery create bootable drive
  6. Step 4: Follow the wizard to create a bootable recovery drive.
  7. iBoysoft Data Recovery create bootable drive
  8. iBoysoft Data Recovery create bootable drive
  9. Step 5: After that, you need to insert iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery bootable USB drive into the unbootable Mac computer.
  10. Step 6: And then press the Power button and Option key (⌥) to start the computer up. It allows you to choose the startup disk.
  11. iBoysoft Data Recovery create bootable drive
  12. Step 7: Select iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery from the boot options.

If you're running macOS Mojave or earlier, iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery will launch immediately when your Mac boots up. Then you can go ahead recover data from the unbootable Mac.

However, if your Mac is running macOS Catalina, you need two additional steps to launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery.

  1. Step 8: Wait for your Mac to boot up, open "Terminal" application from "Utilities" drop-down menu.
  2. Open Terminal
  3. Step 9: Run the following command:
    'Volumes/Image Volume/'
  4. Launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery Command

Then, you can follow the wizard to scan and retrieve files from the unbootable Mac computer.

Step so far, you have got files off this corrupted Mac hard drive. You can now fix the unbootable Mac without worrying about data loss.

Bonus tip: Boot from an external hard drive and migrate files from the startup disk

When Mac can't boot up, you can also use these steps to back up your data to an external drive. This method asks for an empty external drive that has the same or larger size than your current startup disk.

  1. Step 1: You need to boot into macOS Recovery Mode to erase this external drive in Disk Utility. And then install macOS onto the external drive in macOS Utilities.
  2. Step 2: When the installation is finished, your Mac automatically restarts from the external bootable drive. 
  3. Step 3: In Setup Assistant, you can choose the built-in startup disk as the source to migrate your data from. This will make a backup to the external drive.
  4. Step 4: When the migration is done, complete the steps of the setup assistant. After the desktop appears, confirm that your data is present on the external drive.

Then you can go ahead to reinstall macOS to the built-in startup drive. Later, you can restore files by Migrate Assistant application.


When the Mac is not booting up, you have many ways to get files off the problematic Mac. You can even try the Target disk mode to fix the problem. But whether you choose to back up files or recover files, you should always choose it according to your conditions. So that you can restore your files to your Mac easily when you Mac can boot up again,


Katrina is a data recovery expert @iBoysoft who loves to help readers solve various data recovery problems.