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When is my Mac really broken?

Well ... Sometimes the line between hardware and software problems can be thin. The rule is that you always look at the software first. That is also much cheaper.
So check out chapter Solving Problems before you start here!

To err is expensive
With a software problem, right to the Apple tech? Then of course an invoice will be made, also under warranty.
No manufacturer gives a warranty on software!

Examples of obvious hardware problems
- A clean system and still kernel panics occur.
- A hard drive that no longer wants to erase.
- Strange images on screen: stripes, blocks, could indicate a broken video card (always check System Preferences => Accessibility first to check whether a setting has been accidentally changed)
- Screen stays dark? Shine a bright light on it and look if you see anything. This can be the difference between the screen completely broken or only the light ('backlight').

NOTE: You obviously first test an external screen to see if it has power.

- Broken memory modules (RAM) also occur. This can happen after some time.

Apple Hardware Test
Before you go to the techies, it is wise to do this test: Apple Hardware Test
Boot with the D key pressed to have the Mac self-diagnose.
If something is wrong, you will receive a code with which you can go to your dealer or repair person. Apple techs know what's going on from that code (post-2013 Macs). Fortunately, this Mac is okay:

Note: if you have ever set a Firmware password, you must first disable it (see chapter privacy on the Mac ).

M1 Macs (2021)
Press and hold the Power button for ten seconds until you get this image:

Click on 'Options' to start the hardware test.

Monday morning monsters
Some Macs are known for a specific hardware problem. Apple often sets up a repair program, even after years. You can find out whether your Mac belongs to this on the basis of your serial number.

Start with the simplest solution
Again, don't assume your Mac is physically broken right away. Start with simple problems and work your way up to more serious ones. Think of Occam's Razor: the simplest solution is often the best.

Hardware problems: the SMC reset
There are problems you can fix by resetting the System Management Controller.
This chip on the motherboard is responsible for things like power button, battery, temperature.
Examples of problems that you could solve with an SMC reset:

- keep fans running without doing anything to the Mac and leaving the environment at room temperature
- folding Macs don't fall asleep or wake up when you open or close
- battery not charging properly, or indicator lights not working properly
- unexpected sleep states

Read here if an SMC reset could be a solution for you: SMC reset.

NVRAM reset (formerly PRAM)
A chip on the motherboard ensures that the computer can remember your personal settings.
For example: sound volume, startup disk or screen resolution. You can also reset that chip.
Apple tells you how to do it and why it might be necessary: NVRAM reset.

Mac no longer remembers the date
Older Macs have a small (non-rechargeable) battery in them. It ensures that the NVRAM (formerly PRAM) can save its settings. This battery should last at least five years. A sign of 'battery empty' is a Mac that can no longer remember a date. Your dealer can provide you with a new one.

Persistent Kernel Panics
Do you continue to have Kernel panics even after clean installing your Mac?
Then it may be that your RAM modules are not in order. The only real test is other RAM modules: go to your dealer.

Note: RAM can also fail after being used for a while.

My Mac beeps!
If you hear 1 or more beeps, go to your dealer immediately! These beeps indicate that there is something wrong with memory or motherboard:
If your Mac beeps during startup.

I can hear something ticking in my Mac or external hard drive
It could be that there is a problem (on the way) with your hard disk. Backup, your disk might be dying. Backup ASAP!

Note: SSDs do not make noise; there are no moving parts in them.

My hard drive no longer wants to be erased:

So this is the end of the hard drive: one-way scrap iron farmer. You might try to use third-party software like DiskWarrior, but the disk is certainly not reliable anymore.

My hard drive is no longer readable. I don't have a backup (oops).
If you have Mac with FireWire, Thunderbolt or USB-C and you can control another Mac that has that too, you should Try 'Target Mode'. This allows you to access the HD from another Mac. If successful, you may still be able to copy files, try HD repair software, or run data recovery programs on it.
More info on Target Mode later in this chapter.

Test hard drive software
The DriveDX program is an excellent test software. It uses SMART technology, or the diagnostic information that the hd itself stores.
It tells you a lot more than Disk Utility, you know all the details right away. For example, about the lifespan that can still be expected.

Target Mode test on your Mac
First, test whether your own Mac still wants to boot in 'Target Mode'. To do this, hold down the T key and start up your Mac.
You should see a large symbol on your screen, depending on the type of connection.

Target Mode with two Macs
Both Macs must have Thunderbolt on board (FireWire IEEE 1394 is also possible but is obsolete) and you must have a suitable cable (male-male)
1. Both Macs must be off.
2. Connect both Macs via their FireWire or Thunderbolt ports with ditto (pricey) cable.
3. First turn on the good Mac, normally.
4. Then turn on the broken Mac with the T key pressed. This Mac will now boot into 'Target Mode '.

This means that it will act like an external hard drive for that other Mac. You can recognise this by the logo on the screen, depending on the connection it is the USB, Thunderbolt or Firewire logo.
5. Now retrieve the data from the other hard drive with the good Mac / try to restore it with special repair software. For example Disk Drill.

Target Mode does not work
If the Mac is not accessible via Target Mode, you could also remove the hard drive and place it in an external enclosure. For the handyman/woman. You can get empty USB boxes where you screw in an HD. They are not very expensive.

Fire, flooding, cola, lightning or other brutal violence
In the event of such accidents, you should especially not mess around yourself. There are companies that do professional data recovery.
Leave the hard drive alone and inform yourself about the prices for data recovery.

This will be pricey and costly. So make sure you backup!
Chapter Making backups tells you all about it. Don't worry, it's easy.
By the way, the best practice is: multiple backups at different locations.

Something to keep in mind when making a living by working on your Mac!

Tinkering with your Mac
An excellent website that shows you how to tinker with your Mac is iFixit.com.
For example: placing a new SSD in an older Mac gives you an enormous speedbump!
Your Mac will feel as new, and it is cheaper than a new one.

Putting an SSD in an iMac 27" 5K Retina 2017
I began with buying a SATA-USB cable to install MacOS on my new SSD. Then you know for sure that it works and you can start again quickly.
I used a USB install disk for that.
Note: How to install a new MacOS, you read in chapter solving problems.

I bought an IcyDock box to install the 2,5" SSD into the 3,5" brackets.
An iFixit cutting wheel to open the iMac is really indispensable. It is possible with a knife, but then you have to be very careful not to break something.
An iMac tool set also comes in handy, but you only need Torx 8 and a spudger. For the latter, a tooth pick will also do.
Use masking tape to temporarily seal the iMac. If something is not right, you can go back.
Note: For the keen observer: I still had some iMac adhesive strips, but not the ones for the mid 2017 model. So I adjusted them a bit to make sure the microphone wasn't blocked (the microphone is somewhere at the bottom left of the screen).
The hardest part was removing the bottom of the glass; it was stuck pretty well.
Other than that it's not very difficult. Take your time, be patient and make sure not to touch the motherboard or the power supply.

Battery life
Pop-up Mac batteries have a certain lifespan. The number of charging cycles is important. This means how many times the battery has been fully charged. That differs per Mac model. Here is a table: Apple on battery life.

How many cycles has my battery already had?
Go to the Apple Menu => About this Mac and click on 'More info' under 'Power' to find out how many cycles your battery has already run.

My dad's MacBook burned 531 cycles ...

Tips for a longer battery life
- Set the screen brightness as dark as possible
- Disconnect external equipment without its own power supply
- 'Heavy' programs with 'heavy' files consume a lot of power. Play movies too. Keep that in mind.
- Switch off Bluetooth (temporarily) if you are not using it.
- Disabling Wi-Fi (temporarily) also saves battery power.

Tips for good battery condition
Keeping a MacBook on the charger all the time is not good. The battery must keep 'exercising', otherwise it will become lazy.
Apple explains here how to handle your battery-powered Mac: Apple about batteries.

Use original Apple power adapters!
There is quite a price difference between original Apple power adapters (110/230 Volt to USB or iPad / iPhone / iPod) and those of other manufacturers. However, this price difference is there for a reason; there are better quality components and a safer design.
Don't take any chances and don't buy cheap Chinese junk, but original Apple adapters!
After all, a 110/230 Volt shock can be deadly! Read and shiver!

This is the final chapter of MacOS free online tutorial!

about the author

Disclaimer: MacMiep is independent. This means she writes what she wants, based on 30 years of Mac-experience. She doesn't get paid for stories (positive or negative) on this website. MacMiep is not interested in your data. However, she does use Google's services. Google is indeed interested. Are you happy with MacMiep? Please support your local cat shelter.