Unbootable MacBook Recovery | Recover Files from MacBook that won’t Boot

At times, when you try to switch on your MacBook, it might not boot past the Apple logo. There could be many reasons behind unbootable Mac such as malware infection, file system corruption, and operating system malfunction. There is also a high chance it is the case due to a damaged or corrupted MacBook hard drive. In such situations, Apple suggests users boot the MacBook or iMac in recovery mode and use disk utility to reinstall the Mac OS. You could also try restoring MacBook data using Time Machine Backup.

However, both of these options do not guarantee results and your data is always vulnerable. In the case of Mac recovery mode; reinstalling might result in data loss and not every user maintains a Time Machine backup to restore backed-up data. Does this mean your data is lost for good?

Note: At times you might face a situation where your MacBook or iMac might boot up but displays a black screen. This issue is called the Black Screen of Death on Mac (BSOD) in short. If you faced this issue, you can follow this article to know more about the issue and also find out various ways to resolve the Mac black screen problem.

An unbootable or non-booting MacBook or iMac makes all your files inaccessible, continue reading this article to find out how can you get files off Mac that won’t Boot. Here you will learn about two recommended methods to retrieve data from an unbootable MacBook hard drive. Also, find three methods to repair your MacBook that refuses to Boot.

Disclaimer:  Reinstalling Mac OS will not erase the data. However, if the Mac hard drive is severely damaged, you might need to erase the data and reinstall the Mac OS. This is why it is highly recommended to recover data before trying to fix the situation. This ensures a maximum data recovery rate.

Method 1: Retrieve Data From Unbootable Mac Using Target Disk Mode:

For any MacBook that refuses to boot, you will need another healthy Mac to recover data from MacBook that won’t boot past the Apple logo. If another MacBook or iMac is not available, you can also use a PC to retrieve data from a damaged MacBook Pro or Air hard drive.

Fortunately, you can avoid disassembling your MacBook or iMac with the help of Target Disk mode. The result of Booting your Apple computer in Target Disk mode makes the MacBook act as an external hard drive.

Hence, you can directly connect a damaged MacBook or iMac to another computer using a proper USB cable or data cable such as Thunderbolt or FireWire, etc. While your MacBook is in target disk mode.

Note: To avoid interruptions like computer shutdown, make sure your Mac devices are fully charged.

How to Recover Data using Target Disk Mode:

Step 1: Connect your unbootable Mac to a Healthy working computer with the help of connecting cables, such as Thunderbolt or FireWire.

Step 2: Turn on your unbootable Mac, and hold the T key on the keyboard to boot your unbootable Mac in Target disk mode.

Step 3: To transfer data from a non-booting Mac to your bootable Mac system, wait until an unbootable Mac appears on the working Mac as an external hard drive. 

(Note: Decrypt your Target drive (unbootable macOS) if it is protected with FileVault.) 

Step 4: Now, turn on your working Mac (bootable Mac), and hold the Option key till the Mac drive appears as bootable.

Step 5: Go to the Finder and find the unbootable Mac drive which is appeared as an external drive on your working Mac.

Step 6: Select the files which you would like to recover from an unbootable Mac and copy them to a healthy MacBook.

Step 7: Eject the Mac drive after you complete transferring or recovering data from it.

Hopefully, Target Disk Mode has fixed the problem. If you are still struggling to boot your MacBook or wondering how to recover an unbootable mac hard drive then kindly follow the next method.

Method 2: Recover Data From Unbootable Mac Using Remo Mac Data Recovery Software:

Utilize Remo Recover (Mac) software to securely recover data from unbootable Mac in a few steps. This Mac Data Recovery tool performs sector-by-sector scanning to recover lost or deleted files from non-booting Mac.

Remo Recover Mac tool works on read-only mode to safely recover data from unbootable, corrupted, or formatted Mac computers like MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, and so on. Remo Recover (Mac) tool is also compatible with all the latest versions of macOS like Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra, etc.


6 steps to Recover Data from MacBook or iMac that won’t Boot:

Connect your unbootable Mac to the working Mac using a data cable and follow the below steps to restore data from the unbootable Mac.

Step 1: Download and install Remo Mac Data Recovery software on the working or healthy Mac and click on Recover Volumes/ Drives option.

Step 2:  Select the Volumes Recovery option.

Step 3:  Select the Disk which represents the unbootable Mac and click Next.

Step 4:  Now, select the Advanced Scan option and specify the file types to be recovered from a non-booting Mac and click Next, to start the data recovery process.

(Press Skip if you are not sure about the file type you want to recover)

Step 5:  After the end of the scanning process, the software displays all the recovered files from the unbootable Mac computer.

Step 6:  Preview the recovered files such as photos or videos for free and save them on the desired location of your choice.

Quick Note: You must have a healthy or working Mac computer to recover files from an unbootable Mac computer.

Hence now you have safeguarded data you can move to fix the MacBook.

How do I fix my MacBook that refuses to boot up?

When your MacBook or iMac is stuck at the Apple logo and fails to boot further, the majority of times it is due to a damaged Mac hard drive. In case of a critically damaged MacBook hard drive, you need to reinstall the Mac OS or restore data using Time Machine backup.

In case of simple error situations, you can fix them using the following methods.

Force Switch off MacBook:

Press and hold the MacBook or iMac power button for 10 seconds to force turn off. Now restart the Mac again, if it is a minor error your MacBook should boot normally. This might look primitive but rebooting fixes a lot of issues.

Booting Mac in Recovery Mode:

Booting Mac in Recovery mode will provide you tools to fix the MacBook that won’t boot. Follow the below steps to backup or recover files from unbootable Mac using Recovery mode (Disk Utility).

  1. Connect an external hard drive to your unbootable Mac.
  2. Restart your unbootable Mac and hold Command + R keys till you see the Apple logo.
  3. Select Disk Utility, From macOS utility window
  4. Now, select the disk you want to recover or backup data from it (for example Macintosh HD, unless you renamed it).
  5. Then, select File and click New Image.
  6. Select Image from selected disk (Macintosh HD).

(Note: You can change the name of your disk selected)

  1. Now, select your external drive > choose compressed format > click Save.
  2. After the recovery or backup process completes, you can find your unbootable Mac data on the external drive.

Note: The above method is performed on an OS X El Capitan interface, and the other OS X versions might differ slightly.

Boot Mac in Safe Mode:

Just hold the shift key while switching on your iMac or MacBook and release the shift button when the Apple logo appears. Booting Mac in safe mode might not completely fix the error but it will give you a window to recover all your important files.

Use First aid from the disk utility option to fix the error. Even after using the first aid option if the error persists, you need to reinstall the Mac OS or restore from Time Machine backup.

Nevertheless, don’t forget to recover the data before repairing the damaged MacBook.


You might sometimes see that your MacBook is booting up but the operating system refuses to load, the main reason behind this could be due to a corrupt or damaged MacBook Hard drive, which can be repaired by running first aid from recovery mode. If not, then make use of the Remo Recover (Mac), which is trustworthy software to recover files from unbootable Mac and formatted or corrupted Mac drives. 

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John Harris

Senior Editor, Content Analyst and a fan of exceptional customer service. John develops and publishes instructional and informational content regarding partition management, Windows hot-fixes, data management and computer troubleshooting.

As a tenured data recovery specialist, John shares exceptional insights and blog posts about data loss and data recovery across any storage device. With 8+ years’ experience in writing for Data Recovery for both Mac OS and Windows OS computers, he is an avid learner who always wants to polish and simplify the data recovery process. John passes his free time playing Chess and reading Science Fiction novels.

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