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You know you're in trouble. Almost as soon as you turn on your Mac, it makes a noise you've never heard before--it may sound like glass breaking in a car crash or like a series of beeps. If you have an older Mac, the dreaded Sad Mac icon may appear, or you may just get a blank gray screen. After that, your Mac acts as though it's dead in the water. What do you do?

You can try out a few tricks at home before calling tech support or, even worse, lugging your computer to a service shop.

1. Restart   You can't select the Restart command in the Finder--after all, you can't even get to the Finder--but you have other options. What to do varies with different Mac models. In most cases, you're guaranteed success if you press the reset button (the triangle-symbol button on your Mac).

Starting All Over Again   Find and press the reset button on your G4, iBook, iMac, or PowerBook if you can't select the Restart command.

2. Start Up from a Bootable CD   If the reset button doesn't help, try starting up from a bootable CD such as the Install or Restore CDs that come with every Mac.

Insert the disc immediately after pressing the reset button (you may need to hold down the C key or option key to get the Mac to start from the CD).

3. Check for Disk Damage   Once you've started up from the Install CD, check your hard drive for damage with Disk First Aid and make any recommended repairs. Restart.

Choose the disc you want to check. Then click on Verify to check the integrity of your disc and its file structures. Finally, click on Repair to fix the problem(s). If Disk First Aid cannot correct all the problems, you may want to try starting up from another disc, such as Norton Utilities.

4. Zap the PRAM   If trouble persists, repeat the procedure, this time zapping the PRAM.

You can zap the PRAM by pressing command-option-P-R at start-up, but TechTool can provide a more complete zap--and you can save your settings to restore afterwards.

5. Check for Hardware Problems   If your Mac still needs resuscitation, you probably have a hardware problem. The most common one is a defective memory module. Now may be the time to take your Mac to an Apple Authorized Service Provider if you aren't comfortable opening it up and swapping parts.

6. Run the Apple Hardware Test Diagnostic CD   If you have the Apple Hardware Test Diagnostic CD that recently started shipping with FireWire PowerBooks, give it a try. It can check for hardware problems even if your Mac can't start up.

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