Reader Joe Feil’s daughter faces an age-old conundrum—you’ve got your repair CD at the ready, but your media drive appears to be on the fritz. He writes:
My daughter’s Mac doesn’t recognize CDs when inserted into the machine. She has both Norton Utilities and Disk Warrior, but can’t start up on either because the Mac isn’t aware of the CDs. We connected a cross wire between our Macs. I could see the image of her hard drive, but neither of the repair programs could. She checked her hard drive using Norton’s Disk Doctor on my machine. It recognized problems, but could do nothing because the Mac was running on its own operating system.
By “cross wire” I’m assuming that you’ve tried to repair the Mac over a computer-to-computer network you’ve created. As you’ve discovered, that won’t do the job because the repair utilities don’t know how to deal with a drive mounted as another computer’s startup drive. But in regard to attempting to diagnose the problem from your computer, you’re on the right track, you’ve just attempted the wrong sort of connection.
The correct connection is FireWire. Shut down the two Macs, string a standard FireWire cable between your two computers, boot your daughter’s Mac with the T key held down to boot into FireWire target disk mode, and then boot your Mac as you normally would. On her monitor you’ll see a FireWire symbol that bounces around the display, indicating that it’s in target mode. On your Mac’s Desktop you’ll find a FireWire hard drive icon that represents her Mac’s hard drive. Install Disk Warrior on your Mac and have it diagnose (and, if necessary, repair) her Mac’s drive. (I’d stay away from Norton Utilities. It’s out of date and could cause additional problems.)
When Disk Warrior has finished, drag your daughter’s hard drive to the trash to unmount it and unplug the FireWire cable.
Of course nothing can repair a media drive that’s given up the ghost. If you get no good results from this procedure you may need to shop for a new drive for her computer.