If your Mac suddenly died and you need to retrieve the data stored, you’ve come to the right place. We know how overwhelming it might be having to deal with recovering data from a dead Mac. But the good news is there is a chance of getting back your files even in the most complex situations.

In this article, we’ll take you through the most effective data recovery methods that can help you restore data from an unresponsive or dead Mac.

Why Did My Mac Become Dead?

Here’s are the most common reasons why a Mac can become dead:

  • 💽 Hardware issues: If you leave hardware issues untreated on your Mac (such as problems with the logic board or memory), they may continue getting worse and be the reason why your Mac won’t turn on.
  • 🦠 Malware: Even though Macs are less likely than Windows-based computers to get a virus, there is still a possibility that it might happen. Adware, spyware, worms, or any other malware kind can do irreversible damage to your Mac.
  • 🔨 Physical damage: Mishaps happen pretty often. If you drop your Mac, it can cause some severe damage to the computer and even make it unbootable.
  • 🔥 Environmental impact: Exposure to high humidity, water, excessive heat, and dust buildup can affect the moving parts in your Mac’s drive and cause irreversible damage.
  • 💾 Operating system corruption: Your Mac can get corrupted and crash if you fail to successfully complete a macOS update (for example, if the computer suddenly disconnects from Wi-Fi during the update).
  • 💻 Troublesome applications: You should be careful when downloading suspicious apps from the web since some of them might have bugs that may cause the system to crash.
  • Aging: In general, the lifespan of Macs is around 5-7 years. The older your Mac gets, and the more its parts wear off, the higher the chances for it to die.

How to Recover Data From a Dead Mac

Here are the best data recovery methods to help you recover data from a dead Mac hard drive.

Method 1 Recover Data From a Dead Mac With Data Recovery Software

So, how to get files off a dead MacBook?

If your Mac is dead and you can’t boot it properly, the easiest and quickest solution for recovering the data stored there is to use a specialized data recovery tool.

Follow these steps to recover data from a dead Mac using Disk Drill:

  1. Connect the external drive to your dead Mac.
  2. Boot into Recovery Mode (for Intel-based Macs, turn on your Mac by pressing the power button and holding the Command + R keys; for M1 Macs, press and hold the power button until the Startup Options window appears).apple logo recovery mode on mac
  3. Launch Terminal (click Utilities > Terminal on the menu at the top of the screen).launch terminal in recovery mode
  4. Type the following command in the Terminal window and hit the Return key:
    sh <(curl http://www.cleverfiles.com/bootmode/boot.xml)
  5. Wait for the application to open.
  6. Choose Storage devices from the sidebar on the left and select your Mac’s drive from the list of drives.
  7. Click the Search for lost data button to start the scan.scan mac with disk drill
  8. Wait for the scan to finish and click Review found items.
    review found items mac
  9. Choose the files that you wish to restore and click the Recover button.recover all mac data with disk drill
  10. Choose a folder that you want to use as the destination for the recovered data and click OK to confirm.

Method 2 Use an External Hard Drive to Recover Data From a Dead Mac

If the previous method didn’t work for you, try using an external hard drive to retrieve the files from your unresponsive Mac. You’ll need to boot your Mac in Recovery Mode and create a disk image backup via Disk Utility.

Here’s how to recover data from a dead MacBook Pro or MacBook Air:

  1. Connect the external drive to your dead Mac.
  2. Boot into Recovery Mode (for Intel-based Macs, turn on your Mac by pressing the power button and holding the Command + R keys; for M1 Macs, press and hold the power button until the Startup Options window appears).
  3. Open Disk Utility on your computer.
  4. Select the connected external drive from the list of devices on the left and click the Erase button. Name your drive, choose the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format and the GUID Partition Map scheme. Click Erase to format the drive.erase drive in disk utility mac
  5. Click Macintosh HD on the sidebar on the left and then use the menu bar at the top to go to File > New Image > Image from Macintosh HD.
  6. In the field near Save As, type in a name for the backup. Click the arrows near Where to choose a destination (your external drive), and choose the read/write image format. Click Save to create the backup.create mac backup disk utility in recovery mode
  7. Once the backup is created, eject the drive and connect it with a working Mac.
  8. Double click the backup image to open it.
  9. Download and install Disk Drill on your working Mac.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  10. Open Disk Drill and choose the image backup file from the available storage devices. Initiate a scan and complete the recovery process as described in Method #1 (steps 7-10).

Method 3 Create a macOS Bootable USB Disk and Recover Data from a Dead MacBook

For this data recovery method, you’ll need a USB flash drive, a macOS installation file, an Internet connection, your damaged Mac, and a working one. Before moving forward to the main process, you’ll need to format your flash drive:

  1. Connect the drive to your working Mac and launch Disk Utility.
  2. Choose the USB drive from the list of devices on the sidebar.
  3. Click the Erase button.format external drive on mac via disk utility
  4. Name your drive, choose the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format and the GUID Partition Map scheme.
  5. Click Erase to format the drive.

Once your flash drive is ready, you’ll also need to download a macOS installation file. To do it, open App Store on your Mac, and type in the desired macOS version in the search field. Remember that you only need to download the file, so quit the installation window as soon as it pops out.

Here’s how to recover data from a dead MacBook Pro SSD or HDD:

  1. Download and install Disk Drill on the working Mac.
    Disk Drill
    Data recovery for free
    Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery
  2. Open the application and click macOS Installer on the sidebar.
  3. Choose the needed macOS installation file from the list (if it’s not there, simply drag and drop it into the app’s window or click Add macOS installer on the bottom to locate it on your Mac). Select the connected USB flash drive as the destination and click Create macOS installer.disk drill macos installer
  4. Click Yes and wait for the process to finish. Then click Done and eject the drive.
  5. Connect the flash drive with the dead Mac and boot it into Recovery Mode (for Intel-based Macs, turn on your Mac by pressing the power button and holding the Command + R keys; for M1 Macs, press and hold the power button until the Startup Options window appears).choosing user account for macos recovery mode
  6. Boot from the USB flash drive.
  7. Download Disk Drill and install it on the computer.
  8. Open the application, choose Mac’s main drive from the list of devices, and click Search for lost data to start the scan.
  9. Click Review found items and select the files which you wish to recover.review found items mac
  10. Click the Recover button, select a folder for the recovered data, and click OK.

Method 4 Use Target Disk Mode or Share Disk to Transfer the Data

You can use a built-in feature on your Mac to transfer data from the dead Mac to a working one. For this method, you’ll need your damaged Mac, a working one, and a Thunderbolt cable to connect them.

Intel-based Mac Instructions

Follow these steps to recover data from a dead Mac using Target Disk Mode:

  1. Connect your dead Mac and a working one with a cable.
  2. Press and hold the T key and the power button on your dead Mac to boot it in Target Disk Mode.target disk mode mac
  3. On the working Mac, go to Finder > Locations > Network. Double-click your broken Mac’s drive and navigate to Connect As > Guest, and choose Connect.
  4. Drag and drop the files which you want to recover from your dead Mac to the other one.

Apple Silicon-based Mac Instructions

Follow these steps to recover data from a dead Mac using Share Disk:

  1. Connect your dead Mac and a working one with a cable.
  2. Press and hold the power button on the damaged Mac until the Startup Options window appears.
  3. Click Options > Continue.recovery mode startup options on mac
  4. Using the menu bar, go to Utilities > Share Disk.
  5. Select your Mac’s main drive and click Start Sharing.
  6. On the working Mac, go to Finder > Network and double-click the damaged Mac’s drive to access the data stored there.
  7. Drag and drop the files which you want to recover from your dead Mac to the other one.

Method 5 Resort to a Professional Data Recovery Service

If the methods described above gave no result, the other solution that you can try is to allow data recovery professionals to see what can be done to recover the data from your dead MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. Even in the worst-case scenarios, reputable data recovery centers have the capabilities and suitable tools that can help effectively retrieve the files from an unresponsive Mac.

How to Fix/Repair a Dead Mac

Once you’ve recovered the data from your dead Mac, you can try to repair your computer. Here are some options that can help to fix your unresponsive Mac:

  • Force a restart
  • Start your Mac in Safe Mode
  • Use Disk Utility’s First Aid feature via Recovery Mode
  • Reset the system management controller firmware
  • Reinstall macOS
  • Boot in Single User mode and use FSCK
  • Reset the NVRAM

How to Prevent Your Mac From Being Dead

If you take good care of your Mac, it can last even up to a decade. Here’s what you should do to prevent your Mac from suddenly becoming unresponsive and prolong its lifespan:

  • 📈 Regularly check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your Mac’s drive
  • 🚫 Don’t install applications from sketchy sites
  • 🛡️ Use antivirus software
  • 🔥 Don’t let your Mac overheat
  • 🎵 Pay attention to strange sounds coming from your Mac
  • 🔃 Make sure your macOS is up-to-date
  • 📂 Keep track of the available storage space so that it doesn’t run out

Conclusion

You can never be completely sure that your Mac won’t develop any hardware or software issues. Such things can happen to anyone. Therefore, you need to always be ready, even for the worst case scenario. And the best way to do it is to regularly back up your Mac so that you won’t have to deal with data recovery problems if your Mac gets damaged or dies.

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Romana Levko

Romana Levko is a content writer with a strong interest in the technology field: data recovery, cybersecurity, and everything Apple are among her favorite subjects to explore. Her goal is to expand the reader’s unders...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.