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Apple Admits MacBook Hard Drives Defective, Offers Free Repair Program

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In a move reminiscent of the warranty extension Apple (s aapl) offered to MacBook Pro owners affected by NVIDIA-gate, the Mac maker announced this week that it would offer a similar consideration to some MacBook owners whose hard drives are crashing. Eligible models (black and white MacBooks sold between May 2006 and December 2007) affected by the problem will be repaired at no cost.

On the support page created to describe the problem and the resulting warranty extension, Apple doesn’t mention which brand of hard drives are affected by name, which could mean that the problem doesn’t lie with the hard drives themselves, but with some other system components. Another indication that this is indeed the case is that all capacities of hard drive are also affected.

If you’re wondering whether or not you have an affected unit (Apple says only a “small percentage” of users will experience problems), it’s very easy to identify. Your MacBook will just stop working altogether, and any attempts to boot it will result in a screen that displays a folder icon with a question mark over top of it, as in the image below. As someone who’s seen this screen many times while fixing up old PowerBooks, I can tell you it isn’t a heartening experience.

Apple describes what you should do if you’re greeted with such a screen:

Please take your MacBook to the Apple representative most convenient for you:

  • Apple Authorized Service Provider – Find one here.
  • Apple Retail Store – Set up an appointment with a Genius.

If Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider confirms that your hard drive is affected, Apple will replace it with a new hard drive. You will need to have the original OS installation discs that were shipped with your product in order to re-install your operating system, other applications, and any backed up data.

If you need assistance finding the best service option in your area, you may contact Apple Technical Support for more information.

It sounds like any data you may have stored on the drive will be irrevocably lost if this does happen to you, so if you have one of the affected models and you haven’t yet implemented any kind of backup system, you should probably consider doing so.

If your machine has already had this problem, and you’ve already paid out of pocket to get it fixed or replace your drive, you can contact Apple Technical Support and inquire about a reimbursement process. No word on whether that extends to at home HD replacements, which is how I would’ve tried to solve the problem, but if you haven’t kept your old faulty drive, I highly doubt it would. Mostly I expect this will apply when people have taken their machines through official Apple repair channels to correct the problem.

The extension period covers affected Macs three years from the date of purchase, for this specific problem alone, or until August 15, 2010, whichever comes last, so you still have about six months in which your HD can fail and you’ll still be covered. It may seem like an arbitrary window, but Apple does include a caveat that it will be evaluating the repair need on an ongoing basis and extend that deadline if circumstances require.

Anyone experienced the symptoms Apple is describing with this model MacBook?

52 Responses to “Apple Admits MacBook Hard Drives Defective, Offers Free Repair Program”

  1. SoSadMacHDD

    Yes :( This was just an extra Macbook we had lying around at work. Since I had a newer Macbook Pro when the hard drive failed, I wasn’t too worried about repairing the older Macbook and took my time looking into what was wrong with it. Once I determined it was a hard drive failure I heard that this was a known issue with 2006 Macbooks and could have had the hard disk repaired for free. Missed the deadline by a month and a half. Rats!

  2. Perfect example of how Apple does not use any better hardware then a cheap $400 Dell. The only saving face of Apple is that they finally at least try and make it right. I can tell you this is not just a Apple issue. The heat problems with laptops are very hard on Hard drives.

  3. I bought my MacBook in may 2007. My hard drive crashed in late 2008 and it was replaced. Now it’s late 2010 and I’m experiencing the folder with question mark icon as well as the no-sign and my MacBook will not work at all past these two signs before shutting itself down. So needless to say my MacBook is beyond defective because this has happened TWICE IN THREE YEARS. Thanks Apple

  4. My MacBook From 2006 hard drive failed while bringing it in to the apple store to find out why my DVD drive isn’t working. The apple rep pretty much crashed it right in front of me. On top of that my battery has expanded from all the heat, still works fine tho. They made it sound like it would be covered and then they call me the next day telling me I have to pay $200 plus to get the HD replaced! Why should i have to pay If no one else here had to pay.. What should I do? This unfair

  5. If you own a laptop, it might be useful for you to learn about the hard drive in the machine. The reason is that many hard drives might need to be upgraded for increased speed or capacity, or they might fail at some point. In this article, we will explore 5 things you need to know about laptop hard drives so that you can upgrade or replace your hard drive if there is ever a need.

  6. So the other day, I found my MacBook Pro running a bit slow to load programs and applications. For work, I tend to use all four spaces / desktops in addition to VMWare Fusion running Windows 7 64bit, CS4, and Office. I also don’t usually keep all the programs open at the same time as I only have 4Gb of ram at the moment so there is a lot of opening and closing of applications.

  7. I purchased my black MacBook in March of 2007 and my hard drive failed for the third time yesterday. I’ve had many other problems with it – the battery was replaced twice, the adapter once, the screen stopped working, and I had the common chipping. Apple is replacing it with a new MacBook Pro, which does not at all compensate for the time and energy I have wasted trying to repair my computer. I have half a mind to sell my replacement machine and buy an HP laptop.

  8. Rahul Ravi

    I purchased a MacBook in January 2008 and since then it has had 4 hard drive failures. Fortunately I had extended warranty from FutureShop. Finally in April 2010 FutureShop replaced the machine and gave me a new MacBook. The new MacBook (White) has had one hard drive failure in July and a second failure in August. It is currently undergoing repair in Apple Store (Montreal). I asked the technician in Apple Store as to what could be causing this and the answer I received was “Bad Luck”.
    I guess I have had enough bad luck with Apple so now I am planning to try my luck with PC laptops.

  9. Michael

    This precise issue happened to me last week. However, since I purchase my Macbook back in Nov. 2008, they said that the Repair Extension Program did not apply. I also explained to them that I purchased a “refurbished” Macbook and that the original sale might have been during the “affected” period. Apple said that was irrelevant. Bottom line is that my hard drive crashed 18 months after purchase – clearly making the hard drive defective – notwithstanding my purchase date. Quite dissatisfied with Apple at this point….

  10. I just want to say thanks for the article it really saved me from costly repairs and was about to give up when I called an Apple tech and mentioned this blog to him. Even though it was a month off they still honored it, so thanks for the help here and to Apple as well.

  11. This happened to me about 20 mins ago. Everything froze, I rebooted and then the clicking and question mark. Mine is a white MacBook, bought August 2007.

    Hadn’t taken it home for a while so my time machine is a month out of date :(

  12. My Mac book, just over a year started freezing up. So I took it in to an authorised dealer and they told me that there are “bad data blocks”- basically the hard drive is defective. I was told that this problem was inevitable- any data stored near these “bad blacks” would be affected. I used to think so highly of Macs, now I really wonder. How can I get Apple to replace my hard drive after the warranty is over? Bought in March 2009. Thanks

  13. speak108

    This happened to me recently. The MAC store just replaced my HD. No questions asked. They didn’t tell me this is something that has been happening to many 2006 models. I lost everything – my fault, no back-up. I was wondering why I didn’t pay for it? I got a better hard drive, but 3.5 years of things gone. I have had many things replaced as well.

  14. Vikas


    My 2006 white Macbook 80GB hard drive crashed recently (SMART status failure), and the technician at the Apple Service center said that Apple will replace it for free.

    However, they are also saying that my Macbook needs a new top case. Apparently, some liquid (most probably the lemon juice I’d accidentally dropped about 2 years back) has dried up, due to which there is some problem in the circuit. Since all of this is connected, the hard drive is sometimes not properly recognized during the boot (at least, that’s what they claim).

    I’d be grateful if one of you guys could verify if that is possible – that a bad top case could result in not recognizing the hard drive. Thanks for the help.

  15. Starting up my Macbook yesterday, I was faced with the dreaded flashing question mark. I looked around the internet for advice for an hour or so, even on Apple’s own support pages, but with no luck. Eventually I came across this blog and was quite pleased since I had bought my Macbook towards the end of 2006.

    I phoned Apple support and they booked me in to my local Apple store the same day. I picked it up the next day. The guy said he would have done it the same day if I had an earlier appointment.

    I now have a 160 gigabyte hard drive instead of a 60 gigabyte one, as well as new housing and keys. The bill would have been 140 UKP.

    The only thing I’m not entirely happy about was that Apple kept my old hard drive for testing and they said that because I hadn’t requested to keep it when I handed over my Macbook there is no chance of getting it back. I’m a bit concerned about them keeping it, since it has my personal information on it and I wonder what will happen to it if they do manage to access the data.

    So ask for your hard drive back when you hand over your Macbook otherwise you’ll never see it again.

  16. I have just experienced a problem with my 2008 white macbook. But I am not getting the question mark sign. It just will not boot up it tries but will not do it.
    Has anyone seen this before.

    • I just had the same experience! 2008 White MacBook wouldn’t boot up – just a blue screen with the “searching” indicator. Took it to Simply Mac and was told my HD failed. Tech said it didn’t need replacement. Although I had Time Machine back up was told they didn’t know if corruption was HD or Time Machine so, I was charged for a full data recovery. HD was cleaned -data restored. Timely (4 days without a computer) and costly! Of course, no one mentioned to me that this was an issue – I just started researching it today….

  17. I have mid-2007 Macbook. My hard drive crashed in the classic manner (with the springy sounds and clicking) the other day. I took it to an Apple store (no Applecare) and the tech told me he “was going to give me a break” and replace the hard drive (with a slightly larger one), and also replace the chipped bezels around the keyboard and screen, at no charge (about $400 in parts and service).

    I had heard about the Macbook HD replacement program, but wanted to hear what Apple had to say about the situation, so I asked him what prompted this generosity. He said that it was pretty clear from the appearance of the machine that I took good care of it, and since the crash was premature, they were putting their money on the fact that it was a problem with the part, not the user.

    Not that I don’t take care of my computer, but since I am of the “clean-underwear in case you get into an accident” school of public appearances, I happen to have wiped down the machine with Windex before heading out to the Apple Store. Perhaps I was owed a new HD, but I’m grateful for the new bezels which, hopefully, won’t shed like my cat.

  18. Yes, they replaced my Macbook 2007’s harddrive twice, as well as the logic board and other issues. Various symbols would show up on the gray screen, including the question mark and prohibitory symbol.

    Finally, they wasted so much of my time, I picked up my brand new Macbook polycarbonate unibody yesterday, as a free replacement. Despite the problems, Apple has great service, now my new computer and warranty should last another few years hopefully without costing me any more money!

  19. Seanemac007

    So if I bought my white MacBook in January of 2008 somehow I am ok? They are that accurate with the models? Is it crazy to think that the MacBook I walked out of the store with in Jan ’08 might have been one made a month before?

  20. I had this problem on May 2008 after I bought my Macbook White on June 2007. I thought it was human-error and I had it repaired at no cost. Unfortunately, it was still under 1-year global warranty and since then I’ve never had such icon on my screen again.
    I terribly recommend backing up data regularly.

  21. This happened with my wife’s macbook a couple months ago and I replaced the hard drive with a brand new one. A couple weeks later it happened again. Maybe I’m not understanding everything, but doesn’t this seem like a problem with the computer and not just the drive?

  22. Just confirming: I had this happen to me 3 times! Total failure of the hard drive in my MacBook Pro. I learned to love Time Capsule! The last one fixed it and it also seemed to be caused by the cable that’s connecting the hard drive. Everything cool now.

  23. The first Macbook model had a lot of issues. Mine got : 2 DVD drive failure, mother board failure, top case coloration (white to red/pink), HD failure (lost all data), all within the first year.
    Apple finaly replaced it by a new and better Macbook2,1 – working almost great since (webcam is dead, battery failure)

    All my friends who bought a Macbook in 2006 had their HD fail after a few months. No exception.

  24. I just got off the phone with Apple Support. My 2006 white macbook’s 60GB drive died in Nov 2007. I replaced it myself with a drive I bought from Newegg. Apple said that they could not reimburse me because I did not buy the replacement drive from them.

    BUT they did offer to send me a new drive (do they even stock 60GB drives anymore???) for free. They wanted to put a hold on my credit card for the cost of the drive ($180 for a 60GB drive? I don’t think so.) but I balked at that, so they gave me a case number and said I could just take care of it in person at any Apple store or authorized third party repair shop.

    All-in-all not the best experience, but it’s still a free drive that I otherwise wouldn’t have.

  25. Hey!!! Why this post was not put up 5 months back!!!

    I am really furious. I have a mid 2007 MB (black) and some time in October I did face that issue one fine morning. My hard drive was dead & I was greeted with this ‘? with a folder’. I had to spend close to $100 to replace my old hard drive for a new one. Also I lost all my data. I didn’t back up my system. A hard lesson indeed.

    What is the way out, now that I have changed my hard drive in Oct 2009.
    Also I am not on APP. Does this extend only to those who use APP?

    I am from India.


  26. Exactly! A white MacBook from summer, 2006. When I brought it to the shop last year, they merely said my HD had died. They added it happens. So I replaced it and threw off the old one. Ah.

    • ah yup… same thing happened to me and my sister in law… hard drives died and we had to replace them. I had apple care and she didn’t. This is kind of a empty gesture by Apple because I imagine a lot of people’s HD’s have already died/been replaced or people out grew them and upgraded. I doubt they’ll have to pay for much with this new policy.

  27. I’ve had this happen twice to me and was told that I’d receive a new MacBook if it happened again. Apparently three times is when they finally give you a new unit. I’ve also had the DVD/cd player replaced three twice. Something tells me there was someone not paying attention when they built my laptop