How to fix Apple question mark folder at startup

Apple laptop and desktop computers are known to be difficult to repair. So it’s important to understand the problem thoroughly before getting a fix. Signs of failure or errors may start to be more frequent when you’ve had your computer for a while. Paying attention to these errors can hopefully save you from an unexpected total failure of your system.

The Apple question mark folder is a startup issue, which can be traced back to a hard drive failure. You may find yourself stuck on this screen when you are booting up your Apple Macbook laptop or desktop computer, and it does not boot to MacOS. The MacOS startup process involves using startup files stored on the startup disk, that is your hard drive.

Why does the Apple question mark folder happen?

The question mark folder appears when your system can’t find system files on the startup disk to properly start up. Or the system files on the startup disk are inaccessible. Your screen might also show a loading bar that is near completion, but never does, or shuts down before it does. An infinitely spinning wheel that never loads can also happen in this case.

If the question mark folder error only appears for a second and still starts up properly, you can try re-selecting your startup disk from System Preferences. Just click the disk icon of your startup disk, and you’re done. However, it’s more common that users get stuck on this error screen instead.

This very likely indicates a hard drive issue, where files on the drive are corrupted or lost. With this failure, the startup process is disrupted or unable to go through without the correct information to start.

Causes of hard drive failure

Believe it or not, hard drives don’t live forever. Traditional spinning hard drives can be prone to physical damage, because of its delicate machinery inside. These moving parts are the read / write heads and spinning platters that work the read and write data processes. Any kind of blunt force that the drive is not protected against can cause the read / write head to scratch the surface of the platters. This sort of physical damage can cause bad sectors, which ultimately causes hard drive failures.

When bad sectors accumulate to a point where the drive cannot tolerate them, the drive will start to fail and possibly crash. These bad sectors can come from physical damage or software issues. Things like unexpected shutdown of apps or power while the drive is writing information is a software issue that can cause soft bad sectors. Soft bad sectors can be repaired by Disk Utility, while permanently damaged hard bad sectors can only be skipped over. Bad sectors can cause file loss or corruption, and slow down your computer’s performance.

How to fix question mark folder startup issue

Startup issues can usually mean a faulty hard drive. When you’re having problems with starting up your Apple laptop or desktop computer, it might be time to test your system for hardware issues. We’ll show you how to test your hard drive for issues, and how to get it replaced.

1. Using disk utility and Apple diagnostics

You may use some built-in Apple tools to test your hard drive for issues as the first step, this includes Disk Utility and Apple diagnostics.

Disk Utility and First Aid

If you can get your laptop or desktop computer to startup properly, you can run tests from Disk Utility. Disk Utility is a quick hard drive tool that every Apple computer has. By running First Aid from Disk Utility, you can detect and repair hard drive issues like unexpected app crashes or inaccessible files.

First Aid, as a simple tool, can still do a lot for your hard disk. It can repair or isolate any bad sectors detected, so your computer can avoid writing on faulty parts on the drive.

One other useful thing that First Aid can help you with is detecting imminent failure. When the drive reaches an unbearable amount of bad sectors, Disk Utility will report imminent failure. It will also recommend that you backup your data and get a hard drive replacement.

Apple diagnostics

If your computer is still stuck at startup and you can’t get to Disk Utility, Apple Diagnostics is also offered as a startup diagnostic tool. It is used as a hardware diagnostic for most components on the device. With Apple Diagnostics, you can test internal (including the mouse, keyboard, and display monitor for desktops) components including the hard drive.

Press the “D” key to enter Apple Diagnostics, then hold until you reach a language selection screen. After this, tests will begin automatically. Apple Diagnostics will then report of any found issues across your hardware, whether it might be from your RAM, battery, or hard drive. Reference codes and suggested solutions also come with this report, and you can use these error codes for when you get help from Apple Support. If you do find issues with your hard disk, then you can start looking for repair and replacement solutions.

2. Dedicated hard drive analysis software

For a more thorough test on your hard drive, you may also use free hard drive analysis software like WD Drive Utilities for Mac. This is also an option for when you can’t get your laptop or desktop to startup properly. It involves taking out your hard drive and testing it on a separate Mac desktop computer. You’ll need a SATA to USB enclosure box for this as well.

Testing the hard drive on a separate system helps to isolate the drive from any other factors that can affect the results. As the enclosure is powered by a separate power source as well, this gets you unbiased test results.

Hard drive analysis software usually offers two options: Quick test and Extended test. It can also attempt to repair bad sectors. As a more thorough test, they usually take longer than built-in tools we mentioned above.

3. Choosing a hard drive replacement

While First Aid and hard drive analysis can repair some of your issues and solve your startup issue, this kind of quick fix might not last you very long. It might last you another year or so on this drive, but the drive will eventually fail in the end. You may want to think about a more long-lasting solution to your faulty drive: getting a hard drive replacement.

Types of Apple computer hard drives

Fusion Drive

Fusion drive configurations.

Another thing for Apple users to pay attention to is the type of drive they have. Apple laptops and desktop computers often have different types or combinations of storage for each model. This might be in the form of a hard disk drive (HDD), flash storage (SSD), fusion drive (a combination of HDD and SSD), or a built-in storage embedded on the logic board.

Embedding storage on the logic board is a practice that Apple is using more and more these days. This means you can’t replace the storage drive on its own. This might be a drawback for the consumer or third-party repair services, but benefits Apple.

How to find your hard drive’s model number

Mac system overview

From System Information, Apple MacOS users can find their hard drive model and other information as well. Just go to “About this Mac”, and you’ll find your Mac model, serial number, and MacOS version. If you click on System Report, you can also find more detailed information. From the “Storage” tab, you’ll find information about your drive.

With this, you can use your current drive as a reference point to start finding a new drive. This can help you get an idea of your computer usage and what kind of drive that you’re looking for.

How to choose a hard drive replacement

There are a few features that make up the basics of a hard drive: form factor, capacity, and speed.

Form factor

The physical dimensions of the drive is what we call its form factor. Consumer-grade hard drives come in either 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch sizes, which roughly refers to the diameter of the platters inside the drive. 2.5-inch drives are for laptops, while 3.5-inch drives are better suited for desktop computers.


A drive’s capacity would mean how much data it can store. Think about what you use your computer for, and how much space you actually need for that. You won’t need that much if you use your device for personal documents and browsing the web. If you’re using much bigger files like videos or graphics projects, you’ll probably need more than 1TB storage space.


For traditional spinning hard drives, the drive’s speed is measured by its RPM (revolutions per minute). This means how many times the disk spins in a minute. The faster the RPM, the faster the read and write speeds.

Consumer-grade HDDs come in two speeds: 5400RPM and 7200 RPM. A more powerful drive may drain more power, so that might be something to keep in mind.

For other drives like flash storage, speeds are usually just measured by its read and write speeds. They can offer speeds up to 16 times faster than an HDD.

Upgrading to flash storage

For a more balanced choice of both high performance and high durability, consider upgrading your hard disk to flash storage. Flash storage doesn’t contain moving parts, and has much higher read and write speeds than an HDD does. This upgrade can offer a quick and noticeable boost for your computer. Learn more about flash storage here.

4. Installing a hard drive replacement

Installing a new hard drive is an easy DIY project. Computer hardware can sometimes be complicated to navigate through, but storage drive repairs and upgrades is one of the more simple things to do. And we encourage in-home DIY repairs as well.

All you need are some simple tools and a guide to follow. You can find guides specific to your Apple Mac laptop or desktop computer from ifixit.

5. Installing MacOS on your new drive

Installing MacOS on your new drive is something you need to do to use it as a startup disk. As long as you have an internet connection, your Mac will do all the work for you.

Restart your computer to reach Apple MacOS recovery by holding down Command + R. Your system will then connect to the internet to download and install the latest or the correct MacOS for your computer.

Alternatively, you may also try a bootable installer to install MacOS. Use a USB drive that has at least 16GB capacity, download MacOS and install it from there onto your computer.

One more thing…

Now that we understand that hard drives don’t last forever, we can settle with the truth that hard drives need to be replaced over time. There are a few things you could do to keep them from failing prematurely, like shutting down properly and ensuring a clean computing environment. Keeping regular backups and running diagnostics every now and then can also keep you secure from unexpected crashes and data loss.

Professional repairs

While we do encourage DIY, getting a professional repair can save you the time and resources needed to test and repair your hard drive. You might not have a separate Mac desktop to test your hard drive, or even the time to do so. Going to the Apple store, or an Apple authorised service provider can help you there. You can find your closest Apple store from Apple’s Support page.

Otherwise, if your Apple care or warranty has expired, your next option would be a third-party repair service. That being so, a hard drive replacement or upgrade can be done with us, Safemode Computer Service, in Inner West Sydney. Our experienced technicians are highly rated for our services around Sydney. We can help you replace your hard drive, offer upgrade solutions, and configure a fusion drive for you as well. Bring your faulty computer to our Enmore store today.