Folder Question Mark?

Recently a friend of mine asked me to look at his Late 2011 MacBook Pro 13″. Apparently, it would only boot to the old “Folder With Question Mark”. That is always a bad sign on a Mac, but the problem is it could be many different issues.


The Problem

Typically when you see the “Folder With Question Mark” it is related to a hardware problem. Maybe the hard drive has failed, or even the Logic Board. Ocassionally, this can be attributed to an operating system issue, but mostly it is associated with some type of hardware failure. So, what to do. Have you ever taken a health problem to the Doctor? They get to the issue through a process of elimination. We use the same process in troubleshooting a Mac.

The Process

The first thing I did was to boot the computer using my external, USB 2.0 tech drive. I have a bunch of apps on my tech drive that can repair and/or check hard drive’s for problems. The MacBook Pro booted fine from my tech drive. That tells me that the Logic Board and LCD screen are probably OK. All you are doing is substituting the tech hard drive for the internal one, everything else on the machine stays the same.

After booting to my tech drive I tried to run several different disk repair and disk examination programs but none of them would work. The problem was none of them could see the hard drive in the machine! It did not show up. It looked like the HD was just dead or getting dead quickly.

Based on that information I shutdown the laptop and removed it’s internal hard drive. I placed this drive in a drive dock and connected it to my iMac. After a bit, the drive showed up on my Desktop! What! I was reasonably certain the internal HD (it was about 4 years old) was dead. I was able to navigate on the HD using the Finder and see the files, no problem.

So, then I thought it might be a software issue so I reinstalled the HD in the laptop and tried to do a system recovery. It took a while, but when it was finished and ready to install a new system the HD did not show up. Really?!

So, I removed the HD and put it back in the drive dock. But, this time I tried to boot my iMac from it. Well, it booted fine. It was a little show, but once booted I could navigate around and bootup programs with no problem. So, where exactly did that leave me?

The Solution

It had to be (90% sure) the Hard Drive Cable. In the old days it was referred to as the Hard Drive Flex Cable. It is the cable that connects the hard drive to the Logic Board like so:

The top arrow is the SATA connector for the HD and you can see where the cable plugs into the Logic Board at the bottom of the image. This is a process of elimination, but at that point I just did not know what else it could be. Yes, I suppose the plug recepticle for the cable on the Logic Board could be bad but in my experience that is extremely rare. However, over the years I have replaced a few Hard Drive Flex Cables on various Mac laptops.

I ordered a new Hard Drive Cable for the Late 2011 MacBook Pro 13″ from iFixit. You can find them cheaper used, but this is a misison critical machine and iFixit has good stuff.


It was fun working on this machine, figuring out what was really the problem. It is very satisfying to be able to help someone else