Fix for Macbook white screen of death. Shame on Apple!

If one day, on booting your Macbook (likely, after doing some serious modification to your hdd or filesystems), you hear the startup chime but you get an empty white screen showing no activity at all, which stays there forever, then you’ve come across the dreaded white screen of death.

In order to fix it, first you can try the (sufficiently explained somewhere else) recommendations of the sort: insert the System Install medium, reset the SMC, reset the PRAM, hold down the Option, C or N keys, boot off the network, etc. But if nothing of that works, don’t panic! Don’t pay much attention to posts out there saying that your hard drive/motherboard is “fried”, nor take yet your machine to the Apple service for getting stolen once again. There are many chances that nothhing is wrong with your hardware. Follow the steps I explain here and, instead of a very expensive repair bill, you’ll probably only spend (depending on your model) $12 on a Phillips #00 screwdriver, plus maybe $14 on a Torx T5.

Now, before you proceed to the fix, I think it’s good you read this brief explanation about how a Macbook boots, so you know what’s going on.

The sequence is more or less like this: the EFI firmware tries to boot either off the hard drive or off another bootable medium (a CD/DVD unit, an install USB stick, the network, etc), if previously so set via OS-X’s Startup Manager. Now, let’s consider the two cases, starting from the second: when the firmware is NOT set to boot off the hard drive, it looks, as instructed, for the alternative boot medium that it was told; but if it doesn’t find it (or the medium isn’t bootable), then it will automatically revert to booting off the hard drive. However, when the firmware is set to boot off the hdd (which is the default) and this drive isn’t bootable (for whatever reason) then it WILL NOT automatically try to find any other alternative boot media, so it doesn’t boot at all, thus presenting to you the white screen of death. This is the stupid logic for which you’ve paid a fortune, instead of buying a cheaper and bullet-proof PC.

Now, how can you work around this problem? Here comes my “copyrighted” fix. It’s quite simple:

Step #1. With the help of the screwdrivers that I mentioned above, remove your Macbook’s back cover and unattach the hard drive from the motherboard (in iFixit you have a great tutorial on how to do it. Don’t be afraid. It’s extemely easy, and even fun. I’m sure you can do it). Having NO hard drive at all is the only way to force the system firmware to automatically look for alternative boot media. So, now

Step #2. simply make available such medium (USB, DVD, network…) and, voilá!, after one minute or so, you’ll take a deep sigh because when you see the little spinning icon, and the laptop will boot. Congratulations: you’ve done the most difficult part; the rest is easy:

Step #3. Once your laptop booted, it’s essential that you go to the Utilities menu, open the Startup Manager and set the computer to, next time, boot off anything except the hard drive, or you’ll be in the same SHITuation upon next boot! Next,

Step #4. attach again the hard drive to the motherboard and reboot. It should boot as instructed, presenting no white screen. Now go again to Utilities menu and, using the Disk Utility, repair or (in the worst case) format your hard drive, as needed.

That’s all! SHAME on Apple for neither fixing their firmware nor offering this solution it in their support webpage, but, instead, joyfully getting your money twice: first when selling their crap, second when fixing it.

Notice: I am the “discoverer” of this fix, and I’ve published it here for Apple’s shame and for your benefit. If I’ve spared you one week anguish and/or a $500 bill at the nearest Apple workshop, you might like to show your gratefulness by inviting me a beer. Simply donate here what you’d pay for a beer in your favourite bar. Cheap and nice, huh? 😉

(One last word: due to the excessive amount of comments to this thread, no newer can be posted. I believe that most doubts or questions have already being posted and replied. Please read carefully throughout the comments, because your answer is probably there.)

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41 Responses to Fix for Macbook white screen of death. Shame on Apple!

  1. Danjel says:

    Have you found any other ways to fix this without opening it?
    I am desperately trying to get my AIR fixed asap as there is some critical data to retrieve.
    Unfortunately I can’t find anyone local who has a pentalobe security bit for opening it (fuck you apple!).

    • The Pabster says:

      Yes, fuck you Apple was my conclusion as well, and I finally sold my Air (after having it totally fixed, of course).
      Unfortunately, it’s not possible to fix the problem I describe in my post without phisically opening the laptop and unplugging the hard drive. Yes, that’s Apple’s Eight Wonder. A pentalobe screwdriver is almost impossible to find out on the street. You’d rather buy it online. It costs around 15 US$. And you’ll also need a T7 torx screwdriver (not so hard to find in a good hardware shop) for removing the SSD.
      For your information, I didn’t unscrew the back cover with a pentalobe. I used small screwdrivers (flat, not philips), but the task costed me a hell of a time, effort, energy, sweat, hurting my hands, breaking two screwdrivers and somewhat damaging the screws. So, the pentalobe is much more advisable.
      Good luck!

  2. Thomas BTF says:

    Thank you so much – it even worked perfectly with my old MacBook. In this case you only need a little philips screwdriver. The hard disc was still ok but obviously somthing in the boot sector was wrong. Just triggred a “repair volume”, and is was fixed. Thanks again, there are so many people with the same problem, but your posting was the only useful i found.

  3. The Pabster says:

    I’m sorry about that. But, yes, I’m afraid that sometimes, in a few rare cases, a blank screen of death means indeed a fried disk/motherboard. Yet, a new hard drive isn’t as bad as a new motherboard or new laptop! 🙂

  4. Brian says:

    Great work Pablo — worked wonders for me.
    Really appreciate your detective work.

  5. TimberWolf says:

    I have a macbook air (2008) the screen shows white and there is no start up chime (maby from a bad speaker) and it shows started up and is usable on an external screen. (The key board and touch pad work but only show on the other screen.)
    Any ideas would help.

    • The Pabster says:

      Sorry, no ideas; but, as it’s usable on an external screen, certainly your Air’s problem is totally different from a WSOD (white screen of death).

  6. Danny says:

    many many thanks for you advice worked a treat!

  7. sunny_lbk says:

    I removed the hard drive, inserted the CD and set the boot option to CD drive. When I set this it asks for a “restart”. So, when am I going to put back my hard drive in? And if you change boot options from a bootable CD, are those changes going to apply the next time you boot?
    Anyway, I set the CD drive as a start up disk. I let it restart the next time. Then I held the power button to shut it down. Then I inserted the hard drive back and powered on Macbook. I get the same white screen.
    Am I missing something? Please help!!

    • The Pabster says:

      I think you haven’t missed anything, but let’s check the steps.
      1.- Remove the hard drive.
      2.- Boot off the startup CD and set boot option to CD. Then just shutdown. Don’t restart yet.
      3.- Plug in the hard drive and power on the Macbook WITH the CD inserted. It should boot off the CD as instructed.
      4.- Using the hard drive utils, FORMAT the hard drive.
      5.- Restart now without the CD in. It should boot.
      Notes: a) if at step 2, after setting boot option to CD, it only gives you the restart option, then plug in the hard drive while computer still on and restart (without removing the CD, of course, so that it can boot again).
      b) yes, when you change boot options from bootable CD, those changes apply next time you boot.
      c) you HAVE TO format your hard drive before trying to boot off it; otherwise you get the wite screen again because the firmware is trying to find the boot sector in your hard drive.
      Let me know how it goes. If it doesn’t work, then you might be experiencing a different problem. Good luck.

      • sunny_lbk says:

        I inserted the hard disk when it prompted for restart. Now it boots from CD. But in the Disk Utility the hard disk is not shown.
        And when you say I need to format the hard disk on reboot, does that mean I can’t recover data from it no more?

      • The Pabster says:

        Hmm… This was months ago and, honestly, I don’t remember quite well if I formatted or just “repaired” it. I don’t have a Mac any more so I can’t check the disk utility options. Anyhow, if yours isn’t shown, that sounds to me like bad news. I don’t know what else to suggest. 🙁

      • Greg says:

        Hi, I’m trying to do as you suggest, the only problem I have is when you say : “plug in the hard drive while computer still on”.
        I really don’t know how you did this with a macbook pro…
        I tried to “close” my macbook when the installer was launched, insert my hard drive but when I then “open” the mac, I get nothing but a black screen (looks like it’s off)
        Could you please detail this step a little more?
        Thank you

      • Greg says:

        Well, I tried it again and successfully plugged my SATA hard drive after the installer booted but as soon as I plugged it, the mac goes off….

      • The Pabster says:

        Unfortunately can’t help you with this. I had this problem with two Macbook Airs, not the Pro, so I don’t know how the Pro responds to my “solution”.
        However, some people have commented in this blog that they were successful with repairing their Pro this way. So, I really don’t know what’s the difference and why it doesn’t work with yours.

  8. Oscar Padron says:

    Hi, i have a macbook with the white screen , i have unplugged the HD and then insert the snowleopard install cd, and the apple appears but later doesn´t happen nothing, just the disc is looping but the screen with the apple doesnt change and when it did just appear a folder and a a interrogation signal, and the disk keeps looping, what do need i to do for that the disc boot? and so i can change the options, in the apple center say to me that the logic card doesnt work but i dont think the same because with another hard drive the macbook boots with Linux SO (debian) i hope that you can help to me, sorry for my english i´m a mexican student.

    • The Pabster says:

      Hola Oscar.
      Unfortunately I can’t help you. I don’t have a machine for testing. 🙂 I can only guess: if, after unplugging the hard disk and inserting the install CD, the machine shows signs of life, your motherboard and screen work ok (most of all knowing that you can boot Linux). The system should boot (give it some time, though. It takes a few minutes). Perhaps there is some problem with the install CD? Is it the same CD that you got with the Macbook? Can you get hold of another one? Can someone lend you a different install CD? Lion instead of Snow Leopard? I don’t know, but you’ll have to “play” with those variables.

  9. Andrew says:

    will this potentially work for a mac book pro? and also I was wandering if you knew whether downgrading to snow leopard from lion will erase all my files that I created on lion. Note: I haven’t done a time machine back up or anything , as i can’t get into my desk top, but am able to install my snow leopard install disk,

    • The Pabster says:

      If I remember correctly, some users have reported that it works for any Macbook. And it makes sense, as Apple’s crappy firmware is the same for all the Macbook series.
      As to your downgrading question: I don’t know. I assume you ask that because you don’t have the Lion install disk but you have the Snow Leopard one, right? What you can do, after removing the hard disk, is simply to “repair” your partitions after you reboot with the install disk. Maybe you get lucky and by just repairing the hdd partitions you get a fully working Lion again. But this is just my guess.
      Good luck! And I future readers of this post will appreciate if you come back with some feedback.

  10. Jason says:

    Hey Pabster
    I’ve just replaced the hard drive in a late-2006 MacBook Pro. Replacement went like a dream. But now having trouble on the OS X (10.4.8) install. Have original OS X Install Disc 1 that shipped with machine. I insert the disc but it eventually gets spit out and I get the folder with a question mark appearing.
    I’ve got a slight work around. I also have a MacBook Pro 2010 and use the 10.6.3 install disc. That enables me to get in (after quite a few attempts of disc being spat out, pressing C, pressing shift, pressing D, pressing option etc) – but obviously I can’t install from this disc. However, I can buy-pass a few restore steps and get into utilities. There, I’ve created a GUID drive partition. I then select startup disc but the only options I have are network or the 10.6.3 install disc. I then restart and obviously I’m back to square 1. I try to force eject the 10.6.3 and insert the 10.4.8 which then gets spat out and I can’t continue with the install. I’ve tried using a backup (from my Macbook 2010) from time machine but that won’t work either. I’ve tried copying my 10.4.8 install disc to an external usb drive and that won’t work.
    I’ve spent about 15 hours on this and am losing patience!
    I hope you might be able to give me some pointers!

    • The Pabster says:

      Hello Jason:
      Thanks for your faith on my knowledge, but I’m an absolute ignorant when it comes to Mac machines and OS installations. I just once had a MBA, I experienced the WSOD problem about which is this post, and I told to myself “never again a Mac”. If I had your computer in front of me I might be lucky and devise some workaround, but like this, I can’t think of anything. Sorry.

  11. james says:

    Thank you so much for this walk through. It saved my macbook. I seriously owe you one for your ingenious idea on the hd start up.

  12. Van says:

    Many many thanks!Works like a charm,you are the man! 🙂
    But I have one question.Why did this happen anyway?
    Is ti going to happen again,because I must delete my whole hdd again?

    • The Pabster says:

      Thank you.
      I don’t know why it happens. In both my Macbooks, it happened when I was trying to modify partitions to install Linux, and after installing rEFIT; so probably something in the process corrupted the hdd’s boot record and the whole thing crashed. What were you doing when it happened to you?

  13. Sudheer says:

    I did the first two steps.In third step, i can’t find Startup Manager (under Utilities menu)? Would you kindly help, how can i change the boot preference to harddisk in this case?

    • The Pabster says:

      I don’t remember exactly and don’t have a Macbook to check.
      If you’ve been able to boot your system off the usb installation stick (or cd), you’ll see the upper menu bar with the apple to the top left corner. Try the different options in the menu (there aren’t many, so it won’t take you much time). Somewhere there you must find a way to instruct the computer where to boot off.

  14. Saad Hamid says:

    The same happened with me on my Macbook Air.
    Please can you tell me if this is a software or hardware related issue? Because I gave it to a local retailer and they said you have to get a new SSD altogether but I think they might be lying, they just want to make money.
    Also, would you know what would be the price of a 128 SSD for Macbook Air?

    • The Pabster says:

      Huh… are you sure you have read my post attentively? 😉
      It’s neither software nor hardware, but firmware problem. In any case, it’s NOT hardware, so don’t let them make you buy a new SSD (about whose price I have no clue, sorry).
      Just a question: why don’t you try the solution I’m explaining? That’s what my article is about. Otherwise, don’t take it badly, but I don’t really see your point in posting here… 🙂

  15. RJ says:

    I’m confused as to why you need to open your computer up and disconnect the HD??? If you hold down the option key with the boot disc (Mac OS X Install Disc or USB) inserted and start up – you get the option of bringing up Disc Utilities and attempting a repair on the HD.
    If no HD appears on the left side of the Disk Utility menu then it’s very likely (almost 100% – assuming you’ve tried all the Apple support suggestions i.e resetting PRAM?NVRAM etc.) that the HD is dead.
    Then you would have to open the computer up to replace the HD obviously

    • The Pabster says:

      You need to disconnect the HD because the Macbook firmware is badly designed, and doesn’t work as you would logically expect. When the HD’s critical blocks are corrupted, holding down the option key at startup doesn’t work if the firmware was set to boot off the HD; neither works resetting PRAM, NVRAM, etc. Nothing works at all. You just get the white screen. Only after phisically removing the HD is the firmware able to “realize” that, oh!, maybe it’s possible to boot off a boot disc or USB.
      So, in most cases there’s no need at al to replace the HD unless you have a lot of money to spare and want to make Apple very happy.

  16. RJ says:

    Thanks for your reply Pabster. The point of my comment is made within the context and in response to your solution and my confusion with it! I have just experienced the WSOD and flashing file folder on my wife’s MacBook Pro and my google search for help led to this post.
    In reading your suggestion it seems you are trying to get to the Disk Utility in order to try and repair or format the HD?
    Your summary of steps:
    1.- Remove the hard drive.
    2.- Boot off the startup CD and set boot option to CD. Then just shutdown. Don’t restart yet.
    3.- Plug in the hard drive and power on the Macbook WITH the CD inserted. It should boot off the CD as instructed.
    Yes, these 3 steps will set up an alternate boot location i.e the optical drive – but you can get to Disk Utility without having to open up the hood and disconnecting the HD by simply inserting the install CD or USB and pressing and holding the Option key when booting up. You are presented with a number of alternatives to boot from. (In my case, the HD didn’t even show up as an alternative. When I ran Disk Utility, the HD didn’t show up either.
    This will allow you to proceed to step 4 below, where you can use Disk Utility to try and repair things or format the drive.)
    4.- Using the hard drive utils, FORMAT the hard drive.
    If you format the drive, you won’t be able to boot unless you re-install the OS as a format wipes the drive.
    5.- Restart now without the CD in. It should boot.
    Only if there is a boot sector present on the HD.
    Sorry not trying to argue or confuse things – just wondering if I missed something on your solution?

    • The Pabster says:

      “In reading your suggestion it seems you are trying to get to the Disk Utility in order to try and repair or format the HD?”

      Well, yes and no. In the first place we’re trying to move away from the WSOD, to attain which, yes, we need to repair or format the HD with the help of Disk Utility.

      you can get to Disk Utility without having to open up the hood and disconnecting the HD by simply inserting the install CD or USB and pressing and holding the Option key when booting up. You are presented with a number of alternatives to boot from

      Nope. Not, at least, in the WSOD that I –and most of the users commenting here and in a few other forums and websites– experienced. Do you think I didn’t try it? Please read carefully the first paragraph in my article.
      Had it been that simple as holding Option key at startup, I’d have never gone through such a nightmare, nor I’d have any reason to be mad at Apple nor condemn their firmware.
      Therefore, if you’ve been able to get out of the WSOD by simply holding down Option key while booting, then it means that it wasn’t a white screen OF DEATH, but simply a white screen. 😉

      4.- Using the hard drive utils, FORMAT the hard drive.
      If you format the drive, you won’t be able to boot unless you re-install the OS as a format wipes the drive

      Agreed. But in my article I don’t instruct you to format the hard drive. I just say that step 4 is the moment for doing whatever you need/want to do to your hard drive (one of the possibilities being a format, depending on what exactly got wrong right before the WSOD. In my particular case, if I remember correctly, I simply repaired it. Didn’t need to format.) In any case, even if you don’t install the OS X after formating the HD (which I think it’s such a matter of fact that I didn’t consider necessary to say it), still you don’t get the WSOD any more.
      In conclusion: I don’t think you missed anything in my solution. Rather I’d tend to think that there is more than one white screen type of problem in the Macbooks. I was addressing the dreadful “of death” type, whereof you can’t get out by a simple keypress. 🙂

  17. RJ says:

    I guess I forgot to ask and perhaps this is what I’m missing – does disconnecting/reconnecting the HD as a step do something different in re-establishing the boot drive somehow?

  18. RJ says:

    Thank you Pabster
    “In conclusion: I don’t think you missed anything in my solution. Rather I’d tend to think that there is more than one white screen type of problem in the Macbooks”
    In this, I think you are absolutely correct! In my circumstance I did manage the boot option from the Option key – but it appears there may be variations amongst different model types. My dad had a MBA and it behaved completely differently then my MBP which in turn behaves differently than my wifes machine… oh well!
    Thank you for taking the time to respond – on further research my wife’s machine may be simply experiencing a faulty SATA cable – apparently a known issue for this particular generation of machine. Hopefully its as simple as that.
    Enjoy the rest of your evening.

  19. The Pabster says:

    Sorry it doesn’t work for you. Maybe yours is one of those few cases where something is really broken. Unfortunately I don’t have any useful suggestion except, perhaps, a) not pressing Option key at startup (I didn’t need to press it), and b) making sure that the installation disc is working correctly. If your motherboard is not fried, it should boot once you remove the hard disk.
    Anyhow, before removing the HD (i.e., when the problem first appeared), did you see the mouse onto the white screen? Because if you could see it, then it was not the WSOD, but something else.
    Sorry not being able to provide more help.

  20. Carrie says:

    Hey there!!
    OK…so I have a black 13″ MacBook. And the stupid white screen appeared out of nowhere, I tried the firewire target disk thing and nothing showed up on the host computer (even in disk utility).
    I came across your post and have successfully rebooted using a Snow Leopard disc (although it was running Lion). The hard drive is back in the computer and when I go to Utilities it does not give my hard drive as an option for repair, only the DVD comes up. Any idea what this means?
    Thank you!

    • The Pabster says:

      Hmm… that’s strange. After successfully booting from the DVD, have you set the default boot option to DVD and then rebooted? I assume so. In this case, your disk utility should “see” the hdd and offer you some option about it. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what to think except that maybe you’re unlucky enough to own an actually damaged hard disk.
      Sorry I can’t provide more help.

  21. Alex says:

    Well, I have a MacBook 1,1 with this kind of problem, but, it happens that I can USE the Mac after restarting it several times.Lets say that I get the White Screen 10 times, and then, the Mac boots successfully after the 11th restart. I haven’t tried this solution yet cuz I’m not home, but, I guess it’ll work(hopefully). Please, let me know what you think!

    • The Pabster says:

      Hmm… I don’t know. If you can randomly boot the laptop and everything works flawless, I’d rather suspect a hdd physical failure (causing the firmware to not be able to read the boot sector). To the best of my knowledge, the WSOD occurs because some corrupted boot sector, and I don’t see any logic why it should boot one out of “n” number of tries.

  22. Julie K. says:

    Pabster – thank you so much for your original tip and all your suggestions after as well. Just one more dumb question. Once I go through this process, will I have lost everything on my hard drive? Thank you!

    • The Pabster says:

      I can’t be sure. It depends on what exactly was wrong with your hdd, and what you have to do to fix it. If you format, sure you’ll lose everything. If you “repair” it, then maybe you won’t.

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