March 18, 2020

How To Recover Data From A Mac That Is Not Turned On

In this era, where everything is going digital and remote work is gaining popularity, one needs to play smart when it comes down to downloading, storing or retrieving data from one device to another. However, unforeseen events such as sudden data loss due to hard drive malfunction or malicious virus attack can make us lose our data in fractions of a second.

It doesn’t matter whether you lost data because of a glitch or an unfortunate event; you are without a doubt in one of the worst situations anyone can face.

The good news is there are software and data recovery wizards which help people in recovering data from their Mac while they were switched on. In case, you lost your data abruptly and your Mac just isn’t turning on, you might be wondering what happened right there?

Well, maybe your Mac computer isn’t turning on because it isn’t being able to boot properly, is missing a few files or has become completely dead. Whichever is your case; if you want to recover your files from a dead Mac, then you need to get yourself acquainted with ‘Target Disk Mode’.

What is Target Disk Mode?

Target disk mode is the only method to recover files from a dead Mac without the help of Time Machine backup and data recovery software. This mode is activated with the help of a running/working Mac computer. Target disk mode allows a dead Mac to restart not really like a Mac but more as an external hard drive. No operating system is needed to activate this mode. All a user needs is two Macs with FireWire or Thunderbolt ports.

FireWire refers to an IEEE 1394 high-speed serial bus which facilitates data transfer between two devices. A Thunderbolt is a hardware interface developed by Intel to facilitate the transfer of files between devices. Once you have got yourself a FireWire or Thunderbolt to connect the two devices, insert one end into the dead Mac and other into the running Mac.

Once both the devices have been connected, users need to press and hold ‘T’ while pressing the ‘Start’ button on the dead Mac. Unless the device is severely damaged, the dead Mac will start showing up as a ‘disk’ icon on the running Mac’s screen. Thus, indicating that the Target disk mode had been activated on the dead Mac.

Users can click on the ‘disk’ icon to open the folder and browse through it. They can transfer files by dragging them from this folder to folders onto their running Mac. Once done with recovering data, users need to drag the ‘disk’ icon to the trashcan to eject the dead Mac. Interestingly, while you are dragging the ‘disk’ icon to the trash folder, the trash can icon will change into the eject disk option automatically. Click on that and eject the dead Mac.

After you have recovered data and ejected the dead Mac successfully, power it off once again or press its power off button. There, you’re done with recovering your data from a dead Mac or from a Mac which isn’t turned on.


Most old Macs had FireWire and Thunderbolt options installed in them. In this way, when a Mac went bad, users could recover their data simply by entering the target disk mode. For doing this, they had to switch their Macs on (if they were responding to that command), go to Apple Menu> System preferences, then click Startup Disk and then selecting Target Disk mode.

If the Mac did not respond to power on command, then the method has been explained in detail above. However, the newer versions of Mac do not have an in-built target disk mode option in them. In this case, the best choice is to keep your data backed up with an external hard drive or using the FireWire/Thunderbolt Ports option with the ‘press and hold T’ command for both kind of Macs, the ones which turn on and the ones which do not.

About the author 

Imran Uddin

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