Disk Failure Solutions: Effective Steps to Handle a Bad Disk

It’s a scenario many of us have faced: the external disk that has been reliable for years suddenly starts making a clicking noise. This isn’t just any noise—it’s the dreaded spinning beach ball of death.

Oh no.

This usually means it’s crucial to transfer your data quickly. You purchase a new disk and initiate the transfer, but then you encounter an error. The Finder can’t copy a specific file deep within an old client data archive, halting the entire process. As you troubleshoot and retry, time slips away.

What a mess.

However, there’s a solution that might just work: using the Terminal to expedite the copying of damaged data, bypassing disk errors.

The data might still be compromised, but the Terminal will attempt to salvage what it can.

Here’s a quick guide on how to rescue your data effectively:

Firstly, remain calm. Data recovery is often possible, and starting with the simplest recovery methods is best.

Step 1: Check for backups

If you don’t have a backup, hold off on the disappointment until later. If a backup exists, consider restoring your data from it and replace the faulty disk as soon as possible.

Step 2: Attempt to mount the disk

Initially, try to connect the disk to your system. If it doesn’t mount, turn it off, disconnect it, and let it cool down. After a break, reconnect it and try again.

If the disk still fails to mount and it’s an external unit, the issue might be with the enclosure rather than the disk itself.

If you’re comfortable with it, open the enclosure to check if the disk works in a different setting or another enclosure.

If the problematic disk is internal, consider using FireWire Target Disk Mode to mount it via another Mac.

If these steps fail, prepare for more drastic measures.

Step 3: Prepare a replacement disk

Find a new disk with at least the same capacity as the old one. Ideally, match the connection type (like FireWire) to optimize transfer speeds. Format the new disk similarly to the old one using Disk Utility.

Step 4: Use Terminal to transfer data

With both disks connected, open Terminal and navigate to the /Volumes directory. Here, disks are treated like folders.

Type the command:

sudo cp -r “/Volumes/Old Disk/” “/Volumes/New Disk”

Enter your admin password when prompted. This command copies the contents from the old disk to the new one, skipping over problematic files without stopping.

Alternatively, consider using Carbon Copy Cloner for a more user-friendly interface, though it requires more supervision.

Wait until the transfer completes.


Jacob is a dedicated writer for TUAW, bringing readers the latest and most insightful news about Apple products. With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the tech world, Jacob covers everything from the newest iPhone releases to the latest updates on macOS. His articles are known for their clarity and depth, making complex topics accessible to all. Whether it’s the Apple Watch, iPad, or MacBook, Jacob’s expertise ensures that TUAW readers are always well-informed.