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Ask Max: I've got MacBook with a broken screen, what are my options?

Asked on 10/01/2008:

Currently I am in Iraq so my resources are very limited, I have a 2.4 GHz MacBook with the 160GB hard drive. I dropped the laptop and the screen broke. I want to get a MacBook Pro but I want to get all my pics and iTunes music off the old hard drive. I know it works, I put it in a friends computer. My question is, do they make an external hard drive case I could put the drive in? Or do you know any other way to do this? Also, do you know if I can get back all the music I purchased from iTunes?


You do not have to be in a war zone to have lost a laptop screen to an accidental drop. Most often, I hear about this happening with systems used in schools, but this scenario can bite anyone. There are several positives in regards to Macs with broken screens. In most cases your computer can still be turned on into what is known as Target Disk mode. Hold down the "T" key when you start up the computer. After 30 seconds or so you can let go of the key. After that, you just need to connect your damaged Mac to a working Mac via a FireWire cable. In a way, the Target disk mode turns every modern Mac into an external hard drive.The good news is that when you start a new Mac, you are given instructions on putting your old Mac into Target Disk mode. Once the computers are hooked together, it will automatically move all your old data over and setup the new system just like your old one. Even if your computer can't boot into Target Disk mode, you can put the drive into an external drive enclosure, or another similar Mac, and move the data over as if it were on your used Mac. I have done this many times and it makes switching Macs as easy as changing a shirt.The other nice feature of your MacBook is that even with a broken screen you can use it with an external keyboard, mouse, and display. This will turn your laptop into a desktop, which is still better than tossing it away. Your MacBook will need an adapter cable to work with a display, and the cable you use depends on the connection on the display. Typically DVI displays are better and they use a Mini DVI cable adapter. Another option is a VGA display adapter.You can use any USB keyboard and mouse you like. I personal like the new Apple Aluminum keyboard and a Logitech wheel mouse.

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