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Late 2011 model, A1278 / 2.4 GHz i5 or 2.8 GHz i7 processor.

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Question mark and not booting, using option key leads to three beeps


I was offered the above described MBP at a fair price with the hint, it may be defect / broken.

The current owner told me, that a SSD was inserted and after a while the MBP does not boot any longer - it is just showing blinking question mark.

I advised to hold down option after powering up the MBP and he told me, then 3 beeps can be heard and nothing happens ( more or less ).

He agreed that little bit of water was spilled on the MBP, but it was running without any problems until last week or so.

I would assume logic board is broken or is on its way to !&&*, but maybe someone has an idea on this failure.

I am working on servers and I have seen a lot of times RAM modules failing after a couple of years and I have read about weal and broken HDD cables especially in 13" MBPs.

So, any suggestion? Should I take it?

Thanks in advance,


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Unless the price for it is something you can afford to take a woman on a date for or go to the pub with, RUN. If working on these things is what you are comfortable doing you wouldn't be on here asking what the odds of the gamble are. Many of us on here have stacks of bad motherboards and other components. If he agreed on a little water damage, I would count on a lot of soda pop instead.


Stone I apologize if I offended you with my 1st comment, that was not my intent. Based off your further communication I believe you have a firm grasp of what u r up against. If it were on my table. I would properly clean the motherboard & try firing it up with a different upper case - if available - and an external monitor - to save time - prior to putting it back together and/or trusting that something in the upper case is not causing the problem.



no need to worry :-)

I know how some questions do sound and sometimes I am thinking myself "how has this been taken" or "how would I take that question".

I am an electrical technician, but for the last 20 years I am working on tube amps, only ... and sometimes on MBPs and other integrated circuits.

Now I am working as an systems administrator, but I do have 15 years of general hardware knowledge built up by my job.

Hopefully the MBP will arrive next days.

I have a similar approach in mind: removing RAM modules, cleaning the slots, refitting one of the modules (should be two 2GB ones), testing for beeps, if I have success refitting the second module, testing for beeps, if I have success, trying to boot, if not bootable, trying to boot by USB drive, if it works, trying to boot from the USB drives disk (installed to MBP), if it is working, ok, if not, changing the cable.

Regards, Stone


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First the three beeps are bad RAM. Replace it first, then the HD/IR cable and drop in a test hard drive and you may be just fine. Test all the keys before buying to see if they have been shorted out.

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Ok - thanks for this as it seems I misunderstood the 3 beeps; I know from my last repair, that most of the times (with only a bit of water) the koeyboard is broken, only.


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I would try booting up with a bootable external drive. Does that work? If it does then you know the issue is the internal drive or the SATA cable.

Without isolating things down its a pig in a poke problem. I would not pay much as you could be getting a looser of a system.

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Thanks for your replies.

Why I am asking?

It 's not that I am not feeling familiar with such "repairs" or that I do not know much about computer stuff in general, but I always like to hear a second or third opinion.

In this case I am wondering about the 3 beeps while pressing option key during power up of the MBP - according to Apple this indicates "bad banks" of RAM, which I like to interpret as bad RAM modules, not properly fitted modules or - worst case - broken RAM slots.

The question mark indicates - according to Apple - that the boot signature / boot device cannot be found; this might be broken disk, a "dying" disk, a bad cable or - worst case - a faulty controller.

I also assumed to boot from an external drive, but this will only show if the system (hardware) can be booted, but the onboard HDD controller is not involved IMHO and also not the internal cable (so both parts can still be faulty).

So - finally - my question is if somebody knows if the onboard HDD controller is always involved in disks operations (but AFAIK USB disks do have their own controller) and if the 3 beeps are indicating broken slots (most times) or faulty, bad fitted RAM modules.

I can imagine that the system won't boot up because of faulty RAM modules, too.

Regards, Stone

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Yes, three beeps is a RAM or RAM slot issue. But it needs to be continuous (over and over). Since you did get the question mark the system was able to complete POST sometimes? So the next issue is can it boot up with an external bootable drive. The internal drive if missing or the cable is bad will not effect either the USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt connected HD. Most laptops today use a Platform Controller Hub chip which does just about everything I/O based. If its bad you'll need a new logic board. For now I would just see if the system is able to boot up with the external drive you've setup as a bootable OS-X drive. This could be a USB thumb drive (slow but will work), FireWire or Thunderbolt drive (which ever the system can use) are much faster in booting up. I have two external HD's that I use in my tool kit the first is a combo USB/FireWire the other a combo USB2/Thunderbolt both are setup as bootable and have the needed OS installers we use.


Hello Dan

Thanks for your statement. I was not aware of the controller hub for I/O - I know this from "usb hubs" onboard, but did not compare it to "general" I/O.

No, the beeps are not continuous. As I was told they do occur, if option key is pressed.

If you do anything and let the system "boot", it boots to post and then seeks for the drive.

As some people forget to check if trim support is enabled for their SSD, I think the SSD is faulty or even the cable.

I could get the MBP for a very low price and will give it a try.

Even if it is able to boot from USB or SD card only, it will fit my needs when travelling by train.

Regards, Stone


You'll need to check the system with an external bootable OS-X drive. Until you do you can't isolate the root cause of your problems. Once you do let us know what you find. Again, a USB drive will suffice, but you need to prep it up from a working Mac system using the OS-X installer program.


Of course I will post the attempt how to fix it and I will let you know what I will have lead to. Hopefully I will get the package today or tomorrow morning. I already have got an external drive with installation source for ML, Mav and Yose on it as I bought a 13" with a broken keyboard some weeks ago for my girlfriend and as I do have a slow internet connection, only, I prefer to have a installation source on disk. Regards, Stone


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Got the MBP and it seems to be pretty easy.

I opened it and first thing I noticed is sand inside the MBP; I removed the RAM modules and blew away the dust from the banks and their contact pins.

As the RAM modules do not have a sticker with a known manufacturer (just an "M" on it), I looked up some modules I had stored as spare parts.

They are not of the same manufacturer, but of the same type mainly (10600) and so I installed on of them at first.

The MBP booted from USB drive - perfect.

I turned it off and installed the second one.

It booted again. Perfect.

No beeps anymore (I tried it with the old modules and the same moment I had pressed option key I could not even switch on the MBP ... everytime I pressed on/off it started to beep immediately).

So I put back the SSD I removed with the modules at first and the MBP booted from USB drive by itself, recognizing the SSD.

I started disk utility and I could see that only 200 MB were used - so I assume, someone installed the new modules and also the SSD at the same time, started an installation, but the installation failed because of the misbehaving RAM modules and everything ended up in a non-installed, but labeled SSD.

At the moment I am installing Mavericks ... :-)

Will keep you updated.

Regards, Stone

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