iMac hangs at gray boot screen – solution

Today my Intel iMac (mid-2008) suffered a heavy software crash, effectively leaving me no choice but to turn it off, as the shutdown process would hang forever. I held down the power button several seconds, until it went off.

Unfortunately getting it back up was not that easy. I would hear the startup chime, but after that the screen would just hang, completely gray. I could hear the CD in the drive spin up and down again after a few moments. Keeping the mouse button pressed, the option key down etc. – all sorts of tips you get on the Internet – did not work.

First I suspected the stuck CD was the problem. The Intel iMacs do not have an emergency eject hole for the slot in drive, though. Looking for a solution to my problem, I searched for all sorts of keywords I could come up with related to an emergency eject, but to no avail. All the tips and hints you get – including those on Apple’s site – relate to older models that still had such a hole for a paper clip.

After a while I remembered a similar situation a few months ago, albeit without the stuck DVD part, when I was ready to take the whole thing to an Apple partner for checkup. In preparation for that I unplugged it from power, but did not take it off the desk immediately. For some reason I later decided to give it another shot and plugged it back in, just to see it boot up normally. I did this again today and after 20 seconds without power (actually I just switched of the power strip), it would boot just fine.

Only after that did I find this Apple support document which actually does not really help unless you search for SMC or PRAM reset on Google and dig for a while. So hopefully I saved you some time, if you read this.


Anonymous said…
thanks for the tip,
saved my day,
Thomas G Lee said…
I'm having this problem a lot lately and what I'm noticing is that my Intel iMac is overheating. If I let the computer sit for a while and then turn it on, it will boot normally. If it hangs and I try to immediately turn it on, I end up getting the gray screen and folder with a ? in it. It apparently has something to do with my running Windows XP simultaneously by using VMWare. I'm taking it into the Apple store this week to find out why.

Thanks for the post.
Not finding the system folder (the ? icon) might also indicate a faulty hard drive.
Anonymous said… defently save my day - thanx for the tip! Regards
Anonymous said…
This was an issue on my CEO's Mac. You saved the day for me (a Windows Guy).
Anonymous said…
Thank you, thank you, thank you Mr. Schneller! I have a late model 2008 imac and love her like family. She started bogging down and hanging big time. I was afraid I was the victim of yet another new mac virus (so much in the news of late). Accidently found your blog via Googling and whammo, in less than 5 minutes, I reset the SMC and my imac is smoking hot once again! You are so gracious to share your experiences. I am grateful for you.

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