Ejecting a Stuck CD in Mac OSX

Maybe you were in the middle of burning a disc, and had to cancel halfway through. Maybe you put a CD that was formatted using an obscure version of Windows into your computer, and now you can’t get your machine to let go. Maybe that last CD-RW just wasn’t as clean as it should have been. Or maybe your beloved Apple has simply decided to act goofy.

At some point, almost everyone experiences getting a disc stuck in a CD drive. Sending your machine in to Apple can be a costly solution-their flat rate service charges around $400 to fix a single part of your machine. Before you resort to paid service, be sure you’ve exhausted this list of “at home” remedies.

Before You Begin: back up your important files. I cannot stress this enough. It’s wise to back up any irreplaceable items you have on your computer on a regular basis, even when everything is working perfectly. It’s more important when something is amiss.

An exhaustive list of what and how to back up is outside the scope of this article, but if you have only a few precious files, an inexpensive “keychain” USB drive will hold a few pictures, some essential emails, and a couple of essays or reports.

1. The iTunes eject button

It doesn’t always work, but I’ve ejected my fair share of stuck CD’s by simply opening up iTunes and clicking the eject button in the lower right hand corner. It may sound silly, but if you get the disc out this way, you’re done without having to restart or go hunting for rarely seen applications. It’s worth a try.

2. Disk Utility

Disk Utility is a handy tool that you can find by opening the Applications folder and then the Utilities folder, assuming you have a standard OSX installation. It has many uses, like running disk first aid, or partitioning a drive, but the function of most concern here is the eject feature. When you open up Disk Utility, a list of disks currently available to your computer appears on the left. Probably, you’ll see two entries for your hard drive, and one for the stuck CD. If it’s there, click on the name of the CD and then click the “Eject” button that’s near the top of the window.

3. Hold down mouse button at startup

Holding down the mouse button while you start your machine tells your Mac to eject whatever’s in the CD drive. You should begin pressing the mouse button as soon as you hear the startup chime, and you can let go if the computer spits out the disc, or if you see the login screen or your desktop. Of course, in order to start your machine you’ll need to shut it down. This can sometimes be a problem when you’ve got a CD that’s misbehaving, so you may need to force your machine to shut down by holding down the power button or disconnecting the power source. These methods are not particularly good for your computer (although usually there’s no damage), so resort to this only after you’ve tried to shut down normally, and give your machine extra time to finish. Be sure you’ve backed up anything you can’t afford to lose.

4. Hold down C key at startup

Holding down the C key while you start your machine tells your computer to boot from a CD. You usually do this if you’re reinstalling the operating system, or running diagnostics on your machine. Since the CD stuck in your Mac isn’t appropriate for this, the computer should reject the disc and try to spit it out.

4. Start up into Open Firmware

Open Firmware is like a little program that sets up all the hardware before the main operating system loads. To get into the Open Firmware, hold down the option key, the command key (that’s the one with the picture of the apple and the curly-cornered square), and the O and F keys as your computer starts up (all at the same time). Instead of the usual Mac startup screen, you should see a white screen with some lines of text on it. Type “eject cd” (don’t type the quotation marks) then press the return key, and give your computer a minute to see if it does so. To continue starting up your machine normally, type “bye” or “mac-boot” (again, without the quotation marks) and press the return key.

5. Start up in Target FireWire mode

If the Open Firmware has failed to eject the CD, it’s a sign that the problem may be more serious, but there are still a few tricks that are worth a try. If you have a FireWire-equipped Mac, start up while holding down the T key. Instead of seeing the normal Mac startup screen, the screen should be a solid color with a moving FireWire symbol on it (the symbol looks like a ‘Y’). This basically turns your computer into a big FireWire drive. Try pressing the eject key while in this mode. If you have another Mac available to you, try connecting your machine to the other computer using a firewire cable. If you can see the CD from the other computer, try ejecting it from the second machine. To shut down your machine when it’s in Target FireWire mode, press the power button.

6. Start up from another machine

If you have another Mac that you can use, you can also try starting up your computer from that one. First boot the second computer into Target FireWire mode by holding down the T key while it starts. Then start your computer and hold down the option, command, shift, and delete keys. When your computer starts it should look like you’re using the second computer. Try ejecting the stuck CD normally. Of course, if you’re involving a second machine, it should be backed up as well.

7. Take your machine to an Apple Store

If all the previous techniques have failed, it’s time to head for your nearest Apple store. Bring your machine over to the genius bar and have them take a look at it. If you’re lucky enough to live near a major city (the Apple Store SoHo is notoriously good at repairs), the store may be equipped to verify that the problem is with the CD drive, and do some minor repairs without having to charge you the flat rate. If not, they’ll give you an honest answer about it needing to be sent away. If there’s no Apple store that you can get to, you can try bringing it to an Apple certified repair technician in your area. Print out this list of solutions you’ve tried, and bring it with you to show to the technician. They should be able to replace the CD drive, or send the computer in to Apple for repair.

One final word of advice: don’t be afraid to try these techniques more than once. One time, when I was out of town, I got a CD stuck in my drive, and after trying everything I was sure I would need to replace my SuperDrive. I even brought it in to a local technician and left it overnight, paying them a $50 bench fee. They called me the next morning, and told me that my machine seemed to be having “video problems” in addition to problems with the CD because it wouldn’t shut down and started slowly. They said they weren’t comfortable working on it, and recommended sending it in to Apple. They also mentioned that they suspected logic board problems, and the repair could cost as much as $800. I was familiar enough with my computer to distrust their assessment, so I told them that if it needed to be sent in I would do it myself, but I was extremely discouraged. Once I got back home, I figured I would try ejecting from the Open Firmware one last time. To my delight, it worked! I must have typed the command incorrectly when I tried it the first time. I was certainly glad that my machine was back in good repair, but I also felt awfully silly for having paid the repair guys just to turn my machine on and off. Next time, I’ll be sure I’ve gone through this list (at least) twice.

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