Macbook Choose Startup Disk Empty? Try These 5 Quick Fixes

If you are a MacBook user you may face startup disk empty issue at a certain point or you might be experiencing it already. When it happens you won’t be able to start and use your macbook. So, what may cause this issue?

Problems with the NVRAM is one of the main reasons that can cause startup disk empty error. You’ll understand this if you see a question mark on your Mac screen, which may result from an OS installation issue.

An empty startup disk may impact your Mac functionality. Therefore fixing it promptly becomes crucial. Keep reading to end up with an ultimate solution.

What Does Startup Disk Empty Mean For Macbook?

The mac operating system comes with a drive partition which is either SSD or Hard drive and this is known as the startup disk. Some Mac computers come with extra internal disks or external disk connections.

What Does Startup Disk Empty Mean For Macbook

If you use more than one operating system on your Mac, then you select which starting disk to use when you boot up your Mac.

On a MacBook, the warning “Startup Disk Empty” often denotes the absence of a bootable startup disk. In other words, when the warning pops up it means that your mac is unable to locate an operating system to launch.

If your Mac doesn’t have a startup disk, you won’t be able to update, downgrade, or use it in any way.

What May Cause Choose Startup Disk Empty Issue on Macbook?

You cannot use your mac when the operating system says startup disk empty as the startup disk contains the operating system on your mac. Some of the common reasons include.

Issues with the NVRAM

Your Mac stores some settings in the NVRAM; a little bit of memory that it can access rapidly. So, NVRAM stores startup disk info for your Mac’s boot location.

If somehow this information gets lost or corrupted your startup disk can show an empty error. 

Operating system was not installed correctly

Your MacBook won’t be able to boot from its startup disk if the MacOS installation on it becomes corrupted. This indicates that some of the crucial system files and elements required for the operating system to run properly are not correct.

Operating system was not installed correctly

External drive not working properly

Mac supports external drives to be used as startup disk; this comes handy if you use a few different operating systems on a single macbook. Thus, if the external drive has any internal or hardware issues the starting disk empty error can be seen.

External drive not working properly

Additionally, the external drive cannot be used as a starting disk and you will receive the empty error if the Mac cannot correctly detect or connect with it owing to hardware difficulties.

Corrupted system files

Another main reason for having “choose startup disk empty issues” is corrupted system files. Your mac needs some system files to properly boot up and work perfectly.

So, when this file gets corrupted this can also cause issues with the disk startup.

You have deleted the startup disk

If you have mistakenly deleted the startup disk on your mac then you can see the empty startup disk issue on your macbook. Since macOS is installed on the startup drive, removing it essentially uninstalls it.

How To Fix A Macbook Choose Startup Disk Empty Issue?

It may seem difficult to fix the startup disk empty problem but luckily it is quite easy to fix this issue and you can do it yourself for free.

Fix 1: Check your external drive for issues

If you are using an external drive as a startup disk, the first thing you wanna check is whether or not the external drive is working perfectly.

Examine the external disk for any indication of hardware problems, physical damage, or broken connections.

Now, in case you do not see any damage then connect the hard disk with another Mac. If it still doesn’t work on another Mac, the problem is likely with the drive.

Fix 2: Reset the NVRAM

If you do not use any external drive as a startup disk, then the first thing you should do is reset the NVRAM when you encounter disk empty issue.

Reset the NVRAM

To reset the NVRAM, turn off your Mac and power it on again. But as soon as you power on your Mac, keep pressing Command + Option + P + R for 20 seconds until you see the Apple Logo.

20 seconds until you see the Apple Logo

When you see the Apple logo, let go of the buttons and check if the startup disk issue is solved.

Fix 3: Enter Recovery mode from Time machine backup

Time machine is a pre-built feature in mac that backs up your data and you can recover the data using an external drive. Now if you have enabled Time machine backup on your mac, then you can try to fix startup disk issues using it.

Step 1: Connect your time machine backup

At first turn off your macbook and connect the external drive that has a time machine backup. After that, press the command + R + Power button together and you will be redirected to recovery mode.

Step 2: Enter Disk utility

Both internal and external drives on your Mac can be managed by using Disk Utility. It serves as the main control center for all of Mac OS’s drive management features.

Enter Disk utility

A few different options will come up, select Disk Utility and press continue.

select Disk Utility and press continue

Now, go to the top left corner as you can see from the image above and click on show all devices.

Step 3: Use First Aid

Your starting disk will display here if there were any minor issues with It. So, if you see it here; select it, click the First Aid button, and then hit Run.

Use First Aid Option

When the chosen disk is selected, First Aid will scan it for problems and attempt to fix them and if everything goes well, your startup disk issue should be fixed.

Fix 4: Enter Disk utility without hard drive

If you didn’t use an external drive for time machine backup, then you still can enter the disk utility from the recovery mode. For mac using windows the process is the same as Fix 2:

Enter Disk utility without hard drive

Mac using intel:

Turn on your mac using intel and keep pressing command + R keys until you see the Apple logo.

Mac using Apple Silicon:

However, if your mac uses Apple silicon chip like m1 then to enter recovery mode you will need to follow a different step. Turn off your mac and keep on pressing the power button for 20 seconds.

Now follow the same process as Fix 2 and try to use First Aid to fix any error. But if you are not able to fix it then you have no option but to reinstall the macOS.

Fix 5: Reinstall MacOs

If none of the above 3 fixes work for you, then unfortunately you have no other option but to reinstall your MacOS. To do it you will again need to enter into recovery mode as you did with Fix 3.

Reinstall MacOs

Now instead of disk utility, select “Reinstall macOS and press continue and agree to the user agreement. Keep on following the on screen instructions.

reinstall macOS and press continue and agree to the user agreement

Now erase the older startup disk and select the new disk for reinstalling the mac and follow the on screen instructions and install it back again. Your Macbook will restart once it has finished installing the OS.

What To Do If None Of The Above Fixes Work For Choose Startup Disk Empty?

So far, we have tried 5 fixes for startup disk empty problems but if none of these fixes work on your macbook, then unfortunately the issue could be hardware related.

For instance the cable which connected the drive to the motherboard can get damaged.

Additionally, the drive or the SSD itself can get damaged though it’s very less likely unless your Macbook went through some kind of accident.

In the worst case scenario, your logic board can also get damaged which can cause this issue.

Thus, if you are unable to fix this issue by yourself even after trying the above fixes we recommend taking your macbook to Apple Customer Care. They will take a look at your mac and diagnosis for any external and internal issue and fix it accordingly.

Tips To Optimize Your Macbook For Best Performance

Macs are powerful machines but improper using techniques and bad maintenance can make their performance degrade. So, read these tips below to get the best out of your mac.

  • Enable time machine backup and backup all of your data in an external drive.
  • Avoid visiting malicious websites as virus attacks can corrupt system files.
  • Always clear up the system junk on your mac.
  • Make sure to turn on auto updates so your macbook can always stay updated with the latest software and features.
  • Delete unused programs, files, and other items that are eating up space.
  • If you notice your mac is getting slower, simply restart it to clear up RAM.

Curious about how to perform Mac Hard Drive Removal? Learn more about this essential maintenance task to keep your MacBook running smoothly.

Frequently Asked Question

If you still have some questions related to startup disk empty issues then our FAQs below will help clear all your confusions. Keep on reading to know more.

Can I stop programs or apps from opening up during my mac startup?

Yes, you can prevent any unwanted programs from opening up during your mac startup. Select your user account in “System Preferences” and “Users & Groups,” then click the “Login Items” tab. From there, you can choose to delete any unnecessary things to remove them from opening during startup.

Why does my startup disk say it’s full?

If your startup disk indicates that it is full, the primary hard drive or SSD in your Mac is either running out of space or has been totally used. So you should free up space by deleting any files you no longer need and you can use finder to find all these files.

Can a corrupt startup disk cause an empty issue?

Corrupt startup disk can cause empty issues on your mac but you can fix this using the first aid option in disk utility. However, if this doesn’t work then you have no option but reinstalling the macOS which will remove all of your saved files on your macbook.

Final Words

Startup disk provides mac with information about the operating system for bootup. So, when it causes issues you won’t be able to turn on your Mac and there is no way to bypass it.

Luckily, in most cases few software related fixes are enough but it is always advisable to keep a backup of all your data. You can also use an external drive as a bootloader if you want to use multiple operating systems in one macbook.

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