Is it on the way out?

  • Posted: 11 July 2010 03:01 AM

    My computer is a MacBook 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB RAM running 10.4.11, bought new April 2007.

    Over some time (maybe a month or two) the computer has been having problems. Programs crashing from time to time.

    A recent example

    Had quite a few programs open. Was online in the background. At the time, was playing iTunes. One song finished, another was starting, I double-clicked another song to start it. Instead of it playing, I got the spinning colour wheel. Could not force iTunes to quit. Shut the computer down.

    Restarted computer. Now running only TextEdit and iTunes. Started a song. Got half-way through and it stopped. After a while I clicked to stop the song and once again got the spinning colour wheel. Was writing this on TextEdit while iTunes was stopped. Have tried to start the tune again bit it doesn’t start. When I highlight and delete in TextEdit it is slow to do it and for a few seconds, I get the spinning colour wheel.

    I managed to copy this all out by hand and the wheel continued to spin. I can’t save this file. I shut the computer down.

    Have restarted the computer and typed this again into TextEdit, this time without running anything else. So far so good.

    Was able to save file.

    Was able to restart iTunes and play several tunes (not the same one), no problem.

    Also notice, some actions that should be instant are a bit slow, eg click on TextEdit in the dock, TextEdit files take some time to come to front.

    The first I noticed this slow-down behaviour was several months ago. I often play music for about an hour and a half while running an iPhoto slideshow. As I remember, after quite a while the slideshow would stick on one particular photo and sometimes the music would stop and the colour ball would spin. If I was patient and left it alone, eventually it would move on. I deleted the pic that it seemed to usually stop on. The action moved to the next pic next time around. I’d stopped doing this but simply run iTunes without the slideshow. Recently I decided to try it again. Sometimes it does it but it doesn’t seem to stay stuck for as long as I remember it doing before.

    These problems are not constant. Some days it runs well, some days not so well. I’m wondering if the computer is on its way out or is there some maintenance I can do?

         
  • Posted: 11 July 2010 04:58 PM #1

    It could be caused by a few different things, but my primary suspects would be bad RAM or a bad hard drive. I would lean toward a failing hard drive since you mention that some actions work but happen very slowly. It sounds like behavior you’d typically see if the hard drive is still functional but having a hard time reading and writing data.

    The first thing I would do is make sure you have a complete backup of what’s in your computer—the hardware is replaceable, but your information is not!

    Following that, there are various things you could do to try troubleshooting the problem on your own. There’s still a chance it’s just a software issue which is entirely fixable without new hardware. But it all depends on your comfort level. You might want to take it down to a local Apple authorized repair shop once you have backed up your information, and tell them the same thing you posted here.

    Good luck!

         
  • Posted: 11 July 2010 10:39 PM #2

    Thanks for your reply David. Yes, I always keep several backups of my hard drive. The reason I am posting here is that I am trying to avoid, if I can, spending dead money, ie I go to an Apple repair shop, pay their minimum charge and they say ‘Sorry, you need a new hard drive.’ To me needing a new hard drive is almost the same as needing a new computer. I’d prefer to put the money towards a whole new computer rather than make a repair on this one that will last me until the next thing goes.

    So, the point is, I’d like to try a few things on my own to see if I can diagnose the problem. Any tips would be appreciated.

    BTW, when I bought this computer the standard configuration was 1 GB RAM. I bought it in Malaysia and upgraded to 2 GB. But they didn’t give me Apple RAM. And they gave me the original Apple RAM to keep. I still have it but not here with me now. In two weeks I will be back in Thailand where I have that RAM stored. Is it worth trying it if I haven’t solved the problem by then?

         
  • Posted: 12 July 2010 12:01 PM #3

    One easy thing to do is to create a brand new, fresh account on your Mac. Once you’ve done that, login to that account. If the problems have disappeared, you’ve done two things: confirmed that it is a software problem, and confirmed that it is relegated to the user account, and not a system level problem. If the problem does persist, it could still just be a software issue, but it is specific to the system level of your Mac and not a user account problem. Using Disk Utility to Repair Permissions is always a good idea as a first try to fix things, folllowd by a restart.

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    Posted: 12 July 2010 12:43 PM #4

    A couple of things.
    You have backups. You’re ahead of 90% of the users out there already.
    The new account idea is good. This might be messed up prefs for the old account.
    Run Disk Utility and Repair Permissions. In severe cases you may have to boot to your OS-X disk and run it from within there.
    I would consider downloading Onyx from Apple. It is a utility that clears caches, optimizes the drive, fixes permissions, and does a lot of other repair, checking and maintenance tasks. It works fantastically and IT’S FREE. It has saved my bacon several times.
    I’m not sure why you feel that needing a HD is equivalent to a new computer. A couple of months ago I updated the HD on my ‘08 2Ghz MacBook. I got a 500Gb unit on sale for ~$90. A couple of hours of time and it was done. It really wasn’t that hard. When I replaced the one on my wife’s plastic case MacBook, (2Ghz, likely the same one you have, and I remember reading that series has had a bit of an issue with HDs) it was just a matter of pulling the battery, one cover plate, the old one pulls out and the new one slides in. On my Aluminum case it was a bit more complex, with more screws but still it was not a big deal.
    If you do replace the HD look at going to Snow Leopard. It’s cheep and works very well.

    EDIT: Let me clarify one thing. I wouldn’t immediately assume it’s hardware. IMO this is more likely to be a permissions or large cache, or some such issue. Do you leave your system running at night? There are a number of utility scripts that run overnight and if you turn the system off (or even I think sleep it) they won’t run and maintenance does not get done.

    [ Edited: 12 July 2010 01:33 PM by geoduck ]

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  • Posted: 13 July 2010 09:05 AM #5

    Thanks for the above advice, I’ll follow up and report back. To put you in the picture, here’s what I do and don’t do in relation to what you have suggested.

    I repair permissions regularly. BTW, does it make any difference if I check via the icon shown as 111.8 GB TOSHIBA MK1234 or Macintosh HD icon. I figure it’s only one drive so it doesn’t really matter. In any case I check either one randomly.

    What I have noticed is that every time I check permissions they are always repaired. Even if I do them again straight away. I don’t usually restart after checking permissions. Guess you’re saying I should?

    So, you’re suggesting that if I buy a new HD, and yes, I’d upgrade to 500 gb, that I would be able to install it myself? I’m prepared to give it a go. I’ll take a look inside tomorrow and see how easy it looks.

    And no, I realise I should leave my computer on overnight sometimes. I’m a bit of a power-saving freak. Still I’ll leave it on tonight as you say. Should I be doing this every night? And not putting it to sleep?

    Thanks again. I’ll report back when I’ve done a little more with it.

         
  • Posted: 13 July 2010 09:07 AM #6

    On the subject of backups, there was another little problem.

    I had not updated SuperDuper for some time as I thought the new version was mainly for the sake of Leopard users. I’ve not had this computer online for some time and when I reconnected recently I chose to update SuperDuper.

    The next time I tried to backup it got stuck. I tried backing up using a different SuperDuper script and to a different back-up drive. Once again it got stuck and once again on the same file.

    This particular file was a 300 page book that I had scanned and saved page by page as individual pdf files in folders by chapter. I had then encrypted the whole file and given it a false name because this particular book is one that is politically sensitive in one of the countries that I visit.

    I didn’t want to lose the book so I copied it onto another drive chapter by chapter. When I reached chapter 19, it wouldn’t copy. I opened the chapter 19 folder and copied pages one by one. There were two pdfs that were faulty and would not copy. My backups of the same files were fine. I deleted the faulty pdfs, replaced them with backup files and then burnt the whole lot onto a CD. As I no longer feel the need to be carrying this book on my hard drive I deleted it. The CD can remain at home in Australia for future reference.

    What caused these particular pdfs to become faulty I do not know. They would neither open nor copy. Perhaps this has something to do with the general malaise that has beset my computer.

         
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    Posted: 13 July 2010 10:59 AM #7

    oznasia - 13 July 2010 12:05 PM

    BTW, does it make any difference if I check via the icon shown as 111.8 GB TOSHIBA MK1234 or Macintosh HD icon. I figure it’s only one drive so it doesn’t really matter. In any case I check either one randomly.

    I don’t think it makes a difference (but I alternate just to be safe too).

    What I have noticed is that every time I check permissions they are always repaired. Even if I do them again straight away. I don’t usually restart after checking permissions. Guess you’re saying I should?

    I don’t believe you have to restart. I meant that in some cases it will ask you to run Disk Utility from the OS-X install disk.

    So, you’re suggesting that if I buy a new HD, and yes, I’d upgrade to 500 gb, that I would be able to install it myself? I’m prepared to give it a go. I’ll take a look inside tomorrow and see how easy it looks.

    Here’s a couple of pages that will help you decide.
    http://www.macinstruct.com/node/130
    And Apple’s version of the same thing
    http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/MacBook_13inch_HardDrive_DIY.pdf
    Let me know if you have an Aluminum MacBook (I don’t think the Al Unibody MacBooks came out until ‘08 but I don’t remember clearly this early in the morning)

    I realise I should leave my computer on overnight sometimes. I’m a bit of a power-saving freak. Still I’ll leave it on tonight as you say. Should I be doing this every night? And not putting it to sleep?

    I sleep mine too for the same reason. I just run Onyx every month or so.

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    Posted: 13 July 2010 05:39 PM #8

    Background: a fair amount of what Onyx does was executed by automatically executed scripts at early hours of the morning, initiated by a cron job (a Unix scheduler, with the name from the Greek word chronos). In later versions of the operating system, cron has been replaced by Launch Daemon (aka launchd).

    It used to be that there were three scripts in the /etc directory: daily, weekly and monthly by name. They have now transmogrified into the /etc/periodic directory as directories in their own right, with several scripts under each one.

    I understand that even if you put your computer to sleep overnight, Launch Daemon detects this when you wake it again and plays catchup by running any scripts or processes that have been suspended.

    This doesn’t mean that you don’t need Onyx, because it can do other stuff. But Launch Daemon does compensate for things that cron couldn’t cope with.

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    Posted: 13 July 2010 05:46 PM #9

    Laurie Fleming - 13 July 2010 08:39 PM

    I understand that even if you put your computer to sleep overnight, Launch Daemon detects this when you wake it again and plays catchup by running any scripts or processes that have been suspended.

    That’s good to know. I work with some server systems that don’t know how to handle a missed chron job. Good to hear that OS-X can.

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  • Posted: 14 July 2010 02:18 AM #10

    OK guys, thanks again for the advice. Here’s what I’ve done so far. (And I wrote this before reading the last few posts.)

    I set up a new user account. But I’m not inclined to use it. My set up and preferences have evolved over several computers and operating systems. They suit my idiosyncrasies. This now looks almost as foreign to me as a Microsoft OS (well, not quite but you get the point). It would take me ages to set up this account so that I would enjoy using it.

    Then again, if as geoduck says, I have ‘messed up prefs’, maybe I do need to start over again. Somehow if I go that route, I might take geoduck’s advice about installing a new hard drive and Snow Leopard. A 500 gb hd with a new OS, might feel like a new computer. And then perhaps I would be prepared to set up the preferences all over again rather than importing them from this OS, like I did last time.

    I had a look under my battery (found a loose screw, apparently left there by the AppleCare service people who last worked on it) and took a snapshot to confirm with you that I have the right computer as you suggested. (I’ve attached it here, trust you can see it.) It seems that I need to remove three tiny screws to get at the hard drive? If I only have to disconnect one drive and connect the new one, I can probably handle that. However, at the moment I don’t have a screwdriver small enough to perform this operation. Hang in there.

    I’ve installed OnyX and I ran through the stuff on the menu, at least everything that seemed relevant to do. Without a manual I wasn’t quite sure but I did most things that seemed to make sense. And this time when I repaired permissions, I restarted and checked them again. They then seemed to be OK. : ) If there is anything specific you think I should do with OnyX, please advise.

    If I do all of the above, how will I know that it is not the RAM that is causing the problem? How do I know when I need to replace my RAM? Is there anything else that I can check by myself?

    And, thanks again for your time and expertise.

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  • Posted: 14 July 2010 02:45 AM #11

    Geoduck, I’ve just taken a look at those two links you gave me. I’m sure I can handle this but I won’t be free to do it for about two weeks or so. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you know how I go. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching this space for any other advice on what else I can do.

         
  • Posted: 14 July 2010 02:47 AM #12

    And by the way, mine is the plastic model. Thanks again.

         
  • Posted: 17 July 2010 08:14 PM #13

    I’d like to keep you guys up-to-date in case you have further comments. After doing the maintenance work as outlined above (don’t have the new HD yet) the computer has been running smoothly for a few days. This morning I set iTunes to play for 1.5 hours while iPhoto did a slide show. After less then an hour, earlier than it usually happens, the whole thing jammed. iPhoto got stuck on a particular photo and iTunes stopped playing. Every now and then it seemed iTunes was trying to get going again but afer a few notes it would stop. This continued for five minutes and then I turned the computer off. On restart everything seems OK.

         
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    Posted: 17 July 2010 08:21 PM #14

    Like all operating systems, OS X has memory leaks. Applications over a period of take grab memory, but sometimes forget to give it back again when they’ve finished tasks. It is possible that you do have some bad memory cells in your RAM, or that lack of physical memory is causing extra calls for virtual memory on your disk drive.

    To test the first of these, try something like Memtest. That will go through all your memory, literally bit by bit, and possibly find any problems there are there.

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  • Posted: 18 July 2010 11:32 PM #15

    Thanks Laurie. I would feel happier knowing that the RAM is ok (or not) before I replace the hard drive. Have some travelling to do in the next week or two. Will look into it when my life settles down again.