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Using EtreCheck to solve issues. An awesome troubleshooting tool. Lessons learned.  

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This is not a question but a lesson for everyone who is troubleshooting a very sticky problem.

So this was the issue, what appeared to trigger it and how I solved it.

I attached a second display to my iMac using a third party display port to HDMI dongle connected to one of the two thunderbolt ports. As soon as I attached the monitor I discovered that clicking on menu items would trigger a spinning beachball that would appear for half a second. As long as I stayed in the app the issue would not reappear. Once I switched to another app, the issue would return. In photoshop, where I spend some due time, brush tools would pause for split seconds at a time.

On first glance some steps to take might be, try another dongle, another video cable, disconnect all hardware from the Mac as an isolation step (too see if external hardware causes it), test in a new user account.

Here are some things I did before I found a fix, some of it, like reinstalling Mac OS was only done because I was doing other things so I didn't think it would hurt but this rarely fixes issues.

  • I ran Disk Utility
  • All maintenance operation in Onyx (exceptions were made to Spotlight Index, Mail's mailboxes, Disk position on the desktop),
  • Removed all my user account Preferences files ~/Library/Preferences out so that new plist files were forced to spawn in default configs
  • started in safe mode
  • even reset PRAM, SMC
  • reinstalled Mac OS (not an erase and install) in recovery mode
  • Manually removed all ~/Library/Cache files
  • New user account created and logged into but the issue is reproducible.

So, at this point I tried some more things, as you can imagine this is a very frustrating issue to cope with.

  • I used the free AppCleaner to delete any app I had not used for more than a year.
  • I moved ALL plist files inside of ~/Library/Preferences to a folder on the desktop
  • I manually trashed ~/Library/Caches
  • Disconnected external devices

— The issue persisted.

At this point I thought I should visit the Apple Discussions Forum so I did but before doing so I know that some of the geeks there like to see an EtreCheck (a free app) report so I ran the tool, it generated a report and I began to read through the report.

I can not tell you how valuable this tool is. It actually helped me solve this issue. How?

After running EtreCheck and looking at the report, files in these locations became suspect
/Library/LaunchDaemons
/Library/Extensions
/System/Library/Extensions

Other file types were also of interest to me Launch Agents, Launch Daemons, User Launch Agent, User Login Items, Internet Plug-ins, User Internet Plug-ins, Safari Extensions, 3rd party preference panes and so on.

Etrecheck lists all files by name. conundrum here is that some of the files it lists spotlight will not list because spotlight doesn't search those places so will need a tool like "Find any file.app" by temple.org to ween those out. You then might ask, which files that EtreCheck lists do I deal with? That will depend but if you use some common sense, such as extrapolating from the file names you might be on a good path to a solution. If you are still not sure how to resolve your particular issue, describe the issue here on this forum and attach your EtreCheck report as it can help someone resolve an otherwise difficult issue.

I did eventually post on the Apple Discussions Forum, https://discussions.apple.com/thread/250418646?page=1 and resolved my own issue before anyone had chimed in because I simply read the EtreCheck report and began to remove items that I understood I no longer used and the issue was gone.

I did get something very valuable from the discussion on Apple's forum, get an external drive, install a clean OS on it, update it and add nothing to it. When trouble finds you, boot from this volume, partition, USB stick whatever and if the issue persists it's clear that there may be a hardware related issue, this translates to cables, dongles, hard drives and other devices, all of them should be suspect. Having an external drive with a clean install of Mac OS is a terrific way of quickly isolating issues.

Would love to get your take.

Screen Shot 2019 06 13 at 10.51.34

Screenshot of EtreCheck report. The app is free, there are mentions of money but that is only if you want the EtreCheck team to help you resolve an issue. To generate the report is free. Attach it with your issue and it can really help others help you.

Thanks Alex, this is a good reminder.

I'd also suggest that for consultants - taking a "snapshot" Etrecheck report of your clients' computers can be a useful way of helping troubleshoot future problems. Either as a full reference of what they have when you get called at a strange hour and struggling to remember their setup, or to see what has changed on their system.

As far as I can see the paid "power user" upgrade (either via the direct download or in the App Store version) gives some nice extras but is not necessary and doesn't negate from the completeness of the generated report.

2 Answers
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I should add the following bit of info, after going through the report that EtreCheck creates, I took a deep dive and began to really delete some of these items even further. I can tell you that my computer now boots, restarts and shuts down at lightening speed.

I've tried a few of those automated clean up tools and none of them can compete with this because none that I've found tackle kext or plist files that are running with the system as they assume they should be running, after all they are installed so the devs of those utils assume they should be there.

Couple of takeaways;
These kext and plist files may be running consuming CPU cycles (especially of concern for portables as they can trickle battery power downward)
On any machine, these can slow things down or just increase heat and electrical consumption.

I have to say, although I've played around with EtreCheck over the years and have known about it for a long time, this is an extraordinarily powerful tool. It does nothing other than provide information about the system it probes and provide a report that is incredibly useful for troubleshooting issues. If I were a consultant I would absolutely purchase the pro version even if it does nothing other than support the devs.

I for one will be asking folks here to include the EtreCheck report when they have an especially sticky issue that no steps appear to resolve.

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I took a closer look … just download direct from the dev, skip the Mac App Store.

Screen Shot 2019 06 13 at 19.19.41

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