On the spinning wheel ride
March 21, 2009 12:33 PM   Subscribe

The Gray Screen of Death: another hanging Mac question.

A friend of mine generously gave me her older iBook G4 that she didn't need any more. However, the other day when I tried to turn it on it got to the gray screen with the apple logo and the spinning wheel and hung there. That's as far as I've been able to go since then. Neither my friend nor I are 100% positive what OS it's running, but I'm pretty sure it's 10.4.1. Now, bearing in mind that I'm not terribly competent at fixing computer problems, I've tried what seem to be the standard quick fix ideas and here's what happens:

-Starting in safe mode: it gets to the gray screen, stays there for a minute, then shuts itself down again.

-Resetting the PRAM and NVRAM: no change.

-Starting in verbose mode gets me to this message:

Checking disk
Mounting local filesystems
/dev/diskOs3 on / (local)
kern.sysv.shmmax: -1 -> 4194304
kern.sysv.shmin: -1 -> 1
kern.sysv.shmmni: -1 -> 32
kern.sysv.shmseg: -1 -> 8
kern.sysv.shmall: -1 -> 1024
Resetting files and devices
mkdir: /private/tmp: No such file or directory

and it stops there.

Further complication: the computer originally came with OS 10.3.5 and I have the disks for that. However, as I said before, I'm pretty positive that it is now running something above 10.4 (my friend must have upgraded at some point, but she doesn't remember how or when). The tip sheets that I've seen online all say NOT to use disks with an older OS to attempt fixes. My friend also offered to lend me the disks for her current Mac, which are OS 10.5.2 but I'm not sure if that will help me. My question(s) are, can I potentially use any of these disks to do some sort of diagnosis or fix on the computer? If so, which ones and how (again bearing in mind that I'm pretty clueless about this stuff)? Based on the information given, can you think of any other ideas that might fix this problem? Thanks, folks.
posted by otolith to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The 10.5.2 disks won't help you, she's right, because there's a whole interim OS in there (10.4) which you would need to upgrade to before then conntinuing to 10.5 and all the subsequent patches.

The best suggestion I can give you is to do an archive and install, instructions for which for your OS can be found here.
posted by misha at 12:40 PM on March 21, 2009

Sounds like your hard drive is toast. Try booting from the CD (it doesn't matter which OS is on the machine) using Disk Utility to see if the hard drive still shows up. Directions here.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:43 PM on March 21, 2009

The disk sounds like it's fine, you don't report hearing any clicking sounds.

However, when your computer hangs on the grey screen, this usually means the operating system is corrupt.

You'll need a set of Mac OS X 10.4 installation discs to put a fresh copy of 10.4 on there.

When you install 10.4 again, you will want to choose the Archive and Install option.

This option installs a new version of the operating system and moves your old settings to a backup folder, so that you can recover specific custom settings afterwards.

Once you have install 10.4, run Software Update to apply security fixes and minor OS upgrades.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:25 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you have files on the machine that you need to keep? Try booting into FireWire Target Disk Mode (hold T key at startup). Connect it to another Mac via FireWire and backup your files. Then just choose the "Erase and Install" option with your 10.5 Install DVD. This will erase your corrupt operating system along with everything else saved on the machine and let you start over.
posted by reeddavid at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2009

True, I'm not getting any clicking sounds. It seems to be making standard hard drive spinning up sounds to me. Nothing to indicate any problems except for not proceedings past the gray screen. Following doctor negative's suggestion I just tried using disk utility on the 10.3.5 discs and the hard drive does show up. I was able to verify and repair permissions using disk utility, but when I tried to verify or repair the disk I got the pop up message:

"First Aid failed, disk utility stopped repairing "mac" because the following error was encountered: the underlying task reported failure on exit"

So, I guess I'll try to find some 10.4 discs and do a reinstall. Alternatively, I suppose I could just wipe the drive and reinstall from scratch with the discs I have. I think most of the files on the computer are backed up in other places and I could probably deal with losing a few things. Any other suggestions out there before I go nuclear?
posted by otolith at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2009

If you are getting any errors when attempting to repair using disk utility, and disk utility cannot fix them, it means there is significant corruption of the structure of the boot volume and there are two things you can do:

1. Attempt repair using a third party disk utility.
2. Erase and install.

If you have the 10.5 disks then an erase and install straight to 10.5 will work. If there is any need to get the data that is currently on there off before erasing, there is a good chance that target disk mode will work despite the corruption.

P.S. contrary to what the other posts are telling you, if you are running 10.3.x there is NO NEED to install 10.4 in order to run 10.5. The system can upgrade from 10.3.9 directly to 10.5, and from any earlier version of 10.3 an archive and install will work.

On the other hand, disks shipped with a different model of mac will not run on your computer as they will lack the drivers for your hardware.
posted by fearnothing at 2:54 PM on March 21, 2009

(didn't spot deeddavid's post, oops. At least I had a tiny bit to add to what he said :P)
posted by fearnothing at 2:56 PM on March 21, 2009

Sorry, fearnothing, I was confused by Apple's language here:

Mac OS X 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5 themselves are not downloadable updates, they are reference releases, also called upgrades. This means, for example, you can't upgrade from Mac OS X 10.3 to Mac OS X 10.5 via a downloadable installer. Reference releases are available from the Apple Store online, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Distributors (AAD).

But you are right if the G4 has the capacity and she doesn't need to reformat the hard disk:

You can upgrade your v10.4.10 or later or v 10.3 .9 server to v 10.5 or later if: You don’t need to reformat the current computer’s hard disk. Your server hardware has: An Intel or PowerPC G5 or G4 (1 GHz or faster) processor. At least 1 gigabyte (GB) of random access memory (RAM).At least 20 gigabytes (GB) of disk space available
posted by misha at 3:31 PM on March 21, 2009

Again, though, that 10.5 may be for a different model of Mac, like fearnothing says, and then that 10.5 won't work on the G4.
posted by misha at 3:34 PM on March 21, 2009

It could be damage to the directory -- the files that tells your OS where everything on your hard drive resides.

Two things --

1. have you tried fsck in single-user mode?

Boot while holding down command+s

If you get as far as a prompt, type:

/sbin/fsck -fy

(fsck means 'file system consistency check' I think. the -f tag ='force' - necessary since OS 10.3, I think the -y tag means 'yes, repair')

This will attempt to repair any directory problems found on your drive. Unfortunately, fsck is a little limited in scope as to what-all it can fix.

2. If it encounters problems it can't fix, DiskWarrior is the tool of choice to repair damaged directories, provided that your hard drive is physically intact.

If you do have a damaged directory/corrupt file system, chances are fair it was caused by bad RAM. If you get things straightened out, the next thing I'd do is run memtest, which is supposedly more thorough than the memory test that comes with your Hardaware Test CD, if you still have one, that is. If you have bad RAM in slot 0, you're screwed, as that's soldered to the motherboard. Been through it with 2 iBooks, now. (you can tell by process of elimination -- if it fails memtest, pull any installed RAM from the 1 slot, and try again)

You need a retail version of 10.4 or 10.5. Apple ships machines with machine-specific installers that won't work on other hardware, for the purpose of forcing you to buy a retail copy of upgrades, instead of people passing around install disks that came with hardware. Retail copies of OS 10.4 aren't that easy to come across -- if it turns out you need to re-install the OS, it's expensive, because it's the last OS X that'll run Classic, so it's sought after. I'd go ahead and spring for a retail 10.5 DVD. I don't think you'll regret the expense in the long-run -- it's a pretty nice OS.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:47 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, that was more like 4 things.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:13 PM on March 21, 2009

Just tried /sbin/fsck -fy in single user mode; no dice. "Volume check failed." I guess I'll try to track down a firewire to firewire cable tomorrow and use target disk mode to make sure I don't leave behind anything I would miss, then reinstall 10.3.5 for now. Maybe buy 10.5 when I make sure that the RAM isn't f*@&ed. Thanks a lot for the help, everyone.
posted by otolith at 7:24 PM on March 21, 2009

Well, it was taking too long for me to find a firewire to firewire cable so I just decided to write off anything that I had on the computer. Nothing too important. So I erased the hard drive and reinstalled 10.3 using the discs that came with the computer. Works fine now, no apparent RAM problems.

Then the next day my cat managed to knock the computer off a table and it landed with a terrible thud but, lo, it still works fine. That thing is a brick.
posted by otolith at 1:52 PM on April 21, 2009

« Older How do I start my own backyard garden?   |   Super Simple offline (time-less) diary/calender? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.