Do I need a new computer or do I have unreasonable expectations?
May 3, 2009 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Do I need a new macbook or am I expecting too much from my current one?

I have a first edition macbook pro, (1,1), with the processor and ram upgrades, so 2gb ram and a 2.16ghz dual core processor. I've recently been having it hang irrecoverably as a result of running out of ram, and apparently I can't upgrade the ram any more on this model. As an example of what I'm doing when this happens, I was: 1) downloading stuff on itunes 2) syncing my ipod 3) backing up my system on mozy 4) downloading some torrents 5) browsing the web with too many tabs open in firefox (very possibly the culprit, I do try to avoid doing that) and 6) had a few other apps open in the background, but completely idle. I realize this is a lot to have going at once, but if a newer system can handle all that at once, it'd be worth it for me. My question is really, can a newer system with more ram manage that, or is this beyond the limits of osx or something like that?
posted by tehgeekmeister to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever reformatted it and reinstalled the Mac OS? If not, it seems like a good place to start.
posted by refractal at 6:37 PM on May 3, 2009

Your laptop should be able to handle those tasks. I would look at the memory usage of each app and see if one is hogging a ton of ram. You could have a problem with a memory leak on one of your apps. The longer it is in use, the more ram it uses.

As refractal said, reinstalling osx would probably help, but might be a bit drastic until you try and figure out what is causing the problem.
posted by meta87 at 6:43 PM on May 3, 2009

"Have you ever reformatted it and reinstalled the Mac OS? If not, it seems like a good place to start.

Unlikely. This can do wonders for Windows, but doesn't usually do much for OSX."

I'm not sure I agree with that... It has made a difference for me..... although, it is a pain to back up files and reload everything...

That said, given what you described, my opinion is that you are stressing the system a bit...
posted by HuronBob at 6:49 PM on May 3, 2009

I quit using Firefox after a time because of the memory leaks. Safari is much better in that regard.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:54 PM on May 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

4) downloading some torrents

Depending on your bandwidth, this is probably the culprit. Torrents are inherently unfriendly to disk IO, because you are doing disk seeks to put bytes into the correct position of the downloaded file, you are doing disk seeks to read bytes from the same file and serve them up to peers, and you are doing disk seeks against all the checksum information in the torrent file itself. All of this happens for every single block, from (and to) every single peer you're connected to. The faster your bandwidth, the more your client is going to hit the disk. The worst part of this is that it's all random seeks in a file that is undoubtedly fragmented across your disk-- you aren't even able to queue up sequential reads or writes that the IO subsystem can optimize.

Due to all of the disk seeks back and forth, you'll see slower paging in and out of your applications (Firefox memory consumption, amirite?) because when your machine goes to the disk to page memory back in, it has to contend with all of those other disk operations coming from your bittorrent client.
posted by mark242 at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2009

Response by poster: hmm, good answers all around so far. I kinda suspected firefox. it does leak memory, that's for sure, but I'm not willing to switch to safari, either, because I just like firefox that much more. I'll just have to learn to keep fewer tabs open (instapaper is making this a LOT easier to manage). also, what you said about torrents, mark242, is really sensible. of course I was aware it had to do all of that, but hadn't really thot about it. I'll move torrents off to another system, soon, I think, and try to keep firefox tabs down. if that doesn't solve it, then maybe I'll grab a new system, but really I'm quite happy with this one otherwise. =]
posted by tehgeekmeister at 7:10 PM on May 3, 2009

I've got a 2.33 ghz dual core processor and 2 gb of ram, and I typically have open: safari (with between 4 and 40 tabs), mail, mathematica, geometer's sketchpad, numbers, preview, ichat, ical, word...and sometimes some more stuff. (I don't reboot very often, so stuff gets cluttered).

And it does fine. Sometimes after I've had too many tabs open too long I have to reboot (after a couple weeks), but other than that it behaves. It gets a little slow when time machine is running.

So that seems to lend credence to the hypothesis above that the problem is the bittorrent, as opposed to too many tabs or open applications.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:10 PM on May 3, 2009

I regularly do almost everything you list (iTunes, FF, torrents) on my aging PowerBook G4, and things run fine on my machine. Firefox seems to chew up a lot of memory so reducing the # of open tabs will help. Also, which BitTorrent client are you using? You might consider switching to Transmission if you need a light-weight OSX-native client.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 7:49 PM on May 3, 2009

I've got no probs doing similar with a 1.83GHz Core2Duo MacBook with 2G of RAM and, yeah, I'd lean towards Bittorrent - if you've got a LOT of transfers going.

But, to be honest, I've never seen OS X "hang irrecoverably" because it ran out of RAM. Slowdown, yes, to the point of taking minutes to catch up (mainly when working on BIG video, audio, or graphics files under Parallels), but not hang. Faulty RAM, maybe?

Otherwise, I'd sorta agree with refractal, HuronBob, and mark242, but not go as far as recommending a full reinstall - honestly, I've yet to see OS X need that. You've run through the permissions checking & disk cleanup options in Disk Utility, right? That's all I've ever found it to need.

(At this very moment I've got 30+ tabs in Firefox, with 5 years of mail open & connecting to 3 different IMAP servers, iTunes playing ,iCal open, and Paint Shop Pro in Parallels handling some huge bitmaps & vector images, and it's just starting to feel slow enough that I won't bother opening iPhoto...)
posted by Pinback at 7:57 PM on May 3, 2009

(Apr├ęs-post: Just be wary of Transmission - while I've found some versions to be good (e.g. 1.40 (7084), they seem to release many more crap bug-laden versions than good ones (e.g. 1.39, I think it was, had the nice bug of downloading blocks 4~8 times before it decided to keep them - and it took them several weeks to admit to that). Unfortunately, it is the best lightweight BT client on OS X...)
posted by Pinback at 8:03 PM on May 3, 2009

I use a program called MacJanitor every week or two, it cleans the cache files & system logs, basically all the cron scripts that would normally happen at 3AM if you left your computer on all the time. It's PPC-only, but there must be an Intel equivalent (haven't found it, though I think Mac Pilot will do the same things though not with one mouse click). I also recommend blocking flash in FFox, that will save many CPU cycles. A disk that's almost full will definitely slow things down, especially if you run lots of apps at once (makes it harder to page out to a disk file). Also consider using Disk Warrior to optimize the directory, and another drive utility to optimize (yes I know there are folks that consider this unnecessary).
posted by keys at 8:57 PM on May 3, 2009

This has nothing to do with your web browser or your ram or your hard drive. You are maxing out your net connection with your torrent client. Limit the upstream speed.
posted by mzurer at 9:38 PM on May 3, 2009

Firefox is dogshit on Mac OS X. Most of the reason it gets such praise is that the competition on Windows is crap and the competition on Linux/*BSD is damn near nonexistent. It's a resource pig on OS X, especially now that Safari 4 (albeit beta) is out.

I routinely have 47 trillion tabs/windows open in Safari, for weeks on end, through sleeps/wakes on my MBP, which is about as old as yours (though with 4 GB RAM and a 250 GB hard disk upgrade that's still about half empty), and it's not nearly as bad a situation as yours.

OK, I admit I have a bit of an "issue" with Firefox, mainly because of the irrational lust the non-Mac crowd has over it. Extensions, eh? (shrug) I dunno, I guess I don't get the appeal. AdBlock Plus is great, but they have that for Safari anyway.

Really . . . as goes Firefox, DTMFA. Keep it around for the 0.04% of websites that don't like Safari, but making it your primary browser is a big mistake on OS X. Hell, Camino or OmniWeb would be far better choices if you're so gung-ho on having an irrational Safari hatred.

(Venting off.)
posted by CommonSense at 10:30 PM on May 3, 2009

Contrary to all the above postings, my kickass 4GB 2.8Ghz MBP that I got in December has encountered some pretty bad paging behavior when running out of memory -- things just grinding to a halt for ten or twenty seconds. I've got 30GB of disk free so it's not a storage issue, but when I check the Activity monitor I see that I'm down to basically 0 free MB and Safari's taking like 800MB or more, even if I close all its windows (hello memory leak)!.

But recently the problem seems to have gone away. I've got a 10 day uptime now and over 1GB free.
posted by mrt at 10:32 PM on May 3, 2009

To tell if it's a lack of RAM, just use the Activity Monitor. Pay attention mostly to whether the 'page outs' number is increasing when it feels slow. If so, you would benefit from more RAM, or from reducing the workload you have active.

IMO, 2G is a little cramped on a modern OS X install. I routinely have about 3G used with just normal things running; Firefox, iTunes, etc. I went from 2G to 4G on my mini and the performance difference was noticeable.

This doesn't necessarily mean you need a new machine, though. You could just pare down what you're running somewhat.
posted by dixie flatline at 11:19 PM on May 3, 2009

Having your system irrecoverably hang sounds like a bad thing. I've had some long periods of irritating underresponsiveness (though far less than I was used to on Windows), but I'm usually able to get control again.

Were you doing all six of the things you listed at once? 4 of them are bound to do a lot of disk I/O and the way Firefox eats RAM, it's going to end up causing a lot of swapping too, further overwhelming your disk. Even so, it shouldn't be unrecoverable.

A few things. First, go a little easier on your computer, as other people have suggested. A desktop with a bunch of RAM and a fast hard disk or two might be able to do all that at once without breaking a sweat. A laptop with 2GB of ram and a laptop HDD is, not so much.

Next, you might be able to do some upgrades. My understanding is that at least some of the earlier MacBook Pros can be upgraded to 3GB, even though the official specs say 2GB max. Also, a newer hard disk with a bigger cache, and maybe a 7,200 RPM spindle speed will help when disk activity picks up.

The main benefit of a newer laptop for someone like you won't be the faster processor so much as it will be the increased RAM capacity and faster disk.
posted by Good Brain at 12:18 AM on May 4, 2009

Oh, yeah, your internet connection could also be getting swamped, if you are doing a bunch of bittorrents, iTunes downloads and running an internet backup. In particular, the backup and the bittorrent uploads could be swamping your upstream connection, but again, that shouldn't be causing a lockup.
posted by Good Brain at 12:22 AM on May 4, 2009

I usually also have 20-30 tabs open in Safari without a hinch (except for tabs with leaky flash-things). I would also consider killing Bittorrent, when you are working on the machine.

However, I do think that your problem may rather be that you are running out of disk space. I would recommend upgrading to say a 320 GB or similar. If you have less than 20-30 GB left, that will help a lot.
posted by KimG at 12:38 AM on May 4, 2009

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