SBOA (Spinning Beachball of Annoyance)
December 18, 2009 6:52 AM   Subscribe

My Mac just got very sluggish. Common actions like typing, scrolling, clicking app controls, etc. cause the beachball to appear for 5-10 seconds. This happens across applications. Please help me figure out what's wrong.

It's a MacBook with OS X 10.4.11 and 2 GB RAM. I've had it about 3 1/2 years. This just started today, and I can't think what could have changed to cause it. FYI, the annoying thing has happened at least a dozen times while I was posting this. GRR! Help!
posted by ottereroticist to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
These sound really obvious, but have you (a) emptied your trash and (b) restarted the computer recently?
posted by oinopaponton at 6:57 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

It could be the hard disk dying. I would recommend making a backup ASAP
posted by rus at 6:58 AM on December 18, 2009

1. Check how full your HD is. If you're running out of disk space, things can slow down a lot. Places to clear a lot of disk space without losing a thing include the iPhoto trash (which needs to be emptied from within iPhoto) and your downloads folder.

2. Nthing emptying trash and restarting.

3. Also check to see if you need any system updates. (Go under the Apple menu and choose "Software Update.")

4. Are you on a wireless network? There could be something happening there too. Try restarting the router.
posted by Capri at 7:01 AM on December 18, 2009

Backup quickly, as it's most likely the hard drive. Have you installed anything/changed anything drastic recently? Hard drives tend to give out after 3+ years, so you'll probably need to have it replaced. It's a nice excuse for a storage boost, but I can't stress enough how important it is that you drop everything and backup *right now*. If you wait until tomorrow, that might be too late.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 7:02 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another culprit could be Firefox, if you use it. I just switched over to Chrome, and I'm surprised by how much memory it's freed up.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:05 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

I get this now and then after running my MacBook for a few weeks without quitting FireFox and never turning the computer off (only sleeping it.) If I put up with it too long, I have to restart the computer before it gets better.
posted by advicepig at 7:06 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another possibility is that some over-active process is running in the background, which prevents other applications from getting the processing time they need to be responsive. Open your Activity Monitor, at the top right there is a drop-down menu that you can set to show All Processes. Sort the process list by CPU and see if any particular process stands out.
posted by harlan at 7:18 AM on December 18, 2009

Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one. Emptying the trash looks like it did it. Thanks everyone!
posted by ottereroticist at 7:21 AM on December 18, 2009

OK, maybe that wasn't it after all. Emptying the trash, freeing up ~10Gb, and restarting definitely helped, but it's still happening, just not quite as often.

Bouncing the router didn't help. Activity Monitor doesn't show anything glaring.

I replaced the hard drive last year and have a full Mozy backup. Anything else I should look at?
posted by ottereroticist at 8:44 AM on December 18, 2009

If you are comfortable poking around underneath the hood, try these Maintenance Scripts

1. Open Terminal, located in the Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities folder.
2. At the Terminal prompt, type the following, exactly as written:

sudo periodic daily weekly monthly

3. Press Return.
4. Type your Admin password when prompted, then press Return.

These scripts are set to run at 4am, and if you computer is never on/awake at 4am, then they never run.
posted by limited slip at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Huh. That started happening to me on my Mac Pro a few days ago. I noticed it happened after I updated my AdBlock Plus plugin, but I'm not sure if it's related.

I ran the maintenance scripts limited slip mentioned (using Cocktail—it's free if you're still on Tiger), did a safe boot, cleaned up my desktop, ran a hardware test to see if there were any red flags (none came up), and then ran a bunch of software updates (turns out I was behind on Java, Quicktime, and the latest security update for 10.4.11). So far, it seems one of those things worked.

If it starts happening again, the next thing I'm going to do is test the RAM (with memtest) and check the video card. (My Mac might be one affected by failing Nvidia cards; bulging capacitors are what to look for, apparently.)
posted by lovermont at 9:01 AM on December 18, 2009

These symptoms appeared when my hard drive was about to crash.

If you have applecare, you should have a copy of techtools on your applecare disk (or be able to download it from apple) which will pin down any hardware issues you might be having.

You can also start up from the system install disk and run the disk utility from there.
posted by gyusan at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

This happens to me frequently. The culprit is always either background syncing (mobile me, time machine, foxmarks, etc) or a particular browser tab with some javascript or flash running wild.
posted by sudama at 11:29 AM on December 18, 2009

you should also check console for any clues. It's surprising how much helpful diagnostic info shows up there.
posted by Chris4d at 11:39 AM on December 18, 2009

And possibly more subtle: Bad DNS servers can cause no end of browser headaches, as the first one eventually slowly times out and OSX falls over to another one. Various releases have handled this in various better and worse ways, but when the name servers I had been using for over a decade suddenly went away, my iMac got about 18 kinds of weirdly slow until I pieced it together and figured out what was going on.
posted by Kyol at 10:12 PM on December 18, 2009

Go into /Applications/Utilities/Activity Monitor and sort by the CPU column. Tell us which processes are eating the most CPU.

For example, I recently encountered a minor horror with a piece of HP (IIRC) printer that was eating lots of CPU. This was easily visible in the Activity Monitor.
posted by Zarkonnen at 2:33 AM on December 19, 2009

If you don't see any overly hungry processes in the activity manager, try an Archive and reinstall. You'll keep all your files and most of your applications, and it only takes an hour or two.

Also, this may be a really dumb question, but what type of Mac is it? Are the vents clear? Are the fans spinning properly? Try resetting the SMC in case there is something thermally wrong, causing the RAM, CPU or some other component to throttle back.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:37 PM on December 19, 2009

I took it in, and my tech ran diagnostics that said the hard drive was headed south. So I replaced the HD -- but not before getting an almost-complete backup off it. So thanks Mefi -- if not for you, I probably would have procrastinated.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:30 PM on January 18, 2010

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