[Mac OS X Filter] Slouching towards disk repair
September 11, 2010 6:08 PM   Subscribe

My Macbook Pro (Mac OS X, v. 10.5.8) began operating v e r y slowly, with Firefox (v. 3.6.9) running. Help me solve this mystery, and figure out how to repair my disk without having to pay Big Store.

Help me save my computer since I have no computer repair budget!

I vaguely remember people encouraging me to upgrade my operating system, but...

The "riveting" narrative:

Using the Firefox browser on my MBP, I suddenly found it responding very slowly - and my cursor's response was also lagging. With many tabs open, and unable to close the Firefox browser using Command+Q, I force quit Firefox, and thought perhaps someone was hacking my computer. (My paranoid reasoning: Why else would it run so slowly while I'm only using Firefox?) This led me to turn off my airport and close my computer, making it go to sleep. I re-opened the computer, logged back in, and closed out all programs except Disk Utility.

Running Disk Utility:
In Disk Utility, I run "Verify Disk" for the first time since January (or possibly earlier this past spring), and two main errors show up in the detailed log:
1) "Incorrect number of thread records" (in the Catalog file)
2) "Invalid volume file count" (in the Catalog hierarchy)

Ergo, "Filesystem verify or repair failed" message. I have no idea what the logged errors mean, except maybe that the computer is unhappy that the numbers are not aligning.

Attempting to Verify Disk Permissions:
Next, I click on "Verify Disk Permissions", which also fails. Three times.

I try to verify disk permissions and verify the disk generally several times, with the same end-result errors. There are missing thread records, differing permissions, and many Warnings, like:
* "Warning: SUID file _____ has been modified [by whom?!?] and will not be repaired"; and
* "ACL found but not expected on _____"

I have no idea what ACL, permissions and their differences, or SUID files stands for.

And, full disclosure, but for a while (since winter or spring of 2009?), I would shut down my computer, with all programs and applications closed out, and upon re-start found either one or sometimes two "Recovered files" folder(s) in my trash bin. Before shutting down, I always make sure my trash folder is emptied, so I noticed that something would appear when I'd start up the computer.

Most of the time it was empty, but sometimes and more recently I noticed that it would have "plug tmp" files listed as recovered files. My friend advised me to run Disk Utility since "that's not good," and I did, but the disk verified fine (this past winter), so I just thought my computer was...quirky but fine.

Basically, is this a big problem? (e.g. is my computer about to kick up daisies?)
What's causing this? (Okay, this may be beyond the scope of AskMetaFilter)
Relatedly, what would cause a computer's inability to repair itself?
How did my files get modified?
Do I have to go to the Apple/other repair store?
Will my computer die on me soon?
If everything else is fine, can I just ignore this or is this Really Important to fix?

I bought this refurbished MBP "new" from Apple in 2008, and it has always run very well. My two-year Apple service care plan (not exact name) is probably expired by now, and unfortunately my original start-up disks that came with the MBP are in storage very far from where I live.

Thanks very much for any help or insight into this!
posted by simulacra to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: File system errors can certainly cause big slow-downs, and that's a sign to take big action. Did you buy the Applecare service plan? That's three years of service, where the standard is just one. If so, taking it to an Apple Store would be a good move. Before you go, though, you'll want to have all your data backed up. Apple doesn't guarantee your data in the repair process.

Either way, backing up your data is job #1. If you don't have an external hard drive, now's the time to go buy one. Carbon Copy Cloner is a great app for backing up your drive. Honestly, back up first, and then work on trying to repair.

The next repair step I'd try is to boot up from a different drive/disc. You could install the OS on an external hard drive or use the system boot disk (time to get it out of storage). Disk Utility is limited in its ability to make changes to a system that's in use. Good luck!
posted by fishpatrol at 6:20 PM on September 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, fishpatrol. I just backed up the Mac's contents on my external hard drive (do it every other week or so), and realize the box for my Applecare, which I bought in 2008, is in storage, far away, and inaccessible. I'm hoping that the Applecare will still cover my computer, even if I can't find my little box. I do have my receipt for it, so fingers crossed!
posted by simulacra at 7:16 PM on September 11, 2010

Best answer: It's going to take a bigger Apple brain than I've got, but I can answer some of the lottle questions you've raised. ACL is Access Control List. SUID means "set user ID" and here is a list of SUID permission errors that can safely be ignored when you see them.

And what fishpatrol said above QFT: Disk Utilty needs to be run from your system disk or from an external drive to really fix nagging problems.
posted by beelzbubba at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Download OnyX and run all the utilities it has.
posted by mikeand1 at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for the replies. mikeand1, while I downloaded and installed Onyx, now I don't know what to do with it, and am afraid I'll mess up my hard drive if I use it. It seems Onyx was made for people who know a little more about programming/the inner binary code and other workings of computers than I do, which is to say, I don't really know anything about that stuff.

Bwithh, thanks for the tip. I'm pretty sure, though, that this is some sort of basic hard drive problem, since Firefox isn't generally buggy, and is - for example - running just fine, and very speedily, right now.

Applecare question! I bought the computer with Applecare, but had no idea I had to register or otherwise activate it, although I spent the money. Is there any way, with receipt and proof of purchase in tandem with the MBP, that Apple will honor this, or am I out of luck?
posted by simulacra at 8:00 PM on September 11, 2010

Open Source isn't always the best solution.

Weird editorializing in an AskMe thread, but nevermind that--

If it's Firefox, the very first thing you must do is check your extensions. Some of them can slow you down surprisingly much, and some may even have memory links.

One thing you might want to try right now, if you can do without your extensions for a while, is to try the new Firefox 4 beta, currently up to b5. You can try a generally-faster new version and temporarily turn off your extensions (since most of those not made by Mozilla themselves won't be compatible). I've been using it for over a month now, since b2, and can confirm that it's not buggy at all.
posted by JHarris at 8:30 PM on September 11, 2010

Memory LEAKS, sorry.
posted by JHarris at 8:31 PM on September 11, 2010

All the above, plus:
  • For some reason, FF seems particularly sensitive to low disk space on OS X. 10 gig free is the usual recommendation for OS X, and I'd agree that's a mandatory minimum if you run FF.
  • Growl used to like to dump "Recovered Files" folders in the trash. Supposedly this has been fixed in the last couple of years, but I found it still happened with new versions. Since I never use its notifications I delete it when I see it, but something I update occasionally keeps re-installing it every few months; I haven't bothered to track down what keeps doing that.
  • Ever since I upgraded to SL (new HDD & fresh install) I had a persistent disk error (don't recall the exact error; something to do with the directory structure of /) which Disk Utility would claim to fix, but not. Running D U off the install disk seems to have fixed it.

posted by Pinback at 8:59 PM on September 11, 2010

Response by poster: Again, thank you all so much for the really helpful answers to my long, winding question.

beelzbubba: that link was mint! I don't know what it means to run Disk Utility not from within my computer (is that what you meant?), but I will try to figure it out. And, finally, I know the meaning behind those acronyms!

Bwithh: I hope you're right, and thanks for that encouraging little tidbit. I bought the Applecare package with the computer, both from Apple. I hope they remember, with the help of my receipt.

JHarris: Thanks for the response. What's an extension?

Pinback: Thanks for the helpful bullet points! (How'd you do that?) The MBP came with 2.5GB of memory, so that shouldn't affect Firefox, if it's mostly a lack-of-adequate-memory problem. I never upgraded to Snow Leopard, but will keep that bug in mind.

Just wanted to clarify one thing: I noticed that my computer is no longer acting slowly, and the main issue now - for me, most alarming - is that my Disk Utility says that there are errors when it seeks to verify the devices/hard drive on my computer, but now can't and shows error messages. And those error messages seem to lead it to reporting that it cannot repair said errors it found. I'll work on figuring out Firefox - I don't think I have any extensions, since I think you have to download those separately and to custom design, right? (Like apps for iPhones? I don't have an iPhone, but just guessing.)

Thanks, all! Will keep figuring.
posted by simulacra at 9:26 PM on September 11, 2010

Response by poster: fishpatrol: What's a system boot disk? I don't think I have one. I have a Lacie external hard drive. Does that count?
posted by simulacra at 9:28 PM on September 11, 2010

A system boot disc is one of the two grey disc you computer came with, they're used to reinstall the OS and perform basic maintenance.

Really though, you should go to an Apple Store for a free 15 minute appointment at the Genius Bar. They can do some basic troubleshooting, look up your warranty status, point you towards some resources to further help, etc.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:42 PM on September 11, 2010

Best answer: You can check your warranty status with your Mac's serial number here.

Go to an Apple Store. Booting from an install DVD and running Disk Utility might sort things out all by itself.

Although it's spendy, DiskWarrior might also help. John Gruber's tale of surviving drive failure woe is worth a read.
posted by holgate at 10:00 PM on September 11, 2010

To clarify: when I said "10 gig free", I meant "10 gig of disk space". Finder will tell you how much free if you look at the bottom of the window.

And you do the bullet points with standard HTML <ul> unordered list & <li> list item tags (as outlined in the Big Wiki of Metafilter Secrets). Many and varied effects can may be achieved ;-)
posted by Pinback at 10:29 PM on September 11, 2010

Response by poster: now i'm piste: Alack, the original packaging (with mysterious grey system boot disk that everyone is mentioning) is in storage and I cannot get to it. Generally, though, sounds like people are saying, "Get that MBP to the Apple / other relevant store." Sounds like I'll have to end up paying. But, can't do it right now.

holgate: I will not despair yet. Although I re-visited that website via your link, and it says that my warranty is no longer covered, I sent in a request stating my case, replete with JPGs of emailed confirmation of purchase as receipt. But, I wonder if buying this "new" MBP refurbished somehow made the initial warranty less than a year. I'll find out soon.

Pinback: Shiny! I did some research, and can safely say that the OS has a capacity of 232GB and change, with 170GB available, and change. Plenty of space.
posted by simulacra at 10:50 PM on September 11, 2010

Refurbs have the same one year warranty as brand new ones. Apple Care can be purchased for both, extending the 1-year parts and labour, 90 day phone support to 3 years for parts, labour, and phone support.

Make an appointment at a local Apple retail store. It's free.
Call Apple Care (1.800.APL.CARE) and they can register your Apple care if you have the receipt number. They can also attempt to fix it over the phone, and make a follow up appointment at a store if it's required.
posted by now i'm piste at 11:26 PM on September 11, 2010

Nthing "hie thee to the Apple Store!" You will take your laptop in, they will do the diagnostics from their drives--using your laptop as the "slave" in the "master-slave" terminology of hard drives. They will do this FREE (at least in the States) so you don't have to locate your system disk from storage.

I did not have the same problem you did, but I bought a MacBook laptop from a university property department--no warranty, no nothing. After a few months, it would not boot unless it was plugged in and the battery would not charge. The battery life cycle indicated that it should still have plenty of cycles left. I made an appointment at the Apple Store because, like you, I don't feel myself to be expert and I wanted to know for sure that it was the battery.

With about 5 minutes of diagnostics, they confirmed that it was the battery. Even though my MacBook had no warranty, there had been a service issue with the original batteries, and the official deadline for free replacement expired about 4 months prior. The service tech talked with the manager, and they gave me a new battery at no charge.

Message: Do Not Fear the Apple Store. They will tell you straight up what is what. If you are covered under warranty, they will know. They are a tremendous resource.
posted by beelzbubba at 7:08 AM on September 12, 2010


I am 90% sure OnyX will fix your problem. It will not hurt your hard drive, and you don't need to know anything special to run it.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:07 AM on September 12, 2010

I just wanted to second DiskWarrior. I've had drives which were totally unresponsive and one step from getting tossed....10 minutes with DiskWarrior and they were fine. It was always my last resort, and now it's my only resort. It's never failed me.
posted by nevercalm at 10:28 AM on September 12, 2010

Response by poster: mikeand1: I'd love to, but I don't have the original packaging for my MBP nor Applecare (in storage, far away), hence needing workarounds mentioned above. OnyX is a great too, though, and I just ran it, with that dead-end as a result. Receipts are my main tools right now.

now i'm piste and beelzbubba: Made an appointment! We shall see. beelzbubba, I'm really happy that your Apple Store experience was so positive, and glad that all worked out.

Mentions of DiskWarrior: Once I have a budget for it, I will look into buying workarounds.
posted by simulacra at 10:58 AM on September 12, 2010

Response by poster: OnyX is a great too is, of course, OnyX is a great resource, too.
posted by simulacra at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2010

Firefox, especially on a laptop that is rarely rebooted, can cause a.slowdown like you describe. I would check whether the laptop becomes more responsive after you quit Firefox.

Ans nthing a backup then booting off an OS disc and running disk utility. If you can't get to a Genius Bar, and don't have discs, you can get a Snow Leopard upgrade disc for pretty cheap, and I think it's bootable.
posted by zippy at 11:32 AM on September 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, everyone. I will be visiting a relevant store, and am covered under AppleCare. The computer is shut down after every use, and is neither run nor powered on for days on end. So, the hard drive just seems to be on the way out, according to someone with whom I spoke by phone.
posted by simulacra at 5:33 AM on September 14, 2010

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