How can I troubleshoot this MAC PRO G5 problem?
September 24, 2010 5:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I troubleshoot this MAC PRO G5 problem? It's very slow, can't change system preferences, can't boot from second drive to run Disk Utility, the Dock is gone, five minutes to open a file...

MACPRO G5 running OS X, 10.4.11

- Boot is very slow, whether into regular mode or Safe mode
- When double-clicking the hard drive it takes about 2 minutes to open
- The dock is gone - system preferences say to hide the dock, and I can't change it
- My CD drive doesn't work, can't boot to Disk Utility there
- But I ran fsck -f in Single User mode and it says the disk is fine
- In System Preferences I changed it to boot to a second hard drive, but it booted to the same drive. When I look back at Preferences it's still set to the primary drive
- I logged on using a laptop and tried to copy files from the G5 and OS X said it would take 100 hours
- Booting to Single User mode is fast, unlike booting normally or to Safe mode
- I changed the startup drive using bless /Volumes and so on, but it still didn't change to the other drive

I have at my disposal an Apple Store that's open within walking distance, and a PowerBook G4 running 10.4.11.

The last thing I installed was HueyPro - color correction software - three weeks ago. I uninstalled it today but the uninstall does not appear to have worked. The HueyPro symbol is still showing up in the top right next to my wireless symbol.
What should I try?

posted by lockedroomguy to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
I'm still leaning toward failing hard drive. fsck isn't a guarantee that you'll catch it. Given the age of the machine, it's certainly within the realm of possibility that the hard drive is heading south, especially if Safe Mode is just as sluggish.
posted by CommonSense at 5:55 PM on September 24, 2010

It could be other hardware failures. I have a dead one of those in my office. If you can boot from CD, and have the original install CD/DVD, there should be a hardware test program that you can run that will test the machine pretty thoroughly.
posted by procrastination at 6:44 PM on September 24, 2010

Best answer: Boot it into FireWire disk mode (hold T at startup) and mount it onto another machine. That should be less demand on the G5 than trying to SSH in. Try to back up what you need off of it. If that's horribly slow, yeah, probably the HD. If the backup works, boot from CD*, format your startup drive, and reinstall Leopard.

* There's a neat trick that I just figured out today, coincidentally enough, since your CD drive doesn't work: put the Leopard CD in ANOTHER computer, put that one in FireWire disk mode, then hold down Option when booting the G5-- booting from the OTHER computer's CD drive will be an option.

If the backup doesn't work, well... can you afford to sacrifice the files on the startup drive to a clean Leopard reinstall? If so, boot from CD (using another computer's CD drive as described above) and do the wipe and install anyway.
posted by supercres at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2010

I'm sorry; you're running 10.4 on all these machines. Substitute "Tiger" for "Leopard" in the above answer.
posted by supercres at 6:54 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: CommonSense, I don't think it's the drive--everything is fast at the Unix level.

supercres, thanks, I'm going to give that a try.

Still looking for troubleshooting ideas too. If I need to try to back up and re-install I will but I'd like to try fixing it first.
posted by lockedroomguy at 7:08 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: supercres -- yes thanks :)
posted by lockedroomguy at 7:08 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Also, I still can't get the Dock working. Is there a way to get my Trash back without using the Dock?
posted by lockedroomguy at 7:12 PM on September 24, 2010

Best answer: Well, when you put a file in the Trash, it gets moved to an invisible folder in your home directory: ~/.Trash. You can mv it out of there as needed.

This really sounds like a hardware (probably HD) problem or a major software problem. Probably software, as you mention. If it is OS/software, my guess is that you're not going to be able to fix this without a clean install of the OS. My bias: I really like clean installs-- speeds everything up, clears out old unused crap. I do it to my work computer whenever I can, and to other computers in my lab whenever they change hands. Keeps everything running like when it was new.

If you CAN back up irreplaceable files to your Powerbook (by putting the G5 in Target Disk Mode), I really think that's the way to go. You're going to save a lot of time overall doing something you know will work (the clean install I mean; assuming that the hardware is in good working order) versus looking for a software fix that may not work, or may only work temporarily.

I might check back in, but Memail me if you have questions about the process of hijacking another computer's CD drive in Target Disk Mode. It's a bit of a kludge, but it was a lifesaver for me today. Good luck.
posted by supercres at 7:36 PM on September 24, 2010

Heh, one more thing, just to get Disk Utility running if you really want to avoid a clean install: put the Tiger disk in your Powerbook, put the Powerbook in Target Disk Mode, and plug it into the G5. Hold down Option when you boot the G5 and boot from the CD in the Powerbook. (The same thing I recommended above.) You should be able to run Disk Utility that way.

Or, even easier: put the G5 into TDM, plug it into the Powerbook, and run Disk Utility on the Powerbook to analyze the G5's drive.

Think I'm done now. Again, good luck.
posted by supercres at 7:40 PM on September 24, 2010

lockedroomguy: "I don't think it's the drive--everything is fast at the Unix level."

In single-user mode the HDD is mounted read-only, and I think the utilities available (busybox-like?) are run from ramdisk.

Apart from that I agree, sounds like the HDD is dying one way or another. fsck only checks for logical errors; if the hardware's failing to read/write quickly but eventually returns the read data without errors or timing out after multiple attempts, it'll still pass.
posted by Pinback at 8:25 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Pinback, are you sure about read-only mode? I've been successfully deleting files in single-user mode.
posted by lockedroomguy at 9:00 PM on September 24, 2010

Yup. Just tried it on both Snow Leopard (Intel) & Tiger (PPC). Single-user mode mounts the root device as read-only. From there, you need to update the mount (/sbin/mount -uw /) to get read-write access.

You sure you were in single-user mode (command-s; boots into CLI) and not safe mode (shift; boots into GUI)?
posted by Pinback at 9:29 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Positive; I'm running unix commands at the command line, not moving a mouse.

If you ever go in to s-u mode again try deleting a file and you'll see.
posted by lockedroomguy at 9:50 PM on September 24, 2010

Best answer: How much free space is on the drive?
posted by filmgeek at 8:28 AM on September 25, 2010

Best answer: How much free space is on the drive?

This is what I suspect too. I have a late Quad G5 (the last PPC model ever made) and it misbehaves exactly this way when I have less than 2Gb disk space (I have 4Gb RAM). The disk keeps paging virtual memory, it starts "churning" the disk and it slows to a crawl, then stops. I would try to install XRG and set it to give a graph of your hard disk R/W activity.

Disk failure is also a possibility. I would mount the G5 in Target Disk Mode, you tried that already, but you should try to run Disk Utility on it from the host computer. Then check the S.M.A.R.T. status, that is designed to give advance warning of impending disk failure.

I recall reading some emergency recovery software that will work in the command line in safe mode, but I don't recall what it is. Maybe someone remembers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:49 PM on September 25, 2010

Charlie is thinking of applejack probably. You install it in the GUI and it gives you CLI repair tools in Single user mode - not in safe mode.

My guess is dead hard drive or directory screwed up beyond the ability of disk utility or fsck to repair, in which case you want diskwarrior. My money is definitely on dead hard drive.
posted by ridogi at 11:05 AM on September 26, 2010

Response by poster: Results on this one:

- It could have been either low disk space or some OS problem
- I took supercres's advice and used my other Mac as a target drive, but rather than running Disk Utility from there (since I'd already run fsck) or doing a clean install I did an Archive and Install of 10.3
- Then I ran the Tiger upgrade back to 10.4

That worked, but since I had to free up drive space to do it anyway I don't know whether there was a software problem or if it was just low disk space causing it.

Notes for anyone else seeing this later:
- Archive and Install worked perfectly, except according to the instructions it's supposed to pop out Disk 1 and ask for Disk 2. This never happened--I did it three times. After the third time I figured it must have worked anyway and just moved on to the upgrade to Tiger.
- After the first Archive and Install OS X forgot my password ( I didn't forget it; it's been the same for 10 years) and I had to reset it using the install disk option.

Now I have the G5 back with all my files still there. Thanks all!
posted by lockedroomguy at 11:18 AM on September 26, 2010

Ah yes ridogi, Applejack was what I was thinking of.

I will suggest you install some S.M.A.R.T. monitoring gadget like SMARTReporter. It can give advance warning of further problems. fsck does not check the SMART status, it only checks the internal integrity of the disk data. You really should run Disk Utility right now and check the SMART status. It's not something that stands out in Disk Utility, you could look right past it.

I had a friend with a PowerBook and it was showing some of the same symptoms as you. Disk access was horribly slow, and major system components went missing. I had to archive and install and then the OS was intact and usable. But it was only a couple of weeks later when the drive started failing again. We checked the SMART status and it said the drive was severely damaged and about to fail totally. A couple of days later, it did fail completely. Fortunately she backed up all her major files after the first incident.

So I suggest you still keep a close eye on the problem. You restored the OS to working condition but it doesn't look like you've discovered the reason it got corrupted. Do some backups immediately and keep monitoring the drive's health. These drive problems can look a lot like software problems.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:14 PM on September 26, 2010

lockedroomguy: If you ever go in to s-u mode again try deleting a file and you'll see.

FWIW, I did check that when before I wrote my second comment. The 'rm' command says it worked, but then the OS tells you it failed because the disk is mounted read-only, and the file is still there. Maybe the fact yours was mounted read-write was a symptom of whatever was ailing?

I forget exactly how OS X boots into single-user mode, but ISTR at least some unix-like systems (OpenBSD?) initially mount the root device R/W before updating the mount to read-only just before starting the user shell. That doesn't sound like a good idea to me, but I'm sure I've seen it somewhere…

Anyway, glad it's been sorted.
posted by Pinback at 12:48 AM on September 29, 2010

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