beachball in january no good
January 7, 2012 12:46 PM   Subscribe

New Year's edition of "my macbook pro is suddenly slow"...

[Yes I'm seeing that there are a million posts tagged "macbook" - but maybe the specific story needs a specific answer.]

When I was a-travel in November, at home with friends and trying to hook up to their wireless network with a wrongly transferred password (and trying a gazillion other popping-up networks as well in the process), my 15-inch Macbook pro (some extra memory installed...) got sluggish, as in:

- takes much longer to open any application.
- often, after launching an application, menu functions don't work properly until I've used a few of them, then everything gets more or less normal.
- system tools and things open especially slowly (it seems).
- all these things are accompanied by lots of random beechballing.
- Right-click usually doesn't work at first tries, but hackles and hangs; after waiting a bit, everything usually does work.
- Doing system-related stuff in the background and other work in the foreground tends to freeze applications, and sometimes even the entire machine.
- The Dashboard usually needs two tries to display properly.

After returning home, I put the computer on my desk and hooked it up to the power line for a few days, working away with Word, Scrivener and a few other applications, and after a few days it apparently self-healed to its usual performance.

Come next trip now in December, the problems come back. Back at home, this time, they stay.

To be sure, work is (or seems now) entirely possible, that is, after I've clicked around a bit and used some functions. But, for example, re-awaking from sleep and any new application-launch usually leave me waiting, clicking around in frustration, closing and re-trying stuff and so on. As an ex-windows person, I certainly can live with this; good. But perhaps this behavior could be improved; better.

What I did:

Changing to a brand-new battery. The old one wasn't great from the start, I was actually needing external power all the time...
Checking the activity monitor: while I type this, it shows 86-95% idle so that's likely not it.
Repairing permissions (may have helped a tiny bit).
Emptying caches in safari and firefox, re-starting.
Thinking long and hard whether there have been funny software updates or other things, I don't think there have.

The computer is not getting full: I've 98something gigs of storage left.
The drive also doesn't sound funny or anything, and I'm not getting a lot of fan-activity or anything.

So, on the off-chance that you've had the patience to wade through all this, and have an idea/had and solved a similar problem/can point to a good resource, I'd be grateful for suggestions.

What bugs me most is that I'm not a very hectic user and usually careful not to rush stuff, and I haven't changed my work pattern at all, so I keep wondering, what could have changed and how to change it back.
(Backups on external drive via time machine available...)
Thanks in advance.
posted by Namlit to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Something similar happened to mine, too. Does it also seem to take absolutely forever just to quit programs?

I think in my case it's a combination of a lot of things. Mostly OS and application upgrades from Apple and bug fixes from my existing software (firefox in particular, and adobe crap). I also switched over to using IMAP for work email, and IMAP can be pretty slow when you have a few gigs worth of folders on line. These things have been accumulating, and I think some sort of critical mass was hit, and it's just knocked the computer for a loop. I'm saving for a new computer.

Can you check your RAM? Maybe a SIMM got knocked off line or is sporadically working, and the OS is more or less graceful about handling it.
posted by zomg at 1:05 PM on January 7, 2012

Go to Disk Utility, in the Utilities folder, and select your disk. Then click "Repair Disk permissions".

More info here. See if that helps.
posted by dfriedman at 1:10 PM on January 7, 2012

Best answer: If it's really bad, I'd do a full backup and reinstall the OS. Then reinstall only the essential applications you use. I did this with an older MBP and it helped a lot.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:35 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd turn off sherlock spotlight indexing and the Wi-Fi card, and see if it went away.

I'd also launch the console viewer and see if anything is listed in the logs. Things that come up frequently may be taking some time. You can also see if anything is showing up in HangReporter in mass quantity.

And I also use Menu Meters to give me memory and CPU usage in the menu bar. It has an option to show network I/O, that might also be a part of the problem.
posted by Mad_Carew at 3:00 PM on January 7, 2012

Best answer: Harddrives get slow before they die. I've seen this several times.
posted by Murray M at 3:51 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, well, we may have a bit of a deeper trouble here.
I checked the RAM by taking everything out and putting it back in, so that wasn't that (boy, you have to push hard to get this things seated again...), but thanks for the tip.

On the other hand: verify disk turned up a bunch of errors in red, "Invalid record count; Volume check failed; Error: File system verify or repair failed". So.
Before I start doubting the harddrive, we're doing an extra backup on a second external drive as an extra security, we're trying to repair stuff off the install disk, or, if that fails, do a clean re-install. That's tomorrow, though.
posted by Namlit at 4:02 PM on January 7, 2012

This sounds odd but certain MacBook Pros have an issue with the hard drive related to routing of the data cables that can cause slowness and result in regular errors like you saw in Disk Utility. My daughter's MBP would be running okay and then begin to slow down markedly. Nothing obvious in Activity Monitor, either. I tried repairing the disk multiple times but new errors would pop up (and it was shutdown cleanly each time). My daughter took it to the Apple store and they replaced the drive and cables and the problem has never returned.
posted by tommasz at 4:32 PM on January 7, 2012

All of the following applications are found in the Applications/Utilities folder.

Open up the Console application. Look for error messages in the System Log. That may give you a clue as to what is going on. You could, for instance, be getting zillions of error messages, each of which individually slows down your machine slightly, but collectively could be a big slowdown. If you hard drive was dying (for instance) you'd see errors about retrying transactions.

In the Activity Monitor look at the Memory tab; that will tell you if you're out of memory. You should see at least some free (green) memory, and the Page Outs number should be small. I doubt if you're running out of RAM; 4GB is plenty for most people not using PhotoShop or virtualization programs such as VMWare, Parallels, or Virtualbox.

Given the description, I would suspect first your corrupted hard drive, or second some misconfiguration on the network. For the first, use the Disk Utility to repair the disk, or For the second, try opening the terminal application and entering the command
dscacheutil -flushcache
if you want, memail me a system information report and I'll see what else I can suggest. Save it as the spx file format the save menu choice suggests.

Good luck. I'm sorry you're having issues.
posted by blob at 5:12 PM on January 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ack ack. I started the day with a stepwise plan:
1 Safe boot to see if anything changes (it didn't), then
2 A reboot from the disk while holding C.
Safe reboot: fine, but as said no change.

But oh doom...Restart...Sound: ok. Disk drive meepbeep: ok. White screen, spinning thingy: ok.

That is: for about a minute, then I get a black screen and shutdown. Tried various versions, with disk, without disk, another safe start, no change in the pattern, goes back to dead. So I guess that's going to the Macstore next thing tomorrow...

Thanks anyway for bearing with me.
posted by Namlit at 7:27 AM on January 8, 2012

Response by poster: I'll be back to mark best answers when i know the answer...
posted by Namlit at 7:28 AM on January 8, 2012

Response by poster: Okay if anyone searches for this, and also because so may MacReinstall stories out there don't have a relatively happy ending.

The stupid thing didn't eat my install DVD, as I wrote above. So I blew out the DVD drive with compressed air, tried about four times to get the install DVD working, with various degrees of progress and failure, whereupon it finally did (work). Being stubborn somehow helps, apparently.

I managed to wipe the drive, and then I got a message that reinstall wasn't possible. I just simply tried again and
Everything worked like a dream that is: complete install, unfailing backup from time machine, and a lengthy software update with multiple restarts at the end.

Fingers crossed but everything seems to be back to normal. The culprit was possibly my old crappy battery, which would explain why the fault showed itself when I was traveling. We'll see what the next few days bring...
Thanks again everyone.
posted by Namlit at 5:03 PM on January 8, 2012

Response by poster: Last update for the stumblers-upon-this-thread: computer worked as new for c. 3 weeks and then died the day before yesterday. They're now fixing a new drive.
posted by Namlit at 1:10 PM on February 7, 2012

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