Why does my Macbook freeze all the time?
May 13, 2012 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Why is my Macbook so slow and constantly freezing?

My Macbook is constantly freezing and taking forever to do simple things. It just froze as I pressed backspace twice to correct a typo (using Firefox on an internet connection with no issues). It just froze again as I highlighted a word to replace it. Those freezes were about two seconds; earlier this evening, when I attempted to scroll down through my iTunes, it froze for about two minutes.

I get the rainbow pinwheel when it freezes and everything just stops. It isn't limited to one application; Safari and Firefox and iTunes and Notepad and Preview and literally anything are all a mess. It really hates when I plug in my iPhone.

If it doesn't freeze, it's incredibly slow. Loading Slate, for example, takes five minutes. (My iPhone and work laptop are able to load at normal speeds, and testing the connection reveals no problems.) Opening iPhoto takes forever.

This computer was purchased less than two years ago (August 2010). I use it for not much - to surf the internet, save documents and pictures (but not many), play the occasional game of Peggle. I don't have much installed on here. I don't take it many places, but when I do, it's in a padded laptop bag.

Here is the hardware overview:
Model Name: MacBook
Model Identifier: MacBook7,1
Processor Name: Intel Core 2 Duo
Processor Speed: 2.4 GHz
Number Of Processors: 1
Total Number Of Cores: 2
L2 Cache: 3 MB
Memory: 2 GB
Bus Speed: 1.07 GHz

HD is about 2.5 GB capacity with 1.92 GB open free.

It just froze again while I tried to scroll up to review this question. I'm about a bad mood away from throwing it against the wall.

posted by quadrilaterals to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
sounds like hard drive failure is imminent. if is isn't already, back your data up and either buy a new drive and install it yourself, or make an appointment at the genius bar.
posted by hollisimo at 6:57 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding hard drive failure. Do a backup ASAP. If you're still under AppleCare, take it to the genius bar. If not, it's easy enough to swap your own hard drive.
posted by bluloo at 7:05 PM on May 13, 2012

nthing hard drive failure. Get the good stuff off there now.
posted by deezil at 7:09 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: I forgot to mention - this isn't new; it's been happening for at least six months. If the hard drive fails, I'm already backed up. Anything else?
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:20 PM on May 13, 2012

Download and launch this software on your Mac. In the Attributes section, if the value of “Pending Bad Sectors” or “Reallocated Bad Sectors” is greater than 0, your hard drive is failing and needs to be replaced. But if they’re both 0, and the value for “CRC Error Count” is greater than 0, then your hard drive is OK, and the problem is with the cable that shuttles data between your hard drive and the logic board.

If they’re all 0, your computer is haunted.

Anyway: Pending/reallocated sectors = hard drive failure, and if you don’t have a full backup of your data, it’s probably too late to make one now. CRC errors = the hard drive cable is bad, and once it’s replaced, normal operation should be restored without damage to your data.
posted by tepidmonkey at 7:24 PM on May 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

(n+1)thing backing up, since a gradual hard drive failure does look a bit like that, though often in that case applications will lock up one-by-one as they try to hit the disk, not all at once.

Do you have any antivirus software installed? Some of them are surprisingly big resource hogs.

Open "Activity Monitor" from /Applications/Utilities and click the column header to sort by CPU usage. Anything unexpected?
posted by hattifattener at 7:25 PM on May 13, 2012

Well, I'm pretty sure your hard disk is bigger than youve reported, but that's probably not the problem.

On the other hand, 2GB isn't much RAM these days, and modern browsers are RAM gobbling pigs.
posted by Good Brain at 7:27 PM on May 13, 2012

Once the machine has been running awhile and you're seeing the freezing, open Activity Monitor. Click System Memory tab. How much do you have free and what does your page outs say? If the OS doesn't have enough free memory it will need to write contents from memory (RAM, very fast) to the hard drive (slow). Ideally your page outs should be near 0 in in the tens of megabytes range. If page outs is a much higher number, you don't have enough memory.

FWIW, when I was running Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) on a similar machine I upgraded from the 2GB the machine shipped with to 3GB memory, as I was running out of memory at 2GB. When I upgraded to Lion (10.7) even 3GB wasn't enough, so I went to 6GB, the maximum my particular machine supports.
posted by 6550 at 8:15 PM on May 13, 2012

Seconding launching "Activity Monitor." In addition to sorting by CPU usage, also sort by "Real mem" (RAM usage) because if your RAM is really full all the time, that's going to cause freezing.

Also click the "System memory" tab and see how much free memory (green) you have.

Does the freezing get less frequent if you close most of your open apps?
posted by mekily at 8:17 PM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you only have 1.92 GB of space on your Hard Drive free, that could be causing problems (I assume you have a... 250 GB hard drive maybe? There's no way it's 2.5GB, as you've reported). Hard Drives don't like being almost full.
posted by brainmouse at 8:22 PM on May 13, 2012

For a while, by accident, I had my iPhone set to back up t o the hard drive rather than iCloud, and it sucked up a ton of space and bogged things down appallingly. You definitely don't have a 2.5g hard drive; in any case, having less than 2 gigs available is ungood.
posted by rtha at 8:55 PM on May 13, 2012

Take the bottom panel off and blow the dust out of the fans with some compressed air. This made my MBP stop freezing and jellyballing and acting like I was booted off a floppy every time I tried to play a Flash game on Facebook or open more than a couple of tabs in Chrome. I was extremely skeptical that dust could lead to performance degradation, but it absolutely did.

If your Activity Monitor shows kernel_task as taking a huge amount (like over 100%) of the CPU, this might be just the thing for you.
posted by bink at 9:03 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I just backed up all my important stuff (really small - this is a light-use computer thanks to the cloud stuff), so no worries there.

I really know nothing about hard drives, but I obviously missed a decimal point. Here is a screenshot of the info. (Has changed as I installed Smart Utility!)

I don't keep a lot of apps open; usually TextEdit, Firefox, and iTunes, maybe Stickies and Preview.

For SmartUtility - I passed with all 0s. (Yay! Right?) No bad sectors or errors, no pending/reallocated sectors. Clean bill of health.

Activity Monitor shows nothing unexpected; Firefox is hogging things at the top, but not beyond what I think is crazy.
System memory shows very, very little free RAM. It's been between 15-30 MB while I've been watching it - a negligible part of the chart. Presumably this is the issue? What are my next steps?
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:18 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: If they’re all 0, your computer is haunted.
Oh dear.
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:20 PM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: Last one, sorry: System memory shows very, very little free memory. Why did I say RAM?
posted by quadrilaterals at 9:25 PM on May 13, 2012

Memory is RAM, sounds like you need to upgrade from 2GB if you don't have much free memory.
posted by 6550 at 9:33 PM on May 13, 2012

"On the other hand, 2GB isn't much RAM these days, and modern browsers are RAM gobbling pigs."

Agreed, but 2GB is not that bad - my personal MB is an old 1.86GHz C2D model with 2GB, I run exactly the same OS version (10.6.8) as quadrilaterals, typically run exactly the same software, and at worst it's vaguely slow-ish but nowhere near unusable (unless I'm running all that + Parallels or PhotoShop).

FWIW, the one in front of me now (MB, 2.4GHz C2D, 2GB RAM) has 8 tabs in FF (with a memory-hogging theme), Preview with a bunch of big PDFs open, Sequel Pro, RStudio & R (with a shitload of data loaded up; a memory hog), & X Windows running, and speed is fine. Activity Monitor shows 13.8MB "Free", 474.8MB "Wired", 1GB "Active", 515.7MB "Inactive", and 1.98GB "Used" - so I wouldn't worry too much about your Free Memory showing 15-30MB.

I agree it sounds like a failing HDD (though the SMART results seem to rule that out); my next guess would be dodgy / dying RAM; but have you tried doing a "Repair Permissions" in Disk Utility?
posted by Pinback at 9:45 PM on May 13, 2012

Yeah, sounds like your problem is that you have so little free RAM.

Make sure that the menu at the top of Activity Monitor is set to show "All Processes" -- that'll show you if any system tasks are hogging too much memory. If anything besides kernel_task shows up near the top of the memory usage list, you could have a problem.

Barring any invisible memory hogs, you might just need to reduce your everyday RAM usage. For that, I'd focus on Firefox -- it's a HUGE memory hog. In general, it helps to keep very few browser windows open. Also, even when you don't have much open in Firefox, you sometimes need to quit and restart it, just to clear out its backlog of memory usage and start fresh.

iTunes can also take up a lot of memory even when you're not using it at all. It'll help to quit it when you're not actively listening to music.
posted by mekily at 10:26 PM on May 13, 2012

P.S. "Memory" and "RAM" are the same thing.
posted by mekily at 10:27 PM on May 13, 2012

2GB isn't that bad for Snow Leopard, depending on what you're doing with it but adding more can't hurt and it isn't very expensive. Web browsers are the usual culprit. I use Lion, which is much more of a memory hog than Snow Leopard, and Safari sometimes uses 6GB of RAM or more.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:43 PM on May 13, 2012

If you're running Firefox for long periods of time, I've found it can hungrily gobble up RAM. Like when I was using it extensively, I'd have to close all my tabs around midday on a machine with 8GB of RAM because it was just trying to claim everything. Try using Chrome for a while and see if you see any performance improvement.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:01 PM on May 13, 2012

To second what pinback said - you should basically count inactive memory as free. It's memory the OS will free up if it is needed. It's only if the total free and inactive is low that you might start worrying.
posted by edd at 12:45 AM on May 14, 2012

Firstly, do you have an Apple Store near you? This is the kind of thing the genius bar is made for. They can hook your machine up to the diagnostic tools and try to ferret out the problem.

But two recommendations:

- Use Safari or Chrome.
- Install a Flash blocker. You can still use Flash by clicking, but it won't load automatically any more.

I have an older MacBook Pro with similar specs to your MacBook, and doing those two things made my machine run much better. Firefox has become horribly bloated, and Flash for OSX is a horrible memory hog.
posted by Georgina at 5:56 AM on May 14, 2012

This is on a Windows machine, but when I've had Firefox open for a while, it starts to do that to me too. Especially if there are Flash elements on the pages.

2GB of RAM should be fine unless you are leaving every program you ever use open, all the time.

"Free memory" is a tough one to make a hard and fast rule about. Modern operating systems will attempt to use all the memory available, caching parts of itself into RAM to speed itself up. I would look at pagefile usage as a better indicator as to whether you need more RAM.

Another thing that could very well be the problem is a blocked up heat sink. As the processor starts to overheat, it will clock itself down to not generate as much heat.
posted by gjc at 6:40 AM on May 14, 2012

From the problem you've described I'd add to the faulty hard drive chorus. Sounds like bad sectors.
posted by Packed Lunch at 7:31 AM on May 14, 2012

Update your system if you can (see below). Backup any recent stuff, but not over your older backups just in case. Check your log files (utilities/console) to see if errors are being reported.Try the diagnostics on the disc that came with your macbook. Try repairing permissions.

In general it is a good idea to try and keep about 5-10% of your system disc free, this is useful for temp files and swap, running out of space can slow things horribly. At this level of free space you may not be able to update your system and there have been malware fixes in recent weeks.
posted by epo at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2012

I know my Macbook tends to grump at me when I have that little HD space free. I would suggest deleting some cruft and seeing if that speeds things up a bit. And yeah, Firefox on a Mac has become evil and should be avoided.
posted by Acheman at 8:44 AM on May 14, 2012

Flush your Flash cookies.
posted by lalochezia at 3:31 PM on May 14, 2012

My Macbook is exactly the same as yours and I use it in exactly the same way, with the one exception that I have twice as much memory as you. Regardless, I still get the gigant-o freeze when I use Firefox on my Mac. There's something about FF that over time just grinds things to a halt. I find that if I leave Firefox open with about fifteen tabs for more than a month (that's hibernation/awake/hibernation/awake for 30 days) then it's restart time.

I should note one very important fact: the MacBook is absolutely impossible to use if you've installed updates recently but haven't restarted Firefox.

I don't have this problem in Safari so that's going to be my next step. Since I haven't tried it yet, I'd recommend to you all the helpful steps above and if things continue, think about ditching Firefox or at least commit to restarting regularly.
posted by librarylis at 9:37 PM on May 14, 2012

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