Computer is now a spacecase.
May 28, 2012 4:20 PM   Subscribe

My MacBook is acting weeeeird. Please help.

I have a 2010 (I think) 17" MacBook Pro, running OS X Lion 10.7.4, and everything was going beautifully until about a month ago.

Back then, I was running Snow Leopard and suddenly the computer just started acting...strangely. Programs would just randomly and unpredictably freeze. The computer would suddenly crash. You couldn't, say, adjust the brightness of the screen. It would take 15 minutes to turn on. I figured it was a hard drive problem, but all of the diagnostic software I used said it was fine.

Okay, desperate I figured I'd upgrade to OS X Lion through the App Store and see if that fixed it. And, miraculously, it did - for about two weeks, everything ran perfectly without so much as a hiccup. I thought the problem had been solved.

Until, again, all of a sudden, it started acting weird again. Now it acts weird in very specific ways:

-First off, it will start doing these things completely out of nowhere - unrelated to anything I may be working on or may have done. It will do these things for, say, 15 minutes and then, just as suddenly, unrelated to restarting, hard booting, ANYTHING I do, it will begin working normally again. It is a little bit like the computer just starts having petit mal seizures.

Resetting the program, quitting programs, nothing has any effect on it. It just seems that for, say, 30 minutes the computer is going to be strange.

-During these seizures, only certain programs can be loaded: Chrome, iTunes, some Utilities. Anything else, including something as simple as Minesweeper, will sit bouncing in the dock, waiting to load, forever.

-Certain sites within Chrome, specifically Gmail or anything involving Flash, will spontaneously crash - just the pages, mind you, not Chrome itself.

-Disk Utility and SMART Utility both report the drive is fine.

As of an hour ago, things have become much worse. I was playing some flash game, left the room for 5 minutes, came back, and now the computer is permanently broken. It no longer fixes itself after 15 minutes and things have become more dire. It will not power down or go to sleep when you close the lid. If you leave it unattended for a few minutes, rather than going to sleep it will show you that grey 'Apple in the center' screen like at startup, completely frozen.

It will still boot up. Unfortunately, Time Machine seems to be a casualty as well and will not back up (I have a backup from about a week ago, thankfully.)

Also, I don't have a boot disc (if I ever got one, I don't have it now.)

This is my first Mac and I am completely at a loss. Any help or suggestions anybody could offer would be a huge help. IThanks
posted by Tiresias to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
The glib but correct answer: It's dead. Take it to the Apple Store.
posted by chairface at 4:49 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My slightly older Macbook had problems similar to this once. The problem was that one of the RAM chips had come slightly unseated. It was very easy to fix (just open up the place where the RAM goes and press it in all the way!)

On the other hand, it could be something much worse. I hope it's not. Good luck!
posted by bubukaba at 4:53 PM on May 28, 2012

I had similar sounding problems with an iMac and sure enough it was the hard drive - yes, even though disk utility and SMART said the HD was just fine. So it is possible for these diagnostic tools to fail. A trip to an Apple store was what solved my problems though the solution was not a cheap one as hard drive replacements go. Hasn't given me a bit of bother since though.
posted by nanojath at 5:14 PM on May 28, 2012

Could be permissions. Try doing an fsck. Could be a fan. Could be a RAM chip as stated.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2012

assuming you have access to another computer that you can burn CDs/access the Internet on: download Memtest86+, make a bootable CD from it (there are bootable CD images on there, how you do that specifically depends on what computer you have), and then boot your MacBook from it (hold C down). let it run. if you get any errors at all, you have bad memory.

alternatively, you can boot it up and hold down S (before the Apple logo shows up) to boot it into single-user mode; if it boots up successfully there, it will tell you how to run the fsck that cjorgensen describes. if you get errors there, your drive may be fairly well dead.

does the hard drive make any clicking or grinding noises? put your ear to the wrist rest on the opposite side of the battery and listen to it. if it's clicking continuously or making strange whirring noises - an idle disk should make a consistent hum or no noise at all - then your drive has died. ignore what SMART says; it tends to be fairly useless until the drive is actually dead. (fun anecdote: I once bought an iMac with a bad hard drive via SMART and ran it for almost a year before I bothered to replace the disk. I have also seen drives that were making grinding noises that have not reported themselves back as bad too.)

given that, until recently, Disk Utility didn't report any file system errors, if your drive's not making weird noises then it's probably the memory or something higher-level. memory does sometimes go bad and it's pretty cheap to replace (or even upgrade) if you're not under warranty still. (you can check the warranty/AppleCare status at if it's a 2010, it'll be out of warranty but you may still have AppleCare.)

another point: if you do take it to an Apple store or have AppleCare fix it, if they do need to replace or wipe the hard drive, they will reinstall whatever software that came on it originally. for a 2010, that'd mean you'd be going back to Snow Leopard. you can upgrade to Lion via the App Store again once you get Snow Leopard back up to date fully - everything you bought on the App Store will be available for download and reinstallation. (they may be able to provide you with a copy of the original system software installation discs too, if you ask.)
posted by mrg at 8:29 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have seen this happen to a MacPro before: a CPU fan which does not work properly. When this happens, the CPU automatically throttles down when the temperature rises, to avoid burning the chip. So depending on how warm it is it will either become slower or completely stop, and then sometimes it will resume processing after a cool down period.

Even if it is not this, the symptom point very clearly to a hardware problem. It's unlikely to be anything that keyboard shortcuts or softare mo-jo is going to fix.
posted by knz at 1:42 AM on May 29, 2012

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