Why is my iBook suddenly unstable?
February 28, 2007 2:13 PM   Subscribe

All of a sudden, my G4 iBook is incredibly unstable. All sorts of programs keep crashing (though not the whole machine). What could be wrong?

I have had my G4 iBook for more than a year now and it has been extremely rare for a program to crash. Now, while I am in the process of trying to write my thesis, programs are crashing left and right. Everything from Firefox to Word to iTunes. I haven't lost any important data yet, but it's just a matter of time. If my EndNote library of thesis sources got corrupted, it could be a very bad thing, indeed.

I haven't installed any new software. I tried fixing disk permissions and verifying the hard drive. The machine has 1GB of RAM installed so, unless I am doing more things at once than I have been lately, that should not be a limitation.

Is there anything else that could be causing this? Is there any way I might return to the stable days of old?
posted by sindark to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
Odd. Download Onyx and run the maintenance routines (which you can also do from the commandline with "periodic daily" "monthly" and "weekly"). But in the long run, the best thing to do might be to back up your data, reformat your disk and reinstall. Tedious, but it could save you in the long run.
posted by outlier at 2:26 PM on February 28, 2007

Just a head's up: don't bother taking this problem to a Mac Genuis. His/her first piece of advice will be to reinstall OSX and do all the updates (that is kind of their stock answer to every software issue, and even some hardware issues).

Plus, chances are, this will fix your problem.
posted by JPowers at 2:30 PM on February 28, 2007


I already ran those scripts with MacJanitor. I also tried updating Office, but there were no updates to be had.

I have never seen a Mac this unstable before. Certainly not all of a sudden. If it were a PC, I'd be sure I picked up a virus.
posted by sindark at 2:41 PM on February 28, 2007

I have also disabled all my widgets, with the exception of the World Clock, which I need in order to keep track of when it is important to call friends in western Canada.
posted by sindark at 2:44 PM on February 28, 2007

Could be a memory issue. How are the programs quitting? Are you getting a spinning ball? What happens when you the program "is crashing" and you try switching to other apps (apple-tab)? Is it fast or slow? Do you get a "try reopen" window after a program crashes? Have you gotten any kernel panics? How much space do you have on the hard drive? Do you use the ibook for any intensive audio or video applications?
posted by phaedon at 2:45 PM on February 28, 2007


How are the programs quitting?

The windows just vanish, and I get the 'this program has unexpectedly crashed' window. This happens in Firefox, Word, iTunes, Adium, iPhoto, EndNote, and Entourage (though I am not normally running them all at once).

Are you getting a spinning ball?

No. The programs run fine until the moment they vanish.

Do you get a "try reopen" window after a program crashes?

Generally yes.

Have you gotten any kernel panics?

I don't know what this means. How would I know?

How much space do you have on the hard drive?

20GB free, 80GB total

Do you use the ibook for any intensive audio or video applications?

No, just playing 128kbps AAC files.
posted by sindark at 2:56 PM on February 28, 2007

a kernel panic, well im not sure what they look like anymore. has the entire os ever stalled, or has the screen greyed out and you get a message in ten different languages prompting you to restart? how many sticks of memory do you have, and have you installed any lately? youre running the latest build of os x right?
posted by phaedon at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2007

The OS itself has never crashed, or seemed to suffer obviously in any way.

I have one 256meg stick of RAM built in, and a 1GB stick that I installed last summer and have had no trouble with.

I am running Mac OS 10.4.8, with all updates installed.
posted by sindark at 3:02 PM on February 28, 2007

Sometimes, folders called "Recovered files" appear in the trash. Mostly, they are Word documents or EndNote libraries.

So far, none of the original Word or EndNote files I have been working on have been corrupted.
posted by sindark at 3:03 PM on February 28, 2007

stability issues with 10.4.8, security issues with 10.4.8, 10.4.8 on aging powerbooks...

good news is, your hard drive sounds fine (and that is a typical source of stability issues). id recommend reinstalling the os and try to avoid the 10.4.8 combo update. the "recovered files" are generated by specific applications (office being a classic example). that just sounds like they are not shutting down properly. im not that happy with 10.4.8, but im on a mactel macbook - i get slowdown here and there, but no applications crashing.
posted by phaedon at 3:16 PM on February 28, 2007


A lot of the recovered files seem to be associated with Growl, which came with an FTP program I no longer use. I will try removing that, and perhaps it will help.
posted by sindark at 3:21 PM on February 28, 2007

sindark -
try removing the preferences of any applications you may have recently installed or uninstalled, or for growl for that matter. i had a situation recently where photoshop started crashing on startup after i installed a driver on a piece of shit epson printer i never ended up using. couldn't figure it out for the longest.
posted by phaedon at 3:23 PM on February 28, 2007

One other thing I tried that might be of use to someone who Googles this thread later: I checked to make sure none of my installed fonts were corrupt.
posted by sindark at 3:25 PM on February 28, 2007

Try a new user. This will point out if it's a user preference or something else on the machine.
posted by filmgeek at 9:31 PM on February 28, 2007

How did you check to make sure the fonts were OK, sindark? I've had fonts that pass the muster in various font managers that still introduce instability. Try removing all fonts other than the system fonts and the Microsoft fonts you need for Office.

Filmgeek's recommendation to create a new user is a good one, too.

And MAKE SURE YOU ARE BACKING UP YOUR FILES (someone mentioned this earlier but you haven't responded to say that you've already done it, so I figure it was worth a reiteration.)

I would check the RAM, too, although in my experience RAM problems usually lead to hard freezes and kernel panics rather than individual app crashes.
posted by bcwinters at 6:33 AM on March 1, 2007

Have you tried booting into single user mode and running fsck?

Reboot, hold Command-Option-S. You'll get a command prompt.

Type "fsck -f". It's fixing your disk. Wait until it's done.

Type "reboot".
posted by jeffxl at 7:25 AM on March 1, 2007

Thank you all for your help.

Between removing Growl and the preferences for programs I no longer use, something seems to have dealt with the problem. I will post again if it returns.
posted by sindark at 2:04 PM on March 1, 2007


I do a TSM backup of my entire HD every night. One very nice thing about being on an institutional network with that kind of backup capability.
posted by sindark at 2:06 PM on March 1, 2007

Alas, the system remains absurdly unstable whenever EndNote is running. All of the programs I mentioned as crashing before do so (often all together) when EndNote is in the background.
posted by sindark at 4:27 AM on March 4, 2007

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