Diagnosing a menubar crash / lock-up problem

Nov 04, '03 10:46:00AM

Contributed by: robg

First, my apologies for only publishing two hints this morning -- I will try to get some more online this evening. I had a huge amount of downtime last night and this morning, so my time for publishing hints today was severely limited. But I thought perhaps my story of frustration and wasted time could save someone else the same difficulties, so here it goes...

The problems started yesterday morning. I had just enabled the screensaver password and then left the machine for a while. When I came back and moved the mouse, the password dialog appeared, but I got distracted and didn't enter a password before the box disappeared. When I moved the mouse the next time, the system locked up tight. I couldn't even SSH in. So I powered down and left for work, as it was that time of the day anyway.

When I came home, I powered the machine up, and found that I had a spinning beach ball whenever I moved the mouse into the right side of the menubar. My symptoms were similar, but not identical, to those described in a couple of previous hints (1, 2). I coulnd't do anything on the right side of the menubar for about five minutes, then it would work unless I tried to do something like actually use the menubar (ie drag off a menulet), and Shut Down, Restart, and Sleep were all non-functional. Clearly there was a serious problem somewhere.

Read the rest of the hint for my descent into troubleshooting never-never land...

I started by removing the Menu Meters, the only toolbar add-on I currently use. Just for good measure, I also removed the MS Mouse and USB Overdrive preference panes. I also renamed my Preferences folder and deleted all Cache files. Then I rebooted, thinking I had it beat. No such luck. On reboot, I got the exact same problem.

Getting serious now, I moved all my Library files out and then rebooted again. Same problem. Out come the OS X Install disks, and I re-installed Panther using an archive and install. Reboot. Same problem. Frustration mounts...

Time for the sledgehammer. Back up pertinent data to another hard drive as well as to a couple of DVD-Rs (I'm paranoid). This time, install Panther with a clean install. Reboot. The problem's still there! At this point, it's late, and I'm exhausted, so I just shut down (via the power switch, as that's all that works) and call it a night.

This morning, I get up and turn on the machine ... and the menubar works, along with Sleep and everything else. But my FireWire drive is missing from the desktop. This is not a FW800 / Oxford 922 drive, so I'm pretty sure that's not the problem. Plug the drive into my PowerBook, and it doesn't load there, either. Very odd. Next, I pulled out an older FireWire drive and plugged it in (via its own cable). It worked perfectly. Finally, the light bulb went on, and I switched the cable over to the "dead" drive -- and it mounted instantly. So a fried FireWire cable seems to have been the root cause of all my system issues!

Conclusion: I think the FireWire cable was fried somewhow when my machine locked up in the morning. When I got home that night and I started troubleshooting, I never thought to remove the FireWire drive (nothing like ignoring your own advice!). So every step I took did nothing for the problem, as the problem was the FireWire connection. Had I simply removed the FireWire drive, my system issues probably would have vanished. Instead, I have the pleasure of working on a brand new Panther install! :)

So if you're having odd menubar / systemuiserver issues, you might want to check your FireWire drives ... and remember to unplug any unneeded periperhals prior to troubleshooting!

Comments (12)

Mac OS X Hints