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Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues System
20 Troubleshooting Steps for OS X

So your OS X Mac isn't working quite right. What should you do? Here's a list of 20 basic steps to try.

FIRST AID
01 Restart
02 Check/fix the filesystem
03 Make sure you're not running out of free space on the System volume
04 Repair permissions
05 Create a new user account, and see if the problem persists there
06 Clear system & user caches
07 Disable Application Enhancer, if you're running it
08 Startup in SafeBoot mode, and see if the problem persists there
09 Reset system firmware
10 Unplug all USB, Firewire devices except Apple mouse

MORE SERIOUS TROUBLESHOOTING 11 Reapply the latest combo updater
12 Run the Apple hardware diagnostic CD
13 Check the hard drive for bad blocks
14 Take out 3rd party RAM
15 Unplug 3rd Party PCI cards
16 Reset PMU
17 Archive and reinstall the OS
18 Reinstall the system from scratch
19 Send the machine back to Apple
20 Additional Notes

Read the rest of the hint for more detail on each of these steps...

FIRST AID

01 Restart
If a restart cures the problem, and the problem doesn't reappear, your troubleshooting work is done. Congratulate yourself on a hard task well done. 02 Check/fix the filesystem
There are many different ways to do this. You can boot off the OS X Installation CD, run Disk Utility, and select Repair Disk. If you don't have access to the CD, you can also run the UNIX command fsck from the Terminal in Single User Mode. The specific sequence of how to do this varies depending on what version of OS X you're running. Go to Apple Support for specific instuctions.

Disk Utility will report back whether or not there were any problems, and whether or not it could fix any problems. If it is unable to fix a problem, then you need to get a 3rd party utility, or reformat the disk before doing any other troubleshooting. NOTE: reformatting the disk will erase it, so a 3rd party utility is usually a better idea.

You can also use a 3rd party utility like DiskWarrior or Norton Disk Doctor These 3rd party utilities can fix some kinds of errors that the free Apple tools cannot. (But don't ever install the Norton components on your hard drive - just run the tools by booting off the Norton CD.)

If there were errors that needed to be fixed, and your software reports that they were all successfully fixed, you may have solved your larger problem.

03 Make sure you're not running out of free space on the System volume
When the system is running out of memory, it needs to write swapfiles to your hard drive. If your hard drive is already almost full, then the system will bog down into unusability. Keep tabs on how much free space you have on your boot disk by getting info on that disk in the Finder. Alternatively, you can use the excellent freeware DiskSpace application, which will give you a display of free space on your menubar.

You should have at *least* 500MB to 1GB of free space at all times. Realistically you would want more than that, especially if you plan on burning CD/DVD's. Remember that even if you have more free space than this when you first booted, swapfiles can eat up diskspace quickly - 2GB or more of swapfiles is not unheard of. So it's a good idea to have at least 3GB of free space immediately after booting.

To fix: trash unneeded files and applications off of your System volume to free space. And try to create fewer swapfiles by adding more RAM or running fewer applications simultaneously. Restarting will temporarily get rid of all swapfiles, but they'll come back.

04 Repair permissions
Run this in Disk Utility in your normal login. Open Disk Utility in the Applications/Utilities folder. Select the boot drive (probably "Macintosh HD"), click on the First Aid tab and click the Repair Permissions button. See if this cures the problem.

05 Create a new user account, and see if the problem persists there
You do this by creating a new user in the Accounts tab of System Preferences, logging out of your main account, and logging into the new account. If this makes the problem go away, it means the cause is in your user account.

While it's good that we know approximately where the problem is, unfortunately there's a lot of stuff in the user account to pick through. And now you will have to do some serious troubleshooting. Oftentimes, this will be a preferences file in ~/Library/Preferences/. If you can pinpoint that one bad file, you're done. If you have no idea what's going on you can try the laborious process of keeping that new account you made, and bringing over the files one by one until you find the one that was the problem. Even easier is to ask an expert if it's a frequently seen problem, first letting them know that it was a problem in your user account.

06 Clear system & user caches
Use a third party tool like Cocktail or Jaguar/Panther Cache Cleaner to deep clean all caches. Reboot. See if this cures the problem.

07 Disable Application Enhancer, if you're running it
Haxies from Unsanity. They're great, and they're pretty well programmed, but they're hacking the system in non-standard ways. Unsanity claims that APE will be disabled by holding down the shift key while logging in. However, if you want to be ultra-safe about it, download the APE installer from Unsanity and use the 'uninstaller' option to remove all traces.

08 Startup in SafeBoot mode, and see if the problem persists there
You do this by holding down the shift key during bootup. If this makes the problem disappear, then it is a problem with Extensions or StartupItems. And most likely, those would be 3rd party Extensions or StartupItems. Most of those are kept in /Library/Extensions/ and /Library/StartupItem/. Move those items to the desktop, and see if you can isolate which one was causing the trouble. There are also some 3rd party extensions that are *annoyingly* installed in /System/Library/Extension/, however you must be very very careful mucking around in there, as almost all of those Extensions are supplied by Apple, and your machine will not function without them. Use common sense, and ask the experts.

09 Reset Firmware
Resetting your firmware will reset all firmware settings back to factory defaults. Things like the boot rom, power management, etc. are found in the firmware. To do this hold down the following buttons on your keyboard at boot up: cmd+opt+O+F. Once in open firmware type these commands:
reset-nvram (hit return)
reset-all (hit return once more, the system should reboot)
10 Unplug all USB, Firewire devices except Apple mouse
Reboot with everything unplugged. If this makes the problem go away, then you have a bad external device, bad cable, or bad port on your computer. Try to isolate which one it is. Be especially wary of USB hubs.

MORE SERIOUS TROUBLESHOOTING

11 Reapply the latest combo updater
Download the latest OS X updater from Apple. These updaters come in 2 flavors, an updater which will only update the next most recent version of the OS, and a combo updater, which will update all versions since the last paid update. You want the combo updater. It will be labeled as the combo updater, and it will be much larger than the normal updaters - around 80MB at this time. Find the updater on Apply the updater, even if your system version number is already up to date. See if this cures the problem.

12 Run the Apple hardware diagnostic CD
Boot off the CD by restarting while holding down the C key on the keyboard. See if you get any useful information.

13 Check the hard drive for bad blocks
One way of doing this is to try to re-initialize your drive using Drive Setup from the OS X Installation disk. Unfortunately, this will wipe out all of your data, so back up first, if that's the route you go. If the initialization fails, your disk is worthless garbage and must be replaced.

You can use the TechTool Deluxe CD that came with the Apple Protection Plan to check for bad blocks. Norton Disk Doctor will also allow you to test for bad blocks without erasing your disk using the Check Media option. Other 3rd party disk utilities may allow this as well. Hearing odd noises coming from your drive is a tip-off that this may be your trouble.

14 Take out 3rd party RAM
See if this cures the problem.

15 Unplug 3rd Party PCI cards
If this solves the problem, replace the cards one by one until you identify the problematic card. Contact the manufacturer to see if updated drivers are available.

16 Reset PMU
The PMU's (Power Management Unit's) location, and how to reset it, varies by machine. Go to Apple Support to find out how to do it for your particular machine. See if this cures the problem. Typically this will fix issues when your system will not power on.

Make sure you only hold in the PMU button for a second. DO NOT hold it in for any longer and DO NOT press it more than once. If you do this it could result in corrupting the PMU itself.

17 Archive and Install OS X
This will archive user/network settings and replace your current system folder with a new one. Boot off your OS X cd and run through the install as normal. Once you get to the screen where you select which hard drive you want to put the OS on there should be an options button under the hard drive. Select it and then select the archive and reinstall button. Then proceed through the install as normal. This may or may not fix your problem, and it can save you time from copying back ups back over, resetting user preferences, and reinstalling applications.

18 Reinstall the system from scratch
This step is annoying and time consuming, which is why we've saved it for second to last. It requires erasing your hard drive, so you'll have to either back up, or lose, all of your data. Apple's instructions for doing this can be found here.

19 Send the machine back to Apple
This step is very annoying, very time-consuming, and if the machine is out of warranty, can be very very expensive. So try a couple of the other steps first. Call Apple Support to arrange a pickup or locate an an Apple Authorized Service Provider by clicking here (for the USA; this article explains what to do in other countries.

------------

20 Additional Notes

Uninstall Norton Products if you've installed them
Norton Utilities, Anti-Virus, and SystemWorks are hazardous to the health of your OS X system when installed. It's perfectly safe to run Norton Utilities booted off a CD or OS 9 volume, but you should seriously consider unistalling them if you've installed them on your OS X volume. They're trouble.

As of this time, anti-virus utilities are useless on OS X. There are no known system-wide viruses on OS X. There are indeed viruses that can contaminate documents inside Microsoft Office X, but there are preferences in those applications to protect against this.

Check your error logs
Check your system logs to see if there is anything relevant to your problem listed there. To do so simply go to the apple menu and select about this computer. A window will pop up displaying some basic information about your computer. Click on the more info button at the bottom of the window. This will bring up Apple System Profiler (ASP). The last tab furthest to the right of the ASP will be labled "Logs? click on it and then select console. It should list error messages related to each application you are having problems with.

Start your system in verbose mode
Start up your computer in verbose mode, hold down cmd+V at start up. You will see the a bunch of text scroll down the screen as everything starts up. Look for anything that gives an error message and record it. Try doing google searches, or search forums to see if the problem has already been discussed and a known fix has been established. A lot of times you can find fixes on these forums, they are a great tool.

ESD safety is important when working inside your computer
You do not want to damage any component when removing it. Refer to the manual that came with your computer, or Apple Support on the web.

Acknowlegments
This list was refined with the contributions of many folks on the MacOSXHints Forums. You can see their contributions in this thread; special thanks to tlarkin for his dedicated work.
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06 Clear system & user caches
Authored by: zedwards on Jan 12, '04 11:06:24AM

06 Clear system & user caches: Why is this done? What benefit/harm can this do?



[ Reply to This | # ]
06 Clear system & user caches
Authored by: petey on Jan 12, '04 12:46:22PM

The benefit is that it can clear up some odd problems caused by corrupted entries in the cache.

The only real downside is some very slight slowdowns after the next restart as the system rebuilds the caches.



[ Reply to This | # ]
06 Clear system & user caches
Authored by: jlowrey on Jan 12, '04 10:25:58PM

Hello, I am the author of Panther Cache Cleaner. OS X and many of its applications use caching to improve performance. Occasionally, this cached data can go stale which results in odd behavior. Cache cleaning is very effective at fixing these types of problems.

However, cache cleaning is not without its risks. Caches can get quite large and consist of hundreds or thousands of files. It is critically important to check and repair any file system problems before deleting the caches. If there is unrepaired directory damage - particularly cross linked files - cache cleaning can create more problems than it solves.

On a healthy filesystem, cache cleaning is a very effective troubleshooting tool. Just remember to check your file system first.


And finally, thanks to Petey for a very nice list.



[ Reply to This | # ]
Very Great List
Authored by: schneb on Jan 12, '04 12:36:00PM

One of my personal complaints with OSX was having spent years getting to know how the Mac OS worked and how to troubleshoot it, then, just when I got really good at it, BANG, it went UNIX--Now I have to start all over. But that is OK, such is progress. These 20 steps are an excellent jump in the process.

My stepfather's eMac was not responding to the eject button on the keyboard. I was puzzled. I told him to restart the computer and voila, it fixed the problem. "How did you know to do that?" he asked. I told him, "It's a Mac."



[ Reply to This | # ]
Very Great List
Authored by: seann on Jan 13, '04 11:24:31AM

Also try holding it down..

On my powerbook, the eject button is so close, I now assume that the reason I must hold the eject button down, is for convenience.

Or else I'd be ejecting CDS all day!



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: mervTormel on Jan 12, '04 01:14:26PM

Check your system logs should be item number zero ;]



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: Auricchio on Jan 12, '04 01:18:57PM
I'd add some other, simpler things.

Force-Quit the offending application. Often that's all one needs to get things back to normal. Then re-launch the app.

Log out and back in. This should be tried before a restart. I admit, though, that I sometimes advise clients over the phone to simply restart---it's easier, especially for those who always use auto-login.

---
EMOJO: mojo no longer workin'

[ Reply to This | # ]

Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: kmt on Jan 12, '04 01:38:13PM

This hint is similar to an OS X Troubleshooting List I've been posting, in various forms, to the Apple Discussion Forums for the last 9 months.
============
General OS X Troubleshooting List. Originally targeted at Jaguar, this list can also be applied to dealing with Panther. The idea is to clear any common software/hardware issues first, before concluding that there is a distinct processor and/or motherboard malady.

Level One - Simple
• repair permissions (Disk Utility/Disk First Aid)
• check the filesystem (Disk Warrior for OS X)
• create a new (testing only) user account, and see if the problem persists there...if not, the problem is with damaged preferences. Use Jaguar/Panther Cache Cleaner...see www.VersionTracker.com
• remove any StartupItems in /Library/StartupItems/
• unplug all USB, FireWire devices except Apple mouse, connected directly to the computer
• clear system & user caches (Jaguar/Panther Cache Cleaner, Cocktail, etc.)
• zap PRAM (See Apple.com for how-to on your particular machine - do not over use this tactic )

Level Two - Extended
• remove any 3rd party or questionable quality RAM (Samsung and Micron are trusted)
• reseat all PCI cards & cable connectors where possible (don't forget the cables for the optical drives)
• remove 3rd Party PCI cards
• reinstall the latest combo updater (Jaguar) and repair permissions again
• remove any Extensions from /Library/Extensions/
• remove 3rd party Extensions from /System/Library/Extensions
• check the hard drive for bad blocks (Disk Warrior, Drive Ten)
• run the Apple hardware diagnostic CD that came with your computer
• reset PMU (See Apple.com for how-to on your particular machine)
• perform an OS X 'archive and install'
• reinstall the system from scratch
• contact Apple and plan to take the machine in or have it returned for service

Keep notes as you go. This will allow you to answer questions when you talk to Apple as a final effort towards resolution. Be firm and be nice, but make it Apple's problem. Take down the names of everyone you speak to, and work up through the chain of command until you locate someone with the authority to deal with your issue.



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: petey on Jan 12, '04 08:55:46PM

kmt,

My original list was even closer to your list than this one is. You can see the progress at the Mac OS X Hints Forum link at the bottom of the article.

I went through two evolutions that might be of interest:

- Using SafeBoot as an diagnostic step up the tree allows you eliminate a bunch of items on your list.

- Since PRAM is a subset of NVRAM, resetting the NVRAM is a more comprehensive step.
.



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: granmar on Jan 15, '04 04:38:19PM

I'd like to add this

I run using Panther 10.3.2 (G4 500/1Gb Server & G3 500/500Mb PowerBook with many external FireWire drives and Belkin 2.4 Ghz wi-fi network.

TURN OFF JOURNALING BEFORE YOU START ANY REPAIRS!

I have Systemworks 2 Norton Utils loaded on separate partitions under Jaguar 10.2.8 and have downloaded Symantec's latest "updates for NU" (December 22nd 2003)

While in Panther, open Disk Utility and DISABLE JOURNALING ON ALL THE VOLUMES YOU WANT TO REPAIR!

This will allow Disk Doctor to fix probably all the problems that Disk Utility could not. Don't be afraid to run Disk Doctor many times until "No Problems Found" is shown. Only when you are satisfied, reboot in Panther and proceed to open Disk Utility and RE-ENABLE JOURNALING.

Happy Problem-free computing! Like me! Hope it helps

---
granmar



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: billbobdole on Jan 12, '04 02:25:54PM

i think if DW didn't fix it, i might run norton JUST to scan the files and nothing else, to see if there's a corrupt file perhaps. then just wipe the damn thing



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Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: xSmurf on Jan 13, '04 03:29:30AM
AS I have posted on the forum previously:

"06 Check that you are not running out of space on the system drive"
I would like to add that if you have your iTunes library set to another drive and that this drive is low on space (usually less then 100Mb) it will also cause crashes just like if the system's drive was. Personnal experience, hope it helps

---
PM G4 DP 800 / 256Mb / 80Gb+40Gb /SuperDrive / SCSI: AGFA SnapScan 1236s / Jaz 1Gb / Zip 100Mb
- The only APP Smurf ;P

[ Reply to This | # ]

Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: asan102 on Jan 15, '04 12:32:18AM

I would definitely turn off APE much sooner.



[ Reply to This | # ]
One more step
Authored by: danp on Mar 23, '04 04:21:40AM

I installed Panther on an old PowerMac 'gigabit ethernet'. It start hanging at random points and I tried everything here except reinstalling system. After two days, was about to reinstall OS9 again when I remembered reading something about a firmware update. Swapped in a OS9 HD from another computer (you have to update from OS9), ran the firmware update and suddenly, no more trouble when back in OSX. So with an old machine, make sure the firmware has been updated before moving to OSX



[ Reply to This | # ]
One more step
Authored by: Zo-1 on Nov 14, '05 02:38:55PM

I want to add to this old thread something I've learned by experience, it's Nov 05 now, since Tiger came out: Want to get up and running fast? Add a New User Account.

After many years of actually liking troubleshooting, am sad to say, it mostly doesn't pay, in Tiger (YMMV) if your time is worth anything.

Create a new account, move everything of yours to that account--except your User Preferences Folder, my sense is, why risk taking the problem with you since it's not a big deal to recreate them--and take over the computer again.

This is a very quick and clean approach, and if it doesn't help, Archive and Install is the next most efficient step. The point is to get running again. I used to care what the problem is. Now I've seen they never reoccur, for me--so I fiddle with things less, and get back to work.



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: bdog on Nov 14, '05 03:28:47PM

For step 9, you first want to do a "set-defaults", then the other commands.



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Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: baltwo on Mar 10, '08 02:18:26PM

The usual sequence is:

reset-nvram
set-defaults
reset-all



[ Reply to This | # ]
Should have started with hint #10.
Authored by: Georgest on May 14, '10 09:32:59AM

After 3 years of nearly flawless performance, my MacPro on OS 10.5.8 started freezing (usually associated with the dock) and only continued to get worse with lazy pixels, dock freezes, and ultimately grey, zigzaggy screens. I reinstalled OS 10.5.8 several times and tried every trick on the net (reset PRAM, disconnect power, Safe Boot, Disk Utility, memory checks, rebuilds, new user account, etc) for over two weeks!

The computer would operate normally under a safe boot however, so I figured it must be a corrupt system file. Yet I could not isolate it successfully.

Today I rebooted (regular boot) with ONLY the mouse connected and discovered my OEM keyboard is faulty. I am now using an old keyboard from my G3 and my MacPro is operating perfectly.

But I don't understand why --under a safe boot-- the old keyboard seemed to operate OK. Any suggestions?

So happy to have my Mac back!



[ Reply to This | # ]
Twenty steps to help diagnose and fix system issues
Authored by: asadKing on Mar 07, '11 07:52:59PM

another useful and must have is applejack http://sourceforge.net/projects/applejack/



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