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Spinning beach ball of doom - the funcrunch files


Oct. 29th, 2009 11:10 pm Spinning beach ball of doom

For the last 2-3 weeks I've been getting the dreaded Spinning Beach Ball of Doom on my Mac Pro tower running Mac OS 10.5.8 (Leopard) every hour or so for a couplethree minutes at a time. Normally the clock is still advancing and I can still move the cursor, but can't click on anything. Very frustrating.

I've tried the following troubleshooting steps so far, one at a time, to resolve the issue:

- Ran Diskwarrior diagnostics while booted from that DVD (repaired some problems on internal drives, but ran out of memory when trying to diagnose 2TB external backup drive; afraid to try it on 4TB Drobo as it's specially formatted)

- Swapped out RAM

- Disconnected Drobo

- Turned off Time Machine and disconnected 2TB external drive used for backup

- Purged system crud with Yasu

- Closed most tabs in Firefox

What to try next? Total reformat and system reinstall? Ugh...

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Comments:

From:ewhac
Date:October 30th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
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The "obvious" first guess is that the poor thing is swapping its brain out -- too much data trying to fit in RAM at the same time, so it's paging it off to disk, which is sssllloooowwww... Adding more RAM alleviates this. Most Macs can accept PC-standard DIMMs and SODIMMs, so you don't have to pay Apple's markup. If you're editing video or lots of large photos, anything less than 4 GiB is going to be painful.

Stupid suggestion: Open a Terminal window and run the command "vm_stat 3". This will print the current virtual memory statistics every three seconds. If you ever consistently see large numbers under the columns "Pageins" or "Pageouts", you're swapping too much.

Or if you're not comfortable doing that, download and install iStat Menus. Turn on CPU, disk bandwidth, and RAM meters. They will give you rough clues what the machine is up to when it goes out to lunch.

If you don't use Sherlock (and let's face it, who does?), then you can turn off disk indexing and save the CPU cycles and disk bandwidth.

Really Advanced Topics: Mac OS X by default swaps to your boot volume, thereby competing for disk space and bandwidth. The swap files can be moved to another volume, relieving some of the pressure on the disk. (From personal experience, however, this doesn't help all that much.)

Über Geeks Only: SSH in to the Mac from another machine. The next time the beachball visits, hop on the ssh session, run 'top' and see who's causing all the fuss.
From:ewhac
Date:October 30th, 2009 08:44 am (UTC)
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...Oh, you have a Mac Pro, don't you? Those take ECC FB-DIMMs. 4 GiB currently goes for about $120 on Newegg, and you can stick up to 32 GiB in there.
From:funcrunch
Date:October 30th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the detailed suggestions. I've got 6GB of RAM already, and I got the spinning beach ball just a few minutes ago when all I had open were Terminal and Mail - hadn't even launched my web browser yet, and certainly wasn't doing any photo or video editing. I think I'll try your SSH / top suggestion...
From:funcrunch
Date:October 30th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
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Top from remote machine revealed SETI @ Home was taking up 100% of CPU. I just quit BOINC, we'll see if that helps
From:funcrunch
Date:October 31st, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
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Quitting BOINC didn't eliminate the beach ball... sigh, back to the drawing board.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 2nd, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)

That Beach Ball

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How much free disk space do you have on your boot drive? Should generally be about 20% free regardless of how big the drive is. That's to make sure the drive keeps files as intact (unfragmented) as possible.

I know you take lots of photos. You may just have too many now. Is your photo library too big? You might need to create multiple libraries to manage all those photos.

Do you have any font duplicates? Use Font Book to resolve them.

Clear caches. You can dump the entire /Users/juliemb/Library/Caches folder
Quit all apps, dump cache, Log out, log back in and empty trash.

Another thing I found fixes a multiple of ills is reinstalling the Mac OS X 10.5.8 combo update. Never install the deltas. See here:
http://support.apple.com/downloads/Mac_OS_X_10_5_8_Combo_Update

How about upgrading to Snow Leopard? Do your applications support it? i've found significant performance improvement.

Finally, your drives could be failing. No application is really good at predicting this kind of thing. It can just happen.