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broken mac

apple_broken_gel.jpgSome time after I got my Macbook, a CD got jammed in its DVD drive. Blast! As it happens, we had a refurb Macbook at the office so to avoid spending a week or more without it while Apple fixed the drive I swapped hard drives and continued using the other Mac. Things got busy at the office and my Mac stayed with the jammed CD for a few weeks -- since I had a replacement there wasn't a reason to rush it.

Now, a few weeks ago, the Macbook started hanging. First, it wouldn't come out of sleep. Then, it started locking itself up even when waking up the display (i.e., it was connected to the adapter and so only the display turned off). It started doing this once a day. Then twice a day. Then it started to lock up mid-use, sometimes even a few minutes after rebooting.

Don't get me wrong, when I talk about locked up I don't mean I could Force Quit whatever was dead. I am talking about a complete OS-wide lockup that left the colorful spinning thingy spiraling as if the machine was trying to hypnotize me. The only solution was to hold down the power button for 5 seconds and do a hard-shutdown that way.

Yup. Not good.

A couple of times, both Safari and Firefox (not simultaneously) had gone out to lunch and for some reason were consuming 100% of CPU (usually just one of the cores, but that seemed to be enough for the machine to stop responding). That was my leading theory until lockups happened without the browsers loaded. Then I decided that the refurb had a circuit that was berserk. So we got the original Mac fixed and I swapped the drives again. Yes! Now everything would be alright. All the original parts were reunited.

No such luck. After a few hours I was back in lockup land, and if anything things were getting worse. I couldn't understand what was going on -- I use exactly the same software on my Mac Pro at the office and it's never locked up like this. I looked online and found references to lockups due to a corrupted "sleep image file", which if deleted could restore sanity.

So this morning I decided that enough was enough, and that if I was going to try anything else radical now was the time. I didn't want to try the image file thing since sometimes lockups could take hours, and I was in no mood for waiting. I backed up everything (easy process between Apple's Backup software and the fact that I've centralized my data in my home directory for years), and I reinstalled OS X.

I did a clean install, which took about 2 hours total, mostly unattended. Most of the install didn't require my attention, and installing the OS updates at the end, while still a bit of a pain, was a single-step process, compared to the multi-hour nightmare that is Windows Update right after you do a clean install of XP or even Vista.

Another big difference with reinstalling a machine, compared to Windows, is restoring the apps you use. I just went to the Applications directory, TARred each ".app" directory that I wanted and copied it off to the network server, then uncompressed and moved back in each dir to the newly installed copy when it was done. The whole thing took about 20 minutes (then of course, I had to re-add all the license keys and such, but I keep good track of those). Windows would have required endless hours of switching CDs and DVDs, one after another, until your setup was complete. I know. I've done it.

Anyway -- the machine now appears stable -- it hasn't locked up all day. We'll see if this continues, if not, I'll try the sleep image file thingy.

I feel like I've gone through some sort of twisted rite of passage. OS resintalls! Looking forward to the time when I have to reinstall the software on my coffee table. :-)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on June 24 2007 at 10:03 PM

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