When Small Things cause Big Troubles

April 2, 2012 ☼ Article

Those of you who are following me over on Twitter, will have noticed my mostly annoyed tweets about my constantly crashing, freezing and generally oddly behaving iMac in the recent past [1]. In fact, it (then) had become a very frustrating situation and most of all, a pain to work with the machine. I recall moments when actually finishing any piece of work had become a matter of mere luck.

Luckily these times are over now and by the time of this writing my iMac has become what it used to be: a fast and reliable computer. In this little piece here I would like to share the simple, yet somewhat embarrassing solution to this problem.

The Beginning of a Long Journey to a fixed Mac

I consider myself rather firm with computers in general and with Mac’s specifically. So far I had always been able to troubleshoot and fix any, even if only randomly appearing, issue on any of my Macs.

I started with the most obvious things and began troubleshooting this iMac by shutting down running background tasks, one task at the time to rule out some conflicts. Having still issues after that I did the expected and fixed permissions on both the system and the user folder [2]. I reset some PRAMs and what not and naturally I checked the integrity of the internal hard-drive. All without success. To guarantee a smooth and improved performance and to as well exclude the possibility of an faulty RAM module, I finally upgraded and doubled up the RAM.

Yet all these tasks were without success and the machine was still haunted by random crashes. In short: more drastic measures needed to be taken.

Almost as a final instance I finally wiped clean the HD and did a clean, fresh Lion install. The first day proved to be successful and just before I could tweet a story of success, the computer crashed again. And it got even worse: while trying to process a series of images (which yet have to be posted), the computer crashed a total of eight times within less than 24 hours.

All attempts of self-help proved to be without success and since I started to run out of ideas I eventually called Apple support. The latter was indeed very helpful, but since warranty on the iMac is but a distant memory, it was also rather expensive and in the end, support was equally unsure how to troubleshoot this.

After exploring a few of the suggestions and a few more crashes later I more and more started to suspect a broken, or at least flawed graphic card and eventually brought it to repair. I was told it might take a few days until the hardware had been checked and necessary new hardware have arrived. I was expecting rather serious expenses to come up.

So I could do nothing else than to wait for the iMac to return.

A few days later I got a message that the computer had been fixed! Being somewhat dependent on the machine for image processing I was happy to hear that; not so happy I was to learn about what caused the issue: dust!

Plain, simple dust.

I understood it was all over the place and blocking the air circulation also inside the device. Once working on more intense tasks the machine simply heated up and, well, gave up, crashed. Essentially the computer got (vacuum) cleaned and is running smoothly ever since. No crashes anymore and runs smoothly, just like I want it to be.

The good new to all this is, that, after having now a clean Lion install and double the RAM, the whole computer runs much smoother. Even a few features which for some reason weren’t working earlier (a missing guest-account comes to mind) are now working as they are supposed to do. I am looking forward to actually install the next iteration of the OS once it will be released.

So, but now I have get back to processing some images.

  1. By the time I managed to finish this post and have it out here on the blog, it is of course not to recent anymore.  ↩

  2. Interestingly fixing the permissions on the boot disk doesn’t automatically fix the permissions of the user folder. To do so one has to add some extra steps which for example are described in this post.  ↩

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