iBook G4 hard drive dying? or just needs more space?

Discussion in 'PowerPC Macs' started by JJMac, Jun 9, 2009.

  1. JJMac macrumors newbie

    Oct 30, 2003
    I'm on an iBook G4 running OS X 10.4.11. It comes with about 50GB of hard drive space and 512MB of RAM. I bought it around 2006 or so. Also, I have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, so I hope you'll be patient with me.


    1) It's been running extremely slowly, especially when Firefox is running. Rainbow pinwheels when switching between programs, when switching between tabs in Firefox, when opening new windows in Firefox or typing search terms into Google, etc. It runs faster immediately after I restart, but then will slow down after a few days of running the machine. (It also runs a little faster when my external drive (which holds my 19GB iTunes library) is disconnected.)

    After Googling a little, I saw people saying that slowness like this meant the hard drive was failing. I really hope this isn't true, because I can't afford a new one and don't have AppleCare.

    I repaired the Disk Permissions (for the first time since getting the computer; had no idea about it until tonight) since they were all out of whack, but haven't restarted since then so I'm not sure if it's helped or not.

    2) Whole gigs of hard drive space disappear while I'm running the machine. I have very little hd space left (I need to get another external, I know), about 4GB, but it'll go down to 2 just in the course of using the computer for a few hours. The "missing" gigs come back when I restart the computer. (A bunch of files show up in the trash; most of them were Growl files. I've now uninstalled Growl, to see if that would help anything.)

    I Googled the missing hard drive space issue, and read somewhere that if you don't have a lot of disk space left, the virtual memory will write itself to your hard drive and will flush out when you restart. But a friend of mine has only 3 gigs of hd space on her MacBook and it runs just fine. But maybe it doesn't matter for her, because she has more memory?

    3) My preferences are set so that the iBook should go to sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity, but it hasn't gone to sleep in... years. Only when I close the lid.

  2. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    It doesn't sound to me like your hard drive is failing. I can't guarantee that, but the symptoms you're describing fit exactly the condition you have: Not much RAM, and not much hard drive space.

    The virtual memory swapping to the hard drive thing actually will happen to any machine without enough RAM, regardless of how much free space is on the hard drive. Further, it WILL slow down the machine in such a situation. The difference is that with that little free space remaining, fragmentation and related side effects become a major problem, so you're going to notice it more than someone with more free space, and there may well be an additional general slowdown just on account of fragmentation.

    This is likely why you see stalls (becahballs) when switching programs; the OS has run out of free RAM and so swapped the memory for a program you weren't currently using to disk, to give more physical RAM to the program you were using. When you switch to the other program, it needs to move the program you were using to disk and the memory for the one you're switching to back into RAM. This takes time, and results in a stall and beachball.

    Conversely, your friend with the MacBook probably has at least 1GB of RAM, maybe 2GB, and also may be using the computer differently from you. As a result, your friend's MacBook isn't swapping much to the drive, so the 3GB left isn't an issue.

    The swapping to disk is why you see a bunch of space return when you reboot; it's not the files in the trash (those are probably small temporary files), it's the pagefile (the hidden system file used to store RAM that has been swapped to the hard drive) getting automatically deleted.

    The recommendations are thus:

    1) Do anything you can to free up at least a couple more gigs of hard drive space; speed aside, bad things can happen to OSX when it runs out of space entirely, which can very easily happen due to automatic processes with that little space remaining. The additional free space will probably result in at least a small noticeable speedup as well.

    2) Minimize the number of applications you have open at any given time. If you can quit a program rather than leaving it open in the background, do. This will make the biggest difference of anything that doesn't cost money.

    Even occasionally quitting and re-opening the programs you're actively using might help, if they have a tendency to gradually use more memory the longer they're open (web browsers can do that, for example).

    3) Turn off anything extra you don't need. Growl would be one example, since it's always running and uses some amount of RAM. Other, similar always-on system utilities are in the same category

    4) If and when you can afford it, add more RAM--most G4 iBooks can hold 1GB or 1.25GB, and 10.4 will be happier with 1GB. Even 768MB will help.
    Upgrading to a larger hard drive would also be nice, but the RAM is cheaper and will probably result in a bigger speed boost.

    There are other speed tips to be found, but those three will make the biggest difference.
  3. lostime macrumors regular

    May 19, 2009
    I have the same Ibook and my hard drive went out last year. You can get 2.5" IDE drives really cheap but you need some time and patience to open that Ibook for the replacement, not hard just time consuming.

    160Gb Samsung $64.95

    Replacement Instructions

    For now I would suggest backing up what you need and reloading the computer from scratch. After years of use a computer gets filled up with rarely used programs and files, reloading can give you that "just out of the box" feeling of speed again. OSX uses a lot of virtual memory and when a HD fills up it doesn't have as much to work with.
  4. instaxgirl macrumors 65816


    Mar 11, 2009
    Edinburgh, UK
    I think it's the RAM as well. I have a 1.33GHz 12" 40GB iBook G4 from 2005. Came with 512mb of RAM.

    When it got to the stage that the computer was getting unusable, constant freezes, everything beachballing, I knocked up the RAM by 1GB and now it's like a different computer. It's back to being like new, ie rarely a beachball.

    It's easy to do and only costs £30, I'd try it before doing anything to your hard drive (which is a bit complicated)

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