Mystified...and the Geniuses are Stumped

Discussion in 'iMac' started by Mr. Monsieur, Jul 30, 2012.

  1. Mr. Monsieur, Jul 30, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2012

    Mr. Monsieur macrumors 6502

    Apr 21, 2004
    Thanks for reading my post...I know the title is supposed to be descriptive, but my situation is so weird, I don't even know where to begin.

    I've brought my 20" 2008 iMac into the Apple Store twice (maybe three times?), but each time I bring it in the computer is on its best behavior, doesn't really slow down, etc.. The first time the geniuses suggested I clear my caches...which I did. Second time, they suggested we bump up the RAM. We bumped the RAM (4GB now), but the computer still spends over half of its life spinning the beach ball. There are moments (30% of the time, perhaps?), when the computer works properly and zips along. The hard drive is mostly empty, and we generally use nothing more than a browser.

    The Apple folk have run their diagnostic tests each time we've brought the computer in, but haven't found anything. I'm pretty much convinced that it's a hardware issue...but how to figure that out if Apple can't figure it out?

    At one point it was giving me just a grey screen when I booted up (sometimes with the prohibitory sign in place of the Apple logo one expects at start-up). I ended up reinstalling OSX (using the archiving option), but it didn't have any effect (it fixed the grey screen issue, but the computer still barely moves).

    The issue might have something to do with the browsers (in particular Firefox and Chrome). The computer is often fine as long as the browsers aren't running. Most recently, when I run Safari it doesn't show up as running (it's running, but when I do Command+Tab, it doesn't appear as one of the applications that are running).

    Often, when the computer is not working properly, I've noticed that in Activity Monitor there's the message, in red, "Finder not responding."

    In addition to OSX, I've also reinstalled Firefox and Chrome. Even after reinstalling Firefox, it continues to crash (usually before it even loads). Safari more or less works...but Gmail doesn't work properly, it begins to load, but never ends up showing the inbox (I'm able to access other sites, though).

    My gut feeling is that it's either the hard drive or the motherboard, but wouldn't that type of issue have shown up when they ran the diagnostic?

    *Any* thoughts would be much appreciated!
  2. philipma1957 macrumors 603


    Apr 13, 2010
    Howell, New Jersey
    clone the hdd.

    then do a fresh install on the empty internal hdd. stick with just the basic osx no add ons

    if it runs badly the hdd is on its last legs.

    it it runs great add part of your clone. if it bogs down you have bad info on the hdd.
  3. mizzouxc macrumors member

    Apr 12, 2010
    Check your power or any static sources. Low or unstable voltages can cause problems. Make sure the computer isn't on a circuit with a fan, or set it up with a decent power strip (like APC or Tripp Lite). A decent strip doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Is the computer in a warm room?

    Just some ideas to try to help.

  4. fenderbass146 macrumors 65816


    Mar 11, 2009
    Northwest Indiana
  5. RedCroissant Suspended

    Aug 13, 2011
    With nothing coming up on the diagnostic test, I would say that the hardware is fine.

    Did you recently move it to a different location and maybe it was bumped/dropped/hit? This sounds to me like it might be a loose cable instead of any other issue.
  6. Stingray454 macrumors 6502a

    Sep 22, 2009
    This. The few times I've had a bad / failing harddrive over the years, I've had exactly these symptoms. Back up your data asap, if you haven't already, since it could probably fail at any moment.
  7. FrankHahn macrumors 6502a

    May 17, 2011
    As several folks have said, it appears that your hard disk is dying. Replace the failing HDD with a healthy one.
  8. BSoares macrumors regular

    Jun 22, 2012
    My brother had the same issue with his. Only affected when browsers were running. He had to reinstall OSX and copy his files into place from the last Time Machine backup. He could not restore using the Migration Assistant, each time he tried that option the problem came back with it. Moving all files manually into place and reinstalling all apps took care of the issue.
  9. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    Hint: It works at the Apple Store, and it doesn't work at your home. And it doesn't work when you use any browser.

    Go to System Preferences -> Network -> Click on "Advanced" -> Switch to "DNS". Check what you find in "DNS Servers", usually one or two lines with four numbers like (just an example). These are the address of your ISP's DNS server. Sometimes your ISP's DNS servers don't work properly, and then there is nothing your Mac (or any other computer) can do to make browsing work properly; the DNS server is what tells your computer for example where to find

    Use the "+" button to add "" and ""; these are Google's free DNS servers. See if that makes a difference.

    Migration Assistant will copy your DNS server settings (together with thousand other settings), so if the DNS server is the problem, it would copy the problem.

    No matter whether that is the reason for your problem, follow this advice.
  10. Hirakata macrumors 6502


    Mar 17, 2011
    Burbank, CA
    I'm not going to jump on the bad HDD bandwagon just yet. The first thing you should do, as others have suggested, is to clone your HDD to an external. From there, there are two ways to see if it's a HDD issue. 1. You could do as philipma1957 suggested and do a clean install of the OS and see if you still have issues with nothing but the basic OS installed. 2. You could start up from the external drive that you cloned to see if you still have the issues.

    As gnasher729 suggested, it could be a networking issue as well if it's just happening when you're online.

    Good luck.
  11. BSoares macrumors regular

    Jun 22, 2012
    But internet works, just painful slow as well as other stuff on the Mac gets slow. So it's not a local DNS setting (those are usually on the router via DHCP anyways). So after a reinstall it's still getting the same DNS servers from router and works fast. It must be a plugin or some crap that the browsers put on system's memory making it all bad.

    And this was my brother's iMac, I'm not so sure what was going on there, he's not even in the same country I am.
  12. robgendreau macrumors 68040

    Jul 13, 2008
    Yeah, I'm thinking network issues. DNS issues could cause problems if the computer is effectively overriding the router, and in many cases people have the recommended ISP settings in both places, so both may be crap.

    And other background processes might be having network issues.

    Did the OP try browsing and other network intensive tasks whilst at the Apple Store? (can't believe they wouldn't have checked....)
  13. mmomega macrumors demi-god


    Dec 30, 2009
    DFW, TX
  14. Mr. Monsieur thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 21, 2004
    Wow...I forgot how awesome the MacRumors community is...Thanks folks!

    I'm presently cloning the hdd (it's going crazy slow, has been nearly 10 hours thus far and it's only about 5%-!0% through ~55GB of data!)

    Yeah...that was the weird thing...we went online, started a bunch of apps, etc., and the computer was fine. That's when the genius suggested I clean my caches...didn't quite work...
  15. GLS macrumors 6502

    Jun 26, 2010
    Daughter's 2008 20" exhibited the same exact behavior. At times, it would not boot, just the broken folder or question mark. If Lion would boot, it would either work just fine, or run horrendously slow. Booting off an would run great.

    So, on a whim, decided to swap the HDD. Daughter helped me put a 1 TB Western Digital in; took all of 45 minutes or so. Reinstalled Lion, and it has a new lease on life.
  16. Stingray454 macrumors 6502a

    Sep 22, 2009
    That just makes me even more sure it's the hdd that's about to give. How did you connect the drive? USB? Although, even over WiFi it should be much (at least about 5 times) faster than that.

    Edit: Or did you mean that it's 55GB TOTAL? I read that as the 55Gb was 5-10% of your total drive size. If it's 55Gb total it's just crazy slow :) after backing up, try running the Disk Utility repair and see what it says.
  17. Mr. Monsieur thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 21, 2004
    Yep, USB. Yeah, 55GB of data total! I actually went ahead and stopped it after 14 hours or something (at that rate it was going to take days) and just dragged and dropped the most important folders (this computer is not the workhorse, so there wasn't too much on it) onto the external hdd (which was surprisingly fast!)

    I then tried reinstalling OSX three times, but each time I got an error message (something about not being able to access a folder, or something...and that I should contact the software manufacturer). Now I'm unable to restart the computer.

    I am, however, able to run the OSX hardware test. The hardware test still shows nothing substantive (there is an error...something to do with a fan, or something, apparently).

    My plan at present is to bring it back to the Apple store. Does anyone know if they'll be willing to reinstall OSX for me (it's out of warranty)?
  18. forty2j macrumors 68030


    Jul 11, 2008
    You almost certainly have a failed HDD. It often won't report on the diagnostic test.

    Apple will happily replace your HDD and set you up with a clean install of OS X. For a fee.
  19. Torrijos macrumors 6502

    Jan 10, 2006
    My 0.02$...

    First off launch applications > utilities > activity monitor
    In the System memory tab look at the number for "Page outs"...

    If its over 0 this means not enough RAM and need for VM on the HDD from time to time...
    If its over a few hundred MBs this means REALLY not enough RAM and that's usually when the beach-ball of death appears.

    You see the last couple of years web browsers have started a speed war that uses a lot of optimisation for the Javascript engines that end up eating a lot of memory, so if you're like me with a few opened tabs in your browser of choice RAM usage for the web browser quickly shoots over the GB, any other task may then bring you to the dreaded lack-of-memory-land.
  20. smithrh macrumors 68020


    Feb 28, 2009
    I'd open Console and look for "Disk I/O error."

    If you see even one, it's bad news.
  21. Mr. Monsieur thread starter macrumors 6502

    Apr 21, 2004

    Well...the mystery never got solved, but the computer got fixed!
    I brought it to the Apple store for the 3rd (4th?) time and this time they offered to reinstall OSX. 30 minutes later, the computer was back to normal.
    The hard drive appears to be fine, after all. I'm assuming it was a software issue...Flash maybe?

    Thanks so much, again, for all of your input!
  22. thewitt macrumors 68020


    Sep 13, 2011
    After three repairs for the same problem, Apple will replace your computer with a new one. You might want to seriously consider this.

    I doubt another install of OSX is going to fix it permanently.
  23. Stingray454 macrumors 6502a

    Sep 22, 2009
    When formatting a disk it discovers any bad sectors and marks them as "do not use". While that fixes any current bad sectors (sounds like the problem can be due to that), a failing disk usually generate more of them as they are used. I'm not saying it wasn't a software issue, but just be on the lookout for signs of the problem returning. If it does, it might have been the disk after all.
  24. squashedpillow macrumors newbie

    Jun 6, 2012
    Canberra, Australia
    Although this has been solved, there's a chance FileVault was enabled.

    FileVault essentially puts your entire HDD into an encrypted .dmg, then reads from the .dmg when you request files, creating a lot of lag, and without being easily detected. It can slow your computer down a lot, or, if there aren't many processes running, like when it has just been booted up at a Genius Bar, it may not be too bad, either. This would definitely be an explanation for lag on a relatively old 20" iMac.

    Though as everyone else said, it's probably the HDD. I just wanted to present an alternative solution in case this thread is useful again in the future.

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