Suddenly sluggish — out of nowhere, my PowerBook is slower than I ever remember


macrumors newbie
Original poster
Sep 2, 2007
A long time ago, my PowerBook G4 was running on 512 MB of memory. This was never a pleasant experience, so I upgraded one of the sticks to a gig, so I'd have 1.25 GB of memory. This was almost a year ago, and things have been running much smoother since.

About a month ago, I noticed my computer's usual hum noise was more of a whir, and this concerned me. I also noticed the whir subsided back to a hum if the computer was totally level (I often use it with the computer on my lap). So I started putting the computer to sleep horizontally. I used to only put it to sleep and store it vertically tucked between the couch and the wall, where it would no longer be a tripping hazard for other members of my family. I figured this was no more dangerous than using a laptop bag, but I also came to realize that sometimes when I closed the lid on my laptop, it would wake up for some reason, and then go back to sleep once it realized it was still closed. And then it would repeat like that. I've been told that there was at least one night where it did that all night long, vertically.

Whenever I notice a symptom in a computer, I like to fix its problem on the spot. But the problem with the noisy innards of my machine was it was a symptom with no illness—it never really took a toll on the PowerBook, so I eventually learned to ignore it, but kept storing it horizontally. No one's tripped on it yet, so maybe I don't give my family enough credit.

Here's the part where I truly take your request for every minor detail to heart: I love my music, I love it dearly. I have iTunes set to launch on log in because I'm probably doing something important if not listening to music. So, ever since the addition of sort fields, I decided to organize my music by last name, first name. I've gone through the first half of my 35-gig music library like this, applying it to solo artists.

I've also burned a TON of gift CD's lately, but I doubt that has relevance.

And so, recently, things got slow. I chalked it up to the computer not being shut down and restarted in a long time, and laughed it off. Even though something was happening that never happened, even through the worst of the worst, back when I had 512 MB of memory and a half-gig of free hard drive space: the music would momentarily pause when things got slow. I don't mean as in iTunes itself would pause, but I stopped hearing music, and it would resume where it left off once resources freed up.

Earlier today, I was listening to a playlist I had shuffled while a friend and I played video games, with my music wired through the stereo. The computer was sitting on a carpet, in fullscreen shuffle mode and suddenly, the music stopped, and computer locked up. We assumed it had overheated, and when it wouldn't boot up in the time I had come to expect it to after a power-down and restart, blamed it on a CD that was in the drive, which was a botched mixed audio/data attempt my friend made; we were viewing pictures off the data portion because it appeared to work despite the non-functioning music part.

So we let it cool down away from the carpet, and then attempted to boot up again. It still took forever, but this time we were patient because we were out of options. It finally did, though, I logged in, bid my friend adieu, and came back and logged on instant messanger to ask another friend of mine about the issue. He suggested I repair permissions and free up Hard drive space, then reboot. So that is what I did.

And then came the most painful boot of all, the one I'm still on now. I powered down, went to the bathroom, then got myself a drink. I came back and logged in. It took about 10 minutes between when I logged in and when everything became functional. I've learned to be patient in that regard, but it's never been this bad. My dock appears to be frozen, it doesn't magnify (a few minutes ago, it was stuck in mid-magnification before I force-quit Finder) or show the program's name (once again, before the Finder force-quit there was one program's name stuck on screen), but if you click on an icon, it will respond. I've stopped trying to listen to music, but as I type this, it will still get busy and stall, and I'll get the color wheel, even though all it's processing is four characters typed in this post box. If I shift my legs to change how parallel to the ground the bottom of the computer is oriented, it seems to speed up how fast these periods past, but there's no safe position. The whirring noises are more varied that they once were.

I've come to grips in my head that there's likely no cheap/free fix. But I'd really love for there to be a fix at all.

Any insight is welcomed and appreciated. Thanks in advance!

mad jew

Moderator emeritus
Apr 3, 2004
Adelaide, Australia
Yeah the machine has been restarted.

Remove all your third party peripherals. Use Disk Utility to verify your drive. Do you have plenty of free space on your boot drive? Was the machine quick to boot up but slow to log in? if so, create a new user account and see how slow it is there.


macrumors 65816
Nov 30, 2003
Sounds like it's time for a new hard drive. Enjoy the extra space and faster access times of current generation drives. :)


macrumors 603
Jan 31, 2005
Omaha, NE, USA
Have you checked that all your RAM is still being recognized? If one of your RAM slots has died maybe you're only operating on 256MB of RAM.


macrumors 65816
Nov 30, 2003
I'm not sure why people suspect whirring noises might be RAM related, but one way to verify that it's your drive is to:

1. Check the SMART status of your drive in Disk Utility. (Though not all disk problems show up here, it should say "verified".)

2. Boot from an external firewire drive (if you've got one available). If things work fine when booting from an external, it's your drive.