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Why Is My Macintosh OS X Crashing? Tips to Diagnosing Symptoms of Trouble
When you are responsible for hundreds of advertising, marketing, public relations, graphic design and website files on your system, a computer failure with the risk of possible data loss can be a major cause for panic! What to do?
I have been in marketing for more than thirty-five years. I have active clients whose work I have to address frequently. I also have inactive clients who unpredictably resurface at any moment who also need immediate attention.
No matter who asks, I have to be ready, willing and able to do what is needed immediately. This means that I need to maintain a comprehensive archive of work done that I can access at any time to revise, update, reference or otherwise adapt to new applications as required.
This library of work contains huge, high-resolution Photoshop files that may have taken hours, days, or weeks of work to enhance the original images in some way; the extensive Quark files of final text, photographs and artwork composed with a sophisticated and painstaking design that also undoubtedly required many, many hours of setup, not to mention client reviews and final revisions; extremely complicated Dreamweaver website files; equally involved Flash files for impressive website animations; flawlessly crafted vector artwork files created in Adobe Illustrator; a number of different drop-down menus for use on websites created in Fireworks; hundreds of PDF files created with Adobe Acrobat Distiller for high-quality output; and lots of other work using music, movies, videos and other miscellaneous files.
Since thirty-five years is a very long time and spans several technological (and not-so-technological) eras in the process, this work is in a variety of formats, including scans of older work and actual digital files. from native programs, some of which are already obsolete or no longer produced. When I learned years ago that trying to store and work on files on the same hard drive with limited space can lead to problems, I resorted to always having an external hard drive or two as an extension of my computer system, so i always have plenty of free disk space for digital “percolation”, for lack of a better term.
My external hard drives contain both firewire and USB data transfer systems, with firewire being the faster and more expensive version. And as expected, every time I needed a new external drive, the capacities increased dramatically, while the costs paradoxically did not.
I’ve had many different Macintosh computers over the years, usually the most expensive, fastest, and most famous versions available. However, I am currently working on a more conservatively priced iMac running OS X 10.4.11 with a 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM (memory), and an internal hard drive with 232.89GB of storage. I bought this system a few years ago, used it practically eighteen hours or more every day and loved every minute of it, especially its gorgeous monitor. I fully intend to upgrade my entire system probably later this year when the new OS X comes out. I say this with the full knowledge that such an upgrade will require me to also upgrade all of the previously mentioned software programs I use, which will mean a nice, hefty , but a necessary investment.
Up until about two weeks ago, I had two external hard drives connected to this system: a Firewire filled to capacity that I stopped using on a daily basis because it was making funny noises and I thought I should keep what was left of it; and a Western Digital “My Book” which has about the same storage capacity as my internal hard drive (about 232GB). After about two years, I had only used about half of its available space. So when my system started crashing repeatedly one recent afternoon, I was deeply concerned because I didn’t know what was causing the problem.
I was immediately suspicious of “My Book” because over the past six months he had been showing some troubling symptoms that I was usually able to dismiss or deny. These included long connections or failure to connect to the desktop without apparent provocation. However, after restarting the computer, the drive connected and I decided not to deal with the incident.
While discussing the crashes with my husband, who is a retired IBM engineer and technical consultant, he immediately asked me what I was doing right before the crash. I said I try to save my work in one of the many programs that include Quark, Photoshop and others. He too felt that MyBook was the culprit as it was the destination of my saved data. I said I didn’t even get to the point where I said that where save data so I still doubted that was the problem.
I decided to do some tests to try to eliminate some possibilities. I ran the Disk Utility diagnostic test on the internal hard drive and the MyBook hard drive and both were reported as fine, which I seriously doubted. I then copied some of my most frequently needed files to my practically empty internal hard drive and rebooted my system without turning on the MyBook. I was able to work and save files without any crashes. This seemed to confirm that the fault was with the MyBook. But why?
I was shopping online for a new external hard drive and while reading and researching this issue I learned that external hard drives don’t like to put themselves to sleep and then rudely wake them up to suddenly perform some immediate function. As I tend to be an impatient person driven by not enough time in the day and too much to do in the time I have, I realized this scenario is a common occurrence in my work life. Checking the system preferences under Energy Saver, I noticed that my system was set to go to sleep if idle for more than 15 minutes (the default), which happens quite often when the phone rings or when I get up, to engage in some other activity. regularly during the day. Probably as the MyBook gets older and slower (as we all do as we age) it just can’t keep up with the pace I’m trying to get through. Maybe also a function of how much data is on the disk, it just takes more time to do everything, mainly wake up and play.
I’ve also read that a computer system can ask too much for multitasking with many programs running at once, all of which draw on the available RAM, albeit a generous portion of it. My husband chimed in with the idea that maybe I hadn’t partitioned the memory correctly. That rang a distant bell in my mind…a very distant bell. I remembered the days when I allocated memory to each of my programs, dividing the available RAM according to what made sense: more for Photoshop, less for Quark, for example. I realized I hadn’t done this task in many years. But while researching the topic on Google, I quickly discovered that those days are long gone with the advent of OS X, which automatically allocates RAM as needed. No wonder!
So I decided to reboot my system with the My Book drive attached and try to limit the program usage to one at a time and adjust the sleep mode to “never” allow it to go to sleep. It seemed to be a magic bullet. Knowing that MyBook is getting old and possibly overloaded with data, I decided to invest in a new external hard drive with the goal of storing all my most important files on it as an additional backup.
I found a very reasonable Fantom GreenDrive 1TB eSATA/USB 2.0 external hard drive at Mac Mall with the help of a customer service representative that was compatible with Windows and OS X 10.4 or later for approx. $50 after rebates and free shipping I couldn’t resist. Following the instructions, I installed it into my USB hub and formatted the new hard drive for use with OS X.
As with the MyBook, he recommends always initializing the hard drive before turning on the computer and always disconnecting it before turning it off to avoid damage or data loss. What no one seems to mention is that when the power goes out unexpectedly, like every time the wind blows the wrong way where I live, the computer suddenly shuts down and no hard drive is ever properly unmounted in the process. So far, the new Fantom drive seems to ignore such events and connect right away with no apparent effects.
However, I know from past experience that the MyBook does not respond favorably to such incidents and I recently learned that the best way to deal with any negative results is to completely unplug the MyBook from the power source and let it rest for about five minutes before plugging it back in plug in when the computer is off. I’ve also found that if I restart the computer system once and shut it down between starts with external hard drives connected, as a similar “clean-up” interlude after such a power outage or any mishaps of any kind, the whole system works better afterwards.
Just using common sense helped me solve this problem, find a solution, and work to fix my situation with the equipment I have to work with. I booted my system with the MyBook and Fantom connected, set the sleep mode to “never”, waited a long time for the MyBook to connect, then judiciously dragged many of my files from the old hard drive and copied them to the new one. hard drive when I sleep at night so as not to burden the system with multitasking demands. Although the MyBook periodically misbehaved when asked to disconnect after a long session, which again crashed the entire system, I was able to move all my important files to the new drive and now I don’t even have to turn on the MyBook at all. I can now successfully work on Phantom or my internal hard drive with multiple programs running at the same time without worrying about crashing if I have the sleep mode set to “never”. When I plan to be away from my computer for an extended period of time, I unplug the Fantom and turn it off, restore the default sleep settings, and walk away knowing that my system will be able to wake up when I return without worrying about crashes and data loss. What a relief!
Of course, the motivating factor that finally made me focus on this problem—the total loss of an entire MyBook folder with some extremely important data I was working on when my attempt to save a simple file caused the system to crash recently—was a valuable lesson in confronting what which is important when you run a business: there are never enough reliable backup systems!
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