Maintenance and Troubleshooting - Beyond the Basics - Macs All-in-One For Dummies, 4th Edition (2014)

Macs All-in-One For Dummies, 4th Edition (2014)

Book III. Beyond the Basics

Chapter 6. Maintenance and Troubleshooting

In This Chapter

arrow Taking care of application freezes and hang-ups

arrow Knowing what to do when you have trouble starting up

arrow Keeping your storage drives running smoothly

arrow Unjamming jammed CDs or DVDs

arrow Making your Mac perform routine maintenance

No matter how well designed and well built a Mac is, it’s still a machine, and all machines are liable to break down through no fault of yours. Many times, you can fix minor problems with a little bit of knowledge and willingness to poke and prod around your Mac. If your Mac isn’t working correctly, you can check obvious things first, like making sure it’s plugged in or that the battery is charged and that any connecting cables to your Mac are plugged in and secure. However, sometimes your Mac may be in more serious trouble than you can fix, so don’t be afraid to take your Mac into your friendly neighborhood computer-repair store (one that specializes in repairing Macs, of course).

image Before you rush your Mac to the emergency room of Mac repairs, do some simple troubleshooting yourself. At the very least, be sure to back up your important files — before you have any troubles — so you won’t lose them if you wind up sending your Mac to the repair shop. (Read about backing up in Book III, Chapter 1.)

Luckily, Apple and third-party developers have created applications that analyze, diagnose, and repair problems on your Mac. In this chapter, we begin by addressing one of the most common problems: frozen apps. Then we get down to more serious problems related to your Mac not starting up properly or your hard drive acting strangely. We explain how to use the Recovery and Disk Utility applications that come with your Mac and give you suggestions for third-party applications to consider. We show you how to remove a jammed CD or DVD from the disc drive — in case you still have one of those. We close the chapter by giving you suggestions for preventive maintenance.

image Open your Mac only if you know what you’re doing. If you open the case and start fiddling around with its electronic insides, you may damage your Mac — and invalidate your Mac’s warranty.

Shutting Down Frozen or Hung-Up Programs

Programs that always run perfectly may suddenly stop working for no apparent reason, and no matter which keys you press, where you click the mouse, or where you tap the trackpad, nothing happens. Sometimes you might see a spinning cursor (affectionately referred to as the “spinning beach ball of death”), which stays onscreen and refuses to go away until you take steps to unlock the frozen app.

Sometimes being patient and waiting a few minutes results in the hung-up app resolving whatever was ailing it as though nothing were wrong in the first place. More often, however, the spinning cursor keeps spinning in an oh-so-annoying fashion. To end the torment, you need to relaunch the Finder to refresh the Desktop or force-quit the frozen or hung-up app — basically, you shut down the app so that the rest of your Mac can get back to work. To force-quit an app, use one of the following methods:

· Choose image⇒Force Quit to display the Force Quit Applications dialog, as shown in Figure 6-1. Click the Finder and then click the Relaunch button.


Figure 6-1: Relaunch the Finder to unfreeze your Mac.

· Right-click (two-finger click on the trackpad) the app’s icon on the Dock and choose Force Quit from the menu that appears. If you use a trackpad, hold down the Option key and perform a two-finger tap on the app icon on the Dock and choose Force Quit from the menu.

· Choose image⇒Force Quit to display the Force Quit Applications dialog. Then select the name of the hung-up application and click the Force Quit button (in place of the Relaunch button you see in Figure 6-1).

· Press image+Option+Esc to display the Force Quit Applications dialog. Then select the name of the hung-up application and click the Force Quit button.

· Load the Activity Monitor application (located inside the Utilities folder in the Launchpad), select the process name, and then choose View⇒Quit Process. From the Quit Process dialog that appears, click Force Quit.

image One of the best ways to avoid problems with applications and the Mac operating system is to keep them updated. Set the App Store to check automatically for updates. Choose image⇒System Preferences, and then click App Store to open the App Store preferences, as shown in Figure 6-2. Select the Automatically Check for Updates check box, and then choose any or all three options below. (See Book I, Chapter 5 for information about the App Store.)


Figure 6-2: Keeping your operating system and applications updated helps avoid problems.

Handling Startup Troubles

Sometimes you may press the Power button to turn on your Mac, but nothing seems to happen. Other times, you may press the Power button and see the usual Apple logo on the screen — but then nothing happens.

Booting up in Safe Mode

If you turn on your Mac and you can’t see the familiar Desktop, menu bar, and Dock, don’t panic. The first thing to do is try to boot up your Mac in Safe Mode, which is a boot sequence that loads the bare minimum of the OS X operating system — just enough to get your computer running.

Many startup problems occur when nonessential apps, such as appointment reminders, automatically load at login time and wind up interfering with other startup apps, preventing your Mac from booting up correctly. Other startup apps load before you see the login screen or the Desktop (if you’ve set your Mac to bypass the login window automatically and go directly to the Desktop when it starts up). Booting up in Safe Mode cuts all the nonessential pre- and post-login apps out of the loop so that only your core apps load. A successful boot in Safe Mode at least tells you that your Mac’s core system hasn’t been compromised.

By booting up your Mac in Safe Mode, you can remove any applications you recently installed, turn off any startup options you may have activated, and then restart to see whether that fixes the boot-up problems. If you remove recently installed applications and deactivate startup options and problems persist, copy any important files from your hard drive to a backup drive to protect your crucial data in case the hard drive is starting to fail (see Book III, Chapter 1). Follow these steps to determine the cause of the problem:

1. Turn on your Mac, and then immediately hold down the Shift key until the Apple logo appears on the screen, indicating that your Mac is booting up.

If your Mac is on but not responding, hold down the Power button until your Mac restarts, and then immediately hold down the Shift key until the Apple logo appears on the screen.

If your Mac starts up, you know at least that the problem isn’t with the Mac OS itself but with something else on your Mac. Move on to Step 2 to repair it.

2. To turn off startup options, go to image⇒System Preferences and click Users & Groups.

The Users & Groups window opens.

3. Click your username in the column on the left.

4. Click the Login Items tab at the top of the right side of the window.

A list of the items that open automatically when you log in appears, as shown in Figure 6-3.

5. Deselect a login item.

6. Click the Close button.

7. Choose image⇒Restart.

If your Mac restarts without a problem, you know that the startup item you deselected was the problem.

If your Mac doesn’t restart, repeat Steps 1–5, each time deselecting the next login item on the list until your Mac restarts without a problem.


Figure 6-3: Deselect login items to determine which one may be causing problems.

Uninstalling apps

If the problem isn’t resolved by removing startup items, the next thing to try is to uninstall any apps you recently installed. Although sometimes uninstalling is as simple as dragging the app icon from the Applications folder to the Trash (we talk about that in Book I, Chapter 5), other times that’s not the case. Just as there are installers that install apps on your Mac, there are also uninstallers.

When you install an app, you see the app icon in the Applications folder (and on the Launchpad), but there are also files associated with the app that the installer places in other folders on your Mac, such as the System and Library folders. To make sure that you throw away all the associated files, you need to run the uninstaller.

To find the uninstaller associated with the app you suspect is causing your problems, click the Spotlight Search button in the upper-right corner and enter Uninstall. Double-click the uninstaller you want to run. A window may open, asking for your login password or telling you that your Mac has to reboot. Either way, follow the onscreen instructions.

If your Mac reboots successfully afterward, you know that the removed app was causing the problems. At that point, before reinstalling, check the app in the App Store or visit the website of the problematic app to determine whether there’s an update or information about incompatibility with your Mac model or operating system version. Try reinstalling from the disc if that’s what you have; otherwise, try downloading the app anew and installing a new copy.

Repairing and Maintaining Storage Drives

If the problem isn’t because of other apps trying to load when you turn on your Mac, you may have a more serious problem with your storage drive. Depending on your Mac model, your storage drive may be a hard drive or a flash drive (see Book I, Chapter 1 to learn about Mac models). Both can fail for a number of reasons. A minor problem may involve scrambled data on your hard drive that confuses your Mac and makes it impossible to read data from it. If data is scrambled, you can often reorganize your data with a special utility diagnostic and repair app — such as Disk Utility on your Mac, or DiskWarrior ( — to get your hard drive back in working condition.

A more serious problem could be physical damage to your hard drive. If a disk utility app fails to repair any problems on your hard drive, your hard drive’s surface may be physically damaged. When this occurs, your only option is to copy critical files from the damaged hard drive (if possible), replace the drive with a new one, and then restore your most recent Time Machine backup (you are backing up, aren’t you?) to the new hard drive so you’re back in business again as though nothing (or almost nothing) went kaput in the first place.

image To find out how to use Time Machine to back up your Mac’s hard drive, check out Book III, Chapter 1.

The Disk Utility app that comes free with every Mac — tucked away in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder or on the Launchpad — can examine your hard drive. However, to fix any problems it may find, you have to boot your Mac from a different hard drive or bootable USB flash drive, from the Recovery drive.

image Empty the Trash every now and then to eliminate files that you throw away from the Trash’s temporary storage. Control-click or right-click (two-finger tap on the trackpad) the Trash icon on the Dock and choose Empty Trash or choose Finder⇒Secure Empty Trash.

image You can’t retrieve items thrown away with Secure Empty Trash, however, unless they were backed up with an application like Time Machine.

Verifying disk permissions

Disk permissions apply to your startup disk and define what each app’s files are allowed to access and which users have access to which files. If permissions aren’t correct, your files can become scrambled, which can cause your Mac to act erratically or prevent an app from launching.

image Unlike repairing a hard drive, verifying and fixing disk permissions won’t require you to boot up from a separate drive or partition. (We explain creating partitions in Book III, Chapter 5.)

To verify disk permissions, follow these steps:

1. Load the Disk Utility app (stored inside the Utilities folder in the Applications folder).

The Disk Utility window appears.

2. Select your Macintosh HD (or whatever you renamed your Mac’s hard drive if you changed the name) from the left pane of the Disk Utility window.

3. Make sure that the window is on the First Aid pane. (If not, click the First Aid tab to call it up.)

4. Click Verify Disk Permissions.

If Disk Utility finds any problems, it displays a message to let you know. Otherwise, it displays a message to let you know all permissions are okay.

5. Click Repair Disk Permissions.

Disk Utility displays any messages concerning permission problems it found and repaired.

6. Choose Disk Utility⇒Quit Disk Utility.

Verifying a disk

If you suspect that your hard drive may be scrambled or physically damaged, you can run the Disk Utility app to verify your suspicions.

image The Disk Utility app can verify and repair all types of storage devices (except optical discs, such as CDs and DVDs), including hard drives, flash drives, and other types of removable storage media, such as compact flash cards.

To verify a disk, follow these steps:

1. Load the Disk Utility app stored inside the Utilities folder on the Launchpad, or choose Go⇒Utilities from the Finder and then click the Disk Utility icon.

The Disk Utility window appears.

2. Click the device (hard drive, flash drive, and so on) that you want to verify in the left pane of the Disk Utility window, as shown in Figure 6-4.


Figure 6-4: Choose a drive to examine.

3. Make sure that the First Aid pane is visible. (If not, click the First Aid tab to call it up.)

4. Click the Verify Disk button.

The Disk Utility application examines your chosen device and checks to make sure that all the files on that device are neatly organized. If Disk Utility can’t verify that a device is working, you see a message informing you that First Aid feature of Disk Utility has failed.

5. Click OK and then click the Repair Disk button.

image You can do this step only with a non-startup disk. Otherwise, a message appears, as shown in Figure 6-5. To repair your Mac’s startup disk, skip ahead to the next set of steps.

Disk Utility tries to fix your device. If it succeeds, you see a message informing you that the device is repaired.


Figure 6-5: Disk Utility informs you whether a device may need repairing.

image You can verify your hard drive to identify any problems, but you can’t repair your startup hard drive by using Disk Utility stored on your startup hard drive. To repair your startup hard drive, you need to perform a Recovery Boot or reinstall the operating system, as described in the following sections or boot from another disk, as explained in the Tip.

Performing a Recovery Boot

If you can’t boot up from your hard drive, even in Safe Mode, or you can boot in Safe Mode but can’t boot in normal mode and any utility application you run can’t fix the problem, you may have to boot from the Recovery drive. OS X creates two partitions on your Mac’s hard drive:

· One is what you see as your Mac hard drive, where everything you do with your Mac is stored.

· The other is the unseen Recovery drive, which contains a copy of the operating system and the Disk Utility application (the grayed Macintosh HD in Figure 6-4).

When you have problems, you can boot your Mac from the Recovery drive, which can then run the Disk Utility Repair Disk feature on your Mac’s primary hard drive, restore your hard drive from a Time Machine backup, or reinstall the operating system and return your Mac to its original out-of-the-box condition.

image Rather than boot from the Recovery drive, you may want to download the Recovery Disk Assistant (, which lets you create a Recovery Hard Drive on an external USB drive with least 1GB of storage. We advise you to have a dedicated USB thumb drive to store the Recovery Ddrive. In the event that your Mac won’t boot at all, not even in Recovery mode, you can try booting from the Recovery Disk on the external drive.

Here’s how to boot from the Recovery drive:

1. Press the Power button to turn on your Mac (or choose image⇒Restart) and hold down image+R until you see the Apple logo.

The OS X Utilities window opens, as shown in Figure 6-6.


Figure 6-6: The Recovery drive may be able to repair your Mac.

2. Select Disk Utility and then click Continue.

3. Select the Macintosh HD startup drive (or whatever your Mac’s primary hard drive is named if you renamed it) in the left pane of the Disk Utility window.

The Mac OS X Base System is the Recovery drive, and you see that Repair Disk is gray because you can’t repair the active system disk.

4. Make sure that the First Aid pane is visible. (If it isn’t, click the First Aid tab to call it up.)

5. Click the Repair Disk button.

The Repair feature of Disk Utility does what it can to fix any problems on your hard drive and informs you of its success — or failure.

6. Choose Disk Utility⇒Quit Disk Utility.

You see the Mac OS X Utilities window again.

7. If the Disk Utility was able to repair your hard drive, choose image⇒Restart.

Your Mac restarts, and you continue doing what you were doing before the problems began.

image You can also use an app such as SuperDuper! ( to clone your Mac’s hard drive on an external drive, boot from that, and repair the internal hard drive with the Disk Utility on the external drive.

If Recovery Boot doesn’t solve your problem, you can boot from a troubleshooting disc that runs an app such as DiskWarrior (, Drive Genius (, or Techtool Pro ( By running any of these apps directly from the DVD or bootable USB flash drive, you can attempt to repair or resurrect any hard drive that fails to boot up on its own. Sometimes these troubleshooting DVDs can repair a hard drive, and sometimes they can’t. If you have important files trapped on your hard drive, this option may be your only hope of retrieving your files to back them up before sending or taking your Mac to a repair service to repair or replace your Mac’s hard drive.

image You can use Safari to access the Internet from the Recovery disk. Before you go so far as reinstalling the operating system or erasing your Mac’s hard drive, consult the Apple Support website ( and discussion boards ( to see whether someone else has had the same problem you’re having — and maybe solved it.

Booting from another Mac through a Thunderbolt cable

You can also boot up from another Mac connected to your computer through an Ethernet or Thunderbolt cable. Either cable simply plugs into the respective ports of each Mac, connecting the two Macs. You may need a USB-Ethernet or Thunderbolt-Ethernet adapter if you have a MacBook model without an Ethernet port.

After connecting two Macs through a cable, you boot up the working Mac normally and boot up the other Mac in Target Mode. This makes the second Mac’s hard drive appear as an external hard drive when viewed through the working Mac’s Finder.

Using this approach, you can run a Disk Utility on the Target Mode Mac’s hard drive (as described in the earlier section, “Verifying a disk”) or you can run another hard-drive utility application (such as DiskWarrior, Drive Genius, or Techtool Pro) on the working Mac to rescue the hard drive of the defective Mac. This is much like jump-starting a car’s dead battery by using a second car with a good battery.

To boot up from a second Mac connected by a cable, follow these steps:

1. Connect the second Mac to your Mac with an Ethernet or a Thunderbolt cable.

2. Turn on the working Mac.

3. Turn on the Mac that’s having startup troubles and hold down the T key.

When the defective Mac’s hard drive appears as an external drive on the working Mac, you can copy your important files from the hard drive or run a utility application to fix the hard drive on the defective Mac. After copying files or repairing the hard drive, you need to disconnect the cable and restart both Macs.

Reinstalling the operating system

If neither Disk Utility nor a troubleshooting app solves your problem, the next thing to try is reinstalling the operating system from the Recovery drive. To reinstall the operating system, follow these steps:

1. Press the Power button to turn on your Mac (or choose image⇒Restart) and hold down image+R until you see the Apple logo.

The OS X Utilities window opens.

2. Select Reinstall OS X and click Continue.

You must be connected to the Internet to reinstall OS X 10.9 Mavericks. Click the Wi-Fi icon in the menulet at the top of the screen to connect to your Wi-Fi network or connect via an Ethernet cable (see Book I, Chapter 3 to find out how to connect to the Internet).

3. The installer verifies that you’re a registered OS X Mavericks user.

4. Click Agree when the user agreement window appears.

5. Choose the hard drive where you want to reinstall and then click Install.

6. Follow the onscreen instructions and type in any requested information, such as username, e-mail, passwords, and so on.

7. When the installation is complete, your Mac restarts.

Wipe out!

No one likes to reach this point, but if none of the procedures described in the earlier sections have solved your problem, you have to take drastic measures and reformat (completely erase) your hard drive, reinstall the operating system and apps, and restore your files from a backup. If you’d rather not take this step on your own, take your Mac to a trusted technician.

If you’re ready to attempt to repair your Mac on your own by reformatting and starting over, here’s how:

1. Press the Power button to turn on your Mac (or choose image⇒Restart) and hold down image+R until you see the Apple logo.

The OS X Utilities window opens.

2. Select Disk Utility and then click Continue.

3. Select the Macintosh HD startup drive (or whatever your Mac’s primary hard drive is named if you renamed it) from the left pane of the Disk Utility window.

4. Click the Erase tab at the top of the pane on the right.

5. Choose Mac OS Extended (Journaled) from the Format pop-up menu.

6. Click the Erase button.

7. When Disk Utility finishes erasing, choose Disk Utility⇒Quit Disk Utility.

The OS X Utilities window appears.

8. Click Reinstall OS X and then click Continue.

Follow Steps 3–7 in the preceding section, “Reinstalling the operating system.”

When your Mac restarts, it’s as new as when you took it out of the box, a tabula rasa.

9. Connect the external drive where your Time Machine backup is stored.

10. Restore your Time Machine backup to your Mac (as we explain in Book III, Chapter 1).

Your Mac should be back to where it was before your problems began.

image Erasing your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system from scratch will also wipe out any important files stored on your hard drive — all your files, in fact — so make sure that you’re willing to accept this before erasing your hard drive. Ideally, you have a clone of your hard drive, or at least you should have all your important files backed up on a separate external drive, such as an external hard drive, flash drive, or remote storage site, before wiping out your hard drive completely.

image Another occasion when you may want to erase your hard drive and reinstall the operating system is if you plan on selling your Mac or giving it away. For security reasons, you want to wipe out your data with one of the secure-erase options in Disk Utility and return the Mac to its original condition so someone else can personalize the Mac.

Removing Jammed CDs or DVDs

If a CD or DVD gets jammed in your Mac’s internal or external CD/DVD drive, you can try one (or more) of the following methods to eject the stuck disc:

· If it has one, press the Eject key on your keyboard. (The MacBook Air, for example, does not have an Eject key, because it doesn’t have an internal disc drive).

· Drag the CD/DVD icon on the Desktop to the Trash icon on the Dock. (The Trash icon turns into an Eject icon to let you know that your Mac wants to eject the disc but does not intend to delete the information on the disc.)

· Choose image⇒Restart, and hold down the mouse or trackpad button while your Mac boots up.

· Click the Eject button next to the CD/DVD icon in the Sidebar of a Finder window. (Click the Mac-faced Finder icon on the Dock to open a new Finder window.)

· Click the Eject button next to the CD/DVD icon in iTunes.

· Choose Controls⇒Eject DVD from inside the DVD Player application.

· Load the Disk Utility application (located in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder), click the CD/DVD icon, and click the Eject icon.

· Select the CD/DVD icon on the Desktop and choose File⇒Eject from the main menu.

· Select the CD/DVD icon on the Desktop and press image+E.

· Control-click the CD/DVD icon on the Desktop and choose Eject from the menu that appears.

image Although it may be tempting, don’t jam tweezers, a flathead screwdriver, or any other object inside your CD/DVD drive to try to pry out a jammed disc. Not only can this scratch the disc surface, but it can also physically damage the CD/DVD drive.

Prevention is the best medicine, so here a few pointers on how to avoid getting discs jammed in the drive in the first place:

· Do not use mini or business card CDs/DVDs or any other non-119mm optical discs in slot-loading drives, which you slide the disc into a slot.

· Be careful of using discs with hand-applied labels in the drive. These labels can easily jam or make the disc too thick to eject properly.

· If your Mac’s disc drive is repeatedly acting strange or not working properly when you try to play a music CD or watch a DVD, your disc drive may be on its last legs and may have to be repaired or replaced. Stop using the drive and take (or send) your Mac to Apple or an authorized service provider for a checkup.

image If you purchase an external optical disc drive, instead of Apple’s SuperDrive, you may be happier with a tray-loading drive. They tend to be faster, have fewer problems, and last longer.

Automating Preventive Maintenance

Your Mac has daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks that it runs periodically early in the morning if you leave your Mac on at night. However, if your Mac is asleep during this time, it won’t run these maintenance tasks. You can get out of bed before dawn every day and wake your Mac so it can run its maintenance tasks (ugh), or you can wisely set up your Mac to run its daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks automatically.

image To automate running your Mac’s preventive maintenance apps, consider getting an application called MainMenu (

To force your Mac to run its maintenance tasks automatically, follow these steps:

1. Load the Terminal application (located in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder or on the Launchpad).

The Terminal window appears, as shown in Figure 6-7.


Figure 6-7: Use Terminal to run maintenance tasks.

2. Type sudo periodic daily and then press Return.

The Terminal window asks for your password.

image To make your Mac run weekly or monthly maintenance tasks, type sudo periodic weekly or sudo periodic monthly, respectively. Weekly and monthly tasks can take a long time to run. You’ll know when a maintenance task is done when you see the cryptic-looking prompt (such as mycomputer$) reappear.

3. Type your password and then press Return.

Wait until you see the Terminal prompt (such as mycomputer$) reappear.

4. Choose Terminal⇒Quit Terminal.

image The Terminal app lets you interact with the Mac operating system. Of course, you don’t want to go messing around too much unless you know UNIX programming, but it can be useful to set up simple tasks like the one we explain here. In case you’re wondering, sudo stands for substitute user do, as in take action.