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Monday, August 6, 2007

Stepping through MacBook Troubleshooting

If rebooting your Mac hasn't solved a particular problem, follow these steps in order until either the solution is found or you run out of steps.

Step 1: Investigate recent changes

This is a simple step that many novice Mac owners forget. Simply retrace your steps and consider what changes you recently made to your system. Here are the most common culprits:

  • Did you just finish installing a new application?
  • Did you just apply an update or patch to an application?
  • Did you just update Tiger using Software Update?
  • Did you just make a change in System Preferences?
  • Did you just connect (or reconnect) an external device?

If you haven't made significant changes to your system before you encountered the problem, proceed to the next step.

Step 2: Run Disk Utility

If you're experiencing hard drive problems, consider booting from your Mac OS X Installation CD or DVD to run a full-blown Repair Disk checkup on your boot volume.

Step 3: Check your cables

It's a fact that cables work themselves loose, and they fail from time to time. Check all your cables to your external devices — make sure that they're snug — and verify that everything's plugged in and turned on.

Step 4: Check your trash

Check the contents of your trash to see whether you recently deleted files or folders by accident. Click the Trash icon on the dock once to display the contents. If something's been deleted by mistake, drag it back to its original folder and try running the application again.

Step 5: Check your Internet, wireless, and network connections

Now that always-on DSL and cable modem connections to the Internet are common, don't forget an obvious problem: Your laptop can't reach the Internet because your Internet service provider (ISP) is down!

You can check your Internet connection by pinging, as follows:

1. Open your Utilities folder (inside your Applications folder).

2. Double-click Network Utility.

3. Click the Ping tab.

4. Enter in the Address box.

5. Click Ping.

You should see successful ping messages. If you don't, your ISP or network is likely experiencing problems.

Step 6: Think virus

If you've made it to this point, it's time to run a full virus scan — and make sure that your antivirus application has the latest updated data files, too. If a virus is detected and your antivirus application can't remove it, try quarantining it instead — this basically disables the virus-ridden application and prevents it from infecting other files.

Step 7: Disable your login items

Mac OS X may be encountering problems with applications that you've marked as login items in System Preferences. Hold down Shift during startup (if your Mac doesn't display the Login screen) or hold down Shift at the Login screen while you click the Login button.

These tricks disable your account's login items, which run automatically every time you log in to your laptop. If one of these login items is to blame, your Mac will simply encounter trouble — automatically! — every time you log in.

If your laptop works fine with your login items disabled, follow this procedure for each item in the login items list:

1. Open System Preferences, click Accounts, and then click the Login Items button.

2. Delete an item from the list, and then reboot normally.

3. If your Mac doesn't start up normally, go back to Step 2.

4. When your Mac starts up normally with the remaining login items enabled, you've discovered the perpetrator — you'll likely need to delete that application and reinstall it.

5. Don't forget to add each of the working login items back to the Login Items list!

Step 8: Turn off your screen saver

This is a long shot, but it isn't unheard of to discover that a faulty, bug-ridden screen saver has locked up your laptop. Open System Preferences, click Desktop & Screen Saver, click the Screen Saver button, and then do one of the following:

  • Switch to an Apple screen saver.
  • Drag the Start slider to Never. If this corrects the problem, you can typically remove the screen saver by deleting the offending saver application in the Screen Savers folder inside your Mac OS X Library folder.

Step 9: Run System Profiler

Ouch. You've reached Step 9, and you still haven't uncovered the culprit. At this point, you've narrowed the possibilities to a serious problem, like corrupted files in your Mac OS X System Folder or hardware that's gone south. Fortunately, Tiger provides you with System Profiler, which displays real-time information on all the hardware in your system. Click the Apple menu and choose About This Mac; then click More Info. Click each one of the Hardware categories in turn, double-checking to make sure that everything looks okay.

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