Mini-Tutorial: Minimizing System-Wide Freezes where "Force Quit" will not work

Mini-Tutorial: Minimizing System-Wide Freezes where "Force Quit" will not work


One of the most frustrating problems under Mac OS X 10.3.x are system-wide freezes where nothing short of a manual restart will resolve the situation. There are many causes for this issue, and an equally high number of solutions.

Heavy network activity Some system-wide freezes can be directly linked to heavy network activity. The problem is most common when users are transferring data through a file sharing application like BitTorrent, but also can also occur under other high-load circumstances.

In some cases, Macs seemingly succumbed to a system-wide freeze due to this problem actually recover after a few minutes (in this case you will generally see the spinning pinhweel progress indicator).

Certain Java routines may cause these problems, and a number of peer to peer applications including LimeWire and some BitTorrent clients like Azureus (as mentioned above) make use of these routines.

If you're a user of Java-based peer-to-peer software, make note of whether or not freezes occur more frequently when using these applications.

In other cases, the heavy network-load freezes occur only when using an AirPort interface, and not when using an Ethernet cable or other connection method.

Meanwhile, some users only experience this problem when accessing specific Web sites -- a condition that can be caused by a broad mix of issues including Java problems as discussed above.

Check for Bad RAM One of the most common culprits of general system instability, problems installing or re-installing Mac OS X, and various other issues is defective RAM. Various iterations of Mac OS X 10.3.x have been noted as being "picky" about installed memory.

You can easily determine if you have a "bad" RAM module by using the Apple Hardware Diagnostic CD, included with all currently shipping Macintosh models. To use the Apple Hardware Test CD, restart your computer while holding down the C key until the "Loading..." icon appears.

Note that the Apple Hardware Test can not be used when a mouse is directly connected to the USB port on the display or on the iBook. Apple says "Please connect the mouse to a USB keyboard."

Volume directory/permissions problems In some cases, disk directory malaise or incorrect permissions settings can cause frequent system freezes.

If you experience a system freeze that requires a restart, the first thing you should do following the boot process is repair permissions using Disk Utility (located in the Applications/Utilities folder on a normal Mac OS X installation).

If problems persist, you may want to consider using a disk directory repair tool like Alsoft's DiskWarrior. A number of users have reported a reduction in system-wide freezes after repairing directory damage.

Disonnect USB/FireWire devices If you are experiencing a complete system freeze accompanied by the spinning pinwhell progress indicator, try physically unplugging any connected FireWire or USB devices. In many cases, the freeze will resolve itself immediaetely, and you may receive an error message indicating that a device was improperly disconnected.

Note that this procedure can result in corruption or loss of data on the external storage device, though a forced restart (often the only other way to escape these freezes) may have the same effect.

After you have recovered from the freeze, clear caches with a utility like Cocktail or Tiger Cache Cleaner

Background applications that scan disks or perform other processes A variety of applications that scan disks in the background have been implicated in system-wide freezes.

These include, but are not limited to Norton AntiVirus and Virex 7.5.x.

If you are experiencing frequent freezes, try temporarily disabling scanning processes in such applications, or removing them entirely and check for persistence of issues.

Bad Video cards Though it is a luxury of time and money to which some do not have access, switching out your current video card for an alternate model (or just a duplicate of your current model) and then monitoring for continued freezes has resolved this issue for a number of readers.

If you don't have access to a video card other than the one that is installed in your Mac, try taking your (under warranty or AppleCare) system to an Apple retail store and asking them to perform the process, noting your repeated system-wide freezes.

Replacing the Mac itself In some cases, it appears that specific Macs rolling off the production line -- for one reason or another -- exhibit system-wide freezes with much greater frequencies than others. We've received reports from several users who, after much tribulation, had their constantly freezing Macs replaced through AppleCare and experienced a deep reduction (or complete elimination) in the number of system-wide freezes.

Eliminating problematic fonts, screen savers Some users find that by switching into another user account, they can eliminate most system-wide freezes during normal usage. If this is the case for you, problematic fonts or screen savers can sometimes be at fault (along with a sundry of other issues).

Try looking in your ~/Library/Fonts folder (your user-specific fonts folder) for duplicate fonts -- especially fonts that also appear in the /Library/Fonts folder. Temporarily remove these fonts and monitor for continuing freezes.

Also, check your /System/Library/Screen Savers folder for suspicious files. On a standard Mac OS X 10.3.x installation, the following screen savers should be present:

  • Random.saver
  • Forest.slideSaver
  • Flurry.saver
  • Cosmos.slideSaver
  • Beach.slideSaver
  • Abstract.slideSaver

If additional modules appear, try temporarily removing them from the folder (you will need to enter your administrator password).

Aliases of folders on servers in the Sidebar In some cases, network difficulties can affect Finder operation when remote folder aliases are located in the sidebar of Finder windows.

If you experience this type of freeze, temporarily disable network connectivity by opening the "Network" pane of System Preferences, selecting "Network Port Configurations" from the "Show" pull-down menu and unchecking any active ports. Click "Apply Now" to disconnect.

Next, generate a new Finder window and remove any network aliases from the sidebar by dragging them to the Desktop or another location (they will disappear).

Once you've removed the aliases, re-open the "Network" pane of System Preferences and re-enable your desired connection method.

Check for persistence of freezes.

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