System Stability

Checklist for Mac OSX

USEFUL TIPS

Before embarking on any repair of your Mac computer:

  1. Create a separate bootable CD/DVD/USB disk. Include in the disk things like an anti-virus checker, file recovery, and all other kinds of tools you might need to test and fix your Mac computer. Use this disk to bypass the Mac's own hard disk so you can test if the problems you have on your computer are present and persistent or not. Usually this separate bootable disk provides a powerful means of determining what may have happened as the disk itself is essentially a clean OS X standard for you to do your testing. If there are obvious changes and things are clearly better on the clean bootable disk, this is your opportunity to track down the cause and perform the necessary repairs.
  2. Backup the data on your computer to a separate external and reliable hard drive. At the very least you should backup all your personal data such as budget spreadsheets and Word documents, as well as photos, movies and sound files you have created. With the cost of backup external drives down to as little as US$50 for 1 terabyte (1TB) storage capacities, there is really no excuse not to have one. And for the capacity you get, you can essentially copy the entire hard disk(s) of your Mac computer (i.e., third-party apps, and all the rest). So consider doing the latter, and only do the former of keeping personal data on a separate external drive if you feel confident the work you do to repair your computer will not cause problems and waste too much of your time trying to rebuild what you might lose.

NOTE: Since the release of the late-2008 MacBook and MacBook Pro, it is claimed users are no longer able to create their own bootable CD/DVD. Apple recommends using their own OS X installation DVD, or purchase Disk Warrior or other approved third-party repair tool. However, now that OS X is free, this restriction has been lifted.

STEP 1 - IF OS X HAS JUST CRASHED...

STEP 2 - BACKUP

STEP 3 - BOOT OFF A GOOD CLEAN STARTUP DISK

STEP 4 - CRITICAL CHECKS

STEP 5 - CHECK FOR BLOCK ERRORS

STEP 6 - REPAIR PERMISSIONS AND CHECK VOLUME STRUCTURE

STEP 7 - A QUICK AND DIRTY CHECK

STEP 8 - SPRING-CLEANING YOUR FILES

STEP 9 - CORRUPT FILES

STEP 10 - DEFRAGING FILES

STEP 11 - MEMORY PROBLEMS

STEP 12 - HARDWARE PROBLEMS

STEP 13 - ZAP THE PRAM

STEP 14 - REINSTALL SYSTEM SOFTWARE AND DRIVERS

STEP 15 - HARDWARE CHECK

STEP 16 - REINSTALL OS X

STEP 17 - BLAME APPLE

## MAKING MAC OS X MORE SECURE ##

  1. In the Accounts preference pane, set a password for your active user account. And, for goodness sake, don't tell anyone your password. Also make sure other people are not rudely looking over your shoulder when you type your password to access the account. If a Guest Account appears, disable or remove it. If you need to keep this account, consider removing all ticks in this account unless you want guests to access your computer or a shared folder from time-to-time. Should Guest access be necessary, it is safer to give guests access to a shared folder. So place a tick where it says "Allow guests to connect to shared folders". In the Sharing preference pane, you can specify the folder you want to share.
  2. In the Security preference pane, put a tick where it says "Disable automatic login" (you and anyone else having your computer must enter a password to get into your account); "Use secure virtual memory" (anything stored on the hard disk during sleep mode from RAM will be encrypted); and "Disable remote control infrared receiver" (some people may be able to control and access your computer with an independent infra-red tool).
  3. Turn on Firewall, press the Advanced button and put a tick where it says "Block all incoming connections".
  4. An optional security measure is to encrypt the Home Folder in the Users folder using FileVault. However take great care. OS X will create an encrypted disk image of the Home Folder. But should there be any file corruption to the disk image (especially common when you have low disk space), you could lose all your personal files. Only use if you have a large hard drive capacity and plenty of disk space and you definitely need the extra security (e.g. Defence or intelligence-related projects, commercially-confident information, or a book you are about to sell etc). Or manually create your own encrypted disk images using Disk Utility for storing only your most sensitive files. Use the highest encryption method possible (i.e. 256-bit).
  5. In the Sharing preference pane, remove the tick in all check boxes. Only put a tick in the correct box when you need to use a particular service to share something with someone on another computer or a separate device. Take care which Shared Folders you give others access to in the File Sharing section. And turn off Bluetooth Sharing unless you need others to share files with you via the Bluetooth method.
  6. Always turn off Bluetooth and Airport when not in use.
  7. Boot off your OS X installation DVD and set the firmware password. This means no one else can use another OS X installation DVD to reset your administrator account password (NOTE: Not foolproof as someone can remove the RAM cards and reinsert to reset the firmware password; but at least it makes it more difficult).
  8. Use the Parental Controls system preference pane to restrict web access to dubious web sites that could potentially compromise your security.
  9. Lock your keychain (contains your passwords for various applications, encrypted disk images etc) using Keychain Access.app in the Utility folder of the Applications folder.

## WHEN IT COMES TO SELLING YOUR MAC ##

  1. Backup all your data, applications, user folders and the System files to your external backup drive. In case you miss something after the transition to a new computer having a new hard drive or purchasing and installing a new hard drive, it would be a simple matter of rummaging through the backup disk for the file(s) you need. It makes for a smoother transition and the least amount of effort for you to get yourself back up and running as quickly as possible. Use a utility such as Carbon Copy Cloner to do all the backup work.
  2. You may be required to disable or deregister some online services or commercial software applications containing registration details that are based on some form of a hardware-based filtering (e.g. MAC address) to run their services or software. This may not be possible if your old hard disk has crashed unexpectedly and you cannot run the copy of OS X and/or the application or services that are on it. If necessary, you may have to contact the people running those services or have licensed the software to you to re-enable those ssrvices or software on your new hard disk and/or computer. Or move to other services or software that are not locked into the hardware of your computer to work.
  3. Reformat the hard drive. Use a single partition. And make sure you get the computer to properly insert zeros right throughout the disk. This is the longer method of erasing a drive but it is more secure. Otherwise people with file recovery tools can retrive your personal information, applications and other details. For the more security conscious, a 7-pass or 35-pass erase is the most secure but will take the longest time to complete. Potentially you could be waiting for days for a high capacity 300GB or more hard drive to be securely erased. You must decide on a suitable level of security or be happy to share your files with others. Or else purchase a second hand hard disk and install this into the old Mac.
  4. Use your OS X installation DVD to remove the firmware password and reset the SMC on the system. Also consider clearing the PRAM. NOTE: To reset SMC on a 17-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, it may be as simple as plugging in the power cord for power, press Shift-Control-Option kets, and the power button once. Let the computer rest for a few seconds. Press the power button to start up the machine. For other machines, you may have to remove the battery for a few minutes.
  5. Reinstall a fresh copy of OS X. Always supply the original OS X installation disk that came with the computer.

## KEY COMBINATIONS FOR TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR INTEL-BASED MAC AT START UP ##

  1. Press C during start-up: Start from a bootable CD/DVD, such as the Mac OS X Install disc.
  2. Press D during start-up: Start the Apple Hardware Test when the Install DVD 1 is inserted in your Mac's drive.
  3. Press and hold (Command + Option + P + R) until you hear two beeps: Reset the NVRAM.
  4. Press Option during start-up: Loads Startup Manager, enabling users to select which volume they would like to boot from. Pressing N will show the first bootable Network volume as well.
  5. Press the Eject button, press F12, or click and hold the mouse or trackpad button: Ejects any removable media.
  6. Press N during start-up: Attempt to start from a compatible network server (NetBoot).
  7. Press T during start-up: When two Macs are connected via FireWire, this will start one in FireWire Target Disk Mode (two Macs with FireWire ports are required).
  8. Press Shift during start-up: Starts your Mac in Safe Mode, temporarily disabling log-in items.
  9. Press (Command + V) during start-up: Starts in Verbose Mode.
  10. Press (Command + S) during start-up: Starts in Single-User Mode.
  11. Press (Option + N) during start-up: Start from NetBoot server using the default boot image.

Source: Aimonetti, Joe. Key combinations to troubleshoot your Intel-based Mac at start-up: CNET News. 25 February 2010.

## HOW TO CREATE A RAM DISK ##

  1. Using the Terminal utility, type diskutil erasevolume HFS+ "ramdisk" `hdiutil attach -nomount ram://128000`.
  2. Press the Return key. The Terminal will create a 64MB RAM disk called "ramdisk" on the desktop. You can change the name of the disk. And if you need to increase the RAM disk size, create a new RAM disk, but change the number in the terminal command from 128000 (64MB) to 256000 (128MB), 512000 (256MB), 1024000 (512MB) etc.

Ready-made Terminal script files to create RAM disks of each of these sizes can be downloaded here.

NOTE: Remember to keep a copy of the RAM disk contents on your hard disk before re-booting (and recommended before putting your computer to sleep).

Source: Aimonetti, Joe. Making RAM disks in OS X: CNET News. 19 October 2010.

## WHEN THE LOGIC BOARD GOES ON THE BLINK ##

Are you having one of those days when your Macintosh computer has decided to pack it in and go into an unassailable state of not booting up, screen is black, and the fans are run at high speeds and noisy? Welcome to the club of experienced Mac users who have been there and done that. All it takes is a bit of hair or dust (or did you touch certain crucial electronic components with your hand or some other material carrying a stray electric charge?) at a crucial part of the logic board (e.g. RAM area, video circuitry, etc) short-circuiting and causing damage.

You could take a long shot by trying all sorts of tests such as removing one or more RAM cards, disconnecting the hard disk and DVD player, clearing the PRAM, fully charging the battery, using the Option Command O F key combination and clearing hardware settings etc. But if all this fails, you can pretty much give the logic board the flick.

Before performing these tests, immediately shut down the computer by pressing the power button for about 5 seconds, disconnect power supply and battery and cross your fingers.

Given the price of some logic boards, you might be better off purchasing a secondhand computer of a slightly better manufactured model (e.g. microfine air flow grills rather than one where a cockroach could enter and make a home inside your computer; and consider giving away your cat or dog to someone who loves all the extra fur).