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Trouble Shooting Tips and Tricks

The text below describes how to use the following tools to diagnose problems on your Apple computer:

The majority of MAT students use Apple MacBook Pro laptops for their work. Some students install Linux on their laptops, usually either Ubuntu or a variant.

For the students who use Apple laptops for their work, you will find below a list of things that you can try, in the event your laptop is having problems. Contact MAT support at
support (at) mat.ucsb.edu for assistance, or if you have any questions.

Software and hardware issues on a Mac are normally indicated by the spinning beach ball, officially termed the "spinning wait cursor". Possible causes for this are an unresponsive web page or application, insufficient memory, maxed out CPU's, physical errors on the hard drive, file system corruption, incompatible software, or viruses or other malware.

If you're reasonably certain that the problem is caused by an errant application, you can always kill it by selecting Force Quit from the Finder's Apple menu. You can also use the Activity Monitor to view the current status of your memory, CPU's and disk space, and to list the processes that are loaded into memory. A frozen process will be listed in red, with the words "Not Responding" next to it. You can kill the offending process, or any other process that is consuming too much of your computer's resources. The Activity Monitor can be fired up by selecting Go from the main Finder menu, and then selecting Utilities → Activity Monitor.

A good tool to use to look for the cause of problems is the system Console. This utility lists the content of system log files, and will diplay errors when they occur. Make sure you select "All Messages" under SYSTEM LOG QUERIES on the upper left.

Note:  Some of the procedures below will not work with older versions of OS X.

  1. Back up your hard drive

    The best way to backup your data if you're having problems with your laptop, is to boot it up in Target Mode from another computer, and transfer your files onto an external hard drive.

    • Attach your laptop to another Mac with either a Firewire or Thunderbolt cable, and boot your laptop in Target Mode by holding down the T key while booting up.
    • Attach an external hard drive (preferably self-powered) to the other Mac, and then in the Finder menu at the top of your screen, select Go → Computer, and in the Finder window that appears, double-click on your hard drive, and then double-click on the Users folder. You should now see your home folder. Drag this folder onto the external hard drive.
  2. Disk Utility - Scan your hard drive to fix any file system corruption

    If you suspect the problem could be your hard drive, run Apple's Disk Utility, by selecting Go from the main Finder menu, and then selecting Utilities. Double-click on Disk Utility to open it up, and then select the hard drive to scan. Select Verify Disk first, and then select Repair Disk.

    A more thorough way to scan your hard drive is to run Disk Utility from Apple's OS X Recovery utility.

  3. OS X Recovery

    OS X Recovery is a utility that allows you to boot your Mac from an image, and perform tasks while the operating system is not running from your local disk. This allows you to run a more thorough scan using Disk Utility. It first attempts to boot from an image on your hard drive, but if your disk is failing, it automatically loads the image from Apple's cloud.

    To run Disk Utility from OS X Recovery, boot up your Mac while holding down the Command R keys, and in the menu that appears select Disk Utility. Select your hard drive, and then select Verify Disk first, and then select Repair Disk.

    For more information, go to:  http://www.apple.com/osx/recovery.

  4. Apple Diagnostics

    If it looks like the cause of the problem is hardware related, Apple provides a utilty called Apple Diagnostics, that tests your system's hardware, including memory, system board, cpu's, hard drives, etc. Before running Apple Diagnostics, disconnect all external devices except the keyboard, mouse, display and network cable. If you're testing an Apple laptop, make sure it's plugged into a power outlet.

    To start it up, shut down your computer, and then press the Power Button. Immediately after pressing the Power Button, press and hold down the D key, until the Diagnostics screen appears. Select your language if it asks. You will then see a screen with a progress bar, and the text "Checking your Mac". The results of the test will then be displayed.

  5. Booting Up in Safe Mode

    Yet another useful tool for diagnosing problems on a Mac is to boot up in Safe Mode. Booting up in Safe Mode loads only the bare minimum system components required to function, and does not load any user installed start up items. This mode is useful if your Mac is not booting up properly, and you need to take corrective actions to fix the problem.

    To boot up in Safe Mode, shut down your computer, and then press the Power Button. Immediately after pressing the Power Button, press and hold down the Shift Key until a progress bar appears.

  6. Scan your hard drive with anti-virus software

    You can obtain Symantec anti-virus software for free from UCSB's FTP site (you have to be attached to a UCSB subnet), at: ftp://ftp.ucsb.edu. Otherwise contact MAT support to obtain the software.

    • If your Mac is crashing or unstable, attach your laptop to another Mac with either a Firewire or Thunderbolt cable, and boot your laptop in Target Mode by holding down the T key while booting up.
    • Your laptop's hard drive will appear as an icon on the desktop of the other Mac.
    • Do not open any files or run any applications from your laptop's hard drive at this point, or you risk infecting the other Mac with a virus or other malware from your laptop.
    • Install the anti-virus software on the other Mac, and update the virus definition database.
    • Scan your laptop's hard drive from the other Mac.
  7. Reinstall the Operating System

    If you are still having issues after performing the steps above, you may have to reinstall the operating system. To do this, follow the steps above to run OS X Recovery, and select Reinstall OS X.

The UCSB Bookstore does some repair work as well, and this might be another option. They charge a flat fee of $65, not including parts. For more information, call the Bookstore computer department at 893-3538.

Lastly, there is an Apple Store in Santa Barbara, at 928 State Street. To set up an appointment with a technician, you can either do it online by going to www.apple.com/retail/statestreet, or call them at (805) 560-1500.

Last updated: July 12th, 2014