Start a hosting plan from $3.92/mo and get a free year on Tuts+ (normally $180)
In the first of our two-part tutorial we looked at five quick fixes to your Mac’s most common problems. In this second part, we’ll continue by looking at five more quick fixes that will help you resolve many of your Mac’s common problems.
Tip: Before you get started with this tutorial, we recommend that you take a look at part-one of our tutorial on quick fixes.
The Fix List
Before we begin, all the fixes we’re showing you are perfectly safe as long as you enter them (or perform them) exactly as described. They aren’t invasive in any way. However, always make sure you have a backup of your computer, not only in case a fix that’s performed causes your Mac to become unresponsive but it’s just a good idea in general!
This second part of our tutorial will detail more in-depth fixes. They’re still quick and easy to do but they usually require a restart of your Mac. Just as before, I’ll be including links to Apple support documents when available for further reading.
Fix Type: Keyboard Shortcut
Safe Mode is a troubleshooting step best suited if you’ve noticed that right after a new software installation or update, your Mac will no longer boot. Safe Mode boots OS X with the bare minimum - no additional software or extensions.
Safe Mode always takes a long time to boot. This is because OS X assumes you’re booting Safe Mode because of a problem. To assist, it does a full disk check before anything else.
It clears a variety of caches during boot and will not load a lot of software that OS X would normally load. Don’t expect to boot into Safe Mode and resume working, Safe Mode is there to fix problems.
Tip: More detailed information on Safe Mode is available over at Apple Support.
To boot into Safe Mode, restart your Mac while holding down the Shift key. Keep it held down past the chime, until you see the Apple logo and spinning gear. Depending on your version of OS X, you may see the spinning gear change into a solid progress bar. Once your Mac has (eventually) booted, you’ll see the OS X login window with the words “Safe boot” in bright red.
At this point, it’s recommended to simply restart your Mac rather than login. The automatic disk repair and clearing of various caches might have been enough to fix the issue. If not, just restart and boot back to Safe Mode and then login.
What Will it Fix?
As we touched on before, Safe Mode is designed to resolve problems that prevent your Mac from working normally. Let’s say you installed a printer driver and as soon as you restarted, your Mac refused to boot. It’s logical to assume the printer driver did not play nice! The next step would be to undo that last installation (usually installers can be run again to uninstall or there’s a separate uninstaller application).
If you spend a lot of time working with fonts, you’ve no doubt experienced issues at some point. Corrupt looking fonts, fonts that just won’t load or worse - fonts that freeze your Mac when in use. Fonts actually have quite a bit of overhead in OS X and even have their own dedicated cache. Safe Mode disables all user-installed fonts (leaving only the system fonts) and clears the fonts cache. This usually resolves most font issues - the fonts themselves are usually ok, but the cache becomes corrupt.
Fix Type: Software / Keyboard Shortcut
Since OS X Lion, your Mac has had a special recovery partition. It’s only a few hundred megabytes but it contains a stripped down version of OS X, some repair tools and the ability to download and install OS X again. You may not realize it, but this is probably the single best tool Apple has provided to their users. Before the recovery partition, technicians would keep a dedicated USB stick or hard drive with OS X installed to boot from.
The recovery system is set up to be completely transparent, so users won’t notice it on their Mac unless they need it. As it’s a separate partition, it allows users to run more in-depth Disk Utility features and even reinstall OS X if all else fails.
Tip: More detailed information on the Recovery System is available over at Apple Support.
To boot your Mac’s recovery system, restart your Mac and hold down Command + R during boot. After a few minutes, you’ll be greeted with the OS X recovery partition welcome screen.
The recovery system is extremely useful if your Mac is failing to boot
Within the recovery system, you have access to Disk Utility. It’s exactly the same Disk Utility your Mac has, but it can do more. You see, Disk Utility can only verify disks it’s running from. To fix disk problems, it has to unmount the volume (partition). When your Mac is booted normally, it can’t do this - you’re using the volume! With the recovery system however, you’re no longer using your Mac’s normal volume so it can be unmounted so it can make repairs. If you’ve run Disk Utility in the past and the Verify Disk option found some errors, the recovery system is how you’ll repair them.
What Will it Fix?
Quite a lot! The recovery system can repair issues such as problems booting to a full reinstall of OS X. The recovery system is quite self explanatory and includes some easy to use functions. You can specify if you want to reinstall OS X, go online with Safari (yes, you can browse the web - useful if you need to make an appointment at the Genius Bar) and run Disk Utility.
Fix Type: Software
Onyx is a free Mac utility that isn’t a troubleshooting or diagnostic tool per se, but privdes provides access to the types of maintenance OS X would usually perform at regular intervals or would otherwise require complicated Terminal commands.
Your Mac actually maintains itself very well. It has certain maintenance commands that it runs daily, weekly and monthly. However, your Mac may not always be able to run these depending on how you use it. In addition, OnyX lets us run some extra maintenance that can resolve quite a number of problems.
Tip: OnyX is a very powerful piece of software that can modify many aspects of OS X. For the purposes of this tutorial, I will only be covering the relevant features.
OnyX is available from Titanium Software. It’s a free download but there are different versions of OnyX depending on the version of OS X you are running. Make sure you download the correct one.
OnyX is a free tool to troubleshoot and customise your Mac
Once downloaded, I recommend moving OnyX to your Applications > Utilities folder - it is a utility after all!
When you first run OnyX, you will be asked if you’d like to verify your Mac’s S.M.A.R.T. status. This is a feature of hard drives that’s a sort of an early warning system. If this is reporting errors, stop everything and get a backup sorted! After checking the S.M.A.R.T. status, OnyX will then prompt to verify your hard drive. Again, it’s up to you but is recommended.
After these pre-flight checks are completed (and you enter your password when prompted), you’ll be greeted by the OnyX control panel. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’re only interested in the Automation pane. This lets us run all of OnyX’s default maintenance and OS X’s regular maintenance scripts one after another automatically.
Tip: You can be more granular in your control too. So if you just wanted to clear some cache folders, then you could just select that.
The Automation pane includes a lot of default options which are recommended. I’m going to cover a couple of the non-default options that you might want to enable.
Execute Maintenance Scripts
This is recommended since these scripts are run by your Mac anyway at the intervals we talked about earlier. The maintenance scripts clear out old temporary files, log files and other temporary information that’s no longer required.
A very useful one to enable! Spotlight has a special database that’s constantly updated that lists all your files and their contents. Occasionally, it goes a bit wrong. Folders you know are there may not appear in Spotlight, Mail messages that are displayed have no relation to the search you made. Rebuilding this tells Spotlight to trash the old database (the index) and start again.
What Will it Fix?
OnyX covers a wide variety of different bits of maintenance that it can potentially resolve hundreds of problems ranging from missing items when using Spotlight to font issues to duplicate applications showing up in the Open With menu.
Fix Type: Software
Your Mac is running tens, if not hundreds, of little bits of code (referred to as processes) at once. Occasionally, one of them can get stuck and end up getting caught up in some kind of loop. After a while, the process stops responding and your Mac will become gradually more and more unusable.
Your Mac includes a utility called Activity Monitor. This will always detail the processes that are running. Occasionally, if one does stop responding, it’ll be highlighted in red and you’ll see the CPU usage. The CPU usage is a % of the CPU, so if it’s 100 then it’s using almost all the available CPU resources. Not good!
In my Activity Monitor, we can see Terminal is chewing through my CPU!
Make a note of what the process name is. It might be something easy to identify such as Spotify or it might have a name that makes no sense. If so, Google the name to identify it.
To stop it in its tracks, select the process and hit Quit Process. Usually, that’s enough.
What Will it Fix?
Runaway processes use more and more processor power that doesn’t go anywhere, causing your Mac to get slower, hotter and the battery to drain quicker. If you notice any of these symptoms, chances are you’ve got a runaway process hogging all the CPU. Since it requires more power, the CPU works harder (causing the Mac to run hotter) and your battery life gets worse.
Free Up Disk Space
Fix Type: Software
Your Mac has a finite amount of disk space. What isn’t widely known is that your Mac needs a certain amount of space free to work. There are features such as virtual memory (where once all the memory in your Mac is in use, infrequently accessed memory is placed into a reserved part of the hard drive) and Safe Sleep where your Mac can still wake from sleep even after the battery died and the Mac recharged.
A golden rule is to allow 10% of your hard drive to be free at all times. If your Mac has a 256GB SSD, allow at least 25GB free. If it’s a 1TB drive, allow 100GB free. Your Mac will never need 100GB of space but 10% is an easy rule to follow. If you’re using 90% of your hard drive then you’ll need to start looking at additional storage.
Removing files and folders you don’t need will ensure your Mac always has enough free space
To free up space, you can follow many of the steps we detailed earlier - remove unused applications and run OnyX to clear cache files. In addition, there’s plenty of files and folders that you can look to “spring clean”.
Most items in your Downloads folder came from the internet. Chances are, they’ll always be available there too. Any music or videos you’ve copied into iTunes can usually be removed from your Downloads folder. I always suggest organizing by file type and trashing any ZIP or DMG files, they’re usually redundant.
Tip: Just like with removing any other files, be certain you don’t need it. Always have a backup!
What Will it Fix?
By running out of space on your Mac, you are preventing it from storing memory within its virtual memory. This means a noticeable lag when moving between documents and applications in terms of opening them. Your Mac may not be able to go to sleep properly and can instead just restart when opening it, losing any unsaved data. In worst cases, your Mac will not even boot since temporary files are created whenever it’s booted.
In our complete tutorial on quick fixes, we’ve gone through the top ten most common fixes to problems your Mac might have. Knowing about these will aid your attempts to resolve issues if your Mac should have any. What are your preferred fixes? Have any of these worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments!