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“Holy Cripes! My Mac's Busted!!!”

“Holy Cripes! My Mac's Busted!!!”

Quick Fixes for a Funky Mac

Although I'd like to believe you purchased this book because of my winning smile and sophisticated air, I realize that many of you clutch this tome in a state of sheer panic. Your Mac is on the fritz; you've neglected to back up the important documents on your hard drive; and you pray that within these pages, you'll find the solution to your Mac's woes. Relax. I've placed these emergency pages at the beginning of the book solely for your salvation. This is the paramedic portion of Mac 911—the section designed to get your Mac back on its little plastic feet without a lot of blather about the whys and wherefores of Mac troubleshooting and repair. Take a couple of deep breaths, and let's get started.

Your Mac Won't Start Up

Sometimes when your Mac won't start up, it offers you a helpful hint as to why: a strange beep, maybe. But even if you Mac doesn't do anything when you try to start it up, that is still a good clue.

UH-OH: You switch on your Mac, and nothing happens—no lights, no sound, no nothing.

Although it's tempting to throw up your arms in despair and simply proclaim your Mac to be “broken,” a completely kaput Mac is a rare Mac indeed. Look first to the obvious.

Treatment 1: Check power connections.

Every Mac user on earth has run into this issue, so put aside your chagrin and count your blessings if your problem is as simple as a power cord that's come loose. If the connection between your power source and Mac seems solid, double-check the power strips the Mac is plugged into; they should all be switched on. Also, if the power outlet connected to your Mac is controlled by a wall switch, make sure that the switch is in the on position. If all else fails, swap in a new power cord.

Treatment 2: Switch different.

Push the Power button on the Mac itself rather than the one on the keyboard (if, indeed, your keyboard has a Power button). If the Mac starts up with this Power key, you have a bad connection between your keyboard and the Mac. Make sure that the keyboard is plugged into the Mac properly. If it's a USB Mac, be sure that the keyboard is plugged directly into the Mac rather than into a USB hub. If your Mac has an ADB keyboard, replace the ADB cable.

Treatment 3: Check the battery.

If you have a PowerBook or iBook, and you're attempting to run on battery power, use the power adapter instead. Your battery may be dead.

The external batteries on PowerBooks and iBooks are not the only batteries you need to be concerned about. Macs also carry internal batteries. If your Mac's internal battery poops out, you may be unable to boot your Mac. To replace your battery, open the Mac (with the power off!), remove the thing that looks like a battery (it is one), and take it to a local computer or electronics shop for replacement.

Treatment 4: Check the monitor.

New Mac models, such as the ill-fated Power Mac G4 Cube, are amazingly quiet. Unbeknownst to you, the Mac may be switched on, but the monitor switched off. Push the monitor's Power button to find out.

Treatment 5: Call Apple.

If these do-it-yourself solutions don't work, your Mac may be beyond the help you and I can provide (of course, you might want to read the rest of the book before you give up). Dry those tears, pick up the phone, and give Apple's support line a call at (800) 275-2273 during normal business hours on the Pacific Coast.

Treatment 6: Take it to the shop.

The technician you speak with at Apple may recommend that you take your Mac to a local Apple Authorized Service Provider for repair. This advice is rarely given lightly. If you've tried everything else, save yourself some frustration, bite the bullet, and take it in.

UH-OH: You switch on your Mac and see the icon of a frowning Mac or hear odd beeps, chords, or sound effects.

The Mac runs a series of hardware tests when you start up the machine. If these tests fail, you may see the infamous “Sad Mac” icon, hear error tones, or both. These tones may be a chord, the sound of a car crashing, the smash of broken glass, or a series of unfamiliar beeps.

Treatment 1: Check your RAM.

Have you just changed the RAM in your Mac or moved the Mac from one place to another? More often than not, error tones are the result of a RAM module that's not seated properly or that's incompatible with your Mac. If you've installed new RAM and hear unusual tones, remove the new RAM and try starting your Mac again. If the Mac starts properly without the RAM, switch off the Mac and reseat the RAM module.

If, on restarting, you continue to hear error tones, switch off the Mac, open its case, and look for a small round black or red button near the internal battery. This button is called the Cuda button (see Chapter 2 for more information). Press this button, reassemble your Mac, and restart with the new RAM module in place. If the Mac remains obstinate, and you still hear these ominous tones, report your difficulties to the vendor who sold you the RAM.

If you have an iMac, of course, cracking the case may seem to be completely beyond your ken. Don't worry—I show you how to break it open in Chapter 7.

Treatment 2: Check other installed cards.

It's possible that another kind of add-in circuit board is causing the problem. Try reseating any AGP, PCI, PDS, or NuBus cards in your Mac.

Treatment 3: Try a different startup disk.

Although this situation is rare, error tones can occur if your startup drive is under the weather. Try booting your Mac with the System software disk that it shipped with. Macs produced in the past several years shipped with a System software CD (sometimes called the Software Install CD). To start up from this CD, insert it and hold down the C key until the Mac's welcome screen appears. If the C-key trick doesn't work, try pressing Command-Shift-Option-Delete. This key combination tells the Mac to try to boot from a device other than the startup disk.

Treatment 4: Think back.

Have you changed anything since you last used your Mac—added a new PCI card or peripheral, for example? If so, you've found the likely culprit. Undo your recent actions, and try booting your Mac again. If the Mac starts up properly, you'll need to troubleshoot this new acquisition. (Tips on troubleshooting appear in subsequent chapters.)

Treatment 5: Call Apple.

As I mentioned earlier, a call to Apple may be the right solution when you're otherwise stumped.

Treatment 6: Take it to the shop.

Rarely, those hardware tests can indicate a more serious problem: a dead motherboard, bad SCSI controller, or malfunctioning ROM chip, for example. If you can't find a way around these errors, take your Mac to your local Mac repair emporium to have it eyeballed by a qualified technician.

UH-OH: You see a blinking folder or disk icon, and the Mac refuses to start up.

This blinking icon is the Mac's way of telling you that it can't find the System software it needs to start up.

Treatment 1: Make sure the drive is bootable.

Not all hard drives are bootable on all Macs. You can't boot a Blue & White Power Mac G3 or a Power Mac G4 (PCI Graphics) from a FireWire drive, for example. Neither can you boot from all USB drives. If you've been able to boot from the drive in the past, you've got a problem. If the drive is new, and you have no other bootable drive attached to your Mac, check the documentation to be sure you can use it to start up your Mac.

Treatment 2: Unplug your peripherals.

Add-on hardware can cause this problem sometimes. Remove any external devices save your monitor, keyboard, and mouse (and your external hard drive, if you use it to boot your Mac). If you do boot your Mac from an external hard drive, ensure that its cables are seated properly. And if that external drive is a SCSI device, be sure that its SCSI ID isn't set to a number that's likely to conflict with any other SCSI devices attached to your Mac. SCSI ID 0 normally is reserved for the Mac's internal drive, SCSI ID 3 for the CD-ROM drive, and SCSI ID 7 for the Mac itself.

Treatment 3: Boot from your system/repair disk.

If your Mac won't boot from the System Folder that you swear is on your startup drive, force it to boot from another disk. If you have a Mac old enough to have shipped without a CD-ROM drive, rummage through your possessions until you find a floppy disk capable of booting your Mac. You can start up floppy-friendly Macs with the Disk Tools floppy disk that shipped with early Macs. More-recent Macs ship with a CD-ROM that can be used as a startup disk. To boot from a CD-ROM, hold down the C key on the Mac's keyboard after pressing the Mac's Power button. If the C-key trick doesn't work, try pressing Command-Shift-Option-Delete. This key combination tells the Mac to try to boot from a device other than the startup disk.

When you've booted from that System disk successfully, run Apple's Disk First Aid to diagnose and (possibly) repair the drive. If you have a more-robust diagnostic/repair utility—such as Alsoft's Disk Warrior, Micromat's TechTool Pro, or Symantec's Norton Utilities—boot from your repair disk and then diagnose the drive.

Treatment 4: Check for a valid System Folder.

After booting from your System/repair disk, open your hard-disk icon, and scroll down until you find the drive's System Folder, which should sport the icon of a smiling Mac. If not, this System Folder is not blessed (meaning that the Mac doesn't recognize it as the real deal and, therefore, won't use it to boot your computer). To bless the folder, open it, drag the System file to the desktop, close the System Folder, drag the System file back to the System Folder, open and close the System Folder, and pray that the “blessed” icon appears. If it does, try rebooting your Mac.

Treatment 5: Toss stuff.

Corrupted preferences files sometimes cause a System Folder to go unrecognized. Open the Preferences folder inside the System Folder, locate the Finder Preferences file, and drag it to the Trash. Then reboot the Mac.

Treatment 6: Zap your PRAM.

Parameter RAM (lovingly referred to as PRAM—pronounced “pea-ram”) holds certain software settings (including date and time, AppleTalk's on/off state, and startup-disk information) in a bit of carefully maintained RAM on the Mac's motherboard. PRAM can get munged up occasionally, and when it does, trouble results—including a Mac that won't boot properly. To flush—or zap—this parameter RAM, hold down the Command-Option-P-R keys at startup. When the Mac starts a second time, let go of these keys.

Treatment 7: Perform a clean install.

If the drive appears to work but its System Folder refuses to boot your Mac, perform a clean install of your System software. To learn how to do so, see Chapter 2.

UH-OH: The Mac makes all the right sounds and its power light comes on, but the screen remains dark.

This retrograde-inversion of the classic “all the lights are on, but nobody's home” conundrum is rarely a serious problem.

Treatment 1: Check the monitor's power switch.

Is the monitor plugged in? Is it switched on?

Treatment 2: Check the brightness control.

PowerBook and iBook users often turn down the screen brightness to save battery power. If your Mac or monitor has a brightness control, turn it up.

Treatment 3: Check your monitor cable.

Perhaps the heft of the darned things is the problem, but monitor cables have an annoying way of coming loose. Make sure that yours is plugged in properly. Monitor cables that are partly plugged in can cause your monitor to display odd colors—lots of green or pink, for example.

Treatment 4: Check your video card.

Though they're not as prone to becoming unseated as the monitor cable is, graphics cards can come loose—particularly if they're not bolted to the case securely with the screw provided for that particular purpose.

Treatment 5: Swap in a new monitor.

Now that computers are as common as coffeemakers, borrowing another monitor shouldn't be difficult. If the borrowed monitor displays the Mac's video signal properly, you may need a new monitor. Note: Monitor repairs can be expensive. Before committing to a costly repair, price new monitors. It may be cheaper simply to buy a new one.

UH-OH: Your Mac running Mac OS 9.x or earlier begins to start up and then abruptly stops.

Such startup problems usually can be traced to an extension or hardware conflict. Extensions—the bits of computer code that add functionality to the Mac's operating system—occasionally conflict with one another. When they do, all kinds of h-e-double-toothpicks can ensue—including a Mac that freezes during the startup process. SCSI and USB conflicts can have the same effect.

Treatment 1: Hold down the Shift key at startup.

Holding down the Shift key at startup disables extensions, most control panels, and all items in the Startup Items folder. If your Mac boots properly with the Shift key down, you have an extension conflict. To learn how to deal with extension conflicts, see Chapter 3.

Treatment 2: Unplug your peripherals.

The hardware devices attached to your Mac—printers, removable media drives, scanners, MP3 players, whatever—can also come into conflict and keep your Mac from booting as it should. Try stripping your Mac of everything but the keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

Treatment 3: Zap your PRAM.

Rather than give you the impression that I'm padding my page count by parroting the same information over and over, I'll simply suggest that you flip back a couple pages to learn how to do this.

Treatment 4: Boot from your system/repair disk.

The reason for taking this action is similar to the reason stated earlier in this chapter: your Mac's hard drive may be so confused that even with extensions disabled, peripherals peeled away, and PRAM zapped, it can't summon the gumption to boot your computer.

UH-OH: You've booted your Mac from your System/repair disk, and your hard drive is nowhere to be seen.

Few things are more distressing than finally booting your Mac from an emergency disk only to discover that your hard drive is missing in action.

Treatment 1: Run Disk First Aid or another disk-repair utility.

You'll find a copy of Apple's diagnostic/repair utility on the System disk that shipped with your Mac. Launch this utility, and pray that it recognizes your hard drive. If so, attempt to repair it. If Disk First Aid fails to find the drive, and you have a more robust diagnostic/repair utility—such as Disk Warrior, TechTool Pro, Norton Utilities, or the Apple Hardware Test CD (a CD that ships with some late-model Macs)—boot your Mac from that utility disk, and run the utility in the hope that it will recognize and repair your drive.

Treatment 2: Run Drive Setup.

If your diagnostic/repair utility fails to find your drive, launch Drive Setup (also on your System disk) and see whether it can see the drive. If the drive appears in the list of available drives, attempt to mount it by selecting the drive and choosing Mount Volumes from Drive Setup's Functions menu.

Treatment 3: Unplug your peripherals.

Unplug any external peripheral cables, excluding those attached to your keyboard and monitor. If you have two or more internal hard drives, disconnect cables to all but the startup drive. If the Mac boots from the drive, you have a hardware conflict that I'll deal with in ”Peripheral Problems” in Chapter 2.

Treatment 4: Check your cables.

Be sure that any data and power cables running to your start up drive are seated securely.

Treatment 5 (next-to-last-ditch effort): Give your hard drive a tiny tap.

Troubleshooting experts blanch when you offer this recommendation, but it works occasionally. If all else fails, try giving your hard drive a tiny jolt with the heel of your palm—and please, do this with the Mac and hard drive switched off! Hard drives can get gunked up to the point where their platters won't spin or their drive arms refuse to flit across the drive platters to read and write data. A gently jolt sometimes convinces them to work again. Note: This operation is a next-to-last resort, for a very good reason. Banging a hard drive can seriously mess with its well-being. Perform this operation only if you see no other way out (and are resigned to losing everything on your disk anyway). And as frustrating as a dead drive may be, don't do this when you're angry.

If this treatment works and you're able to boot from the drive, immediately back up everything on the drive—you're living on borrowed time—and replace it. A drive this badly gunked is not one that you ever want to rely on again.

Treatment 6 (last-ditch effort): Call DriveSavers.

DriveSavers (www.drivesavers.com; 800 440-1904) is a wonderful company that will charge you a small fortune ($700 and up) to recover data from a drive that appears to be hopelessly trashed. If you've neglected to back up your data, and that data is worth more to you than one (1) arm and one (1) leg, give these good people a call.

Your Mac Will Start Up, but…

I don't want to give away the plot of the rest of this book, but a few just-after-startup annoyances are so vexing that I'd feel like a heel if I forced you to scamper to the book's index to find assistance.

UH-OH: Your Mac running Mac OS 9.2 or earlier starts up, but only long enough to display an error message before it crashes.

Technically, your Mac has booted successfully, but how helpful is that if, after displaying the desktop for a split-second, your Mac goes kablooey?

Treatment 1: Press Command-Control-Power or the Reset button.

If your Mac won't respond to keyboard or mouse input, it's frozen. To take some of the chill off your Mac, you must force it to restart. One way to restart is to press Command-Control-Power key at the same time. If you Mac doesn't respond to this key combination, press the Reset button on your Mac (a button with a left-pointing triangle).

Treatment 2: Hold down the Shift key at startup.

Yup, it's our old friend Mr. Extension Conflict again. If your Mac behaves after disabling extensions, you'll need to ferret out the troublesome extension or extensions.

Treatment 3: Hold down the spacebar at startup.

If disabling extensions by holding down the Shift key at startup made your Mac a more contented computer, see whether a third-party extension is the cause of your problems. Holding down the spacebar brings up the Extensions Manager as your Mac boots up. When the Extensions Manager window appears, select Mac OS 9.2 Base (or whichever version of the Mac OS you're using) from the Selected Set pop-up menu and restart. If all goes well, reopen Extensions Manager (you can find it in the Control Panels hierarchical menu), select Mac OS 9.2 All (or, again, whichever version of the Mac OS you're using), and restart. If things seem to be hunky-dory, a third-party extension or control panel is the likely culprit.

Treatment 4: Undo your handiwork.

Have you just installed a new piece of software or a peripheral that requires its own special software? If so, restart your Mac by holding down the spacebar at startup to bring up the Extensions Manager. When the Extensions Manager window appears, look for any extensions and control panels related to the item you just installed. If you just installed a new Acme Super-Duper Mouse, for example, and that mouse required you to install the Acme Super-Duper MousePlay extension, locate that extension, and turn it off.

Treatment 5: Benefit from the kindness of strangers.

Casady & Greene (www.casadyg.com) makes a utility that I wouldn't live without: Conflict Catcher. Conflict Catcher earns its daily dollar by locating conflicting extensions and control panels. I think it's worth every penny of the $80 suggested retail price. But why take my word for it when you can download a fully functional demo and see for yourself?

UH-OH: My Mac doesn't recognize such-and-such USB device (printer, removable-media drive, scanner, three-speed blender…).

USB was supposed to put an end to hardware conflicts. It doesn't.

Treatment 1: Search for updated drivers.

USB drivers are updated routinely when folks like you discover these annoying conflicts. Check the peripheral maker's Web site for driver updates, and install any that you find.

Treatment 2: Run Software Update.

The Software Update application included with both Mac OS 9.x and Mac OS X exists solely to keep your Apple software up to date. Apple is also responsible for its share of USB drivers, and Software Update may be able to outfit your Mac with drivers that are more up to date.

Treatment 3: Juggle peripherals.

Certain USB peripherals just don't get along—Zip drives and some printers, for example. Pull the plug on a peripheral, and restart to see whether there's a conflict between that peripheral and another.

Treatment 4: Give 'em enough juice.

Some USB peripherals require more power than an unpowered USB hub or the USB port on your Mac's keyboard can provide. Give a powered USB hub a try.

UH-OH: You've installed Mac OS X, yet you either can't boot or your Mac always starts up with Mac OS 9.

Mac OS X should boot if you've selected it in the Startup Disk control panel, but sometimes, it just won't.

Treatment 1: Be sure that Mac OS X is selected in the Startup Disk control panel (Mac OS 9) or in the Startup Disk System Preferences (Mac OS X).

An obvious suggestion, I know, but double-check anyway.

Treatment 2: On recent-model Macs, hold down the Option key at startup, and select the Mac OS X partition in the resulting screen.

“New world” Macs—Power Mac G4s, iBooks, and recent Power-Books and iMacs—allow you to select a startup disk by holding down the Option key when you start up your Mac. Note: This treatment is a quick fix only. If the Mac believes that it's supposed to boot into Mac OS 9 instead of Mac OS X, it will do just that the next time you restart.

Treatment 3: Insert your Mac OS X CD, restart with the C key held down, and run Disk Utility.

Apple combines Disk First Aid and Drive Setup in a single Mac OS X utility called Disk Utility. When the Mac OS X CD boots into the Mac OS X installer, select Open Disk Utility from the Installer menu, click the First Aid tab, select your Mac OS X drive, and click the Verify button to see what's what. If Disk Utility finds a problem that it can fix, click the Repair button.

Treatment 4: Run a third-party troubleshooting utility.

Current versions of Disk Warrior, TechTool Pro, and Norton Utilities can diagnose and repair Mac OS X volumes. Boot from your troubleshooting utility's CD and examine (and, if necessary, repair) your Mac OS X volume.

Treatment 5: Reinstall Mac OS X.

As I write this chapter in late 2001, we're in the infant days of Mac OS X. Many parts of the new OS are unfinished, and an unfinished operating system sometimes does odd things. Rather than spend hours troubleshooting unusual Mac OS X behavior, I'd simply reinstall the sucker.

UH-OH: Mac OS X displays a spinning beach ball and you can't seem to make anything happen.

Applications in Mac OS X can freeze just as they can in Mac OS 9.2 and earlier.

Treatment 1: Force Quit.

Click any application in the Dock to open it and then select Force Quit from the Apple menu. In the dialog box that appears, select the frozen application (the one in which you see the omnipresent beach ball), and press the Force Quit button. You can Force Quit the Finder too. Just select it and click the Relaunch button.

Treatment 2: Quit from Process Viewer.

The Process Viewer application also allows you to Force Quit applications and background processes. It's possible that the thing that hangs up your Mac is not an application at all but rather a background process such as the Dock. If the regular ol' Force Quit rigmarole doesn't seem to work and you can open Process Viewer, try quitting applications from there.

UH-OH: Mac OS X displays a completely indecipherable string of text and then nothing happens.

Your Mac has just crashed (or “panicked,” in the parlance of Mac OS X).

Treatment 1: Reboot your Mac.

There's nothing else for it. A panicked Mac is one that won't work again until you reboot. Press Command-Control-Power key or the Mac's Reset button.

Treatment 2: See Treatment 1.

UH-OH: Your Mac running Mac OS X continues to panic after each restart.

Panics generally happen just once and then go away. When they don't, something's wrong.

Treatment 1: Check your hardware.

Peripherals attached to your Mac may be in conflict with one another. Detach all peripherals save your keyboard, mouse, and monitor and reboot. If your Mac boots and stays alive with no problem, troubleshoot your hardware.

Treatment 2: Try to remember.

What were you doing before the problem occurred? Did you move files or install new software? If so, try to undo what you did by booting into Mac OS 9.2 or earlier and putting your Mac OS X volume back the way it was before you made the changes that caused this problem. Unlike with earlier versions of the Macintosh operating systems, Mac OS X is very finicky about where certain files and folders are located. If you move them, the Mac may act up.

Treatment 3: Reinstall Mac OS X.

It may be broken beyond repair.

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