painfully slow powerbook


A few weeks ago, I noticed that my 17" Powerbook was starting to slow down significantly. I was also seeing more unexpected application quits than usual--mostly with iChat, Mail, and Firefox (the three applications I use most often).

While I was in DC last week, I stopped in to the Clarendon Apple Store, and chatted with the "geniuses" there. They didn't strike as particularly knowledgeable, alas, and only suggested running Norton Disk Doctor and Speed Disk, which I did that night. NDD found a number of "major errors," which it fixed, and SD said the disk was severely fragmented, and spent 8 hours repairing that. When it was done, the computer seemed to run well again--for about four hours. Then it slowed back down.

After scouring the net for suggestions, I ran Disk Utility (it found no problems), updated the prebinding (which gave a number of "unable to prebind" errors for iPhoto, GarageBand, and other apps), ran all the periodic maintenance tasks, and used Preferential Treatment to check all the .plist files (no problems there). I'm running the most recent version of OS X (10.3.6) with all software updates installed, and Virex running. Running top in the Terminal doesn't seem to show any problematic processes eating up cycles.

But still no significant improvements.

So, I'm thinking the next step is to reinstall OS X. Are there other options I should try first? And if I do reinstall, what's the best way to go about it? I hate the idea of having to totally reinstall all my applications (there are a lot of them), but I'm concerned that if I just back them up, I may end up with the same problems when I copy them back.

Help! I want my reliable, responsive computer back!


Update: Thanks to jeremy hunsinger and Randall Kelly's suggestions, the problem is solved. It was Virex 7.5.1 that was the culprit. When I launched Activity Monitor and sorted processes by CPU usage, the Virex processes were clearly hogging cycles. I downloaded the Virex package from RIT again, and ran the uninstaller. Already everything's moving along at a snappy pace. Hallelujah!


I'm actually having similar issues with my 12" powerbook right now. Firefox is crashing more than usual, I had a nice little kernel panic last night, and I can feel the HD thrashing under my hands as I do the most mundane of tasks (such as type this comment).

I'd love to see any suggestions that people have. I'm a bit concerned about this problem because I just got my powerbook back from apple repair about two months ago wherein they replaced the harddrive and power unit. Leading up to this repair, the powerbook got increasingly slower and then it began throwing data read/write errors until finally it wouldn't boot.

So I'm hoping this isn't an unfortunate case of foreshadowing... But I guess we'll see.

I'm in the market for a laptop, and was considering "switching," but this concerns me. Not just your posting, mind you, but comments from other Apple owners. What does "more than usual" mean? I've had MS Office quit on me once or twice, but running XP, I don't think I've ever had a Firefox crash, and I've never BSDed the thing. I'm no huge fan of MS, but it seems they (finally) have a working OS product, and I'm a bit worried about making the switch if I'm going to have to be facing all these problems.

I'm not entirely a Mac newbie. I used to run a mixed lab of G4s and PCs. And frankly, the G4s crashed at least as often as the PCs did. I am willing to accept a level of "irrational exuberance" for the Macs, but I don't want to pay a $500 premium if cult membership requires overlooking regular, if infrequent, crashes.

How much free space do you have on your boot drive? A drive that is almost full will exhibit the type of problems you are describing.

My 14 inch 2 year old i-book has never slowed down or crashed. I have it updated to 10.3.6. I use the basic i-life programs. I use Safari as opposed to firefox. I don't think the problems described are widespead. The only slowdowns I have experiance with are the spywarestuff on other peoples Winndows machines.

Anon, the disk was very full (53 out of 55 available GB used) before I tried all my maintenance, but as a part of that process I moved 15GB of media files onto an external drive, and emptied the trash.

Alex, this is the first time in years of Mac use that I've had any kind of problem like this. Prior to this slowdown, I would very infrequently have a browser choke on a poorly implemented Java applet or shockwave file, and I'd have to force-quit from the application. But the computer itself never hung (and still isn't, actually). I've never had any kernel panic or full computer freezes.

I suspect that you can find power users of all platform persuasions who can related troublesome interactions with their computers. :) All in all, I figure my satisfaction level is significantly higher with the Mac, even with recent frustrations factored in.

As a follow up , bad RAM or incompatable RAM typically causes symptoms like those described.

mine does this when i get less than 4gb left on the hd, which is rare. you've freed up the space of course, fixed the prebindings, so that is the general stuff. which version of virex are you using? after i installed the new virex, my system slowed to a crawl, it installed some apps that start up automatically and just ate my memory, so i turned off all of those, and things went back to normal.

as for crashing, occasionally my system crashes, maybe once a month, but i'm beginning to suspect that it more the hd, and my extensive use than anything else. the longest uptime i've had on a mac is around 300 days, but these days, with the system updates coming once every two months, those stats are more average. my laptop a g4/1ghz/512/60 generally goes around 20-30 days without reboot though, so it does alright.

I have to concur with Liz that I've only had one problem with my Powerbooks (we have his and her 15" powerbooks in the house). While that one was rather frustrating at the time overall our machines have outperformed all of the Wintel desktops and laptops I've ever had hands down. I don't see myself switching back as long as Apple keeps up the good work.

To Liz's problem: have you noticed it getting better if you shut off your machine and let it cool down?

Almost a year ago I noticed my then 9 month old powerbook mysteriously slowing down for no apparent reason. I also noticed a whirring sound (the fan?) going on a lot more then usual. This kept getting worse while I was away for the holidays I (sadly) trying to keep working. The night we made it back home it suddenly shut off and would restart. (It was the evening of Dec 30 to be exact -- nothing like spending New Year's Eve in the Apple store. The line of people who got iPods for christmas and were trying to get them to work with their cheap or old Windows machines was almost comical.)

I went to the Soho store the next day. It worked fine when I started it up for the geniuses. First they thought my hard disk was going bad. We started making a backup as that ran the machine kept slowing down until it almost stopped like before. On a hunch we shut it down and let it cool for a bit. (I rarely shut off my machine.) Tried the copy again and it worked (slow, but it wasn't "frozen") and got slower as the machine got hotter. So while it appeared that the disk was failing it seemed to be related to a heat issue. They replaced the hard drive (anyway). Didn't help. They replaced the system board. Still had trouble. Finally they just replaced it because it was taking them too long to figure out why I was having a this issue. Never had a problem like that again.

One interesting tidbit one of the geniuses told me (I was there for 6 hours) was that Apple does not call their machine laptops because they know they can run hot enough to burn a person if they put it on their lap. Hence legal won't let the term be used in their marketing. She also mentioned that is important that your machine does not sit flat for long periods of time on a surface that works as an insultator. The heat is transferred out the bottom and if its sitting on a soft surface like a matress the heat just builds up and makes the

At the time I worked 8-12 hours a day on our dining room table (ah, city apartment life!) which had a table cloth and other padding under it. This may have been part of why mine started to go south like it did. I'm much more careful about how long and were I have my machine sitting and have never had an issue. I still never turn my machine off though. Old habits die hard. ;)

One last thing, I seem to recall Apple recalling certain Powerbook batteries for a heat issue. Perhaps that was my machines problem -- that all happened before that recall. Perhaps your machine has one of those batteries.

Just throwing some thing out there. Hopefully this diatribe was helpful and provide some clues. Good luck.

Good Morning. Virex is the most likely proplem. This is a well know issue and you can see the issue explained at:

Good Luck.

Two or three weeks ago the battery on my 12" powerbook started lasting only 2 hours as compared to 3 1/2 and also Firefox has been crashing daily, which rarely happened before. Oh, and there are corrupted photos in iPhoto and it's slower than usual.

("Crashing" means the application becomes unresponsive and you have to click "force quit" and 3 seconds later you can restart the program and it works fine - you don't have the restart the computer. It's still annoying, and rarely happened before.)

The battery issue may be connected to the latest automatic system update, to 10.3.6 according to speculations at the mac support site. Of course no one official will confirm that.

I should try defragmenting my disk and all.

If you do have to reinstall, what is nice about OS X, is that you can archive and install thus retaining all your settings.
As for me, I have had my ibook for a couple of years and only restart after updates. Otherwise it is always on with no performance loss.

just cause i didn't provide the easy solution... i see how it is.

If you're using Virex 7.5.1, it is definitely contributing to your slowdown (no matter what I turned off in the preferences, Virex would still run in the background, using 15 to 20% of the available processor cycles). Your hard disk being nearly full is a second contributor. My guess is that your latest OS version is trying to help you out by defragmenting the disk where it can, but there's just not enough free space to be found.

Yes, Virex was definitely the primary culprit. I suspect what happened was that the disk being overfull started the problem, and when I installed Virex as a part of the "solution" I replaced one problem with another.

Now that I've got 15GB of free space, and no Virex, things seem to be working properly again.

Even the Cisco VPN that had stopped working, claiming that the subsystem was not available, is now functioning again.

Liz, Virex 7.5/7.5.1 can use up some processor cycles in the background. It's a new feature of the application -- background scanning -- that earlier versions of Virex did not have on Mac OS X. This background scanning also affects disk usage, which can be more noticeable on PowerBooks. If the disk is always being accessed, then the laptop's fan is more likely to kick in.

From my experience, I agree that it can make some systems less responsive overall.

Please feel free to report issues like this -- that you installed Virex, your computer slowed down, you uninstalled it, and it sped back up -- to the ITS HelpDesk. This gives us actual customer comments we can use in our relationship with McAfee.

You may want to subscribe to our MacTech discussion list for campus, to bring up these kinds of topics. (It's low traffic.) We've also got some Virex-related pages in our recent updates list.

I'd be always cautious on letting hard disk space get too short. I'd also suggest getting a copy of (free) MacJanitor:

that will run a number of unix clean-up routines that are typically done on start-up-- like many happy Mac folks, I leave my laptops running all the time, and only restart when something very bad happens (rare;y) or in a re-install.

I do all my web development, graphics, and video editing on a G4 PB-- and enjoy being able to run any app on the laptop that I run on my webserver.

since you have prebinding problems, download the free utility "Maintain". Try www.macupdate,com. Use it to repair permissions as it uses the Terminal and picks up on unfixable files. If you see files that can't be processed, then these need to be replaced (tricky--email me for how). then you'd need to do a prebinding using Maintain and restart.

I always top -ua (sort by cpu usage, show cumulative processor time used) to show me what's taking up all my CPU cycles.

I have found a new freeware utility that I really like because of its ease and simplicity. You just start it and in 10-15 minutes it does all the cleaning up that needs to be done and reboots:
A lot easier than similar tools that I have seen, and does a great job too.

Hey - I have a 15" PowerBook and have been having the exact speed problems described here and have had NO LUCK fixing it.
I have at least 25G available on my harddrive and DO NOT have VIREX at all on my computer. Any help would be much appreciated. THanks.

I'm having the smae problem with my 12" powerbook G4. My hard drive seems louder and I recently reinstalled everything but it didn't seem to help a whole lot. Sometimes the computer runs fine but other times it is just painfully slow and takes for ever to complete tasks. I can move the mouse around fine though. I have lots of ram and I ran diagnostic tests and everything came out fine but maybe it is because my hard drive is failing. If anybody has any advice tht would be great. I am not running any firewall or antivirus software right now. And I have tonsof memory space available. But I don't like to turn my computer off either.

I've had similiar problems of creeping slowness with my 15" PB. Talking with Apple Care about it, I was told to follow these steps: remove the battery and unplug the power cord. Next, press and hold down the start button for about 8 seconds. Now, put the battery back in and reconnect to the power supply. You'll need to reset the clock and date.

From what the guy at Apple Care told me, the PowerBooks build up a charge of static electricity over time, and this operation clears the electrical circuits. He said I might need to repeat this operation about every six months, but not to do it frequently.

I don't know if it were this operation that made the difference (because I also did a full reinstall of Mac OS 10.4.4 and all my programs, just to tidy things up), but I'm now seeing a quick boot-up.

Aside from that tip, and as you note, certain maintenance tasks need to be performed regularly by Mac OS X. A program like Jim Mitchell's YASU ( helps insure these get done. Also, disk utility should be used regularly to repair the authorisations. However, I was surprised to read that NDD said you had a severely fragmented disk. According to Apple's web site (, file fragmenation is no longer an issue under Mac OS X; the whole business is handled differently.

I have an aluminium 15" PB. Same thing for me, noisier hard drive about three weeks ago and intolerable slow downs and crashes. I have run disk utility, downloaded maintenance programs et al, and no improvement. Finally resorted to reinstalling OSX to see if it will improve. I must admit I am tempted to go back to a PC. I thought this did not happen on Mac's.

Let me be one of the first long and hardened apple user to tell you that apple is a disaster.Plain and simple.It is a mythology upheld by gimmickery and hype.
I learned the hard way.
I have so many problems with my g4 power book that I dont know where to begin apart from a pathetic beachball rolling around forever on it.
I was told in the apple store to buy a new one.It was after a long series of operations and queries which went beyond its warrenty and simply became expensive and futile.
I bought the macbook and low and behold the thing is slowly falling to pieces..
The same types of hints begin as with the g4 but different implosions...At least its fast now but its slowing inch by inch...the fan is flunking out after only three months and the battery is completly destroyed.
Problems with mac?
You are certainly not alone and there is nothing you can do.
Beleive me..I loved my mac ..MACS...
but really if you want a computer which works...
Dont get a mac..
It upsets me to say this..
Its like accepting when i was a child that maybe santa really didnt exist ..
mac is rubbish.

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry published on December 12, 2004 10:43 AM.

"there's something big happening" was the previous entry in this blog.

first trip to the middle east! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Category Archives