Minimising the frequency of OS X crashes

A few nights ago my MBP acted up again. Or rather, my OS X crashed. Again. When I booted up my Mac, it only showed the desktop and nothing else. No status bar, no desktop icons. Just the wallpaper and the rolling beachball.

Recovering from the crash it was simple.

  1. I booted up my Mac with the installation DVD.
  2. Chose to reinstall OS X with the “Archive and Install” option (see this and this from Apple Support). The “Archive and Install” option would keep my existing files and settings intact.
  3. After that, I did several sounds of Software Updates to get my Mac up to speed.
  4. Once I confirmed the Mac is running OK, I went to the HDD/ System folder and deleted the “Recovered” folders. Apparently when you do an “Archive and Install”, all the system files will be copied here. Deleting those files freed up my much needed HDD space.

Actually — if I’d read this Apple Support article first, I would have tried using Disk Utility (available from the boot DVD) to verify and repair the volume:

Start up from your Mac OS X Install Disc 1 or Install DVD. If you have different versions of Mac OS X Installer discs (for example, if your computer came with version 10.3 and you later purchased and installed version 10.4), start from the disc that most closely matches the installed Mac OS X version. Usually, that’s the latest (newer) version.

Usually, you can start from the disc by putting it in your computer, restarting, and holding the C key. Or, put it in the computer and click the Install or Restore icon you see in the disc’s main window (after which the computer will start from the disc without you needing to hold C.)


Anyway, I managed to reinstall OS X. It didn’t take too long, and I took the chance to clean up my HDD. I was also curious why the crash seemed to happen with increasing frequency. It was the 2nd time in a year I’ve had to perform a reinstall (previous was in May ’09thereabouts). I’ve had my Mac for almost 4 years and previous 3 years have been problem free. Now it seemed to act up.

I wrote to the folks at ME@N. Said it didn’t seem like a hardware problem and wondered if it had anything to do with HDD space. When the crashed happened this time, my HDD space was about 8GB left.

I asked if there was anything I could do to minimise such disruptions? Or if reinstalls are unavoidable, did the group have tips to make things smoother, e.g. What installation files or software update packages to keep on hand etc.

RESPONSES (thanks to Adrian Tan, Hanx and Siva):

  • “do a clone backup of your bootup drive. This would make it faster to get you up to speed simce then you would only need to clone the backup from the backup to your main drive. And plus you can still use your computer. I personally use superduper.” [Adrian Tan]
  • “there probably are some file/folder permissions being messed up. Next time it happens (seems likely given your description :), do a repair permissions in Disk Utility. If you can’t even log in, you can use the Disk Utility on the Install DVD to do it. Probably some rogue application not setting things properly after it quits. Also possible if you had been force quitting applications thereby not allowing them to “clean things up”. [hanx]
  • “There is Onyx – try its ‘Display of Folders Content: Rebuild’. You may need to free up disk space to 15%.” [Siva]

There was a general agreement that my crash could be due to my Force Quitting the apps. I recall having to Force Quit GarageBand several times before each crash, so that reinforces that train of thought. Siva added that having to Force Quit the app could also be a sign of a full HDD.

Now, I’ll make it a point to run Disk Utility to repair file permissions regularly. And I’ve also freed up 20GB worth of space by transferred files to external drives (those video and music files were just sitting in my HDD). I’ll make sure whatever is on my HDD is mainly working files.

Macintosh HD - Disk Utility