Mac OS X slowdown truly licked (I think) plus hats off to the Mac community

by Uche Ogbuji

I'll start with the thanks. I've received bundles of blog comments and personal e-mail messages with helpful ideas and very patient tutoring regarding my OS X problems. I've always been lucky to roll in congenial 'Net company. From the early C++ community (before eventual insanity set in) to the early Linux community to the early Python community, I've seen the best that brilliant and dedicated interest groups can offer a newbie willing to do some homework. My experiences so far with OS X folks matches up against all the above. Thanks guys.

So I hope you don't take it the wrong way when I say that as for the issue at hand, I tried as much was was practical from your suggestions with no luck. I had just decided: No mas. I surrender. Time to reinstall. I was in the middle of a glacial job of backing up by tarring to our household backup server before a reinstall. using tar. Then I heard of the OS X 10.3.7 release. I have always suspected 10.3.6. I know many of you run it without problems but the timing for me and for many others I've seen on the Net is just too much coincidence for my skeptic taste.

So I upgraded to 10.3.7 and the problem has vanished. Everythign is snapy again. Lori has stopped abusing me for buying her a Mac (easy now, she likes the computer, but she became very frustrated when it became unusable). My opinion is that OS X 10.3.6 had a bug that only affected some users, and that we were among the unlucky, and that they fixed it in 10.3.7. That's cool and all, but I must say that I wish such breaks and fixes wouldn't come and go in such mystery. I think Apple has a lot of opening up todo, but that's the subject of another blog. For now, it's all love.

Before I put this issue behind me (I hope), here are some brief notes in response to the many thoughtful suggestions:

A lot of people mentioned disk damage as a likely culprit. Some pointed me to this helpful article about running Disk Utility (or fsck). This seemed reasonable, since my one brief reprieve from the problem had come after running repair permissions. I dutifully tried both Disk Utility and fsck, neither found anything wrong, and I was right back to the problem upon full boot. I think Apple tech support also instructed Lori to do this when she first reported the problem, but it was worth my trying personally. One note is that in safe mode everything was nice and fast, but back in regular start-up (regardless of the user) it was dog slow. Perhaps it was a kernel extenson in that case, but I had no idea how to start narrowing down which was the culprit.

Some suggested DiskWarrior, a third-party tool, but one that has received an impressive shelf of accolades. Apparently it can fix some problems that elude all other tools, including those built into OS X. Problem 1 is that it costs $80, but that's a bargain if I were confident that it would do the trick. Problem 2 is that it is not even really advertized as a performance elixir. It's advertized more as a wicked sharp disk error recovery tool. A bit more lumber than we need overall, and not an obvious enticement to spend a speculative $80.

Some suggested DNS issues. This doesn't seem at all likely. The slowdown affects launch of applications that have nothing to do with networking, yet networking applications such as Safari don't seem in any more distress than any other counterparts. What's more, if I do basic lookups on the command line, once the command line applet itself has taken ages to start up, network responses are immediate.

Apparently HP printer drivers, have been the source of some reported problems, but these problems are a matter of chewing up CPU. Once again, Activity monitor shows plenty of CPU idle left. CPU utilization is not the problem here (nor is memory).

I checked for third-party extensions and all that. /System/Library/Extensions has tons of ".kext" file (kernel extensions, I presume) but I can't tell which would be 3rd-party, nor did I feel confident just deleting the lot. In /Library/StartupItems I did find a file "Wacom" which might correspond to an old Wacom tablet which I'd forgotten we'd installed (we hardly used it). Deleting that file didn't make a difference.

Some thought that the fact that we'd made incremental updates from 10.3.0 to 10.3.6 caused a few gaps and fissures in things and that we should just use the "combo updater" (new concept for me) to go back to 10.3.0 and make the leap back to 10.3.6 in one go. Sounded plausible and all, but if it were the problem wouldnit it have got worse with 10.3.7, rather than better?

Here is a quote from one sugghestion:

[T]he Jan 2005 issue of MacAddict addresses
the "lazy Mac" (p.20: "your Mac isn't as snappy as it used to be").
They start by recommending a reboot and then checking Activity Monitor,
but eventually they recommend running the $15 shareware Cocktail,
which would have worked (as "repair permissions" is one of its

Seems like useful into to keep in mind, though I don't know how Cocktail would compare to DiskWarrior and other similar packages.

Bottom line now: my wife is happy so I'm happy. Thanks to Apple for the fix, and thanks to the OS X community for such solid support.


2004-12-23 13:28:25
Repair filesystem != Repair permissions
Because Disk Utility has two sets of buttons on it:
"Repair Disk"
"Repair Permissions",
many people confuse these two entirely separate operations.
The first does a filesystem repair, using 'fsck' behind the scenes.
The second looks at the files in the folder /Library/Receipts and ensures that the file permissions match those specified by the installers. It also fixes up some things on the boot drive that are commonly screwed up by misinformed utilities or users.

Thus your comment:

"A lot of people mentioned disk damage as a likely culprit. Some pointed me to this helpful article about running Disk Utility (or fsck). This seemed reasonable, since my one brief reprieve from the problem had come after running repair permissions."

is a bit off.