Mac OS X system slowdown problem persists

by Uche Ogbuji

I'd thought the disk permissions fix had solved the problem, but after a couple of days of use, the slowdown suddenly resumed. Repairing permissions again seemed to fix it again, but for less than a day. I'm beginning to think that maybe permissions have nothing to do with the problem.

Again the machine is taking forever to boot. Applications such as Safari and Activity Monitor take up to ten minutes to launch. Response to UI mouse click events such as basic menu selection or clicking icons is a matter of minutes, with the spinning ball of death churning all the while. The machine is basically unusable. Yet window drawing and the like seems snappy enough, so it seems system load isn't a likely factor, and indeed Activity Monitor displays 80% CPU idle, 250MB memory "inactive", 96GB free, 3GB VM size (we've cleared it so that the hard disk has 36GB free).

I'm pondering downgrading back from 10.3.6 to 10.3.5, since most corroborating reports of this bug I've seen suggest that the OS upgrade might have been the culprit. I suppose a re-install is another option, but that seems like such a slash-and-pray solution, one I might more likely expect for a Windows set-up.

Again this is frustrating because as I said earlier "Lori's iMac usage is about as plain jane as it comes. We have hardly any third-party software on it, and the only third party app I'd describe as a "utility" is Roxio's CD/DVD burning software, which we rarely use. Pretty much all we run on it regularly is Safari, Mail, iTunes, iDVD and iPhoto. I've used Keynote for a couple of presentations..." I expect such odd problems on machines where I program, play with exotic progrsm, and more.

Has anyone heard of a reliable fix for this bug?


2004-12-07 03:52:11
Don't know if it will help, but...

I've had a similar problem some time ago, the system also crashed. I ended up finding that it was because the sysctl kern.maxvnodes variable was somehow changed to a very low value.

Try doing a pstat -T and comparing that with the value returned by sysctl kern.maxvnodes. See if the values are low (mine was set to around 2000). Do check the logs also.

2004-12-07 05:03:26
A couple of things to try
I had the same symptoms on a dual 2GHz G5 a while back; I traced the problem to Virex (which I had recently upgraded through .Mac), and I had to undertake a very thorough cleaning of the /System and/or /Library folders to exorcise it. As I said, the symptoms matched: glacially slow launch times for almost any app, and the CPUs remained almost completely idle. Weird.

I also have occasional problems with the software for my HP all-in-one printer running away with CPU cycles, but the CPU guage (and G5's fans) are a pretty good indicator of when this is happening... ;-)

2004-12-07 07:06:01
Check your ram
One of the most common problems with slowdowns and crashes is bad ram. I didn't read the earlier installment, so I don't know if you machine is stock, but you might want to try pulling any 3rd party ram to see if that cures the problem.

Or, even try pulling the stock ram - that sometimes is the culprit.

2004-12-07 07:15:47
Run Cocktail
I just quickly glanced through the earlier post, and I couldn't find any mention of running system maintenance tools. Have you tried running Cocktail to repair permissions, rebind the system, and clean out all of the caches? The latter might be the root of the problem.

I'm actually a bit surprised that no one recommended this yet, especially because your hard drive was pretty full. The other thing to try is to run DiskWarrior to rebuild the hard drive's directory - your directory could be all screwy.

2004-12-07 07:45:21
other stuff
See if you have limewire installed, Ive seen that slow my machine to a crawl. Also you could remove the 10.3.6 pkg file in the /Library/Receits/ and try reinstall the combo updater, see if that works. Download the combo updater, dont use SW update. Also diskwarrior would be a great idea to try.
2004-12-07 09:51:11
maintenance cleanup and activity monitor
There is a task that is set to run in the wee hours of the morning that rotates log files and regenereates some databases like the locate and whatis. If your machine is not on at the time it doesn't run. I wonder if the logs are getting too big, and causing some of this. Try a program called MacJanitor to run these programs right away.

Also, have you done analysis with the activity monitor app while safari is taking too long to launch? Is there a cpu hog, is there a lot of paging going on because of two little memory? Most of the time when things slow down for me, it's because I am running out of disk space, there is a cpu hog, or the system is paging to disk because I have to little free memory available to run multiple programs at once. All of this can be looked at in activity monitor app.

2004-12-07 11:03:15
Thanks to all for the suggestions. Scatter-shot answers here
We do not have Virex installed. We avoided it precisely because of many problem reports on the net. I suppose this means that we could have some sort of virus...

sysctl kern.maxvnodes returns 9216. pstat -T also gives 9216 vnodes.

We do have HP printer software installed, but I'm not finding anything at all that is actually chewing up CPU during the slowdown.

The slowdown started on 100% stock hardware. i did upgrade the RAM on the off chance it was the problem, but I doubt very much that both the old, stock DIMM and the new (brand new Kindston RAM) both happen to be bad.

I have heard of some of those systems and disk repair utilities, but on most of them, for every glowing recommendation, I see a complaint that it messed up someone's system in some way. I'll try further review of Cocktail, DiskWarrior and MacJanitor and report back if I do go through with them.

I don't have limewire installed. I'm not sure what a "combo updater" is. I guess I'll have to do some googling to see exactly what the suggested step means in concrete actions.

The machine *is* usually on in the wee hours of the morning. I must note the amusing contradiction of the Apple tech support folks who insist Macs are meant to be shut down and restarted daily, and the idea of the (UNIX-like) systems maintenance scripts designed to run in the wee hours.

To the load monitor suggestion, I already addressed this in the main article. To wit:

"Activity Monitor displays 80% CPU idle, 250MB memory "inactive", 96GB free, 3GB VM size (we've cleared it so that the hard disk has 36GB free)."

I've never seen any one process in the process listing of AM show more than 5% CPU utilization.

I did just notice more detail on this point. When I click to launch an application, there is an immediate 1 second long CPU (User) spike (not surprising) which immediately drops down to the usual 80% or so idle, while the app is taking its 5+ minutes to appear. The process listing does list the app in red with (Hung) by the process name, until (without any further intervention by me) the app eventually comes up, at which point the Hung designator disappears.

2004-12-07 11:33:29
How about the network? DNS resolution can cause applications to slow down a lot, just another shot in the dark.
2004-12-07 12:19:32
HP Printer Driver?
I once read about possible HP driver issue, perhaps it's still un-resolved?

2004-12-07 16:19:17
error messages? vanilla?
1) Run the "Console" application (under /Applications/Utilities) and look for relevant error messages.

2) Make sure your system is vanilla:
Look in /System/Library/Extensions for 3rd-party kernel extensions and uninstall them. Similarly for 3rd-party items under /System/Library/SystemConfiguration
Similarly remove all StartupItems from /Library/StartupItems and all login startup items from the Accounts preference pane (remove them not just uncheck them).

2004-12-07 16:30:40
repair filesystem
I just looked back over the previous article and nowhere do I see mention of you having done the most fundamental troubleshooting procedure: repairing the filesystem.
A corrupted filesystem is the most common cause for a slow boot up.

You can do this with Disk Utility ("Repair Disk") after booting from the Install CD, or from the command-line ('fsck -fy') after booting into single-user mode.
See this Apple doc for details:

2004-12-08 03:03:44
If still stuck trying OSX Discussions
Hi Uche,

I'm a bit out of time to say much, but if you're still stuck, try posting a Q on Apple's "Using OSX Discussion" forum. People there are pretty good about helping out.

2004-12-08 03:23:44
Thanks to all for the suggestions. Scatter-shot answers here
Combo updaters update more broadly than the specific updaters. Hope I get this right: from all minor releases within the current major release and for all currently supported hardware variants. Software Update no doubt just picks up the most specific (and hence smallest) update.

Most of the things I'd suggest you try seem to be covered in:

2004-12-08 04:14:55
Having pstat -T and the kern.maxvnodes return the same value is not good news, it means the system has no more free vnodes to allocate. If you restart the system and it gets faster then that might be the problem.

Check out the latest in system adjustments and Tuning maxvnodes for better system peformance.

2004-12-09 02:33:29
same issue
The same issue seemed to occur this morning on my iMac which I upgraded to 10.3.6 about a week ago.

Everything was incredibly sluggish, even the boot process.

I ran some of the cron jobs manually:

sudo periodic daily
sudo periodic weekly
sudo periodic monthly

I also installed the recent security update at the same time and then did a restart and the problem seems to have gone.

2004-12-11 07:55:05
repair filesystem
This was also what I was going to suggest. If you get some errors the first time that fsck says it fixed, make sure you run it again.

If it still finds errors, then it is time to get DiskWarrior, as that is almost guaranteed to fix any HD problems.

All the other suggestions that I read are much more then you generally need to worry about.
2004-12-14 12:15:55
Toss perferences?
I had a user complain about this today.
I switch to another personality and the slowdown disapeared. I switch back to her personality and tossed out some of her preferences and it solved the problem. They are in /users/theirname/library/perferences/*.plist


2004-12-18 17:36:22
Tossing out preferences
My Powerbook G4 started showing these exact same symptoms yesterday.

I tried fixing the permissions (repeatedly), but the problem occured again after a short period of 'back to normal'.

Right now it keeps freezing intermittently.

While knowing I'm not the only one with this problem has taken the blind edge off my panic, I would really appreciate it if you could elaborate of 'tossing out preferences'. Which preferences did you remove? Or did you toss out all of them?