TUNING UP A MACINTOSH COMPUTER.....I receive numerous emails and calls asking for help with tuning up home computers. I write this page in the hope that it will be helpful to individuals experiencing problems. As much as these machines act as if they have minds of their own, they obviously do not. Sometimes, though, they need a little "TLC" and this page should provide you with the skills to provide just that. This page will focus on MACINTOSH computers. I know a little about PC's but not enough to interest anyone. I do know Macs fairly well though.

MAC OS9 (Older Macs)

There is a big argument as to whether or not you should shut off your Mac when it is not in use. Bits of information can be misplaced or lost whenever a computer is shut down so most Mac experts advocate leaving them on 24 hours a day. I went through a period of time when I never shut down my Mac. The result was a machine that ran beautifully and required little tune-up, but the fan started making noise and needed replacement. To me the best idea is to simply go through proper shutdown procedures. The standard method for shutting down properly is to go to "special" in the file menu, and select "shut down". A proper shut down should normally protect your valuable data. If your computer "freezes" you may have to unplug the machine or turn it off. If this happens you should immediately "rebuild the desktop" (The procedure is described below.)

START OVER: A couple of years ago I was asked to write down the one thing to do that is most helpful when working with an unresponsive computer. I suggested going to "special" in the file menu on Macs and choosing "restart". This helps more often than not.

REBUILDING THE DESKTOP: The desktop file contains some invisible files which track information on your hard drive. Because these files can become corrupted, it is necessary to replace them from time to time. I routinely do this about once a week on the machine I use most frequently, and once a month on my other two Macs. When you start up your Mac or when you do a "restart" from "special" in the file menu, simply hold down the "command" or "apple" key and the "option" key until a dialog box appears asking you if you really want to rebuild the desktop. Release the keys, click the "OK" button, and give the machine a few moments to do its thing. Actually Apple says that the only way to completely rebuild your desktop is to start up with extensions off and then do the rebuild procedure. So if the foregoing doesn't seem to do the job for you do a "restart" while holding down the "shift" key to turn off extensions. When the message that extensions are off comes on the screen, quickly release the "shift" key and hold down the "command" and "option" keys until you can "OK" the rebuild. You'll then have to do another "restart" since you started up with extensions off. In short, rebuilding the desktop is the single best and least complicated tune-up procedure for the Mac.

ZAPPING THE PRAM: The PRAM - parameter RAM - pronounced pee-ram - is a tiny bit of memory that, among other things, stores your control panel settings. PRAM never gets shut down because it's kept active by the battery in your Mac. Still, it can become corrupted after months of use. It needs to be zapped (restored to default) from time to time. I do mine about once a year. Older Macs can be zapped by using a slightly different process, but ALL Macs up to system X can be zapped by holding down the "Command" or "apple" key, the "option" key, along with the "P" and "R" keys at the time of start up (not restart). This is a stretch, so you might need an extra pair of hands from a willing volunteer! Hold down those keys until you hear the start-up chord three times, and then release them immediately to let your Mac finish the start-up. Plan on resetting some settings on your computer after zapping (such as reselecting your printer in the "Chooser".)

DISK FIRST AID: Locate the CD that came with your Mac and start up from that CD. Usually this is done by starting up while holding down the "C" key. Once your Mac is fully restarted, click on "Disk First Aid". This will launch a diagnostic utility which will diagnose problems and fix them as well. Simply follow on-screen commands and click "fix" whenever you're given that option. Finally, do a restart and remove the disk.

TRASH FINDER PREFERENCES: Preferences can also become corrupted. When the machine starts acting "goofy" go into the HardDrive/SystemFolder/Preferences and scroll down to "Finder Preferences". Drag the "Finder Preferences" to the "Trash". After doing this immediately do a "restart" and the machine will build another fresh set of "Finder Preferences" automatically. Empty the trash to get rid of the old corrupted preferences. This is a good fix that lots of Mac users don't know about. Just be very careful that you are trashing the "Finder Preferences" and not the "Finder" as trashing the "Finder" is really bad and will require quite a bit of work to reinstall (the Mac will NOT automatically build a new "Finder".

REINSTALL APPLICATIONS: Boot up from your system CD while holding down the "C" key. Click on "Restore Applications" and let your Mac do its thing. This reinstalls all of the original applications that came with your Mac in a fresh, non-corrupted version. If you have applications installed that didn't originally come with your Mac you'll have to reinstall them separately.

REINSTALL THE OPERATING SYSTEM: This can be a scary fix because you know that you're going to lose everything on your hard drive except what was there originally. So be certain you back up everything you want to save. You can reinstall your additional software, documents, etc. after your system is fully restored. Again, as with reinstalling applications, boot up from your system CD while holding down the "C" key. Click on "Restore All Software" and let the Mac take over.

DUMP COOKIES: Cookies are tiny bits of information stored in your internet browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.) that assist your computer when surfing the internet. Thousands can accumulate in your Browser's cookie folder and it should be emptied every once-in-a-while as huge numbers of them can cause your browser to be sluggish. All browsers are a little bit different but with your browser active, look under the Edit Menu (can be under a different menu title on some browsers) for "Preferences" or "Options" and when that menu opens, look for "cookies". Click "delete cookies" or "empty cookies" button.

EJECT DISC (Disc will not eject from CD/DVD drive) Here's a little trick I learned out of desperation one fine Sunday morning. Restart your Mac while holding down the mouse button. On most models, maybe all models, this will eject the disc as the computer starts up.

FINALLY... Well, there you have the short of Mac tune up. There is much more but these are the main things you need to know to get up and running when you face problems.

Interestingly, I was talking to a PC Tech a while back. We happened to be talking about PC and Mac tune-up problems. He said that over 90% of the PC problems could be fixed with relatively simple tune-up procedures. I'd echo that for the Mac, and I've tried to cover those procedures here.

Let me close by saying that in my estimation the Macintosh is a wonderful machine. The Mac is easy to use, has a friendly userface, is undergoing exciting developments, and incorporates fun features for gaming, internet, and graphics. Mac users tend to be loyal (almost fanatics) to Apple (I am). PC's are manufactured by so many companies that they simply dwarf Apple in sales. You can usually buy a PC for a lot less money (even far more than half), hence their popularity. Like a friend of mine says, "I'll enjoy my Mac. I'd much rather drive a Caddy than a Chevie."

MAC OSX (Newer Macs)

There are two main things to remember when optimizing your Mac running OSX (newer Macs). "Repair Disk Permissions" and "Repair Disk". Otherwise, from the above discussion of older Macs, the following also will pertain: START OVER, REINSTALL APPLICATIONS, REINSTALL THE OPERATING SYSTEM, EJECT DISC and DUMP COOKIES (plus a couple of new ones).

GENERAL TUNE-UP AND MAINTENANCE: I use Onyx for general tune-ups on my Macs. It is available as a free download at: the Titanium Software website. I use this one a lot and it can solve a lot of problems. A relative new software download for me is Tinker Tool. You can download this software HERE. I have only run this software once and that was a few minutes ago. It seems to go a bit deeper into the system than Onyx but I'm not deleting Onyx from my applications folder quite yet. Part of the problem with Tinker Tool is they give you five "evaluation" runs and at that point the software isn't free. It isn't expensive though, running around ten euros or $14 or so. So what am I saying? I'm saying that I will continue to use Onyx but Tinker Tool is a good piece of software that we should know about.

REPAIRING DISK PERMISSIONS: With your computer started and no additional software active, click on the following - "Go/Utilities/Disk Utility and in the resultant screen highlight your hard drive (on the top left - click once to highlight). Then click the button named "Repair Disk Permissions". I tend to do this everytime I install new software - other times as well but particularly when any new software is installed - even Apple software.

VERIFY HARD DRIVE: From the same screen that you used to Repair Permissions, you can verify your hard drive and see if it needs repair. To do this simply click the "Verify Disk" button.

REPAIRING HARD DRIVE: Normally your disk will not need repair but if it does you will need to do that after starting up from your system install disk. To start from your install disk, insert your disk, hold down the "C" key, and restart your machine. Release the "C" key after you see the grey Apple. At the first screen click the arrow at the bottom right of the screen. At the second screen go to the top menu items and follow this string: "Utilities"/"Disk Utility". On the "Disk Utility" screen click "Macintosh H.D." once to highlight and then click "Repair Disk". After the Disk is repaired close out by going to "Disk Utility" in the top menu and choose "Quit Disk Utility". After it quits you will see the "Installer" screen. Go to "Installer" in the top menu and choose "Quit". Then choose "Restart".

1. Shut down the computer.
2. Locate the following keys on the keyboard: Command, Option, P, and R. You will need to hold these keys down simultaneously in step 4.
3. Turn on the computer.
4. Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
5. Hold the keys down until the computer restarts and you hear the startup sound for the second time.
6. Release the keys.

Your computer's PRAM and the NVRAM are reset to the default values. The clock settings may have to be reset to a default date on some models.

START UP IN SAFE MODE OR SAFE BOOT If you're using Mac OS X 10.2 or later, you can start up your computer in Safe Mode, which includes an automatic disk check and repair.

To start up in Safe Mode or to Safe Boot, do this:
1. Be sure the computer is shut down.
2. Press the power button.
3. Immediately after you hear the startup tone, press and hold the Shift key. Tip: The Shift key should be held as soon as possible after the startup tone but not before.
4. Release the Shift key when you see the gray Apple and progress indicator which looks like a small spinning gear.
During the startup in Mac OS X 10.2 through 10.3.9, you will see "Safe Boot" on the Mac OS X startup screen.
During the startup in Mac OS X 10.4 or later, you will see "Safe Boot" on the login window, which appears even if you normally log in automatically.
To leave Safe Mode in any version of Mac OS X, restart the computer normally, without holding any keys during startup.

FORCING THE CHRONS (chronological maintenance functions): If you force your Mac to run 24 hours a day, OS X automatically runs the chrons, so you do not need to do this part of maintenance. The Chrons maintenance is accomplished while you sleep. If you shut down your Mac at night you should download Mac Janitor a small freeware application that allows you to run the Chrons whenever you want. Always rebuild permissions after you run the Chrons.

CORRUPTED SOFTWARE: If you are still having problems you may have installed corrupted software. Think back to what you may have done just before your Mac started having problems. Uninstalling an application may be the answer.

PLAYING HARD BALL: If you want to purchase maintenance software, we like DiskWarrior but try everything else first as this software will cost you around a hundred dollars.

OS-X info added 10/06, then revised 2/09 (ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?)

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