Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

To Err is Mac... Freezing Issues out of Sleepmode

I couldn’t believe it. A couple of months ago, I received my corporate MacBook Pro and - mainly to save time - I merely swapped out my (larger) hard disk with the unformatted one in the new machine. On a Mac, that isn’t a problem - you can boot any modern Mac hardware with any hard drive out of a modern Mac hardware.

I’m not sure if the problem started right away or a little later, but I would think that if it hat cropped up right after the harddrive swap, I would have swapped the drives back. What happened? One of the more incredible capabilities of Apple hardware (especially if you’re used to Windows) is its ability to pop out of sleep mode immediately. You flip open your laptop, the screen turns on, if setup to do so prompts you for your password and off you go, working. No arduous waiting or - even worse - system crashes like with Windows.

So you can imagine my horror when I started getting issues with my MacBook Pro coming out of sleep. Sometimes, I would only have a mouse pointer (movable!) on a black screen - requiring, as I ended up learning, a shutting until sleep and re-awakening of the laptop for anything to happen. Sometimes, I would get the spinning beachball (some call this the spinning pizza of death), which would go away after just about exactly 30 seconds. And sometimes, I would get the usual password prompt - which would not react until, again, after about 30 seconds. Finally, but not consistently, even after putting in the password, the system would indicate „checking password” for an estimated 10 more seconds before releasing the screen.

I really worked on this, as it turned out to be a major pain in the rear end - demonstrating just how spoiled one gets when things work as they should. I checked logs. I read internet blogs and articles. It seems, there are quite a number of users out there with a problem that seems to be extremely similar, if not identical, to mine.

Most of the queries didn’t come with a solution - some (even on the Apple support site) indicated that a reset of the system manager was required (I tried it, it didn’t help).

Then, two days ago, I hit paydirt. I found this article: How to uninstall Dropbox daemon from crashing Mac OS 10.6? « Dropbox Forums.

I’d installed the Dropbox software quite some time ago - perhaps just before getting the freezing issues? Oddly enough, my version of Dropbox was quite a big version number jump from the one the article described, but I tried it out anyway.
Killed the Dropbox daemon, deleted the application, rebooted. Used EasyFind to see if anything was left - sure enough, there was (the usual install detritus). Deleted all related files with EasyFind and rebooted again. Boy, I haven’t rebooted my MacBook this often in the last month!

And: PRESTO. Even after two days of working normally (which involves putting the MacBook to sleep at least 5-10 times per day), at least the spinning beachball and the blank screen issues are gone. Gone, too, is the login dialog that wouldn’t react for 30 seconds. The only remaining issue is the „checking password” wait, again not consistently, for about 5-10 seconds after hitting Enter.

I’m going to postulate, that the real problem was some issue with the Dropbox daemon, with the password checking delay not being related to this issue at all (who knows where this is coming from, but I think I can live with it). I researched the Dropbox issue a bit; it seems that while Dropbox isn’t acknowledging an issue, it only affects a small fraction of Dropbox users with Macs. Very strange, indeed.

The spinning beachball seems to indicate that the MACH Kernel is tied up with something - at least this is what the symbol is trying to indicate. I’m also going to speculate that the issue IS to be found in Dropbox, even though it isn’t consistently found across more than a „handful” of Mac users - at least Mac users complaining about the problem.

The biggest issue lies in the inability - at least mine - of being able to successfully trace an issue using logfiles. In all the logfiles I checked, the roughly 30 seconds of waiting was clearly documented: by one process starting at time x and the following process starting around 30 seconds later. However, this was almost always related to the sleep management system, which makes sense, of course, but doesn’t help in tracking things down.

At least one good thing came out of the entire issue. In trying to find the solution, I stumbled across one of the most useful little utilities for Mac computers: AppleJack. I recommend it to anyone using an Intel or PowerPC Mac with a newer OS (10.4+).
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