MacBook Troubleshooting Tree - dummies

By Mark L. Chambers

As the hip-hop artists say, “All right, kick it.” And that’s just what my MacBook Troubleshooting Tree is here for. If rebooting your laptop hasn’t solved the problem, follow these steps in order.

Step 1: Investigate recent changes to your MacBook

Simply retrace your steps and consider what changes you made recently to your system. Here are the most common culprits:

  • Did you just finish installing a new application? Try uninstalling it by removing the application directory and any support files that it might have added to your system.

  • Did you just apply an update or a patch to an application? Uninstall the application and reinstall it without applying the patch. If your MacBook suddenly works again, check the developer’s website or contact the application’s technical support department to report the problem.

  • Did you just update Mountain Lion by using Software Update? Updating OS X can introduce problems in your applications that depend on specific routines and system files. Contact the developer of the application and look for updated patches that bring your software in line with the Mountain Lion updates.

  • Did you just make a change in System Preferences? Return the options that you changed to their original settings.

  • Did you just connect an external device? Try unplugging the device and then rebooting to see whether the problem disappears. Remember that many peripherals need software drivers to run — and without those drivers installed, they don’t work correctly.

Step 2: Run the MacBook Disk Utility

The next step is to run Disk Utility. If you’re experiencing hard drive problems, consider booting from your OS X Installation DVD to run a full-blown Repair Disk checkup on your boot volume.

Step 3: Check your cables

Cables work themselves loose, and they fail from time to time. Check all your cables to your external devices and verify that everything’s plugged in and turned on.

If a FireWire, Thunderbolt, or USB device acts up, swap cables to find whether you have a bad one.

Step 4: Check your Trash

Check the contents of your Trash to see whether you recently deleted files or folders by accident. Click the Trash icon in the Dock once to display the contents. If something’s been deleted by mistake, drag it back to its original folder and try running the application again.

Step 5: Check your Internet and network connections

Don’t forget an obvious problem: Your laptop can’t reach the Internet because your ISP is down, or your network is no longer working!

A quick visual check of your DSL or cable modem can usually indicate whether a connection problem exists between your modem and your ISP. If your laptop is connected to the Internet through a larger home or office network and you can’t check the modem visually, you can check your Internet connection by pinging Apple:

  1. Run Launchpad and click the Utilities folder.

  2. Click the Network Utility icon.

  3. Click the Ping button.

  4. Enter in the Address box.

  5. Click Ping.

    You should see successful ping messages. If you don’t get a successful ping and you can still reach other computers on your network, your cable modem, DSL modem, or ISP is likely experiencing problems. If you can’t reach your network at all, the problem lies in your network hardware or configuration.

Step 6: Think virus

It’s time to run a full virus scan — and make sure that your antivirus application has the latest updated data files, too. If you don’t want to invest in a commercial antivirus application, consider the excellent freeware ClamXav 2.

Step 7: Disable your MacBook login items

OS X might encounter problems with applications that you’ve marked as login items in System Preferences.

Hold down the Shift key after you hear the start-up tone. This trick disables your account’s login items, which are run automatically every time you log in to your MacBook. If one of these login items is to blame for your laptop’s problems, your laptop will simply encounter trouble every time you log in.

If your laptop works fine with your login items disabled, follow this procedure for each item in the login items list:

  1. Open System Preferences, click Users & Groups, and then click the Login Items button.

  2. Delete the item from the list.

    You can delete the selected item by clicking the Delete button, which bears a minus sign.

  3. Reboot normally.

  4. If your laptop is still misbehaving, repeat Steps 2 and 3 and disable a new login item.

  5. When your MacBook starts up normally with login items enabled, you discovered the perpetrator. You’ll likely need to delete that application and reinstall it. Don’t forget to add each of the working login items back to the Login Items list!

Step 8: Turn off your MacBook screen saver

This remedy is a long shot, but it isn’t unheard of to discover that a faulty, bug-ridden screen saver has locked up your MacBook. (If you aren’t running one of the Apple-supplied screen savers and your computer never wakes up from Sleep mode or hangs while displaying the screen saver, you found your prime suspect.)

Reboot your MacBook, open System Preferences, click Desktop & Screen Saver, and then click the Screen Saver button. Then do one of the following:

  • Switch to an Apple screen saver.

  • Drag the Start Screen Saver slider to Never.

Step 9: Run System Information

At this point, you narrowed the possibilities to a serious problem, such as bad hardware or corrupted files in your OS X System folder.

Fortunately, Mountain Lion provides the System Information utility, which displays real-time information on the hardware in your system. To start System Information, click the Launchpad icon in the Dock, click the Utilities folder icon, and then click the System Information icon.

Alternatively, click the Apple menu and choose About This Mac, click More Info, and then click the System Report button. Click each one of the Hardware categories in turn, double-checking to make sure everything looks okay.