Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Strange intermittent Macbook slowdown persists

After replacing my hard drive last night and starting the long process of reinstalling all my applications (since I purposely did NOT want to just restore them from a backup) I’m sorry to report an intermittent slowdown problem is persisting. 🙁

As you can see from the iStat menu graph below, which is accessible from my menu bar in the upper right corner of the screen, something is intermittently causing my CPU cycles to almost max out:

Macbook slowdown mystery

During these cycles, which last about 30 seconds, all windows move slowly and the entire computer system seems to be in slow motion. I wish I could explain this intermittent problem but I cannot with certainty. I had hoped that perhaps a software conflict was behind this issue and in re-installing my applications I’d avoid the problem. The problem resurfaced after I had only installed five new programs that were not included in the default Mac OS 10.5 application installation list, however. Now I am wondering if a hardware problem (but not the hard drive itself) could be to blame? Intermittent problems like this are the WORST to troubleshoot because they cannot be replicated reliably for others to see and examine. If I was on a Windows system I’d immediately suspect malware, but I haven’t heard of any “malware in the wild” for Mac OS X yet so that seems unlikely. I’m at a frustrated loss!

Is anyone else having strange intermittent slow-down problems on a Macbook? Mine is a first-generation MacBook, but the entire logic board has been replaced twice so it is literally like new. I did have this problem surface during an actual workshop presentation several weeks ago, which was a big hassle. I would love to resolve this problem without having to take my computer in again to meet with an Apple Store Mac Genius. 🙁

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8 responses to “Strange intermittent Macbook slowdown persists”

  1. Dean Mattson Avatar

    Have to launched Activity Monitor? That might identify the culprit since it breaks down how much each process is taxing the CPU.

  2. Dean Mattson Avatar

    Err . . . I meant to ask, “Have YOU launched Activity Monitor?” Sorry, too much in a hurry, as always!

  3. john hendron Avatar

    Safari at 27%? What happens when you don’t run Safari?

    Safari for me (working for days and days, with probably total 28-30 tabs) has memory leaks and does well to get a nice restart. There are a couple of things I’d try, after seeing if Safari is the culprit (and I only suspect as much, from what I saw in your screenshot).

    a) Look at top -u in terminal (or Activity monitor) to see what’s hogging CPU cycles when the sluggish behavior takes place
    b) look at and look at the logs when the problem comes up…

    If this data watching isn’t particularly helpful, Apple will tell you to reinstall from scratch before they troubleshoot. You’ve done that. Try and see if one or more programs is running when the slowdown happens–and if not–then I think it could be a hardware issue.

    The boot DVD comes with a hardware test; it’s on a separate partition (load with option key down on boot). If that doesn’t come up with anything, the Apple store has more intensive tests they can run independent of your OS X installation.

    Good luck.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Wow, thanks for those tips. The problem just happened again, and this time a process called “xulrunner” took over (it said) 116% of the CPU… not sure how it can take more than 100%, but that is what iStat menu said. I will definitely try the hardware test on the install DVD for Leopard later tonight. If not, I’ll be off to chat with the Apple Genius again!

  5. Dean Mattson Avatar

    Hm. I’m not sure what xulrunner is. I’ve been looking for that come up on my laptop and have yet to see it. (I’m running X 10.5.2.) One of the things you can do in Activity Monitor is stop individual processes that go out of control like that. Maybe try that the next time it happens.

  6. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    This happened again this morning with the process “soffice.bin.” My machine also shut down unexpectedly. I definitely have some hardware issues here! Off to the Apple store I go!

  7. John Hendron Avatar

    Wesley, I am also unfamiliar with the items you mentioned; but these processes are taking over the machine (for likely software, but also possibly hardware reasons).

    116% is because you have a dual processor machine. In theory, it could max-out at 200%.

    A Google search of XULrunner returns that’s part of Firefox or another Mozilla browser.

    Good luck at the Apple store. The shutdown is likely the heat sensor kicked in, and shut things down to cool the laptop off.

  8. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    John: Thanks for the clarification on the dual processor / over 100% issue. I did have a previous issue with the heat sensor which led to Apple replacing my entire logic board. They have actually done that twice now. I agree that sounds like a reasonable cause. I had the laptop on all morning taking notes before that shutdown took place. The bad thing is I’ll have to part with the laptop for awhile…. but I will live. Hopefully the shutdown problem won’t recurr, Back in August of 2006 when I had a lot of random shutdown problems they replaced the logic board right away, but in January of this year I was without for 11 days during a repair. That was painful. This week I really don’t have time to take it in, so we’ll see how it continues to do. These problems give me incentive to continue putting PDF copies of my presentations on the web so I can download those if needed to another computer for a presentation. Yesterday I almost had to use someone else’s laptop for my presentation. My computer crashed running NeoOffice and upon restart wouldn’t open my file, it wants to rebuild files that were open at the crash. Problem is there is not a button to rebuild… Thankfully Joel (the presenter from Google) had a Macbook and was able to create a PDF for me of my preso that I transferred on a flash drive… He saved my life! This is the first time I’ve ever had a problem with my Macbook like this during a presentation, and I think it is all related to this same hardware issue….