On tuesday this week, my iMac started acting up. It would boot successfully, run normally for a while but sometimes hang from 20 to 60 seconds in a row with the spinning beach ball cursor.

I quickly identified two things :

  1. hangs would occur when launching apps or triggering the launcher (spotlight, Alfred) which meant “hard drive access”
  2. with the help of the Activity Monitor I could tell that the hangings were echoed by flatlines on the hard disk activity.

My hard disk was going out with all my data. Or maybe my whole computer was dying (of course, warranty had expired 3 months ago).

Next actions :

  1. insert my time capsule drive in the USB dock and made sure I would have a current backup
  2. managed (see below) to talk to a Genius from the Apple Store and had my diagnose confirmed : the hard disk was probably causing the problem

Side note : the Apple Store Geniuses are not to answer the phone. How did I get to talk to one ? My mother was shopping that day and spotted an Apple Store. That is one of the things that makes her think of me and call. She called saying “I’m at the Apple Store, did you need anything?” She implied something about the iPad2 my whole family knows I’d like to get but I just said “Yeah, fix my iMac”… Then I asked her to see if she could find a “Genius”. It was a week day, 11am. They were not too busy and one reluctantly agreed to take my mother’s iPhone and talk to me. He wouldn’t really garanty anything over the phone but he felt, like me, the hard drive was to be checked. He asked me to bring the computer to the Store. Little did he know I live 1000km away from my parents and am unlikely to bring my iMac to his store.

Now this was turning into a geek’s nightmare. My iMac was going out fast. The hangs got more frequent and lasted longer. Mail.app would crash more than anything else. No more emails, no more calendars, no more address book (well, on the iPhone right?) I could have changed the HD right away but somehow, I suddenly realized I didn’t even know how to open the iMac… A quick glance around youTube taught me that opening the iMac requires suction cups (whatever that may be) and looks like a pretty dangerous (for the iMac) operation.

I have built PC before but somehow, I didn’t feel like driving to the hardware store, ask for the French translation of suction cups and open the beast. I went back to my work (on the work MacBookPro) and left it at that.

Next steps (two days later). I took an apointment with the Apple Store Genius for the week end but still wanted to make sure the drive was at fault. I ran Disk Utility. It found errors. So I inserted the Snow Leopard Disk, pressed ‘C’ during bootup and launched the Disk Utility from there. I repaired the disk and that went well. Rebooted, the problem remained.

Another attempt, the Apple Hardware Check accessible by booting with the OS CD in and pressing ‘D’ during bootup. It found no errors.

Now, a quick Google search taught me that : replacing the drive at the Apple Store would cost 200 euros and take a week. That is another FULL WEEK without emails, calendars, todo list, music collection, lightroom, you know… no computer 😉

So, at this point, I cancelled the appointment with the Genius and went another route.The week end came and I took the iMac to a unofficial Apple Genius who claimed he knew how to change the drive and open the machine. I picked a 2TB 7200 rpm drive to replace the original 1Tb Seagate. This is where it’s going to get fun later : the hard drive model has changed…

Repair went well, I reinstalled Snow Leopard, it worked good, no hanging. TimeMachine backups are absolutely awesome. In 4 hours, I had all my data back, all my settings, all my applications reinstalled. TimeMachine has to be the thing PC lacks the most.

BUT, after a few minutes of “normal” use, a problem surfaced. The iMac was now noisy (another thing Macs do better than my home built PCs is running quietly). The fan was going nuts in there for no apparent reason. I installed the iStats widget on the dashboard (highly recommended) and realized that, even though the HDD temperature was read at 40 C, the HDD fan was spinning at 5400rpm. Insane !

Reading here and there, I realized this was due to the hard drive change. Either the temperature sensor has been messed with or damaged or, simply, the new hard drive is incompatible and the fan just doesn’t know what to do so it just spins at max speed. The first thing to do in that case is to reset the SMC. That didn’t do it for me though. I read about several fan control apps (most notably smcFanControl which seems to be famous) but none allowed to reduce the fan speed, they could only set the minimal fan speed or increase it. Finally, I found HDD Fan Control by Ben Surtees. Installed it and instantly, the HDD fan went back down to 1600 rpm and the iMac was silent again. What a relief!

What a week, I’m glad to have the iMac back. Many many thanks to TimeMachine and Ben Surtees for saving the week end.

Oh by the way, if you didn’t do it already, take a minute in this three day week end to setup your time machine backup. Hardware doesn’t last forever.

Filed under: Computing, Mac OS X, Système

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  • About Me

    photo of Samantha Halfon Samantha Halfon
    Software Engineer
    blueKiwi software
    Paris, France
    I enjoy playing with my computer(s), listening to Bob Dylan (and related artists) and watching movies (especially if they were directed by Martin Scorsese or John Cassavetes). Sometimes, I play a little guitar... If not doing any of the above, I am either riding a small red bike around Paris, or, making videos. About my videomaking please check out World Wide Angle and its blog.