Q and A: Spinning Beach Ball of Death

This is a new feature on Macgasm.net where you ask us your Mac/Apple questions and we tell you the answers.

Q. I’ve had my Mac in for service 3 times in the last year for intermittent spinning beach ball of death problems. Each time they say they can’t reproduce the issue, I take it home and it does the same thing. I’m ready to toss it out the window. Did I just get a lemon or do I need to find a new repair shop?

Signed – Sick of Spinning

A. Dearest Sick of Spinning,

Assuming you are taking it to an Apple Authorized Service Provider (where they specialize in Macs), I would lean towards you having an environmental issue. We have seen this a million times in our shop. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Here’s a simple one: Man comes in with an iMac and flashing question mark and thinks he’s lost all the family photos. We plug it in and it boots just fine. We back his data up; hard drive seems solid so we let it run over night. Run diagnostics on it. Put the machine through its paces and can’t find a single thing wrong with it. He takes it home and immediately calls us to say it’s doing it again. Long story short and a couple car trips for the customer, the problem is his mouse. No physical signs of damage, no frayed wires, it just went bad and caused the machine to not be able to see its hard drive in the boot sequence.

More complex example: Man brings in his Power Mac, as it’s freezing in Photoshop consistently and kernel panics often. He’s tried everything- new RAM, archive install of the operating system, new user, but Photoshop still freezes or causes a KP (Kernel Panic) within a few moments of use for him. He brings it in and I can’t make it crash. Throw giant files at it and run complex filters and it runs flawlessly. We go to his house and he has the most peripherals I’ve ever seen attached to a computer. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were at least 25 items attached to it. USB hubs daisy chained to more USB hubs, scanners, printers, card readers, dongles for applications, Wacom tablet, some sort of USB Midi controller, webcam, serial port to USB adapters, syncing cables, multiple external hard drives. Seriously, the list went on. I wish I had a photo of this setup. My face must have shown my shock as he said “What? They all said, ‘Made for Mac’ on the packaging.” (sigh)

In “Sick of Spinning’s” case I am betting that there is something in that environment that is connected to it that is causing the issue. If you are on a laptop, unplug it from everything but power and use it like that. For those on a desktop Mac, I would recommend that they unplug all peripherals and extra cables from it (including the USB/FW cables if they are using an Apple Cinema Display) and go bare bones. If you can get another mouse and keyboard to test with, that’s all the better. If the computer seems to run fine bare, then add back one item at a time, giving it enough time that the problem will show itself. You will more than likely find your culprit.

Have you had issues with peripherals? Let us know in the comments. If you have a Mac question that you would like answered, please email ask@macgasm.net

Apple Systems Admin for mac-fusion, which is just a fancy name for a tech. For the last 12 years I've been fixing Macs and we specialize in helping businesses run their company on a Mac. If you like Mac tweets,… Full Bio