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Bad Mac: Troubleshooting Mac Problems in Startup

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/5/2009

Although the Mac is a stable OS and rarely has startup problems, there are things that can and will cause startup to fail. Learn what they are here so you can avoid them in the future.

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    Although you probably won’t see many major problems with startup procedures, if you do, and you get a multilingual error message that states “You need to restart your computer. Hold down the Power button for several seconds or press the Restart button,” you have yourself a kernel panic. Kernel panics are rare and are generally caused by hardware problems. This could be a problem with memory, a graphics card, SCSI gear, a digital camera, or a similar device. If restarting doesn’t help, read on for troubleshooting tips so you can find out what is causing the problem and get rid of it.

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    Firmware describes the embedded and burned-in software that controls the internal circuitry of your Mac. This isn’t the software you use to upload digital pictures, get your mail, or configure your Internet connection; this is software that your Mac uses to startup and run. Firmware is generally a computer program that is stored on a read-only memory (ROM) chip or an erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM) chip, the latter of which can be modified and updated.

    Every once in a while, Apple offers firmware updates. You should get notices regarding these updates automatically if you have your Software Update settings configured as recommended. Depending on what you have installed, you might have to update firmware for various devices. Keep your Software Update settings configured to check for updates weekly (System Preferences>Software Update), and you’ll always have the latest updates.

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    Incompatible Hardware

    Another thing that can cause startup headaches is incompatible hardware. There are several ways to avoid this problem; the most important is verifying that your computer meets the hardware’s recommended requirements before purchasing and installing it. This part of degunking is to avoid problems before they start. You can also avoid common problems by checking for the latest drivers when purchasing a new piece of hardware, avoiding used hardware (it’s frequently outdated), and avoiding the first-kid-on-the-block-to-have-it syndrome. Wait a couple of months before rushing out to buy the latest printer-scanner-fax-camera-phone machine.  Let someone else work the bugs out!

    Tip: You can avoid common problems by reading the hardware’s Read Me files and manuals and by checking Apple’s Support files for known problems. Make sure you’ve configured your Mac with the correct settings, too, including resolution settings.

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    Problem Software

    Software can be a problem, too. Problems caused by software often arise shortly after installing it or while using it, although this doesn’t always have to be the case. Problems often occur because the software is installed on a computer that does not meet minimum requirements, has as an incompatible version of the operating system, or lacks sufficient RAM or CPU resources. Or the software is just buggy—which is often the case. As with hardware, always verify that your computer has the necessary resources before installing it—no matter who it’s from.

    If you suspect that software is causing startup problems, uninstall it, or at least look for an upgrade. Most software problems can be solved by upgrading to a newer version or by performing a clean install of the suspected application. You can also search Apple’s Support files for known issues, as you can with hardware.

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    Bad Memory

    One of the reasons I suggest restarting your computer on occasion is that you give the computer a chance to reset its RAM. RAM is Random Access Memory, and this memory stores data temporarily so that you can retrieve that data quickly when needed. It stores files for you until you can formally save them using the Save or Save As command. It also stores data that you send to the printer, as well as instructions and code for opening and running applications. When RAM goes bad or when you run out of available memory and receive memory error dialog boxes, you’re sure to encounter problems. Those problems generally manifest into issues with startup or with general computing tasks such as editing or printing.

    If you think you’re having memory problems, see if your computer came with a hardware test CD. There are also other options:

    ·                     Restart the computer

    ·                     Verify that too many programs aren’t configured to open when your Mac boots

    ·                     Close unnecessary open programs

    ·                     Run a system hardware test

    ·                     Replace any RAM that is damaged

    ·                     Add RAM if necessary or if you do not have enough required by system hardware or software