Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I've started having a weird problem on my MacBook Pro. It hangs in a mode where the mouse moves and all of the applications are basically frozen. It process stuff in bursts every once in awhile. It doesn't show weird CPU activity on the activity monitor and I have about 10G of disk space free. It happens when I only have a few applications open. I've done an fsck and a permissions fix with Disk Utility. Does anyone know what the problem might be? When I reboot, it gets better, but the starts to degrade again after running for awhile...

On another MacBook Pro note... My first one is in the shop because my fan started to rattle and my CD bay and the delete key broke. This is a "backup" that I bought and it's already broken while the first one is in the shop.

OK, one more gripe. The MacBook Pro draws more power than the airline seats are designed for so the breaker on the seat will pop as soon as the MacBook Pro starts charging while on or even with the battery out, you run something that taxes the CPU. A laptop that doesn't work with airline power really cramps my style.

So although the speed is addictively fast, I'm not sure it's worth all of the problems that I've been having with it.

Anyway, I'd be very grateful if someone could help me with my most recent problem. ;-)


The MacBook Pro bursting problem happens to me as well! As best I can figure, it's almost as if the hard drive has gone to sleep and isn't waking up. I can switch between apps in memory just fine, but trying to hit the hard drive just results in a beachball. After a minute or so, the hard drive wakes up and all the requests for data execute in rapid-fire style. I suspect that it's something to do with the hard drive power management, or my hard drive is dying.

Joisan, Do you have an external drive you can load your OS onto? I'm assuming you're all up to date on OS updates...

Might try to isolate the problem by starting up off an external just to see if you can MAKE it misbehave (or behave as the case may be).

I know, more trouble than you want and that airplane problem is a killer. I hadn't heard about that from anyone before your earlier post.

I am sort of glad that I am sticking with a PowerPC power Mac until atleast the next generation of intel based macs are out.

Sounds like some process/haxie is bogging your machine down. I'd check with fs_usage, if there is a process that blocks your disk bandwidth with excessive writes/reads.

As for the airplane problem: It should be possible to manufacture an adapter that limits the power to 65W instead of letting the MacBook draw 80W. The MacBook will work with 65W, but won't charge the battery which is a minor gripe comparatively. So in summary that sounds like a not-so-brightley engineered adapter to me...

The same behavior manifested on a former Powerbook 12" approx. a week before the hard drive kicked the bucket. Hopefully yours isn't dying (as it is so new), but is just a process (as flynn mentioned), but be cautious.

I have the same issue with airplane power and my thinkpad. I find that airplane power is ideal for charging, not using.

Do they make one of those CPU temperature thingies for Intel Macs? If so, you might want to see if your CPU is maybe heating up a bit too much (which apparently is a problem with the MacBooks).

That's just a guess, but I've noticed that when the CPU on my 12" PowerBook gets too hot (which it does often, as I live in Vegas and often work outside) it'll get sluggish in a similar fashion.

Anyway, might be worth trying.

The non-pro MacBooks (and BlackBooks) have a 65W adaptor so it might be worth buying one and seeing if it works on airlines. Apparently it's the screen and video card on the Pro that requires that massive adaptor.

Re the power adaptor mess, see here

as per #4 above, my bet is on some ill behaved software. Try disabling all startup items and background stuff that is not absolutely essential. Also check out the Process in /Applications/Utilities and see if that helps you find the offending process.

Joi, I can confirm the MacBook adapter will run the MacBook Pro but if a smaller screen doesn't bother you, I would recommend just switching from your MacBook Pro to a MacBook. After also going through two MacBook Pros, I picked up a MacBook and have found it in a par in terms of performance and a lot better for lugging around the world.

I have the same problem with the airline adaptors. My solution is to turn the computer off, charge it for an hour or so, then work for a couple of hours. Ok, not much of a solution, but the seat can charge the battery as long as you are not also trying to work.

The other part of my solution is to carry 3 batteries.

Curiously, I ran across this post at and immediately thought of your sluggish MacBook Pro, Joi. This may be another thing to investigate if you can't figure out what's causing your machine to hang.

My disk just died completely. I've lost all my data. Ugh. (Booting off of a fresh install on an external drive...)

I've had the same problem with almost every laptop I've ever owned. I might add my olde G4 Tower's disk died too and had a similar hang up. I wish I knew what caused this, but I'm an expert at getting it. My ubuntu laptop was doing this too untill I upgraded the other day. It seems to be a disk read error.


Slashdot just posted a link to an article about MacBook Pro batteries swelling up and failing. Doubt it was what you experienced, but you still might want to keep an eye on them. Here is the article.

At least it didn't burst into flames. Oh, yea that was a Dell. Must have been a very interesing trade show!

Joi, I hope you didn't lose too much data. I use Apple's asr command to clone my drive whenever I'm heading overseas but this still doesn't protect the bits and bobs you pick up on the way.

Did you get any S.M.A.R.T warnings with Disk Utility before it died?

A friends MBPro has exactly the same problem. He is using it almost exclusively with stock programs that where loaded when he bought it (apples stuff) + MSOffice. He isn´t doing anything fancy and has not boot plugins installed - heck not even VLC or MPlayer or DIVX or something. My informed guess is that it is a OS Bug - wait for the next update not far away and see if it still happens. Interesting to see that it is also happening on the Rev C (if you bought it new its likely a Rev C) and not only on the Rev A-B as people originally thought when the bug was first reported.
Well, well I just hope that people understand for once and all that ALL of Apples 1.0 products ALWAYS suck. I gave up on buying 1.0 Apples (Hard and Software) some years ago after beeing mightly burned. If everyone would do this then they might put more efford into the quality control before shipping and not make this large customer group gamma testing all the time. (motion FCP aperture 1.0, TiBook 1.0, G5 1.0, original grey basestation PPC 8100 have been my learning burning experiences that made me come to this conclusion - all of these had problems as severe that I could not work with them for month because Apple refused to give out new gear (even a week after buying them) or it took them a year or more to upgrade them. I do not like Apples policy with their 1.0 products at all)

Joi, that sucks that you ended up losing your hard drive. I am having the exact same issue with my MBP, and I have twice gotten twitchy results from disk verify (which were 'fixed' but I'm suspicious). Since your hard drive turned out to be bad I think I'll wander down to the genius bar and see if I can't get them to trade me out for a different one. This hanging-in-the-middle-of-stuff is really annoying.

So far I have to say that my Black MacBook has given me absolutely zero problems. The Wi-Fi rocks. Batterylife is badass and it's cooler than a G4 15" Powerbook by about 30%. The screen is a little touchy when trying to do photo retouching so I'd avoid it but the keyboard I find nicer than the Powerbook's/Pro's. It's got a meatier feel to it. No backlight but I never used that anyway. Movies are crispy and gorgeous in the dark thanks to the richer blacks of the glossy screen. The lack of PC card slot rules out EVDO but all in all for a general kickin around laptop, it's the shit. I've posted my thoughts on the WoW performance on the Metroblogging Azeroth list so you probably saw those so I'll skip them here. If you want a good backup machine that's a hell of a lot more reliable snag one of these and load it up. It's worthless (like most macs) without 2 gig of RAM.

Yeah the airline power thing is a pain. I bought a MacBook to replace my aged PB G4 and then I bought a Kensington Auto/Air converter (the cigarette-lighter type) to use with Apple's standard MacBook power adapter. I tried it on a couple of flights (on American) last week and it barely worked. I got a little juice here and there, but the light on the MagSafe connector kept shutting off, then orange, then green.

Apple needs to license this connector or make a power adapter themselves. It's a strange gap in an otherwise stunning product.

Any luck/update with your catatonic mac Joi? Mine is currently having the same issue. Mouse moves, but otherwise completely unresponsive to keyboard input, clicking, etc. My mac is not hot, and it the hard-drive is not whirring, etc. My suspiscious is that it has something to do with sleep/wake. This is the second time today. The first time, its strangely snapped out of it while I was reading this very article.

I had a three week old Mac Book with the hanging issue, and a lot of the beach balling. Apple suggested it was corrupt software from my old machine. Tried an Archive and Install, Erase and Install, repairing permissions, and a hardware test, all of which came up fine at home, none of which solved the problem. They took it in for testing and it froze during their tests; they figure it had a logic board and RAM issue. 'Cause of the newness they just let us switch it out. But I've had the new one two days now and I'm starting to get the beach balling...

the problem is that you have "ignore accidental trackpad input" turned on...that's the reason for it...turn it off

I also have a 3 week old, beachballing MacBook Pro.
I've done all the right things - checked it out myself first, and it's clearly not a software issue, as the mac freezes during CD booted ops, and it BSODs in Windows too.

So far Apple's customer service has been appalling.

I was turned away at the store, because they were too busy, and told to use the online Concierge service at midnight to make a booking.

At midnight, by the time I'd typed in my name & email address, the bookings slots were all full. (12:01am).

I had to buy ProCare, just to get seen by a 'Genius'.

When trying to use the booking system with my ProCare account, (which claims to offer booking 7 days ahead), I am repeatedly told that the system is too busy, and to try again later.

I've waited on hold to the store for 90 minutes, while trying to get a status update (I still didn't get through).

I've been promised a callback which never came.

If I don't get resolution today, I'm going to camp outside the store with a sign that says: "Don't buy Apple Mac".