Basic Mac Troubleshooting

While Macs tend to be very reliable and require little maintenance things can sometimes go awry. This guide aims to provide some basic steps to resolving the more common problems we see at Mac-Forums. While this guide is by no means comprehensive, hopefully one of the methods below helps to get your Mac back on the right track.


Restart your computer

This may seem obvious, but many times we’re so used to just letting our computers sleep when we’re not using them, we don’t think much about the occasional need to do a full reboot. Sometimes simply shutting the computer down, turning it off and bringing it back up after 30 seconds is enough to solve a problem.

Run Software Update

Apple regularly releases patches and new features through the Software Update system. If it’s been awhile since you’ve run it, now might be a good time.

Clean Your Caches

There are several free tools that will do this for you – the most often recommended on Mac-Forums is Onyx.  For those who prefer a simpler interface the creators of Onyx have a simplified version they call Maintenance. Even if you don’t have one of those you can still do it manually. Just delete everything in the folders Library/Caches and in Users/*Your User Name*/Library/Caches. When finished reboot.


Delete the .plist file

If it is a particular program that is giving you problems delete its preferences (.plist) in ‘Your User Name’/Library/Preferences

Uninstall and then reinstall the offending application

If it is a particular program that is giving you problems and deleting the .plist file didn’t help, then uninstall and reinstall the application.

Important – If the application came with an Installer, it may also have an uninstaller. In these cases, you’ll want to avoid just deleting it or using a third-party removal tool. Often that uninstall utility will have been contained in the original DMG file that the program came packaged in. If you don’t have the original DMG file, it may be a good idea to re-download the program.


Repair Disk Permissions

Go to Applications -> Utilities and find Disk Utility. Select your system drive (usually called “Macintosh HD”) in the left window pane. Click the First Aid tab in the right pane. Click “Verify Permissions” and then “Repair Permissions” if needed.

Run Disk Repair

This can either be done from the First Aid tab in Disk Utility (as described in step 6), but in some cases may need to be done by booting from your System Discs.

Turn your computer on and hold down the Option key. This will bring up the boot menu. Insert your Mac OS X system disc and after a few seconds, it should appear as a boot option. Choose it and the system should boot from your disc.

When the Mac OS X installer screen appears, click through it until the Menu bar appears. In the Utilities menu, you should find Disk Utility. Once Disk Utility opens, select your system drive (usually called “Macintosh HD”) in the left window pane. Click the First Aid tab in the right pane. Click Verify Disk and then Repair Disk (if needed).

File System Check

Start with the computer powered off. Turn it on and immediately press and hold Command + S. This starts the computer in “single user mode”, which is text-based. When the text stops scrolling down the screen, type:

/sbin/fsck -f

…and then press the Enter key.

The process should show any corrections it made. If it does find problems, run the command again until it comes up with no further problems. When finished, type exit and the computer should restart.


Reset the PRAM

Start with the computer powered off. Turn it on and immediately press and hold Command + Option + P + R. Continue holding until you hear the system chime three times.

Reset Non-volatile RAM

Start with the computer powered off. Turn it on and immediately press and hold Command + Option + O + F and wait for the command prompt. Type:


…and press the Enter key.


Search Mac-Forums

Mac-Forums has accumulated a wealth of knowledge over time. Chances are that if you’ve run into a problem, someone else has run into that same problem in the past.

From the main forum window, you’ll find the Search button at the upper-right corner. Simply enter a few keywords (or even an error message) into the search field and you should come up with some results.

You can further refine your search by using the “Search this thread” button within a particular thread

Search the Apple Support Knowledge Base

If none of the previous steps have helped, try browsing over to Apple – Support.

Once there, you can either browse to look at articles specific to your model, or do a search for keywords to see if there are any articles specific to your problem.


Run the Apple Hardware Test

If you’ve made it this far without resolution, it may be helpful to rule out hardware problems (like a bad hard drive or memory) before taking more drastic measures. The Apple Hardware Test is run in two different ways depending on the type of Mac you have:

Apple Hardware Test for Intel-based Macs

Apple Hardware Test for PowerPC-based Macs

Before you consider reinstalling the operating system

Mac OS X, like many UNIX-based operating systems, rarely requires a complete reinstall. Those of us that are accustomed to Windows may find this unbelievable, but the truth is, OS X simply doesn’t allow the user to make major modifications to it. Most changes are confined to your “Home” directory.

So before you try to reinstall the operating system, try creating a new account for yourself. You don’t need to delete the old one just yet – see if a new account still encounters the same issue. If it doesn’t, you can copy over the data from your old home folder and then delete the account.


  1. Jackgeorge15's Avatar
    Having been through these steps numerous times under the guidance of Mac Applecare techs with a seven month-old 15" Macbook Pro running Snow Leopard (10.6.8) and re-installing the OS twice all I can say is that I've got a 'LEMON'! The claimed reliability of Apple Mac and its software in no way resembles my experience to date. I've posted a thread to this effect in the hope someone out there has a solution
  2. harryb2448's Avatar
    Well if it is seven months old it is not running Snow Leopard. All computers sold since July 2011 have Lion installed. Just take it back if it is under warranty.
  3. Jackgeorge15's Avatar
    Thank you for responding.

    I'm in Australia and the machine sold to me by an authorised Mac reseller had SnowLeopard installed. Not being a Mac afficianado, I didn't know that the upgrade to Lion was imminent or I'd have delayed my purchase by a month or two. I do now know that within weeks of my purchase Lion was introduced; my intro to Mac at the Apple store in August was all on Lion.

    In any case, I've now learned from Applecare that the later updates to Snow Leopard are the cause of the problem and that a fix should soon be released. Nice of Apple not to let on until pressed! I'm now scared that Apple doesn't support superseded versions of its software for very long. Even Microsoft is still supporting my old WinXP, SP3 - but not for much longer. How old is that?

    However I do love the hardware and its build quality is superb.
  4. harryb2448's Avatar
    Contact Apple as you are entitled to a free download of Lion and report you purchased the MB in August with Snow Leopard. Better to complain to Apple than us!
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