Advice for sick M1 MBA, please

My M1 MacBook Air has gone haywire, at least partially. It seemed to start when I used Spotlight to search for a file. (That’s a story in itself.) It made the Finder unresponsive. I quit all applications that I could, Force Quit the Finder, and restarted (multiple times now, including two Shutdowns rather than Restarts). In case it means anything, there is no thermometer bar at any point during startup. Login now takes over 5 minutes before the last of six Login Items appears, although Activity Monitor (one of the first applications to start) reports nothing is taking more than 10% of CPU time after the first few seconds. BBEdit appears in Activity Monitor long before I can switch to it, including a lengthy stint as Not Responding. If it matters, I am using an external monitor and the clamshell is closed. I’m typing from the MBA now, and it appears that after the excruciatingly slow startup that it runs normally (except that BBEdit has lost its unsaved file).

Should I reinstall macOS? If so, what key combination gets me the screen to do this? Should I simply restore from my most recent clone? Is that as simple as telling Carbon Copy Cloner to copy from the most recent backup to the internal disk? If there is more to it than that, please advise me.

Thanks for any help.

Someone who can really help will respond soon, I’m sure, but meanwhile you might take a look at Diagnose problems with your Mac - Apple Support, Start up your Mac in safe mode - Apple Support and Use macOS Recovery on a Mac with Apple silicon - Apple Support.

Good luck!

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Is your normal daily driver account admin or not? It should not be admin as you can always input admin creds when required even when logged into a non admin account. If you only have a single account on the machine…it’s an admin account.

  1. Create a new account in System Preferences, Users and make it an admin account. Next, turn off auto login in the Users preference pane and reboot the machine and select the new account and log in. See if this solves the problem. If so…then there’s something amiss with your normal account and we’ll need more info before making a recommendation.

  2. In either case…while you’re logged into the new admin account…change your normal daily driver account to non admin…this will provide greater security against bad things happening.

  3. If the problem only exists with your old user account…you can create a new user non admin user account to get things back to normal…but that will require setting up iCloud, Mail, and probably some other app preferences again…so it’s probably worth troubleshooting your already configured user account.

  4. Make a list of what login items you have (Users System Preference pane) and remove all of them…see if the problem goes away and if so add them back in one at a time until you find the problem one…then let us know what it is and we can give more advice. Also try rebuilding your Spotlight index…can’t recall right off how to do it but let me google…ah, here it is

The disk you want to drag into your privacy pane is your whole hard drive whatever it’s named.

Let us know how this help and we’ll try more ideas. It might need reinstalling…but I would try the easy stuff first…although OTOH if you just did a reinstall it would only take an hour or so tops and shouldn’t interfere with currently installed apps, prefs, and configurations. You do need to do the make another account thing in any case. I actually have 3 total admin accounts on every machine in our household as well as daily driver non admin accounts for both bride and myself and a secondary non admin account for myself for troubleshooting purposes…same account names used for all of those on all machines.

Of course, you still need to have an admin account - so you can provide its credentials when installing software and when changing system configuration. But it can be a stripped-down account that is only used for this purpose - that’s what I’ve got on my system.

If your daily-driver account is admin, then you should create a new admin account. Then switch your daily account to non-admin.

Yeah…you can never have too many admin accounts. Back in the day when I was the sole sysadmin for a very classified Windows Active Directory network I had my normal everyday admin account which was set to require a password change at whatever the interval was. However…since I was the only sysadmin…I had 5 other admin accounts in reserve with all rights up to and including Schema Admin because if I locked myself out I was screwed.

I also gave one of the secretaries who I trusted a secondary account with admin rights so that I could go on leave and in an emergency I could talk her through fixing things over the phone…there were a couple of requirements…never use that account unless she was on the phone with me and when she was on the phone she should do exactly what I said, no more and no less and then describe the results so I could tell her what to do next…and she was to only use it on a single server that I knew how it was setup since Start Menus and the like get changed depending on other settings in Windows and I could walk her through doing things since I knew what it would look like.

Thank you to all for the responses.

My day-to-day account is non-admin. If nothing goes wrong during the week (and it usually doesn’t), I reboot once a week on the weekend and check for updates and clone from the admin account, then reboot and go back to my user account. At present, there is only one admin account; it sounds like I should have at least one spare. This computer is strictly home use with one other (fully trusted) user; is there any reason I should not use the same password for both or all admin accounts?

The MBA is fairly new and I did not migrate from the old MacBook, so I am all too familiar with setting up iCloud, Mail, and app preferences. Would I be able to use Migration Assistant to import from a recent clone? If so, would that be simple enough that I might as well do it even if it imported the problem? I mean, if I end up where I started, it would have been little effort and I could then create a new account and set it up from scratch, but if it worked, it would save a lot of work.

Will do.

No need to reboot for this. While some people feel that periodic rebooting is a good thing, I tend to not reboot unless a software update forces it.

I’m sure you already know, but you can just log out (from the Apple menu) in order to switch users.

Additionally, I have never had to switch to an admin account to install or update software. When performing an update, the system will prompt for administrator credentials. If you’re not logged in as an administrator, the user name field will be blank - type in the name of any admin account and its password (in the box below) and the installer will run normally.

WRT sharing a password between accounts on your own computer, the big issue is that it protects against some kinds of malware attacks. If you get a malware infection, it will be attacking your user account. If it is able to get your password, then it might be able to use that in order to “privilege escalate” itself into an admin account and then (via sudo from an admin account) to root.

I think this is a low probability of actually happening, but keeping two different passwords is a pretty cheap and easy solution.


I created a second admin account and have restarted multiple times.

At no time did the MBA display a thermometer bar during start up, whether from a Restart or start from Shutdown. I believe there used to be a thermometer bar as the computer booted up. (This was always using an external monitor with the clamshell closed.)

The first time I chose Restart, after a slow start, I got a message that the MBA had shut down abnormally. Weird.

Every time I logged in, whether to the original admin account, the new admin account, or my user account, the MBA felt slow, but not nearly as slow as what prompted me to start this thread. The original admin account has many items in the Login Items, and many of those applications did not show windows until long after login. (Excel was the tardiest, taking over 2 minutes.) However, the Mac in general and other applications were responsive; I believe they were not when I was having the problems that caused me to start this thread.

The second time I went to add applications to my user accounts Login Items, the items would not appear in the list. However, following a Restart, the applications did start automatically and did appear in the Login Items list. Again, weird.

Infrequently but on multiple occasions, switching applications using command-tab resulted in the list of applications remaining on screen in a faded state for some seconds after I released the keys.

Am I correct that installing macOS 11.3 should provide the same benefit as reinstalling 11.2.3 at this point? For that matter, if I wanted to reinstall 11.2.3, now that 11.3 has been released, how would I do that?

The MBA feels like it responds more quickly after a login finishes, but each app in the Login Items seemed to start slowly and Excel (the slowest) takes about two minutes to present its first workbook. (As noted above, this is true in the admin account, too.) In other words, logins became slower and slower as I added apps to the Login Items list, so it seems like the app-starting part of logging in has a problem. Would there be any downside to simply restoring from my last clone? (And aren’t situations like this a reason why people make clones at all?) My understanding is that this would replace applications and data files but not the OS itself, but since Excel in particular seems wonky, this might be just what’s needed. I have more recent backups of my most important data files that have changed since I cloned.

After all the apps get going, everything feels normal again. The two things that stand out are the lack of a thermometer bar during boot and slow loading of Login Items apps. With the exception of Word, which might be slow on its own, apps that I launch after all the Login Items have finished launching seem to start normally.

Thanks for all the help.

I think Word and Excel will be running in Rosetta 2, so perhaps compare launch times with a native app (I assume Pages and Numbers are).

After the Login Items have all started, all apps other than Word seem to start quickly (and even Word is reasonably quick, just noticeably slower than others). While the Login Items are starting, those apps (Firefox, Excel, System Preferences, Activity Monitor, and BBEdit) seem to start slowly. For the Login Items, this is compared to how quickly they seemed to start before the day before my first post in this thread. Activity Monitor in particular opens a blank window for a few seconds; I believe it used to open a window more promptly and when it opened, it was populated.

If that didn’t address your comment, please restate it.