Clean MacOS install

Several apps including my Wacom tablet on my 2014 27" iMac running Mojave (10.14.6) have been behaving poorly for the past several months. Wacom supposedly fixed the issue that I was having after reporting it to them by releasing a new dot update, but the issue persist. So to that end, I’m going to do a clean install of the OS (backup the internal drive, format/wipe the drive, re-install the OS, and re-install all of my various apps, copy my data back). Normally when I do this, I manually copy various folders and setting back from both /Library & ~/Library, so that I keep my application settings, including my mail library. However, it’s a pain in the neck to have to manually sort through the various individual folders, picking and choosing what to copy over and what not to. To that end, I’m wondering if there’s a better, easier way to do so? How are you all doing clean installs, when the need arises? Any suggestions?

The only other option I’m aware of is to use Migration Assistant’s option to copy selected User files, Computer & Network settings. Of course that may possibly copy a few things that are unnecessary, corrupt or causing issues, but it certainly will save time. That’s usually what I do and have only rarely run into any problem.

But more often than not, I won’t resort to a clean install and simply re-install macOS from Recovery first.

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@alvarnell, I’ve done the re-install, and unfortunately that hasn’t resolved any of the issues. I think I may be where I’m currently at because I used the Migration Tool about a year ago, when I last did a clean install. I think it migrated some corrupt items that have been plaguing me ever since. Ugh.

@alvarnell is right—Migration Assistant can help, but if you suspect corruption, there’s no way around doing it manually. When I’ve done this sort of thing in the past, I just wait to copy something over until I find that I need it organically in the course of my work.

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@ace, I usually do it the same, exact way that you do; moving things over as needed.

What’s crazy is that I run a pretty bare minimum machine, without a ton of apps or extensions, yet I’m continually having issues. Yesterday, I downloaded i1Studio (app for my X-Rite color checker) and it refuses to launch. Wacom driver crashes every 10~15 minutes, News unexpectedly quits, Mail inconsistanly marks messages as Read, as well as other oddities. I’ve run Disk Utility, App Cleaner Pro (to remove any orphan items), EtreCheckPro, OnyX and Cocktail, just for grins. They all report just fine.

The first thing I’d try is testing in a clean account. If the problem still exists, and you’ve done a clean reinstall of macOS, you’re left with hardware. Bad RAM could be a possibility, though that seems unlikely for a specific app. Flaky Bluetooth devices can also cause weird problems, so if you can unplug those or swap them for others, that’s worth testing.

I have exactly the same Mac, and while I’ve had quirks over the years that sometimes took me some time to troubleshoot, it sounds like you have something more serious.


@Ace, I’ve had issues with this iMac since day 1! It’s been back to Apple a few times for RAM, hard drive (Fusion drive) and motherboard replacements. I’m no Mac slouch, as I’ve been around Macs since their inception in '84 when I bought my Mac 128K; I managed a department at Stanford University that had 200+ Macs, and I’ve worked for Apple. I’ve never seen anything like this iMac before, which is why I’m quite familiar with doing OS installs. :roll_eyes:

I’ve created a couple different test accounts, and they all exhibit the same issue with the Wacom (and Capture One). The other random issues are new, and I haven’t done much to troubleshoot them, as I think (another) clean install is what’s necessary. Ugh.

Oh sorry—sounds like you’re doing everything right and may just have a lemon of a Mac, given all the repairs. I’ve never figured out how the occasional Mac can just be bad, but every now and then it happens.

I’m just starting to contemplate buying a new iMac since 5 years is a good run. The question is if Apple will do something to make the current iMac enough more compelling in the next rev.

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My iMac is now nine years old, and to me the big questions are if the rumors about Macs shifting from Intel to ARM processors are accurate, and if so what is the timeline on which this might happen. Nine years ago buying a reasonably top-end configuration seems to have been a good idea, as I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. But I wouldn’t expect as long a window of usefulness if you buy a machine in the year or two before a major architectural change.

Dave Scocca

My iMac is now nine years old, and to me the big questions are if the rumors about Macs shifting from Intel to ARM processors are accurate, and if so what is the timeline on which this might happen.

My guess is that 2020 is the year that Apple will be rolling out ARM Macs. The current iMac line is certainly very fast and powerful, but it does seem to have gotten rather long in tooth and it would be a good time for upgrades both under and over the hood.

Nine years ago buying a reasonably top-end configuration seems to have been a good idea, as I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. But I wouldn’t expect as long a window of usefulness if you buy a machine in the year or two before a major architectural change.

I agree. And I can’t help but remember how upset I was to read in the news that my wonderful new 7-8 week old, 9600 would not run OSX. Though I did, and still do, love that 9600, it was a big disappointment that it could not run the latest and greatest upgrades and new stuff. And that disappointment lasted for years until I sprung for a cheese grater. The window of usefulness was very short.

I was wondering what the average lifespan of a Mac is these days, and I found this analysis by Horace Dediu that suggests an average lifespan of 4 years, 3 months for all Apple devices.

Apple also assumes that the first buyer of a Mac will keep it for 4 years (3 for iOS and watchOS devices).

Apple says in the linked FAQ:

For the purposes of our assessment, years of use, which are based on first owners, are modeled to be four years for macOS and tvOS devices and three years for iOS and watchOS devices. Most Apple products last longer and are often passed along, resold, or returned to Apple by the first owner for others to use.

I also ran across this article I wrote back in 2011 which came up with similar numbers in a different way.

@ace, wow 4 years, 3 months!? That doesn’t seem very long to me. I generally try to buy the top of the line products, so that I don’t have to replace them as often. My current iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014,4GHz Core i7, AMD Radeon R9 - 4GB graphics card, 32 GB RAM, 3 TB Fusion Drive) has been working for me quite well, with the exception of the hardware and OS issues mentioned above. I think it’s still very speedy, with the exception of the graphics card which is slow not limited in power. But then again, I haven’t played with any of the new iMacs, so I have nothing to compare it to. :laughing:

That’s the average for “devices”, not computers. There are a heck of a lot of iPhones down there pulling down the average you’d get if you only looked at Macs.

This might be a good topic for a TidBITS survey. I’m curious as to what the real world world averages are here. I tend to keep my iOS devices for 4-5 years and my Macs for 4 to 6 years. (Current Mac mini 2012 will soon be 7 years old, but I maxed out the RAM and put in a large SSD. )

Pardon my intrusion, but this is a subject I am passionate about.

It’s UNIX. If you do not have underlying directory damage, or specific preferences corruptions, borked permissions, or an errant program or background app or hardware driver interfering with things, a clean install isn’t going to prove anything except those issues. It’s absolutely worth trying as a comparison, along with creating a fresh user account, as you’ve done.

But before you commit to a complete disk wipe, assuming you have adequate space, why not create a second volume on your existing drive, then do a fresh install of macOS (even considering using an older version when you last knew your Wacom tablet to be working), and then install the bare minimum of apps to test just your Wacom issue, and things like news, etc.

If it works, fine, you’re on the right track, and you can then decide whether to prove it was something in your user space by trying to use Migration Assistant; if that works, great, you’re home free, and you can then zap your old startup volume (having backed it up before you began in the first place.

However, If, after MA, it suddenly borks again, you can then simply create a fresh account, verify the issue is gone, then organically rebuild your user space from scratch.

Based on the hardware history, I think you’re more likely looking at hardware, including the possibility the Wacom itself is flakey. I’ve thrown more of those in the recycling bin than I’ve ever — ever — found that a clean install of macOS was required to solve a problem; and I’m not convinced the days of them causing kernel panics, let alone user space crashes and panics, are gone.

Indeed, the installations in our groups are so time consuming to build from scratch, if a what-the-heck clean install showed the problem was erased, we’re even more highly motivated to simply figure out the real underlying problem with our original installation, and find more value in restoring from even a months-old clone (given that user data is always, always, always backed up separately so it can be restored at a nearer date) and updating it as needed to become current — and stable — again.

And truly, don’t underestimate the power of borked permissions corruption; if it assaults your parent user directory, any fresh user account will inherit the issue; if a fresh user account doesn’t solve the problem, and hardware testing and disk utilities don’t reveal anything, you can create a separate test directory at root level, and install a new user account there to be certain.

FWIW, I’m still running the same OS install, upgraded year after year after year, starting with Mac OS X 10.0 (and I’m pretty sure from the Public Beta), carried as a clone from new Mac to new Mac (even forking to extra Macs a few times), and every single time a user space has gone bad, it was either hardware or permissions or directory damage at the root (when not a bad nvidia or High Point, et al driver). I literally have a Finder prefs file that dates to 2001. The same is true for nearly everyone in our organization.

Anyway, I don’t know how hard it is for you to rebuild from scratch, and I understand your frustration of weeks and months of problems, but if it’s even half as complex as my user space, I would be struggling mightily to keep from potentially organically building it from scratch.

BTW, what do your app crash logs say? Is anything repeatable? Or just totally random?


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Have you tried the Wacom on another computer?

PS. Responding on my MBP late 2013 Retina. Not my main computer, but works well enough.