That Spinning Beachball problem

(Norm Harris) #1

My wife is requesting tech support for issues with her Mac but this time I’m failing miserably.

Her system:
iMac (late 2012)
CPU 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5
Mac OS X High Sierra 10.13.4
Memory 8GB
Storage 1TB (about half used)

Frequent spinning beachball and very, very slow response time for most operations

Is 8GB memory the likely culprit or something else?

Is there a way to pinpoint the cause?

Thanks for any suggestions.


Try the Activity Monitor in the Systems–Utilities folder; it’s quicker to find it in Spotlight. It will show you all the apps you’re running along with the systems stuff that’s running in the background so you can see what applications are hogging memory. Activity Monitor has helped keep me chugging along with my very elderly MacBook Pro. One example is that l use Time Machine for backups, and I didn’t remember when it was running.

It’s easy to use, but if you’re not very technically inclined like me, the info at Apple support is very helpful, esp. about stuff that runs in the background:

(Richard Rettke) #3

A quicker way (IMHO) to get there is press F4 (Launcher) and type AC, you’ll be there.

I run the activity monitor all the time. It launches at startup and I keep it as the rightmost App in the dock. Seldom need to look at it but when something goes awry, it’s instantly available and it really does make it a lot easier to figure out what the issue is.

Most of the time i have the CPU tab active but it cane revealing to look at the others, just give them a few seconds to gather data and populate the display.

(gastropod) #4

If you can’t find any runaway processes, get a utility such as Volitans Smart Utility that can talk to the disk drive and see if it’s getting errors. The drive is old enough that it could well be failing, and the first symptom of that is usually a general slowdown as the drive keeps trying on bad blocks until it finally succeeds. These ‘temporary’ errors do not get reported to the operating system, and that SMART Verified yes/no thing is absolutely useless. By the time it says ‘no’ the data is usually not recoverable.

Volitans isn’t free, but has a free demo period. It’s well worth paying for though. It can watch the disk in the background and warn you when trouble starts, which has saved my bacon several times over the years. Unfortunately, external drive enclosures rarely pass SMART data; if you manage to find one that does, hang onto it so you can test externals, too.

If the drive is bad, get a ‘final’ bootable backup, then replace it. For an iMac, the easiest thing is to run from an external drive though it’s slower, which may or may not be noticeable depending on what you’re doing. If the internal drive is really bad, it can keep everything slow when it’s mounted (the system periodically tries to talk to any drive it sees). You can test this by dismounting the drive by hand. If letting it stay mounted causes slowdowns, you can put in a cron job or automator action to dismount it automatically on startup.

(Richard Rettke) #5

Hmm. I currently have 11 external drive enclosures from multiple vendors (all USB 3) and they all transfer SMART data.

As an alternative for software, I would recommend DriveDX from They offer a free trial.

(Al Varnell) #6

You need to install the SAT SMART driver first, which is included and will display SMART data from most externals, especially those that are USB connected.

(Norm Harris) #7

OP returning.

Thank you for all the suggestions. I will put them to work.

Appreciate the help.

(Tommy Weir) #8

You might try running the pilot mode on Cocktail. Free, will run on a schedule if paid for. Clears up caches etc.

(Randy B. Singer) #9

Have a look at:

Macintosh Beachballs!

If your Macintosh has run just fine with 8GB of RAM in the past, it’s not suddenly your problem now. My guess, after 6 years, is that your hard drive may be dying. Try running Disk Utility/First Aid to see if that helps.

(Adam Engst) #10

My gut feeling matches Randy’s—the main thing that will slow down a Mac is a hard drive, particularly one that’s starting to have errors.

(Norm Harris) #11

OP back again.

Thank you all.

This will spur me on to purchase that new iMac for my better half. Been thinking about doing so anyway and now with recent problems and the input here I’ll proceed.

Appreciate all the info and recommendations.

(Tom Gewecke) #12

For what it’s worth, I was amazed by the huge speed increase and banishing of beachballs I got from my 2011 imac by starting to boot from an ssd connected by firewire 800.

(Adam Engst) #13

That always improves performance. :slight_smile: I recommend the SSD over the Fusion Drive for speed, and 16 GB of RAM standard.

(gastropod) #14

I do install the drivers. But it occurs to me that virtually all of my enclosures are firewire/usb, but I rarely or never use the usb, so I doubt that I tested them all that way. Yet another project to add to the list…

(Al Varnell) #15

I found that for the most part I didn’t need the extension for non-USB connected enclosures. As long as the app doesn’t say “Unsupported” your testing should have bee thorough.

(gastropod) #16

I wish I had your luck. I do have a Rosewill dock that passes the data, but it tops out at 2TB drives, and most of my drives are bigger than that now.