Too many spinning beachballs w Monterey

I get too many spinning beachballs - apps become completely unresponsive. It is often the Music app but others like Safari too, and one seems to cause another to happen. There are a lot of complaints like this on the Apple discussions. Any advice?

1 Like

A spinning beachball means that the UI system (the “window server” process) is not receiving UI events in a timely manner, or the app trying to receive the events is not receiving them.

Move the pointer around. If you see the beachball everywhere, then it is the UI system that’s having problems. If you see it only over certain windows, then that app is the one not responding to events. Note that if you see it over the desktop but not over open app windows, then it may be the Finder app.

As for why this is happening, there are far too many possibilities to consider without additional information.

I’ve seen the Finder hang/beachball when a storage device starts responding too slowly, or if it hangs. I’ve seen this when using a flaky USB interface, and with drives that were having problems (either in need of disk first aid or with hardware problems).

A poorly-written app may cause this if a UI event-handling thread is blocked (that is, waiting for an API to complete) for too long. For instance, if it is waiting for a response from a network service. Apps that block on network events should not be doing it from UI threads, but not all developers remember to do this everywhere they should.

2 Likes

How long have you had the problem? Is it ever since you installed Monterey? Have you run First Aid on your startup drive?

A while. I did run first aid, no problems.

Nate

Randy Singer created this troubleshooting page a few years back: Macintosh OS X Beachballs!.

1 Like

I’ll bet the Mac in question is a 21.5" iMac with either a plain HD or a Fusion Drive set-up. They came with the despicably slow 5400rpm 2.5" hard drive, 1TB in storage.
The hard drive is the culprit. I’ve seen this in 2015, 2017 & 2019 iMacs. (I’ve done 4 machines).
The solution is to install either a SATA SSD (in the plain HD) or install a SSD Blade in the Fusion Drive iMac.
Note the plain HD model can only install the SATA SSD as there is no connection in that model for a Blade SSD. Also that is a much simpler “open heart surgery” process. The result is a much faster and responsive iMac.
Installing a Blade SSD (which can only be done on Fusion Drive iMacs) requires much deeper and more complex surgery, but results in what seems like a two-fold increase over the SATA SSD installation.
Competent “backyard” Mac mechanics can supply and install the SSDs for less than $100 but the labour of opening and resealing the iMacs can add to the price for the labour involved (especially for the blade installation). But it will be much cheaper than getting Apple to do it.
A couple of caveats…
If installing a NVMe blade, one has to use a little adapter (approx cost $8) to make it fit the apple socket.
The SSD needs to be formatted before installing. It works best to Clone the drive onto the SSD before opening the iMac for surgery. Carbon Copy Cloner will work for this and could take 6-12 hours to clone depending on how much data is on the drive and how slow the drive is. Once the clone is made, don’t use the iMac until after the surgery (If you do use the Mac, Monterey requires CCC to do a full clone again, if you want to be able to Boot from it, once it is installed).
The SSD solution is a fantastic improvement and worth every cent.
Interestingly, with the removal of the 5400rpm HD, once they get reformatted, they operate at their normal speed again. One can put those into a little external drive case with a USB 3.0 connection ($10) and re-use them for Time Machine drives, or storage devices that don’t need frequent or fast access to large files.
Apple Genius Bar staff will tell the customer they can’t see anything wrong, and that all is okay. I even had one customer tell me they replaced the logic board as that was the problem. Once the SSD was installed … super fast, and no spinning beach ball to be seen.
Can you advise the specs of your Mac in question?

Thank you, Al, for mentioning my Web page.

I’d say that about 85 to 90% of the time, when someone tells me that they have this problem, it turns out to be that they have stay-resident anti-virus software installed that is dragging their entire Mac down. Usually the culprit is Sophos, which people like because it is free. This is an instance where “free” isn’t a good deal.

To fix the problem, you can’t just drag the program to the trash, you need to either use an installer program from the developer, or specific step by step instructions on how to remove it, because stay-resident anti-virus programs are almost always installed deeply into your Mac’s system.

Please let us know how things go.

1 Like

I’ll bet the Mac in question is a 21.5" iMac with either a plain HD or a Fusion Drive set-up. They came with the despicably slow 5400rpm 2.5" hard drive…The solution is to install either a SATA SSD (in the plain HD) or install a SSD Blade in the Fusion Drive iMac.<<

Folks on discussion lists like to throw YOUR money away on things that are rarely the solution to a slowdown problem. Let me ask you…has this Mac EVER run normally? If it has, the problem isn’t that you need more RAM or that your hard drive is too slow (assuming that both are healthy or that your hard drive isn’t close to full). Adequate hardware doesn’t become inadequate hardware unless it is failing or your use case for your computer really drasically changes. Changing out your RDHD for an SSD WILL give you more performance, there is no doubt, but that’s not the source of your slowdown. The same with adding more RAM. In fact, adding more RAM, as is often suggested on discussion lists, may not give you noticeably better performance at all.

I HIGHLY recommend that you troubleshoot your Mac and determine what the cause of the slowdown is before throwing money at the problem. You can troubleshoot the problem for free (using the instructions on my Web page) and often fix the problem for free.

In troubleshooting your problem, the very first thing that I’d ask you is if you are running stay-resident anti-virus software. If you are, eight or nine times out of ten, fully uninstalling that anti-virus software, using the developer’s own uninstaller or detailed guide for doing so manually, will usually fix things immediately. (Sophos is often the problem. It’s a POS.)

Not the problem? The next thing that I’d check is if your hard drive is failing. Hard drives fail at a surprising rate. You can check the health of your hard drive quickly, easily, and for free. Run the free (but fully functional) free demo of this program:

DriveDX - free demo
https://binaryfruit.com/

Hard drive fully healthy? Test your RAM with this free utility:

Rember (free)

Run it and see what it says. Typically the problem (if there is one) will be due to non-Apple RAM. Remove the bad RAM and send it back to the supplier for replacement.

RAM not the problem? Test the rest of your hardware with this free utility from Apple:

Apple Diagnostics

If none of the above points to the problem, then check out the other, less common suggestions on my Slowdown Solutions Web site. Throwing money at the problem by purchasing upgraded hardware (SSD and/or more RAM) is almost always a misguided way to go.

1 Like

Randy’s advice is a good way to start the troubleshooting process. And his website is a great resource.
In my four cases, the iMacs in question did not run any anti-virus software. They were all standard Macs that had been upgraded to Monterey.
(btw, those later iMacs don’t have user-upgradeable RAM). And I agree with Randy that RAM upgrades have minimal impact.
On the other hand, an SSD install breathes new life into the iMac.
My experience with using DriveDX (on more than 20 different drives) is that it gives an “indication” that a drive may be faulty. It is not a reliable gauge.
One could also install the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test app (from App Store) to test the read and write speeds. (It is good therapy to know one has made the correct decision re an SSD install, to test the original drive and compare its speed to the SSD drive, after it is installed, to see the huge improvement).
So, once you’ve established (and banished forever) any AV software, and the drive read and write is still slow (using DriveDX and Blackmagic) the next thing is to do the SSD install.
This results in an iMac with an SSD which is much, much cheaper than buying brand new (back in 2019) an iMac with a 1TB factory installed SSD. And the speed difference would probably not be noticeable for most users between the factory installed SSD and the 3rd party SSD installed post-purchase.
However, I wish to disagree with Randy’s comment that an SSD install is a “misguided way to go”. In every case, of more than 20 SSD installs over the years (27" and 21.5" iMacs), my experience has been the results are a … WOW!!! What an improvement!
It takes time to do all the tests … and, if you feel time is money, simply do the SSD upgrade, then run the tests, IF the problem happens to still exist. :grinning:

Once again, I’m not disputing that installing an SSD in an old Mac that came with a RDHD will noticeably improve it’s performance. It’s just that the cause of a recent slowdown or beachball problem in a Mac that ran fine previously has nothing to do with how fast the hard drive was that came with your Mac.

What I propose is that you determine the cause of your problem first, and then once you have fixed the problem, and your Mac has returned to having it’s original performance, then you can decide if you want to throw money at an old Macintosh and modify it for better-than-stock performance.

It’s sort of like having a Corvette that is suddenly running like a dog, even though it ran great when you originally got it. Your friends may insist that to improve performance you should add an (expensive) turbocharger. (After all, it’s not their money…) There is no doubt that adding a turbocharger to your Corvette will make it faster. However, I would argue that it’s a much better course of action to find what has caused your Corvette to slow down, and fix that problem and return your Corvette to stock performance, before deciding to add expensive upgrades to your car.

Note that whatever it is that is causing your rotating beachball problem, if you don’t fix it first, may persist AFTER you have paid to have an SSD installed. Then you will have a Mac “with a new breath of life”… with a rotating beachball problem.

1 Like

I have an Apple SSD. You all assume the problem is fixable. But so many people on the Apple discussions complain about this that I think the problem is systemic. But of course not everyone has it.

If not everyone has the problem…then why do you assume that it is systemic and not fixable?

There has to be a reason why some people have the problem, and others don’t.

All that I can tell you is that I’ve encountered a LOT of people with rotating beachball problems over the years. (It’s not unusual for me to hear from an average of two users a week with the problem.) I’ve yet to encounter someone that I’ve worked with directly for whom we haven’t been able to figure out and fix the problem. (That is, assuming that they have been willing to work with me. Some people simply refuse to listen, they just want to wallow in their misery and insist that there is nothing to be done…)

I do want to note that one thing that needs to be added to my “Beachballs” page is that many folks purchased SSD’s that were too small for their needs because early SSD’s were expensive. Once an SSD gets to about 50% full, it starts slowing down. By the time that an SSD gets to about 70% full, it is esentially done. Users with Samsung SSD’s tend to be in the worst shape. As far as I can tell, Samsung has no SSD’s that come with any over-provisioning whatsoever. So Samsung SSD’s start out fast, but start noticeably slowing down early in their lifespan.

“In practice, an SSD’s performance begins to decline after it reaches about 50% full.”
https://www.seagate.com/tech-insights/ssd-over-provisioning-benefits-master-ti/

"The rule of thumb to keep SSDs at top speeds is to never completely fill them up. To avoid performance issues, you should never use more than 70% of its total capacity.

“When you’re getting close to the 70% threshold, you should consider upgrading your computer’s SSD with a larger drive.”

“SSDs may suffer performance issues, especially in writing speed, when the drive reaches full capacity. It is easier for the drive to write to an empty cell when there is free space available. When the drive is full, the SSD needs to find out which blocks are partially filled, move that information into a cache and then write it back to the drive. It is best to have 10-15% of your drive set aside for free space, to keep a good balance between performance and space utilization.”

I have a 2017 27" iMac with a 2T Fusion drive. The iMac really started slowing down/beachballing and it was pretty clear that the drive was the issue. I picked up an external 2T Thunderbolt SSD (OWC Envoy Pro FX) and now use that as my boot drive. It gave the iMac a whole new lease on life. I’ve repurposed the Fusion drive as a network drive for laptop Time Machine backups.

1 Like

Almost exactly my set up, but I got the OWC Envoy Pro EX. I had tried a slow SSD and there was little difference from the Fusion. Then went to the fast SSD (in Aug. 2020) and much better. Not as good as my M1 MBP, but OK until maybe the next round of Mini’s.

Still want a large screen desktop, but can wait. The SSD is giving me another two or three years out of my iMac. The drive isn’t cheap, but cheaper than the options and am/was awaiting Apple Silicon developments. When I got the iMac, I considered a Mini, but didn’t seem like quite enough, but Mini will be good enough when I get around to upgrading again. Studio seems to be more than I need.

1 Like

I have seen this issue (slow performance and spinning beachballs) on many iMacs with 5400 rpm drives. The problem appears to be when people upgrade from Mojave to a later macOS. With the advent of APFS this seems to be more common. APFS is optimized for SSD’s, NOT spinning drives. Replacing the HD with and SSD often solves the issue.

2 Likes

The slowdown @dsthom describes is my exact experience with half a dozen iMacs.
And installing a SATA SSD drive eliminates the spinning beach ball. Installing a NVMe blade SSD seemingly doubles the read/write speed over the SATA SSD. And the SATA is about 10 times faster than the 5400rpm drive.
The cost for 1TB SSD drives (either SATA or NVMe) is approximately $100. Add $100 for labour and it’s a great investment.

Yep. The price for 1TB or 2TB (SATA, NVMe or USB) is pretty reasonable. Using Micro Center as a pricing reference:

  • 1TB SATA: $75 (Inland) - $160 (Seagate IronWolf)
  • 1TB NVMe: $85 (Inland, Intel) - $250 (Supermicro)
  • 1TB USB3: $90 (Inland) - $280 (WD Black)
  • 2TB SATA: $180 (Crucial, Inland) - $300 (Seagate IronWolf)
  • 2TB NVMe: $180 (Inland) - $350 (Seagate FireCuda)
  • 2TB USB3: $170 (Crucial) - $420 (WD Black)

Unfortunately, higher capacities and/or Thunderbolt become very expensive:

  • 2TB Thunderbolt: $620 (WD Black)
  • 4TB SATA: $360 (Crucial) - $450 (Samsung 870 EVO)
  • 4TB NVMe: $430 (Inland) - $785 (Seagate FireCuda)
  • 4TB USB: $360 (Crucial)
  • 8TB SATA: $770 (Samsung 870 EVO)

But chances are that if you have more than 1-2TB of data, you probably don’t need it all to be on the system SSD. You can use an SSD for the OS, applications, home directories and any currently-active media projects, using an HDD (internal or external) or NAS for everything else (e.g. media collection, document archive, etc.) where top performance is not going to be necessary.

If it’s not an HDD (spinning rust mechanical hard drive) then it is likely 3rd party software. There’s a free tool used frequently by those on the Apple Discussions to collect a list of what’s running that can be helpful in diagnosing software issues. Many of the people posting on the Apple Discussions are infected with some form of adware / malware or a faulty old security tool or one that was only partially removed.

https://etrecheck.com will generate a system report.
https://www.malwarebytes.com is useful in removing malware.

Open Terminal and issue the following command:
kextstat | grep -v com.apple; systemextensionsctl list

That will list both non-Apple kernel extensions as well as the newer system extensions. It would be normal for zero results.

Look for any old outdated software, especially any security tools or cleaners and remove them. They are not nearly as necessary as they once were.

I would agree with those who state that an HDD is a very bad idea, they are 20+ times slower than even a slow SSD. It’s even worse because Apple used slower 5400RPM drives. Maximum HDD transfer rate is below 100MB/s. SSD’s in newer Macs are reaching 3000Mbs on average. Thankfully, Apple stopped selling iMac’s with an HDD / Fusion option. An older Mac with an HDD would make it even more marginal on Monterey which barely supports the Mac in the first place. I see the new requirements for macOS Ventura killing off many older Mac’s including the 2013 Mac Pro. I have one of those and despite the SSD it’s become really slow on Big Sur. An M1 MacBook Air outperforms it handily.

1 Like

I agree that an APFS formatted boot drive is a bad idea on any Mac that has a internal spinning rust HDD as it’s boot drive. The real issue that kills performance on an APFS HDD is how APFS writes to a disk. Whenever you write anything, it’s to an previously unallocated block. If you rewrite a block in an existing file, it gets written to a previously un allocated block, not back to the block it came from. It’s a different kind of fragmentation issue.

This APFS behavior is useful in maintaining disk integrity and allowing snapshots. It’s not so great for HDDs no matter how fast they are because you pay the penalties of seek time and rotational latency as you traverse the “fragmented” HDD to get files. The penalty is especially bad for HDDs that are actively read and written. Couple that with the relatively slower SATA interfaces of HDDs and “hello spinning beachballs”.

APFS does work out OK for a HDD that you’re going to use for Time Machine. It’s a different I/O profile than for a system drive, and the penalties are not as noticeable.

SSDs do not have rotational latency or seek time issues. Even SATA SSDs are better than SATA HDDs for APFS, but I bet you see few spinning beach balls with Macs that have internal SSD or external Thunderbolt enclosures that house M.2 PCIe SSDs.

Have a read here about why APFS and spinner (rotating disk) drives don’t really work well together:

Using APFS On HDDs … And Why You Might Not Want To

APFS fragments RDHD’s like mad, which makes them get slower and slower over time.

Should APFS Be Used on All Disk Types?

1 Like