Resurrecting a Sick iMac: Reinstalling when nothing else will help

By Graham K. Rogers

I do not know what caused the crashes; but after two years of impeccable behaviour, the iMac let me down. There were several candidates for beginning the rot, but (whatever the cause) the result was either panic attack warning screen, or a total seizure. Either requires a restart, which causes additional weakening.

iMac I listed likely causes: the lightning strike that turned the screen pink; the power cuts that not even the UPS could cope with; the battery failure; the Palm update that oddly needed Root priviliges; OSX 10.3 Panther, pushing the older-generation G3 chip past its best, plus not enough memory; incompleted downloads; so much software installed, tried, deleted and tried again. There are more but I was kidding myself that all was well.

The straw that broke the camel's back was a crash rescue that failed. After 12 hours of trying to fix several thousand reported file corruptions -- you know you are in trouble -- the utility apologised and died. With 2 GB less disk space, I bit the bullet and decided on the reinstall.

I first backed up as much data as possible. Using a G4, and with the help of Nung, our technician, we set up a LAN. I copied the contents of the two users' home folders to the G4. This was slow. It was clear that many files were corrupt, so I replaced the corrupt ones in the second user's folder with some transferred last month.

In my own folder, I decided to limit the data transferred. As preferences and caches were danger areas, I trashed those, preferring to start anew. What was essential, however, were the files for iTunes, iPhoto, Mail and iCal. I did not copy the Address Book contents. The data was on the Palm, so was easily retrievable.

On Tuesday morning, I sat in front of the iMac for five minutes and ran through a mental check list, took a deep breath, then restarted the computer with an installation disk. In the disk utility, I clicked on "Erase," then paused again before initialising the disk.

disk utility
The erase panel: shown here run from the hard disk (impossible to erase the startup disk)

With some sleight of hand, I inserted the original System 9 disks. These came with the Mac when I bought it and were unused. On went 9.2 and, after some form-filling, I updated with an archived 9.2.2.

I debated whether to use the original 10.1.4 installation and then update, but thought this unnecessary and put in the Panther disk. I selected restart, held down the C-key and we were off.

After an hour or so, the system was on with the applications that come as part of the installation. I brought OSX up to date with a copy of the 10.3.3 Combo. Bit by bit over the next few days, I updated from the Apple site and also reinstalled many of my regular programs.

Of course, it was all much faster and there were no problems. I was also happy to find that the modem was finding a tone every time. Instead of a creaky 2.5GB of space, I can relax with 7.5GB. I had delayed the reinstall for far too long and got what I deserved.

A few days before I decided to reformat the disk, the latest update to iTunes (4.5) was released. It is now easier to link to the iTunes shop from music already installed to see what we are missing. There is also a new button called "Party Shuffle" which randomly selects music from the collection (or from playlists), rather than playing sequentially. The major surprise was quality. I thought my ears were playing tricks to begin with -- a fuller sound -- but a friend confirmed my thoughts. With some reworking under the hood, the way iTunes now handles digital data from CDs is improved.

iTunes 4.5

As I guessed weeks ago, there will be a new version of OSX in a few months: code-named "Tiger" (like the breakfast cereal or gasoline?). Steve will reveal all at the Wordlwide Developers Conference to be held from June 28 - July 2 this year.

Yes, there is an OSX Trojan. In an illegal download of Microsoft Office 2004, there is a script. Click to install, and the home folder is deleted. As Microsoft only issues expensive retail CDROMs, this is hardly their fault. The lessons are: avoid dodgy software (hands up those who visit Phantip); be careful what you click on when you have downloaded dodgy software. Apple, Microsoft and CERT are aware of this.

I am about to take the plunge with a new Mac. With new machine announcements imminent, local prices are coming down. I have considered the 14" iBook, the 12" PowerBook, the eMacs (really good value at the moment), and even the 1.6GHz G5, although that would need a monitor. Compare bottom end PC prices in Phantip Plaza with the Macs, and the PC wins every time.

Note: a couple of weeks after writing that, locally the 1.25GHz eMac, with 40GB hard disk and the combo drive, was on offer at 29,990 baht. Who needs a laptop anyway?

If you are looking at medium-level machines, the Mac prices are competitive, particularly if you have to pull your hair out over all those nasty things that keep attacking the Beast of Redmond. One international company here has obviously had The Real Thing one too many times and just pulled the plug on e-mail for all but a select few.

Maybe they should have a big Mac to go with that. . . .

Made on Mac

For further information, e-mail to Graham K. Rogers.

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