I'm a tech for my local school district and we are having some problems with our iMac Multimedia Lab. Over the past nine months, 5 of the 22 iMacs have suffered from filesystem corruption. The only recourse for these machines has been to completely wipe out the OS X partition and start fresh (with appropriate restore from Time Machine.)
Here's the list for why I know it's file system corruption:
The iMac will not boot OS X. I have seen it stop at the "throbber", the progress bar, or just the Apple logo.
Mounting the iMac disk via Target Disk Mode (love that feature) succeeds, but only for the Bootcamp partition. The OS X partition fails to mount.
A verify of the disk reveals the OS X partition needs to be repaired (I've seen invalid sibling entries, orphaned children etc.). Attempting to repair the disk fails. This latest attempt (just yesterday) said that the catalog B trees could not be rebuilt. I should have made more complete notes on what was said each time, but each time until this last one I assumed it was an odd one-in-a-million kind of event. A fluke
Attempting to repair or rebuild the drives with Drive Genius 3 also fails So far 98% of the user's files have been recoverable via Data Rescue 3 The physical hard drive does not appear to be failing (retrieving files from the drive does not hang or "beachball", the drive does not appear and disappear in Disk Utility, Finder remains responsive, etc.)
Normally I'd chalk it up to a series of bad drives. Just happened to be the unlucky guy who purchased a bad run of iMacs, right? Here's where things start to get interesting. I submit to you, the list of oddities:
The drives verify as good via SMART
- The RAM checks out
- After deleting and re-creating the partition (and re-installing OS X) all problems disappear.
- The corruption has not happened to the same Mac twice
- Bootcamp is installed on the same drive and functions before, after, and during the corruption on the Mac side.
- The Bootcamp partition has not had this issue on ANY of the iMacs
Also, to rule out the obvious:
There have been no brownouts or surges
We seriously doubt a virus, as the malfunctions appear anywhere from simultaneously (two machines went down at the same time about a month ago) to months apart. Plus, the user's documents are restored after reformat, so one would surmise that if it were a malicious program the Mac would keep failing again and again.
The machines have been in a climate-controlled area
It has not been the same user affected
Sometimes the problem occurs after an unavoidable hard shutdown (which occurs only infrequently. These machines are not being excessively powered down improperly. Only what you would expect with a Mac Lab running multimedia five days a week), other times it is completely out-of-the-blue
Frequently used software includes:
The machines are also loaded with Parallels 5, which loads the Bootcamp partition into a VM. Parallels was setup via the standard wizard, no oddball configuration or hacks.
And last but not least, the specs:
- iMac 10,1 (21.5 inch)
- Stock drives
- OS X Snow Leopard (latest updates)
- Stock memory
- Joined to our Active Directory infrastructure
- HFS+ file system (not case sensitive, the default for OS X Snow Leopard)
- No out-of-the-ordinary drive maint. programs. Drive Genius was loaded yesterday afternoon (AFTER recovering from the latest failure) to run a verification on all iMacs, but was not installed prior. All Macs, both those that have failed in the past and those that have never failed, passed with flying colors.
TL;DR: The OS X partition has become corrupted on five different iMacs, but the physical drives are fine. WHY!?!?!