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Every other click and keystroke seems to cause my MacBook to just freeze for minutes at a time.

(I saw How to fix OS X Lion being unresponsive? but I'm not seeing much swap activity nor is my RAM filled up, according to the Activity Monitor.)

At this point I'd just like to salvage my data off the machine so I can do a clean reinstall, which hopefully will address the problem. But it's taking forever to do anything, even bring up a menu/Finder or type in "terminal."

I guess my questions boil down to:

  1. Ideally, is there a service/process/etc. that I should disable/stop/kill? (If I can even get to it....) I don't see any processes consuming much CPU/RAM, so I have no candidates to kill. Is there a service that I should be disabling? I'm new to OS X so I'm not sure how to debug this issue.

  2. Otherwise, is there any way for me to at least get a "bare minimum" system up so that I can copy my files off, and perhaps run a few applications so as to export certain data that aren't neatly available for copying off as files? Should I be rescuing via a live CD (which means I won't be able to run OS X applications to export data but if that's the only option then so be it)? What would be a good live CD for this - Ubuntu?


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What hardware are you on? –  Undo May 11 '13 at 22:24
@Undo It's fairly old, late 2008 Aluminum MacBook with 2G RAM, but it's officially listed as supported by 10.8 and it should not be this slow - I've seen 10.8 run fine on the same hardware. –  Yang May 11 '13 at 22:36
Is it still doing Spotlight indexing? When you first install Mac OS X, it will usually index the whole disk which will slow down the computer for a while. You can check this by clicking in the magnifying glass in the top-right corner of the screen. –  Mike Meyers May 12 '13 at 9:38
@MikeMeyers It may be doing indexing, but even when it was running before and on other systems, it would never be able to cause such dramatic slowdown. –  Yang May 13 '13 at 2:43
Other than the low (2GB) RAM, the 2008 MacBooks should (from my first hand experience) work perfectly fine with Mountain Lion =/ –  XAleXOwnZX May 13 '13 at 3:10
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Ultimately I discovered that there exists a Safe Mode, which you can access by pressing and holding Shift after the gray boot screen appears. In this mode the system was responsive again, and I could actually copy my data off.

There also exists a more restrictive Recovery Mode, which you can access by pressing and holding Command+R, and you can use Disk Utility there to copy entire disks around. However, that wasn't necessary for me (until it came time to wipe out and reinstall the OS).

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There is no simple answer to this like just turn this switch on. Following actions could resolve the issue.

OS X needs about 1.5-2 Gig for it self.

It is possible it is doing lots of memory swapping (borrowing from hard drive) that will slow it down.

You can see that in Activity monitor:

...look at the 'Page outs' value, at the bottom of Activity Monitor's main window. (Click Activity Monitor's Dock icon to open the Activity Monitor main window.)
This number should be as low as possible. If you can add more memory.

Alternatively perform the usual repairs like CMD-R >disk repair, and safe mode boot.

To verify common problem with new installs, Disable Spotlight search (temporarily) by going to spotlight privacy and adding you hard drive to the do not search list.

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As I mentioned in the question: page outs is always 0, there's plenty of free memory, and I've seen it run fine on identical hardware. –  Yang May 13 '13 at 2:42
I saw that, but logically it is not possible for a computer to be slow if the CPU and RAM are not overloaded. It is a multitasking machine, so even if it is waiting for someone to do something, you should be able to do other actions with normal speed. Is your problem sporadic or constant. –  Buscar 웃 May 13 '13 at 6:31
Certainly systems can be unresponsive without resource exhaustion! Source: I'm a developer, and I've written kernel code that intermittently blocks, hangs, etc. :) –  Yang May 13 '13 at 6:43
Now we are getting somewhere :).. so you did the usual disk repair, safe mode start ect.. and it starts and shuts down normally (<30 sec) –  Buscar 웃 May 13 '13 at 6:56
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