OS X First Aid

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Five Intel-only ailments

You’ve taken the leap and bought a new Mac with an Intel processor. But does Intel inside mean brand-new troubleshooting issues, too? Yup. Here are five you should know about:

1. Rosetta Slowdowns All applications have to be rewritten to run natively on Intel processors. A program will likely have been updated to a Universal version, which means that it can run natively both on a PowerPC Mac and on a new Intel Mac. If a program hasn’t been updated, OS X will attempt to launch it in a PowerPC-emulation environment called Rosetta. Most programs will run slower in Rosetta than on a comparable PowerPC Mac. (And there’s no fix for this except an application update.)

If a program seems slow, you can check to see whether it’s running in Rosetta by opening System Profiler (/Applications/Utilities). In the list on the left, click on Software and then on Applications. You’ll see a list of all your applications—currently running and not. If a program can run in both modes, the Kind column will read Universal.

2. Application Failures Some PowerPC programs won’t launch on Intel Macs, even in Rosetta. A few launch successfully but some of their features won’t work. At press time, this included important programs such as Microsoft’s Virtual PC, and disk-repair programs such as Alsoft’s DiskWarrior and Micromat’s TechTool Pro. You shouldn’t even attempt to use a non-updated disk-repair program on an Intel Mac. Wait for the software company to release an Intel-compatible upgrade.

3. The Classic Vanishing Act The Classic environment no longer exists on Intel-based Macs; there is no Apple-supported way to run Classic programs anymore—period.

Reformatting Required If you want an external drive to be able to boot from an Intel Mac, you need to reformat it, via Disk Utility’s Partitions tab, and select the GUID Partition Scheme option, as shown here.

4. Drives That Won’t Boot If you want to be able to boot from an external drive when you’re using an Intel-based Mac, you should reformat the drive, using Disk Utility’s Partition tab. Click on the Options button and select GUID Partition Scheme (see “Reformatting Required”). This option is available only when you run Disk Utility on an Intel-based Mac and when you select an external volume. You need to do this only if you want to be able to boot from the volume.

You will also need to install an Intel-supported build of OS X on the drive. For example, at present, there are two versions of OS X 10.4.5—one for PowerPC Macs and the other for Intel Macs. On my Power Mac G5, the 10.4.5 build number is 8H14; on my Intel iMac, it’s 8G1454. If you’re running OS X 10.4.4, there are separate PowerPC and Intel updaters for each platform.

5. Plug-in Glitches When you’re using the Safari Web browser, you may get an alert that says you need a plug-in file—even though you know you have the plug-in already. This is because Safari is running as a Universal program, but many plug-ins themselves are still PowerPC-only software. The best solution is to get an updated version of the plug-in you’re having trouble with—which will hopefully be available by the time you read this. If one doesn’t exist, here’s a workaround:

Quit Safari and open its Get Info window in the Finder (click on the application icon and press Command-I). Choose the Open Using Rosetta option. The next time you launch Safari, it will open using Rosetta. You’ll lose the Intel speed advantage, but at least your plug-in will work.

If you have similar problems with another Universal application that uses plug-ins, the same solution should work.

Treat panic attacks

It’s an ominous sign: your screen just turned a shade darker and displayed a message—in several languages—informing you that you must restart your computer. Your Mac is suffering from a kernel panic. But despite the name, there’s no need for you to panic if you experience one.

1. Restart The first step is to just restart your Mac, as the dialog box requests. Near the end of the startup, a “this application has unexpectedly quit” message will appear. Don’t worry: your Mac is merely informing you that OS X itself quit unexpectedly before your restart.

2. Check for Updates Like application crashes, kernel-panic problems often vanish after a restart. If not—and if the onset of the panic is linked to a specific application—there’s almost certainly a fatal bug in that software. Contact the maker for an updated version or for advice.

3. Ax New Hardware Have you recently added RAM or a PCI card to your Mac? Regard such hardware additions with suspicion, especially those that add a kernel extension with the word Driver in its name to your computer’s /System/ Library/Extensions folder. These extensions can be potential sources of kernel panics. If you recently added something to your Mac, see whether removing it eliminates the panic. (For more about RAM problems, see Is Your Memory Bad? )

4. Try a Safe Boot If the kernel panic occurs at apparently random moments, or during startup, try a Safe Boot. Restart and immediately press the shift key, holding it down until a blue screen appears. The Safe Boot initiates a series of OS X repairs.

5. Reinstall OS X If the Safe Boot succeeds but a kernel panic strikes again when you boot normally, a file in the /System/Library/Extensions folder is usually the cause of the panic. The file was probably installed by a third-party application, and the simplest solution is to reinstall OS X and then reinstall your third-party software only as needed until you find the program that triggers the panic.

[ Contributing Editor Ted Landau continues to search for new ways to get into and out of trouble. For more troubleshooting tips, see his book Ted Landau’s Mac OS X Help Line: Tiger Edition (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

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