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Help, I Have The Spinning Beach Ball Of Death!

The spinning wait cursor or spinning disc pointer — where your mouse pointer becomes the rotating color wheel or "spinning beach ball" — generally indicates that your Mac is engaged in a processor-intensive activity. For example, applying a Gaussian blur to an image in Adobe Photoshop is a processor-intensive activity.

In most cases, the "beach ball" disappears within several seconds. However, there are cases when the "beach ball" spins protractedly, a condition colloquially known as "The Spinning Beach Ball of Death" (SBBOD).

The spinning wait cursor informs you that your Mac is busy with a task, usually in the current application, and it will disappear when that task is finished.

Occasional appearances of the beach ball can be expected. Depending on your Mac's current workload, even common tasks may temporarily overtax your Mac's resources, such as its CPU or available RAM. For example, opening complex applications, video encoding, or syncing large files with iTunes® may result in a brief appearance of the SBBOD, especially if other applications are also busy. Nevertheless, the SBBOD can indicate that an application or a system process is frozen, hung, or grossly inefficient.

What To Do When It Won't Stop:

 • The SBBOD appears frequently during your work

Symptom: The SBBOD frequently interrupts your work with CPU-intensive applications, such as multimedia editing software.

Cause: Insufficient CPU, RAM, or free disk space for your type of work.

Solution:

  1. Run fewer applications concurrently. In particular, quit unnecessary applications when not in use and open fewer applications as Login Items.
  2. Use Activity Monitor to check for adequate CPU, RAM, or free disk space.

 • The SBBOD appears temporarily, but frequently in most applications

Symptom: The SBBOD appears in many applications, even those that are not normally CPU-intensive, such as reading e-mail, listening to music, or browsing the Web. The SBBOD appears temporarily for either a brief or extended period of time.

Cause: An errant application or background process is monopolizing the CPU. This assumes that your CPU, RAM, and free disk space are adequate.

Solution: 

  1. Use Activity Monitor to find and terminate the errant process

 • The SBBOD appears continuously in one application

Symptom: The SBBOD spins continuously in a specific application. Activity Monitor and the application's Dock icon indicate that the application is Not Responding. Other applications are responding nominally.

Cause: The application is frozen or hung.

Solution: 

  1. Wait a few minutes to see if the application either becomes responsive or crashes. If the application crashes, examine it's crash log for clues. For details on using crash logs in troubleshooting, see the "Console and Crash Logs" chapter of Troubleshooting Mac OS X.
  2. If the application fails to respond, do one of the following:

 • The SBBOD appears continuously in all applications

Symptom: The SBBOD appears constantly in all applications. Your Mac is unresponsive.

Cause: Your Mac is frozen or hung. This may be due to a hung system process or a potential hardware problem.

Solution:

  1. Attempt to restart or shut down your Mac:
    • If you are unable to do this by choosing either Restart and Shut Down in the Apple () menu, try the keyboard shortcut for shut down. (Control–Command–Media Eject)
    • If all else fails, press and hold the power button on your Mac until your computer turns off.
  2. Restart your Mac, preferably in Safe Mode.
  3. If you shut down your Mac via the power button, it is recommended that you check for disk, permission, or cache corruption.
  4. Check Console for clues to the cause of the system hang by examining the console and system logs.
  5. If the problem persists, bring your machine to the Tech Office for further hardware diagnosis.

• The SBBOD appears frequently in your Web browser

Symptom: Your Web browser has been open for a considerable period of time. You have opened numerous web pages and many may still be open. The SBBOD appears briefly, but frequently when performing actions in the browser, such as loading new pages, finding text (Command-F), or typing in input fields.

Cause: This is a common problem with Web browsers after extended use. It may be related to issues with managing the browser cache or history. Browser responsiveness tends to decrease with time the longer a browser is open, the more Web pages that have been loaded, and the more Web pages that are open concurrently.

Solution:

  1. Clear the browser cache. Consult the browser's Help for instructions.
  2. If the problem persists, quit (Command-Q) and reopen the browser.

• The SBBOD spins continuously while loading a specific Web page

Symptom: While loading a specific Web page, the SBBOD appears and spins continuously.

Cause: Internet plug-in problem. A plug-in is incompatible with the content it is attempting to display, the plug-in is out-of-date, or there is a problem with the content itself. This type of problem is less likely with the latest browsers, such as Safari® 4 and later, that run plug-ins separately from the browser.

Solution:

  1. Force the browser to quit.
  2. Verify that your Internet plug-ins are current: try the Mozilla Plug-In Check.

 

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