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Spotlight failures, slow wakes - will I ever learn?

Message #1 - Posted 2007/02/22 - Steven Fisher

Maybe a month ago, I started getting a system-wide speed decrease. The most significant was that my 12" PowerBook was suddenly slow to wake from sleep. I also got a few weird side effects, like Spotlight re-indexing for no particular reason and Spotlight being extremely slow (and occasionally failing to find obvious hits).

I had no major reliability issues, though. I think I maybe have turned off the computer in disgust twice in total that month. That's two more times than usual, but still below my panic threshold. Plus there was an opportunity to blame some beta software I was using at the time.

Anyway, in retrospect, it's so obvious: One day, I woke the PowerBook and got a kernel panic. I tried to restart and got nothing but the flashing folder. That was it; it went from working (if slow) to total failure. SMART never reported a thing. That makes three in three years on this PowerBook.

Why am I posting this? Well, I've heard of spinning beachballs. I've even had them before. This time, these were a lot more subtle. But I haven't heard of the weird Spotlight search results, or the reindexing, before. Those are some nice, clear symptoms.

So I'm mostly posting this for the purposes of helping someone doing a search for these symptoms later. And for sympathy, of course. Not much is needed - I had backups of everything - but it's still a serious PITA.

Btw, the drive ended up costing me CDN$20 for shipping and CDN$90 for labor, despite a five year warranty by the drive manufacturer. (There's just no way I was going to try to pull apart a 12" PowerBook!)

Message #2 - Posted 2007/02/22 - Clever Monkey

Steven Fisher wrote:

Maybe a month ago, I started getting a system-wide speed decrease. The most significant was that my 12" PowerBook was suddenly slow to wake from sleep. I also got a few weird side effects, like Spotlight re-indexing for no particular reason and Spotlight being extremely slow (and occasionally failing to find obvious hits).

I had no major reliability issues, though. I think I maybe have turned off the computer in disgust twice in total that month. That's two more times than usual, but still below my panic threshold. Plus there was an opportunity to blame some beta software I was using at the time.

Anyway, in retrospect, it's so obvious: One day, I woke the PowerBook and got a kernel panic. I tried to restart and got nothing but the flashing folder. That was it; it went from working (if slow) to total failure. SMART never reported a thing. That makes three in three years on this PowerBook.

It is a dirty little secret that laptop hard drives have a much lower MTBF rate.

Your earlier symptoms sound like a slowly failing hard drive. Sometimes SMART doesn't report these.

Did you try running disk repair/fsck from your boot media recently? This will often report failures when nothing else will.

If you have a laptop, invest in a large external hard drive. And back that up, too. Your drive will fail. For some of you, it is failing /right not/.

Message #3 - Posted 2007/02/22 - Steven Fisher

Previously, Clever Monkey wrote:

It is a dirty little secret that laptop hard drives have a much lower MTBF rate.

Your earlier symptoms sound like a slowly failing hard drive. Sometimes SMART doesn't report these.

Yeah. Had it not been for the prerelease software I was trying out, I'd probably have realized this. But it was way too easy to blame the software (which functioned at a rather low level) and just not get around to removing it. There's another lesson here about seeing what you expect, not what's really there.

I honestly have never seen a SMART failure, and as I've said, this is the third time for this PowerBook in three years.

The laptop world is split into roughly two groups: Those who will need to replace their hard drive but haven't had to yet, and those who have had to replace their hard drive (and will again in the future).

Did you try running disk repair/fsck from your boot media recently? This will often report failures when nothing else will.

I don't run fsck, but I did try using disk repair from an external drive. No errors were reported. It's just the way it goes sometimes.

As a complete tangent, odds are Mac OS X's drivers were retrying at least from time to time, but they weren't reporting it to me. Had I been able to see the number of retries increase over time, I'd at least have been expecting this. I really think Mac OS X needs to get better about reporting errors like this instead of silently recovering from them.

If you have a laptop, invest in a large external hard drive. And back that up, too. Your drive will fail. For some of you, it is failing /right not/.

Good advice for everyone. I lost nothing except my private SSH and GPG keys because of my backups (and I actually still have them both, I just don't trust them any more because some hard drive manufacturer has them too). Well, that and a bunch of time restoring everything "just so."

-- Steve

Message #4 - Posted 2007/02/22 - Jolly Roger

On 2007-02-22 13:06:43 -0600, Steven Fisher said:

As a complete tangent, odds are Mac OS X's drivers were retrying at least from time to time, but they weren't reporting it to me. Had I been able to see the number of retries increase over time, I'd at least have been expecting this. I really think Mac OS X needs to get better about reporting errors like this instead of silently recovering from them.

Actually, if there had been errors reading or writing to the drive, in all likelihood they *would* have been reported in the system log.

Last year, the system log on my Powerbook Titanium started showing disk I/O Errors. This went on for a couple months before I started to notice general sluggishness doing every-day operations on the machine. At that point, I ran TechTool Pro, which verified my hunch: blocks on the disk had gone bad. A low-level format mapped out the bad blocks, and all has been well since then. Anyhow, the system log was a great indication of impending doom - it's certainly not to be ignored!

JR

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