MacAttorney, the FREE Newsletter for Macintosh Using Attorneys


1) What Is The Rotating Beachball And Why Does It Appear?

2) Things To Try Right Off That Might Fix The Problem Entirely

3) Further Troubleshooting If The Above Doesn't Fix The Problem

4) If You Only Get The Rotating Beachball In Safari Or Another Web Browser

5) Problems Right After Installing New Software

6) Problems Right After Upgrading OS X

7) If Your Macintosh Is Brand New Or Practically New Or If It Is An Older Mac

Macintosh OS X Beachballs!

                                                        By Randy B. Singer

I've created this Web site to comprehensively help users who have suddenly found that their Macintosh has slowed down noticeably, and it is often exhibiting the rotating rainbow beachball cursor.

Let me start off by saying that it isn't at all "normal" for a Macintosh to slow down or exhibit rotating beachballs. Indeed, it isn't even what I would call "common." If your Mac is doing this, there is something wrong, and the problem needs to have some troubleshooting done so that the problem can be fixed. And the problem can always be fixed. There is nothing inherently wrong with OS X, the design of any particular Macintosh computer, etc. However, as with any computer, it's possible for an individual Mac to experience the odd software or hardware problem that needs to be sorted out.

That said, very recently a surprising and unexpected number of users have been experiencing rotating beachballs, slowdowns, and in some cases accompanying instability with their Macs. (Let’s call this a RBB problem for short.) This tends to show up in several distinctly different sorts of situations, and it is important to try and determine which one you fit into for more efficient troubleshooting of this problem:

- You recently upgraded to a new version of OS X

- You recently installed software that required an installer to install, and it installs low level software components and/or kernel extensions. (e.g. anti-virus software)

- You have an older Mac (or a even a brand-new Mac), and you haven’t done anything to it and the problem started out of the blue.

- You only have the problem in your Web browser; or primarily in your Web browser.

The main causes of the RBB problem are:

- outdated software

- incompatible software

- a hardware problem (e.g. a failing hard drive or bad RAM [sometimes just RAM that needs to be re-seated; usually third-party RAM].)

- your hard drive is too full and there is not enough contiguous free space left on your hard drive for your operating sytem and applications to work properly

If approached logically, it is usually possible, without too much work, to track down and remedy a RBB problem.


The rotating beachball is a "wait cursor."

It comes up whenever you have to wait a pre-determined amount of time before the requested function will be finished. If it comes up too often and remains too long, it is usually a sign that something is hogging CPU time in the background. It can be caused by a buggy driver, a corrupted application or database, or a utility that isn't compatible with your version of OS X or a software conflict.

If you are running Lion, or Mountain Lion, and you have less than 4GB of RAM installed, this may be your problem. However, if you have been running Lion or Mountain Lion with no problems for a significant period of time with the amount of RAM that you currently have installed, and you suddenly start having a RBB problem, upgrading your RAM shouldn’t be your first thought.

Return To Table of Contents


 I've heard from a number of users who have been able to fix a RBB problem by completely uninstalling certain types of third party (non-Apple) software that they have installed.  The major culprets tend to be software utilities that install stay-resident components (i.e. programs that run all the time in the background.) So, if you have any anti-virus software installed; or TechTool Pro, specifically, a background process for TechTool Pro called TechTool Agent; or any automated cleanup/maintenance utility, especially MacKeeper, uninstall them.   Any of these types of software will have to be installed using either specific instructions, or an uninstaller program, from the developer.  They can't be fully uninstalled by dragging their program icon or folder to the Trash.

How to uninstall MacKeeper:

How to uninstall Sophos Antivirus Home Edition:

To uninstall TechTool Pro 6, run the TechTool Pro Installer.  It includes an uninstall option. Select Customize during the install process, and be sure the "Remove TechTool Pro" checkbox is checked.

If uninstalling the above software doesn't help, try this...

Doing some routine maintenance chores often fix a RBB problem entirely. Have a look at this Web site and do everything that might be applicable:

OS X Routine Maintenance

At the minimum, do these:

- Boot into Safe mode and then restart normally

- Repair permissions

- Clear caches

If that doesn't help, try this.

Run Activity Monitor (in your Applications/Utilities folder), and click on the "%CPU header", and then click on the triangle in the %CPU header so that things are ordered in that column from largest to least. Make sure that All Processes is chosen in the drop down menu at the top of the window.

See what is running that is using the most CPU time. If it has a really high number, this is likely to be what is causing your slowdown. If you can figure out what it is, uninstall it.

If there isn't anything running that is clearly taking up all of your Mac's CPU time, leave Activity Monitor open while you work, and during one of the times when your Mac has slowed to a crawl or is showing the RBB, switch to Activity Monitorand see if something is using up all of your processor's time.

Once again, if you can figure out what it is that is causing the problem, uninstall it.

Likely candidates are a corrupted Spotlight database, a corrupted Safari database, a bad stay-resident/startup utility, etc. "mds" and "mdimport" are Spotlight processes. If they are what is causing the slowdown, Spotlight probably has a corrupted database. If that is the case, you can fix the problem by deleting Spotlight’s database, which will cause a new fresh one to be generated automatically. You delete Spotlight’s database by opening System Preferences (in the Apple menu) , choose the Spotlight panel, click on the Privacy tab, and drag your main drive's icon into the Privacy window. Now highlight your hard drive's icon within the Privacy window (by clicking on it once) and click on the "-" (that is, the minus button in the Privacy Window). This will cause the Spotlight database to be deleted and automatically rebuilt. (You won't be able to use Spotlight while its database is being rebuilt.).

Possibly helpful article:

Fix a Slow Mac With Activity Monitor

If the above doesn't fix everything, the problem might be stay resident software that is running in the background all the time on your Mac. Try this.

Go into:

Apple menu --> System Preferences --> Accounts --> Login Items

Try turning everything off by highlighting each item and clicking on the minus box, restarting your Mac, and seeing if things are better. 

You can also open the following folders in the Finder and move the files in them to your desktop to disable them temporarily, to see if that helps:
Macintosh hard drive/Library/LaunchAgents/
Macintosh hard drive/Library/LaunchDaemons/

If things get better after doing this, one or more of those startup items needs to be updated before being enabled again.

If that doesn't help, try this.

Are you using Default Folder X, Adobe Air, or Flip4Mac? If so, uninstall them and see if that helps. If it does, only reinstall the most recent versions of each of these.

Are you running anti-virus software? Uninstall it and see if things are better.

Check out this article (it’s somewhat dated, but the underlying premise is still valid):

Mac OS X anti-virus software: More trouble than it's worth? | MacFixIt

Now, if one or more of the above lead you to feel that you need to uninstall software, and it originally had to be installed with an installer, but you don't have the corresponding uninstaller, you can use this to uninstall that software:

EasyFind (free)

Set EasyFind to find "files and folders," *don't* set it to look at file contents, do set it to "ignore case" and to look for invisible files. Do a search for the name of the software and a search for the company that the software comes from, and you should be able to find all of the components of that software. You can delete these components right from within EasyFind.

(Note Spotlight isn't a reliable tool to look for software components strewn across your hard drive, as Spotlight does not, and isn't designed to, look everywhere on your hard drive.)

Return To Table of Contents


Boot your Macintosh into Safe Mode by restarting with the Shift key held down. For more info about Safe Mode and what it is see:
Item #5

Note that while booting up into Safe Mode it won't say that you are booting in Safe Mode, if at all, until it comes time to give your user name and password.

Lots of stuff will be strange in Safe Mode, and that's normal, because lots of stuff (purposely) is kept from loading in Safe Mode. It *does* take a lot longer to start up in Safe Mode. DON'T change *anything* while in Safe Mode; you are just there to diagnosis things.

Once your Mac has finally started up and has come to rest in Safe Mode, do some normal stuff, but don’t change the settings on anything.  Are you still getting RBB’s? Is your Mac still slow? All startup files and kernel extensions are disabled when you are in Safe Mode. If things are better while you are running in Safe Mode, then your Mac’s problems are almost assuredly being caused by a software problem (i.e. one of the bits of software disabled while you are in Safe Mode is the cause of your problem). Conversely, if you still have a RBB problem while running in Safe Mode, it is highly likely that the problem is a hardware one, not a software one.

If it seems likely that you have a hardware problem, do this...


Voltans Smart Utility

You don't need to pay for it (unless you want to keep it). It will work in trial mode just fine. Launch it and see what it has to say about the health of your hard drive. (i.e. SMART status.) (Voltans SMART Utility uses a more sophisticated algorithm to determine SMART status than does Apple’s Disk Utility.)

If Voltans SMART Utility reports that your hard drive is failing, you need to backup your data as soon as possible and get yourself a new internal hard drive.

If your hard drive doesn’t seem to be the problem, you should detach all peripherals from your Mac (including printers, scanners, etc.) except for the original Apple keyboard and mouse. If, after you do this, things are better, you can reattach them one at a time until you find the problematic piece of hardware.

If the above doesn’t expose the problem, then you may want to try re-seating your RAM. If that doesn’t help, you may want to test your RAM with:

Apple's Hardware Test

A better (or additional) test for bad RAM is:

Rember (free)

Most RAM vendors guaranty RAM with a lifetime warranty. Return bad RAM to them for replacement.

If you have come to this point and you have determined that you have a software problem, but you still haven’t narrowed down the culpret, skip down to section 6, below.

Return To Table of Contents


If you are getting the rotating beachball in Safari, or another Web browser (except for Chrome), there are a couple of simple things to try right off the bat that will more than likely fix the problem.

In Safari, go into the Safari menu and choose "Reset Safari". UNcheck Remove All Cookies, Remove Saved Names and Passwords, and Remove Other Autofill Form Text. Leave everything else checked. Click on Reset, and let Safari have a few seconds to recover.

Uninstall the copy of Flash that you have installed with this uninstaller (Adobe recommends doing this first):

Then download the latest version of Flash directly from Adobe, and install it:

(The above won’t make a difference if you are using the Chrome browser. It uses it's own built-in version of Flash.)

Other things that tend to really help:

Close all browsers.

Go to:

In the Finder

Option-click the Go menu

Your ~/Library (user library) will appear in the menu; choose it

Go into the Preferences folder

and delete this file (it will be rebuilt the next time that you launch your Web browser):

Delete all of your Flash cookies (this cannot be accomplished using your browser's preferences settings; they don't effect Flash cookies)

Delete everything in these two folders:

- In the Finder

Option-click the Go menu

Your ~/Library will appear in the menu; choose it

Trash all of the files in the folder at:

PreferencesMacromedia/Flash Player/#SharedObjects

- In the Finder

Option-click the Go menu

Your ~/Library will appear in the menu; choose it

Trash all of the files in the folder at:

/Preferences/Macromedia/Flash Player/

Now, launch Safari and see if things are all better.

About Flash cookies:

Return To Table of Contents


The first thing that I would try would be to uninstall anything that I had installed fairly recently that modifies how OS X works. (That is, changes its looks, adds menus, functionality, etc.) This type of software typically installs a kernel extension. Kernel Extensions that aren’t fully compatible with the version of OS X that you are running are notorious for causing RBB problems. Typically this is anti-virus software, utilities, video tools, anything from Norton/Symantec, etc.

You may need to use an uninstaller from the original developer of the software you installed.

If that doesn't help...

I would look in:

Apple menu --> System Preferences --> Accounts --> Login Items

and see if there is anything there that is new, or which you installed and don't really want/need. Use the minus box to uninstall anything unwanted.

Then restart you Mac.

If that doesn't help, have a look in:

[hard drive icon] --> Library --> Extensions

See what's in this folder. For example, I have nothing in this folder.

There is an invisible Extensions folder, but I don't think that you should be mucking with it. If none of the above suggest a solution, the best/safest way to go would probably be to do a clean re-install of OS X. See item #6, below, for how to do this.

Return To Table of Contents


First, some background... When Lion (OS X 10.7) came out, most users who upgraded had no problems. But a surprising number of users immediately experienced slowdowns, beachballs, etc. after upgrading. Some investigation revealed that those who upgraded to Lion via a clean install never had these sorts of problems. In short order it became clear the the problem was due to third party stay-resident software carried over from within the user’s previous OS that is not fully compatible with Lion.

Prior versions of OS X (prior to Lion, that is) allowed you to upgrade to a new major version of OS X doing what is known as an "archive and install." When you upgraded via an archive and install, your old version of OS X was put in a separate folder and disabled, and a completely pristine copy of OS X was installed. The user was left to reinstall any third party system software, and they usually did so by downloading a fresh updated copy of any such software rather than reinstall an outdated copy they already had.

With the advent of Lion, Apple moved to what they call an "automatic archive and install." Supposedly Lion's installer program checks to see that all of the stay-resident software installed under Snow Leopard is compatible with Lion, and if it isn't it moves it to a separate folder and deactivates it. If it is compatible, the installer will just leave it installed. This is supposed to be a time-saver for users. The problem is that Lion's installer does an inadequate job of checking for incompatibilities, and some incompatible software gets moved over into Lion.

If, like most folks, you upgraded to Lion or Mountain Lion, and you didn’t opt to do a clean install at that time, there is a good chance that you have stay-resident software installed that is causing a conflict, and which will make your Mac frustratingly unstable. Go to item #’s 2 and 3, above, and try the things there to troubleshoot a software problem and see if they help.

I've received some feedback that indicates that simply reinstalling OS X might fix things nicely.  This can be done easily thanks to the built-in Recovery Disk in OS X 10.7 and 10.7 (Lion and Mountain Lion):

If you can’t isolate a suspected software problem causing a RBB sitatuation, and reinstalling the OS normally doesn't help, going back and doing a clean install is a pain, but doing so will almost certainly solve all of your problems.

HOW TO: Do a Clean Install of OS X Lion

Return To Table of Contents


If your Macintosh is brand new or practically new and you have a RBB problem, you can try all of the foregoing, but you are likely to have a unique problem. If you purchased your Mac new, and you didn't upgrade the OS after you got it, and you didn't install any software that is potentially problematic (e.g. anti-virus software, anything from Norton/Symantec, etc.), you may be looking at a hardware problem.

The thing is that the same RBB symptoms that occur in the above cases can also indicate a hardware problem; usually a failing hard drive, but sometimes bad RAM. Unfortuantely, even brand new hard drives have been known to fail for no good reason in particular. And sometimes RAM is poorly seated when it is installed, or it can fail slowly from a random static charge incurred during installation. The latter is particularly common when third party RAM has been installed.

If your Mac is quite new, it is covered by AppleCare, and you should either take it to a nearby Apple Store to have it repaired, or if there is no nearby Apple Store, you should call AppleCare.

If you have an older Mac, the chances of having a hard drive that is about to fail increase. Or…you may simply have a hard drive that is too full. See:

Item #6 and Note #1

Also download:

Voltans Smart Utility

You don't need to pay for it (unless you intend to keep it). It will work in the trial mode just fine. Launch it and see what it has to say about the health of your hard drive. (i.e. SMART status.)

If Voltans Smart Utility says that your hard drive is about to fail, back up all of your data as soon as possible, and purchase and install a new internal hard drive.

Return To Table of Contents

If you have any additions to this Web site to suggest
I would very much appreciate hearing your suggestions.
Send them to:
Randy B. Singer

About The Author Of This Web Site

Randy B. Singer is:

- The head of the MacAttorney User Group
with, at this writing, well over 9,000 members!

- A co-author of The Macintosh Bible (4th, 5th and 6th editions);

- Author of the ABA publication:
The Macintosh Software Guide for the Law Office

If you are a Macintosh-using attorney or legal professional (including law students)
for a FREE e-mail subscription to
The MacAttorney Newsletter
send an e-mail to:
with the word "subscribe" in the Subject line of the message.

Hit Counter by Digits