Friday, February 18, 2011

Mac crash / Mac blue screen flash during use (not at startup)

A few days ago my MacBook Pro (running OSX 10.6.6) starting having some weird issues. I would be working on the computer, and all of a sudden the screen would flash blue, and then a few seconds later show my blank desktop background, and then finally the dock would come back. All within a few seconds. All of my applications would be closed as if it had restarted.

This has happened about five times, all when I was using different programs. The first time it happened, it was after I dragged a file to trash; after that it happened while using iPhoto and it had frozen up on me; and another time while using Safari. Most recently, the blue screen flash occurred after waking the computer from sleep and trying to close the browser windows in Google Chrome.

I've researched a lot of Mac forums and apparently this is a common problem, and I saw posts from 2007 that were never resolved; I still haven't found a forum with a clear answer.

Anyways, I reviewed the console from the crash this morning, and saw that there was quite a bit of activity all occurring around the time of the blue screen flash, like "windowserver port death" and a whole lot of errors and warnings. This narrowed it down to a possible problem with the window server. I took it in to the Apple store nearby and spoke with a Mac Genius. I showed him the console with the errors, and he suspected it might be a permissions error causing the system to crash and then reboot (looks like it is logging out and then re-logging in at rapid pace).

The Mac Genius attached an external hard drive and rebooted from that and ran permissions repair. He recommended doing this every 3 months or so since it is easy to corrupt permissions. I had never done this before, and it took about 12 minutes. He also said he would recommend doing this at home by booting from the Install DVD I got with the computer. To do this, you have to press the 'option' key during startup in order to have the option to boot from the DVD. (I guess this is a change from pressing "C" with older models.)

Here's how to reboot and repair permissions from the OSX install DVD:

  • Insert install DVD, restart computer, and hold down the 'option' key during startup.
  • This will give the options of booting from the hard drive or the DVD – select DVD
  • The reboot could take up to 5 minutes or so.
  • When install screen comes up, go to "utilities" in the top menu bar and select "Disk Utility."
  • Click on the main hard drive (not the subfolder/partition), and click on "repair disk permission" button, allowing the process to complete. This could take a while, especially if never done before. (It could take up to 3 hours, but mine took 12 minutes.)
  • Quit Mac OSX installer from the menu bar and restart.
We were thinking this should clear up the problem, but if not, the second resort is to archive & reinstall OSX (archive will save all your data), and a third resort is to erase and install (after full backup of all data, of course). We'll see what happens! Hopefully it will work. That would be nice, since it is rather annoying to get the blue screen flash in the middle of doing something, and loosing any data you were working on.  

Update 5/17/11
Well, after many months, many disk permissions repairs and many more blue screen crashes, we decided to go back to the Genius Bar. It was evident that the problem was not fixed. When we returned they ran a test on the hard drive. It apparently failed the test to some degree because they replaced the hard drive. Perhaps it was a hardware problem all along? We'll see.

-- This is a guest post by my wife Susan


KickBrion said...

Thank you so much! This post was a life saver for me! I couldn't find this information on ANY of the forums. Thanks for taking the time to help, and for the informative instructions!

Eric said...

Great! I'm glad you found it useful. And thanks for leaving a comment.

Stafford said...

How this stopped all the problems? My mac has done this blue screen about 10 times tonight. Getting real frustrated.

Eric said...

How? Not sure, but it seems to have to do with permissions.

It did clear up the problems for a while.

But, it happened last night. We suspect that it is related to Google's Chrome browser because it is causing all kinds of errors in the console log.

We did the steps above and removed Google Chrome to see if that fixes things.

Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago I began experiencing this problem. I think it's related to some active widgets I have running on the dashboard.

My macbook is only about 6 months old, I think I'll take it to the genius bar too.

Thanks so much for your very informative and helpful post!


Jacob Dearolph said...

Having this same issue but replaced my harddrive not more than a year ago. Did this work for you?

Eric said...

Yes, it did work for us. No more problems after the HD was replaced.

Anonymous said...

Hi There, I am having the same problems. My MacBook goes about 1 time a week into that blue screen, strange thing is that it stays in that blue screen mode (like a crash) there is nothing i can do :(

Anonymous said...

I've been having issues within than last month, only latest Chrome beta seems to be the issue

rajesh said...

Macs are pretty reliable, but mechanically, they are NOT any more reliable than other top tier names like a good dell studio and XPS series, falcoln northwest, alienware or hp. However compared to off-branded PC's like acer, gateway or other no name brands, yes they are more reliable.
@ mac repairs

ladymodem said...

My thinking is that Flash is the trigger and the graphics card is the target. Whenever flash is installed the older graphics cards do not like it. I also think that something that was done in Snow Leopard - perhaps the way it dealt with graphics especially video was changed because thats when I had 3 macs freak out on me with the SAME PROBLEMS. Even uninstalling flash did not work as I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop 90% of the time and they have options / code etc that deals closely with Flash. Apple said graphics card was bad and replaced it within a couple of months (and several updates later) BAM the problem came back. I get flicker and psychedelic freeze.

Now HERE IS THE KICKER - I CAN LOG IN TO THE APPARENTLY FROZEN macbook pro from my other computer using SCREEN SHARING - no flicker. Just a pain to work from. Then all 3 computers started to have battery problems, they got swollen and I had to remove them. I gave up around December 2012 after struggling and got a new Mac mini this year 2013 and have not had any problems.

I DID INSTALL MAVERICK on one using a Firewire cable starting up in Target Disk mode (holding T at startup). It worked fine UNTIL yes you got it UNTIL I INSTALLED FLASH plugin to look at YouTube video then the flicker freeze weirdness came right back. Had to uninstall flash. Giving my MBP 2008 to my daughter as I cannot use Adobe software on it. She of course is delighted.