Hyper Hard Drive

Martin Kingsley
2 September, 2011
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I was introduced to Activity Monitor through your Macworld Australia, Mac Basics and Troubleshooting publications.

I have an iMac, MacBook Air, MacBook and a PowerBook. The MacBook was the first with an Intel processor and has had extensive domestic use.

I occasionally refer to the Activity Monitor on the computers and recently noticed a difference between the PowerBook and the other machines.

The performance of the PowerBook has slowed and after negotiations with Telstra and BigPond I was supplied with a replacement USB modem (Elite) which made continuous communication with the web possible. The speed of exchanging data increased.

During several passes between BigPond, Telstra and our local Apple reseller it was suggested that my PowerBook operating system was not stable, after I had demonstrated a ‘jumping’ display in its Activity Monitor.

The jumping display is Disk Activity in which the right-hand scroll bar moves up and down erratically as activity messages, variable between 0 and 45, flash up

I demonstrated this ‘jumping’ display to the Apple (premium) reseller Technician who suggested that I reinstall the operating system from its start-up disc. I have done this after the use of Disc Repair utility and it made repairs (two error messages).

I used my Snow Leopard start disc and restored files selectively from my back
up hard drive using Time Machine and Applications and Users folders.

I followed the directions in Macworld Australia’s Troubleshooting Superguide.

The Apple (premium) reseller suggested that my hard drive pointer was in continuous motion, putting the OS X 10 hard drive at risk of premature wear. Can you please inform me of the means to damp or remove the ‘jumping’ motion of Disk Activity display,

Bill Wood

My first piece of advice would be to get onto a maintenance tool like OnyX (www.titanium.free.fr), and let it run all of its many different maintenance tasks. If you’ve restored from a Time Machine backup, you may not have cured any pre-existing problem with your old setup by reinstalling.

As a Unix-derived operating system, OS X maintains many different processes at a system level, many of which author event logs and read/write various data from
and to the hard drive (these are the innocuous processes you refer to whose Process IDs run from 0 to 45).

These processes can sometimes create erroneous links between files and their presumed locations or otherwise cause minor havoc, leading to excessive accessing of the hard drive. OnyX should be able to fix these problems.

Mac OS X is also very proactive in swapping things in and out of RAM in order to keep the user experience as smooth as possible.

If there isn’t enough RAM for all the things OS X wants to store (and the OS X RAM footprint has increased substantially since 10.4), it will instead write things into temporary files on the hard drive, which can slow down  the computer and also increase the number of read/write cycles.

Investing in more RAM, depending on your configuration, can really make a positive impact on your user experience.

You may also want to consider using another web browser besides Safari (Safari has been known to create a lot of unnecessary hard- drive activity), such as Firefox, Opera or Chrome.

Finally, there’s always going to be some measure of hard-drive activity during computer use, even when nothing appears to be happening on-screen, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, and this is true of all operating systems and not worth worrying about. Hopefully, though, these tips can put a damper on some of it!

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