Released June 2012, Model A1278. Intel processor with Turbo Boost, Up to 512 MB DDR5 Video RAM

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Frequent crashes - RAM, GPU, fan, browser?

Hi - I've been experiencing frequent crashes since about a year ago. I've been troubleshooting and trying to solve it since then, in between deadlines. I'm still having the crashes, though, so I need to hear any suggestions on what this might be. I'll try to describe the problem(s) and what I've done as clearly as possible (and, I've been troubleshooting for some time, so I hope you wouldn't find it a problem that my description below is quite long).

When they started happening, the crashes usually seemed to be related to Safari. The whole OS would freeze, then restart itself. So I stopped using Safari and installed Firefox. Using Firefox worked for a while, until I started getting the same crashes again. This was why I started carefully backing up (by cloning and with time machine). By the way, all along, the internal HDD was fine (checked with Disk Utility).

At this point, I was still trying to keep Mac OS X 10.7.5 (because of some softwares that might've not worked well if I had upgraded). But I eventually planned a clean install of Mountain Lion, because I thought perhaps my 10.7.5 was too outdated already.

Before I got to install Mountain Lion, though, a few weeks ago at one critical point (I was finishing up a Keynote doc with lots of images), my laptop froze again. This time, however, it was followed by the 3-beeps, and it didn't restart itself. I gathered (googled) that this was potentially a RAM problem.

So, what I did was, firstly, to clean install Mountain Lion (as I've been planning to do it for some time). This didn't seem to help with the crashing (although it did get rid of clutter in my system, and I now have much more free space in my internal HDD).

Next, I installed Memory Clean v4.8 (FIPLAB) and tried to control my memory usage through it. There seemed to be no connection between my RAM usage and the crashes. Around this time, just after my laptop started to freeze, the screen would be covered in random (interference) lines before the whole system would shut down and go to the 3-beeps. It wouldn't restart itself - I would have to hold the power button down for a while to get the 3-beeps to stop. Then I'd be able to restart it.

What I did after this was opening up my laptop. I opened it following the instructions carefully, e.g. took off the battery cable before fiddling with the RAM sticks. I also cleaned it (it wasn't visibly dirty apart from a ø2mm of whitish powdery stuff between the RAM sticks and the battery cable). Took off both RAMs at first, let it do the 1-beeps for a minute, then put 1 RAM back. When I turned it on, it worked for 2 minutes before it started freezing again, with the random lines on the screen, but no beeps. It also didn't restart by itself. So I restarted it, and managed to run with 1 RAM stick for quite a while, monitoring the usage with Memory Clean. This was the first time I could work for a whole length of time, and I could properly shut it down again when I finish working.

Because I needed the whole 4GB RAM to work, I put the other stick in again. When I did a system profiling ("About This Mac") I saw that the Memory slots and sticks were reported as "OK" (2GB + 2GB) - but this has always been the case, even before I took the RAMs out. So I thought to do a proper test - what I did was the memtest 4.2.2. I booted as a single-user (command-s while starting up), and ran the memtest for a bit more than 6 hours (17 repeats).

Memtest reported there was no problem with the RAMs. Then, for the next 2-3 days it was very peaceful - I could work without crashes, and I would be able to properly shut down at the end of the day.

Just a few hours ago, however, my laptop started freezing again, and restarting itself. There's no beeping anymore, but the crashes now are quite frequent (around 10 times the last 2 hours), and the random/interference lines came out 1 time (out of about 10 crashes).

The only difference between today and the past 2-3 days when I could work very peacefully was that I had the browser on (first it was Firefox, then when it started crashing, Safari) when the system crashes, and I was doing quite extensive work on Facebook.

I've just installed TGPro (trial at this point) and it looks like my laptop's temperature is usually 3-4ºC above the "average" (as TGPro says on its interface).

A friend had a similar problem, went to a technician and was advised that they had to replace the GPU "and a few ICs on the board".

Any suggestions on what I should/could do next?

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Complete system crashes are some of the hardest problems to isolate as so many things could be the cause. Lets work though some of the things I saw in your question:

You speak of a white powder internally. Your system should be as clean as possible internally. This is either something that got in or is dust buildup. In either case it should be removed. Open the system again disconnect the battery and using a soft paint brush and some can'ed air carefully dust out your system. Pop the memory modules and blow out the connectors you don't want to put anything in as you could snag one of the contacts. Once the system is fully cleaned put things back together.

Hopefully you have a friend who has a Mac. Working with him create a USB flash drive with OS-X on it so it is bootable (FYI: it can be OS X 10.7.x or newer). Make sure it is able to boot up his system by holding the Option key to get to the boot manager screen and selecting the USB drive. If it worked shut down his system and reboot your system under it. Unlike before when you opened Disk Utility from your own HD here we are going to open it from the USB drive copy and run the repair options for both the permissions and the disk. Th really need to do it this way to effect the repair.

OK, next thing here is making sure your drive has enough free space. As you didn't tell us what you use for apps other than Safari and Firefox web browsers I can't tell you if you are running into space issues. As a general rule of thumb you should have about 1/3 of free space on the bootable volume.

You might want to run a cache & log cleaner to delete old cache and log files like Dr. Cleaner. Before you clean out the logs make a copy of the system log as it might have some useful info. You might need to run a HD disk defragmenting program like Drive Genius as well.

So far we've covered the basics:

Now we need to look more deeply. Are you getting any errors reports from the OS? If so start saving them It's possible you have an app that has a memory leak or is just misbehaving. Reviewing the logs you should hopefully see a common pattern. Be careful here as you can't always tell if what is failing is the root cause or just the item that was forced to fail.

You talked about running Temperature Gauge Pro and its just outside of the average range. That is likely the dust buildup that hopefully is now cleaned out. But what is important is the fan running and running within the correct RPM. You haven't installed any fan over-ride software have you? Hopefully not. If so you should remove it and let the SMC services do its job. If it is reporting high heat or the fan is not able to cool the system then we need to address the cause. For now lets focus on the HD & the apps.

The last thing here is the memory modules them selves. Crashes that the OS does not report an error as the OS fully crashed out often are caused by modules that are failing. You may want to see if you can get a new set and since you have only 4GB of RAM you might want to think about making the investment of getting some larger modules (8, 12 or even 16GB or RAM).

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Thanks for all these, Dan!

I've cleaned, and run Disk Utility from my HDD clone as a startup disk. All permissions have been repaired now. I've also verified the disk, all fine.

Re: free space, after the clean-install (I didn't migrate anything to the newly formatted HDD) I've only used about 10% of the total disk size (it's a 500GB HDD) - it was still crashing.

As a side note, I work a lot with graphics, sound and video. Thanks for your cache&log cleaning instructions - I'll do this if the crashing starts again.

And now for the deeper look:

I am getting error report from the OS, but I don't know how to read it. What would tell me that there's a memory leak? And if there is, wouldn't my Memory Cleaner be showing that there is a memory leak (wouldn't it suddenly plummet upon opening an app)?

Also, how do I know that my fan is running with the correct RPM? And, no, I haven't specifically installed any fan-override software - but doesn't TG Pro provide a fan-override function as well?


Yes, a memory leak tends to ramp up the in use amount of memory a given app is using. I use Apple's Activity Monitor app which you have in the utility folder to monitor this. A memory cleaner app is not really designed to catch this. The bigger issue here is the crashing by a misbehaving app or a bad memory segment in one of your RAM modules. As to the fans RPM: Temperature Gauge Pro will tell you whats up. As to using TGP fan over ride control I don't use it! One of the problems I tend to see is people mis-using this (killing their system). it is so rarely needed, yet to often used! A healthy system even with the heaviest load in a normal work environment shouldn't need any alteration of the fan control.


Did you clean out the dust (powder)? Is the system better now?


Hi Dan - I did clean the dust/powder the moment I saw it (when I opened it the first time), and the system was better for a while but not for long.

Now, I've just gotten home (to my stationary desk where I have an external monitor), so it's plugged into the monitor. I didn't use my laptop at all for 2 days - I turned it on yesterday, and did quite an extensive facebook page work (uploading pictures and rearranging them, which usually crashes the system in no time) with no problem at all. I shut it down when I was finished (usually I would just put it to sleep). This morning I started again and I've been working for around 6 hours doing the same thing, still no problem until now. I just remembered that I haven't monitored the RAM usage for a while so I turned on Memory Clean, and found that almost 4GB of RAM was used (only around 20MB RAM was left) with no problem! The system speed was just like normal.


Is it possible that the GPU is the cause of the crashes, and now that I'm using an external monitor, it's not working as much? How can I monitor GPU? Also, I still can't find information on how to read Mac OS Error Log - would anyone please tell me where to read more about this? Thanks.


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Maybe I have a solution!

My Mac started doing the same thing a week ago.(its a late 2011 pro 15" 4gb ram, 250SSD HD)

Nothing worked out: cleaning the inside with air (it needed it thought) Hardware test, SMC + PRAM reset, Onyx cleaning etc..

and the mac just passed out. It was hot when it happened and when it started crashing, it did it more and more until I let it cool down..


But two hours ago I installed Mac Fan Control and told it to react when the CPU core is above 50 and cool 100% when its above 60.

I have had it on for two hours, tried to watch Netflix, using Logic (recording software) etc and it hasn't crashed! so maybe thats the solution (of cause with slightly more noise, but think I will have to get a new can of compressed air and then blow into the room between the motherboard and the keyboard.. a tight and dusty place I think..)

And I paid 18000kr back then (2700$) so what ever can make it work!:)

hope it helps!

all the best


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@Morten - Fan control software has its up sides and down sides... The newer stuff is better than what we had a few years ago, but, even still I'm a bit wary, as using them also tend to mask a problem like what you are encountering here which over time could kill your system. - You started off in the right direction cleaning out the dust but the one area you forgot was to reapply a fresh coat of high quality thermal paste on the CPU & GPU chips and make sure the heat sink is working correctly. I would start off by removing what you installed for software (some conflict) and use a good sensor monitoring app like this one: Temperature Gauge Pro. That way you can see more clearly what area is over heating and if the fans are running correctly. The two areas I've seen issues is the heat tube loosing its coolant and the fans not working correctly besides bad heat transfer due to old or bad thermal paste.


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