Mac OS X, How To Tell If Your Mac Has Hung?

Some times, when performing a task we often see the ‘spinning beach ball’ (no, not the icon spinning next to the title of this post, that’s purely for decorative purposes but the multi-coloured ball you see in replacement for your regular mouse pointer) indicating that your Mac’s doing a task in the background. But, what happens when the beach ball seems to just go on endlessly?

Here’s one way to configure your Mac so that you can tell if it has stalled. Which is especially useful if you’re running older Mac hardware but requiring demanding tasks of it.

Basically, your Mac’s clock (top right hand corner of your menubar) mimics your computer’s clock cycle to be able to keep time. A clock cycle in simple terms is how long it takes for your computer to process a set of instructions.

So, applying this logic, if your Mac’s still working, doing what you’ve asked it to do, albeit slower than you might prefer, the clock on your Mac should still keep going.

Trouble is not many of us are patient enough to sit and stare at the clock until it changes. So, here’s a quick fix.

After these short steps, whenever you start doubting your Mac, a quick peek at the clock will let you know if it has hung or is just moseying along with your task:

  1. click on your clock and in the menu that appears, click on “View As Digital” ;
  2. access your System Preferences;
  3. click the Date & Time setting in the System preference pane;
  4. check the “Flash the time seperators” checkbox unde the Clock preference pane;
  5. close your System Preferences;

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Once, you have completed the steps described above, you should immediately notice that the colons between the hour and minute text flash continuously. So long as these colons remain flashing your Mac is working fine. This is because the flashing occurs in step with your Mac’s clock cycles.

Just a side note. With older Mac hardware some tasks do take a substantial amount of time, e.g. burning an hour long iDVD project using Mac’s installed with the 1st generation Superdrives that run at 1x speed, can take an entire day.

There may be a slight variance in the appearance of your System Preference panes depending which version of Mac OS X you are running but the location and function of the settings described above are the same. The above illustrations are brought to you, using Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.

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