Giving My iMac a Fresh Start

Why I’m reformatting my iMac’s hard disk.

iMacAs I type this, I’ve set the wheels in motion for my iMac’s internal hard disk to be reformatted and a fresh installation to be installed on its clean surface. This is a “clean install,” in the real sense of the phrase, and I expect it to take most of the Christmas holidays to get things back up and running in a way that I can be productive again.

This may seem drastic, but drastic times call for drastic solutions. My computer has been plagued with problems for the past two months — since my return from points north after this summer’s galavanting — and I simply cannot tolerate it anymore. I not only get kernel panics several times a week, but I also get what I call “blue screen restarts” (screen turns blue and computer restarts itself for no apparent reason), frozen mouse pointers, and unresponsive applications. I’m losing unsaved work — although less than you’d think because I’ve actually come to expect problems and save often.

I’ve run every diagnostic tool I have on the hard disk, booting from the CD/DVD drive whenever possible. Disk Utility says the hard disk is fine, but it finds all kinds of problems with permissions, which it just can’t fix. Drive Genius won’t even check the permissions, but it finds an error with my preferences file and gives up scanning. Permissions are definitely screwed up because my document permissions include permissions for (unknown).

Did I mention that it’s just over a year old now?

I know the cure for the problem — reformat and reinstall. So that’s what I’m doing.

Oddly enough, I used to do this regularly back in the old days, before the operating system got so darn complex and my hard disk filled up with music and video files. Each time a new version of Mac OS came out, I’d install it by reformatting my hard disk and putting the software on a clean disk. Then I’d reinstall all my applications and copy back the documents I needed on my hard disk. It took about a half a day to get the job done and the computer worked flawlessly afterwards.

But nowadays, things aren’t that simple. Reformatting a hard disk and reinstalling everything from scratch is a real pain in the ass. Before I could even think of doing it, I started by making three backup copies of what was important on the disk: the Time Machine backup I always have, a disk image of my entire hard disk, and a copy of my home folder. All this had to wait until I got an external hard disk large and fast enough to make the extra two backups. I bought it yesterday: a 1TB Western Digital FireWire/USB drive.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d own a 1 TB hard disk. The amazing thing: it only cost $200. So storage is no longer an issue here.

At least not for the next few months.

Right now, my iMac is still verifying the installation DVD. I can still change my mind. But the thought of dealing with daily blue screen is too frustrating for words. So I’ll do the drastic thing and fix my problem.

And next week, I’ll pump my iMac up to 4 GB of RAM. If that doesn’t make it happy, nothing will.

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5 thoughts on “Giving My iMac a Fresh Start

  1. With each new major OS update (eg 10.4 to 10.5) I do a reformat first. And yes, it takes ages.

    I freely try out beta software, new software that I may then trash, and generally accumulate ‘dust’. I like to reformat so I can have a good, fresh start with the OS.

    That said, my MacBook Pro has been erratic recently, with an occasional kernel panic, and a reformat is my summer holiday project.

    It’s interesting to hear how your clean install is going.

    Miraz Jordan’s last blog post: Book sale special

  2. It seems to be taking forever to finish. I’m on my THIRD try reinstalling Final Cut Express — apparently one of the Live Type Media discs is damaged. The system doesn’t seem to be running any faster, either. Can’t wait for the new RAM to arrive.

    The good part of all this is that while I wait for software to install, I have plenty of time to do the other chore I’ve been putting off forever: cleaning my office. It’s about 90% finished and I feel so GOOD about it. I can’t wait to get back to work!

What do you think?