IN THIS CHAPTER
Understanding why you can be a tech
Putting basic troubleshooting precepts to work
Using Mark’s Troubleshooting Tree
Getting help for your MacBook
Running Windows — yes, Windows — on your MacBook
I wish you weren’t reading this chapter.
Because you are, I can only surmise that you’re having trouble with your MacBook, and that it needs fixing. (The other possibility — that you just like reading about solving computer problems — is more attractive but somewhat more problematic.)
Consider this chapter to be a crash course in the logical puzzle that is computer troubleshooting: the art of finding out What Needs Fixing. I tell you what to do when you just plain can’t solve the problem yourself.
And then? I expose the BKS (Best Kept Secret) about your MacBook — the feature that many MacBook owners have never heard of and would never imagine. I demonstrate how you can run Windows alongside macOS Big Sur, both cohabitating on your Mac laptop! (Mac purists need read no further when they get to this section.)
One final word: You’re going to encounter a lot of Tips and Mark’s Maxims in this chapter. I learned all of them the hard way, so I recommend committing them to memory.
Anyone can troubleshoot. Believe it, and put these common troubleshooting myths to rest:
I’m to blame. Ever heard of viruses? Failing hardware? Buggy software? Any of those things can cause the problem. It’s Mark’s Maxim time:
Don’t beat yourself up! Your laptop can be fixed.™
https://www.prosofteng.com), but a third-party utility isn’t a requirement for troubleshooting. (I do, however, consider an antivirus application to be a must-have, and you should have one already. Hint, hint.)
With those myths banished, you can get down to business and start feeling better soon.
In the following sections, I walk you through my should-be-patented Troubleshooting Tree, as well as the Big Sur built-in troubleshooting application, Disk Utility. I also introduce you to a few keystrokes that can make your MacBook jump through hoops.
The simple fact is that rebooting your MacBook can often solve problems. If you’re encountering these types of strange behavior with your laptop, a reboot might be all you need:
To put it succinctly, here’s a modest Mark’s Maxim:
If you’re in the middle of a program, try to save all your open documents before you reboot. That might be impossible, but try to save what you can.
As your first (and best) option for shutting down, click the Apple menu () and choose Shut Down. If you need to force a locked application (one that’s not responding) to quit so that you can reboot, follow these steps to quash that locked application:
Click the menu, and choose Force Quit.
The Force Quit Applications dialog appears (see Figure 19-1). Note that you can also press Option+⌘ +Esc to display the dialog.
When you get everything to quit, you should be able to click the menu and choose Shut Down (not Restart) without a problem.
If your MacBook simply won’t shut down (or you can’t get the offending application to quit), do what must be done:
Press and hold your laptop’s power button until it shuts itself off.
You have to wait about 5 seconds for your MacBook to turn itself off. If you’re using a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with a Touch ID sensor, press and hold the Touch ID sensor for a count of 5 to 6 seconds instead.
After everything is back up, check whether the problem is still apparent. If you use your laptop for an hour or two and the problem doesn’t reoccur, you’ve likely fixed it!
Some keys have special powers over your MacBook. I’m not kidding! These keys affect how your road warrior starts up, and they can really come in handy while troubleshooting.
You can use Safe Mode to force Big Sur to run a directory check of your boot drive and disable any login items that might be interfering with your system. Follow these steps:
Immediately after you hear the start-up tone, press and hold down the Shift key, and keep holding it down until you see the boot progress indicator.
After Big Sur boots, you’re in Safe Mode.
Table 19-1 provides the lowdown on start-up keys. Hold down the indicated key either when you push the power button or immediately after the screen goes blank during a restart. (As I just mentioned, the Shift-key shortcut to Safe Mode is the exception; you should press Shift and hold it down after you hear the start-up tone.)
Some of the keys and combinations in Table 19-1 may never be necessary for your machine, but an Apple technician might instruct you to use them.
Big Sur’s Disk Utility is a handy tool for troubleshooting and repairing your MacBook’s drive. You can find it in the Utilities folder in Launchpad.
TABLE 19-1 Start-Up Keys and Their Tricks
Effect on Your MacBook
Displays a system boot menu, allowing you to choose any bootable operating system on your laptop
Boots in Safe Mode
Starts your MacBook in Target Disk mode (using your Thunderbolt or USB-C port)
Shows macOS Console messages (also called Verbose Mode)
Boots from the Big Sur Recovery HD volume
Resets Parameter RAM (PRAM)
Fire up Disk Utility to open the rather-powerful-looking window shown in Figure 19-2.
In the left column of the Disk Utility window, you can see
The volumes (the data stored on the drives, which appears as a drive icon on your Desktop).
You can always tell a volume because it’s indented below the Container entry. (If you don’t see physical drives and containers as well as volumes, press ⌘ +2 to show all devices.)
USB or Thunderbolt external drives.
Figure 19-2 earlier in this section shows that I have one internal drive (the Apple SSD entry) and one USB flash drive (the PNY USB 2.0 entry). The internal drive has one volume (Colossus), and the external USB flash drive has one volume (Guardian).
Disk Utility can check the format and health of both drives and volumes, and you can correct any problems it finds by clicking the First Aid button.
You may not be able to repair problems on your boot drive or boot volume immediately. This limitation makes sense because you’re using that drive and volume right now.
If First Aid finds a problem on your boot drive but reports that it can’t fix that error, boot your MacBook from the macOS Recovery HD volume. Reboot and then hold down the ⌘ +R keyboard shortcut immediately after you hear the start-up chord. Then run Disk Utility from the window that appears. Because you’ve booted your laptop from the Recovery HD volume, you can repair those problems with your start-up drive. (You should be able to select your boot hard drive or volume and click the First Aid button.)
You can’t repair CDs and DVDs. CDs and DVDs are read-only media and, thus, can’t be repaired (at least by Disk Utility).
If your MacBook is having trouble reading a CD or DVD with an external drive, wipe the disc with a soft cloth to remove dust, oil, and fingerprints. Should that trick fail, invest in a disc-cleaning contrivance of some sort.
To check and repair problems by using First Aid, follow these steps:
Click Done to exit First Aid.
If you made changes or had to boot from the macOS Recovery HD volume, Disk Utility may prompt you to reboot after repairs have been made.
Figure 19-3 illustrates the details you’ll see if you click Show Details to expand the display. Although some of the messages might include cryptic Linux details, you can still tell from the figure that the operation is successful (and you get that snazzy green check mark). All is well!
As hip-hop artists say, “All right, kick it.” And that’s just what my MacBook Troubleshooting Tree is here for. If rebooting your laptop didn’t solve the problem, follow these steps in order until you either find the solution or run out of steps. (More on that topic in the next section).
The first step is a simple one that many novice MacBook owners forget. Simply retrace your steps and consider what changes you made to your system recently. Here are the most common culprits:
If you didn’t make any significant changes to your system before you encountered the problem, proceed to the next step.
The next step is to run Disk Utility and use First Aid. The earlier section “Disk repair made easy” shows how to complete this task on your Big Sur boot drive.
Cables can work themselves loose, and sometimes, they fail. Check all the cables to your external devices — make sure that they’re snug — and verify that everything’s plugged in and turned on. (Oh, and don’t forget to check for crimps in your cables or even Fluffy’s tooth marks.)
Now that always-on DSL and cable-modem connections to the Internet are the norm, don’t forget an obvious problem: Your laptop can’t reach the Internet if your service provider is down or your network is no longer working!
When you’re at home, a quick visual check of your DSL or cable modem usually indicates whether a connection problem exists between your modem and your ISP. My modem, for example, has a set of informative activity lights that I always glance at first. But if your laptop is connected to the Internet through a larger home or office network, and you can’t check the modem visually, you can check your Internet connection by pinging
https://www.apple.comin the Address box.
You should see successful ping messages. If you don’t get a successful ping and you can still reach other computers on your network, your cable modem, DSL modem, or service provider is likely experiencing problems. If you can’t reach your network at all, the problem lies in your network hardware or configuration. (In an office environment, your network system administrator will be happy to help you at this point, especially if you’re his or her blood relative.)
Check the contents of the Trash to see whether you recently deleted files or folders by accident. Click the Trash icon on the Dock to display the contents. If you deleted something by mistake, right-click the item in the Trash and choose Put Back from the shortcut menu.
I know this one from personal experience: A slight miscalculation while selecting files to delete made an application freeze every time I launched it.
If you’ve made it to this point, it’s time to run a full virus scan. Make sure that your antivirus application has the latest updated data files. My antivirus application of choice is the excellent ClamXAV (
https://www.clamxav.com). I can also recommend Sophos Home Free from Sophos Ltd (
Big Sur might encounter problems with applications you’ve marked as login items in System Preferences. Your account’s login items are applications that run automatically every time you log in to your MacBook. If one of these login items is to blame for your laptop’s problems, your MacBook will encounter some type of trouble every time you log in. (This is usually the case when you receive an application error message each time you start the computer.)
To check the boot process, it’s time to use that fancy Safe Mode that I discussed earlier in the chapter. Restart your MacBook, and press and hold down the Shift key after you hear the start-up tone. Login items are disabled when you’re running in Safe mode, so if your laptop starts up without any errors, you know that login items are probably to blame.
If your computer starts without problems in Safe Mode, the next step is checking your login items. Restart your MacBook, and list each of the login items it displays for future reference. Then follow this procedure for each item in the login list:
Select and delete the first item in the list.
You can delete the selected item by clicking the Delete button, which bears a – (minus) sign. If a recurring error message mentions a specific application that appears in the Login Items list, that’s your likely culprit, so start by deleting that item.
If your laptop is still misbehaving, repeat Steps 2 and 3, and disable a new login item.
When your MacBook starts up normally, you’ve likely discovered the perpetrator.
Delete and reinstall the problem application.
Don’t forget to add back each of the working login items to the Login Items list by clicking the Add button, which carries a + (plus) sign!
The next step is turning off your screen saver. This remedy is a long shot, but it isn’t unheard-of to discover that a faulty, bug-ridden screen saver has locked up your MacBook. If you’re running a screen saver other than one from Apple, and your computer never wakes up from sleep or hangs while displaying the screen saver, you’ve found your prime suspect.
Reboot your MacBook (if necessary), open System Preferences, click Desktop & Screen Saver, and click the Screen Saver button. Then do one of the following:
Ouch. You’ve reached the final step, and you still haven’t uncovered the culprit. At this point, you’ve narrowed the possibilities to a serious problem, such as bad hardware or corrupted files in your macOS System folder. Fortunately, Big Sur provides the System Information utility, which displays real-time information on the hardware in your system. To start System Information, follow these steps:
Don’t worry, friendly reader. Just because you’ve reached the end of my MacBook Troubleshooting Tree doesn’t mean that you’re out of luck. In the following sections, I discuss the online help available in macOS and on the Apple website, as well as local help in your own town.
In case you need to take in your MacBook for service, an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider is probably in your area. To find the closest service, launch Safari; visit the Apple website Support page (
https://support.apple.com); then click the Apple Repair Options link at the bottom of the page.
Always call your Apple service provider before you lug your (albeit lightweight) laptop all the way to the shop. Make sure that you know your MacBook’s serial number (which you can display in System Information) and which version of macOS you’re using.
Although most macOS owners tend to blow off the Help Center when the troubleshooting gets tough, that’s never the best course of action. Always take a few moments to search the contents of the Help Center by choosing Finder ⇒ Help to see whether any mention is made of the problem you’ve encountered.
If you haven’t visited the Apple MacBook Support site yet, run, don’t walk, to
https://support.apple.com/mac/macbook. There, you’ll find
Okay, I know that this chapter is about what to do if your MacBook misbehaves, so why am I suddenly talking about Windows? That’s a touch of nerd humor on my part, because many diehard Mac fanatics would consider the idea of running Windows on a MacBook to be a big step backward! They’d ask, “Mark, why introduce that misbegotten operating system onto a perfectly good MacBook?”
Well, ignore those naysayers! There’s no need to be furtive about your Windows yearnings. Although I’m an enthusiastic Mac owner, I also own two smooth-running PCs, and all my computers cohabitate quite well in my office. I use Windows 10 every day for several tasks. Also, some PC software simply isn’t available for Macs to run. So, dear reader, what if I told you that macOS Big Sur and Windows 10 can live together in peace and harmony, all on the same internal drive inside your Mac?
In this chapter, I discuss the wonder that is Boot Camp — the free utility included with Big Sur that allows you to install and run Windows on your Intel-based MacBook’s internal drive. I explain how to switch between the two operating systems with a simple reboot.
Hold on to your hat, Intel-based MacBook owners: You’re about to take a wild trip that proves you can indeed have the best of both worlds.
First, a bit of technobabble, but I promise that it’ll be over soon, and I’ll try to keep things from getting too boring.
In years past, you may have heard that a Mac computer couldn’t run Windows out of the box without expensive hardware or software and that Mac software was off-limits to PCs … and you’d have heard correctly, at least for all but the last decade or so of the Macintosh computer. The incompatibility was a result of Apple’s using a series of Motorola processors (CPUs) that didn’t speak the same language as the Intel CPUs used in PCs. Consider a person who speaks Korean trying to read a book in Arabic, and you get the general idea.
Then Apple began using Intel processors in Macs, and the ground rules changed. Apple hardware was suddenly compatible with Windows. All that was needed was a bridge to help keep both OSes separate on the same hard drive, and Apple developed Boot Camp. That bridge works only in one direction, of course, because you still can’t run Macintosh software on a PC. (Go figure.)
Boot Camp accomplishes this magic by creating a separate Windows partition on your MacBook’s internal drive. The partition holds all your Windows data, including the OS; your Windows program files; and the documents you create while running Windows. Consider this partition to be separate from your macOS data, even though both partitions exist on the same physical internal drive.
Think of it this way: Rebooting your MacBook with Boot Camp is similar to changing the station on an FM radio. The hardware is the same, but you switch to a different station (Windows instead of macOS), and you’re listening to different music (country instead of rock). How’s that for a comparison, Dr. Science?
Naturally, you need free space on your MacBook’s internal drive to install Boot Camp. Apple recommends having 40GB of free space, but I’d bump that up to 80GB.
Installing Boot Camp is surprisingly easy and takes far less time than it takes to install Windows afterward. Follow these steps:
Launch the Boot Camp Assistant.
You can find the Assistant in your Utilities folder, which is in your Applications folder. I use Spotlight to reach it quickly: Click the Spotlight icon on the Finder menu bar, type Boot Camp in the search box, and then click the Boot Camp Assistant entry in the Spotlight results list.
Click the Open Boot Camp Help button on the introduction screen for additional tips and documentation that cover the Boot Camp setup process. (You can also print any part of Boot Camp Help, which makes for handy documentation in case you have questions about running Windows that aren’t covered in this section.)
Click Continue on the introduction screen.
The Boot Camp Assistant Install Windows screen appears.
Choose the location of the Windows Install ISO file and the size of your Windows partition, and click Install.
To resize the Windows partition, click and drag the divider that separates the Windows partition from the macOS partition. Again, you can devote more drive space to your Windows partition than the amount recommended by the assistant, but don’t forget this important fact: What you reserve for use in Windows can’t be used by macOS Big Sur! Therefore, I always suggest a conservative amount. (In other words, don’t devote 300GB of your 500GB drive to your Windows partition, because you’ll cramp your style in macOS.)
Reboot, if required.
You may be prompted to launch the assistant again.
Click Start the Windows Installer and then click Continue.
From this point on, you’re running the Windows installation program just as you would be if you were using a PC. (Well, actually you are using a PC now — temporarily, anyway.)
After Windows is installed, it should automatically run the Boot Camp driver installation program for you. When the drivers are in place, you’re ready to do the Microsoft dance.
Here are three methods for switching back and forth between your macOS partition and your Windows partition: