Mac revivification

I’m a PC guy, my wife has a Mac Powerbook G4 Aluminum.

I’m hoping Mac tech heads can help, because “buy a new Mac” isn’t an option financially at this point in time. All error messages are getting filtered through my wife who isn’t technical in the least.

My wife’s Powerbook has been complaining lately that it’s “out of room and can’t continue.” I’m betting that means her 80GB HD is full. She seems to think that means it’s out of RAM. In order to appease her, I bought her a second 1GB stick of RAM, which then uncovered this fun little problem. Basically one of her memory slots doesn’t work, it’s a known problem, her serial number is within the range of those affected, but because we only uncovered the problem now, they’re going to charge us $500 to $1000 to make the second slot work.

Fuck Apple.

Even if all this was resolved, her hard drive is still full. Now, if this were a Windows machine that’s been getting used for 3 years, I’d say back up the data, wipe the hard drive, and reinstall everything from scratch and I’d bet it would feel spunky again.

This is traumatizing for her, so I don’t want to do it if Macs are so magical that they don’t slow down and get gunked up over time.

So, would a drive wipe and OS reinstall help?

Oh, and getting a 160GB hard drive for $90 would be my choice if this were my computer, but the guide for installing it is a bit… detailed, which makes me worry about killing her computer.

Would an external USB/FireWire drive be good enough? Some of them don’t even need their own power supply, if portability is a concern.

Executive Carpet Bomb

She has a large one where she keeps her photos. She primarily works with photos and photoshop (she’s a graphic designer), so she’s constantly switching photos from the Powerbook to the external hd, but she has a kind of “working pool” of photos on the Powerbook.

I suggested cutting down the size of the working pool, and she made me understand that was not an option.

I will be going through her hard drive looking for ways to free up space, but my first instinct was to wipe it and start over because that’s what I’d do on a Windows machine.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to free up much space with a reinstall, if it’s mostly because of the data files she keeps around. Monolingual can free up some space, but she’ll probably rapidly run out of space again if she’s manually managing the files; working sets tend to grow without conscious pruning, which you’ve already indicated isn’t an option. Disk Inventory X can also help find large chunks of wasted space (e.g., some big files buried in some temp directory she forgot about).


there’s a tool I use a lot called Disk InventoryX that’ll tell you what’s chewing up some space. I’ve seen some log files get out of control. The tool might point you towards something that could be deleted.

(edit: never mind, Fugitive got it, too)

One recurring theme I run into with people who use computers a lot but who are less computer savvy than hardcore geeks is that many of them really don’t know the difference between HDDs and RAM, so you should take her analysis with a grain of salt. Unless she suddenly started using a shiny new program (or, perhaps in her case, started working with photos/images that are much larger), she wouldn’t all of the sudden need more RAM than she used to need.

Of course, if your HDD is full, you’re going to have “RAM” problems, though, because of virtual memory. If there’s no room for the swap file to expand because the drive is full, you’ll get memory-related errors from some programs. And, of course, any time any application tries to write a settings file or do much of anything it won’t be able to if there is no drive space.

I wouldn’t worry so much about upgrading the RAM given the cost you quoted. You just need to free up HDD space.

Wiping the whole HDD is probably overkill in this situation, your wife just needs to go and delete old shit she isn’t using anymore. Use Fugitive & Mark’s suggestion to find stuff. I’ll bet there are whole directories of files on the system she doesn’t need that can be deleted that are taking up gigabytes of space.

Find out if the HD is actually full or not. Get the exact error. It sounds like some sort of obscure system error honestly with the “can’t continue” bit.

OS X dynamically allocates the swap file, so you’ll get this kind of thing when the disk is so full that the system can’t allocate additional swap space.

This means that extra RAM can actually be a temporary bandaid fix, since it’ll reduce the amount of swap you need.

If the disk is full, then I agree with the folks who recommended Disk Inventory X.

Teach her how to make a screenshot, the next time she encounters the error?

I’d be shocked if a graphic designer doesn’t know how to screen cap. She probably apple+2’s all the time.

You probably mean command-shift-3.

maybe, I have to keep asking how it’s done on the mac.

A wipe / reinstall probably won’t do much of anything.

I’d replace the drive with a bigger one, but you’ve got to be comfortable getting inside a laptop. It isn’t hard, but it helps to plan carefully and pay attention to the details. Download one of the Powerbook hard disk upgrade guides and you should be good to go.

Backup / restore of the drive can be easy when replacing the disks. There are a few ways to do it depending on which version of the OS she has. One of the easiest would be to use an app like SuperDuper to clone the disk to your external drive, then replace the internal and clone the drive back.


Buy the bigger drive and if you’re not comfortable removing the bajillion screws required to access the drive, find some local qualified Apple tech to swap it in for you. Shouldn’t cost too much, and the OS slimming apps are stop gap solutions at best.


I explained swap files to her and the need to clean off the HDD, but she was sure she needed RAM because the error told her so. Since RAM is dirt cheap I figured it was worth it to make her happy, and heck, maybe it would keep her happy with the computer for another year.

I’m going to use the utilities you guys have mentioned for a cleanup first, then we’ll talk about throwing in a new hdd. As I said, if it were my laptop, I’d do it in a second, but because I have to live with my wife I don’t want her blaming me for letting the magic smoke out, should such a thing inadvertently happen.

Your wife second-guesses your tech knowledge? My fiancee is so damn happy that she’s got someone who knows how to fix things that she doesn’t waste her (or my) time trying to backseat-tech my diagnosis.

If this were a PC, I’d clone the drive to a bigger one and problem solved in about 1 hour and with $80 worth of parts. Maybe throw in some extra RAM because it’s cheap and good for performance, not because some stupid Apple error says you need it.

But then, wanting RAM because the error told them so is a very “Apple” thing to do.

My fiancee is a PC. swoon

I don’t know squat about Macs, but that’s a ridiculous way to treat a full hard drive on a Windows machine.

No, that’s a way to deal with a hard drive that’s full but shouldn’t be, and that’s been in constant use for 3 years from a non-technical person who installs and uninstalls programs, or maybe just “turns them off.” Who has all sorts of stuff on the status bar, and god knows what they clicked on while surfing the internet.

It’s called kruft. It builds up on a Windows machine, and sure there are all sorts of ways to clean it out, or you can just back up the data and nuke it from orbit.

It doesn’t take much to fill up an 80GB hard drive, Mac or Windows.

I would get a cheap USB external drive and start saving up for a new Mac.