Spinning Beach Ball Hell

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SWOD (Spinning Wheel Of Death)
a.k.a Spinning Beach Ball or Rainbow Pizza

  • Mac acting slow
  • Spinning Wheel is preventing from working
  • Cooler fan is blowing loudly
  • A sudden complete freeze

There are quite a few possible causes we can discuss, while you must remember a very important cold fact. In this rapidly improving computer age, data storage media is still unreliable. There are improvements in performances, such as SSD’s fast access, but these improvements are nothing to do reliability.

Key note: Backup! Backup! Backup! Backup!

You have no right to cry if you don’t backup! By the way, you can’t call it backup if you don’t have it a set of 3, and 1 of these 3 must be outside of your house. I personally use TimeCapsul and Drobo in my house, and Amazon S3 backup service on the cloud. I have not lost a single data since 1997.

Let’s talk about the possible causes of the SWOD

  • There was untouched bad sector(s) on your hard drive, which is triggered by the new OS update/upgrade
  • Hard drive directory catalog has been damaged
  • OS upgrade Migrate Assistant accidentally moved corrupted system file(s)
  • Broken permission bits (access privilege issue)
  • One or more dated application is dragging the OS down

Don't Shut Down

Stop! Don’t Force Shutdown!

Holding power button to power down your computer is probably the most dangerous thing you should avoid!

If hard drive data is being accessed at the point of force power down, data loss may happen.


  • If the pointer/cursor still moves:
    • Press ⌘ + Option + [esc] to open Force Quit dialog box
    • Find out if any item is red
    • Select the item in red then click [Force Quit]
    • Just to play safe, have your Mac power-cycle (shut down from Menu, wait for 1 min, then turn your Mac back on)
  • Even though pointer/cursor moves, the rest is completely frozen:
    • Check if Force Quit dialog box opens (⌘ + Option + [esc] )
    • Check if clock display is not frozen (for this, it is beneficial to set the clock display seconds)
    • Check if you can jump to another application with Application Switcher (⌘ + Tab)
    • Wait 5 min to see if anything improves
  • When nothing works:
    • Put your ears on to you Mac and check if there is any scratching noise or spinning noise is heard
    • If scratch noise is heard, try to learn the pattern
    • Learn the interval when scratch noise stop then hold the power button to shut it down

Utilize Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor

Find out what’s wrong using Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor application is not only a great tool to see what is going on your Operating System but also a useful tool to exit a troubling process (Force Quit application).

  1. Start Spotlight by clicking the magnifier icon at the top right of the Desktop
    Start Spotlight
  2. Start type act and Activity Monitor will show up. Hit Enter to launch.
  3. In the Activity Monitor, select “All Processes” from the View menu
  4. View menu → Display Items
  5. Check Real Memory is selected
  6. CPU, Real Memory, each column header will let you sort (indicated by V as shown). Check what process is pumping up CPU and/or Memory

Safe Mode Startup

Safe Boot

When troubleshooting, one of the things you can easily try is Safe Boot (Safe Mode Startup)

  1. Hold Shift Key and press power button
  2. Take your hand off from the Shift Key when login window appears
  3. Enter user name and password
  4. Hold Shift Key again then hit [Enter] to proceed login process
  5. Take your hand off from the Shift Key when you see the Desktop background image

Shift Key from the power up up til login window disables third party system extension(s), and Shift Key after login will disable third party user level extension(s). If the performance improves then you can blame something troublesome is caused by 3rd party software you have installed.

Create A New User

Create New User

To determine your current user account is damaged or not, try creating a new user. If the performance improves then something got wrong at your user account level but not the Operating System level.

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