Wait. What? Step Zero? Well, that’s the step before the first step because troubleshooting a Mac is no fun. It may be easier than trying to figure out what’s gone wonky in a Windows or Linux PC, but it’s not fun.
Fortunately, Mac users have a few utilities that can help out a tech support guru or Mac genius to solve whatever ails yours Mac. It starts with a free utility which gathers information about your Mac and its system configuration. That makes it perfect for sharing via email, or copying to an Apple Support Community thread for help.
What’s Your Mac Running?
Every now and then, especially before and after I update OS X to a new version, install a new app, or upgrade any app or utility, I’ll run EtreCheck. It’s a free utility that captures your Mac’s system configuration, and it’s as simple to use as a double-click in the Applications folder or a click in the Dock.
All EtreCheck does is scan your Mac’s system and capture as much information about the hardware and software as possible. For security and privacy reasons, EtreCheck then removes any information that could personally identify you. It won’t ask for a password, either. It’s just reading and gathering data that is available on your Mac, but not personally identifiable.
When it’s done with the initial scan, EtreCheck displays a very long list of your Mac’s hardware and software setup.
Far more detail than you’ll get is the Mac’s standard About This Mac System Report.
The real value to EtreCheck’s system configuration check is sharing with tech support, Apple Support Communities, even Apple’s own Genius Bar (but if you’ve noticed, Genius Bar techs run their own series of complex diagnostics). I run EtreCheck before and after every OS X update, and save a copy. If your Mac won’t start up, all that system configuration information can come in handy to a tech support rep.
What gets checked?
- Exact Macintosh model.
- Installed RAM size and speed.
- RAM upgrade instructions from Apple (if applicable to your machine)
- Link to Apple technical specifications for your machine.
- Link to Apple user guide for your machine.
- Link to Apple service and warranty information for your machine.
- Installed hard disk model, manufacturer, size, type, and free space.
- Video graphics card and attached displays.
- Attached USB, Firewire, and Thunderbolt peripherals and external hard drives.
- 3rd party kernel extensions.
- Hidden software that is always running in the background.
- Information about your Time Machine backup.
- Any unusual system modifications.
- Tasks sorted by CPU usage.
- Tasks sorted by RAM usage.
- Free and used RAM.
- Kernel panic reports, crash reports, and other diagnostics.
And more, of course, so what’s not to like? EtreCheck is free. The best time to take a system snapshot is just before upgrading apps or changing software or settings. Then, if something goes wrong, there’s a side-by-side comparison option to check through; and tech support people love it.