10 Ways to Royally Screw Up Your Mac

We’ve all heard the story of how Macs are so great and they never have problems, then its a shock when something bad happens. With all the tips, tricks, and recommendations out there on what you should do with your Mac, today we’re going to focus on what you should not do.

The following list is ten different ways you can royally screw up your Mac, assuring yourself of problems. Here’s what not to do:

Mess with the SyncServices folder:

I’ll admit to being curious about this mysterious folder but anything that Apple recommends that you stay away from “as if it were a swarm of bees”, is enough for me to keep out of it. If you do mess with it, it can cause “unexpected issues”.

Enable Root:

Root, aka the “Super User”, is disabled by default in OS X. Keep it this way unless you know what you are doing. Root is the gateway into OS X’s UNIX internals and messing around in there is a good way to mess up your system. Also, as a security measure, OS X can’t be rooted if Root is disabled. Honestly, if you have administrator privileges, you will never need to be Root, ever.

Fiddle with Permissions:

OS X’s UNIX background means that each file and folder is given an owner, group and permissions for each. Before Leopard, unexpected problems would pop up if your permissions got screwed up. With Leopard, OS X is even more particular about file permissions. The wrong setting could break your system or cause erratic behavior.

If you suspect your file permissions are messed up, you can Repair Permissions in Disk Utility. However, this will only fix settings according to an application’s installer receipt. If you mess something up and OS X doesn’t have a receipt, it won’t fix it.

Run Without the Battery:

Some people like to take the battery out when running on A/C power especially if they are concerned about battery life. However, according to Apple, OS X will reduce processor speed when running without a battery installed. While this won’t technically screw up your Mac – it will make it run horridly.

Filling Up Your Hard Drive Until it Only Has a Few GB Free:

Sometimes we’re tempted to use as much space as our Hard Drive has. What will really mess your Mac up is that OS X uses free hard drive space for Virtual Memory. Virtual Memory or Swap Space is a trick that operating systems use to get away with not having enough memory for an application, or to free up memory space for other, higher priority applications. If you use up your Hard Drive until there’s not much free space left, OS X’s virtual memory (and automatic defragmenting) will suffer and it will slow your system down. Keep at least 5-10GB free unless your drive is tiny.

Installing Random Codecs:

You may think that OS X is virus free – It’s not. The viruses that are out there for OS X will trick you into installing them by masquerading as a video codec. Once installed, these viruses behave just like those in Windows – they can redirect your browser to phishing sites, log keystrokes and open back doors into your system.

Always obey this rule – Install Perian and if it still doesn’t play in Quicktime, VLC or MPlayer – toss the video in the trash.

Leaving Applications Open for Days / Weeks:

Applications aren’t written perfectly and after running for a period of time they begin to grow in memory and slow down, behave erratically and can even crash on you while you are in the middle of something extremely important. OS X doesn’t make it easy by not quitting the program when you click the little red button in the top left. You think you closed the application, but you didn’t – you just closed the file. Always look in the dock and if you see a black triangle under it’s icon (in Tiger and before) or a little blue circle (in Leopard) that means the application is still running. To stop the application – click on it’s dock icon, click on it’s name in the menu bar and choose Quit from the drop down menu.

Cleaning the Screen with Cleaning Chemicals:

Windex, Dry erase cleaner, anything with Ammonia or Alcohol should never be used to clean the LCD screen of a MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac or Cinema Display. The coating on these displays may look like glass, but it’s really a special plastic treated with coatings. The chemicals in cleaners will eat away at these plastics reducing the sharpness of your display and causing cloudiness. Apple recommends a gentle rub using a microfiber cloth. If it’s a stubborn mark, water is all that should be used.

Letting the Battery Drain Completely:

Once you drain the battery of a Lithium Polymer battery inside a MacBook or MacBook Pro until it’s totally dead, the battery never holds a charge again. You now have to spend $100 on a new one. Also, draining the battery down past 20% stresses the battery and reduces its lifespan.

To avoid this, get your laptop on a charger once the battery gets around 20-30% and if you are going to leave the laptop alone for an extended period of time (like on vacation), shut it down. You know the laptop is just sleeping and not actually shut down if there is a little light on towards the front side of the laptop. If you aren’t sure, always look for that light.

Using a Laptop on a Soft, Insulating Surface Like a Pillow or Blanket:

Using your laptop on a soft, insulating surface such as a pillow or blanket is dangerous for your laptop. These soft, cushiony materials will block critical vents on your laptop. When these vents are blocked, the laptop will overheat. If it overheats to the point of shutdown, you are risking damage. Use a nice laptop tray instead.

2 thoughts on “10 Ways to Royally Screw Up Your Mac

  1. “Also, draining the battery down past 20% stresses the battery and reduces its lifespan.”
    Does this apply to the MacBook (late 08) models?

  2. Hi Mike,

    It applies to all Lithium-Ion / Lithium Polymer batteries, including the new MacBook Late 2008 models. Additionally, it applies to all batteries using this technology, iPods, PCs, etc.

    “Avoid frequent full discharges because this puts additional strain on the battery. Several partial discharges with frequent recharges are better for lithium-ion than one deep one. Recharging a partially charged lithium-ion does not cause harm because there is no memory. (In this respect, lithium-ion differs from nickel-based batteries.) Short battery life in a laptop is mainly cause by heat rather than charge / discharge patterns.” – BatteryUniversity.com

    David