The Cautionary Tale of a Smouldering iMac
Regular readers of this newsletter and my Lightweight Photographer blog may know that I’ve been suffering from a long running chest infection. It started at the end of January when I picked up a virus and I couldn’t shake it. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now recovered in a rather surprising way that I want to share. No, this isn’t a new medical feature, but it has a lot to do with my image editing computer and backup.
I won’t bore you with the full details but will share that for a little over 12 months I’ve had problems with my iMac’s fan running constantly. The performance of the 7-year-old iMac was degrading and it was now struggling with photo and video editing. This was often accompanied by a strange acrid smell. Strangely my wife couldn’t smell this, but at times I found it so strong that it triggered my coughing.
On searching the internet, I found similar reports of this problem. Some had returned their computers to Apple for a fix whilst others with older units opted to replace them. No one seemed able to trace the root cause of the problem.
Then after returning from a break (where my cough subsided), I turned on my Mac to see a message that I hadn’t backed it up for almost 600 days. This was the first time I had seen this message and I was confused because my Time Machine backup disk is always on. Then the message vanished, and everything seemed to be working.
Something else that I noticed was that my cough was back within a couple of hours of using the iMac.
Then the following day, I saw the message again for a couple of minutes before it vanished. After a few days of this, followed by detailed investigation, I identified the cause of the message. After I had updated the iMac OS in November 2021, the Time Machine software on the iMac had stopped recognising my Time Machine drive. Despite this, the software continued with its hourly backup, holding these on the computer hard drive instead. As the Mac is in almost daily use, the hard drive quickly filled with the backups. This was why the fan was constantly on and the performance had dropped.
I decided to reformat the Time Machine drive and gave it a new name. I then pointed the Time Machine software at the drive and let it run. It took 4 days to complete the first backup, but the fan started to subside after day 2. By the time the first backup completed, the burning smell vanished, and a couple of days later my long-standing chest problems cleared up.
This was all just over a month ago and everything is still working as it should (and I feel great). I wanted to share this in case I can help just one other person. Given how much this affected me I would hate for it to happen to someone else.