Do Mac computers really never crash?

How often do Mac computers crash? Are some Mac models more prone to crashing than others? When they crash, do they reboot faster? All this is realtive to the Windows (non-NT) world…

Well, I’m sure someone will come along with a more techical answer, but FWIW here’s my experience:

About 4 months ago my husband and I both bought brand new computers. I bought an iMac and he bought a Compaq Presario. My machine runs OSX 10.2 and he’s running Windows XP.

We both leave our computers running constantly. The first time he booted up he got the blue screen of death. Since then, his computer’s crashed quite a few times, at least 5 or 6. Mine never has. Now, every now and again I’ll have a program like explorer or iTunes just get a little funky on me and lock up for a few seconds, but it doesn’t affect anything else I’m doing so there’s no need to reboot. You can always use forcequit to close out the offending application.

Every couple weeks I’ll reboot just for the heck of it, as some programs will start to run a little slow after awhile, but rebooting is definitely faster than my PC.

Count me as someone else who, while unable to offer “hard technical data”, can at least give personal experience.

“Do Mac computers really never crash?” No. I’ve used a few different of the late 90s iMacs, and some of them crash a lot, some of them not so much. The new sexy ones seem to be much more stable to me.

I am going to be very careful not to turn this into an OS war - I think that everything crashes SOMETIMES. I’ve used wonderful Macs and terrible PCs (and XJETGIRLX, I’ve had terrible luck with Compaq). The better operating systems get, combined with my growing knowledge of how to use a computer with TLC, make for a better experience. I bought a brand new Gateway with XP Pro in April, and it hasn’t crashed once yet - and I make it work a lot. This leaves me happy, but suspicious.

[ducks back into the warm sea of lurkdom]

I run mostly Win boxes - Win2K, WinNT, and an old 95 box for compatibility testing. My wife has a G3, an iMac and a powerbook. Non-scientific testing indicates the Mac OS is a whole lot more stable than Win95[sup]*[/sup] but not as stable as Win2K (properly installed and maintained). We both push our machines pretty hard and my machines stay on 24/7. I haven’t had a crash or failure reboot in months on Win2K, though I have had a couple of maintenance reboots. My wife managed to lock up hers twice yesterday doing some hairy math calcs. And reboot times are comparable - her iMac takes longer than my Win2K box, but just barely.

The main difference between Mac and Win seems that when you have an app or OS lockup and need to selectively kill a process or reboot, it seems much harder on Mac. In OSX there’s probably a way to get to a console and kill a process, but I haven’t seen the pre-OSX Mac equivalent of the Win task manager (note: haven’t seen != doesn’t exist). When her iMac locks up, my wife has to hunt down a bent paperclip and poke a little hole, which makes the three-finger salute seem downright civilized.

I find very little difference in performance, stability or capability between the Macs and Win boxes. IMO, the days of objective superiority are gone and choices now are made for subjective and political reasons. The only machine of ours that seems to be significantly superior is the slackware linux box, but in all fairness, I don’t push it as hard as the others.

  • note: stability problems on the win95 box are probably due to mini-micco as much as any inherent problems in that OS.
      • No operating system has ever come with a money-back no-crash-guarantee, and there’s reasons for that.

My G4 running OS9.2 crashes at least twice a day.

I run mostly Windows; rarely Macs. I have noticed that the Macs I work with crash about as often as Windows computers (taking into account the amount of time I’m using them).

I used to believe Macs were better. Then I went to a presentation by Apple talking about an operating system. “Well,” they said, “we’re still working on it, but any time you [insert technical details here], it’s going to crash. We haven’t been able for fix that.” My reaction was WTF?

Windows problems are because Microsoft doesn’t dictate software and hardware specs to the degree Apple does.

I’ve had both. Everything crashes eventually if you push it hard enough.

OS9 and below crashed occasionally to very frequently, depending on so many factors (software, amount of memory, usage, disk errors, whatever).

OSX never seems to crash. I have been running it for several months, and while certain (unstable) programmes often crash, they never bring the system down. I think it’s the “protected memory” thing.

Also - bear in mind that Mac OSX is essentially UNIX. IMO it was a bit of a mistake calling it OSX, because really it is New Mac OS1.

I agree with what RealityChuck says regarding software and hardware. I think there’s alot more factors to crashing than just the OS.

I worked with iMacs at school when they first came out (Apple was happy to give our journalism dapartment a whole buncha them) and they didn’t crash but froze up. We had to disconnect the power cord from the back of the … thing … and reconnect to reboot. This happened constantly. Of course, this was NOT OSX (i have no clue what OS it would have been. Teal?)

I will add my 2 cents…

Home computers -
Apple iBook 800 - OSX
PowerMac 8500 - OSX
built my AMD 1Ghz Athlon… Winows XP

work computers.
Dell Optiplex 2.0 Ghz. Windows XP
Dell Optiplx 500 Windows 2000

My 2.0 Ghz work computer has only crashed twice in 6 months… I do not really do anything tasking on that computer.

My work computer running windows 2000 crashes a lot because of 3rd party software issues… and has very little RAM…

My home PC also crashes a lot because of 3rd party software…

I think that is why Mac’s are more stable… I rarely add 3rd party software on them.

My 8500 is like 5-6 years old… It took some work to get OSX on it, but since I havem it runs pretty damn well… I love OSX…

my iBook is great… I bought it on Jan 7th… and it hasn’t crashed yet… explorer froze a few times, but I was able to force quit without restarting…

I think either way you go, you will be happy… I think you have more options to mess with a PC and that is why they crash more…
If you install your basic needs… and leave it alone you will be fine…
but on a PC, you have more options for more software, add a card here, upgrade a card there… all of which will make it less stable…

I work as tech support in a company with windows and mac machines.

I would say the mac crashes but not as often as windows.
But from what I’ve seen, windows users use it for a whole lot more different things. I mean the windows system gets tons of things installed and uninstalled every week it seems.

Here is a little info to make the numbers significant.
35 Machines with Mac OS
950 with Windows XP

In one week we would get about 3 calls that Mac crashes or freezes. 40 calls that a Windows machine freezes or crashes.
I’m pulling out actual stats(tickets).

I’ve owned / used extensively 3 comps in the last 6 years.

  1. I forget the brand, either HP or Packard-Bell, few problems

  2. Compaq fairly high-powered PC, but it was my sis-in-laws, and I don’t know its stats, few problems

  3. Power Mac G4 Cube, problems only when I try do open multiple programs too quickly, that is, not letting, say, Word open up because I’m in such a fool hurry, and trying to do something else in the 4 seconds it takes for Word to start.

But the Mac was ridiculously expensive, and doesn’t play the games I want. It was Mrs. hrhomer’s idea. I’m getting a PC when we can afford it.


I would call that crashing.

At work, we have about 20 iMacs and 50 G4’s, all running OS 10.2. I would say about 10% (or 7) crash in a given semester (18-week) period. Not such a bad record considering we have over 100 Pentium-III’s and at least 10 regularly crash on a daily basis.

I’ll second the “everything crashes eventually” motion. For technical purposes, the OP is answered – no, Macs aren’t uncrashable; they can crash.

This will hopefully contribute to reasons and so forth, without errupting into a flame war and getting us booted out of GQ. These are personal experiences based on years and years of use with both dominant operating systems (Mac/Win).

The Mac has gone through a long steady evolution from System 6 (my earliest use) through Mac OS 9 (I’ll call these the classic OS). A complete genesis occurred with Mac OS X, though. Windows evolved from a DOS shell program into the XP of today (NT was introduced halfway through, so NT and the 9x series co-grew) – XP is the integration of the 9x and NT platforms.

The Mac OS was originally released in 1984. It was a single-task operating system, meaning a single system process was in control of the computer at all times, and the operating system was designed around this. Gradually the Mac OS was made multitask capable, albeit in an awkward fashion. “Cooperative multitasking” allowed a single program to hog all of the system resources; it was up to the program to cooperate with the rest of the system and give other resources time. Additionally, the Mac OS was traditionally NOT capable of dynamic linking. The toolbox was built to be asking using processor traps, which means the assembly language tries to execute an illegal instruction, a trap dispatcher handles this, and the correct operating system routine is run. In short, intentionally faulting the processor to get things done. The PowerPC changed all this, though, and allowed dynamic linking to take place for real. Finally, the OS was expandable through the use of system extensions, which were little pieces of code that were patched into the operating system proper, i.e., they became part of the operating system. The whole point is, as awesome as the Mac was, there was a lot of funky voodoo going on under the hood to keep the whole thing working. To its advantage, Apple kept great, strict control over the hardware and this went a long way to make the classic Mac exceptionally stable. However tinkering with the underworkings – such a extensions that touch naughty parts of the OS or that conflicted with each other – could make a make very unstable. Because programs didn’t have their own untouchable memory space, a single misbehavior anywhere in the system would make the entire Mac bomb. The good news was, you COULD make a Mac uncrashable by being selective in what software you used. But if you really, really needed to use Wordperfect, you’d have to realize you risked an unstable system. In my experience, I had a lot of system bombs, but not nearly as many as on Windows-based machines up to but not including XP. Accepting them was a tradeoff for the software I wanted to use, though.

Incidently, the Apple three finger salute didn’t generally need a paper clip – ctrl/open-apple/power usually reboot the machine on pre-USB keyboards.

Mac OS X changes all of the above. It’s a kernel-based operating system with protected memory space. This means the system is as stable as the kernel, and as long as the kernal doesn’t panic (crash), then technically the computer hasn’t crashed. The kernal is the most basic piece of software that controls the computer – everything the computer does it arbitrated through the kernal. In a way it’s the virtual machine that represents the whole hardware world to all of your computer processes. It also manages memory, and ensures that every process has its own domain. One program cannot violate another task’s space. This in itself means that a single naughty program won’t bring down the whole system ala classic Mac OS. The Mac OS X Mach kernel is regarded as exceptionally stable as it ships from Apple. However, it’s a modular kernal which means kernel extensions (kexts) can be added to it. This is done for certain hardware drivers, for example. The cliche about a chain being only as strong as its weekest link applies here – a naughty kext can panic the kernel. Once the kernel panics, there’s no recovery. I’ve NEVER experienced a kernel panic with any version of Mac OS X since the public beta, although there are those that HAVE had them.

HOWEVER, from most users’ perspectives, there are “crashes” that aren’t kernel panics that are just as bad. Because the whole Mac OS is a bunch of processes that run atop Mach, losing these processes effectively kills the Mac OS. For example, if Aqua dies, there’s no way for the Mac to draw Mac-stuff on your screen! While technically the OS is still fine, it’s not very friendly for a normal user and will be perceived of as a crash. This makes it much more necessary to distinguish between OS crashes (kernel panics) and process crashes, even Aqua. Most program crashes just kill a program without affecting Aqua or the kernel, though, so it’s a minor inconvenience that doesn’t require a reboot. I’ve had a couple of times mostly involving games where the computer became unresponsive. This is the game’s fault, but the only option is to reboot as if the computer crashed, or take the cool way out and either telnet or ssh into from another computer on your network and kill the bad process or reboot the computer from the shell command line.

Now on to Windows. I’ll start right off saying I have a preference for Macs, and I consider myself an expert on both of them. Heck, I’m a Windows programmer (not professionally!) but just getting my fingers dirty on the Mac side of programming. With the exception of XP (and maybe NT I’ve not much use with), Windows is incredibly crashable.

For most purposes, the “first” Windows was Windows 3.1, which was a 16-bit Windows shell for DOS. This means it was a program running under DOS and counting on mostly DOS drivers to get anything done. Cooperative multitasking with nowhere near the flexibility nor beauty of the Mac OS. Pretty much a piece of crap but it started the momentum towards Windows. Windows 95, though, changed the World, and for the first time made the Intel architecture a consumer-oriented graphical platform – before you complain, think about the 95% of grandmothers that would have used a DOS box! In any case, it was a 32-bit Windows with support for the old 16-bit programs, more customizable, but still cooperative with globablly-shared, non-protected memory. Blue Screen of Death city! A single bad process could kill the whole system. Windows 98 improved this a little bit, but ME came about and made things worse. Back between Windows 3.1 and 95, though, Microsoft released Windows NT, for Windows New Technology. This was a kernel based operating system intended for business and server markets, where crash-proofness was a necessary goal. I have no personal experience with this other than using NT 4 for a couple of months at work, so feel free to seek the flames on Google groups. Supposedly, it was okay, and it was probably better than classic Mac OS as far as stability if not usefulness. Kernels are slow, though. They add an extra layer of arbitration and handshaking between the program and the devices (like the monitor or disk drive). So to speed things up, Microsoft added lots of user interface elements to the NT kernel! Now remember that the kernel is what supports everything else, and a bug in the kernel will kill the entire system. Kernels are “meant” to be small and generic, and for this they gain stability via experience. Throw a whole, complex, complicated user interface into the kernel, though, and what happens if there’s a small bug? Whooosh to the whole system. I don’t know if this is still the case with XP – anyone know for sure?

XP is the merging of the consumer cooperative multi-tasking lines with the NT protected memory preemptive multitasking OS. I’ve used XP for over a year now, and have only had very few problems. Granted it’s more problems than my Macs give me, but if you consider all the suffering I did previously, Windows XP is finally stable. I’ll give it a thumbs up if you really, really, want to run Windows.

As for Mac versus Windows, I’ll save that for another section of this board.

Balthisar - thanks - that was really interesting and detailed. And very clear to understand, even for me as a non-techie.

rookie523: By your numbers, the Windows computers are more stable. 3 out of 35 is 8.6%, whereas 40 out of 950 is only 4.2%

I have Windows XP, and it’s nice and stable. It’s from Dell. Both them and Gateway have good reputations in this regard.

Compaq, on the other hand, is the Dodge Neon of the computer industry :stuck_out_tongue:

FWIW, comparing Macs to Win9x and Macs to Win2K/XP are entirely different things. I’ve been running XP for about a year now, and I can think of exactly 1 time that it’s crashed and I’ve had to reboot, and that was some unexplicable startup blue-screen problem. I’ve had apps crash more often, but some Task Manager fun has always been able to save my butt–even when I’m doing stupid stuff, like seeing how many processes can have realtime CPU priority simultaneously (the answer is one :wink: ).

The same applies to the Mac side. Comparing Windows to Mac OS 7-9 and Windows to Max OS X are also entirely different things. When I was running OS 8 and 9, system crashes were pretty common, on the order of a couple of times a week. Since I upgraded to OS X a little more than a year ago, I’ve had only one instance that came close to a system crash. During that time, I’ve powered down my iBook four times. Twice to change out hardware, and twice because I wasn’t going to be around for a week or so, and it didn’t make sense to leave it on. I reboot every couple of weeks or so if a software update asks me to.

For what it’s worth, that one crash may or may not have been a crash. I unplugged a USB Zip drive while a file was still being written to it. The computer seemed to continue running normally, but none of the USB devices would respond. Unfortunately, that included the mouse and keyboard. I’ll chalk it up as a crash of the “Cape does not allow user to fly” variety.