Basic Maintenance And Troubleshooting

Every application used on every computer at one time or another has issues. The larger and more complex the app, the more often they crop up. This post offers some quick basics on handling a Final Cut Pro X system to prevent issues, and what to do when issues arise.

As a retired IT professional, now a digital media professional, I can’t help but keep one foot in the technical side of things, like it or not. Based on my extensive real-world experiences as both an IT and digital media professional for over two decades, here’s some basic information in two parts. The first part lays out a solid preventative maintenance routine, and the second presents troubleshooting basics with additional recourses.

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I- Basic Preventative Maintenance

Daily/Nightly:
Run backups of your system and working drives. NOTHING will save you if a drive dies or a project file/library becomes corrupted, except a good backup. You can use Apple’s built-in TimeMachine, but make sure it is on its own drive, not sharing a drive with non-backup data! This slows your performance down, and if anything goes corrupt, you lose everything, not just one or the other.

Personally, I recommend using
Carbon Copy Cloner. The first backup (or Cloning) will take a long time depending on how much data needs backing up. But after that, it simply does incremental backups, and can read the insides of Packages, meaning FCPX libraries get updated with changes rather than it copying the entire library ever night, which can be needlessly time consuming. It does a check sum (verifies the data is good) and has been in development for a long time (very reliable). Use a different backup drive for each drive you backup.

Have a system backup drive separate from your media backup drive. This insures if one backup drive fails, you don’t lose everything at once. Plus, it’s more efficient space wise and performance wise.

Be sure your system drive backup is bootable! Timemachine and CCC both do this. Backing up your system data isn’t enough, it needs to be able to boot up on its own.


Weekly:
1- Verify free space on all connected drives, especially the system drive (capacity x .15 = free space minimum). Each should have at least 15 percent of its total capacity left as free space. The more the better, but NEVER let it go below 15 percent. If you get close to 15 percent, start cleaning up, deleting stuff, moving stuff to an archive or other secondary drive. If you drop below 15 percent, especially below 10%, you can experience odd symptoms that most professionals will tend to diagnose as other causes, eventually coming back to this lack of free space. You also are in danger of loosing data, for real. This include backup drives!

As a quick reference, every GB of capacity equals 15MB of free space. Every TB of capacity equals 150GB of free space. So take your drive’s size and multiply that by thees fee space numbers. 500GB; 500 x .15 = 75GB minimum free space, 2TB; 2000 x .15 = 300GB minimum free space, and so on. Use hundreds for MBs and thousands for TBs. Basic math, pretty easy.

How To Free Space Used By FCPX:
A- Turn off Background Rendering in FCPX’s preferences, and leave it off. Render in the Timeline only if you have issues playing back a specific clip or set of clips.

B- Once you’ve disabled Background Rendering, delete all render files (easily rebuilt). In the Browser select a Library, then in the File menu find “Delete Generated Files”, in the resulting window delete ALL render files.

B- I discourage using Copy To Library and Optimize in the Import window. Doing that increases what the Library eats up on the drive, and gains you nothing. Either use original media and then proxy media if necessary, or Leave In Place and Optimize. Later you can delete proxy media and optimized media, freeing up drive space, and still be able to rebuild them again.

C-
Final Cut Library Manager can also delete render and cache files on whole Libraries in one place at one time. Highly recommended if you create and work with lots of Libraries and are making a living with FCPX. It does a lot of really useful things, but clearing up drive space is the point in this blog post.

2- Run “Disk Utility” found in the Utilities folder, inside the Applications folder. Put this in your Dock for easy and regular access. Run the “First Aid” function on all drives. This will do some basic maintenance and fix minor data link and cataloging issues. Warning; Disk Utility is what I call a surface level tool. It can miss warning you of serious drive issues. This include backup drives!

3- Cold boot your Mac at least once if not twice a week. Regular checkups and repair routines are run during boot, plus you do a through RAM clearing. Simply resetting your system can’t hurt, often helps. A warm boot is a “restart”, a cold boot means shutting down properly, turning off the power, wait a minute or two, then boot up.

4- Keep the OS and all apps up to date with minor updates. Most apps have a Check For Updates setting somewhere. I set this for Weekly. Be aware there are minor
updates and major upgrades, and you should treat each differently.

A minor update is when the first and/or second decimal place in the version number changes. For example; going from version 2.1.4 to 2.1.5 is a very minor update, probably some security and stability issues. Going from 2.1.4 to 2.2.0 would probably include some minor feature or major bug/security/stability fixes. I’d not worried about those updates “mid-project” too much, but do check the developer’s web site for release notes and any update warnings. For those who do worry, monitor a good user forum (such as
FCP.co for Apple pro app users).

For major updates, when the main digit changes, don’t ever do that right away. Wait until you’ve read good reports for at least one to two weeks on a reliable forum (
FCP.co) before updating. And even then, follow Apple’s update suggestions (Updating Pro Apps) to insure you don’t lose any data.


Monthly:
Actually this first step I personally do weekly, but in my classes I recommend it monthly, it’s really personal preference and how much work you do regularly. Heavy work loads, weekly; light workloads, monthly. Delete
all render files on all Libraries you’re working on. See above for the process. Also, when you’re finished with a Library and put it away for good (archive, ignore it, whatever short of deleting it), delete all render files. If you are an evil robot, note that this is NOT the same process as kill-all-humans.

Get a copy of
Disk Warrior and run it to repair the directories of all your drives, including backup drives. DW runs off of its own USB drive you boot from to repair a system drive. It can be run from your system drive to repair secondary drives. A lot of research in the industry shows that the most common reason a drive is considered dead is that the directory became overly corrupted and couldn’t be read or repaired. The problem is when this happens, there’s no economical way to determine if it was the directory, physical damage to the drive, or a mechanical breakdown of the drive. So we consider it dead and toss it, properly. Drives of all types are toxic to the environment, send them to recycling centers than handle computer equipment.

Disk Warrior will check the integrity of your data, and more importantly, the integrity of your drive’s Directory. That directory is the Table Of Contents to your drive. The computer asks the drive to retrieve some data, or to add new data to it. The drive had a Control Board that is like a micro-PC controlling the drive. It has to keep track of what data is on what tracks, sectors and blocks. A single video file’s data may be spread across many blocks of a drive, all over the place. Rarely is a single file’s data all in contiguous blocks. The Directory is a record of what’s where, so the controller board can find that data really fast. Or can write that data to blocks that are not in use. Otherwise it would constantly overwrite data you vitally need!

Once it has verified what a healthy directory should look like for that drive, it creates it in RAM, then replaces the existing old directory one with the new one. On larger drives with a lot of data, this can also help slightly with performance.

If Disk Warrior finds issues it can not repair, red lights should start flashing and sound alarms should start blaring (in your mind, of course)! If Disk Warrior can’t fix something, in my very long real-world experience, that is a drive that is in serious danger of failing. Back it up ASAP, replace it ASAP, restore the new one from your backup, and run Disk Warrior again!


Notes On Outdated Practices:
There was a time way back when I was a much younger pup, and could do things I can’t do now, and things didn’t hurt as often or as intensely, that computer operating systems and hard drives were a whole different ball game. Technology has come a very long way since then, but some of those practices are still circulated as good advice, even though they’re out dated and need to die. One example is that you need to optimize a drive. Way back when drives were much, much, much, much slower, yes, it helped performance. Today, that’s hogwash. Optimizing a modern drive is a waste of time and won’t do any good at all.

Another one is that you need to boot from your backup drive, or from some other bootable drive in order to run Disk Utility on your system dive. Why? Well, way back when, before the Mac became a UNIX based system, running disk utility to repair drives, if a file was in use, it couldn’t be checked or repaired. Today, macOS (and OS X) are UNIX systems, and that simple isn’t true any longer. Multiple users (including root/superuser) can access a file at one time.* So if you run Disk Utility from your system drive, on your system drive, it will be fine. This practice became obsolete with OS X.

* This is different from Disk Utility above, as DW is actually replace a directory, which can’t be done while a drive is in use, the drive must be dismounted for such a complex operation to take place.

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IIa- Troubleshooting:
Before troubleshooting, run a backup of the Library you’re trying to fix! Then try each of the following steps in order to see if one fixes your issue. These are safe, reliable troubleshooting steps. If nothing here helps, see the end of this blog post just below.

1- Quit FCPX and relaunch, see if that helps. Maybe even reboot your Mac, too.

2- Verify that you are up to date on all third party plugins and templates.

3- Verify the percentage of free space on your drive, see above.

4- Delete all render files (see above).

5- Quit FCPX, hold down the Option and Command keys together while launching FCPX again. In the resulting window delete preference files. This is perfectly safe, you don’t lose anything.

6- Run Disk Utility and Disk Warrior on all drives (see above).

7- Create a new user on your Mac with administration privileges, see if working under that user still have issues. If this particular step does clear your problems up, post on
FCP.co explaining this and asking how to repair your user account. I’d rather you have those very knowledgeable folks step you through it, than me post some instructions that may go out of date eventually.

IIb- Additional Troubleshooting Resources
What I present here are only the basics, not an in-depth process. Here are some links you may want to try out if the information here doesn’t help.
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Resolve And Issue With FCPX (Apple)
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Recognize and Fix 11 Common Issues in FCPX (T. Payton)
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Top 10 Troubleshooting Tips For FCPX (Richard Taylor)

IIc- In The End…
If nothing else works, post at
FCP.co and let us know the specifics of the problem(s) in detail, and specifically what you’ve done so far to try and fix it, and what your Mac specs are.