I did a search of "beachball in pref's" and found this page...how many other app's do you have going at the time? maybe try quitting everything but Finder and then go to system pref's and see what is happening...
That was helpful but didnt provide a fix. I have 464.29 free out of 499.25 total which I assume is enough. All software is up to date. Ive repaire premission from safe boot, recovery, and user. Ive spent the last hour deleting different caches and plist files with no success. My mac is a late 15in Pro. Everything else runs fine and system prefs wont freeze unless I try to change the screen saver. After deleting all the pics i had for desktops the factory galaxy reapeared. But that is all that I am able to do.
I just got the same problem as you described and took me a bit to resolved it but it worked for me by doing the below things...
Started when I tried to change my Desktop Background/Picture and I think I clicked the iPhoto Folder to look for more pictures but after that no matter what I would do I always got the SPINNING BEACHBALL of DEATH!!! No matter how I tried to go into the System Preferences it would just do the BEACHBALL thing…
So from the TERMINAL windows I tried the first line below to delete the system property settings but that didn’t work after the reboot. I decided to delete all 3 settings for the System Properties, Desktop and Screen Saver since that’s the area I was having issues in.
After I deleted (well the mv command actually just moves the file but you can delete it off your desktop afterwards)… it all worked… Note that I did not do anything else to my system... disk repairs, file permissions changes... nothing just the 3 lines below...
Make sure you don't have the System Preferences running or that it's not FROZEN (none responsive) if it is Kill the process by forcing it closed (OPTION + COMMAND + ESC) and you will get the FORCE QUIT APPLICATION Windows. Once you are sure it is not running do the below...
FROM TERMINAL WINDOWS
mv ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.systempreferences.plist ~/Desktop/com.apple.systempreferences.plist
mv ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.screensaver.plist ~/Desktop/com.apple.screensaver.plist
mv ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.desktop.plist ~/Desktop/com.apple.desktop.plist
REBOOT after this
You should be set or it worked for me like a charm….
Let me know it works out for you...