May 08, 2007
G5 display problems solved
I've been having some trouble with my G5 over the last couple of months. Intermittently, it wouldn't boot up, though the power LED would light, and the drives seemed to spin up to speed.
At first, I thought it was an immediate kernel panic, possibly resulting from my keyboard or mouse drivers, partly because it didn't appear that holding down "shift" for safe boot or "C" to boot from the optical drive had any effect. At first, it seemed like it would boot every 2nd time I tried, but as weeks went by, it seemed to be less likely. Fortunately, the machine is very reliable, and didn't need to be rebooted, except for System Updates. Unfortunately, there have been a lot of system updates lately.
I discovered that if I opened up the case, reset the Power Manager, and put everything back together, the machine would boot cleanly. I did a little more web research, and discovered this link from the Mac Owners Support Group, which led eventually to this Apple support database entry. It turns out that there's a known issue with certain ATI video cards, which show up in System Profiler as Card Model "ATY, RV350." Mine is an RV360, but other sufferers reported a fix just from removing and reseating their video card.
That fixed it for me, as well, and pointed up the worst part of the otherwise brilliant G5 case design: The screws that hold cards in place are hard to get a screwdriver on, because they're (a couple of inches) behind a lip. If you've got an offset screwdriver, this is the place for it.
UPDATE 5/24/07: This didn't actually fix things. Somehow, I got two consecutive reboots without a failure, but not three. When the new Security Update came out today, I installed it, then shut down the machine, reset the PMU, unplugged the power cord and all the cables, and rebooted. The machine came up, worked on installing the updates for a while, then rebooted again. D'oh! Since then, I've been unable to get the machine to come up at all, and somehow, I've made things worse -- now the machine only flashes the LED for a half-second when I try to reboot. More as it happens.
January 07, 2007
Biggest Macworld and switching to the PC
So the biggest Macworld in years starts tomorrow (Tuesday for Macworld Expo). Nobody seems to have a real handle on what Apple's going to do this year, so predictions are all over the place. Apple has pushed the hype by promising that “The first 30 years were just the beginning,” suggesting major things afoot.
Over at HiveLogic, Dan Benjamin offers a fairly safe list: Whatever Apple's iTV becomes, updates to the iMac, iPod, iLife and iWork, and a preview of Leopard, with Windows virtualization built in. All good stuff, with the virtualization probably the only controversial choice.
Benjamin doubts we'll see the iPhone/iPod phone, new iSights, or a Mac Pro update, widely expected because Intel will be announcing its new Kentsfield processors tomorrow. He rates as “possibilities” high-def iTunes (to support TV and movie content in HD), an update to the iPod Hifi, a MacBook Pro speedbump, and BlueRay support, and is holding his breath for a “true” video iPod, a nanoBook (an ultraportable laptop), and a Beatles iPod, heralding the arrival of the Beatles catalog on iTunes.
Over at O'Reilly's MacDevCenter, a survey of writers turns up a surprisingly common wish for a Core 2 Duo update of Apple's longstanding desktop form factor, last seen in, what, the 7600? For years, this was the most popular corporate Mac, in its IIcx/IIci/Quadra 650/Power Mac 7100/PowerMac 7500/7600 iteration, which usually shared a motherboard with Apple's top tower, albeit generally with a slower processor, and generally offered 3 slots. The iMac line is inherently wasteful in a corporate environment, because most companies are ready to upgrade the CPU long before the LCD has died, but the Mac mini is generally a little underpowered for corporate use. So I'll add this to my wish list (fat lot of good it will do).
Also looking back to the future are a couple of writers who want a replacement for the 12" PowerBook. That would be terrific. The Mac world significantly lags the PC world when it comes to sub-notebooks, and it seems like I'm seeing more and more of the smaller, lighter machines in airports. If you spend a lot of time on the road, and use your machine for office functions, a 12" (or smaller) machine you can hook to an external monitor in the office, with a decent keyboard and battery life, makes a lot of sense.
Also, three of their writers want changes to .Mac. One wants it eliminated (I don't see that happening), while another wants to see it significantly enhanced. I still would like to see .Mac become an extension of a home server product (like the HP MediaSmart server, but software or Mac mini-based and therefore cheaper), with two-way synchronization of selected files and folders between .Mac and the home server; automatic backup of purchased iTunes and other user content to the home server; domain, weblog, calendar and photo sharing support over the internet.
Meanwhile, I'm starting a new job tomorrow, and I hear they've got a sub-notebook Dell waiting for me. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes. It's been 5 years since I spent more than 30-45 minutes at a Windows desktop.
November 24, 2004
World's cheapest G5 upgrade
My G5 fans have been running a little loudly, and almost all the time, lately. I hadn't noticed an effect on the machine's speed, but in checking the load average, it was always above 1.00. At first, I thought maybe this was an effect of the dual processor setup, but I checked the dually at work, and the load average was about .50.
I installed a fresh copy of Panther on an external FireWire drive, booted up, and my fans spun down. Load average was suddenly in the .25 range. I rebooted off the internal drive, and the fans came back. Looking at 'top', I discovered the Finder was hovering within a few percent of 100 percent. Hmmmm. In poking around, I noticed my 'Finder Preferences' file (com.apple.finder.plist) was about 2 MEGABYTES. I deleted it, fired back up, and my machine was instantly 5 times faster, with the load average down in the .20 range.
Right now, running NetNewsWire, MarsEdit, Entourage, SpamSieve, iPulse, QuickSilver, and iTunes, I'm showing "0.20 0.12 0.13" in 'w' or 'uptime'.
It's been about 36 hours since I fixed it, and the office is even noticeably cooler.
September 29, 2004
How the other half lives: Moving up to the G5
My new G5 came today; I've only just scratched the surface so far, but I'm pleased and impressed.
The coolest thing was probably Apple's new transfer utility that moves files and applications over from one machine to another. I expected this to be fairly hit or miss, with problems with licensing, purchased iTunes music, and who knows what else, but it went very smoothly.
Essentially, you mount the old Mac as a FireWire disk (hold down 'T' at startup), and the program copies over your applications, documents, and preferences.
Microsoft Office came over without a hiccup. My purchased iTunes music came over without a hiccup, just asking me to enter my iTunes ID the first time I played one. It asked me which user accounts to migrate, and moved them over without a hitch.
The only slight problems I saw were with Circus Ponies' Notebook, which somehow builds a key based on hardware, so I had to re-enter my registration key to regenerate, and with Stuffit Expander, which failed the first time I tried to unstuff anything. I downloaded the new version, release 9, and all has been well ever since.
In a way, the smooth migration is a little bit of a problem: Instead of having a few days to evolve your work process over, you spend an hour with the machines tethered, and your new machine is a clone of your old. I'm almost scared to turn the PowerBook on, lest I launch a war for control of my data, and I haven't really decided who's boss yet.
Looks like around 3.5 hours per unit on Seti@Home, which I doubt is multi-processor aware (yes it is: 'top' shows it using up to 178% of processor time), and an XBench score between 215 and 220 (the PowerBook -- 12" 867 -- is about an 85). Haven't burned a DVD yet, or gotten into iMovie, but I can't wait.
September 21, 2004
New Mac time
So I have an order in for a new dual 2.5-gigahertz G5. A friend let me take advantage of an expiring developer discount, which saved me around $500.
I waited to make the decision until the new iMac G5 was announced, and I was sorely tempted to go with the less expensive box. I didn't because a) my usual personal buying strategy is to buy higher end machines, with an eye toward being able to bear them for longer before I can't stand working on that old crappy box that once was scary fast, and because b) the dual G5s look like a bargain to me, even at their higher prices.
But what if you're looking to spend $2,500-$3,000? Well, you could buy a PowerBook, and a fairly nice one. But if you're looking for a desktop solution, you can buy a computer, but only without a monitor. The dual-1.8 G5 plus a 20-inch Cinema Display comes in around $3,300. For now, you can still help Apple empty overstocked warehouses of overpriced 17-inch Studio Displays at $699, but that price, along with the reports of backlight problems with the displays, is just going to drive people to buy their LCDs from somebody else.
On the one hand, I really hope Apple has a plan to fill in that middle ground, possibly with a less-expensive 17" Cinema Display (they certainly buy enough 17" widescreen LCD panels). On the other hand, I think Apple may be intentionally splitting its market into home and education users, who are expected to buy eMacs and iMacs; and professionals who don't care much what their systems cost, since the company is picking up the tab.
Note that I don't consider the new Cinema Displays overpriced. I haven't used an Apple display since the snakebit AppleVision 1710av, working pretty happily through a succession of Sony, ViewSonic, and Nokia monitors. But I have my eye on one of these new Cinema Displays, or an equivalent display, and for now at least, the big Apples compare very well with Sony's and Samsung's big and wide-screen LCDs, typically coming in $50-$100 below the competition.
September 01, 2004
Nothing left to take away: the iMac G5
Almost everybody reading this already knows, but Apple introduced the new G5 iMac today (actually yesterday, as I check the clock). Single processor, 1.6 or 1.8 gigahertz, hooked to Apple's great 17" or 20" LCD display. A little skimpy on memory with 256 megabytes stock on each model.
The big news is the minimalist design. It's a 2-inch deep rectangle, with an aluminum stand keeping the whole thing from floating off your desk.
Many of the stories talk about the debt the new design owes the iPod. I wonder if they considered putting a clickwheel under the display, to be used as a hardware equivalent of Synergy, and to allow scrubbing in other media apps.
If the monitor-spanning hack works with it, you could build an amazing system by hooking a new 20" display into a 20" iMac, all for around the price of a 17" G4 PowerBook.
Update: The monitor spanning hack works; here are pictures to prove it.
Speaking of, when will we see a G5 PowerBook? Checking out the innards, it looks like Apple could build a 17" G5 PowerBook right now, if people would buy a 3-inch-thick PowerBook. In other words, if they could design it like a Dell.
Taking the shorter list first, here's what I don't like about the new iMac:
The monitor is still locked into the CPU, so you're forced to upgrade them together.
No FireWire 800?
Things I love:
The pricing: the systems are $400-$500 less than the G4 systems they replace.
They're VESA-compliant, so you can hang the whole thing from a desk or wall mount.
Find myself agreeing with Chuck Toporek that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth should be standard to further cement Apple's place as the PC maker who includes what costs extra with the leading brand. I wonder if they're doing it to push build-to-order sales, since the integrated wireless options are only available through the online Apple Store.
Find myself disagreeing with Paul Jackson of Forrester Research that this machine should have been a media center PC competitor. Jackson obviously likes his, but I don't know a single Media Center PC owner, and I haven't seen any evidence from ads and store displays that they're setting the world on fire.
I continue to hold out hope that Apple will legitimize this space, as they did with MP3 players when they introduced the iPod, by introducing an iServe that, among other things, can interface with your cable or satellite provider and stream video to any computer in the house (and the TV, naturally). There have been a couple of rumors about iPod-related products in 2005, and if the iPod eventually supports video, the iServe is right there.
Side note: Jackson says, "Better still would have been a software option to turn this machine into a full Wi-Fi access point: Intel's Grantsdale chipset already promises this functionality for PC owners." It does this, Paul. So will any Mac with an ethernet port and an AirPort card since 1999. Simple matter of checking "Share my Internet connection through...."
Like Adam Engst's suggestion that a new iMac plus Open Door's Envision would be a dandy living room installation, that would double as a digital picture frame.
Adam repeats the conventional wisdom that Apple has to disable monitor spanning to differentiate Pro and Consumer machines, and Glenn Fleishman suggests monitor spanning would add $75 to $100 to retail price. I doubt it. The monitor-spanning hack above proves the hardware support has been included on almost every recent consumer Mac. It's entirely a marketing decision, and I think it's one that doesn't make much sense in 2004.
Now that the G5 Pro line is all dual, it's differentiated by 1) having twice the CPUs, 2) faster frontside bus, 3) more maximum memory, 4) PCI-X expansion, 5) FireWire 800, 6) digital audio both in and out, 7) gigabit ethernet, and 8) much beefier video cards. Letting the iMac span monitors would be a very powerful argument for why the Mac is worth the premium over a Wintel box. It would also probably sell a lot of Apple displays.
On the PowerBook side, most of the same differences persist, although my 12" model shares some of the limitations of the iBook. Once again, only the Pro models (the "PowerBooks") are allowed to span monitors, even though the iBook features a 32 megabyte ATI Mobility Radeon 9200. Again, Apple would be better served by shipping a software upgrade that enabled spanning across the product line and really playing up what a difference the extra real estate makes.
February 10, 2004
Datapoint for new Mac release?
I ordered a new iMac 17" Build-to-order on Thursday, February 5th, from the Apple Store online. It was scheduled to ship in 1-3 days. Today, I was notified that there's been a delay, and the machine is expected to ship “on or before February 17th.”
I can't imagine a reason that the iMac would be backlogged, so you have to wonder if this is one of those holds Apple puts on before new products are announced. I could go to the Apple Store and pick one up immediately, without the customization, but now, I'm intrigued. Will we get a new model instead of what I ordered? Only time will tell.Update 2/11/04: Literally 8 minutes after I posted this, I got notified that the computer has shipped. If it arrives with a G5 onboard, you’ll be the first to know, but I don’t hold out hope.
January 31, 2004
Upgrading a 400-mHz iMac DV
So, after 4 years of use and abuse by the kids, the DVD-ROM on Christy's iMac gave up the ghost.
The Mac is a 400-mHz Grape DV model, bought in February 2000, with 128 megs of RAM in the inner slot, 256 in the outer, and a 5400-rpm drive that holds 10 gigabytes.
I decided that, if I'm going to be in there anyway, I should upgrade the upper memory slot and the hard drive. I have a 512-megabyte DIMM on order from Crucial.com, which will replace the orginal 128-meg in the upper slot. I ordered the replacement DVD from Other World Computing; I saw a few advertised at a lower price, but out of stock.
I'll be picking up a standard IDE drive at Best Buy, with a gift card left over from Christmas. There's some debate about putting 7200-rpm drives in the iMac, but it's hard to find (non-notebook) 5400-rpm drives larger than about 40 gigabytes, so I'm going to give it a shot. As with my Lombard PowerBook, OS X requires a partition of less than 8 gigs to boot from with the ROMs in this iMac, so I'll be splitting the drive into 2 or more partitions. I don't think the original iMac's hardware can handle drives greater than 128 gigabytes; I'm looking for something in the 60-100 gigabyte range.
Once I've done all that, I'm going to try to migrate Christy to OS X. It's critical that you upgrade the iMac's firmware to 4.1.9 before installing OS X. A friend didn't, and wound up buying his mother a new machine.
Opening an iMac is non-trivial, but relatively straightforward. I had to remove another optical drive from an identical model when an employee at my former company inserted a business card CD into the slot (don't do this!). There are good directions available with pictures at theiMac.com. Make sure you stay clear of the CRT — I had an employee at UGA who touched the flyback transformer on an itty-bitty Mac SE screen, and didn't want to repeat the mistake; the iMac probably stores 3-4x the energy.
I'm likely to actually do the upgrade Tuesday or Wednesday night. I'll try to post some more details then. Looks like I'll be spending about $300, but I think the machine will be useful for at least another 2 years if I do so, and that's a tradeoff I'm comfortable with.
January 28, 2004
New Power Macs: Can't be long nowFactory-refurbished G5s available today; save up to $600
With Apple trying to clear out the old stock, and even the dual-2.0 machines, we must finally be getting close to the release of the 2nd-generation G5s.
To fulfill the promise from Steve Jobs that 3.0-gigahertz machines would arrive by late summer, Apple needs to stairstep a revision somewhere in-between. I was betting on yesterday, but I doubt it will be more than a week or so now. Of course, I've been wrong about these things before.
Greatest crime of our generation?How I PC'd an Apple G5
My vote goes to the guy who built this web page. Reminiscent of monkey excrement art, this guy ripped the beating heart out of a G5 (a dually, to boot), and popped in a generic Athlon.
That's the moral equivalent of getting a new Porsche, and swapping out the motor for one from an AMC Pacer.
Check out the after photo, to see why we should leave computer design to the professionals.
This is a crime of Bush v. Gore proportions. Update 1/31: The original perpetrator now claims that he did it as a joke on a Mac-using friend, when he acquired a bare G5 case. He received 1300 e-mails within a day or so of the article appearing.