The Computer Blog

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

All Quiet on the Home Front…again...

I’ve actually written more than has gotten published in this blog; I’ve just been so busy I haven’t been able to get the stuff posted. I still have to finish balancing my checkbook, something I started last week before I got distracted by oldest natural born kid’s deciding he wanted my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac. I’ve spent every spare minute of the last several days getting it ready to go. I thought it was only going to take a couple of hours, but Jaguar kept corrupting, forcing me to upgrade it to Panther. Additionally, I discovered that the PowerMac’s Firewire 400 ports were dead and lost more time confirming it and then coming up with a workaround. A Q-Sport combination Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 card I bought at Fry’s, one that claimed to be PC and Mac compatible and used a VIA chipset, was totally unrecognized by the PowerMac. I looted my PC, taking from it a SIIG USB 2.0 (2 ports), Firewire 400 (1 port), and 10/100 Ethernet (1 port) combo card that the Mac immediately saw and put the Q-Sport card in the PC, adding a LAN card to take the place of the lost Ethernet port. After adding as many updates as I could find and loading up X11 and GIMP, I then packaged the PowerMac for shipment, along with the other packages, including a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display, that was to accompany it.

My wife and I drove the four packages for Mike, one package for my sister Debbie (containing a Panther Family Pack), and one package for Tim (containing a Radeon 7500 video card to use to troubleshoot his dual 1 GHz PowerMac) up to a local FedEx World Shipping Center. While I was standing at a counter off to the side and filled out paperwork, a young man asked if the PowerMac G4 box really held one. I replied it did, and he hovered like a bee near a hive. He wanted to buy it. Resisting the temptation to sell it on the spot, I told him that Apple was no longer manufacturing them and he could find them on eBay, something he didn’t seem interested in doing. He said he was a recent switcher, he had been “a Windows person forever”, and I responded that I had been, too. Discipline and promises won out, and I finished filling out all the forms with my wife’s help and we took the stuff to the counter. It came to seventy-one bucks and change all told, but I was finally done. Something for almost everyone in my family was now sailing out of Houston; my office was finally uncluttered, and my life could return to normal, such as it is.

Don’t regret a thing….

This morning Apple updated the PowerMac line. My wife asked me if I regretted not waiting. My answer is “no”.

The low-end of the PowerMac line is always a “dumbed-down” version of its predecessor, and this newest line up is no exception. The dual 2 GHz G5 PowerMac, which is what I bought about a month ago, is now priced at $1999, the same price I paid for a refurbished model. But if you look at the specifications on the machines, you’ll notice that the new PowerMac is only upgradeable to 4 GB of RAM and it has only PCI slots. My PowerMac is upgradeable to 8GB of RAM and has PCI-X slots. Now, it’s true that I only plan on expanding my RAM to 4GB and I don’t have any PCI-X cards, yet. But I have the capability of using the new technology. Had I bought a new one, I wouldn’t have.

The newer PowerMac has a faster and double-layer capable DVD burner and a 128 MB Radeon 9600 XT video card. Well, as soon as I understand what dual-layer and dual format drives are natively supported by Tiger, I’ll be equipping my G5 PowerMac with one. My G5 came with a Radeon 9600 Pro video card with only 64MB of RAM, and the Radeon 9600 in the new machine is not available outside of Tiger. But I plan on bumping the video card up at some point anyway, probably to a Radeon 9800 Pro with 256MB of RAM, so I can run Motion and get real-time rendering. The bottom line is that both of those options are things I’m going to address on my current G5 on my own.

I can’t see how I would have done anything but lost out if I had waited and bought todays’ 2 GHz machine.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Want an ADC 20 inch Apple Cinema Display for cheap?

My son Tim reported to me about two weeks ago he’s having a minor video problem with his dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac. I believe it’s in the video card, so I’m shipping him an ATI Radeon 7500 to troubleshoot with. Just in case it’s the monitor, I did some hunting for Apple LCD displays and found some good deals at SmallDog.com. They’ve got SmallDog refurbished 20 inch ADC Apple Cinema Displays for only $649. That’s a really good deal. I’m tempted to buy one myself! (NOTE: This was written 2 days before Apple dropped its prices on a 20 inch display to $799. You gotta hope that SmallDog drops their prices as well. If not, buying one of their refubs no loner makes any sense...)

They also have refurbished 17 inch Apple Studio Displays, the ADC LCD version, for $399. Not bad, but I’d fork up the other $250 and get the 20 inch.

Up and Coming ComputerZone Restructurings

I never have enough time to do much of what I’d really like to, especially when it comes to this website. If I win the lotto so I can retire, then I’ll have a couple of hours a day I can devote to this thing. But that’s not likely, so I’ve been looking at what I can do and how I need to restructure the website to synch up with that.

First, with the release of Tiger, the website will be two OS’s behind current day. So, to catch up, I’m going to use Tiger as the basis for further development of the OS X section of the website. The sections that refer to Jaguar will be moved to a Jaguar sub-section of the OS X section. I may also put up a small subsection on Panther, mainly to highlight the differences between Jaguar and Panther; but if I do, it will be after I get up some information on Tiger, which is where the most public interest will be.

I will not do any more development of the Windows XP section of the website, except for a troubleshooting section. I am going to further develop a troubleshooting section as its own entity, and it will include XP hints, tips, and references. OS X will be the main focus in that section, however, since that’s where most of my own personal focus and that of my family is. I don’t have a timetable detailing when I’ll complete this. I’ve already done some off-line work to move me in that direction, but I want to get the Jaguar restructuring and Tiger “quick look” stuff up first. So, it may be a while.

I will update the Shootout article soon with real numbers from my own personal dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac, but those updates will be minor.

If there’s something in The ComputerZone you’d like to see, let me know.

Surprise!

This weekend I convinced myself I no longer needed my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac. I set it up for writing novels using Microsoft Office 2004 and played with its Project Center. While I have always loved Jaguar (which is the operating system I am running on the G4 PowerMac), I started feeling that what I wanted was an environment where the sole focus was on writing fiction. I would have to rebuild the PowerMac to get there; it had inherited all the computer files associated with my everyday life. For some time, too, I’ve wanted my writing on something portable, so when I traveled or my house caught on fire, it would to go with me. (If I met with an editor, every project would be there to display.) I had initially thought a Mac mini might fit that bill, but I kept questioning why I wanted to go that route when I already had a PowerBook that was faster than any mini. So, I set up the PowerBook with a new user whose sole purpose in life was to write fiction and found I liked the setup even better than the one on the PowerMac. The PowerBook’s set up had its own minimalist desktop…only a few applications, directly related to writing, were on the Dock along with only my novel/short story/poetic folders, or at least their aliases. That was what I had been looking for; and it meant the only reason I was holding onto the G4 PowerMac was its ability to run Click 3D using Jaguar. But I had Click 3D running under Classic on my G5 iMac; and even if the up and coming Tiger unexpectedly ruined that, I still had the Windows version of the program on my Windows 98SE PC.

So, the question then became: what do I do with the G4 PowerMac?

Obviously, my first thought was I could put it up for sale on eBay. More than likely, I could still get $800-$1000 for it. That aside, I had been discussing with my wife’s sister a computer gift for one of her sons’ upcoming graduation. There was a slim possibility he might want the PowerMac, especially since he wanted a machine to edit video on. I also knew my oldest natural born kid, Michael, might want the machine but didn’t think he did because we had talked about it before and he just hadn’t seemed that interested. Still, his older brother Tim had gotten my last system; so Mike was the next in line. I put together an e-mail note and sent it from my job asking him if he’d like the machine; he responded back almost immediately he wanted it and seemed very excited to get it, talking about retiring his Windows PC. (Anytime I can retire another Windows PC, I’m in!) I was so gratified and grateful to be able to do something really nice for him I also decided to give him my spare 20 inch Apple ADC flat panel monitor. With that, I will have given my oldest sons a complete Apple system.

I went home from work about an hour early so I could begin reconfiguring the G4 PowerMac for shipment. I’m hoping to have his system ready to ship out in a couple of days. I’ll ship it via USPS or Fed Ex depending on what I hear from Max about his PC as well as what I hear from Mike about his preferences.

Friday, April 22, 2005

BootCD

I have a copy of TechTool Pro 4 I’ve been using to maintain the hard disks on my Macs, but I’ve been unable to use it to defragment the hard disk on my G5 iMac. Well, almost. I can’t boot from the CD and use its tools, but I have been able to boot from an external Firewire clone of the iMac’s hard disk and run it from there. Still, I wanted some means of running from the CD and without buying a new copy of the utility. The answer proved to be a donationware utility named “BootCD”.

BootCD lets you build a bootable CD from your Mac’s operating system and also lets you include applications loaded on your hard disk. It automatically includes Terminal and Disk Utility, two tools you might need to troubleshoot a system in the event of a crash. Including Tech Tools added another layer of usability.

Version 6.0 of BootCD only made two coasters out of the two CD’s I burned with it. They would hang at the OS X sign on screen at the “Starting Login Windows” phase. Version 6.03, the latest version, worked. I was able to boot from the CD it made and run Tech Tools to examine and refine my hard disk.

Of course, my victory is short-lived. Word on the ‘Net is that Tiger is already shipping. If I’m going to defrag my hard disk using my current tools, I better do it now. Tech Tools Pro 4 is incompatible with Tiger which introduces some changes to the file system. I just learned about that this morning and am still evaluating what that means. I also read that Tiger, for reasons not clear to me, kills any retail version of Quick Time Pro 6; and I do own one. I think, though, the one installed on the G5 PowerMac is the one that came with Final Cut Pro 4, and the retail version is the one on my PowerBook. I’ll have to check into that.

Re-evaluating Tiger

I’m not happy with the fact that Tiger kills Quick Time Pro 6 registration keys. That makes the third negative impact an upgrade to Tiger will have. As I mentioned in this blog earlier, I also know it will not run the latest version of Virtual PC (7.01, which is on my PowerBook) and it also breaks the handheld synchronization feature of Office 2004 (and Office v.X, I bet). I didn’t realize that Tiger introduced file system changes until this morning. So, I’m re-thinking which machines I’m going to upgrade to Tiger when it arrives. The only one I’ll do for sure if my G5 PowerMac. More than likely, I’ll go ahead and also upgrade my 20 inch 1.8 Ghz G5; but that is the one I’m re-evaluating the most. The additional costs now total up to $29.99 for QuickTime Pro and probably close to $80 for a new copy of Tech Tool Pro, though I’d probably spend that money on Alsoft’s DiskWarrior instead. (That assumes DiskWarrior will be updated for Tiger fairly quickly.)

So, why am I upgrading to Tiger at all? The major reasons are for 64 bit memory addressing (even though I’m not sure I’m ever going to use more than 4GB of RAM in my G5 PowerMac), Core Video and H.264, iChat with 3 way video conferencing (my wife wants that), and Spotlight. As you can see, two of the features really have to do with my PowerMac G5 and video editing. Without G5’s in the house, I would certainly be waiting a while and perhaps not moving up at all. But once I decide I’m going to upgrade even one machine, moving to Apple’s Family Pack makes the most sense. Why spend $129 to upgrade only one machine when I can upgrade 5 for only $70 more? That (barely) covers every Mac I own.

On Sunday, I’ll synch up my Palm Tungsten E with Entourage 2004. I don’t synch up the two very often, so I’ll plan on that holding me until Microsoft comes out with a patch to fix what Tiger broke. When they also issue a patch for Virtual PC 7, then I’ll upgrade my PowerBook. I’ll have to talk to my wife about upgrading her iMac. More than likely, she’ll want to upgrade; she tends to like the newest, latest, or greatest. It will break her synchronization, too, not only with her Palm also with her university-issued iPaq, which she hasn’t installed anything on anyway. She does use EndNote, but its links with Microsoft Office were already broken when we upgraded to Office 2004. I’m just note sure if she bought EndNote 8, which is compatible with Office 2004, whether Tiger would break it again.

I’m sure over the next two weeks the Mac user community will be finding out the hard way just how many programs Tiger will break.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Like a Virgin….

A big box showed up on my doorstep two days ago. It was from one of my nephews on the “in-law” side, and it contained a PC I had made for him a while ago. He had told me months ago it had stopped working, hanging up on the BIOS boot screens. I pulled the box inside, unpacked the PC, and hooked it up to my PC’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I saw what he was talking about right away.

I don’t have any real diagnostic equipment in my house. I troubleshoot by eliminating or swapping components and observing machine behavior. While the problem first looked to me like it might be in the CPU, motherboard, or memory. Yet, I knew I had to begin by taking the machine down to its baseline components. So, I disconnected its hard and optical drives and pushed the power button to start the computer. It booted straight to the error message I expected: “SYSTEM HALTED. OPERATING SYSTEM MISSING.”

I rebooted with a Windows 98 boot floppy inserted into the floppy drive, and the computer started as expected. With both those operations yielding expected results, my suspicion turned now toward the hard drive. After shutting the computer down, I reconnected the hard drive only, removed the boot floppy, and restarted it. It hung just like it did when I first turned it on, matching Max’s description of the problem he was encountering. So, I knew now that the hard disk was indeed the problem. Luckily, I had a 120GB Maxtor hard disk sitting in a closet, so I installed that in Max’s computer and removed its older and smaller 40GB Maxtor.

Normally, I like to return a machine to its state before the failure occurred, but Max didn’t send his operating system CD, so there was no way I could load up anything. I did use my Windows XP Home Edition CD to boot into the Recovery Console and used the DISKPART command to partition the new hard disk, and the FORMAT command to format it. Max could take it from there. All he had to do to reload his OS was boot the computer with the Windows XP CD in his DVD drive. I did do one other hardware-related thing for him, i.e., I replaced his Samsung combo drive with a Sony DRU-510A DVD burner I had sitting in the closet.

To give him a selection of software, I downloaded the most recent copies of Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office, and GIMP and burned those to a CD I am sending back with three other CD’s. One contains a copy of Windows XP SP1, the other is a copy of SP2, and the third contains software Sony shipped with the DVD burner. That’s a good package that will get him started and not cost any bucks.

I’m shipping the PC back to him via USPS Priority Mail today. I packed it the same way he did, and I’m considering it a test of which carrier does the best job of handling packages. I’ll write more on that once the PC arrives and I hear back from Max about how it fared.

My Next PC Project?

One of the really cool things about a Mac is that it automatically can search for loaded operating systems and will boot from any it recognizes that are loaded on the machine. (That’s generally any operating system or OS version invented after the Mac was released.) On my G4 PowerMac which has four hard disks in it, I could load up Jaguar on one, Panther on another, and Tiger on a third, load up OS 9.2.2 on a fourth or any of the other three, and then pick which operating system I wanted to boot from. I can do it when the machine boots by holding down the Option key during start-up or by going to System Preferences/Startup Disk and selecting it there after the computer is operating. (Macs can do the same trick using an external Firewire hard drive as well.)

The closest I can come to that on my PC is by using a boot loader, special piece of software that will allow me to load and manage multiple operating systems. I’d really like to be able to boot my PC into Windows XP, Win 98SE, or DOS 6.22 at will. While I can today boot into Windows XP or 98SE, adding DOS 6.22 is another matter.

After searching the web (a valid technique for conducting some research despite the railings of Tom Delay), I found a boot loader called “OSL2000”. The beauty of this boot loader is it will boot from your first or second hard disk. That would allow me to add a second hard disk I could boot from (and move my current data disk to the third hard disk). I would add make the first partition (active) on the 2nd boot disk about 40GB in size, and then make the rest an NTFS partition I could load video footage on.

Why do I want to run DOS 6.22? Old flight simulators that won’t run on 98SE well or XP at all are the reason.

Now, to find a copy of DOS 6.22…. (Ebay, here I come!)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Tiger Caveats

Probably not many of you reading this blog are thinking about moving up to Tiger, Apple’s about to be released OS 10.4. Since I am, I’ve been looking for the almost inevitable caveats, i.e., the things Tiger can be expected to break. So far I’ve found two, and they both concern Microsoft products.

If you’re using Entourage to synch with your Palm, Tiger will more than likely break the synch functions. Microsoft is saying they’ll fix that with a future update to Office 2004. What they’re not saying is how long you’ll have to wait on that. Odds are the wait will not be short.

Virtual PC 7.01 will not run under Tiger. Again, a future update will fix that. Again, there’s no word about how long it will be before the fix is released.

Almost a Basket Case (G5)

I retrieved my G5 PowerMac from the Apple Service provider and hooked it up to one of my 20 inch Apple Cinema displays and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The Dock, which I normally place on the right side of my screen, was nowhere to be found. Other files on the desktop were there, right where I had left them. Opening System Preferences/Dock, I clicked on the buttons to put the Dock on the bottom and left sides of the screen; and the Dock jumped to each place dutifully. But when I selected the button that put the Dock on the right, it would immediately disappear.

Opening the Displays preference pane (also in System Preferences), I noticed that there was an extra “Arrangement” tab. That meant the software thought it was hooked up to a second display. Checking what display the operating system had selected, I found it was optimizing for a “Color LCD”. The “Apple Cinema Display” normally in my list of displays was nowhere to be found. I clicked on the “Detect Displays” button, the display blanked and went black, and then returned. But “Apple Cinema Display” was still not one of the selections. The G5 normally would automatically recognize it and select it.

Did I have a hardware or a software problem? I wasn’t sure. I hooked the display up to my G4 PowerMac and it worked just fine with it. Thinking it might be something in my operating system software, I hooked up the two PowerMacs with a Firewire (400) cable, booted the G5 in Firewire Target Disk mode, and booted the G4 PowerMac normally. The G5’s hard disks were nowhere to be found! I disconnected and reconnected the Firewire cable from the G4 to force it to reinitialize, but nothing changed. Pulling out a 2.5 inch Iomega hard drive from a closet, I hooked it up to the same Firewire port on the G4, and it saw the hard disk right away! Not only was my desktop screwed up (NEW FAILURE), but the G5’s Firewire 400 didn’t seem to be working, either (NEW FAILURE)! Time to get BACK on the phone with Apple Support. GRRRRRRR!!!!!

During the twenty minutes of waiting on the phone, I asked myself what else I could do to try to fix the thing. It dawned on me I hadn’t reset the PRAM. So, cradling the phone on one shoulder, I clicked on the commands to Restart the G5 PowerMac and held down the Command-Option-P-R keys. The machine rebooted, saw the keys, rebooted again while zapping the PRAM. I held the keys down until I heard the third set of chimes. Then, when the machine booted, the Dock was back where it was supposed to be. Still cradling the phone, I hooked up the Iomega drive to the front port of the G5. The G5 saw it! I hung up the phone and checked the G5’s rear Firewire 400 port, and it saw the drive there, too.

KPLAH! (Success! – in Klingon)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Another Switcher?

After I wrote in this blog about the PowerBook upgrades I had just done, mentioning that we were thinking about selling my wife’s 700 G3 iBook, Marty, Connie’s nephew, e-mailed me, asking how much we wanted for it. That was serendipitous. Connie had told me only a few days before she didn’t want to sell it and preferred to give it to a family member considering we would probably only get $300 or so for it. Though she wasn’t sure whom she wanted to give it to, she was thinking Marty might be able to use it. Then, Marty wrote he could really use it at college and there were several reasons why, one of them being the problems he had trying to keep his sister’s HP PC clear of Window’s viruses.

I started reloading the iBook with its original software Friday night and then worked off and on through the weekend to finish it up. It’s running Jaguar, and I used our wireless network to download every patch for the operating system I could find. I wrote a three page note explaining what software was on the iBook and how I had set it up and packed that in with the package. I’m going to Fed Ex the iBook up to his mom’s workplace this evening. I would think it would be there by the end of the week.

Obviously, I’m curious to see how Marty likes the iBook and OS X. We gave a flat panel 800MHz G4 iMac to my sister and I haven’t been able to tell if she really likes it or not; but, then, that’s my sis. She’s just not very excitable. I know my daughter-in law really likes the 700 MHz G4 flat panel iMac she got from us, and I think her husband likes his dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac, but I’m not real sure about that, either. While it ran almost trouble-free for me, he’s had a few problems with it, though minor. My impression at this point is that most family members have been ambivalent about OS X, though it may be that they’re just ambivalent about computers in general. That certainly isn’t true for my wife and me, but then a lot of our professional lives and much of our personal lives revolve around the things. It’s hard for us to be ambivalent about something that’s impacting us so much.

One Splitter Too Many

For about the last month, our cable modem service has become somewhat spotty. It dropped out for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon and then again on Saturday morning. After recycling both my modem and my router several times, I called Time Warner Cable’s support line. The woman on the other end of the phone had me recycle the modem again while she waited on me—even though I told her I had done it twice already—and when that didn’t cure it, scheduled a repairman to come out Monday afternoon! Not wanting to go the whole weekend without service, I decided to see if there was something I could do to check out the household connections.

After the cable TV and Internet signal hits a connection box on the back of my house, it travels up via a single cable into the attic. Once there, it was split via a two-cable splitter into a line that ran the high-speed broadband into an outlet in the living room where the previous owners had a desk and PC. However, we had put a formal dining table there and set up the computers in a back bedroom that became my office. The line to my office was one of three connections mounted on a second splitter downstream of the first. Knowing that cable modems need to have only one splitter between the outside connection and the hook up, I simply swapped the line to my bedroom and the one to the kitchen. Voila! Problem solved.

ATI Radeon 9000 Card Quits!

I’ve never had a video card actually die until this weekend.

I was performing some video editing and DVD burning on my MDD PowerMac G4 when I noticed that the lighting on my Cinema Display was uneven. The top part of the display was fine but the bottom seemed to be darker. The little power button light on the display was flashing short, short, long. Looking that up on the Apple Support website, it recommended I disconnect and reconnect the display. So, I powered down the PowerMac, disconnected the display from the IOGEAR switch, and disconnected the cable to the PowerMac from the switch. As I went to reconnect the PowerMac’s ADC cable to the switch, a small spark jumped between the two. I reconnected the display to the switch and powered up the PowerMac. Nothing. No video at all.

Boy, oh boy! If I blew that display….!

Not sure what was going on or exactly what had caused it, I disconnected the monitor from the ADC switch, hooked it directly to the PowerMac, and booted the machine again. No joy. I shut it back down, pulled out my extra Cinema Display out of the closet, and tried it. No joy! That was good news. That meant the problem didn’t lie in the display but in the PowerMac.

Hoping the problem laid in the video card, I swapped out the PowerMac’s ATI Radeon 9000 video card with an older Radeon 7500. I hooked up the spare Cinema Display to the PowerMac and booted it. It worked like a champ. I then powered down the machine and hooked up the original Cinema Display, and it too worked like it was supposed to.

Well, spending $130 for a new Radeon 9000 is a lot better than losing a $1200 display. (Well, that’s what it cost me when I bought it.) I’m grateful that’s all it was.

Dropping Back and Going Forward

Since my dual G5 PowerMac is still in the shop, I used my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac to edit, encode, and burn a DVD of a 43 minute movie. What my G5 did in less than an hour, the G4 took a couple of hours. I had been wondering if spending all that money on the G5 had been worth it. Now, I know it was.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Best Mac Value?

If you’re a current Windows user who’s been intrigued at all by all the press Apple’s getting, then you probably know about the Mac mini, the lowest price new Mac you can buy. A 1.25 Ghz G4 powered model with 256MB RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combo (DVD reader/CD-RW burner) drive, a 56K modem, one 10/100 Base T Ethernet port, one Firewire 400 port, and two USB 2.0 ports will run you $499. The slightly faster 1.42 GHz version with an 80GB hard drive costs $100 more. Not bad. I’m tempted to buy one just to see what we can do with it. Some people are using them as servers, putting them in the kitchen to track recipes and check e-mail, or using them in their cars.

But are they the best Mac value? It’s all dependent on what’s important to you.

A refurbished 1.25 GHz eMac with 256MB RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a combo drive, two Firewire 400 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, a modem, and one 10/100 base T Ethernet port will put you back $650. For the extra $150, you get a 17 inch CRT screen, an extra Firewire 400 port, one extra USB 2.0 port, and the ability to easily upgrade the memory and add an Airport card. Making the same upgrades to the mini requires prying the machine open, risking the machine’s health and its warranty. And the eMac will certainly outperform a mini running the same speed processor.

If you already have a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse; you want to drive a bigger-than-17-inch screen; or you want a super-portable desktop, then a mini makes sense. If you want to give Apple a shot but don’t have any of that, travel over to the nearest Apple Store, MicroCenter, CompUSA, or Fry’s, and take a look at an eMac. If you think you might like it, then prowl the Apple Store website’s refurbished section (e.g., “Apple Certified”—look for the red “SALE” label) and pounce on the eMac of your choice. You’ll get the same one year warranty you would if you bought one new.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Singing the G5 Blues

The dual G5 PowerMac arrived last week, safe and sound via FedEx. I’ve used it now to so some minor editing using iMovie HD and burned DVD’s using iDVD 5. I’m impressed with its speed. But, as I’ve often railed about in this blog, I’ve gotten nailed by Apple’s lack of quality control. The machine’s audio line out port issues somewhat repetitive “pops” (or knocks) whenever the computer is doing anything. Apple Support could hear it over the phone from speakers two feet away while the machine was burning a DVD. They’ve recommended I take it in for repair (already!) at MacAmerica near downtown Houston, and I hope to drop it off there tomorrow. I talked to Kevin who I believe is their Apple Specialist, and he thought we were talking a logic board replacement. He said he could get to it on Thursday. How long it will be there after that, I don’t know.

Didn’t anyone at Apple check out the computer’s audio ports before shipping it?

The G5 PowerMac is known for having audio problems, ironic considering that the machine is being marketed to video and audio professionals. My iMac G5 makes nary a sound it is not supposed to. My PowerMac G5 leaks audio signals like a sieve. Even without the popping I’m experiencing, the thing chirps and squeals at a low but audible level when it does anything. I’ve loaded the XCode Tools and CHUD and disabled NAP (a feature that puts the G5’s processors to sleep when they’re not being used) and that helps the chirping and squealing some but doesn’t eliminate it. Yes, this is a Rev A machine but the problem still exists for the Rev B machines as well; and that says that Apple’s Engineering department hasn’t figured it out or someone is preventing them from fixing it, probably due to cost. Not understandable since the money they’ve gotten from us alone this year would have been enough to fix the entire fleet. Not to mention that they’ve gotten their money twice out of a refurbished machine.

You can argue that this would not have happened had I gotten a new machine. I can show you plenty of discussions in the Apple Support Forums that would say otherwise. Besides, you would think even if Apple couldn’t get their act together when checking new machines, they certainly would put extra effort into performing quality checks on their refurbished computers.

I’m hoping this machine is out of commission for no more than a week, if that. The Apple Specialist I talked to thought he’d have to replace the logic board to fix this problem.

I could work around this. Hooking up a Griffin iMic to the G5 and plugging my speakers into that does eliminate the problem. But I paid 2 Grand for a new if reworked computer. I want it all to work like it’s supposed to before the warranty runs out.

Even if it pops, it’s fast!

Not long after I got the G5, I downloaded the G5 optimized version of Cinebench 2003, ran it, and compared the results to the dual 2GHz G5 PowerMac scores posted in the “G4, G5, and AMD Shoot-Out!” on this site. It ran slightly faster, so sometime in the next week or so, I’ll update the article and graphs to reflect the new figures. They’re only slightly better, but it’s enough where I’m motivated to do the work.

At least the new PowerBook works…

I bought a new PowerBook this past weekend. It’s the first new current generation PowerBook I’ve bought; my first was a generation back, a 1 GHz machine bought after the 1.33 Ghz machines were released. This is the last new Mac I expect to buy for several years if not longer. I’d love to keep moving up and keep providing fodder for my website, but I simply don’t make that much money.

The PowerBook seems to be the antithesis of the G5 PowerMac from a quality standpoint. I had read a lot of comments about the darkness of the LCD displays in this current generation of PowerBooks and had confirmed that by examining PowerBooks at the Apple Store. Yet, the screen on mine is great, at least as good and I think a tad better than the 1 Ghz PowerBook I gave up. As usual, I’m trying to get the most bang out of my bucks by getting a couple of upgrades done with one buy. My 1 GHz PowerBook trickled down to my wife who moved up to it from her 700 MHz G3 iBook. (We don’t know yet what we’re going to do with the iBook. I might try to sell it and get a few hundred bucks if we don’t identify someone in the family who really wants or needs it.) My new one is noticeably faster than my old one, not only due to the 50% faster CPU but the 5400 rpm (vice a 4200 rpm) hard drive. The other good thing about this deal was that I could swap out the new machine’s 256MB SODIMM (RAM) with the extra 1GB SODIMM I had with the older one. That’s left my PowerBook with 1.25 GB of RAM and my wife with 512MB of RAM, plenty for both of us.