Category Archives: Mac

New graphics card in the Mac Pro

To recap: I’ve got two old 2008 Mac Pros. Lovely machines. The video card in one went bung (possibly power problems).

As a workaround I’ve been using a friend’s spare ATI Radeon 3870, which only works in Windows, not OS X.

I’ve just bought an upgrade: an nVidia GeForce GTX 480. Very nice. A beast of a card, too, very impressive looking. Got it on eBay from a bloke in NSW selling under the name “Mac PC Parts” for about A$270, which is a bit cheaper than the official Apple upgrade — which is no longer available anyway — and a LOT cheaper than any of the new cards at OWC or other etailers and retailers that I could find.

Mac Pro, video card installed

A note of caution to fellow Mac Pro 2008 users: it appears to be near-impossible to get the card out once plugged-in, due to the placement of the PCIe catch on that model of Mac Pro. It might explain why later models went to a bar thingy which is easier to get to. This also means it’s worth plugging in the two power cables before the card goes in.

Anyway, the card has taken the graphics rating in Windows 7′s Performance index thingy from 5.1 to 7.9. It even seems more responsive for regular web browsing.

There’s a certain amount of geek pride in getting each item, one by one, to the top of the scale.

But given the weak point is now the hard drive, it would seem that the next upgrade needs to be a new hard drive/SSD.

Windows performance index

But the main reason I wanted to get it was to get this computer running OS X again — son the elder is getting familiar with it at uni, and may need to run OS X-specific software again soon.

Alas, plugging in the OS X drive and trying to boot off it got me a “Operating system not found on disk” error. It would seem the Microsoft gremlins got onto it.

The disk doesn’t have anything important on it anyway, so stand by for updates as I figure out how to wipe it and rebuild OS X.

Update: It was easy. Download Mavericks onto a USB, boot it up and use the built-in disk manager to re-partition the OS X drive (I unplugged the Windows drive just to be sure I wouldn’t accidentally wipe it) then install onto it.

Plugged the Windows drive back in, and installed ReFit again to provide a more visible boot menu. Done.

Nvidia 8800GT nvlddmkm.sys blue screen of death

I’ve got two old Mac Pros, and on one of them, the Nvidia 8800GT video card suddenly started causing weird errors in Windows.

Nvidia crash

Then it started doing the blue screen of death repeatedly, a crash in nvlddmkm.sys.

Nvidia blue screen

I have no idea why it started happening now — the Nvidia drivers don’t appear to have been updated for months, and Windows Update hasn’t installed anything for almost a week.

Oh well.

Boot into Safe Mode With Networking

Download the latest drivers

Install with Clean Option on

Reboot

Seems now to work, touch wood.

Update 2013-11-19 18:45 — No such luck. It seemed fine this morning, but later on started crashing like before. Investigations continue.

Update 2013-11-19 21:00 — After playing around disabling various things, and puzzling over what might have updated itself (since there was nothing recently installed or patched listed by Windows), I think I may have found the culprit: the Steam client beta (which I’m using to get the family sharing trial). Have disabled this, and Windows seems to be stable again. Will try it for a bit longer, then report findings to Steam.

Update 2013-11-20 — It couldn’t be that easy, of course. And I have dissed Steam without justification. The video card is still playing up — now so much so that:

  • a lovely speckly pattern appears when booting
  • Windows proclaims the video card isn’t working, and automatically puts us into Base Video (640×480) mode
  • OS X won’t boot at all — the GUI presumably tries to come up, then it reboots

Oh dear. Trouble in video card land.

The card is an NVidia GeForce 8800 GT, quite a nicely specced card. I suspect it’ll need replacing, dammit.

Update 28/11/2013: As per the comments I found another spare PCIe card (an ATI Radeon 3870) which works… in Windows. Not in OS X. Even the broken card partially works in Windows, but not at all in OS X.

A workmate pointed me to the Tony Mac x86 web site, where I found a good list of graphics cards compatible with OS X.

Thankfully however this specific machine is mostly used for Windows-only, so there’s no tearing rush. In fact Windows performance index thingy rates the ATI card slightly higher than the nVidia one.

One option is to buy the official Apple-supported Mac Pro video upgrade kit, an ATI Radeon HD5770, which is A$299. Despite the Apple site claiming it requires a post-2010 Mac Pro, plenty of sources indicate it’s fine with a 2008.

Update 2014-04-08: New video card bought and successfully installed

Mac Pro: RAM Red light

We got a second secondhand Mac Pro recently, and I was mucking about over the weekend with it. At one point, after taking out the RAM to clean inside, I noticed it seemed to think it only had 2Gb instead of 4Gb. (I’ve got another 4Gb on order.)

Then I noticed the flashing red light from where the RAM is plugged-in. PANIC TIME!

No, wait, calm down. But a quick Google found the solution, and I stopped panicking: Switch off, pull out the RAM, unplug the modules and plug them back in, push it back in. Reboot.

All good.

Of course, if it had still been flashing after that, then I’d definitely start panicking.

By the way, I still love the Mac Pro build, and how easily accessible the components are. I wonder if the new Mac Pro will be as good?

Mac Pro – faster booting Windows than OSX

As I mentioned, my secondhand Mac Pro might very well be the best Windows computer I’ve ever owned. The hardware is just lovely, and it runs Windows really well.

Here’s the thing: it seems to boot faster in Windows 7 than it is in OSX 10.8 Mountain Lion.

  • Boot time (from Boot Camp menu to logon): 55 secs OSX / 35 secs Win7
  • Logon to desktop (from hitting enter on password, to desktop ready): 28 secs OSX / 12 secs Win7
  • Start Chrome and click bookmark for GMail: 10 secs OSX / 7 secs Win7

Once it’s running, OSX is very responsive, but the boot just seems to take ages.

What's going on here?

Perhaps being a 2008 Mac it doesn’t run OSX 10.8 that well… though I’d have thought it is a pretty fast box (2 x 4 core Xeon 2.8 GHz, 8Gb RAM). It’s true that Win7 is not the latest version of Windows — it appears Win8 is not supported on this Mac model under Boot Camp.

Does something in OSX need some optimisation perhaps? What's the OSX equivalent to running msconfig and turning off automatic startup for things you don't need?

OSX experts, any ideas?

TV tuner for Mac Pro?

I’ve been delighted with the secondhand Mac Pro I got last year. It’s five years old, but probably the best Windows PC I’ve ever owned… we sometimes use OSX, and sometimes use Boot Camp to run Windows, and I did end up getting Parallels as well, which is able to boot the Boot Camp partition — this I think is nothing short of miraculous.

Anyway, our other Windows PC is due for replacement. I was thinking I’d wait and see what the next crop of Mac Minis were like, but it looks like I’ve again got the opportunity to pick up a used Mac Pro via the same workplace clearing more of them out. Same age, but (if my calculations are right) double the speed of the current Mac Mini. Given our usage patterns, this is a cheap easy upgrade… particularly if we put an SSD in it.

I’m now pondering: what’s the best TV tuner for it? That’s the main thing I miss about the HP desktop we had that died. (I did try and rip the tuner card out of that to try in the Mac under Windows. It didn’t work.)

So… Mac Pro TV tuners…

I’d prefer dual tuner. I’d want it to work with both OSX and Windows. In fact I’d go so far as to say that this second box will be mostly using Windows, and I’d want this to work with Windows Media Centre.

For a USB dual tuner, the Elgato EyeTV Diversity looks pretty good.

Asking around on Twitter, there was some good feedback:

(Why does Twitter’s embed tweet with “Include parent Tweet” not seem to work?)

It’d be used with a proper connection to a roof antenna, so not concerned about the mini antenna.

But I think I’d actually prefer an internal card, since I really don’t need it to be portable… and installed internally might be more out of the way/better for longevity.

Any good options?

PS. This ancient page talks about some options. Not sure how relevant it is anymore though.

Chrome crashing in OSX – fixed by re-installing

I’m no OS X expert, so I was a bit befuddled to find Google Chrome began crashing on startup a few days ago. Was it some evil Apple plot to lock Google out of the Mac?

Chrome crashing on start up in OSX

All the grisly details from the automated report are below… it's not the most readable of reports.

The fix: What I did was to download Chrome again and re-install. That seems to have fixed it for now.

Continue reading

Setting up a used Mac Pro

Mac ProWe’ve got a used Mac coming to our house. I haven’t owned a Mac before (though I have used one a bit).

It’s a 2008 era Mac Pro, bought through my sister’s work, and the I’m told the spec is:

MacPro3,1 – 2 x Xeon 2.8 GHz (8 Core), 4GB Memory, 300GB Storage, OS 10.6

So despite being 4 years old, should be pretty quick I reckon.

It’s coming without keyboard and mouse, so I’ve gone and bought a cheap Microsoft Desktop 600 pack (corded USB keyboard and mouse) because I discovered I had not a single USB keyboard in the house. (I have an intense dislike of the feel of Apple the keyboard and mouse.)

My plan is to upgrade it to the latest OSX (A$20.99 on the Mac App Store; and Harvey Norman has a special of 2 x $20 iTunes cards for A$30 at the moment), install a new big hard drive (I’m thinking 2 terabytes — it looks like the Western Digital Caviar Blacks should be compatible with it, and cost about A$190) and use Boot Camp to get Windows 7 running on it alongside OSX.

Some more memory would be good, too.

Standby for updates and desperate pleas for advice as we figure it out and set it up.

First question – can I sign up for the Mac App store without messing up my iTunes account on another computer?

A friend on Twitter says it’s fine — it would fall into the usual 5 devices per iTunes account thing.

Video connection

I didn’t even think of this. Only DVI connections out of this beast — my old monitors are all VGA.

It’s Sunday afternoon, so my options for an adapter were Officeworks ($30) or Dick Smith ($25). Dick Smith wins.

The beast fires up

The long wait to create my Mac accountThe beast fired up and asked for my initial account information… then sat there for about 15 minutes “Connecting to Apple”. Eventually it got there.

It’s got OSX 10.6 on it… went to run Software Update, but it had a problem with the download (possible corruption) and decided it wanted to have another go. Odd.

Updating OSX

Had to update to 10.6.8 to get the Mac App Store, then with $2.25 left on my iTunes account from previously and a $20 iTunes card added, I’ve bought Mountain Lion (10.8). Almost 2 hours to download it, mind you… this had better be worth it.

It was only after buying and starting to download that I read an interesting article suggesting that actually Snow Leopard (10.6) is the ultimate in stable useable OSX versions for older Macs. D’oh. Oh well. (Some interesting other stuff on lowendmac.com as well.

After installing 10.8, I’m rather impressed that all but 10Gb still appears to be available on the disk. Very impressive. Actually it hasn’t installed… now it says it’s still downloading. Will investigate.

Slightly disappointed though that GarageBand and iMovie aren’t free anymore. $15.99 each on iTunes, won’t break the bank (especially if bought with discounted iTunes cards).

OSX 10.8 take 2

Upgrading OSX to Mountain LionOK, now it’s installed. Took a little longer than expected, but it’s very nice. Will take a little getting used to, of course. Seems quite responsive.

Startup chime

The startup chime is stupidly loud. I’ve “fixed” it by muting the internal speaker — since generally we’ll use this beast with external speakers, so having the internal one silent won’t be any loss.

There are software solutions to this, but many of them don’t work in OSX after 10.6. Apparently this one: StartNinja, should work.

Windows: Bootcamp vs Parallels

I’d intended using Bootcamp to run Windows 7, but it was suggested to me that I should check out Parallels (or VM Fusion, in Chris’s awesome set of tips below).

This article compares Parallels and Bootcamp(taking into account that Parallels has recently had a big upgrade in performance, though just in the last week or two there’s been another new version). This probably sums it up: “while Parallels is an incredible technical achievement, the Windows power user will notice a drop in performance.”

The article goes on to say that basically it depends on whether you’re primarily going to use Windows (in which case go Bootcamp) or you genuinely want to use them side-by-side (in which case Parallels may be the go).

This article compares VM Fusion and Parallels, and concludes that the former is slightly better, but it depends on your priorities.

Anti-virus

Some diehard Mac users say they don’t need anti-virus. I’m not so sure — while it seems unlikely, there are some around, and it might be better to be safe than sorry.

Sophos’s free antivirus for home sounds pretty good. Anybody tried it? Seems to get good reviews.

I hate the Mighty Mouse

Apple Mighty MouseWe’ve got an iMac in the PTUA office which I use on the odd occasion. I’ve gradually got used to the world of MacOS, but one thing I still hate is the Mighty Mouse.

There’s something about the feel of it — the non-buttons, and the scroll wheel in particular. I hate the feel of it. It feels really uncomfortable in my right hand; it leaves my fingers tingling in a most unpleasant way. And it’s not much better in my left hand either.

I don’t recall having this kind of reaction with any other mouse. And I don’t even understand why this one feels so bad to me.

It’s odd. Anybody else had the same sensation?

(Pic credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks a lot, Apple

I was using a USB drive to move copy files from a Windows box onto a Mac.

Easy enough; plug it in, copy the files over.

Then I plugged the drive back into a Windows computer. What do I see? Oh, delightful, MacOS added some hidden directories for Trash and Spotlight.

Apple Spotlight directories

Harumph. Annoying, but no biggy I guess.

Wait a sec, what’s inside those directories? A bunch of stuff, it turns out:

How about: .Spotlight-V100 \ Store-V1 \ Stores \ [long hex string] … and inside there, about 2Mb of junk.

Apple Spotlight crap on my USB drive

Now, I could understand that if I’d copied anything from the Mac back onto the USB drive, thus it might have needed all that stuff to do the wonderful Spotlighty things in the future.

But just copying stuff off it? Why make that assumption and dump all this crap on it? Particularly hidden, so many people wouldn’t even spot it.

Oh well, it’s in keeping with the iTunes bloatware philosophy of dumping heaps of software onto your PC that most people don’t need. Ed Bott’s updated his guide to avoiding that with iTunes 10:

Apple still gives its customers a monolithic iTunes setup program with absolutely no options to pick and choose based on your specific needs.

Why is that important? When you run the iTunes setup program, it unpacks six Windows Installer packages and a master setup program, which then installs nearly 300MB of program and support files, a kernel-mode CD/DVD-burning driver, multiple system services, and a bunch of browser plugins. It configures two “helper” programs to start automatically every time you start your PC, giving you no easy way to disable them. It installs a network service that many iTunes users don’t need and that has been associated with security and reliability issues.

And you wonder why I dislike iTunes with a passion that burns like the fire of a thousand suns?

It’s a must-read if you’re installing iTunes on Windows.

Getting used to the Mac

I usually use Windows, but I’ve been using Mac OSX a little bit, on a new iMac in the office of an organisation I do some work for. It’s nice, lovely design, though I think it’s pretty funny that it’s so damn streamlined that the On/Off button is hidden away at the back, so consequently there’s a PostIt note on the front of it to help people find it.

The Mac

I’ve got used to having to go to the menu to properly shut a program. I’m not really clear on why clicking the red dot on the window doesn’t do it. But that’s okay — another PostIt note reminds us Windows people of that.

So far there are two main things I can’t get used to on the Mac (apart from the lack of tactile response from the keyboard and the feel of the mouse):

Command-Tab switches applications, but not windows. I can’t figure out how to get around the various open windows of an application without using the Window menu, which is cumbersome.

Differences with navigation around a document, at least how it appears to me so far… maybe someone knows better.

PC Mac
Go to start or end of document Ctrl-Home or Ctrl-End Home or End
Go to start or end of line Home or End Command Left or Right
Go up/down a page Page Up or Page Down Page Up or Page Down
Go forward or back a word Ctrl-Right or Ctrl-Left Option-Right or Option-Left

But the thing that really keeps catching me out is that Home/End/PgUp and PgDown move you around, but don’t move the cursor. So you think you’re at the end of the document, but you start typing and it jumps to back where you were. At least, that’s what it does in Apple Mail. Very irritating; seems you have to click at the end to tell it you want to start typing at the end.

Is there a better/quicker/easier way?

Snow Leopard – Intel only

It had to happen, right? Mac OS Snow Leopard is out today. It’s the first version which doesn’t run on PowerPC Macs.

“Snow Leopard is an upgrade for Leopard users and requires a Mac with an Intel processor.” — Apple Store

I suppose it’s been about three years since Apple stopped selling PowerPCs. I wonder how many 3rd party software vendors are also abandoning them. I know my sister has a PowerPC Mac laptop from circa 2004, but I wonder how many others are still out there in regular use. Perhaps the more significant issue will be how long patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities will be supplied.

Perhaps it’s no biggie, but I’m just imagining the fuss that would be made if Microsoft made a new operating system that didn’t work with four-year-old PCs.

Windows users: Stop buying Apple products

Funny: Danny Katz’s hilarious call for Mac users to rise up and rebel at the legions of Windows users buying iPods and iPhones.

But then in 2002 along came the Apple iPod and oh, how quickly did their attitudes shift? Suddenly PC people all wanted to strap an iPod to their jogging arm AS IF THEY WERE ONE OF US. Then in 2007, along came the Apple iPhone and ah, how quickly did their Mac contempt wane? Now they all wanted an iPhone to flash around among their doofy mates AS IF THEY WERE BORN OF OUR ILK.

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