Category Archives: OS X

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.

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?

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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.

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.

Merry Christmas from Apple

My sister is fuming because she got an iPod Nano for Christmas, and apparently it won't work with her 3 year old PowerPC MacBook, which runs MacOSX 10.3. Sure enough, the Nano specs say it needs 10.4.8 or higher. She's got no real interest in paying and installing for an OS upgrade to get around the problem, so she'll ask a friend to load her iPod for her.

Basically it means that Apple is saying you can't have a new

iPod if you run a version of OSX from before April 2005 (with the appropriate free updates).

Whereas it does run happily on Windows XP (SP2) or Windows Vista. So you need to have a version of Windows from no earlier than before October 2001 (with the appropriate free updates).

How does Apple get away with treating its customers like that?

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No more security through obscurity

Feel safe using Firefox and/or Mac OS X? Don’t. This article discusses recent research showing both are subject to a number of vulnerabilities. Not as many as poor ol’ Windows users using IE, but still enough that it’s wise to be wary.

Not to mention the issues in the various media players.

More Apple stuff

Blogger Russell Beattie stirs up a hornet’s nest by declaring he’s thinking of switching back from Mac to Windows.

Reports are coming in that the new very groovy iPod Nano’s screen scratches rather too easily, so bad in some cases that the images get distorted.

Hot on the heels of the flawed (badly, for some people) iTunes 5.0, Apple has released iTunes 5.0.1.

Dashboard improvements

Here’s a couple of things I’d like to see for Dashboard in future release, at least as an option:

  1. The first time Dashboard starts up, and sometimes when it hasn’t been used for a while, it takes a while for many of them to respond, even things like ‘Stickies’ and ‘Dictionary’ which are local. I presume it’s because many widgets access the Internet for the latest information, but there should be an option to either do this at startup (as Dashboard runs in the background anyway) rather than the first time it is invoked, and it should allow other widgets to be used whilst it’s doing it. This may just be because I am on a slower machine, though even on an iBook G3 it flies when it’s working, so I doubt this.
  2. After a while, if you use a lot of widgets, you start to run out of space, despite being able to tile widgets. What would be nice is a way of having more than one widget ‘page’ – say one for games, one for searches, one for shell apps, all user-defined of course. This would remove the need to move/hide widgets or add/remove them from the main screen (which takes time) just to use the one you want. I currently have 17 widgets open and with judicious placement, they look good, but I don’t know how many more I’d happily accommodate, and given that Dashboard is about speedy access to applications, just adding and removing them from the dashboard toolbar is not an acceptable solution.

I have to say, though, that with new widgets being coded all the time, I am loving it more and more (it was a bit boring with just the default ones after the initial ‘wow’ factor of the desktop graphics)

Dashboard Widgets: Some useful ‘geek’ tools

Here’s a brief look at some widgets which will be of more use to the geeks / techies.

  • Whoisdget 1.0 – WHOIS database checker – opens results in an Internet browser window. Shame it doesn’t put the results right in the Dashboard as an option.
  • QuickCommand – puts four most used UNIX shell commands on buttons. Outputs results to the widget’s window.
  • bonSearch:info 1.1 – an interface for searching information in sources such as Google, Wikipedia, Britannica, CDDB, Creative Commons. Results are opened up in a new Internet browser window. For this number of sources, it’s quicker than going to each individual site and you can hop to and fro from Dashboard with the same search term.
  • Lasso Reference If you use Lasso (I don’t) this is an online reference searcher. As per others, it’s really just a quick way of launching the website you need with the search term already plugged in. May save you some seconds.
  • Shell Watcher – monitor any shell command with customisable update period.
  • Network Stat 1.0 – displays your LAN and WAN IP addresses.