My Mac Pro’s Catch Latch Broke!

If there was ever a computer that has been worth the money I spent on it, it is my 2008 Mac Pro tower. It cost me something over 3 grand at the time, and it was the fifth towered Mac I had bought in just a few years, the other four being G4 and G5 Power PC towers we trickled through as we followed Apple from Power PC to Intel processors.. Seven years after I bought it, it is still a very relevant machine and it has suffered only minor failures, a RAM chip here and there and a temperamental hard drive sled.  It does its work using dual 2.8 GHz processors, two Radeon 4770 video cards, 16 GB of RAM, three SSD’s, one hard disk, and a ESATA/USB3 PCI card.

That is, until this week when I encountered my first “major” failure while simply swapping out an SSD for a larger one. I had just re-secured a hard drive sled and put the outer case door back on when I went to close the case latch and found it a little stiff. I gave it a little more force than usual and heard a “SNAP”! The case latch had broken and the case door now wouldn’t come off! The Mac Pro tower’s case is ingeniously designed to be almost impenetrable when closed, so I panicked, afraid there was now no way to get into the computer other than sawing it open!!!

I calmed down as I realized the machine was working just fine and would could continue to run until something else broke, meaning I probably had time to find a solution before it did. One of the good things about being on the ‘Net is it is a computer-focused medium; you can usually find someone who has had the problem you are dealing with and, most of the time, a solution if you keep looking. I ultimately  found a single discussion on a Mac forum that revealed the broken latch controlled a sliding bar that could be accessed from the front of the case. It’s hard to see but it is there and can be reached, something you wouldn’t get from examining Apple service documentation that says the solution for a case latch failure is to replace the entire case!

Here’s how you can deal with the problem:

  • Using a very bright light (The light on my iPhone 5s worked better than either of two flashlights.) and a magnifying glass if necessary (The older you are, the more necessary it is), peer through the cooling holes (about 1/8” in dia) just below the lower optical drive and on the right side of the case. Look for a silver metallic block with a circular indent in its center. (This is where I believe a metal rod attaches to the block). That’s your target.
  • Get a tool or a metal rod that will fit through a cooling hole and allow you to put about five to ten pounds of force on it. Fit it through the cooling hole and hit the “target” straight on. (A straightened out coat hanger will generally NOT work; it will deform before you can get enough force on it to move the sliding rod. I used a small, stout, Philips head screwdriver…one I could afford to lose if its head deformed.)
  • Push on the slide until it moves. It will only move about a quarter to a half of an inch. This UNLOCKS the side door.

Note that you may or may not be able to re-latch the door; and you probably won’t be able to use the latch at all. Frankly, my case door fits tight enough  I’m not worrying about relatching the case. If that’s not true for you, then you will have to find some other way to keep the door closed since it helps control airflow through the machine. If you so employ some alternate means of keeping the door closed, be sure to consider that the machine will get warm to hot during operation and that will affect your closure method.

Slow Web Page Loading? Check Your DNS!

Our Internet service is via Earthlink running on a Comcast backbone.  Most of the time, the service is fast with few outages, which is why the problems we’ve been having over the last few days have been driving me nuts.  While service seemed to be routine during normal business hours, service from the late evening through early morning hours was incredibly slow and unreliable.  Web pages would hang during loading and streaming any videos, even trailers, via our Apple TV became impossible.  I had a feeling it might be due to a problem with our DNS servers but really wasn’t initially sure how to troubleshoot that.

While web page loading and streaming video would hang, speed tests I conducted showed normal Internet speeds (23-28Mbps download, about 6 Mbps uploads). That established that once the connection was made, things were working normally.  That seemed to confirm my suspicion that our DNS servers were probably involved.

So, I made a quick trip to Google.  A search there turned up multiple references that listed free, public DNS servers (as did a trip to Apple Support Discussions). After looking at several, my favorite one is at:  I picked one listed there and went into System Preferences/Network on my Mac Pro, clicked on the Advanced button and the “DNS” tab, and in its widow entered the I.P. address for my choice.  As soon as I applied the change, my Internet service went back to normal.  I then made the change on all my machines, before realizing that approach and been overkill.  I simply needed to use Airport Utility to go into the Internet settings for the router and enter my new DNS settings there.  I have done so, and now we’re cooking along.

I contacted Earthlink Support and chatted with a technician there about what I had found and what I had done to fix it.  He confirmed they were having DNS problems, even though there was no mention of it on their website.  I suggested they put up some notice to prevent folks from pulling their hair out.  I hope they do and then let people know when they think their problems are resolved.  They owe us that.

(NOTE: As of 9:50 pm on February 10, 2014, Earthlink’s DNS servers seem to be working normally.  I have moved my router settings back to those servers as a result.)

The Apple Thunderbolt Display: Will It Be Updated?

Like many Mac users with MacBook Pro or MacBook Air notebooks, I’ve been waiting for a couple of years for Apple to update their Thunderbolt display to USB 3.0.  While looking at the options available for the new Mac Pro (which I jokingly refer to as the “Trash Pro”) this morning, I realized that Apple may not be going to perform that upgrade.  They might surprise me and update it to Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3, but it appears just as likely they will continue to sell this model without changes or eventually drop it altogether and cede the display market to third parties, which own most it anyway.

Over the years, Apple has been pairing down their display offerings and slowly moving their users to third party monitors.  What they have maintained has been differentiated by features and quality, not by price.  They have the corner on Thunderbolt-equipped displays and that has sustained some sales, but the appearance of cheaper Thunderbolt equipped docks is slowly eroding user motivation for spending the extra money. I’m waiting for the much delayed Sonnet Thunderbolt Expansion dock.  It’s more expansive than Apple’s Thunderbolt monitor with its USB 3, eSata, Firewire 800, gigabit Ethernet, and extra Thunderbolt ports. Additionally, you can order it with a DVD burner or a Blue Ray burner and a 1 to 4 TB internally mounted hard disk, all for less money.  I’d opt for a new Thunderbolt monitor over this if it were equipped with USB 3 ports; but without them, the Sonnet dock is the better buy.  However, as of this writing, that dock was supposed to have been released last summer and is still listed in a “pre-order” status; so it’s still a ghost product I won’t commit to until it actually shows up.

If you own a new iMac, you can daisy chain using its extra Thunderbolt port and it already comes with USB 3 ports.  If you have a Retina MacBook Pro, it has two Thunderbolt ports (Thunderbolt 2, now); so if you’re like me and have older Apple Cinema Displays using mini-display port, you can hook them up to your MacBook Pros and still have a Thunderbolt port to use.  The unlucky ones are those with MacBook Airs that have only one Thunderbolt port and want to use one of those older displays.  There’s no such thing as a Thunderbolt “splitter” so you have to find some kind of dock you can plug your display into that has pass-through Thunderbolt or buy Apple’s current USB 2 equipped Thunderbolt display.  You can’t use the Matrox dock at all and it only has USB 2 ports anyway and the Belkin dock won’t give you any Thunderbolt pass-through without also using Apple’s Thunderbolt monitor so it’s largely redundant (plus the Belkin’s docks USB 3 ports don’t work at full USB 3 spec speed). If one of those docks does meet your needs, great!  For me, though, those are reasons not to purchase them.  So, I’m kinda stuck waiting on the Sonnet device.  I can get most of what I need with a NewerTech miniStack Max running on USB 3; and if Sonnet doesn’t push its product out the door before too much longer, I may head in that other direction.  (I own both a Thunderbolt equipped MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro and I need something that can work with both of them.)

Now, consider that in the new Mac Pro, there are four USB 3 ports and six Thunderbolt ports.  The specs and pricing on the machine mean it is aimed squarely at the professional (and not the prosumer) market, and I suspect it is mainly aimed at video editors who are or soon will be editing 4 K videos.  There are enough Thunderbolt ports on this machine to allow it to be used by almost any kind of monitor in existence today.  For those who might be already using an Apple Thunderbolt monitor and any legacy equipment (USB 2 and Firewire 800), it will continue to meet their needs.  They still maintain those hook-ups and don’t sacrifice any extra machine ports to maintain them.   In fact, this is a more desirable approach than hooking up legacy USB 2 equipment via the machine’s USB 3 ports.  While that wouldn’t be hurt by a new Thunderbolt monitor with USB 3 ports, mostly new owners rather than upgraders will loose the cash to get them. In other words, I’m not sure the current professional community cares much whether Apple updates the monitor or not.  They’re going to be moving to 4K or can be happy using HDMI anyway.

A Thunderbolt monitor with Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3 that would leave the Firewire 800 port in would match it up with Apple’s newest machines and could position the rest of us to upgrade our “before-2013” notebooks without extra cash outlays, providing more incentive to buy.  From that perspective, it would be a good marketing move.  But is it a market that Apple wants to protect for some time longer?  Eventually, despite Apple’s current pronouncements (and I actually think Apple’s slower approach is more correct than Microsoft’s), we will see convergence of tablets and mobile devices with desktop computing at the consumer level and possibly the prosumer level. It’s probably a decade off, but it has begun with the inclusion of 64 bit processors in the iPhone and the iPad. My MacBook Air is still more powerful and portable than an iPad with a keyboard, but not by much.

Some Apple products have also shown through the years they doesn’t always fulfill their promise, and it is usually through the paucity of upgrades available after the initial product is bought.   The promise of the Mac Pro has been its expandability, but its video card upgrades have always been few and too far between, leaving its owners in the dust of Windows PC users.  Their data buses were stuck at SATA II for too long, with the only way out being a whole new machine that took seven years to release or expensive PCIe card additions.  It’s hard to say but not unthinkable that Apple will likely leave its notebook users behind in the same fashion by not upgrading the Thunderbolt monitor or by making its price point so high that its value simply sinks.  Let’s hope they show more loyalty and insight than that.

One Step Back..One Step Forward

The step back has to do with the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock.

I mentioned in my earlier post about this device that due to its lack of USB 3 support in Windows 7 under Bootcamp I was considering letting my wife see if it would meet her needs on her MacBook Air.  So, last night, I set up the unit on her desk and hooked up her 11 inch MacBook Air to it when she got home.  She runs a dual monitor (24 inch Apple Cinema Display with a mini-display port as prime with a 23 inch Apple Cinema Display via a DVI/USB 2 adapter) set up that hooks up via mini-display port and USB.    I hooked both monitor as well as her other peripherals into the Belkin Dock and then booted up.  At first, it all appeared to work with no hitches, but then I discovered that when booting from a cold start, the second monitor, attached via the USB adapter, would not power up.  Unplugging the USB adapter and then reinserting it would solve the problem every time; but…again…the whole point of the dock was to eliminate plugging and unplugging things.  While the dock did centralize and slightly reduce clutter, in the end it once again did not eliminate having to plug in extra peripherals.  So, I have decided to return the dock and try to get a refund from Belkin.  I’ll keep you apprised about how that goes.

I suspect all these problems don’t suggest a fundamental design problem with the Dock, but instead center around hidden and minor problems pumping USB 3 inputs over the Thunderbolt bus.  I’m not familiar enough with the USB 3 specification or the Thunderbolt specification to go deeper than that, and I don’t have an Apple Thunderbolt monitor to play with to see if it acts in the same way.  But the whole experience makes me a bit leery of dumping big bucks into any kind of “all-in-one” Thunderbolt solution, as much as I might like to find one.

The one thing I would suggest as a needed design change to the dock is to include a front facing Thunderbolt port that would become the input port from the Thunderbolt Mac.  The pictures you can find on the web showing the cable from the Mac to the unit that appear to run to the front of the device show it running through a cable tray to a port that is on the rear of the device.  Most people who are going to be interested in this device are because they don’t have an Apple Thunderbolt monitor, and a lot of them are going to be running mini-display port monitors that plug into the Thunderbolt port, meaning that all Thunderbolt ports on the dock may be taken.

The step forward has to do with noticing that I was able to install a downloaded Mac OS 10.8.4 Combo Updater package on all my machines, including newer ones that have protested in the past that only the App Store could perform the updates.  This made downloading and installing the update a time saving and relatively painless process, as opposed to having to latch up to the App Store which each new machine, download a patch and wade through the installation for EACH one. I had been bitching at Apple about this for some time, and it appears they have listened.  Thanks, Apple!  It made my life with the App Store a bit more loveable.

The Belkin Thunderbolt Dock: Mixed Utility

Like many Mac users, I’ve been hoping for more utilization of the power of Thunderbolt than being able to hook in a few multi-purpose adapters to my MacBook Pro.  So, when Belkin proposed the Thunderbolt dock, I thought that might be the way to go.  I have one now sitting on my desk, nestled behind a 24 inch Apple Cinema Display with a mini-display port hookup.  I use it to hook up my 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro and my 2.5 GHz Core i5 powered Mac Mini using a single Thunderbolt chord to the monitor and a mix of peripherals.  Was the dock worth the $299 it cost?  I’m not so sure.

There are two major reasons why I’m hedging.  The first is that the design just isn’t as well thought through as it could have been.  Its advertising says it has two Thunderbolt ports, which it does, but that’s still misleading.  Yes, it has two, but one of them is used to hook to the Thunderbolt port of your Mac, so only one Thunderbolt port is usable for peripherals.  If your display is, like mine, a mini-display port version, then there are NO Thunderbolt ports remaining for any peripherals on the dock itself.  (I tried to ferret this out prior to its release but obviously was unsuccessful…so I took a gamble…and lost!) This is not much better than my Retina MacBook Pro without the dock, since I typically use one Thunderbolt port for the monitor and the other for a Gigabit Ethernet connection rather than run the slower “N” wireless connection on our home network.  It does leave one Thunderbolt port free that wasn’t before..on the Mac itself.  The dock would have been more worth the money if it had been designed so that the Thunderbolt cable from your Mac connected into the dock’s front, leaving two Thunderbolt ports open on the rear, especially considering the Belkin’s premium cost.  The only way to get full utilization out of the dock is to already have an Apple Thunderbolt monitor.  That really seems redundant..and expensive!

Moreover, this morning I discovered that when hooked to my Mac Mini and booted into Windows 7 via Bootcamp, NONE of the USB 3 devices are being passed through to the Mini!  This is a serious drawback that wasn’t spotted by one reviewer, which shows that most of them are doing little more than regurgitating press releases.  I got everything back by unhooking the Apple keyboard and plugging it directly into the Mac Mini so at least I had a keyboard and mouse and could make things work.  Don’t know whether the Ethernet also didn’t get passed through…

I do like the convenience of usually having to only plug in a Thunderbolt cable instead of USB, audio, etc; but I am honestly now looking at whether I might just give the dock to my wife whose MacBook Air doesn’t have a Bootcamp partition.  For the rest of you thinking about buying it, better think twice if you think it’ll work under Bootcamp; you’ll find yourself doing what I did and plugging stuff in anyway to get it to work.  If you’re running OS X and want it, fine, as long as you realize if you have a mini-display port monitor, any Thunderbolt items will have to be hooked into the Mac itself or there will still be three cables you have to hook up to make it all work (two power, one TB cable to the dock, the other to the monitor).

The bottom line with this device is that the single Thunderbolt cable hook up is still a myth, three hundred dollars later.


If you’re a Mac OS X user, you might want to take a trip to some of the Mac news sites on the Web and read the articles popping up about the “silent push” that Apple apparently performed which completely disables Java on your system.  I found it out this morning and confirmed it by going to a “mission critical” website and seeing if it would work.  It won’t.  Not only will it not work, but Apple insured they put you out of business by telling the operating system that to allow Java to work at all, the version had to be beyond the current version.  I’d like to know who gave the company permission to do that?  To my knowledge, I didn’t!

So, I say to Apple this:  STOP THE SILENT PUSHES!

It truly has become 1984, except now Apple is the Big Brother on the television screen, not the comely woman athlete attacking it to free the enslaved masses.  The line out of “The Dark Knight” where Dent says: “ You die or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” is true.  In this case, though, it is Apple who’s the villain. They have indeed gone full circle.

We all know how easy it is to allow someone else to do things for us, and how humans will often give their power away to someone who does.  That’s what has happened here.  Apple, in true Big Brother fashion, has decided it will protect its users and itself by making decisions for you about what software you can run. You can cloak this as “being for the best” but what it is really about is protecting Apple’s public relations at your expense.  They are taking from you the right for you to decide what software you want to run, and that’s simply wrong for the consumer and wrong for teaching proper computer security.  It may be a logical step in making a computer an appliance, but manufacturers rarely have the ability to tinker with your appliance without your knowledge.  Most are smart enough not to do it anyway.

In truth, I needed to have complained about it before now.  With silent pushes, Apple becomes nothing more than a legitimized hacker.  There is no treason for the company to approach the subject this way unless they think most of us are too dumb to understand what a pop-up announcing the new software, especially one that requires administrator permission, would mean.  Maybe some of us are, but even if a user blindly accepts the notification, they have been given the choice and the responsibility is theirs and not the company’s.  It’s hard for me to believe that Apple won’t be sued about this at some time in the future, especially when they inadvertently stop a business venture that costs someone a ton of money.  Regardless, it is a poor security practice to condone or allow silent pushes. At the very least, the company owes people the blatant opportunity to sign up for them or turn them down…and not tied to some operating system update.

If Apple continues these silent pushes, this will be the straw that pushes me out of the Apple ecosystem.  I can put up with a lot (and have over the last few years…software updates that don’t work, user interface changes I haven’t liked, feature removal or system/software requirement changes without notification, and what often appears to be change for the sake of it), but I can’t afford not to have faith that the company isn’t going to jack with my system simply because there is a piece of it they don’t like.  If you agree, then I urge you to let Apple know through their feedback system or any way you can that this type of behavior is unacceptable. If not, and you just let them continue to do this, don’t fuss when you wake up one morning and something on your computer or iOS device won’t work because Apple didn’t like it.

Trying Out RAID 0 on a Mac Pro

For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at ways I could economically improve the performance of my 2008 Mac Pro in ways that would help mainly with video editing.  I’m running Mountain Lion as my main operating system on a SSD with a Snow Leopard backup on a hard disk that also includes the main user profile and data.  The ML SSD references that user profile as well, so that for a slight cost in speed I get lots of storage that can be used when I am in either operating system.

About six weeks ago, I bought a Nflightcam for use in my flight school, and I’ve been bringing home video used in testing the camera and getting me used to editing and posting content for student use.  I’m not a fan of the current iteration of iMovie, so I do any editing either in iMovie HD or Final Cut Studio 2 (Final Cut Pro 7 and company).   I know I could move to Final Cut X or even Premiere Pro CS6, but for now, I’m saving what bucks I can and trying to use what I’ve got. (I also have some projects in FCP I need to finish.)    So, I’ve been looking for ways to speed up my video processing workflow. I didn’t really have the bucks to put all the FCP footage on a SSD.

My data and media (including a rather good-sized iTunes library) have been on a 1TB hard disk that was within 70GB of being full.  I offloaded the FCP and DVD Studio folders onto another 750GB hard drive and put my Contour Library files there as well.  Because I’ve got 16GB of RAM and I’m running on the SSD for most things, the computer’s speed was pretty good.  But I still wanted to see if I could decrease video processing time. So, after looking at various options and what they would cost in time and money, I decided to set up a RAID 0 using the two hard disks I use to run OS X.

The first thing I did was boot the Mac Pro up normally, go into System Preferences/User Accounts and reset the USER account from the SL disk to the one on the ML SSD (which has almost no data in it).  I rebooted onto the Snow Leopard disk (using the Option key) and used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the Snow Leopard boot drive onto a 1.5TB Seagate drive inside an Esata box.  I then manually copied the files on the 750GB to the Esata drive, shut down the Mac Pro, opened it up, and mounted the Esata hard drive in a drive sled.  I booted the Mac Pro and, using the Esata drive as the boot disk, used its (Snow Leopard) Disk Utility to partition the 1TB hard drive into 750 and 250GB partitions.  I then used DU’s RAID tab to make a RAID 0 set of the 750 GB hard drive and the 750GB partition on the 1 TB hard drive. Rebooting, I used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the boot drive onto the RAID 0 set.  That left me with a cloned hard drive and a Time Machine backup I could use to recover if things went awry, which I am happy to report they did not.

When I rebooted the Mac Pro normally, it booted into the ML SSD.  I reselected the “joint” user account now on the RAID 0 set and the computer rebooted, returning to the Dock and desktop I had before I had started it all.  I opened several applications (some of which I have loaded on both the ML and SL partitions) to check their operation and observed no anomalies, except for some registration data that was lost and had to be re-entered. Satisfied I had “normal” system operation, I wanted to see if I could boot into the Snow Leopard RAID set, so I rebooted the Mac Pro while holding down the Option key.  Much to my surprise, it showed me each INDIVIDUAL disk (Raid Set 1 1 and Raid Set 1 2) as well as the ML SSD, the Esata disk, and the ML Recovery partition! If software was managing the RAID properly, my thinking was that I could pick either disk in the RAID set and the Mac Pro would boot properly.  To test that, I selected the RAID Set 1 2 disk.  The system did boot normally into Snow Leopard, though the process seemed to be a bit slower than usual.  I launched applications and observed what I thought to be faster performance than I would have seen running single disk.  For grins, I also booted into RAID SET 1 1, and while it worked about the same, it did seem like the desktop appeared a little sooner with that selection.  (The RAID 1 1 hard disk is the actual 750GB hard disk while 1 2 is a 750GB partition.)  After checking system operation here, I shut down the machine, removed the Esata hard disk, and replaced it with my Windows 7 (BOOTCAMP) hard disk I had removed for this experiment.  I then booted into Windows 7; and while the initial loading appeared nominal, the machine crashed with a BSOD and a STOP message implying IRQ conflicts.  I booted the machine using Windows Safe Mode and got to the desktop and then rebooted into Windows 7 normally.  I had no more problems after that.

Overall, this seems to be a worthwhile experiment.  Overall responsiveness has definitely improved, though I don’t have any benchmarks to tell you how much.  I did see slightly LOWER Geekbench scores (like about 150-200 points) I believe might to be due to the extra overhead of the software RAID.  In every other way, though, the machine is snappier under both Mac Operating Systems.  For that, the cost is decreased hardware reliability I am mitigating by a good backup strategy and acquisition of a spare 1TB hard drive I’ll keep for quick retrieval in case a failure does occur.

I may not have SSD speeds with this setup or what I could achieve with a Velociraptor RAID set or maybe even hardware RAID, but considering this only cost me some time, this appears to have been a worthwhile thing to do.

One Step Forward Two Steps Back!

Today, Apple fixed my main complaint about the new 21.5 inch iMac; you know, the one  saddled with a 2.5 inch 5400 RPM hard drive, all to make it unbelievably thinner for reasons only they understand.  Today, Apple announced  you can pay an extra $250 for the low end iMac so that it will match the glowing performance referred to in nearly all its reviews.  You can order the machine with a 1TB Fusion Drive, something you could only previously do with high low-end machine. Of course, that means that a decent entry level iMac now costs $1549, making this the most costly set of iMacs Apple has ever released.  They are undoubtedly also the best performing, but whether you are getting what you paid for is still up for debate.

Still, I consider this one step forward.  But Apple has performed a lot of missteps lately.  IOS 6 Maps, the initial 2.12 HP Printer Driver update, the flakiness of Mountain Lion when it was first released, the inclusion of 5400 rpm hard drives in iMacs, and now there is another…the latest…Tunes 11.

I’ve been saying privately to my wife that I, as a Mac user, was deeply concerned about Apple’s direction.  I haven’t minded fixing things now and then…even inventing workarounds haven’t been that frequent….except in the past year or so.  Apple software quality control has gotten so poor that I do not automatically apply upgrades; I wait and see what other people are reporting and try to make sure the update is okay before pressing ahead.  I actually thought iTunes 11 (and, yes, I’ve downloaded 11.0.1) was okay… I had managed to reconfigure it to behave the way I liked (since many things in its redesign seemed to dumb the software down, something Apple’s been too guilty of lately).  That was until yesterday.  Then, I noticed that if I selected a song in a playlist, started playing it, selected another playlist, and tried to play it, the first song I selected would continue to play!   Worse, I tried the same trick on a different Mac and got exactly the same behavior!  That became the last straw for me; as I have done too often recently I reverted back to a software set that worked, i.e., iTunes 10.7 in this case.

Listen up, Apple, you’re being given a BIG APPLE FAIL on this software!  Your discussion forums are full of people who, like me, are questioning your technical prowess and value on the dollar.  You seem to be moving from “it just works” to “ it only works the way we want it to…most of the time” while making sure “it just hurts” is what resounds from our pocketbooks.

I don’t mind paying a bit more for a better product, but when I feel like I’m paying more “just because I can”, it’s time to find another party…

Slight of Hand: Look Closely at 21.5 inch iMac Reviews

I couldn’t figure out at first why not much was being said about Apple dropping to 2.5 inch 5400 RPM hard drives in these new models but then grew suspicious that nearly every reviewer is being supplied with models equipped with optional Fusion drives.  In all the reviews I looked at…especially where they touted the new machine’s speed..this indeed did prove to be the case.  Worse, in the large majority of these reviews, the authors were missing the fact that the option added another $250 to the price, and the option is not available on the low end $1299 model at all.  So, if your intent is to purchase the low end iMac and your intent is to do any kind of serious (read Photoshop) work on it and you don’t like waiting around for it to finish, you need to think again.

If you want to see what kind of performance hit I’m talking about, go to, look at their Photoshop CS6 benchmarks and be sure to look at the chart at the bottom of the article.  On this chart, the SSD filled up so that scratch activity fell onto the native hard drive, so you see there the kind of performance hit representative of 5400 RPM hard drive performance alone.  While I do understand that this is what’s going to happen once you use any mechanical hard drive, there would still be a noticeable performance gain if there was a 7200 RPM hard drive in the machine.  (Yes, I’ve seen the arguments about data density on the 2.5 inch drives making up for the slower rpm but haven’t seen any data showing that it’s made up for the slower platter speeds nor does that match up with my experience.)  Better, Apple could have used Seagate 7200 RPM hybrid drives in their base configs, though the baseline config would then have been a 750GB machine.  The company could still have offered a 1TB 5400 RPM drive as an option and insured the buyer knew what they were getting.  (UPDATE 12/5/2102: has published a more in depth look at this issue.)

I also will remind people that the 21.5 inch iMac does not have a connector for an SSD, something that does exist in the 27inch iMac, even if you don’t order one with it. That doesn’t mean you can’t put an SSD in it; but whatever you do, one SATA hard disk of some type is your only option.

If you’re just buying one of these machines for basic office work, then you’ll be happy with it; but if your intent is to purchase one for anything else, read the current sets of reviews with an analytical eye.  Save yourself from going home and finding out that what you bought wasn’t what you needed; and while that is nothing new, I feel like it’s a bigger thing to be poking at with these machines.

Too Much Form Over Function: Is the new 21.5 inch iMac Too Pricey to Care?

Like a lot of people, I am trying to understand the design changes to Apple’s latest series of iMacs.  It’s said it has something to do with Apple’s vision for the future.  I‘m just not so sure the rest of us agree or are willing to go along. Sales numbers will ultimately tell the tale.  It may not matter much to Apple’s bottom line but it will help determine the ultimate future of the Mac computer.

An article at Macworld said this was just another bump along the road of “hiding the computer”, always at the heart of Apple’s quest.  Fair enough.  I like cool designs as much as the next guy; iMacs do usually look very good in the home and office and I admit that is part of their appeal.  But to think that is the major reason behind my decision to buy Apple products is to misread my intent.  Ultimately, I look for performance and value.

That’s where I think the latest design changes, especially for the 21.5 inch iMac, break down.

We’ve all known that Apple has been pushing for deletion of the optical drive in all their machines.  Apple did the same thing with the floppy and new computers no longer carry them.  Indeed, advances in storage technology and the inflation of file and program sizes as CPU’s matured made them obsolete.  Apple now thinks that the days of optical drive software and media distribution are numbered and they probably are; but anyone who has ever experienced the too often breakdowns of Internet service or Apple’s App Store knows too well the frustration, inconvenience, and , in the worst cases, lost worktimes that come with them.  As do users of Apple’s latest computers, when a hard drive fails and you no have no way to get back and reload your operating system because it’s out the Net instead of on a shiny CD in your office.  (Which is why I have a Mountain Lion installer burned to dual-layer DVD; sorry, Apple.).   From my perspective, the removal of optical drives is premature, especially in a desktop that was, up until now, an “all-in-one”. I buy iMacs because I want that integrated functionality; now, I have to spend money on and find desk space for an optical drive, too.  That causes even more of a wince of pain when Apple accompanies this move by raising their price points one hundred dollars.  They have, in fact, increased the cost by almost $200 over the older models if you have to also buy an optical drive because they no longer include one (though it depends on what kind of a burner you go after; some are a lot cheaper than a century bill).

The Apple website touts that these iMacs take “Performance and Design.  Right to the Edge”.  Of what?  Mediocrity?  Why in the world would anyone put a 2.5 inch 5400 RPM notebook hard drive in a desktop, like Apple has done with all 21.5 inch iMacs?  That is beyond me!  You mean, for the extra hundred dollars everyone’s paying, they couldn’t slap in 2.5 inch 7200 hard drives, or was that expecting too much?  (I have a 5400 rpm hard drive in a 2012 Mac mini and it is almost painfully slow.)  What were those extra RPM’s going to do?  Cause too much heat?  Too much vibration?  If either of those are true for this desktop, then Apple’s lost it.  No, this looks like simple greed, a way to squeeze a few more bucks out of the design and possibly another $250 out of the consumer who may need to purchase the Fusion Drive option to make the machine perform worth a damn.  (And you can’t even do that on the low end machine.) Why did Apple think the performance was good enough and why didn’t they give a damn about trying harder?

I would not recommend to anyone they spend the money on a new 2012 21.5 inch iMac, especially the low end one.  Of course, a reason for you to move up and spend more is exactly what Apple wants.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to think their ultimate goal is to get everyone on a 27 inch iMac, and they’ll nudge you in that direction by handicapping the 21.5 incher, just like they did when they eliminated their smaller Cinema Displays, leaving users who wanted to stay with Apple no choice but a 27 inch Apple branded display costing a grand.  It worked once, why not again?

If you’re not yet willing to jump ship back to Windows or Linux, the smarter move is to buy a MacBook Pro and hook it to a keyboard and screen you already have or invest in a 27 inch Apple Thunderbolt display (Yes, I know that hurts!).  You can not only get better performance since you can get i7 CPU’s at lower price points (see the refurbished section of the Apple website for the best deals) but the MacBook Pro’s are now more expandable and easier to fix or expand.  Yes, you may spend more setting up a MacBook Pro and a Thunderbolt screen, but my bet is you are better future-proofed and you have more flexibility since you can operate the notebook as a desktop or as a notebook.  And, no matter what, hauling around your MacBook Pro is going to be easier than moving your iMac, no matter how thin it is.

Not only that, but the coup de grace is that replacing the pokey 5400 rpm hard drive in your MacBook Pro is no pain at all.

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