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#715: New MacBooks, Steam for Mac, Preview, Benefits of Hard Drive Replacement


Happy Tuesday,

Around the Mad River Valley and in many places worldwide there are invasive species that threaten native flora and fauna. With all the cold rain and snow over the past few weeks, one of those invasive species, Japanese knotweed, was mercilessly beat down and forced to start its growing season anew.

Japanese knotweed looks a lot like asparagus when it first emerges from the ground, but once it grows a few leaves to collect sunlight, it starts growing ferociously. It seems some days the stuff is growing an inch every hour. It normally grows well over six feet tall, but its soft and fragile stalks are mostly water. When we had a couple frosts, the stalks froze through and the knotweed was done for.

Tony and I often talk of bringing machetes to work to beat down a path to the dogs’ favorite swimming place, but this year I’m hoping we won’t have to. Something tells me the knotweed is only a few weeks behind schedule, though, and we’ll be taking care of the patches on Small Dog grounds before too long.

As always, thanks of reading, and keep in touch.


  Stealth MacBook Upgrade  

Today, Apple updated the white unibody MacBook so quickly and quietly, it didn’t even look as though the Apple Store was down for any period of time!

Here are the new specs:

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (up from 2.26GHz)
  • 2GB DDR3 memory
  • 250GB hard drive
  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics (better than the previous NVIDIA GeForce 9400M)
  • Built-in 10-hour battery (up from 7 hours)
  • Polycarbonate unibody enclosure

So, the three biggies are the processor, video card and battery—otherwise, the MacBook remains wholly the same. Also the same? The price, at $999.99.

We have these in stock and ready to ship now! Check them out here.

  Preview: Not Just For Previewing  

Preview is an excellent program for viewing PDF files and images in most any format. There are two features that few of us know about: annotating and marking-up PDFs. It’s a lot like the Track Changes function in Pages and other word processors, and is a great way to share comments with a group working on a project.

In Preview’s Tools menu you’ll see Mark Up and Annote. Mark Up lets up do just that: strike through, highlight, or underline text; Annotate lets you append notes and web addresses in the margins.

In typical clean and usable fashion, Apple added keyboard shortcuts for these powerful tools. You can also add buttons to Preview’s toolbar by right-clicking on it and selecting Customize.

Preview is more powerful than many seem to think, and it’s vastly superior to Adobe Reader for everyday PDF consumption, if only because it launches almost instantaneously.

  Steam is Here  

It’s here! Steam for Mac is here! For those of you who know what I’m talking about, stop reading and go download it now. Anyone still here? OK, maybe I should tell you a little about what Steam is and what makes it so awesome.

What is Steam?
Many people have compared Steam favorably to iTunes. It’s like an App Store for your games. You can browse new titles, purchase them, and download them right to your computer. You maintain an account that keeps track of what games you’ve bought and lets you download them onto any computer you want. You can log in and play your games anywhere you can download them. This is why I love Steam. This is DRM that works, that actually adds value for the customer (please pay attention, music and film industries).

The other difference from iTunes is the community. Steam has its own built-in messaging system so you can see what your buddies are playing and message them without leaving your game, a la Xbox Live. You can also share achievements and high scores, if that’s your thing. For games that utilize the built-in tools, it also makes finding games to play with friends a breeze, and Steam will often offer discount multi-packs of games, so you just drop a license in your friends’ laps so they have no excuse not to play with you.

The Games
Up until now, Steam has only been available for Windows. But now Valve has decided to support the Mac as a platform for not only its games delivery system, but also its library of games powered by its awesome Source engine. This means we’ll soon be seeing classics like Half Life 2, Left 4 Dead, and of course, Portal. This is fantastic. Not all of these are available yet, but Portal is, and others are soon to follow.

Actually, Valve has made Portal a free download until May 24th. This is one of the best games ever made and it has been running smoothly on my 2-year-old iMac. There is literally no excuse not to go download this right now. If you’ve been running Boot Camp and have a library of steam games already, you’ll be able to start downloading any Mac versions available right away. So far, the list is pretty small with Portal and Torchlight being the shiners, but there are also some gems of indie games up there Ike Braid and World of Goo.

In Action
If you’ve used the Windows client before, you’ll be right at home on Steam for Mac. Though, the cocoa native interface does still feel like something borrowed from a Microsoft platform, it runs smooth as butter. As for the games themselves, this is no joke. These aren’t hastily done third party ports. There’s no emulation, no layers of virtualization. These games run natively and deliver the performance you would expect.

Portal runs as smooth as ever on my iMac, though I did have to turn some of the graphics settings down a bit. Torchlight also is just as fun as the Windows version, though I’m probably more likely to play through it now that I don’t have to reboot to do so. We’re only just seeing the beginning of what this brings to the Mac, so I highly recommend coming along for the ride. It’s what Mac gamers have been waiting for!

  From the Archives: Surprising Benefit of Hard Drive Replacement  

While most machines that come through our shop are pretty straightforward to diagnose and repair, there is always room for surprises. We had one such surprise last week with a MacBook Pro that was brought in for two distinct reasons: the hard drive wasn’t recognized and the machine would not boot from CD. While that might sound like a hard drive and optical drive replacement, the technician who diagnosed the issue dug a little deeper.

He did verify that the machine would not boot from CD, and he ordered an optical drive for it. He also verified that the hard drive was not recognized; however, when he pulled the drive out of the machine, it mounted just fine in a sled attached to another computer. He could clearly see the volume structure, which passed verification in Disk Utility, and he didn’t notice any unusual sounds from the drive. This led to the conclusion that the issue was the SATA bus on the logic board, and a logic board was ordered for the machine.

The next day, I replaced the optical drive and the hard drive. I attempted to boot to a DVD. The optical drive injected the DVD with no problems and I could hear it spinning in the drive. However, the disk was not recognized in the EFI boot manager. Crap. At this point I’m thinking it could be a faulty optical drive, optical drive cable or a defective replacement logic board. My next step was to attempt to netboot the machine; no dice there either. The netboot server was also not recognized in the boot manager and the boot manager froze twice while looking for devices.

OK, so now I have a machine that won’t boot to disk and won’t netboot, so at this point I’m thinking it really is a bad replacement logic board. However, I’ve seen this symptom before, so there was one more thing to try.

I pulled out the hard drive. The machine boot to DVD, no problem, it also netboot without a hitch. I repeated my co-workers test of plugging the drive into an external sled, sure enough it did mount and displayed the volume, but when I attempted to boot to the drive the tester machine that I was using shut down. Eureka! The issue all along was the hard drive. While it was able to perform some functions just fine, as a boot device it was hanging the SATA bus.

The first volume the EFI boot manager looks for is the internal hard drive, and since this internal hard drive was causing the bus to hang the boot manager wasn’t able to get past it to find the optical drive or the netboot server. Replacing the hard drive resolved all of the issues and we were able to transfer the customer’s data to the new drive successfully!

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