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#759: iOS Update Problems, Use Apple Remote to Sleep Your Mac, iMac as Monitor, What is VRAM?

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

We had another storm roll through the region yesterday, leaving snow measuring a couple of inches to about a foot in the higher elevations. At this point every year, I’m just ready for spring to arrive, so, while not entirely unexpected, the storm was most definitely a drag. Sunday was so beautiful – I strapped on my snowshoes and took Owen for a long hike and his first swim of the year.

It might have been last year or the year before that I swam before the end of March, but I try and take a swim in the Mad River absurdly early in the season every year. I think I’ll pull off a March swim this year too!

I went out to Apple HQ in Cupertino, CA with Don for a day of meetings earlier this week. I really enjoy these trips, particularly those in winter; eating dinner outside in mid-March is always a refreshing change. Now, if only United Airlines could get me to or from my destination within five hours of scheduled arrivals. Some day.

Seriously though, these meetings are extremely valuable for Small Dog. Not only do we have direct access to AppleCare executives, the gathering of the very best of service providers makes for a very useful and open exchange of ideas. AppleCare is far and away the best warranty and support product in the industry, and Small Dog is among the very best of the best with customer satisfaction well over 90%. If you ever have less than an exceptional experience, I want to hear about it.

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

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  iOS Update Problems  
   
 

Whenever Apple releases a new version of iOS for their iPod, iPhone, and iPad, everyone flocks to their computers to grab the latest and greatest. Most of the time everything goes fine and you can enjoy the new features, but occasionally something goes wrong and a cryptic error dialog pops up, leaving you frustrated and without the use of your device.

This problem seems to be most common for with people who dabbled with jailbreaking their device. While Apple has not specifically said “thou shalt not jailbreak,” they are not usually forthcoming with assistance in case of failure. Most of the issues stem from putting a new, jailbroken version of the iOS on the device, then trying to go back to an earlier, unmodified version. The device will give an error code and fail to update, and in many cases will do nothing but show the Connect to iTunes graphic. In this case, you usually have to go back to the people who released the jailbreaking software you used in the first place to correct the problem. Sometimes doing a restore in recovery mode will fix the problem, but you will lose whatever was on the device.

The other issue that we get calls about concerns the inability to update your device’s iOS in iTunes. Upon connecting your device. you may find that iTunes insists it is already running the latest software. If you just bought an iPad 2, you don’t need to update – it ships with iOS 4.3 installed. Also, the iOS update does not apply to the Verizon CDMA version of the iPhone. Apple has not said whether a separate update for the Verizon iPhone will be made available later, but one of the bigger features of the update (Personal Hotspot) has been available on the Verizon model since launch. Finally, iOS 4.3 does not support the iPod touch 2nd gen, classic, or nano so these devices will not show an available update.

A common cause of update failure is when iTunes can’t access necessary websites over ports 80 and 443. This mostly affects Windows users running a firewall that blocks ports on an application basis. Check your security software to make sure iTunes can use those ports. Many firewalls, such as Norton, have an option to temporarily disable the firewall to test this out. If it works while the firewall is off, you know where to look for the solution.

Some other not-so-obvious issues have also come up:

iTunes does not recognize the device: When you plug the device into a USB port, it should automatically launch iTunes and show up under “Devices.” If it does not, make sure you’re running the latest version of iTunes (10.2.1 as of this writing). Windows systems need Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later, Vista, or Windows 7; Mac systems need OS X 10.5 or later.

Error 1013: While downloading the update, iTunes shows this error and puts the device into recovery mode, showing nothing but a Connect to iTunes graphic. This can sometimes be caused by using a jailbreaking app that modifies networking files (such as a manual entry in the HOSTS file on Windows systems). This prevents iTunes from downloading the “legit” software until the edits are removed.

One thing to be aware of before taking the plunge – in case of a problem with the update, you may have to use recovery mode to make the device work again. This will wipe the device before updating the software, so when it is done it will behave as if it was new out of the box. Make sure you have everything synchronized with your iTunes library before you attempt the update. iTunes will not “reverse sync” your device – if the device has never been synchronized with iTunes, or you connect the device to someone else’s computer, iTunes will attempt to erase all data to set up a new sync connection. There are utilities available to back up a device without using iTunes, but Apple does not recommend or support such things if something goes horribly wrong.

If all else fails, a great resource is Apple’s Support article, found here.

 
   
     
  Tip of the Week: Use Apple Remote to Sleep Your Mac  
   
 

Jon Spaulding discovered a neat trick on Friday while diagnosing an iMac without infrared reception. If you press and hold the play button on your Apple remote within range of your infrared-capable Mac, you can put your computer to sleep with your remote. This is particularly useful if you are about to fall asleep and your computer is on.

 
   
     
  iMac as Monitor  
   
 

I’ve been very happy with my aluminum 23-inch Apple Cinema Display for the past four years. The image quality is excellent, and, while it takes some time to warm up in the morning, my only real complaint is that it’s just too small.

We receive computers damaged in transit from time to time, and in rare instances the carrier declines to reimburse us for the damage. This was the case with a 27-inch iMac we received back in December – the front glass was shattered, the LCD had a pretty deep scratch in it, and there was some deformation of the enclosure itself. The iMac still worked, though.

As we could not sell this computer in good conscience, it’s living on my desk, with new glass, for the time being as my second display for my MacBook Pro. 27-inch iMacs have a Mini DisplayPort that supports input and output. Using the Belkin Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort cable, I connected my laptop to this iMac, and without any further configuration, the iMac recognized my laptop and became a second monitor.

I’ve seen, played with, and even serviced both the 27-inch iMac and 27-inch Cinema Display, but actually using a screen this large for productive purposes has been a game changer for me. I love screen real estate and 2560 × 1440 is a substantial step up from the 23-inch display’s resolution of 1920 × 1200. The 27-incher is also much, much brighter.

I certainly can’t recommend picking shards of glass out of a damaged iMac, but there’s tremendous value in the big iMac. It has one of the industry’s very finest displays that will extend its useful life significantly if used as a second display for your next computer in a couple of years.

Please note that the 21.5-inch, 24-inch, and 20-inch iMacs do not support this functionality. It’s only the 27-inch that can function as an external display.

 
   
     
  From the Archives: What is VRAM?  
   
 

One of the hardest differences in computers to explain is the video cards. A lot of companies will expound the virtues of x, y, or z video card as a selling point for higher-end computers. In reality, this part is not really ever going to be a concern to most average users. However, I often see the graphics card under-discussed in the realm of portable gaming and sometimes see customers saddled with a laptop that fails to deliver the needed performance after more than a few months in spite of otherwise-powerful specifications.

As a gamer myself, this is a significant concern. As an Apple Specialist, the need to be able to explain these systems is doubly important. So I’ve had to develop an explanation that cuts through the technical jargon (the frames per second, the clipping, the refresh rates) and effectively presents how things work for the average user.

The two main things most computer users need to be aware of when shopping for graphics cards are whether a card is integrated or dedicated, and the amount of Video Memory (VRAM) the card provides. We’ll start with the VRAM.

Simply put, the more VRAM, the better the performance. Typical amounts you find on cards today are 256MB and 512MB. Some extremely high-end cards are hitting the gigabytes, but most are too expensive to worry about for the average user. Basically this number determines how much video data your computer can process at one time. Think of it as short-term memory, but for graphics information only. When you run through a lush video game jungle, or load a large raw video file for editing, all of that data is being held in your computer’s VRAM. The more VRAM, the larger the video—with more special effects—you can edit, or the more of a video game world can be rendered in sharp detail. Incidentally, as I write this, 256MB is plenty for most games and video processing. More than that is only necessary if you are doing pro studio-level work or running the absolute-newest games with all of the graphics settings turned all the way up.

Now, comparing the amount of VRAM on two cards is easy. Look at the numbers and pick the higher one. But how do you compare an integrated graphics card such as the Nvidia 9400M, found in current MacBooks and entry-level iMacs, to a dedicated graphics card like the ATI 2600 Pro, found in last year’s high-end iMacs? Both of these graphics cards claim 256MB of VRAM, so what sort of difference does integrated vs. dedicated make? Here’s the analogy I’ve come up with to explain the way these two systems work. (It is in the context of running a store because, well, that’s where I came up with it.):

Imagine that you have a group of five people running a retail store. All of them are first and foremost out there on the floor helping customers. At some point during the day you receive a shipment of new product. Now someone has to be pulled off of the floor to unpack the new stuff. If you almost always have more people than you need to help all the customers, this is not a problem. But, if there are enough customers to keep all five employees busy, now your unpacking has ground to a halt. At best, you will be able to trickle new product onto the floor in small chunks, but you will most likely fall behind.

Now imagine the same store but with a sixth employee whose only job is to unpack and receive new product. Most of the time, he’s probably sitting around not doing much. But, no matter how busy it gets on the floor, he’s still there, ready to unpack the new shipments. This employee is like dedicated VRAM.

Basically, an integrated card has to borrow resources from the computer up to a maximum of the specified VRAM. If the system can’t spare those resources, then your video work is going to be slow. Super slow. But with dedicated graphics cards, you can tax your system that little bit more and still get some passable gaming/video performance.

Really what all this means is that if you are the kind of person who doesn’t play 3D games (or doesn’t play them much) and doesn’t do lots of pro-level video editing, then when you buy a computer with a dedicated graphics card, you are paying extra for a resource you are just not going to be using 99% of the time. Integrated cards like the Nvidia 9400M have come so far that they are more than up to the tasks of the average user and do a phenomenal job even with most games. You just don’t want to be running a thousand and one apps in the background or you will be pulling more of that system memory away from the game (like creating a rush of customers after sending someone to unpack).

 
   
     
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