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#768: RotW: iMac 27-inch Without Surge Protection, Surge Protector < UPS, AirPlay vs. Bluetooth Audio


Happy Tuesday,

Small Dog’s annual eWaste roundups in Montpelier, VT and Manchester, NH brought in a combined total of around 175 tons of waste in the past two weeks. We’ve been helping customers recycle their electronic waste since 2004, and in response to the pent up demand in Vermont, we held a free eWaste roundup at our South Burlington store in 2007.

Expecting perhaps five tons, we received 55 tons. In 2008 and 2009, our event brought in over 130 tons in a span of five hours. The 2010 events in South Burlington and Manchester brought in well over 100 tons from 1,800 carloads! It’s truly incredible to be a company that’s recycled more electronics by weight than we’ve sold, especially considering we used to move thousands of eMacs and G3 iMacs that weighed upwards of 50 pounds.

We encourage you to recycle with us throughout the year at our retail stores in Vermont and New Hampshire. I wish we could do it for free all year, but we also want to stay in business. eWaste can be recycled for 35 cents per pound—our cost—at any of our three retail locations. The next time you upgrade your computer please consider recycling responsibly. It’s the least we can do to save our planet from the dangerous substances found in all of the great gear we throw away.

If you’re close to our stores, keep an eye out for our second eWaste event of the year coming sometime this fall!

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


  Repair of the Week: iMac 27-inch Without Surge Protection  

We’ve seen some spectacular thunderstorms already this year. Back in the day of dial-up internet access, each storm would produce a wave of customers with failed modems; these days, with high speed DSL and cable access, such spikes in repair volume are rare. However, one customer who recently took home a shiny top-end iMac, returned shortly after: lightning had struck nearby, taking out many of his home appliances, including the new computer.

The computer presented with no signs of life. When a modern Mac is plugged in, there are diagnostic LEDs at various points inside the computer. One or more of these would normally be illuminated when plugged in to indicate that the machine was receiving power through the power supply. However, this iMac’s LEDs were dark. The first step was to install a new power supply, which did end up lighting the appropriate LEDs. Unfortunately though, the problem went far deeper than the obvious power supply replacement.

The iMac would now make a faint whirring noise when powered up. Removing the glass and screen from the unit revealed fans that would simply twitch when the power button was pressed. The power surge had affected the main logic board. Once the logic board was replaced, the iMac would power on properly but would kernel panic—display a message in several languages asking for a restart—on start up. Despite the recurring kernel panics, now that the computer was powering up, troubleshooting further was much easier.

To begin, the computer was stripped to a minimal configuration. This was accomplished by unplugging all accessories from the logic board, which coordinates every function of the computer, and plugging them back in one by one. This technique is called component isolation. So, the optical drive, hard drive, camera, infrared sensor and everything else was unplugged from the board, and one by one, they were plugged back in in an attempt to isolate the problem.

I was surprised to find that the built-in camera was the cause of the kernel panics. It had been two days since the machine was checked in, so I pulled the camera out of the 27-inch iMac on my desk, and installed it into the customer’s machine to save him from waiting another day for the part to be delivered. With the new camera installed, the iMac successfully booted.

This iMac had been plugged directly into the wall at the customer’s house. Interestingly, an open outlet was available on a power strip under his desk, but for some reason our customer didn’t choose the wise place to power his computer. The printer and other accessories plugged into the power strip were unaffected, but his television, also plugged directly into the wall, was fried as well. As we’re in the midst of thunderstorm season, now is a great time to make sure you’re using protection from power surges and make necessary purchases and adjustments to safeguard your electronics.

  From the Archives: Take Your Surge Protector To the Next Level With a UPS  

UPS, more than a shipping company, also stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply. These handy devices combine the protection of a surge protector with the peace of mind of a built-in battery.

While we all know that a surge protector’s job is to protect electronic devices from being fried in a power outage, what’s the benefit of a back up battery? Well, when was the last time you were in the middle of editing an important document, financial file, video or audio recording on your computer and the power went out? Great, your gear isn’t fried but all of your unsaved work is now lost.

When the power goes out, a UPS will keep your devices powered long enough to allow you to save the files you are working on and then properly shut down your machine. While a UPS doesn’t act as a generator—allowing you to keep running for hours on end—the extra time to save and shut down properly can save you from the headache of losing data and potentially causing software corruption when the machine shuts down unexpectedly.

Now that we’re in thunderstorm season, using surge protectors and/or UPS units is more important than ever. It’s also important to note that both surge protectors and UPS units are available to do more than just protect the power source of your machines. Did you know that you can purchase both surge protectors and UPS units with Ethernet and telephone jacks on them? They need to be protected too!

Now that most people use surge protectors, it’s rare for me to see a machine come in that has experienced a surge through its power jack. What we do see are machines that have fried Ethernet and modem jacks. Just this week I had a Mac mini on my desk that was being used with an external USB modem. The modem had fried in a thunderstorm and the customer purchased a new modem but found that it wasn’t working either.

Upon inspection, it appeared that the short not only affected the USB modem, but the logic board of the machine that it was attached to. A logic board repair out of warranty is a serious bill; on a Mac mini it’s actually just about the cost of purchasing a whole new machine. Ouch!

Save yourself money and frustration down the line. Invest in a UPS back up!

  AirPlay vs. Bluetooth Audio: Which Is Best For You?  

AirPlay is a technology invented by and used by Apple to let users broadcast audio and video to Wi-Fi-connected devices.

Bluetooth is a wireless technology which allows a ‘personal area networking’ connection up to 100m between mobile phones, PCs and accessories such as headsets.

AirPlay was created by Apple specifically for use with their iOS devices as well as Macs and PCs running iTunes 10. This means with an iOS 4 compatible device, or a Mac or PC running iTunes 10 you can wirelessly push your music to an AirPlay specific device, such as speaker dock, home theater receiver, AppleTV or an AirPort Express.

Bluetooth has been an open protocol for many more years than AirPlay. Being an open protocol means that most devices we carry on our persons today have Bluetooth built-in. Be it a cell phone, portable gaming device, Mac or iOS device, the key to Bluetooth is it’s not an Apple exclusive. This means you can use it on other devices, like those mentioned above.

Now that we have established the backgrounds of each technology let’s figure out which one works best in a particular situation. We all have different needs for audio. Some are trying to fill a home with speakers in each room, while others are just trying to make the perfect living room set-up. Either way, one of these two wireless audio options will work for everyone.

Multiple Room
If you are looking to create a wireless setup for multiple rooms in your home, the best option will be to use AirPlay. The reason for this is in its definition: “Wi-Fi connected devices.” This means AirPlay uses a Wi-Fi connection to transmit and receive audio. As Wi-Fi is a much more robust signal than Bluetooth, it can provide complete coverage for almost any home. Although one strong router such as an AirPort Extreme should cover your home, it can be strengthened by a repeater such as an AirPort Express if necessary.

Just as important as the network supporting your AirPlay setup are the speakers you’ll be streaming to. Does WiFi have to be built-in for your speakers to work with AirPlay? Yes and no. You can use an older receiver and speaker system simply by plugging in an AirPort Express. most older receiver can be connected to an Express using an 1/8in to RCA cable.

Apple has also started to license AirPlay to speaker manufacturers such as iHome, JBL andPioneer. This means you can purchase an AirPlay enabled speaker for a room, simply plug it into the wall, connect it to your local Wi-Fi, select AirPlay on iOS or iTunes 10 and stream away.

A great feature of AirPlay is that it can play to multiple rooms simultaneously. For instance, while holding a dinner party you may want the same tunes playing in the kitchen and living room while people mingle back and forth. With AirPlay you can select both rooms and push the same audio to the speakers in them.

You might be thinking: “Wait, the kitchen is so much louder than the living room, how can I adjust volume levels if I’m streaming to both rooms?” Easy. Apple has included the ability to control the volume of multiple speakers individually. This means the levels in the kitchen can get bumped up a few notches so the cook can continue to rock.

Though wireless DJing with AirPlay can make you the hit of the party, what if the Mac with all of your music is hidden deep in an office? The last thing you want to do is race back and forth changing playlists. Thankfully, Apple has also produced a Remote app allowing you to control your iTunes library right from your iOS device. This app also allows you to select the speakers you wish to listen too and control their levels.

In addition to the iPod app, AirPlay is compatible with a number of third party apps including Pandora and You can even stream radio from apps like NPR and Tune-In Radio! Of course any AirPlay set-up will be fairly Apple orientated and will require a set of current Apple products for optimum results. If you don’t have the latest and greatest from the Cupertino company, Bluetooth audio make a great alternative.

Single Room/Apartment/Office
Bluetooth, unlike AirPlay, does not require a local Wi-Fi connection to receive audio. As many devices have bluetooth capabilities, especially smart phones like iPhone, Droid and Windows phones, it’s easy to push tunes to a Bluetooth speaker. While Bluetooth speakers are compatible with a wider range of devices, the trade off is their short relatively short range—about 33 feet.

As a result, Bluetooth speakers are better for single rooms, such as apartments, offices or even out on the beach this summer. That’s right, imagine rocking out at the beach with your friends to all your favorite tunes no matter which smartphones the group has. You can still push your Pandora or Last FM from your iPhone to Bluetooth speakers, just as you can with AirPlay, it’s actually is the same icon on your iOS device.

The same idea applies for computers. Whether you’re using a Mac or PC, with bluetooth you can wirelessly push music, or any audio for that matter. This is a great advantage that Bluetooth offers which AirPlay does not, especially for someone in an office or dorm room. Hop on your bed with your MacBook Pro and continue to push your tunes to the Bluetooth-equipped speakers on your desk, or simply put a Bluetooth speaker under your 27” iMac for style points as well as a great sound upgrade.

After reading about the advantages and disadvantages of both technologies you’ve hopefully decided which one is for you. There is one more factor to discuss however: price. Apple products and software have a tendency to be priced higher than competing brands. The trade-off of this “Mac-Tax” is how easy Apple products are to set-up and use.

Unfortunately, this trend carries over to many AirPlay equipped accessories, when companies pay to license this technology from Apple it means their products are going to raise in price as well. As a comparison an AirPlay-equipped JBL speaker is priced at $350 compared to a Creative Labs Bluetooth speaker for $129. Both speakers sport similar sound at very different price. It’s not that AirPlay isn’t worth the money, especially for that multiple room set-up, but for traveling and for the office or apartment Bluetooth which will save you some coin.

These two technologies work very differently from each other, and lend themselves to different situations. If you live in an Apple household already, AirPlay is most likely the way to go. If you’re a non-Apple fanatic looking to unplug, Bluetooth is the most versatile and affordable way to go.

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