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#820: RAM vs. HD, OS 10.7.4 Update Blocks Old Flash, Adobe Elements Sale


Holy cow! How did it get to be May already? The problem with living in New England is that summer can be very short. This year we have been blessed with a warm spring so that helps.

The coming of summer means one thing for Apple geeks—WWDC! Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is June 13-15th this year in San Francisco. Since the demise of the MACworld EXPO, the WWDC is one of the few times the Apple faithful gather together. It’s usually a time when the new announcements or previews of future iOS and Mac OS are revealed.

Some high points of the WWDC were:

2002 – Xserve announced
2003 – iSight Camera announced
2005 – The move to Intel processors from IBM PowerPC was announced
2008 – first WWDC to sell out, App Store for iOS launched
2009 – iPhone 3GS released
2010 – iPhone 4 announced. Tickets sold out in 8 days
2011 – Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) debuted. Tickets sold out in 12-hours
2012 – Tickets sold out in 2 hours

Hopefully, if you wanted to go, you already have your ticket. If you have to scalp them, look for prices well over $2K!


  RAM vs. HD  

When it comes time to upgrade the RAM in your machine, it’s often a cause of confusion—the question we usually hear is “will this wipe all my data?” As many of you tech gurus know, the short answer is no, it will not.

The long answer is no, because your data is not stored in RAM. The operating system, applications, your documents, pictures, and movies are all stored on the hard disk. The difference is important: a hard disk is (historically) a series of rotating platters that store data magnetically, and accesses this data through a read/write head similar to a record player. RAM (Random Access Memory) is used for temporary storage while your computer is running.

Any time you launch an application, it is copied to RAM for faster access. When you load a document, it is copied to RAM as well. This is why you have to be sure to save your work from time to time—if something were to happen like a power failure, you would lose everything in RAM since RAM is cleared every time you shut down your system. (Note that RAM is not erased when your system goes into “sleep mode.”)

The main purpose of RAM is to run applications. The more RAM you have, the more applications you can run at once. If you start to run low on RAM, then the operating system will start to swap out data to a space on the hard disk. This space is called a cache; Windows used to call it a swap drive. For example, if you have four applications running and try to launch a fifth, OS X will take whichever application you’re using the least often and put its data into the cache on the hard drive to make room for the new application.

This is why occasionally you will switch to an application and it takes a few seconds to bring it up—the OS is copying data from RAM to the cache to make room for the application you selected, then it copies the data from the cache back to RAM. Adding more RAM means you can have more applications running so this swapping doesn’t happen as often. Most of the time this swapping is not too noticeable, but when you are dealing with large data files then it can show the infamous spinning beach ball.

The hard disk, on the other hand, is where all your applications and data live. If you were to upgrade to a larger hard disk, then yes, your data would be gone unless you transferred it over. Changing out the RAM has no effect on the contents of the hard disk.

I used the word “historically” earlier because up until the past few years, a hard disk was just that—a solid disk. In the last few years, a new technology has hit the market, called a Solid State Drive (SSD.) There is no spinning disk involved; instead it uses flash memory that is similar to RAM but does not lose its data when the system is powered down.

It works similarly to a USB thumb drive—you can copy data to and from it, and it is retained when the drive is unplugged. SSDs are faster than hard disks, but don’t quite match up in terms of price and capacity. As an example, a 320GB hard disk for a notebook computer goes for about $110. A comparable SSD costs about $460 for a 240GB drive. A 1TB hard disk is about $140, whereas a 1TB SSD would set you back about $3700. Might wipe out your bank account, but your data is safe!

  OS 10.7.4 Update Blocks Old Flash  

Apple released the latest update to Lion last week, version 10.7.4, which also updated Safari to 5.1.7. One of the features of this new Safari is to block older versions of Adobe Flash Player. This is causing some problems; the typical support call is “it could get to a web page yesterday, then I got a Software Update, now it doesn’t work anymore.”

By itself, Safari can’t read certain web page content without the help of plugins. Out of the box, Safari supports QuickTime and viewing PDF files online. If you want to watch videos from YouTube, you need the Flash Player plugin from Adobe. Most of the time when Flash is needed, you will get a note on the web page; click on that note and you’re taken to Adobe’s web page to download the Flash Player.

The reason for this is because Apple considers older versions of Flash Player to be vulnerable to various malware attacks, so they have added code to Safari to block these versions from running to better protect you. If Safari sees an outdated version, it will act as if no Flash Player is installed at all, so you will get a prompt to install it the next time it’s needed.

Another example of a plugin is Silverlight, which is required to watch Netflix on your Mac. Java is also an plugin, but is not included with Lion due to recent security issues. Most of the time when you try to view a page that requires a plugin you don’t have, a link is provided to install it.

Note that plugins are not the same as extensions. I have seen some review sites use the terms synonymously, but in fact they are not the same thing. Plugins are required to view web page content, while extensions add to the functionality of Safari itself. 1Password has a browser extension to fill in logins and passwords for you; another example is AdBlock, which prevents advertisements from showing on web pages.

When prompted for a plugin, first ensure that you’re familiar with the site. If you are viewing a Yahoo news page and a plugin request comes up, it’s most likely safe to install it. If you’re searching for something on Google, and a random page pops up a “missing plugin” error, there is always the chance that it’s not safe to install. Better to back out of that page and look elsewhere than to risk infection by malware. You can always search on Google for that plugin—if it’s harmful, there will be reports of it.

Once the plugin is downloaded, click the “Show downloads” arrow on the Safari toolbar, then double-click the Adobe Flash installer. It will open up a disk image containing a red Flash icon. Double click on this icon and follow the prompts to install it. Once it’s complete, go back to the web page and it should now work properly.

  But it's Finals Week!  

I’ve lost track of the number of times I have heard that impassioned plea after informing a student that their data is gone due to a hard drive failure. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough of a reason to convince their hard drive to give up the goods. Most people don’t think about backing up their data until after their system has crashed. To quote Larry the Cable Guy, “that’s like checkin’ on your burgers after they’re burnt!”

A hard drive’s lifespan is rated in hours of use, known as its Mean Time Between Failure. The average consumer-grade hard drive claims to have a MTBF of 500,000 hours, which works out to about 57 years. If only this was actually true—the average lifespan of a hard drive seems to be 5-6 years, and the older the drive gets, the higher the chance that it can suddenly fail.

I can remember a time when hard drives would easily last 10 years or more under normal use. Now it seems like they last maybe half that. I see a lot of repairs with hard drives that failed less than 4 years after purchase. Meanwhile, I have a pile of hard drives at home that were in use for almost 15 years before they were retired because they were no longer large enough. They still work, but there’s not much use for a 300MB hard drive anymore.

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to pay in excess of $9000 for a desktop computer. Computers were a major investment. You could take comfort in knowing that you were getting your money’s worth because back then, the parts were built to last.

Technology didn’t progress as quickly in the early ’90s, so there was no reason for people to buy a new computer every few years. Now things change so quickly that it’s become “upgrade or die.” When you pay as much for a computer as you do for a used car, it’s an easy decision when it breaks—it’s much cheaper to repair it than replace it. Today’s computers are comparatively cheap, so depending on what component fails, it can be a tougher choice. The tendency to replace a computer is much higher than it once was, so there’s not a lot of incentive for manufacturers to spend the extra money to build components that last forever.

So, knowing that your computer has a hard drive that you KNOW is going to fail within 5-10 years, do I even need to say the magic word?

Occasionally, you can tell that your hard drive is starting to fail. In many cases though, you don’t have any warning. You turn on your computer and it won’t boot. Your laptop gets dropped while it’s on, causing immediate and irreparable damage to the hard drive. Whatever the cause, this is often the only time people consider their data. They bring their system to us, asking us to try to save their data, and in a lot of cases we have to be the bearers of bad news. Everything that was on that system, whether it’s term papers or baby pictures, is gone. Threatening it, crying about it, saying things like “but I have a term paper due next week!” simply don’t help.

I’ve said it many times in past articles, and I will continue to say it: back up your data. If you don’t have an external backup of some form, make one. Since OS X 10.5 Leopard, Apple has included a built-in free backup program called Time Machine, yet many people don’t use it or even know what it is. I hear things like “a hard drive costs too much” or “I don’t have time.” Now try to figure out how much time and/or money you’re going to lose if your hard drive ever crashes and eats your files. It’s more expensive NOT to make a backup.

Some day, it could be you at our service counter, begging us to restore your files, only to hear that we can’t. Get a backup drive and use it. You’ll thank yourself later.

  TT SPECIAL: Daduates and Graduates  

It’s that time of year again: the leaves are on the trees, the flowers are in bloom, the lawnmowers are humming in the distance (except for mine because it is a human-powered push mower) and we prepare to honor our Dads and grads.

We have three tiers of specials perfect for the person in your life who has replicated or matriculated. These specials are also available with any computer we sell, so please give us a call if you want a different Mac bundle for those who are done with school and those who have contributed to the gene pool.

   D+G | Save $25: MacBook Pro + sleeve + mousepad
   D+G | Save $50: MacBook Pro w/ AppleCare + mousepad + sleeve
   D+G | Save $75: MacBook Pro w/ AppleCare + 8GB RAM + mousepad + sleeve
  TT SPECIAL: 1-Day 50% off Adobe Photoshop Elements  

Save 50% on Photoshop Elements v10.0


On Thursday, May 24, take 50% off Adobe Photoshop Elements! View the deal below, and note that your order will be processed on the 24th. One per customer.


  TT SPECIAL: MacBook Pro with Sleeve and LaCie Rugged Save $50  

Save $50: MacBook Pro + Sleeve + LaCie Rugged Hard Drive


Keep your new MacBook Pro protected with this stylish neoprene sleeve from Hammerhead. Keep you data protected with this equally stylish, extra rugged portable hard drive from LaCie.