MacBook owners report continued freezes with hard drives, workarounds offered

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, May 4th, 2010, 04:49
Category: hard drive, MacBook

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For a while now, assorted MacBook owners have noticed an intermittent 30-second freeze on their notebooks. Per CNET, this has usually been accompanied by a small clicking sound, indicating a problem with the hard drive. Apple addressed this issue by releasing a hard drive firmware update, but it appears similar problems are persisting.

Over on the Apple Discussion Board, a number of users are still complaining of random freezing in their MacBooks. Unfortunately there does not seem to be much of a unifying theme to the freezes. Previously, the problem would happen for a 30-second interval and then unfreeze; however, currently some systems are not unfreezing, and others are showing more erratic pauses.

While another firmware fix may be in order, the following tips have been offered regarding the issue:

“Boot into Safe Mode:
Doing this will prevent any third-party extensions or applications (i.e., hardware or network monitoring utilities) from launching at bootup, which may be contributing to the problem, especially if they’re not fully compatible with the most recent OS update.

Troubleshoot applications and user settings:
Along with Safe Mode (especially if Safe Mode shows promising results), you can test your software setup by quitting or removing various applications you have installed. A number of people have had issues with various programs, including those that synchronize with network resources (i.e., Mail managing a corrupt RSS feed, or the third-party TextExpander tool having problems with MobileMe).

Application-specific problems may be from problems with your user account, so try creating a new one, logging in with it, and testing the various programs you use. If the problem continues then your account’s settings are not to blame, and it’s likely a reinstallation of the application will help. Specific applications to look for include those that run in the menu bar (called “Menu Extras”) and system or application add-ons such as Internet plug-ins, audio-units, and system “haxies”.

Run a SMART checker:
Apple’s Disk Utility will check the SMART status of internal drives (seen at the bottom of the window with the drive device selected); however, I recommend you use another utility as well. The SMART measurements that each utility reads can vary, so using another one may help. Ones that can at regularly or continuously check the SMART stats such as SMARTReporter or SMART Utility may be particularly beneficial for monitoring changes when the hangs occur.

Run general maintenance:
Clearing system caches and running maintenance scripts may help these situations, so try using a cleaning application such as OnyX, Yasu, Cocktail, or [Snow] Leopard Cache Cleaner (among others) to run these routines. Additionally, you may consider reapplying the latest “Combo” updater for your OS version, which can be searched for and downloaded from Apple’s support site. Run these maintenance routines and the combo installer after booting into Safe Mode to ensure minimal interference when they are running.

Along with clearing caches, perform both a PRAM reset and SMC reset to ensure hardware controllers are using proper settings.

Downgrade or reinstall:
Some users have had success either by downgrading to a previous version of OS X, or by reinstalling the system altogether. First make sure you have a full backup of your system (cloning, or with Time Machine), and then boot off the installation DVD. Try a standard installation to perform a default “Archive and Install”, and if that does not work, first run Disk Utility to fully partition and reformat the hard drive before running the installer. Then use Migration Assistant to restore your files and settings from the backup. With a fresh copy of OS X installed, run the latest “Combo” system updater for the desired version of OS X.

If these do not help either fix or indicate the root of the problem, you can further test your hardware setup in the following ways:

Remove all peripheral devices:
Either conflicts between devices, or the inability to power all devices connected to your system may be a reason for pauses and slow-downs. To troubleshoot, just disconnect them all (printers and USB hubs included) and reboot your system. If this shows improvement, try reconnecting them one at a time to test each, and then try alternate ways of connecting them to your system (use as little daisy-chaining as possible).

Boot off an external drive:
If you have an external hard drive handy, try installing your OS to it and booting off of it. It would be preferable to use a system cloning utility such as Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper and do a block-level clone since this will preserve your current OS installation and software setup as much as possible. Boot to the drive (hold the “Option” key at startup to get to the boot menu) and see if that shows similar pausing behaviors. When doing this, use Disk Utility to fully unmount the internal drive so the system does not interact with it. If the pauses do not persist, then your internal drive may be faulty, or there may be incompatibilities between it and the system’s firmware.

Change the internal drive:
Pending the results of testing your drive by booting off an external one, you may have to replace your internal drive. While Apple updated the hard drive firmware for the initial freezing problem with MacBook computers, there is no telling whether Apple will do this again. Your best bet in the event of a hardware malfunction or incompatibility would probably be to make a clone of your drive (make two for extra precaution) and then replace the drive and clone your data back.”

If you’ve seen this issue on your end or found your own fix or workaround, please let us know.

Users report mirrored display bug in Mac OS X 10.6.3

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Date: Friday, April 23rd, 2010, 03:21
Category: MacBook, MacBook Pro, News, Software

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Mac OS X 10.6.3 has worked out fairly well and my living room carpet has yet to spontaneously catch fire as a result of installing it, but an ongoing issue with the operating system version seems to corrupt graphics on external displays when you present in full screen with “mirrored” displays. In routine situations, the display will work and show the mirrored desktop in the Finder, but when applications take over use the display to show full-screen presentations, media, or other purposes, the graphics will garble and can only be fixed with a restart.

Per CNET, this problem seems to happen on multiple machines, though MacBooks are more prominently affected. This is probably because they are used more for presentations. Users have tried SMC resets, PRAM resets, and numerous approaches to clearing caches, fixing permissions, running other maintenance routines with no luck.

Over on the Apple Discussion Board, chatter between a number of has indicated that the problem could be a bug in the latest OS release, which updated the drivers, OpenGL, and other graphics technologies.

If you are affected by this problem, you can use one of the following work-arounds to keep your display from corrupting:

Try a different video processor:
For MacBook Pro owners who have multiple GPUs in their systems, the problem may be avoidable by switching the graphics processor being used. To do this, go to the “Energy Saver” system preferences and change the option from “Higher Performance” to “Better Battery Life” or vice versa.

Use extended desktop:
Instead of using the mirroring mode in OS X, change the external display to be in extended desktop mode. Do this by going to the “Displays” system preferences and unchecking the box to “mirror displays.” Once this has been done, to use your presentation, just drag the window to the desired display and activate it (should work in PowerPoint and Keynote).

Make a presentation boot drive:
Make a presentation boot drive if you have an external drive. Install OS X to it and upgrade it to 10.6.2, and install your presentation software to it. Then when you are giving a presentation just copy your presentation to that drive, reboot to it, and run your presentation in mirrored display mode without the display problems.

Move back to 10.6.2:
The last step is to move your system back to OS 10.6.2, which can be done by restoring to a previous Time Machine backup. It can also be done by performing a reinstallation of OS X from the Snow Leopard DVD. The installer will create an “Archive and Install” of the system that should keep as many of your settings and application installations as intact as possible, but do be sure to back up beforehand as an extra precaution.

Rumor has it that Apple has started issuing developer releases of OS 10.6.4 already, so hopefully the update will address these issues.

If you’ve seen this issue from your end, please let us know about it.

OWC releases additional Do-It-Yourself upgrade kits for Apple notebooks, Mac minis

Posted by:
Date: Friday, April 2nd, 2010, 07:15
Category: Hardware, Mac mini, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News

Peripherals provider and all-around-useful company Other World Computing (OWC) has announced the release of over 50 Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Storage Upgrade Kits for Apple’s notebooks and Mac mini computers.

Per Macsimum News, suggested retail pricing starts at US$67.99 for a model that consists of a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive up to 1TB, an OWC brand FireWire and/or USB 2.0 bus powered 2.5-inch portable external enclosure, and a five piece installation tool kit.

With an OWC DIY Storage Upgrade Kit, Mac and PC notebook users and Mac mini users can upgrade their computer’s internal hard drive to a new larger capacity and/or faster speed, transfer their data to the new drive, and then continue using the “old” drive by installing it into the provided OWC enclosure for a “new” pocket-sized external drive.

Rumor: Intel may be short on next-gen MacBook, MacBook Pro processors

Posted by:
Date: Monday, March 22nd, 2010, 03:05
Category: MacBook, MacBook Pro, Processors, Rumor

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Intel may be struggling to meet demand for its new family of Core mobile processors that are expected in the next generation of Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks.

Per DigiTimes, sources close to the story have cited that Intel’s latest Core i7/i5/i3 series notebook chips are currently facing tight supply thanks to a hefty order from Acer, which “optimistic about the upcoming demand” for its related portables.

The brief report, which doesn’t specifically name Apple, claims that Intel is giving priority to major clients, which should include the Mac maker, leaving second-tier and smaller notebook makers in the waiting line.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Web Ad Points to Possible Higher Prices for Upcoming Macbook Air, Pro and Mac Pro

Posted by:
Date: Wednesday, March 17th, 2010, 04:18
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Rumor

No one’s quite sure if this was intentional but it is interesting.

Per PC Authority, a set of Apple ads on the PC Authority web site are now listing the most affordable versions of the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac Pro at A$1,599, A$1,999 and A$3,599, respectively. These prices are far higher than the current prices and could hint at an early peek at the pricing of the newly updated models of each of those series.

In the ad, the MacBook Air has jumped by A$400 so that what used to be its costliest base price is now its lowest, while the MBP has suffered a A$300 bump in cost of entry. Then again, the machines are expected to receive updates to the new Intel Core i7 chips, so there may be an added cost to consider.

So, focus on the upgrades, even if you do have to consider smashing your piggy bank to get them…

Suburban Philadelphia School District Denies Accusation of Spying on Students with MacBook Cameras

Posted by:
Date: Friday, February 19th, 2010, 05:18
Category: Legal, MacBook, News

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A suburban Philadelphia school district has denied it spied on students by remotely activating the cameras on their school-issued MacBook notebooks.

Per Macworld UK, in a statement released late on Thursday, Christopher McGinley, the superintendent of Lower Merion School District of Ardmore, Pa., admitted that the MacBooks’ cameras could be turned on without the user’s knowledge, but said that the functionality was part of a security feature.

“Laptops are a frequent target for theft in schools and off-school property,” said McGinley. “The security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.” When switched on, the feature was limited to taking snapshots of whomever was using the notebook and capturing the computer’s current screen.

Laptop cameras have only been activated for that purpose, McGinley continued. “The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever,” he said.

This Tuesday, a high school student and his parents sued the district, claiming that the student’s MacBook had been used to spy on him in his home. According to the lawsuit, Michael and Holly Robbins of Penn Valley, Pa., said they first found out about the alleged spying last November after their son Blake was accused by a Harriton High School official of “improper behavior in his home” and shown a photograph taken by his laptop.

Doug Young, a spokesman for the school district, declined to answer questions as to whether Blake Robbins’ computer camera had been activated, and if so, under what circumstances. “I can’t speak to the lawsuit,” Young said.

The lawsuit speaks for itself, said Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This is utterly shocking, and a blatant violation of [the students'] constitutional rights,” Bankston said Thursday, citing the Fourth Amendment after reviewing the Robbins’ complaint. “The school district would have no more right to [use the laptop's webcam] than to install secret listening devices in the textbooks that they issued students.”

Bankston suggested that students should tape over the lens of their laptops’ cameras when not in use.

McGinley confirmed that the district had disabled the camera activation feature on Thursday, and would not switch it back on without the written consent of students and families. The Robbins’ lawsuit alleged that the district had not told students or their families of the activation feature when it handed out the MacBooks. All 2,300 students at the district’s two high schools have been given notebooks.

The district intends to contest the lawsuit, said Young.

Mark Haltzman of the law firm Lamm Rubenstone, and the Robbins’ attorney, did not return a call for comment on Thursday.

The Robbins family has asked for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and requested that the case be granted class-action status so other students in the district can join the suit.

Apple Offers Extended Warranty Program for MacBook Hard Drives

Posted by:
Date: Wednesday, February 17th, 2010, 04:15
Category: hard drive, MacBook, News

If the hard drive on your older MacBook Pro was starting to go south, Apple may have something for you.

Per CNET, Apple is now offering the MacBook Repair Extension Program for hard-drive issues on machines purchased roughly between May 2006 and December 2007. Customers experiencing hard-drive issues should take their machines to an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Reseller to have it diagnosed.

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The primary sign of hard drive troubles on your MacBook is the flashing question mark when starting up. Should your machine fall into the eligible model range, you will be given a replacement drive, free of charge.

Apple has published a knowledge base article relating to the program and listed the following models as affected units:

- 13-inch black and white MacBook models with the following processor speeds and hard-drive capacities:
– Processor speed – 1.83GHz, 2GHz, or 2.16GHz
– Hard drive capacity – 60GB, 80GB, 100GB, 120GB, or 160GB

If you’ve already paid for an out-of-warranty repair, Apple also offered the following:

“Some customers may have paid for out-of-warranty repairs that qualify under this program. Apple will contact affected customers (where contact information is available) with details on the reimbursement process. If you believe that you paid for a repair covered by this program and you have not been contacted, you may contact Apple Technical Support.

This worldwide Apple program does not extend the standard warranty coverage of the MacBook but covers affected MacBook models for 3 years from their original date of purchase or until August 15th, 2010, whichever provides longer coverage. Apple will continue to evaluate the repair data and will provide further repair extensions if needed.”

As always, hurl in your two cents and let’s see how Apple handles this.

Trading4u Web Site Offering Cash for MacBooks, Other Goods

Posted by:
Date: Friday, February 12th, 2010, 05:33
Category: MacBook, News

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If you want to get rid of your old MacBook in a hurry, this may be for you.

According to Macworld UK, Trading4u has announced plans to offer cash for any old and unwanted MacBooks. Potential customers can receive a free estimate online, then arrange for pick up, if happy with the price quoted.

The company promises a quick turnaround from collection to payment, on average paying customers in just five days from receiving the goods. The site claims to buy and sell just about everything.

“We have a huge success rate of more than 90% – That’s 9 out of 10 items achieve a completed sale.
If you don’t set a reserve and your item doesn’t sell – You don’t pay a penny,” the company insists.

If you’ve tried this site and have any feedback about it, let us know.

Wisair Introduces Wireless USB Display Dock for Apple Notebooks

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, February 9th, 2010, 05:21
Category: Accessory, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro

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Getting a bit of a jump on the Macworld releases, peripheral company Wisair on Monday introduced a Wireless USB DisplayDock Set, allowing users to wirelessly connect their MacBooks to a desktop-like setup that include a monitor, speakers, a keyboard and mouse. Per Electronista, the device connects to a USB port on any MacBook and Wisair claims there are no delays in sending the keyboard or mouse commands due to the nature of the ultra wideband radio.

The pre-paired adapters have a 128-bit encrypted link for security, while maximum range is said to be 30 feet. Video tops out at a resolution of 1440×1050.

The Wireless USB DisplayDock Set requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later to install and run. will ship by the end of March, though final pricing has yet to be revealed.

Microsoft Releases Findings on Windows 7 Battery Issue

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, February 9th, 2010, 04:12
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News

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Because a combination of Windows 7 and virtualization makes life interesting.

Per Engadget, a Microsoft statement from last week claiming that the company would look into reports of Windows 7 causing premature battery degradation on notebook computers has led to Microsoft stating that Windows 7 isn’t to blame.

According to the company’s testing, the new tool, which reports when a battery is down to 40% of its designed capacity and suggests replacement, hasn’t reported a single false positive. Additionally, the tool uses read-only data from the battery, and is in fact incapable of tweaking the battery’s life span or internal data, as it merely reports the data it receives, and stacks the theoretical design capacity up against the current full charge capacity.

Microsoft has attributed negative reports to the mere fact that many people might not have noticed the degradation already taking place in their batteries, as most batteries start to degrade noticeably within a year. The company has also stated that it will continue to look into the issue, but for now this sounds like a bit of a non-issue.

Whether or not Windows 7 lives up to one of its featured claims about helping to use a notebook’s battery life more conservatively remains to be seen, both on conventional PC notebook hardware and on Apple’s MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air hardware.

If you’ve tried Windows 7 on your notebook hardware and have either positive or negative feedback regarding its effects on the battery life, let us know.