You drrrrty, drrrrty little tramp.
Despite what Apple might want you to believe, Mac’s are not infallible supercomputers that “just work”. They are machines… and as such they break down, have technical problems, glitches, etc. just like any other machines. Hardware-wise they aren’t any better than PCs, and since you are severely restricted in what hardware you can use if your Mac has a design flaw of some kind it becomes a problem that cannot be easily corrected. That is one of the major drawbacks of using Apple computers… you have to take what Apple will give you with few, if any, other options.
Take my 2006 Mac Pro…. PLEASE.
I’m kidding about wanting to get rid of my Mac Pro. It’s a fine computer and has served me well for going on two years. In fact, after two years this is usually the time I would be thinking seriously of upgrading my PC. Not so the Mac Pro. I think this will last some years yet… or would if I could get a decent video card for it.
A few months ago I started having weird problems with my Mac Pro. The system would crash with that seriously annoying (but elegantly designed) Gray Curtain of Death that would suddenly roll down my screen and display the message that I need to reboot my Mac, sometimes costing me time if I had not recently saved whatever I was working on. In fact, this has continued to happen with increasing frequency in the last few months. I ran all sorts of utilities and such on it, but nothing seemed to solve the problems. My computer also stopped putting itself to sleep, and would run non-stop unless I shut it down. Then I had this problem.
In the last few weeks, weird lines of colored pixels have been appearing at random on both my Apple Cinema display and my Cintiq. This was very disturbing, and it signaled to me that the video card may be having problems. Some Google searching revealed the issue… apparently a common one with Mac Pros. The ATI Radeon X1900 video card, which BTW was an upgrade from the standard video card at the time, is notorious for getting it’s fan grill and fan blades clogged with dust and debris, and causing it to overheat. This made sense to me, because I thought I noticed my Mac being a lot noisier lately, which was the fans vainly trying to keep the temperature down inside the machine. The video card was overheating and likely the cause of all the problems I was having.
So this week I opened the Mac, removed the video card and disassembled it to get at the fan blades and grill. The picture above is not of my video card but one from an article I found describing the problem, but that’s about what it looked like… clogged solid with junk. Using compressed air and a vacuum cleaner I cleaned it all out and reassembled. Bingo! Nice, quiet Mac again and so far no weird lines or Gray Curtain of Death. My Mac also sleeps again. Nice.
Mac Pro users have been complaining about this card for some time, but until recently there has not been a reasonably priced alternative available. About two months ago NVidia came out with an 8800 video card that was compatible with the original Mac Pro, but while it was good for gaming it was actually found to be slower for applications. Finally on Thursday AMD announced the imminent release of the ATI Radeon HD 3870, a new card that hopefully will give Mac users sick of the problems of the X1900 an alternative. Of course installing a newly released video card is only for the very brave or very stupid… video drivers are notoriously buggy and it’s wise to wait for at least 3 to 6 months for all the kinks to get worked out before you trust your computer to a new video source.
That’s one of the things that frustrates me with Macs as opposed to PCs. If you are having troubles with some piece of hardware or software on your PC, there are at least a dozen alternatives out there waiting to be sold to you. With Apple, they are far fewer and usually behind in the R&D department. AMD has put out many upgraded video cards in the last two years… but none that work with the Mac. This is one of the first in two years to be released.
So now my dirty little Mac is all shiny and spiffy, and running well. When was the last time you cleaned out the fans and air intakes in your computer and video card?
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918 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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