Hardware Stability

Intel iMac

## IMPORTANT NOTICE ##

Apple has upgraded the intel iMacs to the new Intel Duo 2 Core microprocessor. Compared to the previous Duo Core microprocessor, this hopefully should be a cooler machine to run and around 50 to 60 percent faster than before. The processor is designed to get cooler when processor usage is low and only gets hotter where the demand is high. Of course we have to wait and see the reaction from consumers deciding to take the bait on this latest offering from Intel and Apple.

To keep your computer as cool as possible, you would be wise to avoid running too many dashboard widgets in the background as they will hog a significant amount of your computer's CPU making it get hotter and more likely to cook your machine. Widgets can be removed from the /Library/Widgets folders and restarting the computer.

Also stop the Spotlight from doing too much work indexing your computer's hard disk.

And make sure the computer is properly asleep or shutdown when not in use or else your computer may accidentally stay awake while being carried inside a bag. Reports of laptops getting extremely hot and frying the logic board are not uncommon.

About the original iMac Core Duo...

Before the Duo 2 Core came out, you could have enjoyed the original iMac Core Duo. Either way, you are likely to get a better video graphics card compared to say the Mac Mini. But do remember, you may encounter a couple of problems with the original intel iMac (Apple won't let you off the hook that easily):

  1. Several users have reported an unexpected restart of their iMac Core Duo after being awakened from sleep mode. We are led to believe this is a software-related problem. Solutions range from deleting the Power Management.plist file (i.e. /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/com.apple.powermanagement.plist); resetting the power management unit; to resetting NVRAM by turning off the computer, restarting it while pressing down the Command, Option, P and R keys simultaneously until after the second startup chime is heard, and releasing the keys.
  2. Previously established Airport network connections are disconnected after sleep. Waking the iMac Core Duo does not necessarily cause OSX to automatically check for a local Airport network connection. Or if it does, throughput speeds can suddenly drop to a crawl. Best solution so far is to restart your computer and/or Airport base station, or wait until the next wireless card firmware version is updated beyond 101.3 (3.120.28.3).

Or try another channel on the wireless router.

Otherwise there has been surprisingly few problems to report regarding this particular model from Apple. Perhaps the iMac doesn't get moved around a lot so there are fewer problems to note by consumers?

Apple could be trying to convince users the desktop variety of Apple computers are better than the laptop variety (see MacBook Pro and MacBook). Clearly law enforcement agencies and software auditors would find it easier to check someone's hard disk in a desktop model than a laptop being carried around by the user!

About the new iMac Core 2 Duo...

It's too early to say for sure at time of writing (and we are only too happy to start from scratch if all hardware issues are resolved with intel Macs). All we know is that the speed is at 2.16GHz and Apple has introduced a larger 24" model. Pricing may have dropped slightly for the smaller screen size models when you read this.

New models were released in September 2006.

UPDATE
25 September 2006

The first sign of the quality behind Apple's new intel iMac using the latest Core 2 Duo is starting to reveal itself. One MacFixIt reader has reported a very noisy hard drive in the latest model compared to the previous intel iMac model (the one with the original Core Duo processor).

For some reason, Apple wasn't too happy with the previous Maxtor hard drives and have decided to go for the Seagate variety. But as one MacFixIt reader has said:

"I just received a 17" Intel Core2 Duo Imac (2.0) to replace my 17" Intel Core Duo (no Core2) 1.83. I do a lot of Mpeg2 rendering so the 20-30% speed increase I believe will make quite a difference (at least that is what I tell myself.) Regardless, the internal hard drive in the new iMac is a Seagate ST3250824AS Q and is very loud compared to the to the Maxtor 6L250MO that came in the original Intel Imac. The Maxtor is extremely quiet - I strain to hear it. The Seagate however is making a good deal of noise as it seeks and writes - especially as the iMacs themselves are so quiet." (MacFixIt.com: iMac Core 2 Duo [Late-2006] (#2). 25 September 2006.)

So what's the problem with the Maxtor hard drives? Aren't they cheap enough for Apple?

In an age where fluid-dynamic hard drives are readily available to provide virtually whisper quiet operation, the decision to use a noisy Seagate hard drive must seem like a return to the dark ages and makes people think Apple hasn't learned from its past.

Mid-2007 20-inch and 24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo

The world has been blessed (assuming no manufacturing faults and a stable OSX to boot) with the fourth-generation iMacs (the other three being the CRT G3 iMac, lamp-shade looking G4 iMac, and the G5 iMac) as of 7 August 2007 ranging in price from US$1199 to US$1799. If you are strapped for cash (who isn't when it comes to Apple products?), you might wish to go for the 20-inch 1600x1050 pixel glossy widescreen display with its respectable 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (although for a new machine, why aren't they using 2.2 or 2.4GHz as in the current MacBook Pro?), 250GB SATA internal hard drive and a dedicated ATI Radeon HD 2400XT video graphics card (finally Apple has seen the light in separating the RAM requirements for accelerating graphics drawing on the screen from the standard RAM).

But you are better off going for the mid-range configuration with its 2.4GHz processor, a larger hard disk space of 320GB and a better ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro video graphics card.

The top of the range model bumps up the display resolution to 1900x1200 pixels and adds a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme processor.

Apple has been a little stingy on the RAM side of things for all three models, at 1GB. All models can be expanded to 4GB. And all come standard with an 8x SuperDrive.

Physically the computer is housed in a thinner box making for an easier to carry computer.

If there is one criticism in the design, it would have to be in the glossy widescreen display. The mirror-like glossy surface has caused problems for professional users because of reflective glare of lights which can make it difficult to see the screen contents.

Perhaps Apple wants to direct these new iMacs at consumers, or are hoping professional users will work in the dark?

UPDATE
8 August 2007

Apple quickly released the iMac (Mid 2007) Software Update 1.0 at 5.1MB in size (sensible for downloading purposes), providing important bug fixes allegedly to the graphics card (although Apple again remains cryptic — isn't the company proud of the improvements by saying what they have done?).

The improvements may be a smart move. The last thing Apple needs now is bad publicity for its quality control measures. Now if only the customer service skills were better.

NOTE: Users are better off downloading iMac Software Update 1.1 for better improvements to the ATI Radeon graphics card extensions and possible improvements to Rosetta through changes in the OpenGL behaviour

UPDATE
12 August 2007

One minor annoyance of the latest intel iMacs is how the Expose F3, Dashboard F4 and multimedia function keys don't work. You may be forced to download the Keyboard Software Update 1.1. But if you do, you'll discover something else: if you want to lust after the latest aluminium "super slim" keyboard, beware! Although Apple claims the Keyboard Update is designed to activate certain special features, you will also discover how Apple has quietly designed it to disable certain key sequences for booting the machine from an external drive or into single user mode. And you may find it difficult to wake up a computer that has been put to sleep using the new keyboard together with the Keyboard Update version 1.1. You win some, and you'll lose some. The latest Keyboard Software Update 1.2 appears to show no evidence of fixing the boot key sequence issue. Is this a permanent feature from Apple?

One user has discovered, by chance, how reinstalling OSX can solve the F3, F4 and multimedia funtion keys issue (assuming you haven't installed the Keyboard Software Update). Unfortunately no indications the same method will solve the latter issue after applying the Keyboard Update version 1.1. But why should reinstallation of OSX be necessary? What's causing corruption to OSX files during normal use?

Unless a hard disk has collapsed (eg boot block errors etc) or a virus has damaged system files, or a poorly-designed third-party software application has corrupted a preference file, no user has ever needed to reinstall the old classic OS8 or 9. The brand-spanking new OSX appears to be the exception. Why? Where's the quality control in OSX?

Under the classic environment, trashing a few preference files (if corrupted), updating third-party extensions, and maybe restarting the computer (as a final course of action) and everything would work fine. So why would the current iteration of OSX (Tiger 10.4.10) suffer corruption problems despite clearing caches using OnyX 1.8.3 and presumably.plist files, check file permissions, check hard disk integrity, updated the firmware and the latest Apple updates, restart the computer, and when all that's done still get a misbehaved keyboard which only a reinstallation of OSX may fix? How many average Mac users are prepared to go to this level when they could be doing more important things like doing their work or enjoying life?

Again Apple has got to improve its customer service and quality control by ensuring all related files affecting a particular feature in OSX such as the keyboard are the latest and free of corruption through its software update installers.

It's a basic piece of advice for all software developers.

The world does not revolve around software developers (including Apple). There are more important things in life than dealing with software problems from shonky developers.

UPDATE
16 August 2007

Another minor annoyance for anyone wanting to connect an older G4 computer to their latest Intel iMac 24-inch 2.0/2.4GHz machine concerns transferring files via FireWire Target Disk Mode. If you want to transfer files across to the new iMac, FireWire Target Disk Mode (where the G4 computer acts as an external drive) may not work. It has been suggested connecting another FireWire device between the two computers in a daisychain fashion will solve the problem. Or updating the firmware for your particular Macintosh computer model may help. But even if the problem could be solved, why the extra hassles for experienced Mac customers? And why aren't customers told of the difficulties in connecting to an older computer for one of the most logical and important things an experienced Mac user would ever do? Another classic example of poor customer service from Apple, or a hint from Apple of how much it wants new Mac users to prop up profits.

UPDATE
17 August 2007

Sounds like users must be technically-savvy in finding the following quote from the Apple web site:

"Mac OS X 10.3.9 or earlier cannot mount volumes from an Intel-based Mac in Target Disk Mode.

However, if a computer running Mac OS X 10.3.9 or earlier is connected to an Intel-based Mac and started up in Target Disk Mode, its volume(s) appear as expected on the Intel-based Mac."

Perhaps users are running an older version of OSX when connecting to an Intel-based Mac in Target Disk Mode? Or users have not tried the reverse of using the other machine in Target Disk Mode so that it can be mounted on the Intel-based Mac. Despite this advice, not all users have managed to get the reverse working on their new iMacs, or only briefly.

Another thing to be discovered is how those few users who are able to connect and transfer files over FireWire Target Disk Mode have noticed how the transfers can fail part-way through, especially with system migrations.

This brings back memories of the Classic OS9.2.2 failing to transfer files after a gigabyte or so to an OSX machine (e.g. through ethernet) until only the core OS9 extensions are loaded up where you will discover the file transfer process will be perfect.

Also this article suggests Apple is warning users FireWire Target Disk Mode may not work for older Macs. Better late than never. As one MacFixIt reader said:

"I was told by Apple target mode no longer works with older macs. I have a G4 Quicksilver 933MHz and it failed to work. My new Macbook worked fine."

Again we can only reiterate what we've said: Apple has got to improve its customer service.

NOTE: Apple is hinting to users how OSX Panther will no longer be supported. Signs of this new policy can be seen in the new iPods released in mid-2007 (transfering files to the iPods can only be done through OSX Tiger). Of course, you won't find that out until you buy the iPod and read the instructions. Then you have to fork out extra money to upgrade OSX to the Tiger version.

UPDATE
23 August 2007

Another issue worth noting but easily remedied if you know what you are doing is the slight rendering differences exhibited by the new iMac mid-2007 model when it comes to certain fonts and the position of characters in iPhoto or in some Dashboard widgets. Fortunately Apple has got its act together on this issue by stating promptly in Knowledge Base article #306305 how the user should send to the Trash the Apple Type Services cache located at:

/Library/Caches/com.apple.ATS

Or use Apple's slightly complicated approach using the Terminal and the following UNIX command:

sudo rm -r /Library/Caches/com.apple.ATS

Or with a bit of luck, the utility OnyX or Font Finagler will do the job for you.

Well done!

UPDATE
26 September 2007

The mid-2007 iMacs have been put through their paces by some brave users wasting risking their money on this machine. Fortunately there isn't anything major to report in terms of something requiring a replacement of logic boards or power supplies as had been the case with earlier iMacs. But when it comes to "minor" issues, we can unfortunately report two hardware-related concerns. The first problem concerns a random or mysterious shutdown of the iMac. It is not clear whether this is an overheating safety feature or perhaps the external FireWire and/or USB devices are grabbing too much power from the computer. Some observers have been reminded of a similar issue with the consumer MacBook only to be solved by an SMC firmware update. Will the mid-2007 iMac need a similar firmware update too? Alternatively you may wish to try reseating the RAM modules.

The second problem concerns a possible change in the FireWire chipset. Some users have noticed a change in the FireWire 400 port of the new mid-2007 iMacs. Users who have always successfully plugged several external devices via FireWire in a daisy-chain fashion with earlier iMacs may discover the new iMacs will no longer accept this configuration. Again Apple remains quiet on this change forcing users to discover the new manufacturing decision after purchasing the machine.

We must assume there are good reasons for making these changes.

UPDATE
7 October 2007

Have you installed Apple's recent EFI Firmware updates for your particular Intel Mac (MacBook Pro, MacBooks, iMac etc) and discovered sluggish system performance? You may discover the speed improves when disconnecting USB devices. This undocumented problem from Apple and discovered by users almost immediately may be resolved by creating a new user account and logging into it. Apparently some system file is corrupted or not compatible with the new firmware conditions. Unfortunately the updates cannot fix the offending system file for total stability. OSX has become too complex for Apple to do the quality control work.

UPDATE
9 May 2008

The mysterious random iMac shutdowns continues to this day for users and it now appears to be related to faulty power supplies inside the iMacs with news that their replacement by Apple seems to resolve the issue. If you have this issue on your mid-2007 intel iMac model, immediately take it to your nearest Apple store for repairs (we suggest removing the hard disk and replacing it with something else if you want to protect your privacy).

UPDATE
18 July 2008

Compared to Apple laptops, it must seem the desktop variety are more likely to last the distance. Either that, or Apple wants to sell more desktop machines. The latest news shows the latest 20-inch intel Imac is currently going out the door for A$1250 (a sudden price drop of A$250). We hope the newer price isn't a reflection of the quality of the iMac.

We suspect the real reason is because more consumers are seeing the benefits of a portable laptop design in terms of less materials and flexibility in working/playing in any location rather than being stuck to one spot with a desktop machine.

A new range of Intel iMacs for 2009 - are we there yet?

The date of 1 July 2009 has come and gone and Apple has kindly released another new batch of iMacs.

These new desktops come with the black border around the screen (with an aluminium piece at the bottom) behind a sturdier scratch-resistant glass covering to protect the screen. A minimum of 4GB RAM comes standard, a 500GB hard drive is thrown in for good measure, and a whole lot of luck included as hopefully the machines won't need firmware updates to fix hardware related issues. Screens are larger and of the wide High Definition (HD) type for viewing the new digital TV broadcasts when you purchase the super small USB Elgato AUD$200 digital TV tuners, or manipulating HD movies in Apple's own movie editing software.

NOTE: Strangely MacBook Pro users are not entitled to install the Apple iMovie HD software (only the standard iMovie tool). You'll need an iMac to get it free. Tough luck if you have the wider 17-inch MacBook Pro.

You should be able to get the iMacs with a wireless Magic Mouse and keyboard by the time you read this.

UPDATE
December 2009

A common complaint from users since August 2008 for the iMac 24-inch and 27-inch 2.4GHz or 2.8Ghz-3.0GHz desktop machines is the sudden and unexpected fan noise. At first this may seem nothing unusual as all machines will at some point turn on the fan when things get hot. However, the complaints refer to the moment when a machine is first booted up in the morning when it has been shutdown for the night. The computer is too cold to activate the fans, yet the fans somehow come on full blast for no apparent reason. Restarting the computer does not stop the fans. Restarting into another backup OSX does not stop the fans.

As one user reported:

"I have 24" iMac. When I bought it (4 months ago), fan was very silent, but yesterday when I switched my iMac on, it started very loud. I downloaded istat menu utility to check fan speeds, it shows:


CPU FAN: 3295

HARD DRIVE: 5498

OPTICAL DRIVE: 4401
 

CPU temperature always shows 25 C.
 

I am only running Safari, how can I decrease fan speed ? please help" (Mac Forums. 19 August 2008.)

Similar complaints have also been levelled at the Mac Pro desktop machine (including the 2009 model).

The only immediate solution to stopping the fan noise is to:

  1. Shutdown the computer;
  2. Disconnect the power cord;
  3. Press the power button at the back of the computer for 10 seconds;
  4. Release the power button;
  5. Replug the power cord back into the computer; and
  6. Press the power button to restart the machine.

However the long term solution will be to replace the power board as the problem will get worse.

Apple has issued an iMac SMC Firmware Update 1.0 for the 27-Inch iMac models sold in late 2009 by the time you read this. Should the fan noise return or continues, Apple has recommended reapplying the update (why should it return?). As for the same problem on 24-inch iMacs, this update won't apply.

UPDATE
December 2009

You may also experience no restart of the iMac or hear the infamous 3 beeps immediately after pressing the power button while the screen remains black. It usually occurs after leaving the iMac shutdown overnight with the power plugged into the wall and turned on. If so, you have a faulty or low quality power board issue causing charge build up and is not properly earthed inside the machine. In other words, the power board cannot handle fluctuations in the external power supply and the closeness to certain metal components such as the external casing of the iMac without proper earthing can affect the chips for holding the SMC settings. This won't occur with the original iMac "lamp-shape" design running from the same power supply. The temporary solution for the new iMacs is to reset the SMC or power management unit by unplugging the power from the wall (will only last for another 12 to 24 hours). For a more permanent solution, get an electrician to make sure power supply to your home is properly earthed and that you have a quality power board and a better iMac design (Apple should replace at least the powerboard hopefully for a better version) or a new computer if things get really bad.

Please note that we don't recommend you try replacing the power board yourself. Apple has come up with a design to ensure the power board is hidden behind the main logic/motherboard and the casing does not provide a direct access point to the power board necessitating a major disassembly. You are better off having it repaired by your Apple reseller (together with your hard disk, so backup your data). Indeed the design can have other implications: you may be encouraged to purchase a 3-year extended AppleCare warranty. Thus anyone found to be outside the warranty period may discover the extra hassle and expense to repair the power board unless Apple implements a repair extension program (or you obtain evidence to prove your case of an Apple manufacturing fault). Even if you are within the standard 12 month warranty, you could be required to pay extra.

For example, Apple resellers can overlook the power board problem on the late-2009 iMac until the last minute when you have paid your extended AppleCare warranty. An Apple technician will initially suggest he doesn't know by asking you to run a hardware test (designed to check the logic board). Of course, the fact that you are able to run the Hardware Test should tell you the power board must be okay at that moment in time until the next time you try to reboot (usually the following morning). So they will ask you to bring the machine in for repairs and probably expect you to pay for it by stating that if no problems crop up in the Hardware Test it must be a software-related problem. In which case they will say quite clearly how the warranty is only for 90 days on the software component. But as an incentive, you may be given a lower price for purchasing the 3-year extended AppleCare warranty which does cover Apple software-related problems (assuming this is the cause of the problem). You pay the money and within 6 hours (and within the hour in which the credit card is charged) the technician will call you saying the problem does relate to the power board and needs replacing.

Does this mean you should have exercised your consumer rights and had it fixed within the standard 12 month warranty? Probably yes. But then again, how can you be sure there will not be another hardware problem in the future? You really can't.

You will need to exercise your consumer rights carefully in this regard. Some Apple resellers will suggest paying the 3-year extended AppleCare warranty as a way of helping consumers reduce their costs because of a restrictive Apple policy concerning software-related problems should the hardware tests fail to find anything wrong. You will have to choose wisely. Since you already have a hardware problem (not acknowledged by the test), you may well decide to be safe and get extended AppleCare warranty. Who knows what other hardware-related issues will crop up in the future. But remember, whether or not it is a hardware or software issue, you are entitled as a consumer to expect the product you have purchased to perform in the manner advertised by Apple Inc, which includes the ability to turn on and off in the normal matter expected of other iMacs everytime. You should not have to pay extra for AppleCare to get warranty coverage for the included Apple software if it ends up being an Apple software-related problem. And if the power board is not replaced or the problem continues after the repair, get a replacement of the iMac, or get your money back.

This is one aspect of the Apple policy for Apple software-related problems under the standard 12-months warranty that ought to change in favour of the consumer.

Otherwise, if you are outside the warranty period, you will have to show evidence by recording the fan noise and a short snippet of video of your affected iMac playing up together with an online document confirming the problem has occurred for other users very soon after the model's official release into the marketplace (thereby giving greater support that this is a manufacturing problem from Apple and not due to your abuse). Or better still, make sure you have the 3-year extended AppleCare warranty so you can get an immediate replacement or repair.

Interested in running the Hardware Test for Intel-based Macs? Here are the steps to take:

  1. Disconnect all external devices such as printers and scanners, except the keyboard and mouse.
  2. Insert Disk 1 (OSX Install) or Disk 2 (Applications Install) DVD into the DVD drive slot of your iMac.
  3. Shutdown your computer.
  4. Press the power button and immediately press the "D" key while the screen remains black (and before it turns grey/white).
  5. The Apple Hardware Test will startup.
  6. Select your preferred language.
  7. Choose whether you want to perform a thorough diagnostic test or not.
  8. To enable looping in the sense the test can repeat itself over several hours to see how the computer behaves over time, press the three keys simultaneously Command A L.
  9. Press the Test button, and wait.

The results of the testing will be displayed in the window in the bottom-right of the console. Or if the test results in a freeze of the computer or suddenly shuts down, it is likely to be a hardware fault.

UPDATE
May 2010

Note that sometimes your iMac may return after a supposed repair of the power board and still the power board may play up again. If this happens, it is time to get a replacement.

Getting a replacement is never easy. Apple Inc. can direct you to another third-party agency to handle your problem. There will be delays and the person in charge of your problem may choose to see the problem as low priority. He may disappear on sick leave. He will also claim that it is difficult to get Apple to give you a replacement. Days will go by as if trying to see if the problem is genuine.

If you call Apple again and spend 90 minutes on the phone, you will eventually be approved for a replacement. To ensure it is a new replacement, Apple may ask you to pay with your credit card for the new computer. The amount will be paid back later when Apple receives your faulty computer. It will take up to 14 days for delivery which is slower than the delivery time when purchasing from the Apple online store.

You must sign a document and send it back to Apple stating that you agree to the settlement. But remember to get written confirmation from Apple on the exact specifications of the new machine. Otherwise sending the written agreement will mean that you will accept any differences in the specifications of the new computer. Since it is unclear whether this means a newer machine with the same or higher specs as you old machine, it is best to clarify this aspect in case you receive a lower spec (and potentially older) refurbished machine.

And finally, cross your fingers that the new machine will be free of manufacturing defects.

UPDATE
February 2010

CNET News claims a few users have noticed Apple's Magic Mouse can unexpectedly disconnect from the computer via BlueTooth for no apparent reason. Low battery power problem? Perhaps. But you won't know until the iMac can reconnect to the mouse, then it may indicate a low battery charge icon on the screen.

However, other users claim this is not a low battery charge problem.

Some users experiencing this issue have suggested making the Magic Mouse a "favourite" in BlueTooth preferences as this is more likely to establish a long-term and more solid wireless connection.

Other users are suggesting a battery replacement in case the charge has indeed dropped dramatically.

However a few, including CNET, are suggesting a hardware problem. In other words, the mouse was not designed properly to hold the batteries securely in position and may lose power at random times. If this is true, the solution has been to wedge some paper under the batteries and close the cover. This should prevent the batteries from moving around and losing contact inside during normal use.

A similar issue was raised with the 2009 aluminium wireless keyboard although it is believed this is due to excessive power consumption and batteries do run out of charge quickly. Apple has released an update on 10 February 2010 to fix this issue. As Apple has stated and instructed for those doing the update:

"This firmware update improves battery performance of the 2009 Aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard when used in combination with other Bluetooth devices (example. Magic Mouse, Bluetooth headsets). Your 2009 Aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard must be connected or paired to perform this update. The update package will install an updater application into the Applications/Utilities folder and will launch it automatically" (VersionTracker.com. 10 February 2010.)

UPDATE
January 2010

Joe Aimonetti of CNET stated the 27-inch iMac 2.8GHz computer has "experienced several shipping delays and performance issues" since this new model appeared in October 2009 as if suggesting Apple may have uncovered a manufacturing problem or two. Either that or Mr Jobs wasn't happy with the way the machines looked. At any rate, the latest reports suggest users who have purchased this machine are noticing video display issues. According to Hardmac.com:

"According to one of our sources, the company completely stopped the iMac 27" assembling lines, the production [of iMac 27-inch Corei5 and i7] will not resume before Apple has finally found a reliable and definitive fix for the remaining past (flickering and flashing display) and new issues (yellowish panel and flickering display) affecting those models." (Hardmac.com: Production of ALL iMac 27" Core ix Models Stopped by Apple!. 1 February 2010.)

IS this where the problem lies?

Does this mean lower quality graphic processing chips have entered this model? Probably not. Or is the power supply to the video screen faultering and making it behave erratically? Probably yes.

In other reports such as Macnn.com, it is claimed the screens have cracked under normal use. This may suggest a heat-related issue operating in cold environments. Certainly the iMac can get hot very quickly (e.g. running SheepShaver, watching movies, or some other prolonged intense third-party graphic and/or Intel chip processing activity). In very cold climates of Canada and other countries during the winter time and the close proximity of all the internal components to the screen, it would seem a reasonable claim.

CNET claims The Wall Street Journal interviewed an Apple spokesman stating no specific delay in production because of this specific video issue. It is full steam ahead. If anything, the delays are more to do with the high demand for the product and Apple is "working to increase supply to meet up with strong demand."

We hope this is all it is.

If not, it sounds awfully like Apple is trying to do the quality control work during their 2-week shipping delays at the same time as they are selling the iMacs. And those iMacs outside of Apple's control after being sold will require users to return them for a repair while putting on a brave face to everyone that everything is going fine. Well, we only have to look at the high consumer demand and the high profits Apple is making to see how well made the Apple products are at the moment.

Yes, we wonder about that sometimes.

UPDATE
February 2010

Should you get an extended 3-year AppleCare warranty for the latest Apple computers? Perhaps. It depends on how many users have complained about certain hardware faults on a particular model of Mac computer. At US$463.10 a pop (it would come down to AUD$260 as of April 2010 for Australian residents if you ask an Apple reseller and you happen to have a faulty Apple product) for each machine covered by the warranty, this isn't cheap. Ideally any computer costing over AUD$2500 should have automatic and free 3-year extended warranty coverage (you are paying a lot so you should expect a good product). Anything below this amount should be optional. But in reality Apple is taking advantage of the free extra profit from anyone who feels they must pay extra for the added warranty protection. In effect, what Apple is saying is that it cannot give confidence to consumers that their products, especially the top of the range models, will last the distance.

Check your local consumer legislation regarding electronic equipment and see how much protection you do have. If the protection is not good and you are limited by the manufacturer's warranty, get AppleCare warranty for your machine. If, on the other hand, you have improved consumer protection such as the European Union's laws requiring a minimum of 5 or 6 years of normal use (except the battery) free of all defects for all electronic equipment and/or you can show the equipment is not of "reasonable quality", then you shouldn't need to buy AppleCare.

Also check with your local Apple resellers. If they are notorious for arguing they are right and won't repair or replace the equipment because it is out-of-warranty or it is your fault for allegedly abusing the computer, or they state it is a software-related issue with warranty lasting only 90-days from day of purchase, and/or expect all the components to be included even when Apple states you can remove the hard disk, you might be better off getting AppleCare warranty. But again check consumer legislation and decide whether it is worth it or not.

Remember, Apple is only benefiting from an extra top up in their profits when you purchase AppleCare.

As a consumer, you should wait and see whether hardware problems develop in any new Apple product and decide whether to purchase that particular model or go to another computer manufacturer, and get the AppleCare you think it will need if you decide to go for a Mac.

UPDATE
5 April 2010

The AppleCare 3-year warranty allegedly covers both software and hardware problems of a Macintosh computer (both desktop and laptops) according to Australian Apple resellers. Yet the 12-month standard warranty for every purchased Macintosh computer covers hardware and only 90 days for software. Why isn't the software covered for the full 12 months if the extended warranty covers software for 3 years?

Could Apple be taking advantage of this loophole to force every consumer to buy AppleCare warranty?

UPDATE
26 February 2010

AppleInsider claims an Apple spokesman told Gizmodo that video issues relating to the latest 27-inch intel iMac have been repaired just at the precise time Apple announced an improvement in the time to deliver the iMac to customers down to 3 to 5 days. Does this mean the iMac has no more quality control issues to mention?

The statement given by Apple was:

"We've addressed the issues that caused display flickering and yellow tint. Customers concerned that their iMac is affected should contact AppleCare."

Apple recommends you apply the iMac Graphics Firmware Update 1.0 (683KB) released in December 2009, followed by the iMac Display Firmware Update 1.0 (294KB) released on 1 February 2010. Both updates require OSX to be updated to version 10.6.2.

UPDATE
12 August 2010

Apple has released the 21.5-inch iMac (Mid-2010) update to fix a display brightness issue — temporarily changes brightness immediately after waking from sleep. It is an issue that is presumably related to OSX 10.6.4 since the update can only be applied using OSX 10.6.4. Either some iMac users will miss out, Apple is encouraging mid-2010 iMac users to run OSX 10.6.4, or Apple has had some lapses in quality control for the latest OSX. Whichever is the case, you must make sure you have the latest software in order to apply this update.

Need further details? You can try checking out this Knowledge Base document. Unfortunately the document reveals no further details. So you are better off just downloading the update and install.

Privacy issue with the webcam built into the iMac

Australian 7 News and AAP has published an article titled US school 'spied on students via laptops' on 19 February 2010. It is alleged in a US federal lawsuit that an Assistant Vice Principal at Rosemont's Harriton High School in Philadelphia, had heard and told a 15-year-old student named Blake J. Robbins that "school officials thought he had engaged in improper behaviour at home". It is alleged a photograph was shown as evidence.

If this is true, how did the school official obtain this information? It would seem a little far-fetched until we learn 2,300 students of Harriton High School and Lower Merion High School were issued with an Apple laptop (i.e. a MacBook with a built-in webcam). This means OSX was probably not wiped clean and reinstalled by the students and/or their parents with the original commercial version. Instead the version of OSX installed may have come with a tool or school script designed for monitoring student activities so long as the laptops are connected to the internet.

Are there scripts or tools to monitor student activities? Certainly there is a freeware and open source tool available called VUWER 1.4 (an AppleScript application). The tool can be run in the background to allow a user to locate his/her stolen laptop by specifying the IP address of the laptop or other identifiying means where it can take a picture at a specified interval and have the images sent "either by email or by secure file copy to another computer account" where the thief can be caught in the act of using the laptop.

The question is, have these schools been using the same or similar tool on students' MacBooks?

At first a school spokesman did not confirm the existence of a tool for monitoring students. However, the school district spokesman Doug Young later thought it was unacceptable for the documentation signed by students for receiving the MacBooks to be vague in how the webcams could be activated remotely. As he said:

"It's clear what was in place was insufficient, and that's unacceptable." (Matyszczyk, Chris. School district: Spy Webcams activated 42 times: CNET.com. 20 February 2010.)

Then in later media reports we learn the schools do have a webcam monitoring tool called LANrev. Although interestingly the company that sold the software to the school just happens to have been acquired in 2009 by Absolute Software who in turn are looking at a new software version which requires a police report to be issued before the company can remotely activate and view the webcams. Whether this will improve the privacy issue is anyone's guess (and still no guarantee whatsoever that your privacy will be protected). But at least it would avoid all the legal headaches for the school administrator in this case.

This is a serious allegation.

Who authorized the monitoring outside school premises? A rumour had floated around at this time that, as a concerned parent with two children of her own, it could have been the assistant principal that authorized the spying. It has been alleged that Blake may have been involved in some form of drug-related activity and either the assistant principal or someone else at the school had wanted to find out.

The assistant principal has since publicly denied the rumour.

Even if the school is found not to be using a remote-activating webcam software tool or, if so, to look at students outside school premises, just raising the privacy concerns has already seen vast numbers of angry students at the two schools (and probably elsewhere in the US and abroad) to put a piece of black plastic electrical tape over the laptop's camera, and for some the microphone as well.

In the case of Apple computers and how they are manufactured, it reveals to us yet another major design fault with the products: how can you be sure your privacy is not being compromised when OSX has access to the webcam and any company such as Apple, or the US Government through the Department of Defence or an intelligence agency, can activate the camera without your awareness? OSX is definitely not an open-source software product. It is owned by Apple. So you can never be absolutely sure the OS is not being used to spy on you. In fact, there is no option on the iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptops to physically cover the camera. And there is nothing in the System preference panes or Finder to give you guarantees that the camera is not being turned on without your awareness. Not even a red light next to the camera to show it is turned on and watching.

It is a serious flaw, irrespective of the potential benefits in terms of finding stolen or missing laptops. Once you have the laptops, can you be sure you are still not being spied on?

NOTE: Software such as flexiSPY is available to the public for a few hundred dollars to install on someone's 3G mobile phone where another person spying can determine your location through GPS and receive an SMS message notifying the person a call is being made. Then by dialling the mobile phone number, the person can listen in on the conversation. Even if the phone is not being used but left on standby, the software can turn on the microphone and the built-in camera, allowing the person to listen and watch.

Early 2011 iMacs

The usual updates to increase the specifications of the iMac to a slightly more powerful machine. All improvements are due to the introduction of the i7 intel processing chip, new Thunderbolt technology, an updated graphics processing chip, new Z68 Intel chipset to enhance the speed of data access to the hard drive to have what the technobuffs call SATA III capabilities, and other additions. All these should prove useful for consumers contemplating on a new Mac computer, so long as the bugs in the latest technology are ironed out (especially the Thunderbolt feature, as well as activating the SATA III capabilities through a recent iMac EFI firmware update). Probably best to wait until 2012?

UPDATE
5 May 2011

A number of updates have emerged from Apple Inc. All related in some way to the early 2011 release of the MacBook Pro and iMacs having the Thunderbolt feature and latest graphic processing chips. Included is an updated and larger Mac OS X 10.6.7 Update for iMac (Early 2011) to help with Thuderbolt performance and stability, address graphics stability and 3D performance, improve external display compatibility, fix minor Mac App Store bugs etc. The full range of updates are:

MacBook Pro (Early 2011) Updates

MacBook Pro Software Update 1.4 (132.69MB)

MacBook Pro EFI Update 2.1 (3.06MB)

iMac (Early 2011) Updates

iMac EFI Update 1.6 (6.1MB)

Mac OS X 10.6.7 Supplement Update for early 2011 iMac 1.0 (382.56MB)

So, how stable and reliable is your iMac now? And for how long?

UPDATE
12 May 2011

CNET claims the SSD caching feature available in the Z68 chipset will soon be activated by Apple, perhaps in a future OSX update (i.e. 10.6.8). The feature allows the use of a portion of the storage capacity on the faster SSD flash memory unit (up to 64GB) to store frequently used items held on another older mechanical drive, thereby speeding up processing of data. Unclear is how the cache will be dealt with after the work is done — will it be kept for future use, or deleted? Possible security concerns may arise from this feature. Otherwise it will prove to be useful as users discover OSX 10.6.7 is still slow to run, especially when double-clicking an application or file, shutting down and starting up and more.

And then there is a slight unresponsiveness in the trackpad button or sometimes accidental double-clicks which is difficult to control using the Trackpad system preference (probably due to regular use after 15 months) unless you stick to tapping on the trackpad. More a mechanical design issue rather than OSX.

However, there are still many niggling issues with the Mac. Anything to speed up OSX or make it look faster with higher data access speeds to the hard drive will always be welcome.

UPDATE
9 June 2011

Apple has issue an iMac Graphics firmware update. Apple says:

"This firmware update fixes an issue that in rare cases may cause an iMac to hang during startup or waking from sleep. Do not shut off the power on your iMac during this update. Loss of power could result in your iMac failing to start up."

Probably refers to the latest 2011 iMac model. Although one would hope Apple can provide a check to determine suitability of the update for a user's own iMac model.

It is interesting to note how these graphic issues have persisted for more than a couple of years and includes multiple Apple models such as the MacBook Pro since 2008.

The most serious issues in the graphics areas have been poor quality graphic processing chips and a poor quality display data cable that will break before its time through regular movement of the display lid (e.g. to open and close the lid) after 15 months of use.

UPDATE
24 August 2011

Another iMac Graphics firmware 3.0 update is released. Apple states:

"This firmware update fixes a graphics issue that may cause an iMac to hang under certain conditions."

Hopefully third time lucky for iMac users.

UPDATE
26 October 2011

Another iMac Early-2011 EFI firmware 1.7 update. With a bit of luck in this post-Steve Jobs era, the update will knock the remaining Thunderbolt and other bugs on the head.

Thanks!

iMac 21.5 and 27-inch (mid-2011) EFI Firmware Update 1.7

For users of iMac 21.5- and 27-inch (mid-2011) models that cannot enable the Lion recovery feature, check this KnowledgeBase article for similar EFI firmware updates.

iMac 21.5- and 27-inch (mid-2011) EFI Firmware Update

Also addresses some Thunderbolt issues. As Apple stated:

"This update enables Lion Recovery from an Internet connection and includes fixes that resolve issues with Apple Thunderbolt Display compatibility and Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode performance on iMac (early 2011) models."

Having trouble getting your stubborn Apple Magic Mouse to work for you?

This seems to be a relatively common problem reported by numerous users, especially around the time you need to replace the batteries. For example, in this Apple discussion thread, one user said:

"I've had it a couple of months only. Today it said the batteries were low and I should change them but when i put new batteries in and made sure it was on there is now no little green light and the system Bluetooth is unable to find the mouse.

What should I do now?"

All sorts of possible reasons are given ranging from the batteries are not the right ones and should try non-rechargeable types, checking the batteries are installed correctly, to trying the mouse on another computer (but usually will still not work).

In 99 per cent of cases where the mouse refuses to show the green light with your new batteries inside and in the right orientation within the battery compartment, try the following method:

  1. Turn the switch on the mouse off.
  2. Power down the computer.
  3. Press SHIFT CTRL OPTION and the Power Button all at once and keep them pressed down for 10 seconds. The computer will automatically turn on after the 10 seconds.
  4. Turn Bluetooth on.
  5. Select "Set Up Bluetooth Device".
  6. As Bluetooth searches for a device, turn on the mouse.

In a few seconds the green light on the mouse should turn on and the device will be re-paired correctly with the computer.

It seems the computer needs a bit of a wake up call in order to see your mouse again.

Finally, if the above method doesn't work, it is likely the mouse connectors inside for touching the terminals of the batteries are losing their mechanical spring strength to push against the battery terminals resulting in the batteries moving about slightly to the point where you can cause the tiniest loss in power. Once this happens, the mouse will lose the wireless connection with your computer. Since this can happen to some users within 6 months of purchasing a magic mouse (at least for the 2011 model), we can confidently state that this is a manufacturing design fault and will need to be replaced with a better model or get your money back. While the mouse may look attractive on the outside (a testament to the brilliant industrial designs from Apple), the quality of the components internally in relation to the battery connectors are not of the highest quality.

Need to continue using the mouse until a replacement arrives? The temporary solution would be to get some paper and insert inside such that the batteries are prevented from physically moving about when you put the lid back on and use the mouse normally. The mouse should then be able to maintain wireless connection to the computer for longer.

Thunderbolt Port Firmware Stability Update 1.2

A reign of sensibility has arrived with Apple choosing wisely to come up with a single update to fix all known instability issues for all Mac models (except the Retina models; well it was a good try considering this latest super-thin model is quite unique) that have the Thunderbolt port feature. This one specifically addresses problems found when sharing the hard disk of one computer with another through Target Disk Mode.

EFI Firmware Update 2.1 for late-2013 iMac models

Although generally stable this model, Apple manages to detect some oddities to the hardware when loading and running the latest software. Details about this update:

"This update addresses an issue which may cause a black screen to appear when installing Windows 7 or Windows 8 using Boot Camp Assistant if both an external optical drive and USB thumb drive are connected to the system. This update also ensures that the system will boot by default into OS X after installation of Windows 8."

Seems to be an issue regarding the amount of power needed to run the external drives and the demands of a massive Windows OS on your Mac.

iMac OS X 10.8.5 Supplemental Update 1.0

This update refers to users with late 2013 iMacs containing the NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M graphics chip. Remember, you must have OS X 10.8.5 for this update to work. This update fixes the following issues:

  • Fixes an issue that may cause external drives to be ejected after the computer goes to sleep
  • Fixes an issue that may prevent certain USB Bluetooth adapters from working.