Hardware Stability

Mac Mini Core Duo


Do not purchase the Duo Core MacMinis until Apple has upgraded them to the new Intel Duo 2 Core microprocessor (and other issues have been fixed). The current Duo Core microprocessor is too hot. The current Duo Core microprocessor is too hot. The new chip should be cooler and faster (unless Apple adds something extra to OSX to make the processor work hard).

You are also 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. Widgets can be removed from the /Library/Widgets folders and restarting the computer.

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

About the Mac mini...

The Mac mini, the cheapest Macintosh computer you can buy, has been given a swap of the PowerPC G4 engine for an Intel Core Duo.

But not everyone is impressed. For a start, there are no significant new features to benefit users in making the move from an 18-month old PowerPC system version of Mac mini to the new Intel version. And with slow speeds in running PowerPC applications in Rosetta emulation mode and a price increase of US$100, it is not the most attractive product Apple has ever offered considering the pain involved in the upgrade.

As one MacFixIt reader said:

"The typical Mac Mini buyer is focussed on price. If the out-going Mac-Mini G4 was capable of satisfying their needs then putting up the price of the new entry-level model is bound to deter buyers. Even that would not be so bad if the replacement model offered some significant new features - but it doesn't. There's no point comparing an 18 month old system with the latest technology and claiming the new stuff offers increased performance - that's exactly what we all expect. What we don't expect is a price rise for a marginal CPU performance benefit (Intel Core Solo will be faster on Universal Binary apps but massively slower on everything else) and a complete lack of new features (well ok how many Mac Mini buyers use Gigabit Ethernet???). The Intel integrated GPU [Graphics Processing Unit called GMA950] might be (I stress might be) more capable than the ATI 9200 but by [my] modern standards it's off the bottom of the scale when compared to dedicated GPUs."

Michelle Steiner writes the extra US$100 is for having included in the new Mac-mini both Airport Extreme and Bluetooth. Maybe so. But it still won't solve the slow speed and incompatibility problems of PowerPC applications running in Rosetta mode. The extra cost and time in updating software and purchasing new hardware if the drivers are not available is creating more pain than spending the extra US$100 for a couple of features which do nothing more than allow connection between computers and the latest peripherals or a local network.

You need drivers and software to do you work. As soon as you lose the speed and there is a cost factor in upgrading software and hardware, people are not going to immediately purchase a new Macintel even of the likes of a Mac-mini.

Apple has to give significant benefits in making the move including the fact that some people may want to run older software (e.g. Classic OS9 stuff as well as PowerPC OSX software) at close to normal speeds as possible and with stability.

That's not quite the case with the current crop of Intel Macs.

1 March 2006

ExtremeTech has made a review of the Intel GMA950 from mid-2005, comparing it to the XFX GeForce 6800TC. The report is not good for Apple:

"To put it mildly, it's no contest. To put it more bluntly, it's a complete and total rout for the GMA950, with the possible exception of the CPU-intensive Flight Simulator 2004. Even then, what you get is playable frame rates, but the GeForce 6800TC still crushes the GMA950. The verdict is even worse when you realize the GMA950 wouldn't even run Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory or Painkiller, even though the specs of the GPU suggests they should. Intel has acknowledged a driver bug with regards to Chaos Theory. But if this is any indication of the potential compatibility issues users may encounter, running games on the new core is a dubious prospect.

We can state flatly that if you buy a system using Intel's GMA950 integrated graphics and want to play 3D games, invest at least $60 in an add-on card. If what you want is simply a system that can run standard office software, plus maybe play some DVD movies, then Intel's new graphics core is probably suitable." (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini (#2): Relatively poor performance from Intel GMA950 chipset. 1 March 2006.)

However it would appear mac-minis don't have an option to run third-party graphics cards. One MacFixIt user said:

"Presumably Apple intends the Mini to be capable of H.264 decoding at reasonable resolutions. It's baffling why they would chose a video architecture that probably can't do so. Even my dual cpu 1ghz Quicksilver with a fancy ATI card struggles with the high def QT movie trailers." (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini (#2): Relatively poor performance from Intel GMA950 chipset. 1 March 2006.)

What was Apple thinking?

It looks as if Apple has chosen the Intel processor to save more money because Intel is going for an all-integrated "solution". How about letting users decide by having the option to add their own cards?

Another user going by the name of WhiteDog said the Mac mini is not meant to be a gaming machine or a video editing hub. Its main use is for students wanting a cheap Macintosh computer to use for their studies. Nothing more and nothing less. As he said:

"It might be that Apple "downgraded" to integrated video in the new Mac minis in order to accommodate the greater heat of the Core Duo processor and the extra RAM capacity. Certainly the price issue is relevant, too. Whatever video card it used, the mini was never going to be a gamer's dream. Serious gamers go for the heavy iron.

As for being a student machine, the WiFi and Bluetooth are both useful to students, who will want to easily hook up to the wireless networks which are becoming ubiquitous on college campuses and sync with their PDAs and cell phones. Game play aside, the Intel Mac mini may be a little less appealing to entry level users, but I don't think it's lost whatever appeal it may have had for students. The Core Duo processor and 2 GB RAM capacity are significant improvements. While the mini may now be missing the sweet spot on price, the improvements do justify the higher cost. With the WiFi and Bluetooth now standard on the mini, they are uniformly included across Apple's product line.

And, given the frantic pace of big screen TV sales, I doubt Apple is missing a beat moving the mini toward entertainment center integration." (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini (#2): Relatively poor performance from Intel GMA950 chipset. 1 March 2006.)

We will let you be the judge on what the mac-mini is suppose to be used for.

10 March 2006

Apple, realising the shortfall in features, has put a positive spin on the new mac minis by saying graphics performance can be improved by adding matching pair RAM cards:

"For best graphics performance, your Mac mini (Early 2006) ships from Apple with two equal-sized SO-DIMMs installed, one in each slot, for each memory configuration offered from the Apple Store. If you upgrade the memory in your Mac mini (Early 2006), make sure you have matching size SO-DIMMs in each slot for best graphics performance." (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini (#4): Use matching RAM modules for best graphics performance. 10 March 2006.)

Want to add extra RAM? The Intel Mac mini uses PC2-5300, unbuffered nonparity, 200-pin, 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM. Technique of installing RAM involves a tricky removal of the top housing using a putty knife (Apple says, "Using sandpaper (150 grit), file down the end of the putty knife (on one side) until it's slightly beveled."). It should pop open when levering the putty knife in the groove as the latches eventually release allowing the bottom component of the computer to separate from the top housing. Fortunately things get easier. You will need a Jeweller's Phillips #0 screwdriver to install the RAM cards.

There, not so hard after all! Nothing like getting a few extra brain cells together to tackle a problem that Apple can't.

25 March 2006

Have you noticed some of your third-party keyboards, mouses and/or monitors not working properly on your Mac mini or somehow causes unusual amounts of system crashes in OSX? Apparently some users have found the problems go away if you use Apple-only products (which kind of defeats the purpose of a Mac-mini anyway).

But even if you do purchase Apple products, be aware that the Apple 30" Cinema Display has been reported by users to have an uneven brightness across the display; and dead, dancing or stuck pixels according to this MacFixIt report. The problem may be caused by a frequency of the DVI signal and how it is not in phase with the frequency of the screen. The recommended solutions range from turning off and on of the screen, turning the computer and screen off before disconnecting video cables, to using a utility called DisplayConfigX.

MacFixIt reader Charlie Nancarrow writes:

"So, yes the screens are 'faulty' in a way. You will eventually find a screen that will work with your Video card. All the connectors and cables etc from and including the video card through to the circuitry in the back of the screen are contributors to bad phasing and timing and noise in the data.

'You can fix this and tune for your circumstances using the DisplayConfigX utility. We have had success with several customers problems since." (MacFixIt.com: Apple 30" Cinema Display (#4): More on distortion, possible fix . 31 March 2006.)

Or else purchase a fully refurbished Apple 30" Cinema Display with all problems fixed (not recommended if the display is more than 5 years old), or go for another new product (expensive with Apple, but cheaper elsewhere if it is compatible).

28 March 2006

It doesn't take long before the next problem arises. Now we have an insight into another incompatibility issue concerning the Intel-based Mac mini (but apparently not the Intel-based MacBook Pro or iMacs) and some DVI-enabled projectors and televisions. The issue is best explained through a quote. MacFixIt reader Ken Berliner reported that his Hitachi CP-SX5000 projector can't properly recognise the video signal passing through the DVI cable connected to an Intel-based Mac mini:

"I own a Hitachi CP-SX5000 which I was using for a long time with an Apple PowerMac G4 with an unknown DVI graphics card.

I purchased (as a replacement) an Intel Core Duo Mac Mini with the Intel GMA 950 chipset, and I can no longer get a recognized video signal over the DVI cable. The DVI cable runs through the walls and I don't have as an option running a different type of cable.

So, to eliminate other sources of the fault, I can tell you that running the same operating system (Mac OS X 10.4.5) I was able to get the old PowerMac G4 and my new HiRes PowerBook G4 to project an image over the DVI cable. So I figured the problem was a hardware problem with the Mac Mini's DVI port, however, I plugged the Mac Mini into another DVI display (the Apple Display) and it worked perfectly. SO, the only problem I have left, is that the Hitachi has some sort of incompatibility with the Mac Mini.

What concerns me the most is that my PowerBook G4 was purchased in November 2005, and the Mac Mini was purchased March 2006 (4 months later). Both manufactured by Apple, both running Mac OS X 10.4.5, both with DVI ports, both using the same cable (no adapter) and same projector, however the Motorola Apple works and the Apple with the Intel chipset doesn't. There must be others out there with incompatibility between a Mac Mini and a DVI display.

I went to an Apple retail store and spoke with the Genius, he simply said that it wasn't an Apple problem." (MacFixIt.com: Intel-based Mac mini (#5): Incompatibility with some TVs/projectors. 28 March 2006.)

Interesting to see the comments that came after the article containing this quote. Here is one comment:

"I went to an Apple retail store and spoke with the Genius, he simply said that it wasn't an Apple problem."

I saw this and frankly I'm boggled. I think Apple should...fire that Genius. I'm tired of hearing Apple customers say this. It's a fact that I won't be buying an intel mac anytime soon." (MacFixIt.com: Intel-based Mac mini (#5): Incompatibility with some TVs/projectors. 28 March 2006.)

What followed was this interesting comment from Mike Abdullah:

"The trouble is, it is very hard to find out who is to blame here.

Obviously one of the two parties involved (Apple and Hitachi, and I guess maybe Intel for providing the graphics card etc.) have not implemented the DVI standard properly, but how on earth would you conclusively prove which?" (MacFixIt.com: Intel-based Mac mini (#5): Incompatibility with some TVs/projectors. 28 March 2006.)

31 March 2006

Yes, you've guessed it. The integrated graphics chipset known as Intel GMA950 won't be enough to run Final Cut Studio universal binary version. The software requires something on the order of an AGP Quartz Extreme or PCI Express graphics card. And yes, there is no option on the Mac mini to add a graphics card.

As our beloved Apple has revealed from its Knowledge Base article:

"If you have a Mac mini (Early 2006), the Final Cut Studio (Universal) crossgrade Installer does not prohibit you from installing the pro applications, but this configuration does not meet the minimum system requirements for Final Cut Studio.

See the Final Cut Pro system requirements for complete requirements."

Strangely Final Cut Pro PowerPC edition can be run on the older Mac mini model. Any guesses why this is the case?

Oh, and how can we leave out the fascinating discovery that the Mac Mini Core Duo 1.66GHz/2GB RAM/120GB HD is incompatible with some TVs and digital projectors? Reason? That's right. The GMA950 graphics processor is not designed to work with the resolution of the TV or other incompatible device. The only way to get around this is to get a proper video graphics card. Again you are stumped here!

We appreciate the extensive research and development that went into the Early 2006 Mac mini computer by Apple. Keep it up Steve Jobs!

Now where is that PC computer...?

NOTE: Some people will try to explain it in terms of costs. Because the Mac mini is so darn cheap, you can't expect miracles from it. Well, maybe. But if the previous Mac mini could run Final Cut Pro and be used on all available projectors on a $100-less PowerPC Mac mini, why should users accept an inferior version? Admittedly you will get a new processor (slightly faster than a G4) and a bigger hard disk. But is this the only reason for users to buy a Mac mini? Surely users should be able to move forward, not backward in the features they get. Or is there something amiss in this argument?

30 March 2006

An article we've just missed regarding the lack of support by Intel-based Mac minis for running the universal binary version of Apple Final Cut Pro reveals some further comments from users. As one MacFixit reader said:

"This seems common sense to me, who would buy a Mac mini to do any serious amount of video editing? Good info to know though." (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini's integrated graphics chipset obviates Final Cut Studio support. 30 March 2006.)

Well yes, and why would anyone buy a MacBook Pro to do video editing as well? It is a very thin and compact unit. Has a built-in video graphics card independent of the Intel GMA950 chipset. So what's stopping Apple from putting in a proper video graphics card inside a Mac mini? Too expensive? How about designing the Mac mini to accept one as an optional extra if people want to do video editing?

The size of the computer of today no longer dictates whether or not it would be suitable for video editing or not. The storage capacity of hard drives, RAM and speed of the microprocessor together with a well-programmed software package is what helps to give professionals the power to create videos.

Hard drives are already small and have massive storage capacities. But if that is not enough, plug an external hard drive. No problems. And if RAM is the problem, 2GB RAM sizes in laptops and Mac minis should be ample. As for microprocessor speed, the Intel chip is the same on all computer models, big or small. Therefore it all boils down to the video editing software. Is the software programmed to allow video editing on all environments or has it been restricted to suit a very narrow range of environments?

Perhaps we should ask Apple whether it can make Final Cut Pro work in any environment? In other words, where are the updates to make it compatible?

Really, it shouldn't cost that much extra to put in an interface plug inside the computer to accept a third-party graphics card. If Apple is prepared to put in AirPort Extreme and BlueTooth and ask an extra $100 for a Mac mini, what's wrong with adding an extra $50 to the price to make it a workhorse for professional users?

Or is Apple more worried about student's pirating copies of Final Cut Pro and doing illegal things with it? Or what about pirating DVD movies? Is this the real reason for providing an inferior Mac mini to the mass market?

Another MacFixIt reader said:

"I guess this should not be a surprise - the mini had to hit a performance ceiling somewhere. Still, up till now, the benchmarks on the mini Core Duo have been quite impressive." (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini's integrated graphics chipset obviates Final Cut Studio support. 30 March 2006.)

What performance ceiling? Take off the LCD display and keyboard on a MacBook Pro and squish the dimensions of the remaining portion to the size of a Mac mini and you will get a greater performance machine.

There is a lot more Apple could have done to the Mac mini to make it powerful within the confines of its box dimension. Apple choose not to presumably to keep costs down, but yet the company is asking users to pay an extra $100 to have AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth. If price is the issue, why not make AirPort Extreme an optional extra through a connector inside the unit and for the extra money being asked put another connector for adding a more powerful graphics card? It makes total sense.

The funny thing is that the Mac mini, in using the Intel GMA950 graphics processor chipset, needs 64MB of DD2 SDRAM (i.e. RAM) to run and preferably 80MB when it is actually used, forcing OSX and other applications to make do with less RAM. Ironically this is thought by Apple to be an improvement from the 32MB of independent dedicated video memory built-in on the more powerful ATI Radeon 9200 chipset.

For a start, the third-party graphics chipset does not use up RAM elsewhere. And we see it is faster than the Intel version.

How is this an improvement?

As another MacFixIt reader remarked:

"Now, on one hand, Apple would like customers to believe that the video capability was increased because both the RAM and the controller are better integrated into the system and tests have shows that the Core Duo Mini can indeed play back HD material- as it would have to if it was destined for consumers to use as their home entertainment center with Front Row and everything.

'But if the graphics capability is better, then why could it easily handle Final Cut Pro before, but now it seems it is left out in the cold. Every other aspect of the Core Duo architecture is reflected in the iMac and the Mac Book (a dumb name).

'So if the video capability is the limiting factor for running the Universal Final Cut Studio, then that would go to show that the video capability has actually decreased and is less than the capability possible with a 32 MB ATI system. I speak from experience because, despite the people who have already commented that it doesn't work (and have clearly never even tried it) I have been using a PPC Mac Mini for heavy Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, iMovie HD, Photoshop, etc, work for almost six months now. It works. And I mean it really works.

'Are we going to demand that Pro users have to buy a $2000 G5, a $2000 MacBook Pro or a $1700 iMac to edit video when, until a month ago, a $599 iMac did the job admirably?" (MacFixIt.com: Intel Mac mini's integrated graphics chipset obviates Final Cut Studio support. 30 March 2006.)

15 June 2006

Apple's Final Cut Express is available. And this time the software is compatible with Intel's GMA 950 graphic chipset. We hear that you will have to pay for the upgrade to enjoy this level of compatibility. Sorry guys!

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.

24 October 2008

This MacFixIt article dated 23 October 2008 claims the expansion card for providing Bluetooth capabilities for the Intel Mac Mini may not be getting a clean connection to the motherboard connector due to excessive overheating after nearly 3 years of almost constant use. The consequence of this unfortunate situation is an intermittent and eventually a complete loss of Bluetooth connection.

The temporary solution is to try reseating the Bluetooth expansion card into the connector. The permanent solution is to replace the Mac Mini's motherboard. This is probably a good time to get a 3-year extended warranty in case you haven't done so already.

2011 edition of the Mac mini...

The latest model released in 2011 is characterised by the new cooler quad-core Intel i7 processors, a more heat-resistant Radeon graphics processing chip, slightly greater hard drive capacity, and the new Thunderbolt port for a greater volume of data transfer at higher speeds.

Nothing much more can be added to what's already been mentioned here other than for you to decide if it is worth purchasing a new Mac-mini. If you do, make sure the reviews on the computer are good and from independent non-Apple sources.

15 September 2011

Apple has kindly released the Apple Mac mini EFI Firmware Updater. As Apple states:

"Apple Mac mini EFI Firmware Updater includes fixes that enhance the stability of Lion Recovery from an Internet connection, and resolve issues with Apple Thunderbolt Display compatibility and Thunderbolt Target Disk Mode performance on Mac Mini (mid 2011) models."

All 2011 models of Macintosh computers with the Thunderbolt port are getting the same update treatment.

26 October 2011

Another Mac Mini Early-2011 EFI firmware 1.4 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.


MacMini (mid-2010) EFI Firmware Update 1.5

Apple is in a good mood phase as of 25 January 2012 (probably after seeing how healthy their financial sheet for the last quarter has been) to the point where MacMini mid-2010 models have received a nice, easy to install and without hiccups, firmware update. The MacMini EFI Firmware Update 1.5 is designed to enable Lion recovery from an internet connection. But you don't need OSX "Lion" to install. OSX "Snow Leopard" users can happily install the update in readiness to upgrade to the next OSX version.

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.

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.