The Low End Mac Mailbag

$18 USB WiFi Adapter, AirPort Flaw in Last Gen iBook, SuperDrive Failure in MacBook, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.02.26 - Tip Jar

$18 USB 802.11g Adapter for Tiger & Leopard

From David Snedigar:

Hi Dan - I've been a follower of your site for years, but never sent anything in. This discovery I really felt I needed to share with the Mac community though, because my Googling didn't turn up any responses from your site - nor any Mac-centric site for that matter - so I assume this is not a widely known solution in the Mac community. I cannot claim to have discovered it by any means, but I'm certainly going to help spread the word any way I can to help my fellow Mac users. Bear with me for a bit of the back story if you would....

I had a Mac mini G4 upstairs that my wife uses that was connected to an older Belkin Wireless B USB adapter that worked flawlessly under Tiger. One day I decided it would be my Leopard guinea pig before checking to see if the Belkin adapter had a compatible driver. Needless to say, it hasn't had a connection for over a month now - and my wife hasn't been happy.

I searched and searched for possible driver solutions to no avail. That adapter is dead under 10.5. So on to something new. I didn't want to spend much though - the most economical thing I could find was a thread about using a Ralink driver to enable the use of a newer D-Link USB adapter. Some of your readers might be interested in that as well.

At first I was leaning toward finding a non-USB solution that wouldn't be so sensitive to OS updates - so I looked for a wireless ethernet adapter (a.k.a. "Wireless Game Adapter") as well as an older AirPort Hub that could be used in bridge or client mode. The game adapters were still going for $40+ on eBay, $60+ retail. So I ended up with an older D-Link DWL-900AP+ that operates in client and bridge modes as well for about $15. I could never get it to connect properly to my Buffalo router - which I love - so it's going back to eBay probably.

I kept searching online for economical solutions to no avail. People kept recommending Quickertek.com, who's cheapest USB wireless G solution is almost $70! I know OWC also offers one at about $60 now. Surely there must be something else out there! Or so I thought. More reading and subsequent pulling of hair after my wife's complaints about lack of access to her computer brought me to drive to the local MicroCenter today to just cave and buy one of the damn D-Link USB adapters, install it with the Ralink drivers, and call it a day.

When I got there, I found the ones they had started at $50 - and when I saw beside it a virtually generic "TrendNet" TEW-424UB USB 2.0 wireless G adapter on sale for a mere $7.99 (after mail-in rebate) - I just couldn't bring myself to cave. And that TrendNet name rang a bell from my research. I thought this was one of the 3rd party adapters that was also based on the same Ralink chip! So I happily bought the much cheaper one and hurried home - which is when I found out I was mistaken about the chip it was based on.

As it turns out - it was a happy mistake. :)

Oh yes, I still went through all the pain of installing all the wrong Ralink drivers and uninstalling them, checking everything 2 and 3 times, and still not have it working. Then I read a post that this model was based on a Zydus (sp?) chipset, and there were entirely different drivers that I had to try - which I did. (I'm relating this to you so that others don't have to repeat my own mistakes.) That's when I decided to check the system profiler to see that it was even being recognized. It was - as a Realtek RTL8187B.

Okay - back to Google. I quickly located several discussions about it and it's compatibility with Leopard in, of all places, a Hackintosh forum.

I quickly found a link to Realtek's download site in the course of one discussion and downloaded the latest available driver, which was for the RTL8187L - version 1.4.7 - hoping that last letter didn't matter. I got it installed, and it launched - but it just hung. It never fully launched. So I ran the uninstaller script, then went back and read this thread:

<http://forum.insanelymac.com/index.php?showtopic=68287>

In that thread, a wonderful soul appropriately named "Christian" posted a link to a version 1.5.0 driver that Realtek had sent him via email. So I downloaded and installed that, rebooted - and Eureka! - Leopard could see the USB adapter, and the driver could as well! I got a wireless signal, but no IP yet - but it was at least making some connection!

I still had to add the adapter's MAC address to my routers list of approved MAC addresses, set up a profile in the Realtek USB WLAN Client Utility app that automatically launches on startup, setup the WEP key in a new profile in that utility, then setup a new Network profile in the Network prefs - add a new profile and your adapter should show up as "Ethernet Adapter (en2)." You can change the name to "USB Wireless" or whatever you want though. That was it!

One caveat!!! So far, it appears to not be working under 10.5.2. I'm only running 10.5.1 here - so I'm holding off on an upgrade until an updated driver is available. There's more discussion about the problems with it under 10.5.2 on the Insanely Mac forums as well.

So again - the product people want to look for is the TrendNet "54 Mbps 802.11g Wireless USB 2.0 Adapter" - model TEW-424UB. The specific version info on the label on the back says "TEW-424UB/A H/W:3.1R" on mine. I got mine from MicroCenter. They are normally $24.99 but were on sale for $19.99 before a $12 mail-in rebate - so $7.99 after. I plan to go buy more for future upgrade tomorrow!

I've uploaded a copy of that driver here for anyone who wants it:

<http://www.mediafire.com/?a9e9quldzkx>

I've emailed Realtek and asked them to post it ASAP - so hopefully they will - as I think this will quickly become a popular solution for those in a similar situation.

So I have to thank PC users trying to be Mac users on the cheap for this solution! :) Hey - I'll take it wherever I can get it!

Thanks for your time - and the great service you continue to provide for the Mac community.

David Snedigar

David,

Thanks for sharing your exciting discovery, as well as your disappointment with the Belkin and D-Link solutions you've tried. I've found several online sources offering the TrendNet TEW-424UB, but none as low as your $7.99 after mail-in rebate price:

Even without a rebate, that's a cheap way to give 802.11g WiFi access to any Mac with USB and Mac OS X 10.4 or later, although older Macs with USB 1.1 won't be able to take full advantage of it's speed. Thanks for making sure others can access the new driver.

Dan

AirPort Flaw in Last Gen iBook G4

Dear Dan.

First of all, I should say that I've been a Mac freak for over 20 years and a frequent reader of this board. So please don't dismiss this as an idle rant.

It's only the problem with my iBook G4 (1.33, late revision) which has driven me to Mac rage.

There is an issue with this particular late revision iBook. After some time, the machine experiences kernel panic. The only cure apparent to the user is to turn AirPort off.

The problem - very well documented if you Google it - is the connection between the AirPort card and the Main Logic Board. Individually, both parts may be fault-free. Yet if you take your iBook to Apple, they will advise replacing one or the other or both. An $800 plus repair.

After this condition afflicted my iBook, I did some research. There are thousands of iBooks, all over the world, falling over with this problem right now. And it appears that Apple is in denial. A thread about this very topic was pulled from the Apple Support forum just in December.

In fact, there is a work around. And a way around an $800 dollar repair bill.

The first is to remove the AirPort card - even though there's nothing wrong with it - and use a USB WiFi antenna instead. You'll have a kernel panic-free iBook again, although USB Bluetooth is a rather hit and miss. (In this 2005 model, AirPort and Bluetooth were integrated.)

The total solution - if you're brave enough to try this at home - is to improve the connection between the two components with a piece of paper inserted under the connector, acting as a pressure pad.

This repair is detailed on the French site, 'Applintosh'. The original article is here: <http://www.applintosh.net/readarticle.php?article_id=1>

Here's a URL for the article in English with Google translate.

There's also a video of the repair on AOL.

My beef is obviously that I was given disinformation by Apple Support and my local Apple Store. Either I paid up or threw away I machine I bought new only just over two years ago as an uneconomic repair.

Well, I'm sitting here typing an email to you with the same machine. Since I installed a piece of folded paper, it hasn't missed a beat.

Kind regards,
John

John,

Thanks for writing. I hadn't heard of this issue, and you're right about Apple - they tend to pull forum postings about problems they don't want to acknowledge. And don't expect Apple to propose a third-party solution, like removing the AirPort card and buying a USB WiFi adapter. There's more money to be made from an $800 repair.

We'll post this in the mailbag with links from the 12" 1.33 GHz and 14" 1.42 GHz G4 iBooks. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Dan

SuperDrives Failing on MacBooks

From Werner Verwey:

Hi Dan

I'm what can only be described as a religious Low End Mac reader. Every week I check your site almost daily for new articles posted. I've recently come across a rather annoying problem on my MacBook Core Duo (2006). I was happily writing a MP3 CD for my car this Saturday evening. Tested it in the car, and everything was working as expected. On Sunday afternoon when I wanted to write a DVD home movie I just finished editing in iMovie, the trouble started. Desperately I started looking around the Net trying to figure out what could be wrong. Armed only with the buzzing sound the drive made every time before it ejected even new clean DVD (4.7 GB Verbatim) (tried about 5 of them from a pack I already used successfully). I came across the Apple Discussion Forums where "manacle" described the sound best:

"It will accept the disk in the drive, whereupon I will hear a slight ticking like a watch running 3x normal speed; this ticking persists until the disk is ejected. About five seconds after the disk is loaded, I hear a loud buzzing sound that lasts for about one second and stops. Another five seconds, another buzz. And again. And then the disk is ejected."

Looking around at the discussion forum, I was amazed at just how many people out there are complaining about this. It seems the MacBook's drives are failing at a phenomenal rate. My MacBook is out of warranty, and I will have to replace the drive. This just after having ordered 2 gig's of RAM and Leopard to upgrade my MB. I'm sure you and all the readers share my frustration, as we have all experienced a break down somewhere along the line. Would I be able to use any external USB DVD writer in the meantime with my MB. This seem easier than replacing the internal drive, plus I'm not sure I want to replace the drive myself as I feel this is a design flaw (clearly evident from the user discussion forum), and Apple needs to step up.

Do you mind posing a article on this and seeing how big of a problem it really is.

Regards,
Werner

Werner,

I hear your pain. Optical drives should last for years, and your email is the first I've heard of this problem. We'll post it in the mailbag and see what other readers have to report.

Yes, you can use an external SuperDrive - as long as it's not Apple's drive for the MacBook Air, which requires a special USB 2.0 port with more power than the USB 2.0 specification requires.

Dan

DVD-RAM Drive for the MacBook?

From Greg Battaglia:

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your great article on DVD-RAM [What Is DVD-RAM and Why Would I Want It?]. As you probably know, a company called Fastmac.com makes a replacement drive for the Intel Mac mini, MacBook Pro, iMac, and a bunch of older Macs. The drive, for ~ $150, burns to DVD-RAM at 5x. It also burns to all other formats, except latest high-def media. However, as I write this, I am awaiting FastMac's reply to the question: Why don't they offer a DVD-RAM drive for the MacBook? Any thoughts or advice on this?

Greg Battaglia

Greg,

While vendors such as Sony and Toshiba offer DVD-RAM in their notebook computers, I don't know that anyone makes a slot-loading, slimline, low power SuperDrive with DVD-RAM write support that can fit inside a MacBook or 15" MacBook Pro. If someone did, I'm sure FastMac, MCE, Other World Computing, and others would offer it.

Dan

Which Is the Quietest MacBook?

From Clive Stuart:

Hello Dan, I would love some advice on which Mac notebook appears to be the most quiet.

I detest fan noise and that is why I am still happily chugging along on my Pismo PowerBook. The only noise from it is a barely audible hard drive. The fan has never come on . . . ever !

I am most interested in a MacBook. Have you any advice on which have the coolest chips or seem to be extra quiet?

Thanks and best regards.

Clive

Clive,

I don't have much hands on experience with MacBooks. I'm sure the MacBook Air is the quietest of the bunch, especially the flash drive model, but I don't know how the various MacBook and MacBook Pro models compare. I'll post this in the mailbag in hopes readers will share their findings.

Dan

Booting an Aluminum PowerBook into Mac OS 9?

Greetings,

Sorry for the nag, but you are the most appropriate person I could contact. So I recently bought a 15" PowerBook g4 1.5 GHz. I thought I could boot to OS 9 with it (this has always been a mystery for me, thinking every PowerPC-based Mac can do it - and it was before I found your site). So now I am stuck with the Classic environment, which is worse than SheepShaver. Is there any kind of unsupported, warranty-voiding, might-render-the-computer-useless firmware hack which would allow me to use OS 9 natively?

My other question is a marginal one: Shouldn't my PowerBook have the cooling fans (on both sides)? The right fan always stays silent, and Istat Pro reports 0 rpm, but I've read somewhere that some PB G4's have only one fan. I would take a look myself, but I think it's better to only take the computer apart when it's inevitable.

Thank you in advance,
Snepp Sándor

Snepp,

I don't have a 15" aluminum PowerBook G4, so I had to look it up on iFixit. It has two fans, one on the right and one on the left. On my old titanium PowerBook, the right side always ran warmer than the left side, but I have no experience with aluminum model.

As far as booting into the Classic Mac OS, you can only do that with computers designed for it. All of the titanium PowerBooks can boot into Mac OS 9.something, but none of the aluminum ones can. There is no way to modify them to change this.

I've been using the Classic Mac OS since 1986 and Mac OS X regularly since January 2002. I have to say that it was a bumpy transition, but Classic Mode has always worked very well for me. (I'm using it right now, as I'm still hopelessly wed to Claris Home Page for writing and editing HTML.) I love the way it integrates so smoothly with OS X, allowing me to cut and paste between apps on either operating system. By comparison, I find SheepShaver horribly restricting, since it emulates a Mac inside a window.

Anyhow, if you want to boot into Mac OS 9, you'll need an older computer, such as the 800 MHz to 1 GHz titanium PowerBooks.

Dan

Expansion Slots and Low End Macs

From Robert:

Hi, Dan.

Just a couple of nits to pick.

In your response to Trevor Howard you decry the lack of an affordable, easily upgradeable Mac for the Low End crowd, and mention some of your favorites from the past as comparison. Maybe the fog of time has dimmed your memories, but fortunately, the web, and your own site, can clear away some of the mist. For instance the PowerMac 9600 from 1997 started out at $3700 for the single 200 MHz processor model, the add another thousand for the dual 200 MHz model. Not what you would call low end, especially 11 years ago. How about the 7600? According to your profile, in 1995, that sweet machine sold for $2800, one dollar more than the standard configuration Mac Pro goes for today. The IIci? Are you kidding me? $6,700! In 1989? And what?! $8,800 if I wanted a 40 MB hard drive?! Just for a little perspective, you could buy a brand new car for less than that in 1989!

The $2,799 for a Mac Pro would just about cover a down payment on a car now. I think that the problem isn't with Apple, it's with you. Any way you slice it, the Mac Pro is better than any of the computers you mentioned. Is it as small as the IIci? No, but I'd like to see you put four hard drives into that little case. Will it lie on it's belly like a 7500? No, but so what? And yes, the Mac Pro is about 7 lb. heavier than a 9600, but it does have handles!

All kidding aside, I did notice one more thing about the machines you pointed out in your reply. All of them were High End Macs. None of them were the low to mid range machines. In fact, the mid to low end machines that Apple did make over the years are the ones you like to brand as "Road Apples", or the "Worst Macs Ever". Maybe Apple is right to avoid that market after all.

Thanks for the great website,
Robert

Robert,

Thanks for writing.

When I said, "One of the great joys of using Macs used to be their expandability," I was referring to the fact that most desktop Macs used to have expansion slots. The first four (128K, 512K, 512Ke, and Plus) didn't, the Classic and Classic II didn't, but even the low cost LC did (yes, $2,400 was considered low cost in 1990). It was pretty much a given that there would be something you'd want to add to your Mac - ethernet, a video card, whatever. Even the Cube, which had very limited expansion, let you replace the video card.

I made no claim that the Mac IIci was a low-end computer in its day, only that it - like the Power Mac 9600 - was an example of how expandable Macs used to be. Computers were a lot more expensive back then. For instance, Dell was selling its high-end System 325 with a 25 MHz 386, 1 MB of RAM, and a 40 MB hard drive for $5,399 in October 1989, FPU not included. Computers have dropped in price, going against the trend of inflation that impacts car prices, among other things.

The PC world is replete with low-end computers with expansion slots. Apple has included expansion slots on low-end Macs from 1987, when the Macintosh SE was introduced, right through the end of the Performa era in 1998. And even after that, Apple sold Power Macs with PCI expansion slots for less than the cheapest Mac Pro configuration offered today: $1,999 for the 233 MHz beige G3 in 1997, $1,599 for the 300 MHz blue & white G3 of 1999 and the 350 MHz Yikes G4 introduced later that year, $1,699 for the 466 MHz Digital Audio G4 and 733 MHz Quicksilver G4 (both from 2001), the same for the 867 MHz dual processor Mirror Drive Door in 2002, $1,999 for the 1.6 GHz Power Mac G5 in 2003 and the dual 1.8 GHz G5 in 2004. Ditto for the 2.0 GHz dual G5 of 2005. It was only with the introduction of the Mac Pro in 2006 that Apple made it impossible to buy a Mac with expansion slots for under US$2,000.

While the rest of the industry has been making computers with expansion slots more affordable, Apple has been on an upward trend since 2001.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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