The Low End Mac Mailbag

Overheating Mac minis, 'Road Apple' Label Reconsidered, eMac Repair Extension, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.11.16

After many emails from many readers concerning our Road Apple label (some in recent Mailbags, some in today's column), we are phasing out the Road Apple label for Apple's less compromised, less limited models. The Macs that earned a 3 or 4 apple rating will continue to be called Road Apples, but the others will be called Limited Macs or Compromised Macs. dk - Tip Jar

Overheating Video on the G4 Mac mini

From John Mukai:

I use a Mac mini every day. Came across a few of the speed bumped models at a very reasonable price.

One reason I think the mini was killed off in the G4 variety is a Design flaw in the video.

If you play World of Warcraft on the Mac mini with 1 Gig of RAM it runs ay but after about 30 minutes the video starts to overheat.

This causes what I will describe as swirling flying triangles in the ATI video.

The other tidbit about the Mac mini is that the VRAM on the speed bumped 1.5 GHz versions is 64 meg vs. 32 meg. This is a good indicator for mini's that have been overclocked vs. having shipped with the 1.5 GHz speed.

If you turn the Mac mini off and let it cool the artifacts go away.

I use a flat reusable blue ice pack underneath the Mac mini to prevent overheating which resolves the issue.

I suspect it's the exact same issue that the G4 MacBooks video chip has that eventually causes it to die or need a reflow solder fix.

Just my 2 cents worth.

John,

Thanks for writing. I wasn't aware of the overheating problem, and thanks to your email I've updated the G4 Mac mini profiles and the Road Apple report to note it. I'm a bit leery of the ice pack solution, as it seems it could cause condensation inside the computer.

I'd recommend either using the Mac mini vertically or with some small feet to raise it above your work surface and allow air to reach the bottom, which is the mini's largest heat radiating surface.

Dan

Intel Mac mini Shouldn't Be Called a Road Apple

From John Muir:

Hi Dan,

I imagine you'll be taking some heat from Mac mini fans, but I have this to add to the debate:

The Mac mini is not intended to be like other desktop computers.

The Mac mini is not intended to be like other desktop computers. You rightly enough identify its drawbacks as a tightly integrated and just downright tight machine full stop when it comes to space. But unlike other Road Apples, this was no cheapskate move. To give the mini a 3.5" hard drive, you would have to make it a larger computer. Larger and louder, I should add, as the mini's striking quietness is a vital part of its appeal to many users. A slot or two would cause the same problem: It's no longer a mini but the xMac everyone thinks about. In fact, this seems to be the crucial point where opinions cross. Many who dislike the Mac mini do so because they think of it as a failed opportunity to make the medium sized headless and upgradeable Mac. Those who appreciate the machine as it is, meanwhile, consider that view to be mistaken. The mini is a mini, not an xMac!

Your criticism though is fairly balanced. I just think that it's too strong to rate the mini overall as a failed and flawed machine by comparing it to things it was not designed to be. For instance, I'm thankful that my Core Duo Mac mini has a quiet 2.5" drive and a decent processor, as I leave the machine on to record digital TV and encode my shows to H.264. It's brilliantly quiet at this in a way where no ordinary desktop could fit in, and it does it all for 40 Watts or less. It's often derided graphics are perfectly up to high quality DVI playback and handle Leopard's effects admirably.

I recognise that the Mac mini is hardly Apple's best seller, so the minority it has attracted is clearly a niche. However, it is such a unique machine that suits some of us so well that it is annoying to hear it so often complained about and reports of its demise always met with cheers from some! If the Mac mini doesn't make it to the Santa Rosa chipset - and is therefore terminated next year - some of us will sigh unless Apple can work their magic to replace it with a gusto. Appreciating its perceived flaws as mostly features, as we do.

John Muir

John,

You raise some good points. I love the look, the size, and the adequate performance of the Mac mini. I don't like the performance hit from a 2.5" hard drive, no second bank for adding RAM, and the pain-in-the-butt case design.

Apple originally positioned the Mac mini as it's least expensive Mac ever, and the Intel version added $100 to that price. It is not a cheapskate computer, nor is it the consumer Mac that many of us still hope Apple will release someday. It is a compact, quiet, unobtrusive, powerful enough computer. The only way to make it better for its market would be to switch it to flash memory. Maybe we will see a Mac nano next!

I'd still love to see Apple produce a Macintosh between the Mac mini and the Mac Pro, something with at least two banks for memory and two PCIe expansion slots. Something that can use off-the-shelf optical drives and 3.5" hard drives. Something that can sell for $400 and show the world just how compromised the new Everex "green" PC is. (It's motherboard is almost as small as the Mac mini, but it's in a 2' x 2' enclosure because research shows that's what Walmart customers expect in a desktop computer.)

Dan

Road Apple a Bad Label for the Mac mini

From Alex Shepard:

I read your article about the Cube being a Road Apple and then caught your Mailbag page. You also mentioned issues with the mini. I feel too strongly to comment on the Cube, but on the mini allow me some of your time.

I have two friends who have mini's, one is a web designer, and the other is a web developer. I have talked with them, and they have no complaints about the mini. The web developer's boss was not going to let him buy a tower for testing. They both have their mini's KVMed to their PCs. The web developer plans to buy his next year when they upgrade. Like most in the mini's target market, their mini's are not their primary computer.

You state that using a laptop hard drives is bad. What does a 3.5" hard drive give the target market? Upgradeability. Market research shows that the target market does not upgrade. Speed? The target market is not concerned with speed. They feel most computers far exceed their needs. Shaving a quarter inch off the height, the target market finds computers a necessary evil. The less of it the better. In fact they are willing to pay a premium for the mini over a cheap-o Walmart PC, because of its diminutive size.

Now to DIMM slots: surprisingly since most people never upgrade their computers, especially in the mini's target market, after they get them home, why is a single DIMM slot a problem? The target market will buy the mini with as much RAM as they think it needs and stick with it until they get a new machine. Shared video RAM: research shows that the loss in speed is trivial to the target market. They also don't play graphic intensive games, unless you think online poker is graphically intensive.

In my humble opinion, most of your perceived unacceptable compromises concern the professional and resell markets. For the professional market, 3.5" hard drives would have advantages; for the resell market, the extra DIMM slot would be advantageous.

On the used market, someone purchasing a computer with the intent to upgrade it would most likely take a look at your site's fine Profiles section. I assume any and all limitations of said Mac will be listed there. If they don't take the time to read the profile, they probably won't take the time to note more than that the Mac is or is not listed as a Road Apple.

To me a Road Apple is a seriously flawed computer. When I - and I believe many others - see Road Apple, we read Shame, Disgrace, or Crap. So when I see an article about a Mac that is only a level one piece of crap, I don't think "at least it is not a level five piece of crap like the 52xx/62xx series." I think I am going to read about another piece of crap Mac. Though I think when the average reader sees in a profile that a Mac is a Road Apple, they don't read past the phrase "Road Apple". The label tells them all they need to know: it is crap and they should stay away.

I like many use labels as shorthand. Allow me an analogy or two. If someone tells me a guy is an Shyster, I assume I should keep my distance. If they tell me he's a Democrat, again I know to avoid him. Of course the Shyster could have been the lawyer for the guy's ex. I should take the time to find out, but I don't. Same with the Democrat; it is possible he isn't for legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, and mandatory teenage abortions. It is possible, and I ought to give them a chance, but I don't. The label is all I need.

al

PS-I don't think Democrats are really wanting to abort teenagers.

PSS- Sorry about the length, I know it is way to long to reprint in Mailbag. Thanks for a wonderful site, and very useful site.

PSSS - I was going to wish you good luck, but you have already been blessed with a beautiful better half. May it only continue to get better.

Al,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We publish the Road Apples articles not to damn any computer (well, there is the x200 series), but to let people know their shortcomings. We know that most people never upgrade their computers, but also that our readership tends to buy Macs for the long haul, so it's important to know how much RAM they take, what type of hard drive, which versions of the Mac OS are supported, and how easy or difficult it is to perform upgrades.

For the consumer market, 3.5" hard drives mean a lower price as well as a lot more (and more affordable) upgrade options. For the consumer market, a second bank for memory means you can add RAM without deleting what you already have. As operating systems develop, they need more RAM and more storage space, so those are important considerations for those who aren't buying a computer with the intention of replacing it in 2-3 years.

We go out of our way to provide a fair assessment of all Macs, especially the Road Apples. We've already heard from one Core Solo Mac mini owner who says it's an appalling computer with its base 512 MB of RAM - and upgrading to Leopard may make matters even worse.

We want to serve our customers by letting them buy used Macs with their eyes wide open.

Dan

I sent an email to you before I noticed your articles on the Mac minis.

Just wanted to reiterate that I don't think Road Apple means the same thing to the community as it does to you. As an analogy, when that Democratic Presidential Candidate said "I voted for the war, before I voted against it", he meant one thing. No matter what he said, the general public thought he was clearly stating that he was wishy washy and OK with it. No matter that he initially meant something positive about himself, America saw something very negative in what he said.

My suggestion. A section of Compromised Macs, with Road Apple being a subset. I also think the difference between a Compromised Mac and a Road Apple could be that 1 and 2 Road Apple Macs could be transferred to the compromised list and those with 3 or more staying as Road Apples.

On a separate note. I must state my shock at your problem with the difficulty of upgrading the Mac mini. I really can't understand Road Apple-ing a Mac for being more versatile than Apple had sold it as being. I think you may have missed that Apple did not want the Mac mini to be upgradeable. That it is upgradeable, in my humble opinion, is a boon for the buyer.

Al,

Hmm, I like your suggestion about not calling them Road Apples if they only merit a one or two rating. I'll get right to work on that!

Dan

Two Road Apples for the Mac mini?

From Colin Kraft:

Hey Dan,

What's this? Two Road Apples in a row for the Mac mini? I sit in amazement as I type this on my G4 Mac mini.

However, after reading your first Road Apple article yesterday (on the G4 Mac mini), I decided to go ahead and order a new one, as my G4 is starting to show its age after nearly three years of great service.

I suppose I will see a Road Apple tomorrow on the Core 2 Duo Mac mini that I ordered yesterday. Sigh.

-C

PS - I agree with all the issues you raised, but I still think these are fabulous machines!

Colin,

Well, we went for the hat trick with the Core Solo Mac mini today, which earned a two apple rating due to its pathetic 1.5 GHz Core Solo CPU.

Thanks to an email from Alex Shepard, we've decided to change our labels. We'll still call the section Road Apples for now, but we'll now call the one and two apple models Limited Macs or Compromised Macs rather than Road Apples. Alex makes a good point that the label is really too harsh for these slightly compromised Macs.

Dan

Digital Audio Power Mac G4 Problems with SATA/Slow Boot Time

From John Benge:

Hi Dan,

Just thought I'd post my comments about Leopard and Digital Audio PMG4s. I use a PMG4 DA with Leopard and have experienced no major issues other than with my iSub. The pro speakers work fine, bootup time is quick - no problem with extended boot times, graphics are fast - all in all no major problems.

The machine has it's RAM maxed out, a Sonnet single 1.67 GHz CPU, Sonnet 802.11b/g card, Sonnet 2 port SATA card driving a 7200 rpm 80 GB Hitachi drive scrounged from an upgraded MacBook, and a Sonnet FireWire/USB 2.0 card. Graphics are taken care of via a ATI 9800 Pro. Plus a Panasonic DVD writer, 2 PATA Maxtor drives, and a iSight.

Leopard seems as quick as Tiger to me, except for the odd slight delay when the file/video preview is doing its stuff in the background.

Overall I'm very happy to keep such a nice machine running with an up-to-date OS. I did intend to hack iMovie 08 to work but having played with it a bit I'll stick with iMovie 06 for the time :)

Regards
John

John,

Thanks for your report. The issue with slow booting appears to be related to the use of a flashed Nvidia GeForce 6200 video card, which can cause a 2-5 minute delay at startup with Leopard.

Dan

Leopard on an Unsupported Mac

From Walter Meagher:

Dan,

I have a 533 MHz Digital Audio tower with a Mercury Extreme 1.2 GHz processor upgrade. I have 1.5 GB of PC133 RAM and an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro Video Card with 64 MB video memory. I had been running 10.4.10. Upon getting my Leopard DVD, I popped it in the SuperDrive, rebooted holding down the "C" key, and it just installed as if I had a supported machine. The install took under an hour, and everything works that I have tested. DVD Player works without any problems. I do not have an external FireWire drive, so I have been unable to test or try Time Machine. No benchmarks to share, but Leopard seems every bit as quick if not a tad faster than Tiger.

Wally Meagher

Wally,

You discovered one of the secrets of Leopard: If the CPU is fast enough, the installer will run, so sub-867 MHz Power Macs with faster CPUs can install Leopard as easily as you did.

Dan

Faulty eMac Capacitors

From John Muir:

Hi Dan,

Just read your eMac take apart article, and it looks like those two broken capacitors in each machine are beside a RAM socket. That means anyone suspicious they have the same problem as you've had strike those two machines can have a peek inside without going to all the bother of taking the whole computer apart. Instead, just open up the memory door and have a look around at the capacitors, preferably with a torch. It's a start at any rate.

A friend of mine has one of those 1.25 GHz models which he recently gave to his sister, so I upgraded the RAM in the process. This particular machine is still fine and it was bought the week its model initially came out.

Interestingly: It has always had a strange issue where it thinks it has two displays- sort of. This occurred in both Panther and Tiger. In System Preferences, you would have two panes of choices between resolutions and refresh rates, but setting them to anything different from each other just resulted in a smaller viewable area on its single display or no picture at all. No second monitors or even adapter cable had ever touched the machine. I could never figure out what was making it happen, so I just left the machine alone at its standard full resolution and highest supported refresh rate.

John Muir


Memory bay in eMac showing leaky capacitors.

John,

Thanks for writing. Yes, they are right by the memory sockets. I had a photo showing that (above), but it was one of several left out to keep the article from growing overly long.

I've had the same video problem with one of the two eMacs, the one with the broken FireWire port. I suspect it was due to trying Screen Spanning Doctor once upon a time. I never did figure out how to solve that problem.

Dan

eMac Repair Extension Program

From Jeff:

Good day,

Just saw the 2 eMacs with leaking capacitors. The iMac G5s are best known for this issue, but yes, the eMacs also suffered from it as well. Both eMacs may have been covered by an Apple Repair Extension.

<http://www.apple.com/support/emac/repairextensionprogram/>

After your parts swapping, this probably doesn't apply anymore, but FYI.

Hope this finds you well.

Jeff

Jeff,

Thanks for writing. Unfortunately both of my eMacs were over three years old. :-(

Dan

Bubble Ads

From Shannon Hendrix:

I'm sure you have reasons for using the ContentLink ads, but they are about the most annoying thing I've ever seen on a website.

They not only annoy, but they frequently cause scrolling to hang.

When I see links, I often Command->Click to open them in another tab in the background, and the ad ruins that and gets in the way.

I want you guys to be able to make money and keep the site up, but does it have to be that?

I'm going to start blocking all ads just to get rid of those, which hurts you, but I don't know what else to do.

I don't mind quiet ads that are useful, but the ContentLink (and Intellitxt and all the others) absolutely suck, and make using your website a pain.

Shannon Hendrix

Shannon,

I'm not a big fan of those ads myself, but despite our best traffic levels ever, site income has been on the decline this year. We're hoping the ContentLink ads will help there, and we've limited the number of them that appear on our pages. I should know by the end of the month whether it's bringing in enough income to offset the frustration.

I have noticed that ContentLink is now popping up Flash ads, not just text ads, and I've asked them how we can prevent that so only text ads show.

I hope we won't lose you as a visitor.

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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