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Lifespan of Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)

Get APC UPS at B&H Photo.

A bad smell developed in the garage, where I keep a couple of servers running on uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Two batteries, each weighing about 75 pounds, are daisy-chained for extra “juice” off an APC SmartUPS 1000XL. I do so because I’ve had power failures up to 24 hours.

Both of the add-on batteries had leaking battery acid, or rather, signs of it having leaked such as white powder and blackened wood under the units and what looked like fluid on the plastic casing. I disconnected them and set them aside for the next hazardous waste day.

The main unit with the “smarts” to which these batteries were daisy chained does not appear to be leaking, but its battery is now over 3 years old. The unit is running hot even at an ambient temperature of 40°F, and the charge lights show only about 80%, so it is done-for. These things should never get even warm under such conditions, so that battery is surely toast.

This is not the first stinky leaking battery problem with APC; I had this happen just as I was leaving for a trip last summer. That time, the battery had bulged so much that I had difficulty extracting it. I gave up and it went to hazardous waste disposal.

Maybe this is my fault: after all, lead acid batteries have a limited lifespan. But the fact that the APC unit cannot detect such potentially serious failure situations is disappointing and calls for taking care to assess the health of any UPS on a regular basis (3 months is probably about right).

I’m probably going to pick up a new APC Smart-UPS 1500VA with LCD and Audible Alarm Disabled, which has pure sine wave power when when running on battery power.

Tips:

  • Check your UPS battery every few months for signs of leakage: put an appointment in your calendar to check.
  • If the UPS is running hot, there is a very good chance the battery is bad. It could leak or rupture and cause damage. A fresh UPS does not run hot (once fully charged), since it is just bypassing current to devices.
  • Use a marker to write a date onto the battery itself, as shown.
Interior of APC SmartUPS 1000XL

Jon L writes:

I have used replacement batteries from this source of several years now. My backup demands are not as demanding as yours, but I have used several replacements from this firm that have served me well.

Below is the link to the APC RBC7 battery mentioned in Don H's reply to your post.

http://www.batteryspec.com/cgi-bin/cart.cgi?action=link&product=182

The listing of replacements for all APC UPS Systems:

http://www.batteryspec.com/html/apc-ups-replacement-batteries.html

This company has been in business for > 30 years so they are not a flash in the pan. Substantially less expensive than APC replacements as well. I’m sure you know more about the technology behind these batteries than I do.

You might take a look. No relationship with the firm: just a satisfied customer.

MPG: I’ve been leery of 3rd party batteries, but the prices above are far lower. But this site has way more brains to their approach: a listing showing UPS models and their batteries. It is WAY better than the APC site. Also, it's about 30 miles from me. I’m going to see if I can just drive down their and get things swapped out.

One thing APC *does* include is free return postage for disposing of the old one. I know little about the issue; I’m just a customer who doesn’t want an exploding or leaking battery. And since 3 (actually 4) APC batteries have leaked or bulged in the past year, I’m open to credible alternatives at a lower price.

Don H writes:

In the 1990s I worked for a growing company and had to spec out a UPS large enough to support five servers for a six-hour outage. At the time APC had the best modular system, so we bought that and it performed well. This was back when Cisco’s product line only had three basic models of routers while Apple had a sprawling product matrix with far too much overlap among machines. (We called that phenomenon ‘Spindlerization’, due to Mike Spindler’s penchant for trying to match the PC world model-for-model.)

Over the years I have bought and used APC UPSs for personal use, but noticed that they too expanded their product line to the point that one can no longer navigate it. (Meanwhile, Apple famously managed to rein in their own product line.) One consequence of this lack of cohesion is that many UPSs became orphaned because the batteries were no longer available, or became so expensive that it was not economically feasible to buy a replacement battery for almost the cost of an entirely new unit. And this is what irritates me about a lot of companies: the changes made to the parts are all just different enough to thwart cross-product or backward compatibility, yet the changes are not significant enough to provide any functional benefit.

Sony did this with their consumer electronics power supplies (it seemed like every new product changed the charging connector and power brick.) Wristwatches (remember those?) have a battery variety that fills fat books. Samsung’s entire business is a pathological example of change for the sake of change. (I have no idea how their service department handles it all, partly because I will never buy a Samsung product.)

I have discarded otherwise functional APC UPSs because it was too frustrating to chase down replacement batteries. The last time I looked, their web site was a mess*. Because of these practices I have written them off - APC is dead to me. Other UPS companies have similar, but not quite as acute disorganization, but I haven’t had the bad experience (yet?) with other brands that I have with APC.

Well, crap. I just looked at Tripp Lite’s product line. That’s 279 different models, each with one insignificant feature different from a dozen others.

I guess it’s better to have an embarrassment of riches rather than nothing at all, but I am personally getting really tired of hacking my way through other companies’ wasteful lack of focus or product cohesion. Your post on APC just happened to trigger this particular rant.

* Ok, I just looked again and the first thing I see at APC is an ad saying “Want to turn APC products into Recurring revenue?". I know the intention is to sell ‘managed services’ but my immediate interpretation is that they have figured out a way to milk their own customers with post-sales water torture costs.

But I stand by my complaint about their ridiculous product line. I would be willing to bet that they now have three or four hundred UPS models just in their Back-UPS and Smart-UPS categories, and that’s not getting into their enterprise ’solutions'.

MPG: indeed, it is a very confusing product line with hundreds of options.

I spent 20 minutes trying to find the right internal replacement battery for the SmartUPS 1000XL (it is not listed in specifications or data sheet!). I am pretty sure that the right replacement for the APC SmartUPS 1000XL is the APC Replacement Battery Cartridge #7, RBC7. I did find the external add-on battery supplement page.

APC sucks in a lot of ways: the web site can be extremely slow, it is very hard to find the right battery (and no distinction between internal and external). Tech support inquiries require serial numbers—well it’s not see easy to get a serial number when a 50 or 75 lb device is in a tight space that does not make it visible. I might look at TRIPP LITE and see how that goes because evey time I have to deal with battery issues it chews up hours.

Envoy Pro mini - In Motion There Exists Great Potential

Bill Atkinson’s “Photo Card” for iPhone/iPad: Tangible Internet-Age Postcards

Bill Atkinson is Mr. Hypercard, of Apple fame. He is a color expert and brilliant photographer. Today I had the pleasure of his company on several topics, including his latest creation.

Bill showed me his latest creation, the iPhone/iPad app “Photo Card”, available on the Apple Store. Other platforms are coming, e.g., Android, and I am trying to persuade him to do a web interface for computer users like me.

It started simply enough—Bill showed me one of his postcards—printed and sent through the mail. The card is very durable and aside from holding it to see sheen to reveal the printed-on postal service processing stuff (or a UV light), it looks like it was just custom made and was never posted.

It’s the kind of thing you could not do half as well at home: I was astounded at the quality of the laminated card with excellent color. They’re way more good enough to frame—and no backing/support is needed in a frame so you can see front and back of the card.

How it works

First, you need to create an account and buy credits.

You choose your own image, your own stamp, and you can even add a QR reader for a voice recording. Very slick, very well thought out. For example, just entering the zip code alone looks up the city and state, saving time on addressing.

A preview after editing is shown below. The fish picture (mine) will be the front of the postcard. The stamp is a real postage stamp made with my own image, the bike is a graphic just for fun, the smaller fish picture is yet another picture of mine, and the yellow/blue thing will contain a QR code with a recorded voice message up to a minute long.

Two things from my POV: (1) the images have to be on the phone to be used by the app, which for me means copying and syncing to the phone first—a hassle. This is of course NOT an issue for shots made with the iPhone and already on the phone. (2) I would like to make cards on my Mac in an app or web browser because it is far more efficient for me to work on a computer, where all my photos and contacts are stored.

Bill Atkinson’s iPhone app 'Photo Card', preview of final card

Below, a not yet finished card.

Bill Atkinson’s iPhone app 'Photo Card', editing view

FOR SALE: Lloyd’s Apple Laptops, NEC Display

Cleaning house—recently bought a new 15" MacBook Pro.

Contact Lloyd

  • Mid 2012 MacBook Pro 13" 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7, 16GB / 480GB OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD / Intel HD Graphics 4000 512MB with charger $825. OWC sells a similar model used for $1200. Speedy little laptop fast enough to run all my web sites (it was a spare).
  • NEC EA244UHD 4K display $650 (sells new for $1049). See my review.
    A very nice 4K display (see my review), but I’m just not using it any more because of iMac 5K. Never saw many hours of operation, so backlight should have long life. Would make a terrific primary display for space constrained environments and/or an excellent 2nd display.
  • Late 2013 MacBook Pro Retina 15" 2.6 Ghz, 16GB / 512GB / NVidia GeForce GT 750M 2GB (top of the line except 512GB SSD) with charger in Apple box $1200 / BO. Original owner, was covered by AppleCare — no issues. Has a minor dent and scratches on case, keys worn.
    This was my workhorse laptop for the past 3 years and it just keeps going strong. Local buyers welcome to inspect firsthand. Still a strong performer even beating the 2016 model on some Photoshop tests. SOLD
  • 2011 MacBook Pro 13" 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5, 4GB / 200GB enterprise-grade SSD with charger $350. SOLD
    No speed demon, but a solid computer for the kids.
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$597 SAVE $100 = 14.0% Ricoh GR II in Cameras: Point and Shoot

Adobe Memory Usage, with no apps in use

See my Mac wish list.

Earlier today I wrote about macOS BloatWare.

Adobe Memory usage with no Adobe apps running

Now it’s Adobe’s turn to be spanked: I take a dim view of products using substantial memory when absolutely nothing is running.

These Adobe processes are just there running all the time even when no apps are in use, and they take up 132MB of real memory. On 4GB or 8GB machines, this is not a trivial consideration and if every vendor did this, pretty soon a GB or two of memory would be scarfed up to no useful purpose.

Adobe ought to have one bootstrap daemon using at most 10MB, one that can fork off all this overhead cruft when an app is actually in use. As shown, memory usage rises to justa bout doubles for these overhead processes when an Photoshop is in use—a huge amount for what is likely a very basic task.

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

macOS BloatWare (and what feels like SpyWare)

See my Mac wish list.

Recently I’ve found that Photoshop CC 2017 on macOS 10.12.2 will no longer complete the diglloydMedium benchmark in 16GB of memory without a slowdown—compare 2013 results to 2015 results to 2016 results—the trend is substantially slower at present. What I observe here in 2016/2017 is a lot more memory swapping, which necessarily slows down the test.

So something has bloated in the system to push it beyond the point at which 16GB is adequate, causing that memory swapping: (a) the benchmark runs as fast in 2016/2017 as it did in 2013 when enough memory is availble and (b) Activity Monitor shows lots of swapping going on. See 2013 Mac Pro results, which show that time to execute in 2013 is within 1.1% of the 2016 figure. Ditto for the iMac 5K — but both have 64GB.

I think it likely that the slowdown is mainly due to a bloated macOS memory footprint, though I cannot rule out Adobe getting sloppy witih a lot of memory usage overhead.

Why does all this stuff run that I do not want, some of which I have even turned off?

All of these processes consume memory and at some point, consume CPU time.

I was looking through running processes and wondering how much crapware and bloatware I might find. But off isn’t actually off in some cases, like Siri.

Qué Siri, Sera isn’t an acceptable answer. All of these were running on my 2013 Mac Pro, all take memory and none of these processes offer functionality I want active. Some like “CallHistoryPluginHelper” raise privacy concerns, and that’s not idle speculation.

Use "sudo launchctl list" to list active background processes. Alternatively, one can select all in Activity Monitor and copy/paste as plain text, but the two lists use different names for some processes.

The list below reflects turning off everything that I don’t want that macOS allows to be turned off, so the actual list for most users may be significantly larger/longer. As well, there are more daemon processes running than just these.


AirPlayUIAgent — I never use AirPlay
AirPlayXPCHelper — I never use AirPlay
airportd — I never use wireless on my Mac Pro
CallHistoryPluginHelper — raises privacy concerns: what call history? From my phone?
CallHistorySyncHelper — raises privacy concerns: what call history? From my phone?
callservicesd — for what exactly? Phone call lists again?
com.apple.photoanalysisd.plist — privacy concern to be analyzing photos without consent
findmydeviced Find My Mac is turned OFF
mediaremoteagent — I doubt this does anything I want.
mediaremoted — I doubt this does anything I want.
mobileassetd — I doubt this does anything I want.
parentalcontrolsd — with a single user and no parental controls set?
photolibraryd — I don't want Photos library
Photos Agent — I don't want Photos running
Sirioffensive - I have Siri turned OFF
Wi-Fi — I never use WiFi on my Mac Pro
wirelessproxd — I don't use or want wireless
WirelessRadioManagerd — I don't use or want wireless

If Console.app is opened, it’s a mess: a steady stream of sputum is ejected constantly. You’ll see this on every Mac, it’s voluminous, and a fresh system install brings the same mess. A very small sample below. A lot of this is normal, but a lot of it repeats constantly, and it’s all from Apple stuff—and what is “CSSM Exception” from Spotlight (mdworker) and why does it spew constantly? It makes looking for real issues far more difficult.

default	13:15:43.802085 -0800	gamed	GKClientProxy: clientForBundleID:
default	13:15:43.802128 -0800	gamed	GKClientProxy: updateIfRecentlyInstalled
default	13:15:43.850130 -0800	Core Sync	TCP Conn 0x60000018aeb0 event 1. err: 0
default	13:15:43.850159 -0800	Core Sync	TCP Conn 0x60000018aeb0 complete. fd: 31, err: 0
default	13:15:43.850295 -0800	Core Sync	TCP Conn 0x60000018aeb0 starting SSL negotiation
default	13:15:43.930815 -0800	Core Sync	TCP Conn 0x60000018aeb0 SSL Handshake DONE
default	13:15:46.033359 -0800	gamed	GKClientProxy: clientForBundleID:
default	13:15:46.033419 -0800	gamed	GKClientProxy: updateIfRecentlyInstalled
default	13:15:46.033859 -0800	gamed	GKClientProxy: clientForBundleID:
default	13:15:46.033882 -0800	gamed	GKClientProxy: updateIfRecentlyInstalled
default	13:15:46.100246 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 0, EGID: 0
default	13:15:46.931828 -0800	symptomsd	NDFSM: auto bug capture is administratively OFF, ignoring symptom with key: 421890
default	13:15:47.537797 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 0, EGID: 0
default	13:15:47.538055 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:47.538475 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 501, EUID: 501, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:47.546837 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 501, EUID: 501, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:51.187559 -0800	CommCenter	#watchdog #I Callback Watchdog: checkin 328
default	13:15:51.187636 -0800	CommCenter	#watchdog #I Server Watchdog: checkin 328
default	13:15:56.345479 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 0, EGID: 0
default	13:15:56.345596 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 0, EGID: 0
default	13:15:56.345729 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:56.345783 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 0, EUID: 0, GID: 89, EGID: 89
default	13:15:56.346063 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 501, EUID: 501, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:56.346153 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 89, EUID: 89, GID: 89, EGID: 89
default	13:15:56.355784 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 89, EUID: 89, GID: 89, EGID: 89
default	13:15:56.355894 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 501, EUID: 501, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:56.359875 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 89, EUID: 89, GID: 89, EGID: 89
default	13:15:56.359905 -0800	opendirectoryd	Client: , UID: 501, EUID: 501, GID: 20, EGID: 20
default	13:15:56.379043 -0800	mdworker	subsystem: com.apple.securityd, category: csresource, enable_level: 0, persist_level: 0,
default_ttl: 0, info_ttl: 0, debug_ttl: 0, generate_symptoms: 0, enable_oversize: 0, privacy_setting: 2, enable_private_data: 0
default	13:15:56.379083 -0800	mdworker	subsystem: com.apple.securityd, category: csresource, enable_level: 0, persist_level: 0,
default_ttl: 0, info_ttl: 0, debug_ttl: 0, generate_symptoms: 0, enable_oversize: 0, privacy_setting: 2, enable_private_data: 0
default	13:15:56.379258 -0800	mdworker	subsystem: com.apple.securityd, category: dirval, enable_level: 0, persist_level: 0,
default_ttl: 0, info_ttl: 0, debug_ttl: 0, generate_symptoms: 0, enable_oversize: 0, privacy_setting: 2, enable_private_data: 0
default	13:15:56.379300 -0800	mdworker	subsystem: com.apple.securityd, category: dirval, enable_level: 0, persist_level: 0,
default_ttl: 0, info_ttl: 0, debug_ttl: 0, generate_symptoms: 0, enable_oversize: 0, privacy_setting: 2, enable_private_data: 0
default	13:15:56.379560 -0800	mdworker	subsystem: com.apple.securityd, category: unixio, enable_level: 0, persist_level: 0,
default_ttl: 0, info_ttl: 0, debug_ttl: 0, generate_symptoms: 0, enable_oversize: 0, privacy_setting: 2, enable_private_data: 0
default	13:15:56.379644 -0800	mdworker	subsystem: com.apple.securityd, category: unixio, enable_level: 0, persist_level: 0,
default_ttl: 0, info_ttl: 0, debug_ttl: 0, generate_symptoms: 0, enable_oversize: 0, privacy_setting: 2, enable_private_data: 0
default	13:15:56.612652 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612654 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612700 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612699 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612758 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612758 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612797 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.612797 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.616884 -0800	trustd	cert[2]: AnchorTrusted =(leaf)[force]> 0
default	13:15:56.616921 -0800	trustd	cert[2]: AnchorTrusted =(leaf)[force]> 0
default	13:15:56.618896 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.618909 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.618945 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.618968 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.619007 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.619010 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.619046 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.619046 -0800	mdworker	CSSM Exception: -2147411889 CSSMERR_CL_UNKNOWN_TAG
default	13:15:56.625643 -0800	trustd	cert[2]: AnchorTrusted =(leaf)[force]> 0
default	13:15:56.625651 -0800	trustd	cert[2]: AnchorTrusted =(leaf)[force]> 0

Mike writes:

MacOS X, I will remain on Yosemite, has always been full of bloat and it is deteriorating fast and steadily.

SIP making it even harder to find the necessary ticks and switches to be halfway back in control of your own machine.

With 16 GB RAM in my MacBook Pro the system eats 25-30% of RAM after a cold boot just idling in Finder.

Deleting or unloading all those services is in my eyes a must. There are daemons active that are meant for features that aren't even supported on my hardware. Airdrop, anything iphoney, like handoff, cloud-nonsense: the lists just keeps growing.

After going through all these launchctl agents and and demons (sic!) – that are sorely lacking in documentation; just to add insult to injury – I am now happy about a system that 'just' eats away 10-15% RAM at idle. That is about half of both RAM-sticks the machine came with.

Of course you have to avoid Mail.app and Safari, Contacts and just about anything that Apple chose to bundle. They are mostly useless or downright dangerous for my data.

Then try to look at what cfprefsd does, writing plist files into your user preferences directory every minute for things like Dock and Finder that only are in use. Not changing anything in there respective preferences. coresymbolicationd's data directory, coreduetd's /var folder (Even when it was never used, never was supported on my machine, it managed to accumulate 5 GB of worthless data when I found out about it.) The always growing out of hand and often self.corrupting cache-files, etc. The only example I know of that actually got better from 10.9 to 10.10 was /private/var/log/asl keeping itself in manageable and sensible proportions in Yosemite. Keeping in mind that there are now even more examples of these crazy writes to disk one keeps wondering if this is equally detrimental for ssd's as the recent Firefox-session-store 'scandal'? Once set up I rarely change prefs in my apps. And yet. Cfprefsd writes 10 GB a day 'for me' and this is untenable _and_ untameable.

So I keep asking myself and now I am asking you: For how long will you remain in this sinking boat and swallow all those salty drinks Apple keeps serving us?

Come WWDC security updates for Yosemite will stop. If they announce a single new feature instead of a very, very large list of grievances fixed along with an apology for all those crazy stupid design decisions of the past years (starting with .DS_Store), then I will jump ship.

MPG: the natives are getting restless.

Constant writes to disk are a source of wear and tear on SSDs; the flash cells on SSDs can be written so many times. Writing 1 byte or ten is the same as writing an entire 512K block (of flash memory). It is perhaps an argument for never booting off an expensive SSD, just to avoid the constant write-harrassment of the SSD by the OS.

OWC Easy SSD Upgrade Guide
MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
iMac, Mac Pro, MacMini, more!

Safari Seems Less Stable in macOS 10.12.2

See my Mac wish list.

Safari has been crashing more lately, and I suspect macOS 10.12.2 is involved, though it might just be that macOS Sierra is the turd it has felt like from the start.

Today, I just wanted to print one page from a web site—it’s not asking a whole lot.

Process:               Safari [30427]
Path:                  /Applications/Safari.app/Contents/MacOS/Safari
Identifier:            com.apple.Safari
Version:               10.0.2 (12602.3.12.0.1)
Build Info:            WebBrowser-7602003012000001~2
Code Type:             X86-64 (Native)
Parent Process:        ??? [1]
Responsible:           Safari [30427]
User ID:               501
Date/Time:             2017-01-10 08:43:53.862 -0800
OS Version:            Mac OS X 10.12.2 (16C68)
Report Version:        12
Anonymous UUID:        3A1B3248-8914-452A-A38E-AF944F6FE8CA
Sleep/Wake UUID:       652ED10F-8234-48DA-A5DA-00E009C4C044
Time Awake Since Boot: 26000 seconds
Time Since Wake:       3300 seconds
System Integrity Protection: enabled
Crashed Thread:        33
Exception Type:        EXC_BAD_ACCESS (SIGSEGV)
Exception Codes:       KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS at 0x0000000000000018
Exception Note:        EXC_CORPSE_NOTIFY
Termination Signal:    Segmentation fault: 11
Termination Reason: Namespace SIGNAL, Code 0xb
Terminating Process: exc handler [0] Thread 33 Crashed: 0 libobjc.A.dylib 0x00007fffbcc32b5d objc_msgSend + 29 1 com.apple.AppKit 0x00007fffa5bb3aed -[NSView(NSLayerKitGlue) _drawViewBackingLayer:inContext:drawingHandler:] + 1717 2 com.apple.AppKit 0x00007fffa5bb3432 -[NSView(NSLayerKitGlue) drawLayer:inContext:] + 80 3 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadc76314 CABackingStoreUpdate_ + 3740 4 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadd93464 ___ZN2CA5Layer8display_Ev_block_invoke + 75 5 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadd930c5 CA::Layer::display_() + 1803 6 com.apple.AppKit 0x00007fffa5bb22ca _NSBackingLayerDisplay + 577 7 com.apple.AppKit 0x00007fffa5ba5531 -[_NSViewBackingLayer display] + 885 8 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadd86f6e CA::Layer::display_if_needed(CA::Transaction*) + 572 9 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadd87099 CA::Layer::layout_and_display_if_needed(CA::Transaction*) + 35 10 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadd7c878 CA::Context::commit_transaction(CA::Transaction*) + 280 11 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadc73631 CA::Transaction::commit() + 475 12 com.apple.QuartzCore 0x00007fffadc73aab CA::Transaction::release_thread(void*) + 589 13 libsystem_pthread.dylib 0x00007fffbd73b50f _pthread_tsd_cleanup + 544 14 libsystem_pthread.dylib 0x00007fffbd73b249 _pthread_exit + 152 15 libsystem_pthread.dylib 0x00007fffbd73bda8 pthread_exit + 30 16 com.apple.Foundation 0x00007fffa99d2dd7 +[NSThread exit] + 11 17 com.apple.Foundation 0x00007fffa9967c81 __NSThread__start__ + 1263 18 libsystem_pthread.dylib 0x00007fffbd739aab _pthread_body + 180 19 libsystem_pthread.dylib 0x00007fffbd7399f7 _pthread_start + 286 20 libsystem_pthread.dylib 0x00007fffbd7391fd thread_start + 13

The GPU remains a Science Fair Project

See my Mac wish list.

Update 10 Jan: Adobe contacted me (well, I sent a link to this post to Adobe!), and they are going to look into the crash I'm seeing. I have provided an actions file and script to drive it. Now if only they would also agree to do something to address the GPU scaling headache.

Three+ years ago, the 2013 Mac Pro was released by Apple with graphics drivers rife with bugs. It took 6 months to get the drivers to a usable state. Adobe actually added GPU support for sharpening, then had to take that support out. What I never understood is how Adobe could ship those code changes without proper testing, the proof of that being self evident in the undoing.

Graphics driver bugs caused by half-baked Apple code are one thing—and I do pin the lion’s share of the blame on Apple. [It is my understanding that AMD engineers actually developed the drivers for the Mac Pro, but it’s Apple’s responsibility to ensure quality control.]

GPU problems with Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CC 2017,
macOS 10.12.2

But graphics driver bugs aside, Adobe could at least address what it can, that is, Adobe fails to fix severe usability bugs that result from enabling the GPU—for over two years now. Adobe was/is well aware of this issue, because I communicated directly, the issue was acknowledged as “hard to fix”. But even though I suggested minimally invasive user interface changes that could at least sidestep the scaling problem, this was not done either. Well, what is the point of a GPU if it results in unreliable operation of any kind?

And now GPU bugs persist to this day and now have taken a turn for the worse.

With the release of macOS 10.12 Sierra and Adobe Photoshop CC 2017, Photoshop has become more unstable than it has been in years. My 2013 Mac Pro, 2013 and 2015 and 2016 MacBook Pro and iMac 5K all have shown this GPU problem, as shown. Not always, but at launch or other times, and often enough to be disturbing.

Just today, something hard-crashed my Mac Pro (hard power off required), an extremely infrequent event (months without such a crash)—I was using Photoshop/ACR. I suspect the crash was a GPU driver crash in kernel space.

I don’t know where the fault lies (Apple or Adobe), but it is pathetic that one of my test suites (Lens Filters) cannot be completed on any Macs reliably, and never can run successfully on 2 of the 5 Macs.

Chad M writes:

I just upgraded my 2013 Mac Pro to Sierra over the holidays while I had down time.

I’m using an AJA LHI through ThunderboltBox and Final Cut X 10.3.1. I am getting kernel panics now (must be around a dozen).

I’m suspecting a driver issue of some kind – and your GPU thoughts have me leaning to look more in that direction. Maybe the next OS update will help. I should never have updated. So frustrating!!

DIGLLOYD: frustrating indeed for professionals trying to get work done. A kernel panic is of the same bug level as my 'hard freeze' I reported: something nasty happening at a level that kills the operating system.

Martin writes:

I read all your articles, and especially the more nerdy stuff about apple. Normally most of the people writing about Apple have nearly no clue about this more nerdy in deep stuff.
but I have to say something about your GPU disillusionment.

I’m into this GPU stuff since the late 90 doing 3D visualization and animation with extremely special and expensive cards, GPU acceleration before it was on the mass market.

And people like me know all these weird problems you experience.

It may sound bold and offensive but the 2013 MacPro with AMD GPUs and Adobe is the worst possible scenario. AMD drivers are known from the beginning as not suitable for professional work, besides they always had this FireGL pro line.

When you’re lucky that the drivers are stable, you will somehow experience display or rendering (calculation errors), especially working with fine graining values or extremes.
This is the reason nearly every pro in the 3D business or doing extreme compositing / video stuff is equipped with NVidia cards. The bad thing, the quality of their drivers is declining. In most of the pro software products is CUDA better integrated, integrated at all, more stable and a lot faster.

AMD looks always sweet on the spec sheet but they never deliver these speeds or stability. And the last 20 years there was never a stable and bug-free OpenGL driver from ATI/AMD, they are known for bad OpenGL.

The bad stuff, a lot of Adobes GPU implementations are also founded on OpenGL, like Lightroom's develop module - ADOBE confirmed this official that LR uses OpenGL. So every Mac now with a DGPU has an AMD GPU. Adobes Mercury Engine also relies on a lot of NVIDIA stuff - Premiere renders x times faster on a GeForce — is there is now other problem - ADOBE’s GPU implementations are really bad - MEDIAENCODER loves to show it uses CUDA but renders on your slow CPU.

But there are other software companies who have working GPU code - like Phase One. Run Capture One Pro on an 5 year old Intel i5 PC with a cheap GTX 970 — this is so much faster than Lightroom on the most badass Mac or PC money can buy. But Phase One also suffers from bad AMD drivers on Mac Mac and PC—just take a look and their user forums, a lot of people mourn that the software is so slow on their newest hardware.

At the end it relies on the software and Apple is constantly kicking us pros into our balls with their decision not to use NVIDIA.

MPG: the survey at BareFeats.com shows that 80% want NVIDIA cards, not AMD.

USB-C Dock for MacBook

4 USB3 ports, 1 USB-C port, SD card reader, gigabit ethernet, audio ports, HDMK 4K port!

2.5K or 4K or 5K Display for Image Editing and Viewing?

See my Mac wish list.

This essay at diglloyd.com goes into all the considerations in choosing a display: 2.5K or 4K or 5K Display for Image Editing and Viewing?. It applies equally to Windows users also.

See also Can a 2016 MacBook Pro support an 8K display?.

Crapware in macOS

See my Mac wish list.

I just thought that screen shot below captures the hubris run amok at Apple: the disregard for users that manifests itself at every level of the software and hardware product stack.

Crapware that I cannot remove is a dissatisfier (applies to iOS also), whether it is Chess.app or Garbage Band (oops, did I mis-spell it?) or the other Apple apps I never use and never will use.

Chess.app is a required application in macOS Sierra

On a related note, I have turned Siri OFF. The arrogance of Apple running the Siri process anyway is part and parcel of the attitudinal problem.

macOS: Siri runs even when off

When Siri is off, it’s still running. Any attempt to disable it in the plist is rejected by special security privileges that cannot be bypassed.

macOS: Siri runs even when off and cannot be disabled, even in the plist

I thought that use launchctl might work, but it doesn’t work to unload it.

sudo launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.Siri.plist
/System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.Siri.plist: Could not find specified service

See also:

Greg M writes:

macOS: Siri runs even when off

I enjoy your comments about how bad the software Apple produces.

I opened up Contacts this morning and got this dialog box. All I did was open up Contacts, did no operations within.

MPG: sheer genius.

 

Can a 2016 MacBook Pro support an 8K display?

See my Mac wish list.

The Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K Display will hit the market in early spring, raising the question of whether any Macs can drive that glorious 33.2 megapixels.

The GPU power along with the bandwidth required to drive four 4K displays is just emerging, but the 2016 MacBook Pro looks like it might be capable enough.

Apple specifications for the 2016 MacBook Pro state:

Up to two displays with 5120-by-2880 resolution at 60Hz at over a billion colors
Up to four displays with 4096-by-2304 resolution at 60Hz at over a billion colors

A 4K display is 3840 X 2160; thus four displays at 4096 X 2304 offer 13.7% more bandwith than required to drive an 8K display. Of course, an 8K display would have to be the only display, unless a 2017 Mac Pro arrives that can drive six or eight 4K displays. But with a MacBook Pro, presumably the internal display remains usable, so a dual display system looks possible.

Using two Thunderbolt 3 cables, it should be possible to drive an 8K display on the 2016 MacBook Pro in 10 bit color*, at least in terms of the required bandwidth, using a trick similar to how a 5K display was possible in previous Macs: drive each half of the display with one of the Thunderbolt cables, that is, Multi Stream Transport. The same trick might work for 8K. Perhaps Apple or Dell will weigh in on this possibility soon.

* The Apple specifications indicate “billions” which means 10-bit color.

Potential for an iMac 8K

Since a 32-inch 8K panel now exists, and the 2016 MacBook Pro already has the bandwidth to drive an 8K display, an iMac 8K is technically possible with today’s technology.

An iMac 8K could use a custom graphics solution to push those 32 megapixels, just as the iMac 5K does. There is no need for wait for standards to evolve to support external 8K support; it can be done internally with a proprietary solution. The main issue is cooling, but Apple should be able to engineer an appropriate GPU cooling system. And since the 2016 MacBook Pro is an even greater cooling challenge, and it can drive four 4K displays, it hardly seems like an iMac 8K should have any barriers to supporting an 8K built-in display.

The Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K Display will apparently sell for $4999. Even assuming that Apple could use its considerable volume to get that price down to $2000 or so, it would make an iMac 8K with the necessary GPU power something hitting the $6K to $8K range in price. So even though it appears to be ideal for an 32" iMac 8K, cost is likely to push off such an iMac. Then again, Apple has surprised us in the past, and could do so again, particularly with its failure to innovate for several years now.

Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo

Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 8K Display Suggests that an iMac 8K is Technically Feasible

See my Mac wish list.

See also Too-High Pixel Density on 5K and 8K Displays Impedes Image Assessment.

While I saw firsthand the LG 5K display for the 2016 MacBook Pro, unfortunately I did not chance upon the Dell 8K 32-inch display which was announced at CES.

7680 X 4320 pixels = 33.2 megapixes in 32" form factor, aspect ratio 1.77:1

A 4K display is like tiling together four HD displays and thus requires 4X the bandwidth of a conventional 1920 X 1080 display. An 8K display is like tiling together four 4K displays for a whopping 33.2 megapixels (7680 X 4320).

A a full resolution Nikon D810 image is 7360 X 4912, so its entire width fits with room to spare on an 8K display, although the aspect ratio is too tall to fit vertically. The pixel density of an 8K display has to be an awesome viewing experience, but high pixel density is problematic for assessing image sharpnesss.

The $4,999 UP3218K is slated to go on sale on March 23rd. It has a refresh rate of 60 Hz and will work with zero Macs and only a few select PCs with specialized video hardware, and even then GPU performance will need some time to catch up. The display supports 100 percent Adobe RGB, sRGB, and Rec709 color gamuts.

HDMI 2.1 (announced at CES) supports 8K, but Apple doesn’t even support HDMI 1.3 yet, so external 8K displays are likely to take a few years to become more than a special rarity.

However, at least in bandwith terms, 8K might already be possible; see: Can a 2016 MacBook Pro support an 8K display?

Potential for an iMac 8K

Since a 32-inch panel now exists, it seems ideal for an iMac 8K which could use a custom graphics solution to push those 32 megapixels—no need for wait for standards to evolve to support external 8K support; it can be done internally just as with the iMac 5K.

The Dell display will apparently sell for $4999. Even assuming that Apple could use its considerable volume to get that price down to $2000 or so, it would make an iMac 5K with the necessary GPU power something hitting the $6K to $8K range in price. So even though it appears to be ideal for an iMac design, pricing is an obstacle that could put off an iMac 8K for a year or more.

OWC ThunderBay 4 20TB RAID-5 $1299!
4TB to 40TB, configure single drives or as RAID-5, RAID-0, RAID-10.
Now up to a whopping 40 Terabytes

LG 5K Display for 2016 MacBook Pro

See my Mac wish list.

See also Too-High Pixel Density on 5K and 8K Displays Impedes Image Assessment.

Yes, you want one. It looks fantastic in person, shot below from CES. But at present it works only on the 2016 MacBook Pro, via a Thunderbolt 3 cable, as shown below. OTOH, for about $1700 you can get a 5K display from Apple with a free computer.

I am NOT recommending it for work where evaluating image sharpness or very fine tweaks is needed—that’s why I still use the NEC PA302W for my image evaluation—the pixel density is way too high for that type of detail work. But like the iMac 5K viewing experience, the LG 5K is aweseome for viewing images, with its 14.7 megapixel display.

I did not chance upon the Dell 8K 32-inch display which was announced at CES, but a 32-inch panel now exists, it seems ideal for an iMac 8K which could use a custom graphics solution to push those 32 megapixels. An 8K display requires the bandwidth of four 4K displays and isn’t going to fly with any Mac (yet).

 
LG 5K display for 2016 MacBook Pro
__METADATA__

OWC Envoy Pro Thunderbolt 3 2TB SSD

I’m in SSD heaven!

I just saw a production version of the OWC Envoy Pro Thunderbolt 3 2TB SSD. About twice the size of the current OWC Envoy Pro EX (my go-to drive for travel backup and other on-the-go purposes), the new OWC Envoy Pro nonetheless fits in the palm of my hand. The larger size is all for the better, because it allows for very high capacity, cooling fins for sustained ultra high performance and a robust aluminum case.

  • 2TB capacity with a form factor that implies a 4TB version should emerge.
  • Thunderbolt 3.
  • Tested with DiskTester: this external SSD not only rocks on small transfers (about as fast as anything I’ve ever tested), it hits 1300 MiB/sec on writes and 2000 MiB/sec reads. Externally. That performance blows away the 1TB internal SSD in my 2013 Mac Pro, at twice the capacity. Practically speaking, more speed is of no practical concern for anything but the most specialized or obscure situation.
  • Pricing TBD.

I see this drive as a breakthrough device: 2TB (and maybe later, 4TB) capacity, desktop grade SSD performance, outstanding portability. I can’t think of anything ever before that combines all these attributes, with no downsides at all. Many people could carry all their Stuff on one of these drives and never look back. The possible catch: is it backward compatible with Thunderbolt 2 via the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter? It should be, but this is to be confirmed.

The OWC Envoy Pro Thunderbolt 3 2TB SSD should be available for purchase “before NAB” according to OWC (that means April or so).

2TB OWC Envoy Pro Thunderbolt 3 SSD attached to 2016 MacBook Pro
2TB OWC Envoy Pro Thunderbolt 3 SSD attached to 2016 MacBook Pro

A Powerful Argument for a Small Laptop

I grabbed dinner at the airport on the way to CES. I asked Andalé Taquería if El Presidente Burrito trumped El Supremo, but they feigned ignorance. Personally I think both are quite a mélange of ingredients.

Anyway, I’m sitting on a Virgin America 737 or whatever this narrow-bodied thing is, and I’m back in cattle class. There is barely (barely!) enough room to open my 15-inch MacBook Pro, with the likelihood of it being damaged if the passenger ahead of me reclines his seat—so I politely asked for a warning if he were to be so inclined (double entendre intended).

If I flew regularly, I’d buy a MacBook just for airline travel. In the “old days” a 15-inch laptop was not a problem. On Virgin America, it’s a bad choice size in this godawful sardine can. But there were few options left when I bought my ticket.

Update: the return flight on Jet Blue was vastly better for leg space. And for $25 I sat in seat 4D where I could actually stretch my legs out, and my pack would fit under the seat ahead of my. Night and day better vs Virgin America.

Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo

OWC “DEC” for 2016 MacBook Pro

Update 4 Jan: I’ve seen the prototype of the OWC DEC first hand. The DEC bolts onto the bottom of the MacBook Pro after removing the bottom shell of the case. The result is a seamless integration with all the key ports I need (gigabit ethernet, USB-A 3.1, SD card slot), delivering what feels in the hand very much like the 13" 2012 MacBook Pro in thickness (but in 15" size).

The convenience of this form factor should not be underestimated by any power user: no dongles, the classic ports right built-in, and from what I understand—potentially configurable for all sorts of things like extra battery power, gobs of SSD storage, possibly even hard drives. In short, a really powerful platform could make a MacBook Pro into a portable desktop grade machine, particularly if/when Apple introduces the Kaby Lake chipset to the MacBook Pro line.

Another factor is data safety: by having a 2nd (or 3rd drive) in the DEC, pros that cannot lose data can backup the internal drive conveniently (think video footage that cannot be re-shot and whose loss could break a reputation after ruining that wedding or whatever)—remember the soldered-on SSD is a lot of downtime if the MBP goes down. Of course, an external backup should also be used, and there the OWC Envoy Pro is ideal.

The conceptual design is just about limitless, affording possibilities for huge SSD storage (my guess is that up to 8TB will be possible before long, OWC says up to 4TB initially), extra battery power should be configurable too—how about 20 or 30 hours of battery life? That too is my guess but the volume of the DEC should be able support something like that and/or a mix of SSD and battery boost. Other potentialities are there too. I don’t see anything that precludes all sorts of terrific expansion capabilities, all by extending the thicknesss of the MacBook Pro to a total height little different from what used to be the standard thickness.

The OWC DEC will be available for purchase in Spring 2017, according to OWC.

Form factor of the OWC DEC is little different from what used to be the standard MacBook Pro thickness. Connector at right (prototype, final will be more elegant) couples the Thunderbolt 3 port of the MacBook Pro to the DEC.

Later units (not prototypes) will have an SD card slot and USB port on the right side, and other ports (gigabit ethernet, more USB ports) on left side. OWC hints at other potential ports as well.

Prototype of OWC DEC attached to 15" 2016 MacBook Pro
Production version to polish fit and finish, plus space gray or silver options

Sleek enough to travel with because the form factor is little different from what used to be the standard MacBook Pro thickness.

OWC Makes MacBooks ‘Pro’ Again With Game-Changing OWC DEC

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

OWC today announced the OWC DEC, the first-ever expansion solution designed specifically for the 2016 Apple MacBook Pro. The OWC DEC is the finishing touch to a MacBook Pro, allowing users to take their laptops to the next level, extending the life and the functionality of the already-exceptional 2016 MacBook Pro. The DEC is the latest in OWC’s long line of upgrades for nearly every Mac made and continues the company’s legacy of providing the best solutions for Mac owners.

The OWC DEC attaches completely flush to the bottom of the 2016 MacBook Pro, providing additional flash storage and connectivity, ultimately increasing the performance of MacBook Pros. With the OWC DEC, users will get an enhancement path for their 2016 MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to keep their system upgradeable for the long term in a clean and integrated fashion. On top of the core functional benefits, the OWC DEC also touts a sleek design. When installed, the OWC DEC and MacBook Pro will be as thin as a 2012 MacBook Pro, allowing this advanced solution to retain the attractive light weight design that users favor.

This patented solution has a range of features, which include:

  • Up to 4TB of additional Flash/SSD storage (for a maximum of 6 TB, including factory capacity)
  • SD Card Slot/Multi-Media card slot
  • USB 3 Type A Ports for standard USB cabled devices
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • And other features to be announced at a later date

Larry O’Connor, OWC Founder and CEO, will personally showcase the OWC DEC prototype in Las Vegas this week. The OWC DEC enables the new MacBook Pro to be updated and expanded in order to operate at peak performance and ultimately be relevant for years longer than may otherwise be expected.

“We’ve been developing this concept for over three years and feel now is the perfect time for this ground-breaking product,” said O’Connor. “Storage space is always at a premium on a laptop and without the potential to upgrade the factory drive, the OWC DEC brings that option back in addition to cleanly supporting the gear we all rely on.”

The release of the OWC DEC comes on the heels of a significant year of new product announcements from OWC, including the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, OWC USB-C Dock, Aura SSD and the newly released Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini and Mercury Elite Pro Dual.

OWC will ship the highly-anticipated OWC DEC in Spring 2017. OWC Upgrades are available from MacSales.com and other fine retailer and e-tailers in the U.S. and around the world. For more information, please visit www.owcdigital.com/DEC.

Desktop CPU Performance at a Standstill?

As I wrote in Computers Are not Getting Faster in a Meaningful Way, GPU is Half-Baked Tech, Too Many Software Developers Suck, computer performance has hardly changed in 3+ years. All while most software continues to make poor use of CPU cores, so a double whammy from two different directions.

ArsTechnica comments on the CPU situation in Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake review: Is the desktop CPU dead?:

With identical performance to Skylake, Intel brings desktop performance to a standstill.

The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post-"tick-tock" world—which means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah.

Update 04 Jan: are at least a few reasons why the Intel 'Kaby Lake' release is significant:

  • Improved graphics performance.
  • My understanding is that the Kaby Lake 'H' series supports 32GB memory, thus making a MacBook Pro with 32GB of DR 23000 DRAM possible. But whether the power draw is viable on a laptop is unclear (meaning what we could expect from Apple, given the rationalizations seen with the Nov 2016 MacBook Pro).
  • The i7-7920HQ 3.1 GHz (turbo boost to 4.1 GHz, 4 real CPU cores) might be suitable for a MacBook Pro.
  • The i7-7700K 4.2 GHz (turbo boost 4.5 GHz) shoudl be suitable for an iMac. This perhaps is the “standstill” point—that’s only 5% faster than the 4.0 GHz iMac 5K that sits on my desk today—at the cost of a 95 watt TPD.

Even if CPU performance is stuck in 3rd gear for now, all is not lost. In particular, Apple could go back to a real “pro” desktop by making it a big box again, with features like this. I bet that it would be a best-seller Mac Pro:

  • A choice of 4 to 18 CPU cores, or whatever the limit is currently. Even better: dual CPUs again.
  • 8 memory slots accepting up to 256GB. Stretch goal: 12 or 16 memory slots for up to 384GB.
  • 12 Thunderbolt 3 ports, split across 3 busses.
  • Support for three external 5K displays.
  • Single outrageously fast GPU.
  • Two 16x PCIe slots for optional 2nd or 3rd GPU and/or extra PCIe SSD, etc.
  • Internal SSD options of 1TB or 2TB or 4TB, option for 2nd SSD with same capacity options, running at 3 GB/sec.
  • Space for two internal hard drives, thus allowing 20TB internally in addition to the SSDs.
  • Nice to have: 4 USB3 ports to keep connectivity hassles down with useful legacy devices (mouse, keyboard, camera card readers, USB3 drives, etc).

Why not? Apple could re-establish itself as a serious player for high-end performance. Make it a box, but very quiet box, a big cylinder if some nitwit demands that as the tradeoff, but make it robust.

BareFeats.com has a a very interesting survey highly relevant to the above points: 63% prefer a tower form factor, 62% prefer six or more CPU cores, 34% prefer 128GB or more memory, few users want AMD GPUs (NVIDIA strongly preferred), 73% want support for at least two displays, 39% want 5K support, 43% want at least 4TB of internal storage. And so on. Clearly there is a desire for a high end machine.

ThunderBay 4 - The Speed To Create. The Capacity To Dream.

Apple Core Rot: PDF Support

Is this incompetence, disdain, or all-out contempt for developers and users? MPG tends to favor the “incompetence and mismanagement” theory, but those generally require some degree of the other two, that is, to allow it to be approved and ship to customers.

Apple Insider: Apple's changes to macOS PDF handling stymie third-party developers, cause data loss

Apple's changes to how it handles PDFs in macOS Sierra are causing problems with third-party utilities, with the most profound issue potentially causing the removal of an optical character recognition layer from user's files.

Adam Engst from long-time Mac journal TidBITS noted that while problems were widely publicized at Sierra's launch with ScanSnap scanner software, other issues have persisted after two updates, and in some cases gotten worse.
...

According to reports collated by Engst, and confirmed by AppleInsider, Apple has re-written the PDFKit framework in macOS 10.12 Sierra, and implemented a common core with iOS and macOS. However, this has caused some serious issues with software that relies on Apple's PDFKit.
...

MPG: data loss supports the “disdain and contempt” theory, but does not rule out sheer incompetence.

Note the “common core” thing—a very dangerous trend for future APIs in terms of reliability, compatibility and data integrity particularly since Apple seems to have no idea what unit testing is.

Whose data of any kind is safe when Apple has no qualms about rewriting APIs that damage user files? Such actions show a profound disrespect for users, although leaving RAID users hung out to dry is arguably far worse.

On the Apple Core Rot topic, see one more view in Apple’s 2016 in review.

SSD Upgrade for MacBook Pro Retina

Monitoring Most Everything: iStat Menus

 
iStatMenus: CPU and Network Status

Last week I reported on cleaning out dust to forestall component failure.

A program like iStatMenus can help figure out if a Mac is overheating; take a baseline when new or after cleaning and periodically check those temperatures against temperatures some months later (assuming the same room temperature). Or, if the Mac’s fans are running too loudly or too frequently under no apparent load situation, check out the temperature of the components.

BJango Software also offers iStat for Mac. Maybe it can run locally only, but it seems to be designed for remote monitoring via iStat Server.

While iStatMenus has a wealth of information, and has a smooth and polished interface—it’s a terrific tool—there are two things that bother me which are peculiar to my own setup.

  • I would prefer to have all this information in one window for two reasons: (1) see everything at once, and (2) locate the window on whichever display I want to, (3) unclutter y menu bar. Well, it’s iStatMenus for a reason so that is by design. Still I would like this info in a window which would reside on my 4K display for the same reason all my palettes in Photoshop are off my main screen.
  • With my dual display setup, the main screen is standard (non Retina) resolution. The very small type is not os easy to read on standard-res displays. The menu bar must be on that display (it is not a viable option to put a menu bar on the other display and/or to make the 4K 2nd display be the primary, for my own reasons). So I am stuck with small type that is unfriendly to my eyes and cannot be captured with retina quality in a screen shot either. The foregoing is inapplicable to my iMac 5K or to my MacBook Pro.

Below, all the sensor measurements on my 2013 Mac Pro.

iStatMenus: Sensor measurements on 8-core 3.3 GHz 2013 Mac Pro

Configuring the “Combined” menu

I like the combined menu because I can mouse over each area as submenus. If configured to use separate menus in the menu bar (each area of reporting having its own separate menu), then each menu has to be clicked on separately.

See my previous comments: a modal information display is not nearly to my linking as being able to see all this stuff in one larger status display.

iStatMenus: “Combined” menu with Memory submenu
NuGard KX Case for iPhones and iPads
Outstanding protection against drops and impact!
Excellent grip for wet hands, cycling, etc!

2016 MacBook Pro: Test Results vs 2015 MacBook Pro and 13" 2016 MacBook Pro + a Big Surprise

Mac wish list •  all 2016 MacBook pro models at B&H Photo • all 15" Apple MacBook Pro 2016 models •  all 13" Apple MacBook Pro 2016 models. MPG gets credit if you buy through those links.

Deal on top-spec 2015 MacBook Pro at OWC.

I encountered a stunning surprise when testing: the 13" 2016 MacBook Pro dual-core 2.4 GHz beat out all but one of the other Macs on my #1 most important Photoshop task. And I had to give the other Macs several tries to get better times; the times usually were slower.

That’s insane! But I ran and re-ran the test—same deal. So to paraphrase Mark Twain, there are lies, damn lies, and benchmarks. All that matters is how well a computer works for one’s own particular workflow.

This amazing performance is from the 13" 2.4 GHz / 16GB / 512GB non-touchbar model, whose Turbo Boost mode hits 3.4 GHz, which is only 0.1 GHz slower than the fastest processor Apple offers in the 13" model. But those faster base-clock-speed models require the touchbar, and the touchbar is a non-starter for me and others. Plus, the touchbar model has a significantly smaller battery and slotted (not soldered-on) SSD. I also found that the 13" model has the least trouble cooling itself, as judged by fan noise (not much even under load). Plus the 13" model does not slow down under some loads like the 15" model does.

While all of the machines showed some variability in test results (laptops in particular), multiple runs confirm the dominance of the 13" 2016 MacBook Pro in this real-world workflow challenge. The graph below takes the fastest time from each machine. Other tests show the 13" model to be be slower, but quite a feisty ankle biter on many tests. If anything, it shows that software plays a huge role in using or not using CPU cores efficiently.

2016 MacBook Pro vs other Macs: Photoshop filters
OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

2016 MacBook Pro: Test Results Updated to include 2015 MacBook Pro and 13-inch 2016 MacBook Pro

Mac wish list •  all 2016 MacBook pro models at B&H Photo • all 15" Apple MacBook Pro 2016 models •  all 13" Apple MacBook Pro 2016 models. MPG gets credit if you buy through those links.

Deal on top-spec 2015 MacBook Pro at OWC.

zzzzzzzz

2016 MacBook Pro: Photoshop Filters

2016 MacBook Pro vs other Macs: Photoshop filters
NuGard KX Case for iPhones and iPads
Outstanding protection against drops and impact!
Excellent grip for wet hands, cycling, etc!

Bought the 2015 MacBook Pro: Best Model for My Usage at a Big Savings

2015 Apple MacBook Pro Retina

See all my previous discussion on the 2016 MacBook Pro, which I returned.

My main issue with my rock-solid 2013 MacBook Pro has been simple: its 512GB SSD has been an increasing headache (only 180GB free space given other necessary stuff, a problem on my photography trips). So I’ve been wanting a MacBook Pro with a 1TB SSD for a while, but I didn’t want to pay full fare.

As well, ergonomics and performance and compatibility all matter to me—all a 'fail' with the 2016 MacBook Pro. The 2015 MacBook pro is the best one Apple ever made (for my needs) when those things are all taken into consideration—not the 2016 MacBook Pro.

Bonus wins:

And while the 2016 model has Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C, that brings adapter hassles and I really don’t need TB3 anyway, since I expect an iMac or Mac Pro to bring TB3 sometime soon in 2017—and when I am working at home I don’t use the laptop anyway. So TB3 doesn’t do anything for me on a laptop.

For a lot less money, I bit the bullet and ordered a 2015 MacBook Pro 2.8 GHz / 16GB / 1TB 2015 from OWC. Which is faster on what I do anyway! It is factory sealed Apple refurbished with a one year warrant and eligible for AppleCare, so just like a new one.

ThunderBay 4 - The Speed To Create. The Capacity To Dream.

Another “Going Back” Review of the 2016 MacBook Pro

While I did purchase the 2016 MacBook Pro 13" model for my college-bound daughter, it was the non-touchbar model, that is the non-annoying model. The 2016 MacBook Pro is a 'fail', its plusses notwithstanding—never before have I been so dissatisfied with a new Mac that I returned it out of frustration on multiple fronts: ergonomics and performance and compatibility headaches, and very poor value.

Apple claims a hugely successful launch of the 2016 MacBook Pro, a claim that presumably is true, but one has to wonder why discounts up to $200 are already seen less six weeks after launch. That’s unprecedented for a Mac as far as I can recall.

Apple Insider writes in MacBook 2016 Review – It’s going back:

I simply couldn’t type accurately on the 13" MBP because of the over-sensitive trackpad and Touch Bar – which I constantly engaged with an errant palm graze or finger overshooting the keyboard. It’s distracting as hell to be typing away into a note, doc or email and suddenly “click” on the window of a background app and switching contexts. Then I’d have to figure out what I was doing, where my window went, switch back to it, and try to pick up where I left off.

Accidental and sudden context switches are productivity killers and at the end of the day, I need my MacBook to be a productivity machine, not a productivity killer.

These comments mirror my frustration with the touchbar as well as the comments in the film-makers’s review. I avoided trackpad issues in part because I connect and use a mouse intead of the trackpad but that won’t be the case on the road.

Boil this all down to its root: Apple design for both software and hardware have become productivity killers as in Apple Core Rot. That characterization is too kind really, but it is the essence of the problem. It is incredibly dismaying that Apple no longer understands elegance of design, which is productivity enhancing hardware and software synergy, not a repudiation of functionality in favor of thinner/lighter/ostensibly “elegant” design. Apple now designs old-West false-front stores—beautiful eye candy, new features that I’d pay to remove, and at the cost of functionality.

Below, the 2015 Apple MacBook Pro is a winner, and a top-spec model sells for far less than the 2016 MacBook Pro. Its plus and minus is lack of Thunderbolt 3. The 2014 model is also good, but just slightly slower.

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Even ”Enterprise Grade” Drives Fail

It’s called Mean Time Between Failure because it’s awfully mean of an enterprise-grade hard drive to fail in less than 13 months. Happy New Year to you too, HE8.

Seriously, “mean” is average, as in Mean (average) Time Between Failure (MTBF). Drives fail, and while an enterprise drive might last 5 years, it might like to fail in one year, as shown below. As in mean time to failure—an average.

I’ve been running the HGST Ultrastar He8 8TB hard drives in a 4-way RAID-0 stripe for just over a year—see my in-depth review of the HGST 8TB Ultrastar He8 hard drive. I’ve been very pleased with the performance and low noise level.

A drive failure is luck of the (mean) draw. VERY bad luck in this case, given the remarkable 0.00% annualized failure rate for HGST 8TB drives stated at BackBlaze.com (exact same model number). The longer term failure rate (see link) is 2.7% for the HGST He8 HUH728080ALE600 across 26953 drive days: 2 failures total but it’s unclear how many drives.

Failure rate from BackBlaze.com for HGST He8 HUH728080ALE600 8TB hard drive, Q3 2016
Failure rate from BackBlaze.com for hard drives, Q3 2016

A big plus of SoftRAID is its advance warning of impending drive failure, as shown below. See the OWC blog post on drive failure, with Tim Standing’s video presentation as well as BackBlaze hard drive stats for Q3 2016.

OWC is unique in that if you get a failing drive like this on a Thunderbay RAID, we’ll RMA it and replace it.

Even with this awesome warranty policy, MPG recommends a cold spare, because shipping takes time. In my case I do not keep a cold spare, but I do have 4 “warm” spares each of which are single-drive backups, so I will just scavenge one of them.

Continues below...

SoftRAID detecting an about-to-fail hard drive

Checking drives before putting into “production”

SoftRAID has a superb 'certify' command which is excellent, and MPG recommends using it.

However, diglloydTools DiskTester fill-volume command can test 99% of the drive and graph the behavior, as shown below, where 5 samples were tested simultaneously, and then graphed together to verify consistent performance—important for RAID setups.

Over the years I have found that aberrant performance behaviors (obvious in a graph) are often an excellent predictor of flaky drives. The test-reliability command is good too, with the major benefit of being able to operate on in-use drives—no need to take a system down for days to certify (which means having to completely wipe) the drives.

Performance across 8TB capacity of HGST 8TB Ultrastar He8, 5 samples

Verifying data after moving/copying it

diglloydTools

Steps in doing a major data transfer/conversion/fix:

  1. Bring all hashes up to date with diglloydTools IntegrityChecker using the update command.
  2. After cloning or copying over the data from the backup or old volume to the new, run IntegrityChecker verify to verify 100% bit-for-bit data integrity.

Below, the summary output for the two volumes I had to redo, ArchivePV and Archive. The one missing file is just some temp file, so it is of no importance. Content did not change in any files totaling about 6.5TB of data.

======================================================
ic verify ArchivePV
2016-12-30 at 09:15:40
======================================================
# Files with stored hash: 104968
# Files missing: 1
==================
# Files hashed: 104967
# Files without hashes: 0
# Files whose size has changed: 0
# Files whose date changed: 0
# Empty files: 1
# Files whose content changed (same size): 0
# Suspicious files: 0
...
======================================================
ic verify Archive (summary)
2016-12-30 at 11:29:30
======================================================
# Files with stored hash: 197325
# Files missing: 1
# Files hashed: 197324
# Files without hashes: 0
# Files whose size has changed: 0
# Files whose date changed: 26
# Empty files: 1
# Files whose content changed (same size): 0
# Suspicious files: 0
ThunderBay 4 - The Speed To Create. The Capacity To Dream.

Great Deal on 13" MacBook Pro

A few days ago I wrote about Which 13-inch 2016 MacBook Pro? (or MacBook), where I argued in favor of the non-touchbar model.

Taxes Reminder: Section 179 for Small Business Owner: Deduct if In-Service by End Of Year.

So here are some excellent deals on an outstanding configuration of the 13" model sans touchbar and with all the right trimmings: 16GB memory, 512GB SSD, 2.4 GHz CPU.

More options below, or view/find MacBook Pro deals.

ALSO worth a look is the deeply discounted top-spec 2015 MacBook Pro. The 2015 MacBook Pro (15" model) is actually faster on some things than the 2016 top-spec model.

MacSales.com 'Area 51' Sale

See also B&H Photo Deal Zone Blowout.

OWC / MacSales.com has posted its Area 51 Year-End Blowout Sale.

The initial 51 include Thunderbolt RAIDs, Some nice Drive Enclosures, Great Cases, Power, Cables, Speakers, EarBuds, other goodies really priced to move. Items as low as One US Penny. Some past their heyday - some just with extra stock, some unexpected just to make it interesting.

First come, first serve, limited quantities of some items.

Envoy Pro mini - In Motion There Exists Great Potential

Which 13-inch 2016 MacBook Pro? (or MacBook)

UPDATE 28 Dec:

Two excellent deals on an outstanding configuration of the 13" model sans touchbar and with all the right trimmings: 16GB memory, 512GB SSD, 2.4 GHz CPU:

...

My oldest daughter will need a laptop for college next year, and so we went to the Apple Store to look at the 12" MacBook versus the 13" MacBook Pro.

She loved the 2 pound form factor of the MacBook, but I pointed out the dual ports, brighter/bigger better color and contrast and more pixels display, faster processor, better speakers, etc of the 13" MacBook Pro. And the superior ergonomics even if only just balancing on one’s lap (the MacBook is too small for that usage scenario).

All those benefits for 3 pounds versus 2 pounds and 3/4" dimensionally in both directions. But once a power brick is carried, the weight gap becomes less relevant. And either one fits easily into a daypack, and a 1 pound difference hardly matters when also carrying 10 pounds of textbooks and a water bottle and such.

Apple MacBook 1.2 Ghz / 8GB / 512GB for $999

The $999 Apple 12" MacBook Pro 8,1 1.2GHz / 512GB (at time this was written) is very appealing on a price basis, but if the budget allows for more, my thinking is that in terms of a 4 year lifespan for a college student, the argument is strongly in favor of the 13" 2016 MacBook Pro, particularly when the all but mandatory* $229 AppleCare extended warranty is included in the total system cost—the price differential in percentage terms is small when looking at a 4 year service life and in the context of what a college education costs. On the other hand, $999 gets you 512GB instead of 256GB internal SSD and in that 2 pound form factor.

* Apple laptops are “total failure” systems: due to soldered-on everything, the cost of repair beyond the pathetic one year warranty is prohibitive, although the toaster overn repair trick might work in certain cases. AppleCare is thus an all but mandatory purchase. If Apple quality is really superiro to other brands, then why doesn’t Apple stand behind its products with a 3 year warranty instead of the lowest-bar 1 year warranty?

Prelude

Apple considers the touchbar a feature, but it’s really a minefield anti-feature that is too often the source of errors and problems; I would pay extra to REMOVE the touchbar anti-feature in favor of real keys. The 13" model can be had without the touchbar.The 15" 2016 MacBook Pro has no such option, and all one can do is to program it to fixed keys, which are not in the right positions, and have no tactile consistency with the main keyboard.

Which 13" 2016 MacBook Pro model?

After seeing both the touchbar and non-touchbar models, I am strongly in favor of the NON-touchbar model* because it has several advantages:

  • Superior value: the price escalates rapidly with the touchbar model.
  • A slotted/removable SSD which ought to be upgradeable at some point, thus keeping the cost reasonable by going with the 256GB SSD (the cost escalates rapidly over the base model). If more storage is needed, I expect that OWC will have an upgrade before too long. This is not possible with the touchbar model due to its soldered-on SSD.
  • Real keys for ESC and function keys. The touchbar is “unstable” eye candy, an anti-feature for serious use (touch ID excepted). If and when any app shows truly useful touchbar support for pro use, I may change my mind, but no Apple app has anything useful on the touchbar that I can see. Function keys are proven by years of use, fixed* and thus can be relied upon to be there, and always will be predictable with no surprises.

Bottom line is that the base model is least expensive while affording future storage expansion. The CPU speed is irrelevant for the uses discussed.

As for value, the Apple $200 upcharge for the soldered-on choice of 16GB vs 8GB (8GB more) is an obscenity that only Apple can get away when 32GB of iMac 5K memory is only $238 as I write this—that’s $3.3X more per gigabyte and when bought with a brand-new machine. But when soldered-on as with the Apple MacBook Pro, there is no upgrading later so the choice must be carefully considered up-front.

* I would pay extra on the 15" model to REMOVE the touchbar, but see 2016 MacBook Pro: Configuring the Touchbar Control Strip to Show All Function Keys.

OWC Easy SSD Upgrade Guide
MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
iMac, Mac Pro, MacMini, more!

A Slew of Discounts on Apple Macs, iPads

See also Taxes Reminder: Section 179 for Small Business Owners (Accelerated Depreciation): Deduct if In-Service by End Of Year.

B&H Photo shows a whole bunch of year-end discounts on Apple Macs:

Curiously, the Apple Mac Pro is not discounted.

Even more curious, the 2016 MacBook Pro is already discounted by amounts that normally occur only 6 to 9 months into the product cycle.

Used can be a good route also; OWC / MacSales.com:

Clean Dust Off Computer Innards for Longer Service Life

See also Reader Comment: “iMac is a ticking bomb sealed inside a locked aluminum showcase”.

Dusk can kill electronics by localized heat buildup.

The Apple iMac is a terrible design in this sense: it is difficult (just not feasible for most all users) to get at the internals to clean off dust, virtually guaranteeing an abrupt failure, typically of the video card. Worse, the tight iMac internals leave little room for error on cooling.

Not so with the Mac Pro, which really does have a 'genius' design for cooling. Even better, dust is easily removed, as shown below.

I use a combination of canned air and a powerful nozzle on a 1300 watt HEPA vacuum cleaner. Never make actual contact with the electronics. I maintain a 1/2" or so distance using a inch nozzle of about an inch in diameter (no brush!). That creates a suction powerful enough to suck off most dust, even the stringy stuff.

The vacuum cleaner not only can suck off most of the dust, but placed on top of the Mac Pro it can spin the Mac Pro fan to very high speeds sufficient to make it whine from the RPM, all the while spitting out clouds and clots of dust. This works for other fans in other computers also. It easily removes dust that dust off usually cannot dislodge. The dust off is mainly useful for nooks and crannies (keep the vaccuum cleaner running with the nozzle nearby to avoid contaminating your work environment).

I had not cleaned my 2013 Mac Pro for nearly a year. As seen below, significant buildup of dust can occur internal to a machine. The localized buildup of heat can be substantial when dust accumulates like this (a system failure can result from one tiny component). The image below is a mild example compared to what I used to see in my 2010 Mac Pro.

Dusty 2013 Mac Pro innards (cover removed)—but easily cleaned

Anon writes:

We use the EasyGo CompuCleaner - Electric Computer Blower for Electronic Devices – Alternative to Compressed Air or Canned Air with fantastic success! Just clean out the filter on the bottom after use, which take no more then 60 seconds.

Generally agree with you. I do this every year as IT manager where I work. Yesterday, my son and I blew out 30+ Mac Pro’s (2008 to 2013) models. Wearing face masks and googles. It was a dust storm!

One point of difference…. I read somewhere in the past not to blow fans to very fast rotation while cleaning as the bearings and fan design are not built for that rotation speed. Especially opposite direction to their normal turning. So while we blow them we are careful to not turn them like a jet engine.

MPG: Interesting option that looks very worthwhile in some cases. One issue is raising dust best not raised (outside the Mac), but with a vaccuum also running sucking in the dust it might work well to keep the dust down (I also have a large HEPA air filter I can run nearby).

Fans: forcing the fan to spin at extreme RPM for very long is not a good idea. Also, a vaccuum cleaner used as described spins the fans in the natural direction; a blower forces the fan the wrong direction. So don’t use a blower to spin the fans backward. Finally, the 2013 Mac Pro fan is presumably high-spec with good bearings, and not easily damaged.

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Reader Comment: “iMac is a ticking bomb sealed inside a locked aluminum showcase”

A fascinating essay on the viability of the Apple iMac for reliable longer term use.

See also Clean Dust Off Computer Innards for Longer Service Life.

Don H writes:

You wrote:

"The downsides of the iMac 5K are several: Inferior cooling ability and increased noise under loads that would make a Mac Pro barely audible; the iMac 5K is not suitable for sustained loads and not likely to survive sustained loads for the years I would expect a Mac Pro to chug along easily."

When the slim ‘supermodel’ iMacs came out I assessed their design and specs but instead bought a refurbed 2011 i7 model (the last iMac with an optical drive), in part for potential serviceability versus dealing with the glued-on screen of the later models. It has served me quite well but this past September the video card failed. Needless to say it was well past the Applecare contract so I was on my own for repairs. I’m still holding out for a refreshed Mac Pro (‘Waiting For Godot’) but in the meantime I want this machine to keep going.

After some online research I learned that certain components on the video card could become unsoldered if enough heat built up inside, which seemed to be the case for my machine. (The fans were spinning up more and more as it aged.) The solution was to either buy a replacement video card, which is economically unjustified, or to ‘re-flow’ the solder on the existing card. This is an interesting if completely risky process of removing the card and putting it in a pre-heated oven for ten minutes to melt the existing solder enough so that it can literally re-flow across the connections. Any cold-solder cracks would theoretically mend themselves. I had nothing to lose at that point, so I opened up the machine and followed the iFixit procedure on an iPad.

Now I have opened up and worked on just about every generation of Mac, starting with a Radius 68020 coprocessor upgrade on a Mac SE to a complete dismantling of a G4 PowerMac down to the bare chassis. Some of the best machines along the line were the wonderful Mac IIci (one screw held almost everything in place), NeXT Stations, and the entirely reasonable white PowerPC iMacs. But then there were some lemons from the Spindler years (I can’t even remember all the model numbers), and the newer aluminum iMacs that used every trick available to conceal their construction. I have also worked on laptops, which understandably require tightly-packed components and certain non-servicable parts. But the latest iMacs (and I presume MacBooks) that use glue for assembly are getting to be a bridge too far. In my view you really do need to set a count-down clock from purchase date to the last day of the AppleCare contract, because after that they might as well be considered disposable.

So opening up the 2011 iMac to repair the video card was hardly my first rodeo in that regard. The outer glass came off with the suction cups without a problem, but then it immediately became service-hostile. The screws around the perimeter of the screen are in recesses that open up into the innards of the machine, so a dropped screw could get irretrievably lost in one of the fans or crannies of the components, potentially destroying the machine when powered back up. The wires connecting the screen and other components are fragile and the connectors are tiny and difficult to separate. The screws come in multiple sizes which could get mixed up during re-assembly. Extracting the components themselves can be difficult with risk of breakage. As I said, I had nothing to lose at this point since the machine was already unusable, but I didn’t want to seal its fate with a repair-related mistake.

Eventually I removed the video card and baked it in our toaster oven to re-flow the solder joints, and after an equally-perilous re-assembly process plugged in the machine and pressed the power button. Amazingly (thank you, fearless YouTube guinea pigs who document this process!) the video signal had recovered and I’m writing this on that same machine.

Now getting to the iMac versus Mac Pro decision, after this experience I don’t want to buy another iMac again, unless the tear-downs show that the machines become serviceable again. But given Apple’s design inclinations, I doubt that will ever happen. Using adhesives and other one-way methods for assembly may be a good choice for disposable items. However for something with an otherwise long usable life but with a limited three-year maximum warranty, serviceability should be an integral part of the design. And I don’t think the current iMacs fit that description.

And there’s one other risk with the iMac, namely the tightness of internal components in regards to heat buildup. I know that each new chip generation brings lower power usage, but as long as there is still a fan in the machine there is the potential for dust accumulation. And ultimately I think that’s what happened to my iMac; when I opened it up there were clearly airflow restrictions caused by dust, which eventually caused the solder failure on the video card. The machine is not in a particularly dusty environment, but when Apple tests them before production I doubt they have multiple year’s worth of dust coating the heatsinks, etc. There’s only so much one can do with compressed air during routine cleaning so this is an intrinsic problem with the slim planar design.

This is why my next machine will be a Mac Pro. I don’t necessarily need all the processing power (although it’s certainly nice to have), but I have historically kept my machines for around six years before replacement, and I don’t want its life cut short because of premature heat failure and/or lack of serviceability. The Mac Pro, even with its flaws, holds out the possibility that its life can be extended by those inclined to get under the hood. The iMac, on the other hand, is a ticking bomb sealed inside a locked aluminum showcase.

MPG: My unease about the iMac as a 'pro' machine captured with some fascinating real-world repair experience.

Dust is indeed major concern over time, as it kills electronics. What if the environment is even a little dusty where killer dust' could accumulate in as short as few months with steady usage where the fans run heavily? My office is not particularly dusty, but it’s rather obvious that there is a lot more dust than one might think—just look any place the vacuum cleaner doesn’t normally reach, like under a few computer cables under my desk. The Mac Pro is easy to clean off any accumulated dust; the iMac is hopeless.

All of the above and more are why MPG has long recommended the Mac Pro as the only serious machine, that is, one that sees moderate to heavy use every day.

What does it say about commitment to 'green' or 'sustainable' products to build computers whose life is virtually guaranteed to be shorter than it could be? THAT aspect of environmental impact is ignored by Apple in the context of the whole 'green' discussion (see below). It’s a form of dishonesty, half truths about environmental impact: if a machine is designed so that it can reasonably be expected to run for 6 years instead of 3 (mean time to failure), all this puffery is just that. Particularly when the computing power of today’s iMac 5K is ample for at least 5 to 7 years—heck my kids are using 5-year-old laptops and they are much less powerful.

Lifespan? Disposable computers cause the creation of new ones, which have infinitely more environmental impact than having to buy a new one because of premature failure. No mention of lifespan here:

And it has earned the highest rating of Gold from EPEAT, which evaluates the environmental impact of a product based on how recyclable it is, how much energy it uses, and how it’s designed and manufactured.* iMac achieved a Gold rating from EPEAT in the U.S. and Canada.

Apple environmentally-friendly claims
Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo

Desired Features for a New Mac Pro

The late 2013 Mac Pro was a major changeover, eliminating nice features like internal hard drives, restricting memory slots 4 only, and in general being “semi pro”.

Here’s how Apple can carry the 2013 Mac Pro forward back to its roots, but modernized:

  • 8 memory slots accepting up to 256GB. Stretch goal: 12 memory slots for up to 384GB.
  • 12 Thunderbolt 3 ports, split across 3 busses.
  • Support for three external 5K displays.
  • Single outrageously bad-ass GPU, OPTIONAL 2nd GPU.
  • Internal SSD options of 1TB or 2TB or 4TB, option for 2nd SSD with same capacity options, running at 3 GB/sec.
  • Space for two internal hard drives, thus allowing 20TB internally in addition to the SSDs.
  • Nice to have: 4 USB3 ports to keep connectivity hassles down with useful legacy devices (mouse, keyboard, camera card readers, USB3 drives, etc).

All of this should be possible by increasing the diameter and height of the 2013 'tube' somewhat. What pro would give a damn if it becomes 10 inches in diameter instead of of 6 inches and/or 15 inches high instead of 10 inches?

Cycling

Desired Features for a New iMac

The late 2015 iMac 5K was the first iMac that MPG could ever take seriously for photography, mainly because it could finally accept 64GB of memory (note: prices are rising on memory) but also because its GPU and 4GHz CPU outrun even the fastest Mac Pro on some tasks—a little faster or a little slower. A perfect trifecta of solidly competitive.

The downsides of the iMac 5K are several:

  • Inferior cooling ability and increased noise under loads that would make a Mac Pro barely audible; the iMac 5K is not suitable for sustained loads and not likely to survive sustained loads for the years I would expect a Mac Pro to chug along easily.
  • 4 CPU cores max.
  • 64GB memory limit was a huge move forward (vs 32GB), but the Mac Pro can take 128GB.
  • GPU memory for big jobs for video and similar.
  • Too few ports for robust workstation systems.

The limits above are not much of an issue for many users but they are very real for some pros, like myself: the 2013 Mac Pro has been 'bulletproof', quiet, and just darn solid with 8 cores of grunt.

See also Reader Comment: “iMac is a ticking bomb sealed inside a locked aluminum showcase”.

So here’s what I’d like to see Apple do to the iMac, not trying to make it into a Mac Pro, but to make it a more serious and more appealing machine. Call it the iMac Pro:

  • I see the lifespan of the iMac 5K as around 3 years, versus 5 years for a Mac Pro. Design a proper cooling system that can handle sustained full CPU and GPU load without so much noise. It doesn’t inspire longevity confidence with the current model. The tiny venting area at the rear of the machine is sacrificing form for function: there is no reason that a vertical venting system could not be designed in, though it might make the machine slightly thicker. Nor is there any reason that venting has to be limited to one small porthole area.
  • iMac 6K display in 32" form factor (stretch goal iMac 8K in 36" form factor), that is, build on the primary strength, of being the best display available today for sheer viewing pleasure. Stretch goal: more vertical pixels more amenable to 3:2 and 4:3 images (eg what virtually all cameras produce). Update: aside from cost, it now appears than a 32-inch iMac 8K is technically feasible.
  • Offer a 6 core CPU at a high clock speed. Six cores is a sweet spot, saving the day when jobs are running in the background and/or on big Photoshop or Lightroom jobs, etc. This might require another generation of lower power chips however.
  • A truly bad-ass GPU (which would be needed for a 6K display anyway). The limit here would be power dissipation, but something 2X faster should be achievable.
  • Don’t create connectivity nuisances: dual Thunderbolt 3 busses with eight ports, or at least 6 ports.
  • Stretch goal: six and preferably 8 memory slots accepting up to 128GB: don’t make me pay a huge premium for ultra high density modules.

Some of the above may require more time, such as the availability of 6K or 8K displays, a 6-core CPU with the same TPD as the current 4 GHz 4 core CPUm sufficient memory densities. And it might be that Intel simply won’t straddle the pro/consumer boundary with a 6-core CPU (which is often wasted anyway). And in the end, an iMac is an iMac, and these features are desirable mainly in the context of a 6K display—so let it be an iMac.

Aside from having a poorly engineered cooling approach, the top-end iMac may be left that way—as an iMac, with the Mac Pro the logical place to stuff all these goodies. Still, there are ways to move the iMac forward that build on its core all-in-one strengths.

  • Improved cooling system, perhaps with separate fans/cooling venting on CPU and GPU and memory, for cooler and quieter operation and better longevity: a focus on longevity and reliabilty over time. This stuff could be folded into the case design without ruining the aesthetics.
  • Six Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports, ideally on two busses.
  • High-quality sterio speakers.
  • A built-in touchbar—a bonus given that real function keys are a good thing, and the touchbar really ought to supplement function keys, not replace them.
  • Option for 2TB SSD
  • 6K display in a new 32" form factor with GPU about twice as fast. That would make for a 30-way lineup of an iMac 21.5" 4K, iMac 27" 5K, iMac 32" 6K.
OWC Easy SSD Upgrade Guide
MacBook Pro and MacBook Air
iMac, Mac Pro, MacMini, more!
Cycling

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