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  • The Leopard Report: Another Perspective on Troubleshooting Issues

    February 20th, 2008

    So I set up a brand, spanking new second-generation Mac Pro for a client the other day. This is the super duper Apple workstation that incorporates the new Harpertown or Penryn versions of the Intel Xeon processor, with more onboard cache, faster memory throughput, higher bus speed, improved onchip support for multimedia and similar goodies.

    The computer was dressed to kill in most respects. Although its owner opted for the base 2.8GHz dual quad-core configuration, he didn’t suffer significantly. After all, the difference between that model’s performance and the speediest version, 3.2GHz, averages less than 10% in most cases. So paying $1,600 for a speed bump that will never be detected except in timed benchmarks and extended 3D rendering didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    However, this box is smartly configured otherwise. It came from the factory with a pair of 500GB internal drives, the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT graphics card, a $200 option, and built-in AirPort. On top of that, we acquired four 2GB RAM cards from my friend Larry O’Connor’s Other World Computing, and the end result was a 10GB powerhouse for less than $3,900. You don’t want to know what Apple charges for that memory upgrade, by the way, and, as third-party tests show, OWC’s product is just as good at a fraction of the price.

    Anyway, when I set up this computer for the client, I didn’t bother to actually run it until the RAM upgrade was installed and all peripherals connected (including an external FireWire backup drive and two networked printers). Sure I was probably taking a huge chance, but living on the edge sometimes makes sense, and, by the way, I rarely encounter bad memory when you get it from a responsible supplier.

    Still, after reading all the troubles and tribulations people have reported with Leopard, you’d think I was making an open challenge to the “Gods” here, but I don’t think so. I have a great batting average setting up new Macs.

    After migrating over 150GB of stuff from an older Mac courtesy of Apple’s Migration Assistant, I set down to downloading the latest Leopard updates. After 10.5.2 and a handful of other files were installed, a restart and a recheck of System Update brought news of the infamous Leopard Graphics Update 1.0.

    Now Apple doesn’t say an awful lot about that update, although the name implies it’s primarily an archive of new graphics drivers. Since Leopard is known to have a few graphics-related performance shortcomings, I suggested to Jim Galbraith, Macworld’s Lab Director, that he test several computers before this update and after. To his credit, he — a rare breed indeed — listened to me, or maybe I simply affirmed what he planned to do anyway. The test results published by Macworld show a respectable performance jump.

    At the same time, there has been some complaints about strange graphic artifacts after the graphics update is installed, but a few “voodoo” fixes, such as zapping the P-RAM and other age-old maintenance maneuvers, often set things right.

    Now I have to tell you that you can’t take a survey based on a single sample and apply it to everyone. However, this Mac Pro is the best example of a pristine platform, since the only thing done before it was fired up for the first time was to install extra memory. However, it also had all the files transported from a well-used Power Mac G5. So if there was anything in those files that would compromise a successful update, it surely would have happened.

    It goes to the basic point that I rarely seem to encounter the issues that others have experienced with Apple’s updates. This isn’t to say that Leopard has been perfect for me, and it’s also true that people I respect have encountered all sorts of difficulties in certain areas. Take John Rizzo, publisher of the popular cross-platform integration site, MacWindows.com. John says that many issues involving connecting and networking Macs with Windows PCs remain unresolved even in the 10.5.2 update. Remember, too, that similar issues erupted in the wake of Tiger’s release, it it took even more updates for things to settle down in a reasonable fashion.

    Before you suggest I got a specially-manipulated Mac Pro for the client, bear in mind that it was a standard custom-order unit ordered from Apple, to be sure, but still not given any special handling. It had third-party memory and lots of third-party software.

    However, Apple faces a losing battle trying to make their products fully compatible with thousands upon thousands of different system configurations. No company is large enough or has enough cash and personnel to test for every single possibility that something might go wrong.

    Yes, you and I are the final beta testers. That’s the way it is, and things are still considerably better on the Mac platform, particularly when you consider the known issues that create havoc for Windows users, but they will never be perfect.

    Sure, Apple likely needs to bake its products a little longer before they’re released. But you can say that about every single tech company, every auto maker, and then some. That’s the price we pay for the great wonders these companies have delivered to us. But you have to expect the pain as well as the reward.



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