News Archive for: Tuesday Mar. 11th, 2008 (later added items first)
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Notes on ATI 2600XT firmware update (fan speed/power increases??)
(later updated comments - also I've had other readers reply they are not happy with fan/noise after the update.)

"Dear Mike, I would not install the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT firmware if you are NOT having problems. This update was created to address heat issues that developed with (World of War Craft) game players. The firmware upgrade increases the fan speed of the video card which increases the noise produced by the Mac Pro. In addition, the idle energy usage of the Mac Pro 2.8 rose by 23 watts after the update (which is a 15.5% increase in energy usage). From what I can tell the video card increased fan speed is set to stay running high even when idle. (a 23W boost in power from just a fan speed increase? That sounds much too high a delta to be from the card fan speed boost only.-Mike) The original firmware worked great for me and this update is a waste of power. What happened to thinking green?
(FYI - A reply to this from another 2600XT owner said the readme (not download page) for the 2600XT firmware update mentions "Installing this update on a 2.8 GHz Mac Pro system configured with multiple hard drives or more than 2GB of RAM will result in the system meeting Energy Star 3.0 requirements".
The Apple Mac Pro specs page says (originally) a 2.8GHz/2600XT -single drive-/2GB system meets Energy Star requirements, the note in the update (multiple drives/more than 2GB) implied it would reduce power. I wondered if they'd downclock the card a bit in the update in an effort to address graphics issues/freezes some saw.-MIke

I discovered this information the hard way. I am trying to revert to the previous Firmware version but Apple does not have the firmware tools to do this. It seems silly that this upgrade would show up in Software update for everyone when I would have been fine without it. The update implies that performance is increased but I only saw increased Halo artifacts, more fan noise and higher energy usage after the update.
There should be a disclaimer on this firmware update stating that it may cause increased energy usage and increased video card fan noise.
(he later replied)
I called Apple support today and talked to Greg who said he was a system specialist on this issue. He is looking into whether Apple will provide a method for users to return to the original firmware or trade to a card that has not been "upgraded". I hope to know the out come in a few days. You can also see this issue discussed here:

While the fan is only a little louder after the update, it can easily be heard if the Mac Pro is within 3-4 feet where previously it was totally silent. AMUG is just completing a review of the Mac Pro 2.8 and we included energy usage. *We were amazed that a video card firmware upgrade could cause the Mac Pro 2.8 energy usage to rise 23 watts even when idle. (that's more than just a fan speed increase in power draw)

The coy statement about meeting Energy Star 3.0 requirements should stand out as code for "This will definitely increase your power usage" :-)

I originally wondered if the update had modified timing or (reduced) clock speeds (or variable clock speeds as done with some mobile chips) in a effort to help with graphics corruption, freezes, etc that some owners have seen. Although a reader that wrote on March 1st that was beta testing this update said it helped with graphics issues/freezes, Mails so far from readers on the released update have not been good (from minor to major problems) - none that have written so far have said it helped or had any positive comments. But if you apply this update and it helps (or not) with any graphics/freezing issue you had previously let me know. If you're not having problems I'd leave well enough alone though...
Update: Although one reader said he's been testing this update for more than 2 weeks and is sure it solved this problems (without using dual displays) - I've had several other mails from 2600XT owners since the above post that also say they are upset over higher fan speeds/noise since the update. Many are very upset over this... (Earlier/initial mails on the update reported other problems - from minor to major. Again IMHO if you're not having problems with your 2600XT - I'd leave well enough alone, since as usual - there's no going back with Apple firmware updates.)
I've now posted a page with Feedback on Mac ATI 2600XT Firmware Update.

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AirPort Utility 5.3.1 for Leopard, Tiger and Windows
(NOTE: was released, pulled and then released again)
The Apple software downloads page mentions "This update includes general fixes and compatibility updates", but the actual download pages for each no longer mention that anymore (wording revised on re-release). Perhaps just a public update with Time Capsule support?

" AirPort Utility v5.3.1 is the simple to use, setup and management utility for the AirPort Express Base Station, the AirPort Extreme Base Station and Time Capsule...."

Here's the download pages for those that don't want to use software update:

I installed this (Gigabit AE 802.11N base here) but if you see any pros or cons from this update, let me know the details (your base/network info, any airdisk used etc.).

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Microsoft Mac Office 2008 and Office 2004 Updates
"Hi Mike, Just a heads up - MS has updated Mac Office 2008, (Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac 12.0.1 Update) hope it fixes some of the issues readers are having. The update is listed as "critical":

    "This update fixes critical issues in Office 2008, including issues that might cause Office 2008 applications to stop responding or quit unexpectedly."

A MS Description of the Office 2008 for Mac 12.0.1 Update provides a detailed list of fixes. Many of the fixes appear to address reliability and stability concerns.

They also released a Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.4.1 Update that notes (deja-vu) "This update fixes a vulnerability that an attacker can use to overwrite the contents of your computer's memory with malicious code."
(Cnet also has a story today titled Microsoft fixes a dozen Office flaws in four patches; all are critical)

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First feedback on ATI 2600XT firmware update
I've been dealing with a SCSI drive failure today and up to my ears in problems, but so far mails on the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT Firmware Update have not been good - one reader said he's still seeing the same problems (graphics issues/freezes) or worse immediately after the update, another said he had no video afterwards on this monitors and another reader is leery of applying it as the doc said it requires the Leopard graphics update 1.0, which he had problems with previously and reinstalled the OS without that update. (Update - see later news post above for notes that this update increases fan speeds as an aid to better cooling - although so far readers that wrote seem to have had other problems with the update - but maybe it's another case where only those with problems have written...)
If you apply this update and it helps with any graphics/freezing issue you had previously let me know.
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More Mac Nvidia 8800GT owner notes on game problems
Another reply to yesterday's post on 8800GT owner problems with Neverwinter Nights 2 and Call of Duty 2 (although I later had others say they ran those games ok ):

"... I saw your post about NWN2 not working on mac pro's with 8800gt's. Just wanted to add that Star Wars: Empire at War (another aspyr port) also seems to have issues with the 8800gt. The game will work out of the box, but the latest patch (1.05a) from aspyr's site breaks it. You get garbage textures in the menus, so you can't select or start a game. I reverted to the version on the DVD, and everything seems to be working correctly- I've played through about half of the rebel campaign with no problems at all.
-Nick K."

If anyone spots an update to address this for any of those games, (or doesn't have problems) let me know. Thanks.
BTW - I had a single CPU 2008 Mac Pro owner (with all updates applied) write NWN2 runs fine on his system w/8800GT card and even supports his FireWave... and today a COD2 owner wrote he's using v1.3 OK with his 8800GT (also using a non-DVD patch).
FYI - for 8800GT owners with game problems (quits on start, etc.) - try trashing the game prefs/config file perhaps (especially if you recently had swapped in the 8800GT card and used an ATI 2600 previously - maybe something in the game prefs/config and trashing it will cause a new one to be created on the next run.)

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New pricing on Mercury Elite-AL Pro 800/400+USB 2.0 RAID Drives
(from site sponsor OWC)

"OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro RAID FireWire 800/400+USB2 storage solutions utilize the latest Oxford 924 chipset and the best SATA II Hard Drive mechanisms to provide superior reliability and performance. These solutions are fully backed with a 2 Year Full Solution Warranty + up to an additional 3 years warranty covering the HD mechanisms used inside. Quality, Performance, Reliability. All solutions include full retail Prosoft DataBackup III ($59 retail value) for OS X and NovaStor NovaBackup ($49 retail value) for Windows and Intech HD Speedtools performance utility suite. You don't need to use any of these applications, but they're great to have when you need them + EMC Retrospect Backup.

Currently available with up to 2.0TB(2000GB) of capacity, Elite-AL Pro RAID is a sleek and compact Aluminum design of only 9.0" Long x 2.8" Wide x 5.8" High. These Elites are Fully A/V Certified as well as EMC Retrospect Backup Certified for all your Audio/Video, Backup, Graphics, Music, General Data needs and more! With 2 x FW800 Ports, 1 x FW400 Port, 1 x USB 2.0/1.1 Port -units are fully Bootable. Current OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro FW800/400+USB2 RAID prices:

  • 320GB with 16MB of Data Buffer was $229.99, now $219.99 $10 Drop
  • 500GB with 32MB of Data Buffer was $269.99, now $259.99 $10 Drop
  • 640GB with 32MB of Data Buffer was $289.99, now $279.99 $10 Drop
  • 800GB with 32MB of Data Buffer remains $319.99
  • 1.0TB with 32MB of Data Buffer remains $349.99
  • 1.5TB with 32MB of Data Buffer was $549.99, now $479.99 $70 reduction
  • 2.0TB with 64MB of Data Buffer was $799.99, now $719.99 $80 reduction **$659.99 after $60 Rebate Available**

    ***Through March 19th, the 2.0GB Elite-AL Pro RAID Model qualifies for a $60 Hitachi Factory sponsored Rebate for a net cost of $889.99 after rebate. Full details in item description here

    Ground delivery within the 48 Continental states is $2.95 for any of the above solutions. 2nd Day Air delivery also available for $7.95 or less.

    Also Available -Build your Own: for $119.99. Includes FireWire 800, FireWire 400, and USB2 Connecting cables and 1 Year OWC Warranty. User configurable for different RAID and non-RAID modes."

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    Apple doc w/Apple TV Tips for making your own movies with AC-3/Surround Sound
    Apple TV Tip - Author your own movie content with AC-3 audio for true surround sound

    "If your Apple TV is connected to a Dolby Digital-capable sound system, your content can have true surround sound.
    Apple TV will pass through 5.1 surround sound audio encoded in Dolby Digital AC-3. The AC-3 audio must be properly included in the movie in order for it to pass through correctly.
    To create content for use with Apple TV, the movie must have two audio tracks:
    • Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) stereo
    • AC-3 track for surround

    Note: Both tracks should have the same sample rate (48 kHz is normal).

    For compatability, the following is required:

    • Both tracks must be provided.
    • The AAC track should be first and it must be enabled.
    • The AC-3 track should appear after the AAC track and it should be disabled by default.
    • The AC-3 track must also use the appropriate MPEG-4/ISO standard.

    Apple TV uses the AC-3 track as a pass-through mode only. For example, it passes data out to an A/V receiver capable of Dolby Digital playback. The AC-3 audio is sent over the HDMI and the optical audio output of Apple TV.

    To select AC-3 data through these ports, go to Settings > Audio > Dolby Digital Out and select On.
    These movies can be created using applications such as FinalCut Express and FinalCut Pro.
    Note: The AAC track is used in any situation where just stereo output is required."

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