Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

10.6.3 update on Hackintosh – Success

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I updated my Hackintosh to 10.6.3 without issue today — I figured if I’d spent all that time & effort into making my machine “just work”, what was the point if I didn’t try updates?  (I have Windows as a reliable backup on another disk).  Anyway, it worked flawlessly — so, one anecdote in the “plus” column.

An Apple ad that will make you want to vomit

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The mac/pc ads were cute & funny.  This 8-minute long navel-gazing circlejerk just makes me want to punch these dudes in the junk.  If the iPad “exceeds your ability to understand”, that doesn’t make the device “magical” — it makes you an idiot.  Is this the Apple target market now?  Okay, maybe I’m the idiot for even asking that question.

Hackintosh – it’s alive!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

My Core i7 950-based Hackintosh is alive.  I’m using a Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD5 motherboard, a D-Link DWA-556 wireless card, and an nvidia GTX 260 video card.  To install, I used Empire EFI 1.85 r2 to bootstrap the retail 10.6 DVD, which I own.  I had to provide the “GraphicsEnabler=Y PciRoot=1” options to the Empire EFI loader to successfully boot the DVD.  Once installed, I used the Chameleon 2.0 rc4 boot loader from a USB stick (Chameleon cannot boot DVDs directly, or else I’d have tried that first) to boot my machine.  As to be expected, there were several caveats along the way.

First, I had to patch my dsdt (basically, BIOS-level device description table) to be compatible with Chameleon and other EFI-translation layers to provide EFI services to Mac OS.  I followed the general guidelines for similar Gigabyte boards here.  I used the intel “iasl” compiler with Ubuntu 9.10 on my machine to retrieve the BIOS’s regular dsdt, decompile it, edit, and recompile.  With my edited dsdt, I have native power-management functionality (rather than using a null driver that effectively makes your CPU run at maximum power-consumption levels all the time).  I also have many of my motherboard’s devices working, including Ethernet, USB, and obviously SATA.  Shutdown works with just my patched dsdt, but rebooting does not.  For that, i had to install a snow-leopard compatible version of the OpenHaltRestart driver.  For sound, I used the open-source voodoohda driver, which works just fine.  My graphics “just work” with the GraphicsEnabler=Y option, though switching resolutions in games does not seem to function as desired.  That said, I don’t really care, because I only ever use my display at native resolution.  My wireless card is identified as an Airport Extreme, as I was very careful to get one with the exact same Atheros chipset as those used in Macintosh hardware.  I use the fakesmc 2.5 driver to enable some platform devices necessary for booting MacOS, but other than the OpenHaltRestart and voodoohda drivers, everything else is vanilla, stock MacOS with no other modifications.  I updated to 10.6.2 without issue.

I did note, however, that Chameleon seems to default to attempting to boot the 64-bit version of the MacOS kernel on my hardware, which is nonsensical.  I had to force the 32-bit kernel in order to make my wireless card work, as Apple does not provide a 64-bit version of the driver.  I do not understand the fascination with the 64-bit kernel within the hackintosh community.  You’ll find lots of people bitching about a lack of a 64-bit driver for this, that, or the other.  As people who are actively modifying OS-level software — especially the MacOS kernel — the people writing the software, at least, should know that the 64-bit kernel buys you very little in terms of functionality on MacOS.  MacOS can address more than 4 GB of RAM using the 32-bit kernel via PAE.  Further, MacOS seamlessly supports 64-bit applications (as well as 32-bit applications) with large-RAM support on its 32-bit kernel.  No benchmark data shows any advantage on MacOS with a 64-bit kernel compared to a 32-bit kernel.  (Yes, there is overhead switching between modes of execution, so syscall-heavy code can suffer, which is why Xserves default to having the 64-bit kernel on. However, my desktop — even with heavy graphics-card use — does not show this to be an issue).  Attempting to default to the 32-bit kernel only reduces compatibility with drivers, for no actual normal-use benefit.

I’m using the F4 version of the BIOS for my motherboard, which is the newest.  I did have quite the scare with updating my BIOS, however.  I flashed it from a USB stick that I’d installed FreeDOS on.  The flash appeared to be successful, according to the program’s results, but upon reboot my motherboard appeared totally dead.  It wouldn’t give me anything on screen, it wouldn’t provide any beeps, and just seemed utterly dead.  The on-board boot status code LED indicated that it was constantly resetting itself, going back and forth between reset and initial memory tests.  I reseated my add-in cards, reseated my RAM, and still, the same result.  Finally I reset the BIOS variables (“CMOS” — an outdated misnomer if there ever was one), and thankfully it worked.  I was not looking forward to the prospect of returning a motherboard to newegg, but thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

Also, I’m glad I decided to go with the 950 rather than the 920 processor.  Apparently newegg got burned with a batch of counterfeit 920 processors last week, which is when mine would have arrived.

On the Windows front, I installed 64-bit Windows 7 (which I bought on sale at launch, knowing I’d need a copy anyway eventually) later, which went smoothly.  I disabled the annoying aspects of the hideously unusable menu-bar, basically making the menu function like Windows Vista (which I actually like).  It does have some minor improvements versus Windows Vista, particularly with simplified network configuration.  That said, it’s really just Windows Vista and an annoying menu bar.  Yes, the compatibility-mode feature (running Windows XP sp3 in a VM for a program) is a nice new addition, but for most users, this is not a big deal.  Most programs have been updated to run with Vista, and so Windows 7 benefits from the perception that “everything runs better”.  Actually, everything runs the same as it did with Windows Vista, now that developers (both 3rd-party and Microsoft) have finally updated most everything to stop doing nasty things like scribble on global, machine-wide registry variables.  Regarding multibooting, I used 2 separate drives for MacOS and for Windows.  Windows still cannot boot a gpt-partitioned drive, and I wanted to use native gpt partitioning for MacOS.  During Windows installation, I disconnected my MacOS drive (which I have since installed the Chameleon bootloader on to, obviating the need for a USB stick on each boot) to avoid Windows writing into the MBR of my MacOS drive.  After successfully installing, I reconnected my drive, and Chameleon can correctly select and boot Windows 7 just fine (though you do have to select the “System Reserved” partition to boot, which contains the Windows 7 boot loader).  I still need to install FreeBSD on this beast, but overall, I’m quite happy with the machine and with the software results.

“Dances with 3D-blue-cat-people-in-space” finally put in check

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Suck it, Avatar.

Successful replacement of my Macbook Pro’s keyboard – some tips

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Last week, my wife left her (red, non-diet) soda next to my Macbook Pro on our kitchen counter, and the inevitable happened:  my 2-year-old son tossed something up on the counter and knocked the soda over right into the keyboard of my laptop.  (This is the third laptop-spill incident that my wife has been involved in — the previous 2 were on her Dell, which I’d fixed and replaced.  Here’s hoping she actually listens to me about not putting liquids next to laptops this time).  Fortunately, the laptop was still functional, though the keys were sticky and the “f” key in particular was completely nonfunctional.  I tried taking the key apart, cleaning underneath with rubbing alcohol, and replacing the key, but it didn’t work.  (As a side-note to all of you out there learning this the hard way, one thing you should do if this happens to you is to unplug it, remove the battery, turn it upside down with the display opened at a 90-degree angle after toweling it off, and let it dry out.  My wife toweled it off, but didn’t do any of the other stuff, risking electrical damage.  Thankfully that didn’t happen).

I ordered a replacement keyboard from applecomponents.com.  Despite the amateurish web design, the service was solid, and I received my keyboard (in new, not used, condition) in a well-packed box in just 3 days from the west coast.  I have a Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro (the late-2006 “Merom” edition, not the later “Santa Rosa” edition).  The guys at ifixit.com have a nice, detailed guide for replacing such a keyboard.  I’ve used their guides before for replacing my hard drive.  I like that they have large, clear pictures for each step, and that they effectively highlight where the screws are.

Now, this is not for the faint of heart.  Obviously I’ve done this a few times (including with my old G4 powerbook, which was easier to muck with).  If you endeavor upon such a thing, you’ll want to make sure you have separate containers for the screws from each step, so that when you put it back together, you’re not wondering which parts go where.  (I used baby-food cups).  I will say that though ifixit’s guide got me most of the way there, there were a few minor issues with their instructions.

Specifically, step 9 is troublingly sparse on detail about how exactly to get the upper case free from the front of the case (near the optical drive).  They mention “rocking it back and forth”.  This is totally, completely insufficient.  There are 3 or 4 HARD LOCKING SNAPS in place in this portion of the case.  After lifting up the back portion of the case (which is screwed tight, after you’ve removed the screws) as described in the ifixit guide, you really, really have to pry this sucker open.  The first time I did it, it took a long time.  I thought it should come apart rather naturally given the instructions, but you have to apply quite a bit more force than is indicated in the guide.  I honestly thought I was going to break it until it snapped apart, and everything was fine.

The other issue I have is ifixit’s pithy “follow these instructions in reverse order” reassembly instructions.  Seriously, that’s all they give you.  Sure, that’s sufficient to get the cables reconnected & screws back in place, but it tells you NOTHING about how to properly mount and install the keyboard.  I had to assemble/unassemble/reassemble 3 more times before I got the keyboard sitting just right (not bowing).  Also, the first time I screwed the keyboard back in place, I had forgotten to thread the backlight connector down through the tiny hole where it attaches.  Regarding the proper mounting, one issue is that there are tabs on the back/top of either side of the keyboard that must be pushed fairly far into place to prevent upward “bowing” of the keyboard (ie, keys sticking up at an angle).  It’s entirely possible to get the tabs into the proper slot, but for the keyboard to still bow up after reassembly — you’ll need to take it apart & then push the tabs further into place (mine had a bit of a “click” when they got all the way in — but I did have to force it).  The other issue is that the “tabs” (which are really sharp pointed needles of metal rather than what one might think of as a “tab”) at the top of the keyboard have to be carefully aligned and pulled into place to get the keyboard taught and satisfactorily installed.  (Unless you like bleeding, you’ll need needlenose pliers.  This is not listed as a “required material” in the guide.  Sure, I have them, but it’s a small nit about the guide itself).

One last thing you might want to consider when doing this is a can of compressed air for cleaning out the insides while you’re in there.  Mine was fairly clean, but it doesn’t hurt to blow out the dust, since excessive dust buildup can lead to static discharges and shorts.  Anyway, my keyboard is literally as good as new now.  Hopefully the extra tips here will help out someone else in a similar situation.

Update on hackintosh build

Monday, March 1st, 2010

So, 3 business days after ordering my parts on newegg.com for my new computer, Newegg has begun shipping some of them.  (Note that their “policy” is 2 business days.  They didn’t even begin the credit-card verification process until after 2 days had passed.  (I know, because I called both them and American Express).  Anyway, they shipped everything except the case from New Jersey, so I’ll have a collection of useless parts sometime this week via UPS “3-day select”.  The case (an Antec Sonata Elite) is yet to ship, so I’m probably screwed on that front.  If it ships today from California, it’ll be a 50-50 crap shoot whether it arrives this week at all.  (Can you tell I’ve been through this song and dance before?)

I just hope everything works, but newegg, your service sucks so far.

Hackintosh attempt: begun

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I’ve really wanted to buy a new Mac Pro. Really. I have the money. I could afford one if I wanted. (That said, I don’t like wasting money… who does?) I appreciate Apple’s attention to design and, normally, functionality. However, Apple has completely screwed around since the Intel changeover on their “Pro” line of computers. It’s late February. Nearly one year since the release of the beleaguered i7 Mac Pros. I cannot justify spending $3850 for the same hardware I can build myself for $1800. I just can’t.

So, I’m willing to cut the cord from Apple. I’ve ordered a “hackintosh”-compatible Gigabyte X58 motherboard, i7 950 processor, and corresponding peripherals, and hopefully it’ll actually work with the Chameleon bootloader. I’ll post back here if it does. (I bought a family pack of OS X 10.5 *and* the Snow Leopard upgrade, so I’m mostly covered on the licensing front… except for the obnoxious “Apple-branding” clause of the EULA).

The objective of this project is to get as close to an unmodified, retail build of MacOS as possible. We’ll see if it happens, but frankly, I’ll live if it doesn’t work out. I’ll just use FreeBSD and Windows (for gaming), if all else fails. Apple has pretty much turned their back on “Pro” developers like me. Updating their Pro line of hardware (and pricing) once every 16-18 months, given Intel’s update cycle, is pretentious and obnoxious. Worse, Apple is obviously more concerned with the faux-mobile computing market of the “iPad” (read: iPod Touch Maximum Edition) than they are with making reliable, high-performance computers anymore. Read the horror stories with the 27″ iMac sometime — good luck convincing me that Apple gives a shit about computers anymore. Or, the fact that they took a year to fix a serious performance problem with their i7 Mac Pros. Or, that they capriciously provide nonstandard power connectors for video cards just to throw up an obnoxious obstacle against modularly upgrading (software still required anyway!) the ALLEGEDLY MODULARLY UPGRADEABLE MAC PRO!

So, to hell with Apple. I’ll try hackintoshin’ it, and I’ll see what happens. But if it doesn’t work out, I’ll live. And I know, I know, Apple doesn’t give a crap about losing a sale from someone like me, despite the 3 Apple computers and 4 iPods in my household. I get it. They don’t give a shit. The feeling is mutual.

Avatar in Depth

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Blue cat people — in SPACE! — with some vaguely technological angle, and a sprinkle of superficial political allegory regarding colonialism — presented in THREE DEEEEEEEEEE!

Still.  Do.  Not.  Care.

People who claim that James Cameron can do no wrong since, after all, he made freaking TERMINATOR TWO! (word, that was awesome) sound just like everyone before George Lucas shat out Jar Jar Binks.  And who never saw Howard the Duck.  And who don’t realize who wrote “Rambo:  First Blood Part Two” (hint, it’s James Cameron).

Avatar

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Blue cat-people — in SPACE!

*yawn*

Anecdotes from Comcast’s mostly-digital transition

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Comcast is switching most of its markets to “mostly” digital signaling.  That is, they’re switching many of the channels that they used to carry via analog (including ESPN, Comedy Central, A&E, and the like — what they dub “expanded basic”) to digital.  This means that if you used to watch these channels with your old (NTSC-tuning) TV or VCR, you need to get a converter box.  Comcast is ostensibly doing this because converting to digital frees up a lot of spectrum on their broadcast medium to send more bandwidth-intensive media (read:  HDTV and higher-speed networking).  However, they’re also insisting that they “must” encrypt heretofore unencrypted channels because their “contract” requires them to.  This makes no sense.  If their contract requires them to encrypt or scramble channels that they’ve never encrypted or scrambled before, haven’t they been breaking the contract?  This smells made-up to me.  Their contradictory explanations are available in their FAQ.

So why do I care?  Well, I’d rather not have to get a digital box if I don’t have to.  Decoding digital cable and unencrypting digital cable are two separate things, and with this move, Comcast is (yet again) attempting to conflate them.  (Tivos & Cable-company cable boxes do both).  Many HDTVs, including the small Samsung one that I just wall-mounted in my kitchen, include so-called “unencrypted digital cable” (clear-QAM) tuners.  In cases like that, where is a person supposed to even put a box?  (I’d probably have to build a shelf above the TV).  Clear-QAM tuners are especially useful for watching broadcast HD channels via cable (as in my area, where antenna reception is terrible), since FCC regulations require cable companies to send anything that they receive via antenna in unencrypted form over cable.  But expanded-basic is technically exempt from such regulations.  Technically, Comcast probably can do what they’re doing.  (They’ve advertised quite recently that they “don’t charge extra” for additional TVs and even boasted about not needing additional hardware during the digital-over-the-air transition.  This move could be interpreted as invalidating those claims).  But why require the box?  According to their FAQ, they do require a box for expanded basic, even for TVs that have clear-QAM tuners.  They go on to outline an inelegant kludge to watch expanded basic and broadcast-HD using a splitter and switch.  But they also say that each house qualifies for up to three free expanded-basic converter boxes if you pay for expanded-basic coverage.  (This is probably to cover their asses with regard to previous sales claims that there weren’t additional fees to watch those channels).  So, it actually costs them money to ship out a box to me that I don’t want and don’t need, and which doesn’t actually seem required by their content contracts (or else it would’ve already been scrambled).  WTF is going on?

Well, in the Cambridge (Boston) area, Comcast switched to digital this week.  I reprogrammed the TV in my office’s gym, which features a clear-QAM tuner, just out of curiosity.  Lo and behold, expanded basic is in fact being broadcast in the clear — no box is actually required.  Granted, this is not a supported way to watch the channels & it could disappear at any time, but I’ll ride this out for as long as I can.

I think that this could be temporary.  First, to keep costs down, Comcast’s “free” expanded-basic converter boxes perhaps don’t do encryption, or if they do, it’s integrated.  However, the FCC requires separable security (cablecards) in hardware that the cable companies deploy so as to force standardization of the security technology, which does raise the price slightly.  Though Comcast can (and has, in some markets) apply for a waiver for low-cost boxes like this, they probably hedged their bets & went with the lowest-cost, safest solution:  a clear-qam decoder.  However, this probably is a temporary situation.  It could also be that the encryption is disabled in the boxes that Comcast is distributing (they usually are remotely addressable) pending the outcome of application for FCC waivers in most markets.  (I’m not sure what the status of that is here in the Boston area). If such waivers come through and if the boxes being distributed actually do have integrated encryption capabilities, Comcast could simply switch it on, thus killing the clear-QAM expanded basic in one fell swoop.  From their FAQ, that does appear their long term plan.  If/when that happens, and if Verizon FIOS doesn’t come to my area first, I’ll just get another Tivo.  (The Comcast SD-only expanded-basic boxes are inelegant kludge — if I have to install a box for my other TVs, it’s going to be a good box that can do stuff like play video and audio from my computers, and stream Netflix).  It’ll be a cold day in hell when I pay Comcast for the “benefit” of their crappy hardware.  I don’t mind paying for something when I get a valuable product or service in return, but I surely do mind paying more for the same thing for no discernable reason.