MacBook Pro Failure: Mac mini to the Rescue

By Graham K. Rogers



A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the problems I had with my 2.66GHz MacBook Pro and how I had located the source of the problems and the freezes had ended. QuickTime we thought, and a lot of Windows users nodded sagely. Not so fast.

A few days after the apparent fix, the freezes began again. Initially, one or two a day, not directly related to anything specific I was doing at the time; then they would go away for a couple of days.

Just after writing about the Magic Trackpad, my MacBook Pro had a major tantrum and a series of freezes had me reaching for the installation disks. I decided that more radical steps were needed. For the first time in about 6 years on a Mac I had in use, I wiped the disk and reinstalled.

As the process reached its end, however, it froze and I had to start again. Later, I used the second of the installation disks and ran an extended hardware check (press the D key). That froze too. When trying to install for the third time -- there must be better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon -- everything froze again.

This suggested a faulty hard disk, even though it was possible to use Target mode to access the drive. There are other possibilities that will have to be considered by whoever checks my warranty claim, like graphics cards and the logic board. As I can confirm from my motorcycling days, an intermittent fault is one of the hardest things to analyse.

But I have work to do. I do have an iMac upstairs, but the thought of carrying that back and forth to my office (a colleague used to do just that with a 17" iMac) makes me feel faint. Luckily I still have the Mac mini I reviewed in my possession and when I told the nice lady at Siam Towers of my problems, she said she would let me know when they wanted it back.

As it was already in use, it was easy to link the two machines using Target mode and drag off most of the files I had been working on, although I did miss a couple that were not of major concern.

The first change was to bring Mail up to speed. That was quickly done using a synchronisation feature of Mobile Me, repaying my investment in that. Within minutes, all accounts, passwords and servers were active: I was able to check and send email from home and my office.

I installed some extra software, like iWork (Numbers, Pages, and Keynote). My online Apple account details had the licence information and I entered these. I had also prepared text files with licence information for applications that I use with FTP, RSS feeds and posters, as well as several other programs. Uploading my article and podcast to my website did not miss a beat that week. The only major application I did not install was Aperture. I am using iPhoto for the present and saving the RAW files in a folder for when I do get my Mac back. I am also unable to synchronise the iPhone, but with recent changes to the iTunes store here, I can at least update music podcasts directly on the iPhone.

Normally when teaching, I would connect the MacBook Pro to the (VGA) overhead projector with an adapter and also use the computer's screen. The Mac mini, of course, does not have a screen, but it does now have two video ports. I was able to link the projector using the same adapter, while at the same time connect an Acer monitor via the HDMI port (plus an adapter).

display settings

At home, I had been using the VGA connection to my Toshiba TV which gave a reasonable image, but knowing this stewardship of the mini was being extended, I bought an HDMI cable and tried that. To make the picture fit properly, I used the "Underscan" slider in the Displays preferences.

A TV screen is not a suitable alternative for a monitor if you want to use the computer for working on text. I have to wear glasses for reading which means I need to sit less than a metre from the screen. Video displays are fine. Were this a permanent situation, I would invest in a monitor: the TV screen is too big for me to work up close and on its stand, being so near, makes my neck ache. The Magic Trackpad cannot sit alongside the keyboard, so there is a slight awkwardness while working there. A proper monitor and a different table would be preferable.

ad hoc setup
Ad hoc working arrangement

The Mac mini has been worth its weight in gold and, despite one critical reader calling it a "show pony" it has fitted into my work easily and made me wonder if I shouldn't buy my own as a working spare and a media machine.



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