Posts filed under 'Hardware'

A story about exceptional service

security01.pngRecently I found myself constrained by the puny 200GB of my Mac Book Pro and I bought a 500GB Seagate drive to replace it (a fast 7200 rpm one).
The Macbook Pro has no easy access for the drive so you have to resort to dismantling the case to access it. This put me off replacing the drive because I would probably be voiding the warranty and was running the risk of damaging this expensive piece of equipment.

I’ve been filling the drive with pictures from my recent camera purchase and I couldn’t put it off any longer, so I bought the new drive and went online to find some good tutorial on how to crack open the Macbook Pro case.

After a few searches, I noticed that many people were referring to the iFixit.com website. It was very easy to find the tutorial I was looking for, I didn’t have to register, and each step was made very clear and simple.
It took no time to open the case and replace the drive.
I was very happy with that find.

Now, that’s not the end of the story.

A couple of days before I replaced the drive the left fan of the laptop suddenly became noisy. This would happen a few times a day, at random, and would last 10-20 minutes.
My only solution to get this repaired was to get to the local Apple service shop. Even though I knew exactly which part number was to be replaced, they still wanted me to:

  • go across town to visit them so they could see for themselves what the problem was: annoying because the problem was intermittent so I may have to go for nothing.
  • wait for the part to arrive a few days later.
  • go back to leave the laptop
  • go again to collect the repaired laptop the next day or so. So all in all: about 6h spend travelling back and forth + no laptop for a couple of day + the risk that some indiscreet technician start looking through my personal stuff.

Instead, I went back to the iFixit website:

  • identified my machine
  • found out the list of spare parts available from their store
  • added the fan to my cart
  • paid for it.
  • found a guide that showed how to replace the part.

That took me all of 10 minutes; I placed my order on Thursday and the next Monday I received the part … halfway across the globe!

I also got a survey request from iFixit and left some comments, from which I got back two nice detailed email follow-ups, one from the CEO saying they were implementing my remarks as part of their site improvement efforts.

Well, I thought I would share this story. It’s not that often that you get excited by an online vendor that not only does its job well but goes beyond expectations.

Add comment August 26th, 2009

Sysadmin: SQL server performance madness

Technology I’ve just lost 2 days going completely bananas over a performance issue that I could not explain.

I’ve got this Dell R300 rack server that runs Windows Server 2008 that I dedicate to running IIS and SQL Server 2008, mostly for development purposes.

Dell PowerEdge R300 Rack servers

In my previous blog entry, I was trying some benchmark to compare the performance of Access and SQL Server using INT and GUID and getting some strange results.

Here are the results I was getting from inserting large amounts of data in SQL Server:

Machine Operating System Test without Transaction Test with Transaction
MacbookPro Windows Server 2008 x64 324 ms 22 ms
Desktop Windows XP 172 ms 47 ms
Server Windows Server 2008 x64 8635 ms!! 27 ms

On the server, not using transactions makes the query run more than 8 seconds, at least an order of magnitude slower than it should!

I initially thought there was something wrong with my server setup but since I couldn’t find anything, I just spend the day re-installing the OS and SQL server, applying all patches and updates so the server is basically brand new, nothing else on the box, no other services, basically all the power is left for SQL Server…

Despair

When I saw the results for the first time after spending my Easter Sunday rebuilding the machine I felt dread and despair.
The gods were being unfair, it had to be a hardware issue and it had to be related to either memory or hard disk, although I couldn’t understand really why but these were the only things that I could see have such an impact on performance.

I started to look in the hardware settings:

Device Manager

And then I noticed this in the Policies tab of the Disk Device Properties :

DISK Device Properties

Just for the lulz of it, I ticked the box, close the properties

Enable advanced performance

And then tried my query again:

Machine Operating System Test without Transaction Test with Transaction
Server Windows Server 2008 x64 254 ms!! 27 ms

A nearly 35 fold increase in performance!

Moral of the story

If you are getting strange and inconsistent performance results from SQL Server, make sure you check that Enable advanced performance option.
Even if you’re not getting strange results, you may not be aware of the issue, only that some operations may be much slower than they should.

Before taking your machine apart and re-installing everything on it, check your hardware settings, there may be options made available by the manufacturer or the OS that you’re not aware of…

Lesson learnt.

Add comment April 12th, 2009

Sysadmin: Macbook Pro, after the honeymoon

security01.pngI’ve been using the MacBook Pro I introduced in my previous blog entry for a few weeks now.
Between love and frustration I hang…
Here is a review of our relationship so far.

The Great

Hardware delight

Whether running OS/X or Windows 2008 I’ve got no major complaint about the performance of the machine. It’s fast, stable (except sometimes it’s not waking up from sleep or it does but the screen remains black). The screen is nice and vibrant, I just love the magnetic power connector and the small size of the power adapter. I have a few complaints though, see below.

OSX battery Power usage

For such a large and powerful laptop I’m pleasantly surprised with the duration of the battery under OSX: I’ve been able to watch videos for 3h, full screen, without trouble and overheating (although I would lower the screen brightness to reduce consumption).
I haven’t had such luck under Windows 2008 where I’ve been struggling to find the right power settings balance, but remember that’s a server OS and it’s not really meant to be run on a laptop.

The Ugly

The mouse

You wonder why Apple, in all its hardware expertise could design the mighty-mouse with a single big button that can still do right-clicking but can’t give us the same thing with the enormous single-button of the trackpad.
Now the new models -just released this week- have done away with the button entirely, which may be just as well although I’m curious about how well the drivers will work under Windows.

Mouse acceleration in OSX is pretty frustrating to me. When you’ve got a large screen, you’re endlessly shuffling the mouse to get that pointer in the right place. It feels slow, inaccurate and is extremely irritating after a while. The problem is even worse when you’re working in OSX under VMware Fusion: while it might still be usable under OSX, the difference is really severe and unnatural in Windows.
This does not happen under bootcamp though where mouse acceleration behaves as you would expect (for windows).
I’ve tried a number of utilities (iMouse , SteerMouse and others) but none gave me what I needed.

The keyboard

The keyboard feels great to type on, with a nice spring and softness. There are a few issues though:
Why is the Return key so small compared to the right Shift?
The rule is that the more a key is used, the bigger it is, yet the Enter is rather small, it’s the same size as the caps lock which serves almost no useful purpose in comparison.
The arrow keys are also minuscule, another probable example of Apple choosing form over function. The lack of delete key forces you to type both the fn + backspace keys instead, which is an unnecessary pain, it’s not like understanding the difference between delete and backspace is that confusing to people using a complex machine like a computer.

The lid

I love the way the hooks for the lid come out just when you close it. It makes for a neat screen without protruding bits of metal or plastic.
My main issue with the lid is with its limited opening angle: if you’re just a little tall and you place your laptop on your lap then there is no way to open the screen enough to have it properly face you.
This is also an issue if you place your Macbook Pro on a cooling pad or a riser that’ll put the laptop too vertical (for instance to free some space around it when using an external keyboard): you just can’t use these devices.

The sound

That one really makes me mad: the MacBook Pro has audio issues that you won’t even find in a US$15 MP3 player and it’s totally unacceptable.
When idle, I can hear hissing sounds that vary in power and frequency if I slide the volume control; when playing music, there is a lot of noise and “cutting” sounds between songs.
These are not noticeable when using the integrated speakers but,they become really annoying once you use earphones.
I am sorely disappointed with sound quality to say the least.

Electronic noises

On top of the annoying sounds from the sound chipset, the LCD inverter also makes a hissing sound that increases in volume when I lower the LCD brightness…
Coupled with that, the processor also makes a hissing noise when it gets into its C4 power saving state…
The noise is probably not high enough to get the laptop fixed but it might be great as a mosquito repellent.

Boot ‘song’

Apple knows best and they know that your only aim in life is to become a poster boy for the brand.
When booting/rebooting your mac, it likes to play its welcome song that says “hey, over here, I’m a mac and I’m telling the world I’m booting up. Everyone listen how awesome I am!”.
The perverse thing is that even if you have earphones plugged in (as in: you don’t want to disturb people around you) the boot song will be played on the speakers…
Of course, there is no option anywhere to disable it.
Apple knows best.
After much trials, I found that booting under OSX, lowering the volume to zero, then rebooting under windows and changing the volume there would be OK: no more booting song -at least for now- and I can still change the volume in OSX and Windows.

Conclusion

Would I buy a Mac again knowing what I know now?
Mmmm, probably not.
I find the annoyances a bit too much relative to my expectations and my usage scenario. To be fair, it’s not all bad and most of the time I’m happy with my mac but I find myself trying to avoid the things that infuriate me and it’s not really what I want from a laptop; it’s supposed to liberate me and give me the freedom I need to get things done, not get in the way.
Re-adapting to a strangely layout keyboard, having to deal with Apple’s brand awareness arrogance, battling with stuff that you just normally take for granted, all this is a bit too much of a price to pay for what is essentially for me a Windows development machine.
I prefer to waste my time actually getting things done rather than searching forums on how to keep Windows and OSX time in sync or bring back my machine for repair if a CD stays stuck in the CD Drive.

So, let’s say that our relationship is more ambivalent than needed to be.

References

Other links to pages of interest.

2 comments October 19th, 2008

SysAdmin: When your computer becomes forgetful

BusinessSometimes your computer crashes without reason. It happens at any time, for no particular reason.
Other times you’re trying to install a new OS on a brand new PC and at some point, it fails, reboot itself or just hangs.

A couple years ago I had this really depressing experience with a brand new system I was building. All the components were newly bought, but installing the OS (a Linux distro) used to fail almost at the end of the process.
No matter how many times I tried, I could never get to the end of it.
By clever subterfuge I managed to get it installed only to have it crash on a regular basis.
It was unstable, unreliable and after two days wasted banging my head against the walls, I gave up…

Memtest86 Well, no for too long. A flash of inspiration came to me and I popped in the install CD and ran the only utility that was available at the prompt: memtest86.
That simple tool is a godsend (if I may appropriate the word from the believers. I promise to give it back). After running its various memory tests for 10 minutes it reported errors in one of the RAM sticks installed on the motherboard.
All that aggravation for a puny bit that was not remembering its state…
I promptly returned the RAM and tested the new one for a few hours until I was confident there was no issue with its chips and went my merry way to install the OS I so desperately needed. All went without a hitch.

So my advice is: go to the memtest86 website. Burn the bootable ISO and test your PC from time to time, especially if you have strange intermittent issues that you can’t pin down to a simple software problem.
You’d be amazed at the number of times I had to ditch a stick of RAM… memtest86 saved by sanity countless times.
By the way, consider donating a little bit if it helped you too. That’s always cheaper than a session with a shrink…

Add comment September 20th, 2006


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