February 11, 2010

Severely dead Mac

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My poor little Mac died a painful death. What had apparently started weeks ago with random DVD drive openings, ended today with the machine going into an endless boot cycle.

Today was not a good day for this to happen. I was already annoyed from idiots on the drive home and from running errands. I was hungry and had had low grade-cramps all day.

When I first opened the case I smelled burning soldering wire. It’s a metallic, tangy smell. Not like burning, melting plastic, which is what happened when my old Windows PC’s motherboard short circuited and fried the hardware.

A friend came over and we disassembled the system: physically took everything out except the hard drives (which were disconnected). The machine still wouldn’t come up even to see the bios on a screen. Nothing appeared on the monitor because it never even got a signal.

This Mac (really a hackintosh) ran OS X 10.5.8 on a Shuttle SG35 barebones system with 4 GB Corsair RAM, Intel Core 2 Duo 2.6 gHz processor, DVD-RW, dual 500 GB 8 MB cache drives, a JMicron IDE controller (which can be a world of hurt for a hackintosh), and a 384 MB nVidia 8800 GTS graphics card. Once the kinks were worked out of the system, it ran very well. (I always bought full copies of any software I installed on the Shuttle, including copies of OS X 10.5 and 10.6.)

From November to yesterday, it was almost perfect in fact. (With one blip back in December when it wouldn’t boot.) Aside from the internal and external DVD drives opening and closing some times, everything seemed to be fine. Until this morning when I came in and the machine was offline. It booted once when I got home tonight and that was it. After that, it was an endless boot cycle: power on, CPU fan and power fan came on, and then it would power down and start up again.

My friend and I concluded that the motherboard or one of the chips on it was dead/fried. On top of everything else that I’d gone through today and the hours of frustration spent on the Shuttle, I had had it. I had spent probably close to 100+ hours over the space of 18 months getting the system tweaked so the OS ran smoothly, digital sound out worked, Quartz Extreme graphics engine was enabled, and game window resizing didn’t freeze the system. Oh, and OS X never recognized the virtualization capabilities of the Intel Core 2 Duo, even though the chip supported virtualization. I never could run virtual machines with Parallels 5 (which checks the CPU for virtualization technology). (I might post the list of drivers I used, if anyone is interested.)

I learned a lot about Macs by creating a hackintosh. I feel confident that I could resolve most system problems on a real Mac because of my experience digging into different kernels, plists, drivers, and other internals. Good learning experience for being a tech writer in an IT department.

What I really learned was that I didn’t want to waste my time (and therefore my billable hours) customizing yet another hackintosh system. I wanted something that would work and be reliable. Or “stable” as it were…

So… I’m looking at a shiny new low-range iMac. The main terabyte drive has been reformatted and partitioned. The application/system partition is called “Stable,” the larger working file partition is called “Pasture.” I’m transferring my files right now (300+ GB from my old secondary partition, mostly mail, photos, videos, and writing). While that material slowly copies over via USB2 and 32,000 files download for Guild Wars, I’m going to head off to bed. (I miss the eSATA connection!)

Rest in pieces, poor little Shuttle.

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