It’s rough sometimes dealing with an older computer, especially when it feels like all your electronics are starting to have issues at the same time. Although I have a couple of newer computers, I still sometimes tinker around with a Dell XPS 400, purchased new in 2005. It’s actually still a fairly reliable workhorse, though I have been cleaning it up, with the ultimate goal being to retire that old system on eBay.

I started backing up the XPS’s files last week, and of course when I have my sights set on getting rid of the thing, it crashes. During startup, the system kept stalling on a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) error. I really wish I would have taken a photo of the screen, though at the time I didn’t know I would be writing about it later. What is known, however, is that part of the “stop code” on the blue screen was 0x000000D1, and the error cited at the bottom was iastor.sys

Another cog in the wheel that slowed down finding a solution is that there was some sort of apparent voltage issue with the power supply at some point. That caused the plastic to melt on the SATA and power connectors that plug into the hard drive. Not cool (or good!) But what can ya do? Until now, it’s never had any hard drive issues beyond that one day, a few years ago, when I wondering “Where the heck is that burning smell coming from?” Due to the melted connectors, I can’t simply remove the hard drive and put it in a different computer to run diagnostics.

Upon researching the problem, it started to become more clear that the boot files on the hard drive must have become corrupt. I was at a loss for what could possibly be done. After giving it a few days (and considering the issue with the melted connectors), I decided to power up the Dell but connect the SATA (data) cable to the motherboard on a different Windows XP computer.

Can you guess what happened next?

The secondary Windows PC instantly recognized the Dell’s drive, and “Chkdsk” (the Check Disk program) began to run. After a few minutes of diagnostics, the secondary computer finally reached the Windows desktop screen, and the Dell drive popped up as a secondary hard drive! Hooray! It seemed to be fixed! … !!!

At that point, I shut down both computers and plugged the SATA cable back into the Dell. From there, I booted that computer up, and everything was almost back to normal. I say “almost” because the processor was doing this new thing, were it was constantly spiking at 100%. Even more strange was that the Task Manager didn’t show anything hogging more resources than usual. Finally, it occurred to me that I tweaked some BIOS setting when first trying to figure out what was going on with the Dell computer. It turned out I needed to set the computer up to share the dual core processors again, as it was then only using one of the cores.

To make a longer story even longer, if you’re getting a Blue Screen of Death and have an older computer, it might be worth a shot plugging the hard drive up to another computer to see if you can run some diagnostics. It worked for me, and I’ll finally be able to put this computer up on the auction block soon. “SOLD, for a thousand dollars!” – one can dream….

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I just purchased a Mac Mini, and I’d like to share my initial thoughts. I’m pretty stoked about the purchase, as my other desktop computer has gotten too old to run the newest version of Pro Tools audio software. And that old (2005) Dell computer is just cramping my style in general. Comparatively, the Mac Mini is so small and sleek looking, but let’s really get into the review:

INITIAL START UP TIME:
I made a leap from OS X 10.6 on my laptop to 10.8 on the Mini. Starting up the computer for the very first time took a while. It wasn’t like that with the laptop at all. Maybe the operating system has grown, although one major goal Steve Jobs had was to significantly speed up the start up time. That happened, but now maybe things are starting to go the other way. But whatever, it’s all good. I was just getting antsy about wanting to play with the new computer and had to twiddle my thumbs while it started up.

PROCESSING SPEED:
My first thought is that is seems, well… a little slow. This version of Mac Mini has an I7, 2.7 GHz processor, but maybe some of its speed (or lack thereof) is my imagination. Right off the bat, the internet connection definitely was slow. It didn’t matter if it was a wired connection or a wifi one, pages loaded…….very…..slowly…… Then again, Time Warner’s internet service around here is reliably known for being unreliable.

DESKTOP:
This is a big-time complaint I have, though fixable… I was wondering where the heck the hard drive icon was, which, of course, is normally found on the desktop. Actually, there was NOTHING on the desktop when the computer was first booted up. Maybe it’s because Apple wants to keep things looking completely sleek, but I really need to get into the hard drive and keep all my sound samples and assorted audio files organized. So if you want any type of useful icon to show on the desktop, you have to simultaneously hit CMD + Comma to bring up the Finder Preferences window. From there, you can select to display “Hard disks,” “External disks,” “DVDs,” etc. on the desktop.

GRAPHICS:
The resolution looks sharp, realllll sharp. Seriously, I am blown away by how crisp video looks these days. I love high definition… and that makes me glad I’m not an actor! Taking a photo of a screen doesn’t truly do it justice, but this, at least, gives you an idea of how awesome it looks:


 

SCROLLING:
I hate to potentially turn this into a complaint fest, but there are some weird, quirky things about OS X 10.8 that I just don’t get. You know how you operate a scroll wheel – you scroll “down” (or towards you, rather) to make the page, ya know, scroll down? Well Apple decided to change this up. Now, you scroll up/forward to make a page scroll down. It’s suddenly like “no” meaning “yes” or figuring out which way to push the yoke to gain altitude while flying a plane upside-down.

To be fair, you can go into the “mouse” settings and turn off the “natural scrolling” direction, in favor of the direction you’ve always used.

TEMPERATURE:
Even after some simple operation, the computer case feels hot to the touch. It’s a little disconcerting because heat kills computers and hard drives. Without proper ventilation, the failure rate for electronics climbs right up. If this continues, I might have to keep a small fan pointed at it during processor-heavy operations.

DVD / CD SHARING:
I wish Apple wouldn’t have abandoned the optical drive so soon. DVD sharing is a pretty cool thing, I must say, but it takes some setup and figuring out to get DVD information to transfer from one computer to another. I use an audio program called Reason. During installation for that, I got the first disc to read on the Mac Mini but, unfortunately, the installer wouldn’t register discs #2 and #3 when prompted to put them in. So without having an actual DVD drive for just the Mac Mini, I can’t proceed with installation. I contacted Reason’s manufacturer, and the response was that they’ve seen that issue before and that I’m just going to have to buy a cheap USB optical drive.

THE BOTTOM LINE:
This new Mac is going to take some getting used to. Change is hard, and sometimes we grow complacent (see Nov. 6, 2012). So maybe all these new features and the different layout wouldn’t have seemed so drastic if I would have gone through OS X 10.7 first. I’m sure the computer will end up working out great, though there is still much to do. As for now, I am working on making the operating system as efficient as possible for professional audio use by eliminating the frou-frou things like animated windows and disabling modes like “sleep” and screensavers.

TO COME:
-additional hard drive (via upgrade kit)
-16 GB RAM (official specs put max. at 8 GB, but Other World Computing has determined 16 GB is capable)

CURRENT SPECS:
Apple Mac Mini
Model No.: A1347
Processor: 2.7 GHz i7
Hard Drive: 500 GB, 5400 RPM
RAM: 4 GB total (2x 2 GB sticks)
Ports: HDMI (x1), USB 2.0 (x4), Thunderbolt (x1), FireWire 800 (x1), SD card slot, audio in/out, Ethernet
 

Lots o’ Cables

Before you begin, be sure to unplug all cables going to the hard drive and to discharge all potential static built up on you/your clothing by touching a grounded, metal object that is not the hard drive…. seems like simple stuff, but it’s really important.

The drive – this set of instructions applies to any of the LaCie Rugged series drive:

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

Remove the rubber bumper.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

With care, pry the overlapping aluminum tabs on the side of the drive up to about a 45 degree angle. These tabs are fragile – four of them broke off in this disassembly process – so only pry them up far enough to clear the underlying tab. Warning! Warning! Warning! Breaking the sticker will void your warranty (if you still have one).

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

Again, the tabs need not be pried as far apart as shown.

 

At this point, the top and bottom of the case will come right off.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

The plastic around the drive is very flexible, so pull the sides far enough apart and the drive will swing out.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 

The small, black rubber bumpers that act as a shock mount for the drive may come off… if so, no big deal, as they slide right back on when you are ready to reassemble the drive in the case.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

 
This drive uses an IDE connection:

Lacie Rugged Hard Drive Teardown

 

Lacie Hard Drive Repair

 

The tabs broken off from prying them further than needed… If the same happens to you during disassembly, bend the rest of the tabs back into place when ready, and the outer bumper should hold everything in place just fine.

Disassembly of a LaCie Rugged External Hard Drive

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it below!

Also, see my LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive Disassembly post here.

Mac vs. PC

04/14/2012

The Mac vs. PC debate is much like beating a dead horse… a VERY dead horse. There will NEVER be any glimmering examples that prove either system tops the other, so it’s both funny and irritating to read the comments on the Yahoo.com article “How to know if your Mac is infected with the Flashback virus (and how to fix it),” which can be read here:

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/know-mac-infected-flashback-virus-fix-181632690.html

Look, I grew up using Windows systems at home and, thinking back, I spent a lot of time in a lot of weird places. One such place was my buddy, Brady’s, grandma’s basement. I don’t remember how we ended up hanging out there, but what I do recall is starting up the record player and booting up her Windows NT computer. Oddly, at the time it really didn’t feel odd at all. Even before computers were the norm, they felt like the norm, and some of us just naturally gravitated toward them.

Anyway, I spent A LOT of time on Windows systems, growing up. But I started using Macs more and more as time progressed. In middle school, my friends and I obediently took turns playing “Oregon Trail” on “free days” in our Ohio History class. That was seventh grade. In eighth grade, we learned proper typing skills on old Macintosh Classic IIs, which had only black and white screens. Then, in high school, the “bondi blue,” “tangerine,” and “ruby” iMac G3s became all the rage, when our high school installed them.

Fast-forward a decade later, and I own both a Windows computer and an Apple computer. They both serve a purpose but, when it comes to processor-intense applications, I have no choice but to use the Apple system. The same logic is in place in the office. We have one Windows system that’s dedicated to data transfer. All of our video editing, though, takes place on Macs… most editors prefer them… so do audio engineers… and graphic designers… not all, but most, and there is a key reason: stability.

Windows enthusiasts sometimes rave about how they can build a system that is just as good, at a fraction of the cost. Well, “just as good” is a rather subjective observation, unless they are perform actual bench tests.

Although many people like Apple computers for their ease-of-use, I have found Windows operating systems to be super customizable. People can spec them out and, for those that have such an interest, games made for Windows are quite abundant. On the other hand, they historically start to become less and less reliable as they get bogged down with heavy processing. I can’t have that with some of the work I do.

I originally bought my Mac to transfer video footage for a TV show. It was flawless in that capacity and has served me well with audio editing. Freeware and expandability gives Windows an upper-hand in those categories, however. So basically, with all this said, each operating system has its uses… its pros and cons. So, if you haven’t done so already, check out and compare both. It could open up a whole new world…

Tools needed:
-thin flat-head screwdriver
-Phillips screwdriver

Before you begin, be sure to unplug the external power going to the hard drive and to discharge all potential static built up on you/your clothing by touching a grounded, metal object that is not the hard drive…. seems like simple stuff, but it’s really important.

Steps:
1) Turn the hard drive over. Gently wedge the flat-head screwdriver between the hard drive enclosure’s base plate and the main body of the enclosure. Begin to slowly pry so that the side of the enclosure begins to bow outward. Continue until the base plate pops out. Keep the popped out side close to seam (so the still-attached side of the base plate doesn’t get bent). Perform the same pry technique on the other side of the base to fully remove the plate. [click on any of the photos to enlarge]

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

2) Now that the hard drive is exposed, you will notice three, small aluminum brackets on both sides of the drive. Bend those upward – this can be done by hand.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

3) Use the Phillips screwdriver to remove the four screws binding the hard drive to the enclosure. Once removed, bend the aluminum screw brackets upward.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

4) With the exception of the power and data cables, the drive is free at this point. Carefully turn the enclosure over so that the drive slips out of the case. Gently pull the slack out the cables that are still plugged into the drive and begin wiggling the power cable out (the transparent connector with four wires).

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

5) Once the power connector is unplugged, do the same for the data cable. Do not be forceful with the ribbon cable. Through trial and error, I have broken these cables before, and they aren’t fun to try to fix. Additionally, you don’t want to end up with bent pins on the hard drive itself. If the ribbon connector doesn’t come off easily, unplug the other end from the board attached to the enclosure. Since the drive will then be free, you will have plenty of leverage to remove the cable from the drive.

Disassembly of a LaCie Porsche External Hard Drive

 

At this point, the drive is completely free from the enclosure. Congratulations!

If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment or sharing below!

Also, see my LaCie Rugged Hard Drive Disassembly post here.

So… I just got a new Kindle Fire from the bosses and VIPs at work! Such an awesome gift that they gave to probably 200 people overall. Pretty amazing, actually. So the learning curve begins. I don’t have an iPad to compare the Fire to, so it’s safe to say I am a “noob” to the world of tablets.

First off, the Kindle Fire has a beautiful display. It’s amazing how sharp and crystal clear picture quality has become in a short time. I once had a Powerbook, which was then eventually displaced by a Macbook Pro. I remember the first time I started the latter computer up after it arrived at the front door and being totally blown away by the stellar images that machine produced/still produces. The Kindle Fire has that kind of picture quality…

Now we get into the guts of the device. I get the bookshelf look on the main page, considering the Kindle’s rise from being just a plain ol’ e-reader to being an on-the-go, full fledged (not the best description) tech device. But the bookshelf is kinda clunky. The apps most recently opened are shown on the top shelf of the bookcase, and you flip through to find the want you want, like flipping through the pages of a….book. Since you are flipping through icons, to open one, the icon has to be laying flat, and you have to tap it just right. Otherwise, you will get options like “remove from device” or, now with the Fire’s update, “remove from carousel.”

I have streamed videos on YouTube, and the wifi connection seems fast, reliable, and the graphics still look awesome while in motion. I don’t plan on storing many videos on this guy, though – if at all – due to the 8 GB, non-expandable memory. These days, that just isn’t a whole lot. And there is just something that doesn’t feel quite right about storing everything on cloud services. How are you gonna trust that Amazon – or whoever – is going to keep your stuff around for perpetuity?

This little device is pretty cool overall, but it still has a long way to go. Downloading and installing that much-needed OS update was really difficult to install. Also, Project Gutenberg books won’t open in Kindle format… for those who don’t yet know about this, P.G. is a huuuggeee list of public domain (aka “the classics) source for free books… stuff that Amazon tries to charge you for because they can. Also, I downloaded my first app today on the Fire, and it was a big source of frustration. I couldn’t get the Yahoo! Mail app to download, and it was only giving me a “cannot open” error. As it turns out, you HAVE to input your credit card info on file with Amazon to download even free apps. Totally crappy. So that’s the reason the Yahoo! Mail app “cannot open.” And while on the topic of the Yahoo! Mail app, it’s probably less useful than just logging on to your email via the browser. There was no “sign out” button to be found, and there was no chat or SMS messaging to be found anywhere….so I uninstalled it. It’s gone and probably won’t ever return.

It’s funny how, at first, people were predicting the Kindle Fire would be an “iPad killer,” then it came out and everyone took a step back and said “ohhh, the Fire wasn’t designed to be an iPad killer.” It can be a useful tool, yes, with some getting use to… but don’t expect it to guide your way to the moon. If the Kindle Fire is what you can afford right now and a tablet would enhance your life, get it. But the most important point from my perspective is this: I bought a Macbook Pro for professional use. It’s an expensive machine that I originally purchased for data management/video transfer for a TV show, and now I use it to run pro audio software… but it’s frequently taken over by my lady, so it’s also become an expensive word processor/email sending device. I was excited about the Kindle Fire, as it seemed really cool, and I had also hoped I would be able to claim my laptop as, well, mine….. but that hasn’t happened. So, at this point, it seems a laptop in simpler to use and the Kindle Fire still has a long way to go.