We have lots of interesting comments from readers in this issue, including more on the mean time between failures for hard drives, the new PowerBooks, Symantec’s purchasing history, and various Apple products. Mark Anbinder reports on Apple’s new 17" monitor and the continuance of Apple’s Vintage hardware program, and Tim Levy tells us about the massive database for tracking Macintosh software updates that he’s created for TidBITS readers.
New PowerBook Comments — In regard to the upcoming release of new PowerBooks mentioned in TidBITS #222, Dave Hirsh <[email protected]> warns: "The 9.5" color active matrix screens that the 540 will use are probably going to suffer the same supply problems that IBM has with the ThinkPad 750Cs. The yields on 9.5" versus the current 8.5" displays are much lower. This keeps supplies tight and prices high." In addition, a few people pointed out since the new 68LC040 PowerBooks don’t have floating point units, and since it appears that Apple plans to eliminates the 68030 PowerBooks that have floating point units, the immediate future looks bare for people who want a new PowerBook and need an FPU. [TJE]
Ron Davis <[email protected]> of Datawatch writes in response to our query about the status of 911 Utilities:
Datawatch’s 911 Utilities product is only available in the SuperSet utilities package. The Symantec/Central Point merger also brings almost all of the commercial anti-virus products under one roof as well, except for Datawatch’s Virex with SpeedScan.
Buy, Don’t Build — An ex-Symantec employee writes to tell us about how many programs Symantec has developed as opposed to acquiring:
As a matter of fact, it’s pretty easy to figure out. Every single Symantec product, even the name of the company, was acquired from somewhere else. The company we now know as Symantec started life as "C & E Software;" the "E" was for Eubanks, I don’t know who "C" was. They bought this little company called Symantec and took on the name as well as the product (which was Q&A).
Every product that Symantec has ever shipped has either been the result of an acquisition, or has been a refinement to an acquired product. Symantec has never shipped a product developed in house from scratch. (There have been some notable failures, such as Q&A for the Macintosh and Bedrock, though. Make of that what you will.)
Apple reports that their 14-Mar-94 price lists stated incorrectly that the Power Macintosh 6100/60 logic board upgrade (item M2343LL/A) includes 2 MB of VRAM, or video memory. In fact, it has none. The basic Power Macintosh 6100 uses DRAM, or the standard dynamic memory, for video processing, just as the Macintosh IIsi did. The Power Mac AV models, and the video cards bundled with the 7100 and 8100 models, do include video RAM. [MHA]
The QuickTake 100 digital camera, or more precisely, the software bundled with it, is not yet compatible with Power Macintoshes. Apple plans to offer a "QuickTake for Power Macintosh Install Disk," which will work in conjunction with the two disks already provided. Apple expects the new disk to be out "by early May," and will announce ways to acquire the disk when it becomes available." [MHA]
Apple’s 15" Portrait Display is the last of the company’s original line of external Macintosh monitors, first introduced in 1987, to be removed from the product family. The vertically oriented greyscale display (Apple item M0404) is still available until existing supplies run out, but no more will be built. [MHA]
Brian Hall <[email protected]> writes about General Magic’s Magic Cap:
A product using Magic Cap has been shown – the Motorola Envoy. Motorola had a large island booth at Mobile ’94 recently, and they had seven or eight third-party developers showing off applications. They were also accepting applications to participate in their developer program. There were some spreadsheets, some communications applications, and others that did not catch my eye. I spent most of my time talking to the developer evangelist and the representative from America Online. They had an America Online email and stock client running on the Envoy. Nice, but as I don’t follow stocks on America Online and prefer my email to be sent to my Internet address, that is of limited use to me. A full client would be great, especially considering that they work wireless. When I saw the first screen shots in MacWEEK I thought, "Great! Black and white hollow images. A coloring book!" However, when you actually sit down and use the device, it is much better.
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Apple recently introduced its new Multiple Scan 17 Display, a 17" color Trinitron monitor expected to be available worldwide this month. The monitor offers numerous features and replaces the Macintosh 16" Color Display in Apple’s product family. The monitor’s price checks in at $1,069, and its item number is M2611LL/A.
Sporting a current-generation Sony Trinitron picture tube, the Multiple Scan 17 Display can be adjusted using digital controls, and supports three different color temperatures (5000, 6500, and 9300 degrees Kelvin) to provide accurate color display for a variety of needs. The unit supports 640 x 480, 832 x 624, and 1024 x 768 resolutions using the built-in video feature on current Macintosh and Power Macintosh models, and resolutions from 640 x 480 up to 1280 x 1024 on PC systems with appropriate circuitry or video cards.
Apple’s new Display Manager software allows on-the-fly resolution switching, so users needn’t shut down their computers to change display size. The 640 x 480 resolution should come in handy for desktop presentations, and will also be suitable for Macintosh users whose vision won’t let them see tiny dots clearly.
The monitor is Energy Star compliant, taking advantage of recent Macs’ ability to reduce electrical consumption when the computer is inactive and the monitor can be blanked or dimmed. (Many older Macs can take advantage of Apple’s Energy Saver software to do this as well.) It’s also compliant with Sweden’s strict MPRII guidelines for low electrical and magnetic emissions, and, for good measure, supports Apple’s ColorSync color matching technology. To help eliminate snarls of cables, the display has sound in/out ports and ADB Apple Desktop Bus (ADB) ports for keyboards and mice.
The Multiple Scan 17 Display works right out of the box with the Power Macintosh series, all Quadras and Centrises, the Macintosh Display Card 24AC, and IBM-PC compatible computers. Apple says it can be used with other Macintosh computers (including various Mac II models, PowerBooks, and Duo docks) and video cards (such as Apple’s 8*24 card) using an $8.95 cable adapter from Enhance Technology. This adapter, or others like it, should also be available from many dealers.
Some Apple dealers may discount remaining 16" displays (item number M1044Z/A), so if you’re happy with a single 832 x 624 resolution, take a look.
Enhance Technology — 800/343-2425 — 408/293-2425
Apple’s warehouses have long been filled to the rafters with potentially useful, but unwanted, obsolete equipment. This practice kept good hardware out of the hands of potential purchasers and proved to be a tremendous waste of expensive storage space. A few months ago, Apple began unloading some of this equipment at bargain-basement prices to its dealer channel, much the way Apple unloaded the PowerBook 100s unloaded shortly after discontinuing them in 1992.
By selling warehoused equipment at bargain-basement prices, Apple quickly disposed of the thousands upon thousands of original DuoDocks. The DuoDocks have never been big sellers; many Duo purchasers just wanted the small PowerBooks without the massive desktop docking stations. The "Vintage Program" also unloaded older Mac II and Quadra models, as well as a variety of LaserWriters and other peripherals.
Although Apple had intended the sale to be a one-time occurrence, the company apparently decided not to argue with success. Not only have they cleared an extraordinary amount of warehouse space, they’ve also brought in quite a bit of money for equipment that was simply gathering dust (in some cases, for years). So, Apple is now sending monthly updates to its dealers offering specific items on a first-come, first-served basis.
The April list included Macintosh IIvx models, a Centris 610 with CD-ROM drive, and the Macintosh TV, Apple’s all-in-one Mac with a built-in TV tuner. (Apple marketed the Macintosh TV in the U.S. only through the educational channel, and aimed it at students who didn’t have enough dorm-room space for both a computer and a television.) These items may already be sold out, but it’s worth checking.
The latest list, for which orders will be accepted starting on 25-Apr-94, includes two Centris 660AV models (identical to the Quadra 660AV except for the name), one CD-equipped model each of the Quadra 610 and 650, and the LaserWriter Select 310.
These items may only be ordered by dealers, and the program may only exist within the United States. If you’re interested in any of these items at some excellent prices, contact your favorite dealer. Keep in mind that quantities are limited, so don’t dawdle. You may find that the item you want is already sold out.
The discussion that arose following our offhand question about how those mean time between failure (MTBF) numbers are arrived at continues to spawn interesting comments. Along with several new topics (spin-up/spin-down cycles, and part count reduction), Scott Pearce from Maxtor Customer Service passes on some useful information direct from the people who deal with dead drives.
Atlant <[email protected]> writes:
One or two of the writers who have previously commented on the MTBF discussion mentioned that they didn’t think that disk drive manufacturers took spin-up/spin-down cycles into consideration when calculating MTBF numbers. They do! Last week, I was at a public presentation given by Quantum and they stated that their MTBF ratings for 3.5" (desktop class) disk drives were based on one spin-up/spin-down cycle per day. That statement is a little ambiguous – I don’t know if they meant a spin-down/up for every 8, 12, or 24 operating hours, but they clearly meant something much more conservative than "spin it up once and run it ’til it fails."
The specific context of the conversation concerned the new Energy-Star requirements and how the much shorter spin-up/spin-down cycles may affect the MTBF of 3.5" disk drives. Quantum seemed to be headed for a minimum disk spin-down timeout of two hours, lest the effect on MTBF be too great.
Jonathan Lundell <[email protected]> writes:
Another two bits from a reliability non-expert:
My company has been obliged to calculate MTBFs for a couple of large customers who required it, typically for government contracts. They provided a method for us to use, and I suspect that it’s widely used because it is simple.
The U.S. military, which is big on MTBF, has an assortment of references for different kinds of devices. In our case, these were PC boards and electronic components, but the same is probably true of mechanical devices.
Individual devices are given MTBFs (by someone – a high-ranking unnamed officer?) that tend to be very high. You calculate your product MTBF based on the reference MTBFs of its components and packaging methods.
This obviously makes no allowances for the varying quality of components from supplier A versus supplier B, but presumably you can use supplier A’s official numbers if you like.
Anyway, one reason for dramatically better claimed MTBFs is the equally dramatic reduction in parts counts. I oversimplify slightly, but it’s easy to see that if you cut the number of components in half, maintaining the same per-component MTBF, your overall MTBF roughly doubles.
Compare a five-year-old disk drive design with a new one, and you’ll see that the component count is cut by a very large factor. Note that this also reduces the number of electrical connections (solder joints, connectors), which are a significant source of failure.
There are no doubt other factors as well. Smaller disk drives have lower mechanical stresses. The trend to lower power means lower temperatures as well, which is a factor in MTBF calculations. And finally, one hopes that drive engineers learn from their failures as well, and improve their products that way.
Scott Pearce <[email protected]> of Maxtor Customer Service writes:
Maxtor finds many problems, in fact over 90 percent of failures, to be handling related. It seems that by the time drives get down to dealers and little shops they have been tossed about, no electrostatic discharge procedures have been followed, and all in all the drives have been treated badly.
Considering that drives leave the factory meeting extremely high certification tests you would expect the drives to have an extremely low failure rate in the field. But, we see a great deal of failures in the field trending towards specific volume assemblers etc. Upon investigation we find bare drives sitting on concrete floors, absolutely no electrostatic discharge protection, and so on. After educating the companies assembling the drives and fixing these issues the failure rate drops below one percent as expected.
I think it is important that people realize that drives are still as sensitive to shock and shipping damage as they were several years ago. Although you do not need to park a hard disk you must ship them in proper shipping containers and not in things like bubble wrap and sponge rubber.
The second issue is the return of damaged and failed drives for repair. As an example, a disk drive with a failed capacitor costing five cents may end up costing $200 to repair when it gets to the factory, if it was returned in poor packaging, causing the drive to suffer platter damage on return. In the end the customer pays because companies like Maxtor have to cost replacement drives at a higher rate to cover this.
The tips to remember are:
1. Never handle the drive by touching any part of the PC board assembly, even when using an anti-static strap. Pressure on the PC board assembly could crack components. Always handle the drive by the sides.
2. Never stand a drive on its side; it can be knocked down and sustain head shift or platter damage.
3. Never move a drive until it has spun down completely. Just because you cannot hear it spinning does not mean that it has completely spun down.
4. Always transport the drive in an anti-static bag, even across your office or workshop.
5. Always transport the drive in proper packaging as supplied by the hard disk manufacturer.
6. Before running a drive upside down or on the side check with the manufacturer to see if the drive can perform in this rotation. Also ask if this lowers the MTBF.
7. Always check that your power supply is well suited to the number and type of drives that are present. Some large capacity drives require as much as 15 watts to spin up. In a PC environment with an ordinary power supply this could cause undue wear on the PC board assembly components and spin motor of the drive.
8. Never touch the pins on the cable interface connector.
I hope that some of this information is useful. It seems that reliability is always being judged by failure, yet few people pay attention to the way they handle the drives.
From time to time Apple issues updates to its Macintosh system software. These updates are either fixes to bugs that have been discovered or versions that introduce some new capability. Distributing new or replacement parts of the Macintosh system software in this way saves Apple the time and expense that would otherwise be taken if they were to engineer a complete new release every time they wanted to fix a bug or provide new functionality.
Some updates are packaged in the form of a disk image with an installer that can determine which parts of the kit are needed on the specific machine you’re installing on. These updates often require Apple’s DiskCopy utility to copy the disk image to a floppy disk before installing:
Other updates take the form of individual software and documentation files. When Apple provides an installer as a part of an update package, we strongly recommend that you use it and do not try to install the updates manually, since the installer may customize the installed software for your specific Macintosh.
Apple has no coherent architecture for the documentation and packaging of system updates. This, combined with the relentlessly increasing sophistication of the Macintosh system software, makes the technical support job increasingly difficult in organisations with large numbers of machines. This gripe should probably be the subject of a separate article. However, one particular problem that deserves mention is that Apple seldom provides precise descriptions of the problems that are fixed by its updates. Because of this, it is often difficult to tell in advance whether applying an update will indeed fix a particular problem that you might be experiencing.
Where — All updates except those only for Performas are available on AppleLink. Some are available for collection by anonymous FTP from <ftp.apple.com> or <aux.support.apple.com>. You can find updates for networking and communications products from <ftp.support.apple.com>. Note that <ftp.apple.com> has not always carried the full set of updates available on AppleLink, nor have the updates on <ftp.apple.com> always been current. Your dealer should also be able to obtain software updates for you, should you not have access to AppleLink, although there may be a small charge for the time and labor.
The Important Upgrades — If you run System 7.0 or System 7.0.1, you should certainly have version 1.1.1 of the update named "System 7 Tune-up" installed on your computer. If you run System 7.1 or System 7 Pro, System Update 2.0.1 may well make your computer work better. These updates may have been pre-installed on your hard disk with the rest of the system software when your Mac arrived, or you may have received an update disk with your computer.
You can check for the presence of these two important system updates on your computer by looking for either the System 7 Tuner or Hardware System Update icon in the Extensions folder inside your System Folder. Use the Finder’s Get Info command to make sure that you have the most recent version of the update. On computers running System 7.0 or 7.0.1, the Finder’s About This Macintosh window displays a bullet character after the System Software version if any version of System 7 Tune-up was installed at start-up time.
Our Solution — The number of these software updates is growing rapidly. For example, one update that fixes a problem on 68040-based Macs that can make the computer freeze or some programs quit unexpectedly when you open applications that reside on an AppleShare server. Other updates available include one to solve battery charging problems on some PowerBook Duo models and another that makes improvements to the way MacTCP works.
We have compiled a list of many (157 at last count) of Apple’s software updates. The master version of the list comes in the form of a ClarisWorks database, but we have also uploaded versions in straight tab-delimited text for those who wish to import it into FileMaker, HyperCard, or any other database. Perhaps the most immediately useful version of the database is in setext format, though, and is formatted specifically to be browsed and searched with Easy View 2.44.
The database attempts to cover all recent updates, starting with System 6.0.7, and unlike many such lists, ours retains information about old updates, making it easier to figure out what SuperUpdate 1.1.1 might fix when its documentation says, "Includes all the bug fixes in SuperUpdate 1.1 and fixes the new bug that crashes all Macs on startup." Some of the fields in the database include useful pieces of information such as Name, Version, Description, Applies to, Date Released, Supersedes, Superseded by, Fixes, New Functions, Components, Availability, and Media.
Here’s a sample record from the setext version of the database to give you a better idea of the information we’ve included. Many of the records are even larger when there are more fixes or new functions.
PowerBook Duo Enabler - 1.0 Description: System Software Update Applies to: All Macintosh PowerBook Duos [PB] Supersedes: System Enabler 201 1.x Superseded by: Fixes: None. New Function: Supports Macintosh PowerBook Duo 250 and 270c. Components: PowerBook Duo Enabler 1.0 Distribution: AppleLink, ftp.apple.com Media: File(s) Record created: Tue, Mar 1, 1994 Record modified: Wed, Mar 9, 1994 Release date: Sep-93
We will try to keep the list up to date in future, and as you’ll see, the database can still use a fair amount of work. Frankly, we can use your help. If you see errors or omissions in the database, please let us know at <[email protected]>. Don’t worry about reporting typos – we plan to do an editing run through when we get some time.
You can get the various versions of the database from America Online in the Macintosh Hardware New Files library, AppleLink in the TidBITS folder, ZiffNet/Mac in the ZMC:DOWNTECH #0 library, and CompuServe in the MACDVEN #5 library (assuming no one moves them in any of these places). On the Internet, check out these two sets of URLs: