Tuesday, March 7 2006

The first step is proving you have a problem…

So, it initially looked as if swapping the DIMMS around and reseating everything fixed my PowerBook. Paranoia is an old friend, however, so I decided to do some more testing before trusting it.

First up, TechTool Deluxe, a piece of software that Apple gives you when you buy AppleCare support. I ran the full suite of tests half a dozen times, with no errors.

Next up, World of Warcraft. I booted normally, logged in and had one of my characters stand in the middle of the busiest city, opened up the Activity Monitor, and… success! Or, more precisely, failure. It locked up good and hard, filling the screen with garbage.

Packed it up, made a support appointment at the Apple Store, walked over at the appointed time, waited 40 minutes for someone to get to me, and then spent the next 40 minutes proving that the problem really existed.

Standard diagnostic tools passed with flying colors. The tech’s random mix of apps worked just fine. We ended up testing each DIMM separately, loading up memory and CPU with World of Warcraft, QuickTime Player (random music video set to loop), and VLC (random VOB file set to loop). With the DIMM that I initially had figured was the good one, this produced several crashes within five minutes. The other DIMM worked fine, and in fact it’s been running for about half an hour now back in my office.

They’ll have a replacement DIMM for me in a few days, and meanwhile I’m going to keep stressing the machine to make really sure there’s nothing else wrong. Then I’ll migrate back from my G3 iBook.

Update: I spent a few days abusing the replacement RAM, and now everything’s back to normal. It was interesting using the G3 iBook for a while; it was perfectly adequate for use at work (Terminal, Safari, Mail, iTunes, MS Word, SSH Agent, Cisco VPNClient, Firefox, and Thunderbird), and only really showed its age when confronted with video clips (no, Choco Party is not work-related, or particularly work-safe, but it was certainly popular, especially after I googled out the name of the featured model, Miri Hanai).

I don’t plan on buying one of the current MacBook Pro models, even after they sort out all the early hardware problems (I’ve had enough early-adopter fun with Apple for a while, thanks). It will probably be a year before it’s worth the effort of migrating my primary machine to the new platform, but an x86 Mini is a possibility. We’re buying some for the office, so I’ll be able to check it out soon.

Here’s my simple RAM-thrasher. Kicking off half a dozen of these is more predictable than standing around in Ironforge in World of Warcraft:

#!/usr/bin/perl
open(In,"/dev/random");
foreach (1..250000) {
    read(In,$x,1024);
    push(@x,$x);
}
@y = sort @x;