Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

We answer questions about subjects such as whether or not a MacBook's graphics processor can be upgraded.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers.

This week readers wrote in with questions about Wi-Fi signal transmission through glass, syncing documents between two systems, an external drive no longer mounting on any system, and how one would go about upgrading the video card on a MacBook Pro. We welcome views from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, post them in the comments!

Question: Wi-Fi signal transmittance through glass
MacFixIt reader David asks:

To what extent does a glass window weaken a Wi-Fi signal? I want to place a Wi-Fi extender next to a back window to give a stronger signal to my back yard.

Answer:
Wi-Fi signals are electromagnetic waves that get disrupted either by other sources of electromagnetism or by objects that can absorb electromagnetism, which include other radio waves (especially around the same frequency as your communications signal), and large metallic objects and surfaces such as aluminum siding, appliances, chicken wire and similar wire fencing, and piping that can absorb the signal and ground it.

Electromagnetic radio waves should travel through glass and not be disturbed by it to any significant degree, provided there are no special conductive coatings, wire meshes, or other properties to the glass that might serve as a shield against the 2GHz-to -6GHz frequencies used for Wi-Fi radio waves.

Your extender should work just fine next to your window, and the use of the window may make it easier to avoid putting the transmitter next to a pipe or wall circuit, thereby avoiding a potential source of interference.


Question: Syncing documents between two systems
MacFixIt reader Rick asks:

I have an iMac and a MacBook Air and I would like for the two machines to have the same info such as documents and everything else. Meaning that when I'm on the road my MacBook Air would be like my desktop.

Answer:
Syncing full home directories between systems can be done, but it will take a bit of setup to do and may cause some odd problems if the sync does not work perfectly at all times. Your best bet would be to use an online option like Dropbox (or one of the other alternatives ) to automatically sync necessary files between systems. This will not change user preferences and settings, but will keep your documents and work flow as synced as possible. You can then use Apple's iCloud to sync your contacts, calendars, and other similar data.


Question: External drive no longer mounts
MacFixIt reader Brenda asks:

I have an external hard drive (G-Tech) and it disappeared from my desktop. Won't mount on any other machine, although it boots up (turns on and sounds like it's working). Doesn't show up in my disk utility. I've tried all the fix-its so far. Reset PRAM, etc. Tried different ports. Help. How do I get it to mount?

Answer:
It sounds like the drive is faulty. If it is receiving power but will not mount on any system or show up as an available device in Disk Utility, then the drive's controllers aren't communicating properly with the system. Your best and safest bet would be to replace the drive.

If you need to access the data on the drive, then you might be able to get the drive to work by disassembling it and placing it in another enclosure. Hopefully if the drive itself is OK and the enclosure's controller chips are the only faulty thing then doing this will get it to be properly recognized. If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, you can have a technician give it a try.


Question: Upgrading a video card on a MacBook system
MacFixIt reader Boris asks:

I own a MacBook Pro and I want to upgrade the video card, I know Apple is picky in what they put in their PCs, so I was curious would the Apple retail store charge a whole lot to upgrade the video card or can I actually find one that fits and do it myself, also my MacBook still has warranty. I figure it might be possible since it said it is connected throughout the PCIe slot.

Answer:
The MacBook Pro's video card is soldered to the motherboard, and there is no way to upgrade it. It may be possible in the future to use the Thunderbolt port to add a PCI Express chassis that can hold third-party video cards, some of which could be video cards; however, this is currently not possible.

The "PCIe" reference in the graphics processor information is the PCI-express bus, which is the communications technology used for system components. This can be used both for built-in components that cannot be replaced, and for add-in cards that can be upgraded. A similar scenario to this is the keyboard and trackpad in laptops, which are technically USB components but are built-in as opposed to being connected through a standardized port or slot.



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About the author

    Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.

     

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