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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

MacFixIt Answers is a weekly feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers. We welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your own suggestions in the comments.

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers. This week readers had questions on security software recommendations for Macs, systems pausing while showing green pixels, garbled boot images when booting from the OS X DVD, and Office 2011's Solver utility crashing when launched. We continually answer e-mail questions, and though we present a few answers here, we welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your suggestions in the comments.

Question: Security software for a new Mac
MacFixIt reader "scfox" asks:

After using a G4 933MHz Quicksilver for years and now a Mac Pro, do I need to use some form of Internet security software like Symantec's or [others]?

The use of security software is up to you. While there are some hacks and malware out there for OS X, they aren't very prevalent. My recommendation is to be wise about what you open on your system, and if you need to then install a virus-scanning suite (I like Sophos, but others do well), keep it updated, and have it scan your downloads folder and Mail folders regularly (either on demand or weekly). I don't recommend setting up automatic full-system scans, but running a full scan a few times a year won't hurt anything.

I would avoid tools that claim to take control of all your security needs, as these can many times result in odd behavior as Apple changes and develops its OS. If you are going to install a malware scanner, my recommendations are Sophos, VirusBarrier, ClamXav, Avast, iAntivirus, MacScan, and Kaspersky.

Question: Green pixels showing with intermittent pauses
MacFixIt reader "James" asks:

I have had intermittent freezing of the whole system (15-inch 2008 MacBook Pro running Lion) accompanied by a mostly-green pixelization of the screen. I suspect a graphics card problem, but when I try starting the MacBook Pro with D depressed, I don't see the Apple Hardware Test. Rather, the machine (so far) starts normally. Is the Test no longer accessible on my machine with Lion? Any idea about the green freeze I'm experiencing?

The test should still work if you can otherwise boot to the DVD; however, I have heard of the tests not working on some Lion systems. Here is one article that has a hint which may work to get the tests running again, though it's not guaranteed.

As for the problem at hand, it could be a driver-related issue, but is definitely a problem with the graphics system and could be hardware-based (sometimes overheating can cause similar anomalies). Generally random pixel-based patterns mean a GPU hardware problem is occurring. Have you tried any hardware resets on the system like resetting the PRAM or SMC? Does it happen when you boot into Safe Mode? If doing this cannot fix the issue then you may need to have the system serviced to fix it, especially if the problem persists when you either boot off the OS X recovery drive or boot to an alternative OS (an older version of OS X that is installed on an external drive).

Question: Gray Apple logo appears garbled when booting to OS X DVD
MacFixIt reader "Dan" asks:

I have a late 2008/2009 iMac, 2.66GHz dual core, 24" screen currently running OS 10.5.8. A few months ago I tried to upgrade to Snow Leopard using the disk purchased at an Apple store. After loading and restarting, it came on to the gray screen, with what looks like the dark gray Apple logo scattered in pieces across the screen. When I asked the Apple genius they said it must be a graphics issue, but 10.5.8 runs with no issues, and I don't want to start throwing parts at this thing. I had to restart and boot back to Leopard, and subsequent tries of simply booting from the disk had the same results. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

The problem may be driver-based, but Apple tests its installers on all supported Mac systems and since your system is not modifiable, so you can't replace the graphics card, the hardware should work properly. Have you tried resetting the system's PRAM and SMC? If not then give that a try.

Also, do you have any peripheral devices attached to the system--printers, scanners, or other USB/FireWire devices? If so then try removing them while you upgrade.

Lastly, if the problem persists it may be an issue involving the optical drive. One option you can try is to get an 8GB USB memory stick and then use Disk Utility to restore the Snow Leopard installation disc to the memory stick. To do this, format the USB stick to Mac OS X Extended, and then click the Restore tab. Drag the OS X installer disc to the Source field, and then drag the formatted USB stick volume (not the drive, but the volume name underneath it) to the Destination field. When this is done, click the Restore button to in essence clone the installer to the USB drive. After this, you can boot to the drive by restarting while holding the Option key, and then selecting it from the list of boot drives when they appear on your screen.

Question: Office component Solver crashing when launched
MacFixIt reader "Marcelo" asks:

I'm running Mac OS X Lion and Office for Mac 2011. When I go to Launchpad and click in SOLVER, it attempts to open, but always closes suddenly without starting [and shows a crash log]. What happened? Is the problem with Mac OS X Lion or with Office for Mac 2011?

You are supposed to launch Solver from within Excel, and not as a separate application. To do this, open Excel and select "Add-ins..." from the Tools menu. Then check the box next to "Solver" and it should now appear at the bottom of the same menu. From here, you can invoke it to use to solve various equations in the foremost Excel spreadsheet.

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