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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 people wrote in with questions about OWC's SSD firmware updaters for Mac systems, the chances of Apple offering Snow Leopard for virtualization, and details on 16GB RAM support in MacBook Pro systems. We continually answer e-mail questions, and though we present answers here, we welcome alternative approaches and views from readers and encourage you to post your suggestions in the comments.

NOTE: The "contact us" box for e-mailing us will hopefully be back soon, but until then please use the contact links at the bottom of each article to send in your questions.

Question: Concern about using OWC's SSD firmware updaters
MacFixIt reader William asks:

OWC's Mac-compatible SSD firmware updater] that refers to sleep problems with these drives, and how Macs were unable to update the firmware to correct the problem, until just recently.

I am a little unclear about the sentence in your article that states "The update does not run in OS X, but does not require Windows anymore." I assume that your mentioning earlier in the article about downloading the updater disk image and burning the image to a DVD, and then booting off it to load the updater's GUI, suggests the updater cannot mount as a disk on the desktop and run the update like many other disk image updates do?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this approach of having to download and then burn the updater to a DVD and boot off of it to run the firmware update is a bit cheese, and may suggest a haphazard approach to support for Mac OS.

The components of OWC's drives such as the memory modules and controller chips are made by third-party vendors (SandForce, for example), and these companies are the ones that issue the firmware updates, which device manufacturers like OWC then distribute.

Many times the vendors release their own firmware updater utilities that the manufacturers just adopt and forward to the consumers, and because of market share these updaters are generally built for Windows. The disk image from OWC does not just contain an updater utility and firmware file, but also a stripped-down Linux operating-system installation that contains the updater utilities that load when you boot your system to the disc. As a result you can boot a Windows PC to the disc and update it, and also boot a Mac to the disc to update it. This is also why you need to burn the disc and boot to it instead of running utilities directly off of it.

I'm not sure who built OWC's latest Linux-based updaters, but with the new updaters the company can offer updates for both Windows and Mac users without having to maintain updater utilities for separate platforms. I agree it would be nice to see a native Mac updater that you can download and run within OS X, but the current option is still better than having only Windows-based solutions. Without the current method the only option for updating firmware would be to either install Windows, or remove the drive and place it in a Windows machine.

Question: Chances of Apple offering Snow Leopard for virtualization
MacFixIt reader Terry asks:

[In regard to VMware Fusion supporting Snow Leopard Client,] this is some of the best news I've heard in a long time! Since Lion and Snow Leopard would both reside on Apple hardware, it should not be an issue with Apple, right?

I need this capability for the sole purpose of being able to continue running Quicken 2006. I have tried all the other financial SW out there and will not switch to Lion unless I can have Quicken on a virtual machine. I do not want to dual boot as there are many instances where I need Quicken info while in Lion.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed and will be waiting to be sure Apple doesn't put a halt to this WONDERFUL feature!

Sadly, the good news did not last, and it was as I outlined in the article. VMware overlooked a feature in its code that checks the OS revision, and will be issuing an update to address the problem. Apple sticks with its license terms even for discontinued software, and would definitely see this development as a problem.

Unfortunately some Web sites announced this feature without mentioning the potential for it to be revoked, leading some to believe it was here to stay. Let's hope Apple someday allows this type of feature, but for now it's a no-go.

Question: Details on 16GB memory support in MacBook Pro systems
MacFixIt reader Ken asks:

Just read your take on the 16 gig capability [of the MacBook Pro]. Can the MPB really take advantage of the 16 gig? Any specs on what increase can be expected? [I am] mostly concerned with Photoshop CS 5, FCP and Motion, so those sound like heavy RAM users. [Do you] think the newer MBP i7 2.4 quad will run a lot faster on those than the 2010 2.8 dual core i7 with those?

The newer MacBook Pro systems can take up to 16GB RAM; however, the benefits will depend on the programs you use, and how you use them. If you regularly open many programs and many large documents, then you may see a benefit. To better assess this in your situation, open the Activity Monitor utility when you are working and observe the pie chart in the "Memory" section (at the bottom of the main Activity Viewer) window. If the green area of the chart gets significantly small or is regularly less than an eighth of the pie, then you might benefit from increasing your RAM. Generally more RAM will help the loading time of applications and data, and speed up large computing jobs, but likely will not affect the speed of routine tasks like checking e-mail unless the system is regularly running very low on RAM; however, in this case everything will slow down and not just the simple routine tasks.

I do not have benchmarks on these quad-core models versus the dual-core models for these applications, but my guess based on other benchmarks I've seen is that the quad-core systems will run faster, especially if you use these programs heavily at the same time.

As a general rule, if cost is not an issue, then get as much RAM as you can afford.

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