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Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

This week readers e-mailed in questions about Target Display mode in iMac systems and RAM purchases for Macs among others.

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

This week, readers wrote in with questions about RAM upgrade options for new MacBook systems, using a Mac laptop as a desktop workstation, song progress options for the iTunes 11 mini player window, and updating external secondary recovery partitions. I welcome views from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: RAM upgrade options for new MacBooks
MacFixIt reader David asks:

Can you upgrade the current 15-inch MacBook Pro sold by Apple? The max configuration is 8GB. I want to upgrade to 16GB.

If you have the Retina Display MacBook Pro, you won't be able to upgrade it because on these systems the RAM is soldered to the motherboard and there are no RAM expansion slots. However, if you have the non-Retina Display system, then you can upgrade to 16GB using one of many third-party upgrade modules. Look at the RAM specifications (speed, type, CAS latency, voltage, etc.) for your system, and then you can search numerous online retailers to find RAM offerings.

When it comes to RAM the cheap stuff will work just as good as the expensive stuff, with the difference being the more expensive stuff is often more thoroughly tested. However, expensive RAM can ship defective, so regardless of what you buy be sure to test it thoroughly using Apple's hardware test suite.

Question: Using a Mac laptop as a desktop workstation
MacFixIt reader Paul asks:

I have been receiving conflicting information. To wit: Can I use a RMBP *fully closed* so that the screen is not activated and then plug in an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc., via some sort of hub? I want to make the leap for a RMBP, but use it as a desktop system as well in order to replace my aging Mac Mini -- the best of both worlds.

Apple's laptops support a "clamshell" mode in which you can attach an external display and keyboard and run it like a desktop system. The internal monitor will remain off when run like this.

With a Thunderbolt display or some of the other third-party Thunderbolt docking solutions that are coming out in the next month or two, you should be able to set up a desktop environment and then attach the laptop to the dock via Thunderbolt and continue using it with the keyboard and display that are attached to this dock.

Question: Song progress options in the iTunes 11 mini-player
MacFixIt reader Lawrence asks:

Do you know if there is a way to adjust a preference in the iTunes 11 miniplayer to show the amount of time elapsed/remaining in the current song?

This feature is not available in the current mini-player; however, if you click the album artwork in the mini-player you will see a new "artwork" window that contains controls and a progress bar at the bottom of it. While a touch cumbersome, it can serve a somewhat similar purpose.

Question: Updating external secondary recovery partitions
MacFixIt reader Terrence asks:

I have two separate computer/external drive configurations. I have successfully installed Lion Recovery Partitions on both an external Thunderbolt-only drive and a USB/FireWire drive. Both drives have other encrypted partitions (done reversibly with diskutil). Is it necessary to upgrade the external recovery partitions when going from Lion to ML? If so, what would be the easiest way? I would rather not decrypt and move several hundred Gbytes to and fro.

Lion/Mountain Lion should create a recovery partition on your main boot drive, which is the default one to use, and this partition will be automatically upgraded with necessary changes when you install Mountain Lion over Lion. If you have created secondary recovery partitions on external drives, then you can update or replace them by cloning the default one on your boot drive to the external volume, or use Apple's Recovery Disk Assistant utility to create a fresh external recovery drive from scratch.

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