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.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
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.
Topher Kessler
5 min read

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which we answer questions e-mailed in by our readers. This week readers had questions on the FileVault 2 log-in screen only showing account icons, options for attaching multiple displays on an iMac, writing to NTFS-formatted hard drives in OS X, and formatting PC drives to use on a Mac. 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: FileVault 2 log-in screen only shows account icons
MacFixIt reader "Clark" asks:

I've run across an issue with the FileVault 2 preboot login screen for which I can't find a solution...In the system preferences, I have my machine set to only show username/password blocks on the login screen. This is because I do not want user pictures to show. It works great, just as always. However, once FV2 is turned on, this setting is apparently not transferred to the preboot login screen. So the preboot login shows user pictures. I can find no way to turn them off. Any ideas?

This is unfortunately the way FileVault is set to work (for now). This happens because the log-in window session that initially starts up is based in the Recovery HD partition and is different from the standard log-in window session. When you set the log-in window preferences for your system, it affects the one on the boot drive and not the one in the recovery partition. So if you log in at boot and then log out, you will see the log-in window show the settings you designated because it's now running the boot system's log-in window process, after you have unlocked the disk.

The only way to make the username and password show for the FileVault 2 log-in window would be to add a preferences file to the boot image on the Recovery HD partition, but this would take a bit of tampering with your system to first reveal and mount the Recovery HD partition, followed by converting the boot image to a read/write image instead of a read-only image, copying the preferences file to it, and then converting it back to read-only before replacing the one on the drive with the edited version.

This should work to provide the log-in window with the preferences to show only the username and password settings, but I have no means of testing this out for now. Additionally, I would not recommend tampering with the FileVault setup since it relies on the presence and specific setup of the Recovery HD volume, so you might be risking not being able to boot your system or access your data if something goes awry.

Question: Options for multiple displays on iMac systems
MacFixIt reader "Charlie" asks:

I want to buy another 27-inch screen to use with my base 2.8GHz iMac Core i7 but the iMac i7 only had a Mini DisplayPort at the back. Reading your comments board, if i bought the new Apple Thunderbolt Display (27-inch) and connected it will this work, or do i have to buy the older Apple LED Cinema Display (27" flat panel)?

The DisplayPort connection supports only one external monitor. The newer iMac with Thunderbolt connections can support multiple Thunderbolt monitors (or one Thunderbolt monitor with an additional DisplayPort monitor attached through it), but at least one of the monitors would have to specifically support Thunderbolt for dual external displays to work. You can use a Thunderbolt monitor with a DisplayPort computer, but you will not be able to use any of its Thunderbolt features, only its DisplayPort options. Either of those monitors will work, but you will only be able to have one of them attached to your system at any one time.

Question: Writing to NTFS drives in OS X
MacFixIt reader "Chandra" asks:

I currently have a MBP with Lion OS installed. As a newcomer to the Apple world, I have found it very odd that it does not have the facility to write to an NTFS file format. Is there any way I can do so?

There are several options. The best is to install a third-party NTFS filesystem driver that does allow for writing to the filesystem, and the best of these that I've come across is NTFS-3G (the latest version can be found here), which is a free driver. Beyond this there are drivers from Paragon and Tuxera, but these require a purchased license.

Question: Using PC-formatted hard drives on a Mac
MacFixIt reader "Kski" asks:

Lately, I have been looking around at external hard drives and have found that the PC formatted ones are generally cheaper and have more storage. My question is, how much space do you lose when you reformat a PC orientated drive to one that the Mac can understand (also how do I go about to do this?). If I can get a 3 TB PC formatted drive for $80 and just reformat it compared to getting a $100 2 TB Mac formatted one I'll just go for the PC one. Even if I lose half a TB I still will be getting more GB/ dollar. Also, if I reformat the PC drive will it perform on par with the Mac formatted one?

You should not lose any noticeable amount of space between the various formats, and in terms of the drive itself a PC hard drive is the same as a Mac hard drive, with the exception of the format that has been put on it. You can definitely purchase a hard drive that has been preformatted for Windows systems, attach it to your Mac, and then format it for use on your system using Disk Utility (select it in the device list in Disk Utility, and use the Partition tab to both partition and format it).

Although it's more of a rare occurrence these days, the only caveat here is that while the USB and FireWire connections and controllers should be universal, some manufacturers cut corners by only testing and tailoring the firmware for these hardware components for Windows PCs and they may not have ironed out any bugs for Mac systems. However, despite this possibility most modern external hard drives work flawlessly and seamlessly on all OS platforms.

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