Posts Tagged ‘vista’

Can’t Boil Water With Vista on My MacBook Pro Anymore

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

It was a little over a year ago that I got Windows Vista up and running on my first-generation MacBook Pro by means of Apple’s Boot Camp, only to discover that it ran hot—so hot that it seemed pretty worthless. I believe that post (Vista on My MacBook Pro Is Hot—Boiling Hot!) has brought this blog more visitors than any other, which I count as solid evidence that many other Mac users have encountered the same problem and have gone searching on Google for a solution.

Unfortunately, all I could offer my fellow sufferers was the knowledge that they were not alone, but now I have a solution for them, based on the same “undervolting” technique I finally discovered to solve the even greater overheating problem I had encountered running under Mac OS 10.5.6, where temperatures would climb over 115° C and cause the computer to shut down unless I exited certain programs (rendered useless) or web sites in time.

I recently wrote What a Relief! MacBook Pro Overheating Problem Cured—Really, in which I told of finding a program called CoolBook to be the answer to my overheating problems. The basic idea behind the solution is that the computer’s factory-default voltages, which essentially determine the operating temperature, are for the different cpu clock frequencies substantially higher than they need to be. CoolBook enables one to reset these voltages to lower values, thus gaining much cooler operating temperatures, most importantly for the highest frequency, where sustained heavy-duty computing can lead to overheating. Undervolting with the help of CoolBook really gave me back the full use of my MacBook Pro. I refer anyone having similar problems to that recent post. The procedure for finding the lower voltages your particular computer can live with involves a fairly lengthy trial and error period, but it only needs to be done once.

I mainly wanted Vista on my Mac in order to test the Vista-compatibility of the Windows versions of my science education programs, OnScreen Particle Physics and OnScreen DNA. Having done that, and not having a new version to test, I could easily live without Vista; and the overheating problems encountered under 10.5.6 were much more serious for me. Nonetheless, it was an ongoing irritation in the back of my mind that Apple’s promise of being able to run Windows with Boot Camp was really a false one so long as the temperature went up so high under normal use. Thus it was natural to ask if I could apply the same undervolting procedure under Vista to eliminate the heating problem there as well.

Of course, CoolBook was no help for running Vista, since it is a Mac program, but a Google search for undervolting led me to a Windows solution. If you Google with the search string “undervolting guide,” you will find The Undervolting Guide, which tells you everything you need to know to undervolt under Windows. There is a free downloadable program called RMclock that allows you to reset the default voltages, just as CoolBook does for the Mac. The guide is written under the assumption that you have no previous information about temperature or the lower voltage limits at which your computer can operate stably. It leads you through a procedure similar to what I outlined in my post on Mac undervolting. Since I had already gone through this under Mac OS X and couldn’t see any reason why the lower-limit voltages would depend on the operating system, I assumed my results would still hold under Vista. The whole procedure seems a lot easier on the Mac side, so I would recommend anyone trying to cool down Vista on a Mac to determine lower-limit voltages under the Mac OS. Be sure to write down the lower-limit voltages you have found before booting into Windows to set voltages there.

I went directly to the RMclock instructions in the guide, skipping the parts dealing with stressing the computer at different voltages. You need to follow the RMclock instructions closely, as the procedure is considerably more complicated than what it is for CoolBook, there being several steps to go through before you reach the point of actually setting voltages. Things look quite a bit different too. Instead of showing the frequencies in physical units of MHz, RMclock shows “multipliers,” which are presumably the factors by which some reference frequency (unspecified) is multiplied to obtain the actual frequency. I just made the reasonable assumption that the maximum multiplier corresponded to the maximum frequency (2.004 GHz in my case) and set the voltage to what I had previously determined was sufficient under Mac OS X for my MacBook Pro. For the other multipliers I scaled accordingly, but chose voltages on the conservative side, i.e, a little higher, just to be safe. For keeping the maximum temperature down, it’s really only the top frequency voltage setting that matters much anyway. Lowering the other voltages below that used for the highest frequency just gives you a lower average temperature and longer battery life.

Did it work? Yes, I can run the most complex simulations of OnScreen DNA at a “cool” 80° C, instead of the previous 100° C. Undervolting has made it comfortable for me to run Vista on my MacBook Pro, so I don’t feel cheated anymore. Maybe I’ll actually use Vista for something other than testing my software now.

Vista on My MacBook Pro is Hot—Boiling Hot!

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I recently told the long story of how I installed Windows Vista on my MacBook Pro by means of Apple’s Boot Camp technology. To make that story short: it was difficult and took a long time because of a bug in the Mac OS 10.5.2 version of Boot Camp Assistant, but I did eventually succeed. See the earlier post for details.

Once I had Vista set up and running, the first thing I did was to test the science education programs I sell, since that was my main reason for wanting access to a Vista machine in the first place.

Both programs installed and launched without any problem. I had expected OnScreen Particle Physics, which used standard “old-fashioned” Windows routines for its drawing to the screen, would work smoothly, and users had reported success with it under Vista, but I had not tested it myself, so I was glad to see that everything I could think to try worked without a hitch.

OnScreen DNA was the one I had more concerns about. I had been advertising it as being for Windows XP, since I knew that its use of Open GL for three-dimensional graphics might be an issue for some configurations under Windows Vista. All the software that OnScreen Science sells has a sixty-day guarantee of customer satisfaction, so no one was in danger of losing any money by buying it to run on Vista, but I wanted to get a clearer answer about Vista compatibility, especially since new PCs all have Vista installed unless the buyer makes a special effort to get Windows XP instead, which some companies are actually doing.

When Vista was first released I did a very quick test of OnScreen DNA on a machine running Vista Home Premium. The software installed and launched without difficulty, but had a major problem showing animations (its whole basis, really) under Vista’s new Aero look. Once I switched into Vista’s “Windows Classic” theme (which has a pre-XP look to discourage its use, I suppose), all went well however.

I was almost certain that the animation problem with Aero was due to Microsoft’s having provided no default support for Open GL under Aero. Open GL, which I’d used to program the three-dimensional interactive graphics of OnScreen DNA, is a software interface to accelerated graphics hardware available for Macintosh and Linux as well as Windows. Its use had meant that the hardest part of the OnScreen DNA coding needed to be done only once, which had shortened development time by untold weeks. While it seems evident that Microsoft wants to discourage the use of Open GL, preferring instead to lock people into using DirectX, which is only for Windows, I knew that they had left the door open for graphics card manufacturers to provide their own custom drivers for Open GL. Since a substantial number of Windows games and screen savers etc. have been programmed using Open GL, I had assumed that providing Open GL drivers would become in time standard practice for graphics card makers, but this was a little bit of a gamble.

An online reviewer for PC World, who was taking a look at OnScreen DNA Lite, the free edition of the software which mainly deals with details of DNA’s double helical structure but lacks the simulations of how DNA works found in the advanced editions, encountered the Vista animation slowdown and queried me about it. I told him what I knew, and he proceeded to run the software either in Classic theme or under XP, then gave the software a favorable review but with a caveat about Vista Aero. I had in the meantime had some positive reports from users running OnScreen DNA under Vista and imagined that others must be running without problem on Vista as well, though I continued to advertise it as being for XP.

I was certainly curious to see what would happen running OnScreen DNA for Windows on my Intel Mac. It was gratifying to see that it was snappy and without any issues that I could uncover running with the full-blown Aero look. So the drivers that Apple was providing for running Vista on a Mac must support Open GL, which I took as more evidence that the driver support I’d been counting on was likely to be there on new machines.

So everything was OK, right? Well, pretty much everything except that my MacBook Pro sounded like a twin-engine model airplane trying to build up enough speed for takeoff against a strong headwind. I’d never heard such noise from the cooling fans. They seemed to be going full blast once they got started. I remembered that when the MacBook Pro first came out, a number of people had complained about excessive fan noise, but I had not encountered it. Apple laptops have a reputation for running hot—so much so that Apple will correct you if you call them laptops (they’re notebooks) to prevent you from complaining about a hot lap—but this seemed a good bit more than what I was used to.

I was especially concerned since the higher temperature and fan revving seemed to be associated with running the 3D animations of OnScreen DNA. I decided I should get quantitative about it and downloaded a free Windows program called speedfan, which promised to display computer temperatures, as well as letting you set the fan speed according to temperature in order to better control how hot it would be allowed to get.

I was shocked to see that the cpu temperature was going as high as 100°C. That’s 212°F, the boiling point of water! I hadn’t ever given the temperature of my laptop much thought, figuring that, although it might feel pretty hot to the touch, it was probably nothing to worry about. This high a temperature just didn’t seem reasonable though.

Some online research led me to an article in which the reviewer was concerned about the “excessive” 60°C temperature he was seeing on his MacBook Pro. This really made my temperature sound bad, but a little more research produced a less alarming assessment. The machine in the review just mentioned had a 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo cpu, which supposedly is OK at temperatures up to 73°C, so the concern should not be great at 60°C. My MacBook Pro, however, is from the first generation Core Duo models. Those are supposed to be OK up to 100°C, so I am not really in the kind of danger zone that my first reading of the Core 2 Duo machine review had led me to fear. Nonetheless I am right at the margin on occasion.

A number of articles I found made it seem that Apple’s overuse of thermal paste was a well-documented cause of high temperatures in the early assembly runs of MacBook Pros. Some sites had instructions on how to crack your laptop, remove Apple’s paste, and put on a little bit of a better kind. I’ve installed RAM and a hard drive or two, but I don’t think that is something I want to attempt.

I had never monitored temperature under OS X, so I had no way to compare it to Vista, though I felt Vista must be running hotter. I downloaded the Temperature Monitor app from the Apple download site, and used it to monitor my Mac temperatures. The temperatures I mention in the rest of this piece are those from the cpu monitor. Unless it was in a quiescent state, the MacBook Pro was always hotter than 60°C. Running OnScreen DNA in an uninterrupted animation of DNA replication, I once saw the temperature climb to around 90°C. However, the same test at a different time saw the temperature peak at 80°C, with the fans bringing it down to around 75°C, where it would be maintained.

Similarly, running Vista, monitor readings on a day different from that when the 100°C had been measured found a peak temperature of 90°C. I speculated hopefully that some intervening Microsoft upgrades to Vista (they install some without giving you a choice) might have improved things. This brings me to my next Jerry Pournelle type adventure: installing Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1).

Although Microsoft had earlier said Vista would not need service packs to fix bugs etc. in Vista, they had had to issue one if only to sell Vista to the holdouts that always wait for the first service pack before upgrading. I hoped that SP1 might lower the operating temperature further. Plus there was a vaguely worded promise of improvement in running games “not really designed for Vista” (not using DirectX, in other words, is my guess), which I hoped meant better Open GL performance.

Vista SP1 was made generally available March 18. Microsoft strongly recommended ordinary users upgrade through the standard Windows Upgrade program, which performs the same function as Software Update does for the Mac. But Windows Upgrade found nothing new for me. Microsoft online documentation had said that Windows Upgrade would just pretend you hadn’t asked if it detected a problem driver on your system—this without so much as giving you a hint that SP1 was available at all, never mind the specific reason you were not going to be allowed the upgrade. Thinking it might help to install a few optional upgrades I had skipped, I went ahead and did that. Windows Upgrade did then offer me something new, but it was a small upgrade. Installing it and restarting did not change things.

I wondered if an Apple driver might be causing me to get the cold shoulder from Windows Upgrade. A message I left on Apple’s Boot Camp forum brought replies from others that had successfully installed SP1 via the Windows Upgrade utility, so I knew it was possible on a Mac if not necessarily one with my exact configuration. But after numerous failed attempts to get the word from Windows Upgrade that SP1 was ready and waiting for installation on my Mac, I decided to go against Microsoft’s strong advice and download the 440 megabyte SP1 installer to do it myself. Once it was downloaded and launched, the SP1 installer informed me I needed 3 gigabytes of hard drive space in order to carry out the installation. I had been afraid my 1.75 gigabytes of free space on the Windows partition would be too meager, and it was.

Contrary to what I mistakenly said in my earlier post about Boot Camp, I had actually created a Windows partition of only 12 gigabytes. I was surprised to see after installing Vista that I only had about 300-400 megabytes free on the Windows partition. There really wasn’t much in the way of program files to get rid of. Most of the space was taken up by the Windows folder and a couple of humongous (2 gigabyte) files, one obviously for virtual memory paging and the other (hiberfil.sys) that turned out to be for “hibernating” or storing the contents of memory for quick return to your computer’s state without rebooting and relaunching programs. Since I had never known about hibernation, I figured I could live without it. I found instructions online for ditching the hibernation file through the Windows command line, since a drag to the recycling bin wouldn’t do the trick. That had bought me a little space, but not enough to install SP1. I could see no way to free sufficient space.

I already knew that it was impossible to just expand the Windows partition because of the different formats used by the two operating systems sharing the hard disk. I would have to start all over with Windows installation, as far as I could tell. But then a little more research made me aware of a very useful program that anyone using Boot Camp should know about: WinClone. It saved me a lot of trouble. It is donationware, and I was happy to make a donation after having used it successfully. Using WinClone, which runs under Mac OS X, but can read from and write to a Windows partition, I made an image file of everything that was on my Windows partition. Since I was going to have to get rid of the partition anyway, I wasn’t too worried about whether WinClone would work.

Next I used Boot Camp Assistant to eliminate the Windows Partition. I then rebooted using the iDefrag boot dvd I had made earlier, thinking I would need to defragment to make sure I could make a new and larger partition for Windows using Boot Camp Assistant. However, the visual evidence of a very defragmented drive shown by iDefrag (and of course the 12 gigabytes of the just wiped out Windows partition would be empty) convinced me I could stop the defragmenting and proceed directly to making a new Windows partition. Boot Camp Assistant successfully created a 17 gigabyte partition in a fairly short time without any problems. I then quit the program and relaunched WinClone, this time using it to “restore” the new larger Windows partition.

I then restarted Windows. It made some complaint about something having changed, so that it needed to check everything. I told it to go ahead and check. It was eventually satisfied and launched Vista. I logged in and started the SP1 installer again. This time it ran, warning me that it might take an hour and would restart several times in the process. It worked.

Now I had Vista with SP1 installed. Would it help keep the temperature lower? The answer was no. Even worse, I was now seeing the 100°C temperatures again. However, based on subsequent tests, which have measured the peak temperature under Vista once more at 90°C, and even brought below that by the fans, I have to conclude that there is some other factor that raises the floor of the temperature, and I think the ambient temperature can be ruled out.

In any case, Vista with Boot Camp consistently runs 10-12°C hotter than OS X on my machine. Running my graphics intensive program OnScreen DNA, the temperature peaks somewhere between 80-90°C, under Mac OS 10.5.2 and can usually be reduced a few degrees by the fans as they rotate faster. Running the same software under Vista on the same machine sees peak temperatures of 90-100°C, which can also usually be reduced a few degrees by the fans. I don’t have the data to back it up, not having monitored temperatures under Mac OS 10.4, but, based on my increased awareness of fan noise, I have the feeling that 10.5.2 may run hotter than 10.4.

Even if I could forget about the temperature, the fan noise is not something I’d want going in the background if I were trying to demonstrate the Vista version of my software, which militates against using the MacBook Pro for demos. Actually, I don’t think I could stand working with the fan noise for long anyway, as it is louder than my old Dell box. These high temperatures are occurring in March, where the ambient room temperature is 22-24°C. It will be considerably hotter in the office during the summer. This has not been a problem in the past, but that was before Leopard and Vista, so I can’t be sure what will happen.

All in all, my hopes of getting a topnotch Vista machine out of my first-generation MacBook Pro using 10.5.2 Boot Camp have so far been disappointed. I think I know Apple well enough not to expect any sympathy or direct help from them (though the Apple user forums are helpful). Not to be disloyal or anything, but Apple does not like to acknowledge it has been the cause of any problem you encounter with its products. If only my audience were a little bigger… Maybe I should try to get some conservative talkshow host to go on the air with my problem. Would that work? Too crazy!

Boot Camp? I Was Ready to Punt.

Friday, March 14th, 2008

This is going to be my Jerry Pournelle column. Not that it’s about Jerry, but it falls into the genre he created, or at least became the master of. For those of you not familiar with Jerry, he used to have a column in Byte magazine, which ceased publication several years ago. Jerry’s column had pretty much the same basic outline each month. Under the guise of reviewing new hardware and software, it chronicled his latest misadventures with computer technology, problems he had encountered just in his daily work as a writer and in setting up and connecting components.

I was a Mac user, and he mainly dealt with PCs, so there wasn’t much overlap of my experience with his, though for a time it was amusing to follow his monthly tours (long, meandering tours usually) through troubleshooting land: first I did this, but then that caused this other problem, so I had try this other procedure, and so on. I had the feeling that life couldn’t be that hard for all PC users, so that maybe Jerry was deliberately trying things that would stress the systems just to see if he could encounter the problem that would become next month’s column.

I recently discovered that Jerry is still at it, writing about computer experiences at, only now he is mainly using Macs. I read an episode a few weeks ago, and sure enough Jerry had gotten into a bind doing something unusual: copying all 55,000 Windows PC files from an external hard drive connected to his Mac to the Mac’s trash folder in order to clean off the drive, instead of just reformatting it, which he was going to need to do anyway. He ran into problems trying to empty the trash (which took many paragraphs to relate) until someone told him to disconnect the drive. See what I mean? Jerry could definitely make a little extra income as a software and hardware tester. It’s fool proof, but is it Jerry proof? Just joking, Jerry. I’ve had problems too, as I shall now relate.

I have been needing a Windows Vista machine to test my software (OnScreen DNA and OnScreen Particle Physics) on. The Dell box I developed the Windows versions on runs XP fine, but is not up to running Vista. Ever since Apple announced Boot Camp as a way to install Windows on an Intel Mac, I’ve been planning to use it to make my MacBook Pro function as a Vista test machine, just as soon as Boot Camp was out of beta.

That happened when the latest version of Mac OS X, Leopard (aka 10.5), was released a few months ago with Boot Camp as a component. But still, I was a little leery of version 10.5.0, and indeed a number of problems were encountered by some early adopters. I didn’t actually install Leopard until the second update 10.5.2 appeared, which by some accounts was the first truly non-beta version.

As an aside, let me say that the last upgrade to 10.4, the oddly numbered 10.4.11, had caused me more trouble than any other Mac OS upgrade I’d ever installed. Safari wouldn’t run at all, at least until I upgraded QuickTime as well, which shouldn’t have been necessary. Meanwhile I learned that Firefox is not that bad, and I now use both. I was glad to have obtained the experience with Firefox, having recently discovered that it’s impossible to edit a page for a blog in WordPress using the latest version of Safari. Don’t try it; it will make you want to pull your hair out when all your paragraphing disappears! Firefox works fine with WordPress.

I purchased an OEM version of Vista Home Premium for a little over $100, thus saving quite a bit of money though restricting myself to never installing from that disk to another computer, which seemed a reasonable sacrifice. I had done a good bit of online research from which I had concluded that it was all right to install the OEM version on your own computer, so long as you realized you would not be able to get any tech support from Microsoft. I was after all making a custom computer assembly of a sort, just not one I planned to sell.

After installing 10.5.2 and waiting for things to equilibrate for a few days, I decided to take the Boot Camp Vista plunge. The first step in Boot Camp installation is to partition your Mac hard drive into separate Mac and Windows partitions. You are supposed to be able to do this “in place” without erasing your hard drive. A program called Boot Camp Assistant is provided by Apple to move files around to clear space for the Windows partition and then to do the partitioning.

I launched Boot Camp Assistant, instructed it to make a 15-gigabyte partition for Windows, and then took a break, assuming this would not be a rapid procedure. When I came back to the computer, I was not happy to see the ominous white text on a black background that signifies “Kernel Panic,” even without the words. Nothing to do be done but to restart and try again, hoping it was some freak glitch.

I was relieved to see that the MacBook Pro appeared to boot normally if a bit slowly, indicating (I thought) that the interrupted partitioning had not harmed the disk or its directory etc. Then I noticed that the total gigabytes for the disk had been reduced by the fifteen I had tried to give to the Windows partition. Disk Utility didn’t see the Windows partition, so it was as though the space had just disappeared from the hard drive.

I have AppleCare (Apple’s extended warranty plan), so I gave them a call and got through in a reasonably short time. The fellow I talked to had not encountered the problem, and the few things he suggested didn’t do any good. He put me on hold for a long time and then came back to suggest wiping the drive clean and reinstalling everything.

That was not something I wanted to do, as it seemed both time-consuming and risky. I thought I’d check the Apple support forums to see if anyone else had run into the problem. Indeed I found several people had had experiences essentially identical to mine that very same day, and all had been running the brand-new version 10.5.2. A couple had already reported that rebooting from the system installation disk and then using Disk Utility to repair the shrunken drive would restore it to apparent health, gigabytes recovered. This was encouraging at least; and I was able to obtain the same result. But I still didn’t have Windows Vista installed on my MacBook Pro.

I was not tempted to try the partitioning procedure again, since I felt lucky to have escaped with my data intact. There were a few hard-headed optimists in the forum that had gone through the whole procedure, Sisyphus-like, several times. I kept checking back in the Apple Boot Camp forum, for news of a solution. Finally a couple of distasteful workarounds appeared. One guy had just done what Apple Care had suggested I do, and he could verify that after restoring the contents of his hard drive from a backup drive, he had been able to partition it with Boot Camp Assistant and then install Windows. Another had achieved success after defragmenting his hard drive. This was more appealing to me. I paid for a program called iDefrag online ($35) and downloaded it. First I had to use the software’s special program for creating a bootable DVD with iDefrag on it, since it can’t defragment the startup disk.

Defragmenting is a slow procedure, but the software’s colorful visual representation of moving files and fragments around and filling in holes in the disk was rather fascinating, in the way watching clothes wash through the window of a front-loading washer can be, so I watched it for a while. It was slow though, and I eventually took a break. When I returned I found that a disk-reading error had occurred, and the software had quit, though it had been kind enough to tell me the name of the file it had encountered the problem with. The same file had failed to copy during my earlier backup to an external disk, so I wasn’t surprised to see its obscure name appearing again.

I deleted the file from the hard drive and started the defragmentation again. I was sorry to see that the program didn’t go back to where it had left off but was starting all over again. Even though the first part of the disk it was working on (as seen in its graphical display of the process) was almost solidly colored in with defragmented files, there were a few bubbles now present due to my having deleted that one file. It took a long time just to scoot blocks over to fill those bubbles. I left it to do its work again, and when I returned saw the same dismaying message about a problem file. Delete file and start over.

The same thing happened two more times. I was now worried that my hard drive might have some physical damage or that the original partitioning attempt had left a lot of files in a messed up state. Since the last couple of problem files had been in the same folder, I decided to try replacing the whole folder from the backup I had earlier made. Having done that, I crossed my fingers and started iDefrag again.

This time it worked, and the Boot Camp partitioning went through without another hitch. Now I was ready for the actual Vista installation. Then I read on the Vista box insert that the OEM version of Vista might require, according to Microsoft, installation by something called the OEM Preinstallation Kit or OPK. Going to the OPK web page, I saw that there was a license Microsoft wanted you to obtain (online application form, of course) in order to get the OPK. This was looking like a lot more trouble than I had anticipated. Some online searching about installing Windows with Boot Camp led me to assurances that the OPK was not really necessary.

I have to admit that, while I can interpret Microsoft’s fine print on use of the OEM version in a way that justifies my use of it (as a “system builder” that just doesn’t intend to redistribute this particular system, thus not needing to use the OPK), my main justification is my belief that, given the widespread availability of the OEM versions of Vista (I got mine from Amazon, and I’ve seen it listed at Walmart), Microsoft does not really care about individuals installing on their own machines, so long as they don’t expect any technical support.

I proceeded with my Vista installation, following Apple’s directions. As far as I could tell, my OEM version disk was just the same as a regular one, and it installed Vista without ever demanding I use the OPK instead. Sure enough I had Vista installed and running on my Mac! But something that should have taken around an hour had stretched over two days and required lots of online research and the purchase of a third-party program.

Whew! I don’t know how Jerry Pournelle does it. Writing this has been like pulling teeth after a sleepless night. That’s more than enough for a single post. Having gotten this far, I’ll relate my so far none-too-happy experience with Vista on the MacBook Pro in a later entry.