Mac USB Problems

I’ve been having USB issues with my MacPro3,1. I’ve had the Mac Pro for about four years, but it’s otherwise been running like a champ.

A while back, I started having issues with a USB hub that was plugged into the back of the Mac. I replaced the cable, and things seemed to be fine. Until a while later, when the cable seemed to fail – then I replaced the hub, and all seemed fine.

Then the new hub was starting to have issues. So, I replaced that hub with another hub and new cable and things have been working swimmingly for a few months.

Then, this morning, all the USB ports on the back of the Mac seemed to go wonky – including one port which can recognize a device but always not power it properly. The front ports on the Mac, however, seem fine – sometimes.

I’ve zapped PRAM, I’ve booted into Safe Mode, and I’ve run USB Prober (from the Developer’s Tools) but… the prober tool doesn’t always recognize the device, either – but leads me to believe that every port is running as it should be running.

How could I, without introducing any new USB devices to the chain, be over-runing the system – especially when I’ve removed all USB devices and am still having issues with individual ones (like the wired Mac keyboard, but only sometimes in some ports but not at all in others)?

  • I can plug something like a USB flash drive into a port on the back and it might seem fine – it illuminates, but doesn’t always show a mounted drive (but always does on reboot, irrespective of port).
  • I can also plug Apple’s wired keyboard into a front port and it sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. It doesn’t seem to work at all in any of the rear USB ports.
  • I can see a Logitech webcam via USB Prober in one port, and its face illuminates when I open Photo Booth – then its face goes dark and Photo Booth doesn’t show an image.
  • If I plug that same Logitech USB webcam into just about any other USB port, the system doesn’t recognize it at all.
  • I tried reinstalling KEXT files, and that just forced me to reinstall Snow Leopard (which was painless, for whatever it’s worth). No go.
  • Someone in the comments suggested plugging my iPhone into ports to see if power was passing through them – and it was for all but the inner most rear USB port. Ouch.

I can’t imagine that it’s a failing power supply, but can’t help but wonder if I’m missing a software step after going through all of that. I’d hesitate to reinstall the OS only to find out the hardware was still the root cause. Who knows? Maybe Lion will fix the problem (and, at this point, I’m willing to wait a few more weeks for that install before either taking ‘er in or finding a Seattle-area Mac professional to help troubleshoot this on-site).

I believe it’s a hardware issue, but short of replacing the motherboard… ouch. “Repairs and Service Coverage: Expired.” Worse yet? Blake (from our community) sent me this link suggesting that this problem is known throughout my Mac Pro revision / line.

What Do You Hate About Computers?

Over on Lockergnome, there’s an interesting discussion going on where we’re discussing things we hate about our computers. We spend a lot of time talking about the things we love: our processors, RAM and video cards. What about those things your machine does which make you want to smash it to bits? What’s the last “thing” your computer did to drive you crazy?

Many of the answers given by the community were ones you might expect. However, some of them touched on things I hadn’t thought of yet.

  • What i don’t like about computers is when the hard drive randomly starts reading constantly for no apparent reason.
  • What I hate about computers?… Well Computers are like Drivers Licenes… Some people are just meant not to have one, the world is just safer that way.
  • Trends in computer related technology seem to take the technology to new heights of obscurity. For example, the pentium 4 architecture (where speed was focused on ahead of multitasking), solid state drives (where speed is being focused on ahead of the ability to defragment and progress in RAM which is even faster), USB (a restrictive form of the old serial interface) and the new C standard.
  • I hate when the computer slows down due to something running in the background you didn’t know was there.
  • Hardware at the mercy of poorly written software.
  • There are to many acronyms to learn!

What about you? What do you hate about computers?

Store-Built PC vs Home-Built PC

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When I opened up the virtual floor for your questions, one of you asked this question. What’s the value in building your own computer versus getting one off-the-shelf, pre-built?

My PCs seem to be happier if I let someone else assemble and mitigate issues before I have to face them. Sometimes, I just need to save time in life – not waste it.

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Where Do You Buy Computer Hardware?

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Adam asked over on Lockergnome which sites I would recommend he order computer parts from. With so many online retailers out there in cyberspace, he’s not sure where to turn for reputable parts. The problem though, is that there is no right answer. Some places will have better prices than others. Some will have better parts at higher cost. It all boils down to choosing what’s best for YOU – and doing some research.

There are “big names” out there, of course. Most people will tell you to run to either TigerDirect or Newegg. There’s also a small site a friend of the community helps run, called Shark Systems. From what I’ve seen, their prices are pretty competitive. They also have excellent customer service. Sometimes, it’s the smaller companies that will have the best relationships with their customers, ya know?

In any case, buying computer parts and pieces online is no different from any other type of Geek purchase. You have to know what you’re looking for, and do your research. Ask around – get opinions. Find out who you feel will serve your needs the best.

If you have suggestions as to which place online you feel is the best to buy from – backed up with reasons WHY you feel they’re the best – please leave us a follow-up comment!

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This is Better Than That

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One live caller last night asked me which (in my opinion) is better – NVIDIA or ATI. I can’t possibly answer that question. That’s like asking me if Windows or Mac is better. It’s akin to wanting to know whether apples or oranges are better. You have to be much more specific if you want to know whether one of these is better than the other. All kinds of things come into play here.

Some people may argue that a specific ATI graphics card is better to use for certain games. Others will fight you, and tell you adamantly that a certain NVIDIA graphics card is better for different games. Had the question been more specific, it might have been easier to answer. If you compare a specific graphics card from ATI against a specific graphics card from NVIDIA, you might – perhaps – get an answer.

The problem, though, is that it is a completely relative question. It boils down to a matter of opinion. You have to do your research and find out what card works well with your system. If you’re basing a system on the card, then you need to find out what others are saying… read reviews, figure out if there have been a lot of problems, make sure you can get drivers.

This holds true no matter what you are going to ask when wanting to know if something is “better” than another thing. I can’t tell you what’s best for you, anymore than you have a clue what would be the best for me. You need to do some research, figure out what your needs are and then look at what’s available within your price range. That, my friends, will be the one which works best.

There is no better answer that I can give you.

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