The week when my digital life was on hold

Last week I wrote about the arrival of my new Mac Mini, along with claims that “[my] digital life starts here”. Thankfully, unlike a chunk of my computing resource, my physical life doesn’t rely on Apple Support.

I was experiencing problems maintaining a steady Ethernet connection, initially whilst downloading OS X updates from Apple and then whilst copying data from a Windows XP PC. After a random time the connection would drop, with receive errors shown in the OS X Network Utility. The only way to break this cycle was to restart the computer after which time the network was once again available.

I spent almost two hours on the phone to Apple support staff, who were generally helpful, but seemed to be relying on scripted support sequences and an internal knowledge base. It seemed that all Apple really wanted to do was rule out the Apple hardware and point the blame on something else on the network. Sure enough, I couldn’t replicate the problem on a direct crossover cable (100Mbps full duplex), or via a 10Mbps half duplex hub, 100Mbps full duplex switch – just via a 100Mbps half duplex hub but crucially, the other devices on the network were all able to communicate with each other via the same hub with no errors at all. Only the Mac had a problem.

I finally snapped and said I wanted to return my shiny aluminium paperweight when the support analyst suggested I checked the firewall settings on the PC from where I was trying to copy data (I pointed out that if there was a firewall issue then no data at all would be copied – not several hundred megabytes before crashing and in any case the problem existed downloading updates from Apple’s website too).

After being advised to take my Mac to a hardware specialist 30 miles away (to see if there were any problems communicating with another Mac), I decided to rebuild it from the operating system install disks. The 14 Mac updates that took so long to install before (now 13 as one was a permanent BIOS update) were applied with just one error. It seemed that the problem was with the operating system as installed in the factory (presumably not a DVD installation, but performed using disk duplication software). Unfortunately, although it seems to take a lot longer before crashing now, the problem is still there when I connect via the hub, so I’ve added a switch just for the Mac (everything else is as it was before).

One thing I should say is that the guys who responded to my call for help on the Apple discussion forums were really helpful (I guess switching from Windows to OS X is something which Mac users would like to encourage).

So, now I’m up and running and my digital life can start. Just as well, because my new Fujitsu-Siemens S20-1W monitor turned up yesterday – 20.1″ of widescreen vision, at a resolution of 1680×1050, in a brushed aluminium case (no plastic here) and almost £200 less expensive than the Apple equivalent (I got it from for £365).

Fujitsu-Siemens S20-1W

10 thoughts on “The week when my digital life was on hold

  1. Hi, the first thing I do after unpacking a new Mac is to erase the factory installed OS. You can perform a custom install and deselect the things you’ll never use like additional fonts or say, GarageBand. Doing so will save you tons of HD space. Then I’ll partition the drive, transfer my files, etc. This is not directly related to your Ethernet problem, but still…

  2. Thanks anonymous – that’s a good tip worth remembering for when I buy a Mac Pro (sorry… just daydreaming for a moment there)… but I thought Macs were supposed to “just work” ;-)

  3. Sadly things are still a bit rocky with the Intel transition. Give it time and things will calm down again. My G4 PowerBook and Mac Mini were absolutely rock solid.

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