17 November 2009

Comedy Tragedy of Errors

by Phil Johnson

Warning: This is a long story, and it doesn't even have an ending yet. Settle in.




ongtime readers may recall that I managed to destroy my main desktop PC in May of 2007 when I used a vacuum cleaner hose to get dust out of its case without turning it off first.

Based on much welcome advice from you, dear readers, I replaced that clunker with an iMac and I haven't looked back. In the intervening months, I've become one of Apple's best customers, replacing Darlene's laptop, my laptop at the office, my home network server, and even the network router with Apple hardware. Exclusively. The only piece of HP equipment left in the house is the printer (and it's a workhorse).

After two-and-a-half years, however, that original iMac has become maddeningly sluggish. Well, in all honesty, it's the Windows virtual machine I run on the iMac that I've been having the most trouble with. It used to be lightning-fast. Now it takes almost 15 minutes to load completely. Once it loads, it runs fine, but when it's running, it's useless to try to run anything else other than small utilities on the iMac.

I began to notice this problem in March, immediately after the Foxmarks (bookmark-synchronization software) add-on was renamed to Xmarks and came out with a major new version. At first I thought it was a glitch in Xmarks—but at the time it was only mildly annoying, so rather than uninstall Xmarks completely, I waited for another Xmarks update and hoped that would fix my computer's performance problems. It didn't. In fact, the sluggishness grew ten times worse in June when Firefox came out with their 3.5 update. And then last month when VMWare updated to 3.0, the loading of my VM became slow as molasses in winter.

I tried everything; downsizing the VM; eliminating VMWare's "snapshots" (which are automatic backups of the Windows machine); and running every registry-fixer and optimization program available for Windows. On the Mac side I freed up as much hard-disk space as possible; cleaned the caches; repaired file permissions; and ran every maintenance script and optimization routine I could find.

So I'm pretty sure the real problem is that I've maxed out and overtaxed the 2 gigs of RAM that came with the iMac. I suspect the main culprits are a flood of Windows security patches, combined with the Firefox 3.5+ "upgrades" (which have also made Firefox take forever to load and shut down). The reason I concluded I need more RAM is that the only computer giving me problems is that original iMac, with 2 gigs of RAM. Both my laptop and the Mac Mini upstairs (the hub of my home network, used nearly full time by other people in my household) each have 4 gigs of RAM, and they still run everything like a breeze.

So at the beginning of October I decided to order a new iMac. Apple was running a promo with BarclayCards, so that if you signed up for a BarclayCard and ordered a Mac straightaway, you could charge the computer and have a year to pay it off interest-free. That payment plan worked for me, so I was set.

Of course, I knew the rumors that Apple was preparing a new generation of iMacs, so I had to wait until Apple announced their new machines. They finally did so on October 20, and I ordered my new iMac that very day. With 8 gigs of RAM. And the monster 27-inch monitor.

After I ordered the machine, however, I learned the computer I wanted wouldn't ship until "November." They didn't say whether that meant November 1 or mid-November. I took it gracefully as an opportunity to learn patience.

On November 12, I finally got a notice by e-mail that the new computer had shipped. It had a Fedex tracking number, and when I checked it, it said the computer would be shipping from China, but the shipment had just missed the Friday cutoff, so it was still in Shanghai.

I watched the tracking number for several days as the computer made its way to Anchorage, from there to Memphis, and from there to Santa Clarita. Don't ask me to explain the circuitous route. I was just happy to see it making progress. In my head, I was expecting a Wednesday delivery but hoping for Tuesday. I was therefore thrilled when it was delivered on Monday—yesterday.

Well, not technically "delivered." The Fedex guy mistakenly took it to my next-door neighbor (even though it was correctly addressed), and when the neighbor didn't answer the door, he left it on the neighbor's front porch!

Fortunately, I have honest neighbors, and the neighbor, emerging from the shower, came to see why his doorbell had been rung and discovered this heavy box addressed to me. He was understandably irritated. He came over and rang the doorbell about five times in rapid succession. Fortunately for all, I was home (I'm having a relapse of the flu). He explained that Fedex had left this heavy box on his porch and it wasn't even for him, plus it was too heavy for him to carry up the steep incline to my house (We're on a hill.) Of course, I was thrilled and told him I'd be over immediately to get my computer. I wasn't even annoyed at the Fedex guy; I was just glad the computer had arrived early, and on a day when I was home and with enough time to get it out and set it up. It all seemed so wonderfully providential! The box was in pristine condition, without so much as a scratch after the long journey from Shanghai.

So I lugged the box over from the neighbors' and happily began unpacking it. Mac designs are wonderful—right down to the way products are packaged. One of the true delights in this otherwise hazy postmodern society is unpacking a fresh piece of Apple hardware.

And everyone knows Macs "can do it all, right out of the box," right? So I was stoked with expectation and delight.

The new iMacs have an edge-to-edge glass screen, and they come with an ingenious sticky-but-not-too-sticky protective film. The last thing I did was peel off that plastic film and step back to admire the 27-inch monitor.



That's when I saw that the glass was broken. Not chipped or scratched, but the whole lower left corner of the screen was shattered. It must have been broken before the film was applied and the machine boxed up, because there was no damage to the box and no sign of impact on the protective film. Some assembly-line inspector in Shanghai seems to have missed this ginormous divot in the glass screen.

So I groaned. (Darlene says it was more like a deep growl of profound agony: "Arrgh!") Then I called Apple support.

I have to say Apple's support people are among the most polite and pleasant customer-relations people in the world. And I ought to know; I talked to at least seven of them in an hour-and-a-half on that first phone call. I'm not sure why I needed to be transferred so many times, but obviously, they needed to get some kind of verification that the computer arrived DOA and that I didn't drop it while lugging it up the hill from my neighbor's.

After a recorded intro, the first live rep I spoke to asked me what the issue was, and then immediately transferred me to a representative who asked me all the numerical data about the original order. Then that guy transferred me to someone asked a list of detailed questions about the damage. He asked me to hold while he connected me with someone who could authorize the return. After that, I was transferred to someone who ordered a replacement computer; and then I talked to a completely different guy who made the arrangements for me to return the damaged computer. There may have been a couple of other people along the way; I lost track. I suppose that's an efficient system, but they actually put you on hold to make the transfer, and the on-hold times between reps were each at least 5 minutes. Furthermore (if I can say this kindly) whoever chooses the holding music for Apple has really lousy taste. It was after noon before I got off the phone, and I had a headache.

But anyway, everything was taken care of in one long phone call—except for one detail. Just before I hung up, the rep I was talking to explained that a hold would be put on my replacement computer until I shipped the damaged one back.

So I packed it up and shipped it back right away. Never even plugged it in and turned it on.

After dropping it off at the local Fedex Kinko's, I rang Apple support again and gave them the tracking number so that they would be able to release my replacement. That's when they told me the replacement isn't scheduled to ship until December. The rep was as polite as all the others, but assured me that lots of people have ordered these computers, and everyone is having to wait. There was simply no way to expedite my replacement computer.

Of course, the clock is already ticking on my one-year no-interest deal with BarclayCards, and by the time I actually receive the computer, one-sixth of that year-of-grace will be gone already. In fact, if I stick to the payment schedule I originally made, and if the computer takes as long to deliver as they are saying it might, I'll have made three of eleven payments before I even see the computer.

Meanwhile, I've been reading the early rumors and reviews of the new iMacs. The thought occurred to me that perhaps this is all a providential opportunity to cancel my order, save some headaches, and wait until Apple gets some stuff sorted out. I could probably make do with my laptop alone for a few months.

So I'm interested in your feedback, especially if you are an IT-support type who has had experience with the new iMacs. Any advice? Am I going to think all this hassle was worth it when I finally get the new iMac, or is this one of those "upgrades" I'm going to regret for a long time?

Phil's signature

32 comments:

Frank Turk said...

I'd like to buy your old iMac, please -- but only if it still has the original install disks.

Fred Butler said...

I heard Ted is going to install Windows 7 at work. Repent of your apostasy and come back to the PC fold.

Sir Aaron said...

Next time somebody asks me why I build my own computers, I'm going to send them a link to this post.

Phil Johnson said...

Frank:

Pecadillo called it first. His laptop is toast and he seriously needs a real computer. That's one of the things that prompted me to bite the bullet and get a new one.

He's more irritated than I am that Apple sent me a dud.

Sir Brass said...

Bummer, Phil. I LOVE my 2008 iMac (20" screen, 2GB RAM).

I'd look more deeply into the problems with these new macs first. My first iMac arrived with a bad logic board, so this is technically my 2nd iMac. But, it has run like a gem. So, research the issue about the new iMac problems (shouldn't be an OS issue.... probably a hardware issue). All I know is that I've heard zilch about them (and probably for the best.... I've seen these new ones at the apple store in Phoenix and they HAVE made me REALLY want one.... along with one of those new magic mice).

John Bugay said...

Has anyone tried running Windows 7 directly on a mac? My old emac died, and I have lots of old Adobe software that I can still use. And I need to replace a PC laptop. So I'm considering getting one machine that will do both.

Kevin Sorensen said...

As far as IT guys and getting advice/help/good fellowship, I can't recommend CMUG highly enough. This is a Mac users group that's been around a long time (I've been a member for at least 12 years out of the 23 years I've used Macs). There are Christians in all parts of the world, all types of ministry and life's vocations, willing to leap to the aid of any Mac-user who has a question or need of assistance. I'd try them Phil. They'd love to have you. www.cmug.org Once there, use the Mac-Ministry link to get on the list and then it's all easy from there.

The Damer said...

Phil-I'm just wondering why you didn't start at the Apple Store? They'll have stock on hand and can upgrade memory and harddrives if you need it. I'm not sure about the problems with the new iMacs. They are pretty though.

Frank Turk said...

Curse you, pecadillo, and your fortuitous geographical and geneological position.

Frank Turk said...

BTW, I'll guess that if Pecadillo does a clean install of the OS and doesn't clutter up the purity of the system with some sort of Frankenstein's monster of a piggy-backed OS, he will eliminate a vast part of your lag problems.

He will also do well to stick with OS 10.4.x and not jump up to OS 10.5 if he can't upgrade to 8 GB RAM.

The Doulos said...

I can't believe I read that whole thing, expecting something of substance. Disappointed...

The Doulos said...

It just occurred to me that there may be some connection between this sad saga, and the posts re: gambling. Always taking a gamble when you but a Mac, say I...

chadwick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chadwick said...

Phil,

You can get the new iMac from BestBuy. They offer 18 months same-as-cash financing.

--chadwick

DJP said...

The DoulosI can't believe I read that whole thing, expecting something of substance. Disappointed...

So, you're saying that you feel our subscription fees are too high?

Marie said...

What Chadwick said.

I got a headache just reading that, and started wondering....what's with the shipping from China by way of Alaska? Do they not have Best Buys where you live?

(or is it that you get mobbed by theo-groupies requesting autographs when you leave the house, which demands you purchase everything by mail-order...?)

I hope for your sake you get a new one before December. And thanks for the tip about not cleaning the PC with a vacuum cleaner hose - that sounds like something I would typically do.

Jim Pemberton said...

I've heard people say that you can't upgrade Macs. So it's true? If I can't clean up third-party messes in the OS as well as do neat things like upgrade the memory, I'm not sure I'd be happy. And financing? I'll pay cash for a bare bones PC and add to it as I need.

word verification: "howserf"

Scottj said...

I'd cancel the order, breathe a prayer/sigh of relief, regather my thoughts and start over. If you buy from a store, you can at least return it immediately and get a replacement (but check this out to be sure and refuse to purchase if this is not the case).

I've felt your pain.

sk said...

I'm a long-time fan of the Mac, and have come to realize that you'd get better service if you take the machine to an Apple Store. They could see the issue for themselves and just swap it with something in their inventory. The iMac is a spectacular machine, so I'm sorry to hear you're having to deal with that.

Apple's product updates are random and unpredictable, so don't hold you breath on an update.

Westwind said...

Use VM Ware's Fusion. It better than other VM software and will not cause the resource hog problems you've experienced.

jordan fowler said...

Mac = chinese for "in the shop." Their hardware track record is horrible.

PC/XP = not cool or vibey and yes your friend will snicker that you as a creative are so unsophisticated, but they work. I just smile as they load of their boxes and ship back. My associate just had this exact same experience

Jon said...

You have lots of time on your hands right Phil? Good. Then learn to build your own PCs. Cheaper and you can build them to your own specifications.

But if you really have to stay with the abomination that is the iMac then go the Best Buy route. As long as they have them in stock that is...

John Haller said...

Apple store, MicroCenter or Best Buy is better than mail order, IMO. When our house went all Mac a year ago, I bought my Macbook Pro at the Apple Store. I got lucky. I bought add'l memory and they were going to install it. I was told to come back in 30 minutes. When I came back they said that the Macbook was actually not the one I had purchased because the one I had bought had a hard drive failure right in the store and they had swapped it out.

Mike said...

I suppose it would be too much to point out the irony of both Phil Johnson and Tim Challies switching to Macs to avoid all the problems with PCs, only to have both of them sending their machines back to Apple for repair/replacement . . .

agbasher said...

That is a major bummer.

I just got the new 27" iMac too (though not the fancy Quad Core that you obviously ordered).

Incidentally, I love it!

Jeremy said...

I would just like to note a couple important things.
1) The original problem was a Windows problem not a Mac problem.
2) The second problem was not a hardware issue it was a physical accident.

Be nice to my precious Macs.

Phil, have you tried running Windows 7 on your VM? It might speed you up a lot.

Penn Tomassetti said...

I don't know any graphics people willingly using PCs. You did the right thing, just get the mac you need for what you do.

That is all.

fickett said...

Phil no matter when you buy your Mac, Apple will shortly release something even better that you will want even more. I think you preached a message from Exodus about this syndrome. ;)

While we are beginning to install Windows7 at GTY, you have no need to repent and come back to a non-Mac PC. It is much easier to support your WordPerfect habit on a virtual machine.

BTW I'm running Windows7 in VM on my Mac -- it's the best of both worlds.

When you're back from KS/OK stop by, I'll show you the new features.

Joel said...

Hey Phil, just wanted to let you know that you aren't the only one: Check it out.

My 2 cents: go to an Apple store and get it there. You can at least take it out of the box and have them check it before you take it home. Don't give up on Apple yet.

danielabbey.com said...

@Penn Tomassetti:

"I don't know any graphics people willingly using PCs."

i'm a graphics person and i willingly use a PC.

Jim Pemberton said...

Right now I'm at home doing a video presentation explaining how we're bucking the trend and making money in this economy for our corporate board of directors...

...on my PC - which is an old single core. (I have a new one on order for my video production endeavors that I plan to customize with firewire and multiple DVD/blueray bays for my purposes.)

CVicious said...

Wow... you iMac look like a mirror. Wild. No wonder everyone is up in arms about the mirror/headache inducing problems, the famous eye strain. I have an iMac, white, with a pro matte screen.

I don't think I could deal with the mirror effect of these new iMac high gloss...