Monday 25 May 2015

Replacing a MacBook Air battery in Cape Town (and solving an NVivo for Mac 10 software license issue)

Written mostly for MacBook Air users in Cape Town and NVivo for Mac 10 users anywhere.

After replacing my MacBook Air's hard-drive, the next project to support its longevity was battery replacement. Mine was lasting just two hours, a far cry from the initial nine. Apple recommends that battery replacement be done via an authorised service provider. Although online tutorials suggest that is perfectly feasible to do a MacBook Air battery replacement oneself, EveryMac has identified difficulties in sourcing batteries of sufficient quality for post-2009 models.

Since I required speedy and safe replacement in a later model, I followed Apple's advice: Digicape Cape Town were prompt to respond with a quote after I provided them my MacBook Air's serial number. A battery (from Europe) plus installation came to just over R 3,100, including VAT. Although not cheap, the peace-of-mind this provided seemed well worth such expense: Digicape did an MRI/Apple system diagnostic to confirm the fault and to validate the order. After confirming the quote, it took just three days for the battery to arrive. I then dropped off my laptop and the replacement took just over an hour.

A surprising benefit of this replacement was fixing an NVivo for Mac 10 software issue: I was using this qualitative research software to code 25 journalist transcriptions for South Africa's contribution to the 'Journalistic ethics and work practices in conflict societies’ MeCoDEM project teamwork. After installing NVivo 10.2 and running the software, it showed the error message: 'Your NVivo license has been cancelled', then 'Your NVivo license has expired'. After QSR Support fixed this via a remote help session, I was surprised to experience the same error a few days later. The options under the licensing menu were all low-lighted, so there was no way to enter my institution's registration key to authorise the software. With an NVivo project file submission deadline looming, this repeat problem was a potential showstopper...

In messaging a QSR technician during the second fix, he recommended that I get my laptop's CMOS battery checked. When the laptop runs out of battery, CMOS behaves as a backup of the system's date and time. If the CMOS is faulty or not working the time gets set to default which was likely to cause the expiration and cancellation of one's license. Post-battery replacement, I am pleased to say that I have not experienced this problem again, so I'm hoping his explanation is optimal!

Monday 4 May 2015

Extend a MacBook Air's life by upgrading it with an SSD drive from Other World Computing

After nearly four years, my MacBook Air seemed nearing the end of its lifespan. Despite using MacPaw’s CleanMyMac to clear unwanted files and Gemini to identify and remove duplicates, it had become impossible to keep the recommended 15% free diskspace available (or 36GB of 240). My MacBook's performance seemed to be slowing and less reliable.

An important benefit of Mac's high-quality hardware is its longevity, but there is minimal support in South Africa for Apple users having more than basic maintenance done (such as upgrading existing hardware). Apple's laptop design focus is on making them attractive, disposable consumables, but providing lighter, thinner options is being done to hackability's detriment. Local Mac consumers are only afforded the option of buying-up {with a trade-in, if lucky}; I could not find any Cape Town company promoting Apple laptop upgrades. Apple's sole South African authorised distributor, The Core Group, has a history of uncompetitive, exorbitant pricing and I was surprised that no local companies promote reasonably priced upgrades. Given the steeply-priced new options available via The Core Group's monopoly, there must be a market need for upgrades that is not being met.

In the absence of local upgrade support, I explored the import options: Other World Computing's (OWC) online store was prominent in Google search for the wide range of Mac upgrade and expansion products it offers. OWC's Mercury Aura Pro SSD and Envoy storage solution upgrade kit promised an impressive upgrade solution that would almost double my hard drive’s space (to just under 480GB), while increasing my laptop's speed up to three times (to 570 MB/S). It's not an inexpensive solution; around R4,050 ($338), which includes US shipping, and R625 on SA Post Office collection. Add in one's time, travel and related additional expenses, this could easily sum up above R 6,000. Still, that's much, much less than a new MacBookAir!

Before ordering, I checked out the installation video to see that I could install the Mercury Aura Pro SSD easily (given that I am far from being a computer technician). It looked to be simple and after collecting my order, the extraction-and-installation process went very smoothly. It took the ten minutes suggested for laptop memory card replacement. Next, I moved the old storage to an external OWC Envoy USB holder. Again, OWC's thorough guidance, this time in a brochure, was easy and quick to follow.

The next phase was to migrate my previous Mac OS X settings and files to the new drive, which took just over a day... I restarted my Macbook Air in a mode to re-install Yosemite. This clean install necessitated downloading OS X {24 hours via entry-level ADSL}, followed by a migration process to import my data {2 hours}. I then ran a software update and repaired the new drive's disk permissions {2 hours} as advised.

This left just four minor issues to sort out; 
1. Microsoft Office required a Java download and re-entry of its product key to launch;
2. I logged out of Google Drive and resynchronised it so that it could re-locate its local files; 
3. I reinstalled my Canon printer's core driver;
4. Backup failed, so Disk Repair's verify-and-repair option was used to fix the back-up drive.

After checking my most heavily used applications and some recent files, I am pleased to report that OWC's marketing promises were spot-on. My hard-drive now affords a capacity of 478GB (much, much more than the latest Mac Air laptop's 256GB!), my laptop starts faster and its speed seems far more responsive.  I'm hoping that the enhanced durability of an SSD drive adds a few years before laptop replacement is necessary.

Hopefully, this post helps confirm to local Mac users that it is possible to save money by taking the initiative to do upgrades. This reduces one's frequency of laptop consumption and can add to those examples helping make 'green computing' somewhat less of an oxymoron.

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