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Ask Dave
by Dave Hamilton

He from whom all Mac knowledge flows...




The Dreaded Death Spiral
June 3rd, 1999

Well, well, well... This week's column is a treat for everyone. We discuss juicy topics like Spiraling Death Syndrome and Master/Slave intricacies -- and we hear from someone *else* named Dave! It just doesn't get any better than this, folks. If you have a question, e-mail it to me, and then... read on and enjoy!

Tom writes, "I am a Mac convert from a PC, however, in my PC I have an internal EIDE Philips CD3610 CD-RW. Will this drive work in a new world order G3 tower? Is the internal interface EIDE? Can I modify one of those blue expansion bay covers to fit the drive and are they readily available from Apple? This is the only problem I need to clear before purchasing my first shiny blue machine, and so far all the sales monkeys have been unable to answer this simple question."

Well, Tom, in defense of all the "sales monkeys" out there, I'll say that the issues you bring up don't quite have simple solutions here. The Blue G3's are new beasts, and there's a lot of unknowns surrounding them. With that, I'll try and answer your questions as best I can. To start, I can't say for sure whether or not your Philips CD-RW will work in the Mac, solely due to the fact that drivers for it may not be available. The leading product for burning CD's, Adaptec's Toast, does not support IDE drives yet, so we must look to an up and coming competitor from CharisMac called Discribe. As mentioned in an article over at MacCentral, Discribe does, in fact, support IDE-based CD-R's and CD-RW's. They have a web page that details which drives it supports and, while yours isn't listed specifically, there are quite a few Philips drives there, so you may be in luck.

Assuming you can get this (or another) IDE-based CD-RW to work with Discribe, we move on to the rest of your questions. In regards to the blue covers, they have been difficult to obtain, but I see no reason that the one that covers the existing CD-ROM drive wouldn't work. Because of the way the Blue G3's are laid out inside, you'll almost definitely have to remove the built-in CD-ROM drive and replace it with your CD-RW. The cover that was there should work just fine for you.

Michael writes, "I have a Global Village X2 flash ROM upgraded V.90 modem. I can not get a stable connection. The only thing that works is the '2 minute disconnect script' buried in the Global Village support pages. This script gives me a stable connection at 28.8. This is an unsatisfactory solution. GV says that it is an internet backbone problem and my ISP (Earthlink) doesn't know what they are talking about. I obviously am not the only one with this problem or it wouldn't have a workaround script. To complicate this even further my neighbor has a Wintel machine and a G3 both with a GV X2 v.90 upgraded modem also using Earthlink as their ISP. The G3 has the 2 minute disconnect problem and the Wintel machine does not. What is going on and how do I fix it?"

Michael, it does, in fact, sound like you're running into a common problem. It's very possible your modem is suffering from "Spiraling Death Syndrome." You see, when a high-speed modem connects with another, they test the lines and negotiate at the highest possible connect speed. There are many protocols for this negotiation, the newest of which is called v.90. In addition to the initial test, the lines are constantly monitored for signal quality changes. When things get better, the modems will, in theory, step the speed up totake advantage of the increased quality. Conversely, when things get worse, the modems will drop the speed a notch at a time to ensure an error-free connection. Sometimes, however, the modems will start to "downstep" due to a detected decrease in line quality and won't stop. They'll step themselves all the way down to the point where no data passes across the link anymore and you lose the connection. Because of the way this gradually gets slower and slower, it's been called "Spiraling Death Syndrome." The "2 minute disconnect script" gets around this by disabling the v.90 protocol in favor of the v.34 protocol, which is limited to 28.8k speeds.

Now, it's entirely possible that your phone lines just won't support a v.90 connection (assuming that you're dialing into a v.90-compliant number at Earthlink), but it's also possible that there's an incompatibility between Global Village's v.90 firmware and that used by Earthlink's modems. With that, I recommend trying to dial into another provider who supports v.90 and see how your connections fare. If things get better, then we know the problem is an incompatibility between the two modems (yours and Earthlink's). If things don't get better, then that's an indication that your Global Village modem won't support v.90 on your telephone lines. You can wait to see if GV updates their firmware, or you could replace the modem. Be careful, though, some phone lines just won't support v.90 no matter what modem you use.

Someone *else* named Dave writes, "Got an odd occurrence on my 266/G3.The control strip has gradually (over a period of about 4 months) migrated up the page. It's now at the top under the file menu. sometimes it goes behind it! Got any ideas why? How to fix it?"

Hello, Dave. I've seen this problem happen in a couple of different situations. Most commonly, it is due to something that puts a floating window at the bottom of the screen (i.e. a window that stays on top of all other programs). HoverBar, GoMac, and OneClick have all displayed this side-effect in the past. To move it back down, you may you can option-click on either end of the Control Strip and drag it down to the bottom. However, without disabling the culprit at hand, chances are it will creep up again.

Jade writes, "I'm in need of some real help here. Technically speaking, an IDE Controller is designed to handle two drives per controller. Every time I use a dual IDE cable and hook up two hard drives to one controller I get the lovely question-mark disk when I start up. Is this just a fault of the Mac OS or is it really supported and I'm just not doing it correctly. I did set the jumpers to have one HD be the slave and the other a master. Failure-I've now tried it three times.

I checked around on StarMax.net, and was unable to find anything about it there-at least an answer. Someone there did ask about this same thing.

In an earlier column, you talked about how this was possible on beige G3's. I don't see why it wouldn't work on a StarMax or another Mac then too. Do you have any ideas of how I can get this to work?"

Jade, this certainly is an interesting problem, and I can only suggest possible solutions. Perhaps some reader feedback might help us to resolve this problem.

To bring everyone up to speed (and tackle a question that has come up before), some background is in order. As has been known and used in the Wintel-world for years now, IDE drives need to be set up in a Master/Slave configuration. That is, each IDE Controller can handle a maximum of two devices. With a series of jumpers and/or dip switches, each drive must be set to either be the "Master" of the configuration (which means it's the first drive seen by the system), or the "Slave" (the second drive). There is one more setting that's available, and that's "Cable Select." It is possible to set the jumpers on both drives to "Cable Select" and use a special cable to connect the drives to the IDE port on the computer. With this setup, the placement on the cable defines which drive is Master and which is Slave (most Cable Select cables have this marked next to the appropriate connector to avoid confusion).

With that behind us, we can talk about the possibilities here. Some IDE controllers on earlier G3's don't support multiple drives (a previous column covers this in more detail), but I don't think that's the case with the StarMax series. It's also possible that the two hard drives will not Master/Slave with one another. I've run into this problem on PC's before, and while it's not common, it certainly happens. Another possibility is that you either have a bad IDE cable, or a Cable Select cable (which won't work with drives set to Master/Slave).

More than likely, though, it has to do with the hard disk drivers. Each disk will need to have a driver installed on it in order for MacOS to boot the machine, and it's possible that: (a) one of the drives doesn't have a driver on it and is stopping the boot process, or (b) the installed driver on the Master (boot) disk doesn't support both drives and is hanging at boot time. An easy solution would be to install new drivers on both drives, make sure each of them works as Master (or Single), and then set them up as Master/Slave once you've confirmed everything is working.

BE FOREWARNED! A MacFixIt article details problems with updating the drivers on StarMax IDE drives. Please read more before taking any steps in this direction. The results of updating IDE drivers on some StarMax machines are quite grim, including the need to send the machine back to Motorola Tech. Support (not a very likely option!).

Well, folks, that's all we have time for this week. E-mail me your questions and check back next week for more answers and tidbits!

P.S. Have a Nice Day.

(this column written under the influence of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe).

is President and CEO of The Mac Observer, Inc. He has worked in the computer industry as a consultant, trainer, network engineer, webmaster, and a programmer for most of the last 10 years. During that time he has worked on the Mac, all the various Windows flavors, Be, a few brands of Unix, and it is rumored he once saw an OS/2 machine in action. Before that he ran some of the earliest Bulletin Board systems, but most of the charges have since been dropped, and not even the FBI requests that he check in more than twice a year.

Ask Dave is here to answer all the Mac questions you have. Networking, system conflicts, hardware, you ask it, he can answer it. He is the person from whom all Mac knowledge flows....


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