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I’m beginning to look for a replacement for my 4 year old iMac. The current specs of my iMac suit me fine, 8 GB of RAM, 256MB video card (I don’t game), Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I haven’t really run into any issues with the tasks I need to perform… Until recently.

I have been experiencing quite a few issues with kernel panics that seem to be caused by the video card (according to the console and crash reports). They will either freeze the computer or restart it. They happen at random times. Sometimes the screen will freeze on the screensaver (with very few apps running). Other times they happen just browsing the web (in Safari).

Back in June I was had some issues with the video card and luckily the iMac was still under Apple Care and they replaced the video card and the logic board. I thought that would solve all my problems, and for a while it did. Now I experience panics and freezes on a daily basis. I even did a fresh install of Mountain Lion, just to be sure it wasn’t due to something I installed and also because I haven’t done a fresh install since I got the machine. I may take the machine to the Apple Store for diagnosis, but I doubt they will find anything (they didn’t “find” anything the last time either, but wound up replacing the two components that were likely causing the issue). The Apple Hardware Test did not find anything wrong, but obviously, something is. The problem is, if I do need to replace the parts, the cost will be close to half the cost of buying a new machine with no guarantee that it will fix the issue. Then I will be out of that money and back where I started.

So that’s where my dilemma comes. Do I buy a new Mac (and no, buying a PC is not an option. I adore OSX and love the apps I use on it and do not want Windows 8) and if so, what model?

I currently use my iMac for web browsing, Photoshop work, web development and, most importantly, as my media server. I have Plex Media Server running and stream all my media to my Roku. I would really like a Retina MacBook Pro, but I would not want that running at all times in order to stream media to my Roku (and what’s the purpose of a MacBook if it has to stay on my desk connected to several external hard drives?). So, in all honesty, I have 3 options, a Mac Mini, an iMac or a Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro has not been update in forever and is really expensive. Not to mention, it is overkill for my needs. I’m not processing raw image files or doing a ton of video encoding. I don’t need server-grade (and outdated) Xeon processors. I don’t want to go with another iMac because of Apple’s move toward soldering the RAM directly to the logic board. I also don’t want to be stuck where I am now with my current iMac. That being said, any Mac I choose will face the same issues that all new Macs have with user-swappable parts (besides the Mac Pro, which I’ve pretty much ruled out at this point).

So that leaves the Mac Mini. I can upgrade the RAM on it, but that’s it. Everything else has to be done by Apple or an Apple certified repair shop. Also, the Mac Mini has integrated graphics and not a dedicated video card. I don’t do much (any) gaming, but it does worry me that I may need that extra power. I’m not sure how well the transcoding that Plex does or graphic intensive applications (Photoshop) will work on it. I imagine they will run fine, but I really need more information on that.

The Mac Mini is definitely the cheapest alternative. Building one online (without upgrading the RAM through Apple) will run about $1500. Not bad, but how will the machine handle in 3 or 4 years? Will I need a better machine by then (I like to keep my machines running as long as possible, in fact, I’m typing this on a 5 year old white MacBook that is also on its last leg, but with the iPad, I rarely use it)? Will it start to die on me like my iMac is? If I get the Mac Mini I will upgrade the RAM to 16GB, probably from Crucial, but the integrated graphics gives me some pause.

I feel that Apple’s tight control over their products and slow update cycles is hindering me here. I really wish they had a computer for people like me that were more tech-geek friendly. An iMac that users could open and swap parts would be ideal, but that is not Apple’s style, unfortunately. A cheaper Mac Pro would work too, if it were cheaper and not reliant on server-grade hardware. I don’t think I can wait to whatever mystery product Tim Cook hinted at for Mac Pro users in 2013, especially since I can’t go on using the iMac with it freezing every day.

So what do I do? I’m not sure.

Two years ago I reported how iTunes would launch itself on my iMac. After tons of research trying to find the cause, I think I found it.

To recap what was happening, iTunes would launch by itself and (about half the time) start playing music. I thought there was an issue with the Logitech mouse I was using at the time (because any time I would touch the wireless dongle on the back USB port, iTunes would launch), but that didn’t seem to be the case because plugging in the normal Mighty Mouse did not solve the issue.

I continued to troubleshoot and do my normal testing and found that touching any of the plugged in devices to any of the USB ports could trigger it. If I shut down the computer and changes which ports the different devices plugged into, the problem would go away temporarily. Eventually, iTunes would launch by itself again. One of the most ominious times iTunes launched by itself was one Halloween while I was not at home. I came home to find Slither, a song about vampires by KC rapper Tech N9ne playing. Weird, huh?

For the past 6-9 months the problem went away so I assumed an Apple update fixed the issue at some point. Then, I installed Mountain Lion and after a few weeks the problem presented itself again. This time, I noticed that the problem only reoccured when I was troubleshooting another issue in which I was constantly moving my Mac to access the USB ports in the back. I started searching again. That’s when I found this thread on a Mac forum.

This problem is related to the microswitch located at the very bottom inside the speaker jack. Whenever you get this problem, make sure your speaker cable is fully inserted into the speaker jack. Even the slightest depress on the microswitch can create interference, causing itunes to start and random songs to start playing.

This made sense when I thought back on all the times the problem arose. Every time I would move my Mac to access the USB ports, I would move it in a way in which the speaker plug could have come lose from the jack, even if just a little bit. The tug on the speaker cord as I moved my jack made sense because the cable was taught enough to create the disconnect. After placing my Mac back where it should be and making sure the plug was in firm, I haven’t had the issue reappear. It looks like I have finally found the cause. Hopefully the countless other users experiencing this issue can use this information to help them rid themselves of this annoying problem.

Over the past year or so I’ve had issues where iTunes would launch (and even play) by itself. I could never figure out exactly what was causing it nor could I find any type of solution. I did find that whenever I would touch the receiver for my wireless Logitech mouse iTunes would launch. That made me believe that the issue was with the Logitech mouse interfering with the Mac. That especially seemed like the case when I removed the Logitech and replaced it with the Magic Mouse and didn’t experience the issue again… until recently.

iTunes started launching by itself all over again over the past couple weeks. Knowing that it had something to do with the USB ports I found a quick fix to the issue. If I would shut down the Mac and unplug all the USB devices and plug them into different ports everything would work fine. Then today I saw this article. It seems that there is an update coming out that might fix the issue. The article talks about one known issue involving USB devices not operating properly after waking from sleep on machines with VMware’s virtualization products installed. This might be the very fix I will need. I have VMware Fusion installed to run Windows. I know the problem happened on Halloween last year (which was creepy, especially since the song playing when I got home that night was a song about vampires) and I didn’t buy VM Ware until November 11th so it still might not be the cause, but I do remember downloading a trial of VM Ware beforehand so that still might be the root cause. Let’s hope it is and it gets fixed.

A while back I switched to Google Chrome as my main browser on my Mac. With it came one problem: XM Radio Online would not work in Chrome on the Mac (works fine on Windows). Thus began my search for a desktop radio app that would allow me to listen to XM without launching XM’s site. That’s when I found Radium.

The app sits in your menu bar and gives you a huge list of networks that it supports, including XM. I decided to download the app and try it out for the 30 day free trial. I was not disappointed. The app was easy to set up, in fact, there was very little setup on my part. The first time I launched the app it downloaded an updated list of stations. CatPig Studios, the makers of Radium, constantly update the list of stations available. From the list I was able to favorite the stations that interested me the most. The sound quality has been fantastic. I’ve not come across a stream that didn’t deliver rich sound. Unlike a lot of Mac Software, it is actually reasonably priced. For only $16 you can use the app on as many computers as you have. Just generate a new license and you’re on your way.

There are several things that put Radium a step above the rest. First of all, it actually works. I’ve dealt with many players that have stations that rarely work, especially when it comes to XM Radio Online. Secondly, the radio list and the app itself are constantly being updated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found apps that haven’t been updated since 2007. It’s reassuring to know that CatPig is putting time into making their already great product even better. Also, I requested my local NPR station, St. Louis Public Radio, be added to the list and they were happy to do it and even emailed me when it was added. Can’t beat that. Lastly, the app is unobtrusive. Since it sits in your menu bar you barely know it’s there unless you’re actively changing stations or adding favorites to your list. I would go as far as to say it is the perfect radio app for your Mac.

One of the first things I tried doing when I got my PS3 is turn it into a media center without modding the system. I’ve heard of several different ways people were doing this but also heard that the PS3 lacked the ability to play some of the most popular codecs. I also needed the server software to run on my iMac, and not Windows. While on my search for creating the ultimate solution I found Rivet.

I downloaded and tried the Rivet demo and found that the app was easy to use. It required very little set up. I turned on my PS3 and found that my designated folders were showing up on my PS3. I was able to listen to music and look at my photos. Then came the true test, AVI files. I navigated to my videos directory and tried playing an episode of How I Met Your Mother. No luck. Six Feet Under didn’t work either. The Sopranos was next. Needless to say, it didn’t work and I decided Rivet should sleep with the fishes.

Fast forward a couple months and I decided to try giving Rivet another shot. Downloaded the demo again (it gives you 25 free video streams). The configuration was just as easy as before and it was showing up in my PS3 within seconds. So here comes the ultimate test, part 2. I played The Big Bang Theory. Success! I played Battlestar Galactica. Success again! I played an episode of Scrubs XVID encoded. Success again! So Rivet now works flawlessly with my PS3 and the videos look great on my TV. I don’t think I could be any happier with it. Minutes after installing I purchased the app for the low price of $19.95 and haven’t looked back since. So if you’re looking for a media streaming solution from your Mac to your PS3, I highly recommend Rivet.