My New Toy: An Apple 20″ Wide Screen

The Desire

I finally succumbed to my desire, and decided to get one on Saturday, subject to the following conditions:

  • I had to drive to each Apple centre.
  • I could not call ahead to check availability.
  • It had to be in stock and available right then, otherwise no sale.

The reason for the cruel and unusual conditions is that I'm basically an impulse-buying machine. I try to go through the motions of doing "research" and "looking for feedback on the product first", but the flat truth of it is that if you can convince me a product's good, and raise my excitement threshold above my small-and-dwindling-in-my-old-age logical prevention limit, I'll buy it without ever seeing it.

I had three Apple resellers in my only-slight-postcode-violation range, so set out for the first one, in North Sydney.

Half an hour later: Cunning Consumers Association: nil, Tristank: One Apple Cinema Display.

I got it home and plugged it straight in (I'll skip the brief bit where I couldn't find where to plug the power in) and blammo, after only a little fiddling, I had 1680x1050. Beats the absolute stuffing out of multimon. Perhaps two wouldn't, but one certainly does. As a secondary aside - I wish that in multimon, you could extend the taskbar across both screens. That would be cool. I know it's possible using dual-headed cards with Driver H4x, but I try to avoid them where possible...

The Problem

Now, everything is rosy at this point, and I figure I'll restart the computer, so I do. And that's when the screen goes blank. And stays blank. After about 5 seconds, I'm frowning. After 10, my heart has stopped. The tiny silver power light repeatedly flashes three times. And I wait, watch the hard disk indicator (thrashing away) watch the little keyboard indicators flash, and the mouse light up, and then the login screen comes up, after about 30 seconds.

My heart almost stops again.. No text mode support. No BIOS screen. And - no bootup screen avec blue caterpillar. Which implies VGA compatibility ain't really there.

Admittedly, I'm spending less time fiddling around in text mode, but reinstalling Windows does occasionally happen here. Trying a full-screen CMD Prompt session (Alt-Enter) has the same problem.

So now, with a nice, clear definition of what to research, I find The Horde (well, maybe six or seven?) of PC users with the same problem.

Apple don't seem to comment on it in their discussion forums (In fairness, Windows compatibility is what they claimed, not "PC/DOS" and well, it works in Windows, dunnit?), but the general vibe I'm getting is:

  • In general: seems to affect recent ATI cards. There have been scattered reports of a 9600XT working, not much else.
  • In general: NVidia cards tend to work better. Folk have stated that with a Geforce 5700, you get all text and boot screens.
  • Someone claimed somewhere that Apple uses "nonstandard DVI timings" and that this is the root of all evil. I don't really understand why, but thought I'd mention the allegation in case it's relevant.
  • Someone claimed that the "working" cards actually "draw" the text and lo-res graphics - emulating text/VGA mode via DVI.
  • BIOS updates for the cards involved *might* rectify the issue, but nobody with the issue tends to be in a position to spend any significant amount of time in text mode to flash the BIOS.
  • It's been claimed that the motherboard BIOS/chipset is also a contributor to the question of workingness.

Nobody's posted a camera shot of it working, so I can't verify that it actually ever works, but I need to live in hope.

So, I'm looking for a new video card that supports the Cinema Display 20", in that it does text mode, the bootup screen, and full-screen DOS prompts. If anyone can confirm that a particular make and model work, I'll look at that. It's a pity, as I really like my 9800. It was the sweet spot of the price/performance curve at the time.

I Love You Anyway

So as to not sound like it's a negative diatribe: the monitor is just absolutely magic. I really like it, it's amazing how much I was suffering from not having an extra 400 pixels horizontally without even knowing it. Network captures are easier to read, the ISA MMC can be expanded beyond the point of it being funny, I can stack three fixed-width websites horizontally, use Visual Studio with all the tabs pinned and still be able to see more of what I'm editing, have the Outlook Reading Pane take up a screen-sized chunk of real-estate... It's really cool. All monitors should be this wide. I hope that in the future (oh - In The Future, There Will Be Robots - reminds me of a game I haven't tried yet...) all (or at least, significantly more) monitors come this way. And so they'll be cheaper (kinda oddly, the Apple option was the most reasonable(!?)).

In the meantime, I've been going through the back-catalogue of games to work out which ones do the widescreen thing; if you're interested, the article's posted here: The WideScreen Report Card.

Comments (14)

  1. ShadowChaser says:

    >As a secondary aside – I wish that

    >in multimon, you could extend the

    >taskbar across both screens.

    Try a program called "ultramon" – it does this for you 🙂 I notice you have a longhorn desktop – Go hunt down the developer in charge of the taskbar and make them add it to the other monitors! 🙂

  2. Darryn says:

    so…what’s happening with the 9800?


  3. TristanK says:

    Darryn: If I can find a replacement video card that I know will work, I’ll sell it (if the Parental Units don’t bags it first).

  4. TristanK says:

    ShadowChaser: Ah, right – it’s not actually a Longhorn desktop – I came across a link to last week, and thought I’d try it out, especially now I have the real estate. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

    Ironically, the message being displayed was a feed about the Longhorn feature cuts…

    Thanks for the ultramon tip, I’ll try it next time I’ve got two screens!

  5. Jeff Atwood says:

    Yes, Ultramon, the killer feature: taskbar specific to each monitor. Great app.

    More here

  6. Jeff Atwood says:

    Also definitely go nVidia when it comes to flat panel displays and DVI (I assume you are using DVI, I think it highly unlikely that an apple display would have a VGA Port)


  7. TristanK says:

    Yep, using DVI directly from the 9800. I’d get an NV4x based card, but I’m not 100% convinced I won’t have the same (or weirder) issues yet – I’ll try to borrow one from a friend first!

  8. WindozeBloze says:

    Maybe it is time to upgrade to a Macintosh computer as well. It seems a shame to waste such a fine monitor on a Windoze computer!

  9. TristanK says:

    "It’s an Apple store, for Apple people! There’s nothing for you here!"

  10. Robert Boylin says:

    You could get a mac and Apple support training to become multi-talented for mixed environments. With Apple’s servers gaining interest this could come in handy. A Canadian friend writes Unix security software for telcos and has graduated from an iBook to a new Powerbook in less than two years. He’s equiped his collegiate daughter with an iBook and an iSight camera that enables high quality video chat sessions.

    I agree nVidia is the more reliable choice.

  11. Jeff Atwood says:

    I think I’d try a nVidia 6800 card. This one has dual DVI:

    That’s assuming you want a video card faster than the 9800, which is pretty fast. Also, ATI doesn’t make *ANY* consumer video cards that have dual DVI. A weird oversight on their part, but whatever.

    Hardware makes me randy.

  12. TristanK says:

    Jeff: Yeah, the 6800’s the biz, according to a friend that upgraded for Doom 3. I was hoping to skip the current generation of cards, but that might not be possible after all! I’ll see if I can borrow his (at the moment, I only need single DVI).

    Robert: I’d really like a Mac too, but I can’t justify the price (just the insane monitor!).

  13. pecosbill says:

    Actually, ATI makes a line of Dual DVI cards (AGP) for, you guessed it, Apple…….. (Macs).

  14. Jeff25 says:

    …here’s another vote for UltraMon! 43 thumbs up….now I just gotta grow 41 new hands.

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