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.