No Shadows in Second Life on 2012 MacBooks? Here’s why

Update April 28, 2013. Woot-woot! Firestorm has enabled shadows for the Intel HD 4000 graphics chip in their latest Second Life 4.4.0 viewer release!
(but not yet on the standard Linden viewer)

My 2012 Macbook Air went a little shadow-crazy when she got the news, as you can see below. lol  Thank you, Jessica Lyon, Whirly Fizzle, Tankmaster Finesmith — all of you wonderful developers at Firestorm! I can now see shadows on my Macbook Air — and so can all the other retina 2012 Macbooks with that chip. I named my little Macbook Air “Shadow” when I first got her 8 months ago, and now she can finally see her namesake!

Original March 3, 2013 post:
Do you know that half of the latest retina-display Macbooks – and
all of the current Macbook Airs – can’t run shadows using the current Second Life viewers because of a software bug that’s already been fixed? Yeah, I’m talking about that icon of the coffee shop, “the highest-resolution notebook ever.”

And what’s more, the only way to activate shadows on these state-of-the-art machines is to dig deep into the dusty Firestorm archives for an old version of an alternate SL viewer. It’s a sad & desperate tale …

The undeserving villain

The villain in the tale, everyone says, is the Intel HD 4000 graphics chip. It’s integrated, they say, rolling their eyes; low-end; not for serious gamers. But this chip is used on all current Mac laptops – including dear “Shadow,” my 2012 Macbook Air. And yet this graphics chip has yet to be added to the list of “approved” graphic cards for Second Life. Isn’t it sad that many of these stunning machines don’t have shadows on the current viewers! Don’t blame Apple.

Note: The one exception is the 15-inch Macbook Pro, which can run shadows in SL with the latest viewers – but only because it actually has 2 GPUs: the Intel HD 4000 and the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M chip. When you switch to the NVIDIA chip for higher performance, you get shadows, but not when you use the lower setting that utilizes the Intel HD 4000 graphics chip. The 13-inch model has no switching capability; it has only the one Intel HD 4000 chip.

My plea to Second Life viewer developers

This blog post is my plea to the Linden and Firestorm Second Life viewer developers to please enable shadows for the Intel HD 4000 graphics chip. I know I said in my JIRA that it crashed on Ultra, but it doesn’t anymore! Linden Lab fixed the problem on the server side. You can let the light shine down on Second Life …  with shadows.  

The Tale Begins …

In late 2012, both the Firestorm and Linden viewers determined that the Intel HD 4000 chip crashed on Ultra graphic settings. But they didn’t fix the problem; they fixed the symptom: they stopped the crashing by disabling shadows on the Intel HD 4000 macs. I imagine the reason they did this is that they looked high and low for the problem in their viewer code and couldn’t find it. And now I know why: The problem wasn’t in their viewer code! It turns out the problem was server-side, and it’s now been fixed! Yay!

But neither Firestorm nor Linden has acted on this development yet. Shadows remain disabled for the Intel HD 4000 chip, and they don’t need to be. I’ve tried telling both Firestorm and Linden with JIRAs, e-mails, even IMs, but there are still no shadows for this chip in the current viewers. I’m hoping this blog post will get the message through.

The back story …

To understand this rather complex scenario, it helps to know that when you have a problem in Second Life, it can come from one of three places (1) your viewer; (2) your computer, especially your graphics capability – the shorthand for this is “user” side;  or (3) the information Linden Lab passes along to your viewer about how to render – the shorthand for this is “server side.”

In this case, the problem was NOT in the viewer; it was NOT in the graphics chip; it WAS server-side. And now that Linden has fixed the bug, there is no reason for shadows to be disabled in Second Life for this chip on either viewer.

I’m Not the Only One

I am not the only one with this problem. Here is a plaintive cry from the SL Forum from a user who bought a brand-new 13-inch retina-display Macbook Pro! State-of-the-art technology, and he can’t run shadows because of a misunderstanding!

This whole misunderstanding is partially my fault I suspect, because I submitted a JIRA about the Ultra crashes in late 2012 on the (now old) 4.0.1 Firestorm viewer running the Intel HD 4000 chip. All the other graphics settings on that viewer ran fine, including shadows. The crash only happened when I moved the graphics slider to Ultra. (The Linden viewer, meanwhile, had already completely disabled shadows for the Intel HD 4000.)

In the middle of my long, complex JIRA with Firestorm, the top Firestorm developer gave a directive to disable shadows on the Intel HD 4000 chip. I begged her in the JIRA not to do so. I wrote her a personal IM plea. This is not the way to fix software, I said. Find the problem; don’t just hide the symptom.  All to no avail. The next Firestorm viewer came out and, you guessed it: shadows were disabled for machines using the Intel HD 4000 chip.

The Twist in the Tale …

If you’re still with me, here comes the twist to this tale. To get shadows, I continued to use the old Firestorm viewer 4.0.1 with High settings – with beautiful shadows. (See my pic above, which was taken with the OLD Firestorm viewer.) One fine day, I noticed the Firestorm viewer no longer crashed on Ultra. I was thunderstruck when I realized the problem all along had been server side, and now it was fixed!

I excitedly sent a JIRA to Firestorm telling them! Yay! Now they could enable shadows for the Intel HD 4000. I filed a Linden JIRA in the Bug Tracker, too.

Sadly, nothing came of either JIRA. Shadows are still disabled for this chip everywhere except that grand old Firestorm 4.0.1 viewer, which I cling to, desperately hoping that Firestorm doesn’t axe support for it.

Old ideas die hard, I guess. Everyone got it in their heads that the Intel HD 4000 GPU was a low-perormance integrated chip that couldn’t handle gaming. When SL developers decided it couldn’t handle shadows, they disabled that wonderful feature for any machine using that chip. But it ain’t true. The Intel HD 4000 may not be the best chip around, but it doesn’t deserve its bad rep. I have been seeing shadows in Second Life almost every day of my life using this chip on the OLD Firestorm viewer 4.0.1. I even named my Macbook Air “Shadow” for just that reason.

I’ll repeat: the crashing problem was NOT with the graphics chip; the problem was NOT with the viewer code; the problem WAS server side – and now it’s been fixed!

Come out to the light of day … and see the shadows!

Please come out of the cave. There’s gorgeous sun – and shadows! – out here. Please, please, please enable shadows for the Intel HD 4000 chip machines on the current Firestorm and Linden viewers. I am clinging to the old Firestorm 4.0.1 viewer, but I feel like I’m in the Stone Ages.

Macs have never had the same iconic status in Second Life that they enjoy in the real world. They have always been looked at sideways, with a rolling of the eyes, and the explanation of most of their problems: “Well, it’s a Mac.”

But still, I find it unacceptable that both major SL viewer developers have effectively disabled a stunning feature like shadows – that bring so much life to Second Life – in more than half of the most advanced Mac laptops ever made. All the more untenable when you consider that it’s unnecessary.

And if you still believe that the Intel HD 4000 chip is some sub-standard chip that can’t handle shadows without crashing , here’s a video I made (1) using the OLD Firestorm 4.0.1 viewer, and (2) on my Macbook Air with the Intel 4000 HD chip.






7 Responses to this post.

  1. Maiastarte's Gravatar

    Posted by Maiastarte on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    Thank you! That is so helpful, I will try and find that old viewer. I only want use shadows occasionally for photoshoots, it’s nuts that they don’t enable it. Let the users decide what their computers can handle!
    I use sl on ultra with my intel4000 card and it never crashes ?!

  2. Bay's Gravatar

    Posted by Bay on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    Here’s where you can download the OLD 4.0.1 mac Firestorm viewer that will show shadows in SL. So frustrating they won’t fix the new viewer so it will show shadows like the old one does.

  3. Maiastarte's Gravatar

    Posted by Maiastarte on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    a great ty

  4. Maiastarte's Gravatar

    Posted by Maiastarte on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    So I tried it and got shadows to work. What I noticed was a very low fps, so I couldn’t maneuver my camera very well. But it was beautiful!
    I wonder, could you give me some tips on the settings you use for your graphics, because I would like to get it to work more smoothly and maybe I had set something or other too high.
    Thank you!

  5. Bay Sweetwater's Gravatar

    Posted by Bay Sweetwater on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    What mac are you on? If it’s a macbook air, the processor power probably isn’t powerful enough to get much of an fps.(In my vid above, notice the movement gets jerky toward the end.) But if you’re on a mbp (2012), be sure to use the Nvidia GPU(it has 2 GPU: the Intel for everyday and Nvidia for high-end), and you should get some decent fps.

    There are so many ways to increase mac performance, but I would start with closing all other programs, logging out of all users except the one that’s running SL, clearing your SL cache, restarting your computer, and check your Activity Monitor (it’s in your Utilities folder) to make sure there’s nothing drawing power that you’re not aware of. Also, this Knowledge Base article is old, but it’s a real good start for understanding how to improve SL performance in general:

    Good luck, and thanks for coming by!

  6. Ginevra Rodex's Gravatar

    Posted by Ginevra Rodex on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    Hi there. I’m going to buy a MacBook Pro Retina 15″ in the next days. I thought it was great for the light and shadows on Firestorm. So they doesn’t work? Is it good for play btw?

  7. Bay Sweetwater's Gravatar

    Posted by Bay Sweetwater on 03.03.13 at 6:04 pm

    Hi Ginerva. Yes, I think the Macbook Pro Retina 15″ is great for both shadows and play with Firestorm in Second Life. I do not own one, but I tinkered with it briefly at the Apple store. The reason it does fine with SL shadows is that it has a second GPU (NVIDIA) that flips into play when you do graphics-strong work like Second Life. (See Note in para 3 of my blog post above). So it is not dependent on the Intel HD 4000 GPU.As I said, I do not own one and did not tinker long with it, but my short test ran shadows fine, and play was real quick. Didn’t measure the fps. You might want to experiment yourself before you buy. Thanks for stopping by. Love your blog.

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