Tag: MacBook

With school demanding more from 3D graphics and design, and the lack of power in the GMA950 for Keynote work, it was time for a computer upgrade. Couple that with Applecare that ran out earlier this week, and you get a nice new 13″ Unibody MacBook Pro.

Since it’s been 2 months now since I’ve been using it, I thought it was time for some opinions. I’ve already installed Windows 7, run Keynote presentations, taken it on a road trip, and done nearly all of my daily computer activities. In every way, this machine is superior to my previous MacBook.

The Outside

The solid aluminum exterior of this MacBook Pro is a massive improvement over the polycarbonate shell of the MacBook–and previously, the iBook–as it has very little flex and will be the end of the dreaded palm rest cracking that affected nearly every previous generation of MacBook. That aluminum shell means this computer is lighter and thinner as well. While likely not a very big difference (I’ve yet to break out the tape measure), you can feel it when it is in a case or backpack.

The assortment of ports on the left side has changed somewhat as well. Gone is the dedicated audio-in jack and FireWire 400 and in its place is a backwards-compatible FireWire 800 port. The single audio jack now deals with digital and analog input and output on its own. In addition to the standard Gigabit ethernet and 2 USB 2.0 ports is the new Mini DisplayPort and SD card slot. The DisplayPort requires another new dongle from the Apple Store. The SD card slot has already proven itself worthy, by copying camera photos during a brief road trip. It is an item I think probably won’t be useful all the time, but those occasional times it is required, it will be great to have. The Kensington lock slot has also been moved to the right side. This is a good thing for me, as I always put my computer ports down in my bag, and now the lock is readily accessible. Using the lock for the first time, it was very tight, but after applying some pressure, it now slips in and out fairly easily. The aluminum is slightly bent inside, but nothing major. As usual, your mileage may vary.

The backlit keyboard is definitely my favourite upgrade. I had no idea that seeing what I was typing in the dark would be so handy. A side benefit of this technology is that the ambient light sensor also subtly adjusts the screen brightness to an optimum level.

Other changes from the Core 2 Duo MacBook are the built-in battery and “buttonless” touchpad. Technically the touchpad is a button, but just looking at it shows nothing. So far I’ve found it to be slightly more sensitive when using a thumb to activate. Battery life is also an improvement, though I may not get a chance to test it fully until I return to school in a few days.

The display on this machine is also noticeably brighter, with more vivid colours. After putting the two machines side by side, there is a definite difference, as shown above. I had heard all the horror stories about the screens being a black mirror, but so far that has not been an issue for me. Sure, there is some reflection, but the beauty of a laptop is that it can easily be adjusted to mitigate the glare.

Apple has been touting their non-user-replaceable batteries in their more recent notebooks, and this MacBook Pro delivers.

The Inside

The inside components of a computer are certainly more important than the outside, and the upgrades to this generation of MacBook Pro make it a screamer. Even though the clock speed is only increased from 2.0 GHz to 2.26, the newer processor is far more efficient, and the faster RAM, along with a boost to 4 GB means there is virtually no wait for applications to load or for the machine to shut down. The graphics subsystem is the biggest gainer in the lot, with a move from the GMA950 chip to nVidia’s 9400M system. This means smoother transitions in Keynote, more frames in both games and iTunes visualizer and more speed in the future when more applications use Apple’s OpenCL computing language. I’m looking forward to that.

To put a numbers to the improvements, I took measurements of some common computing tasks of both machines.

  2.0 GHz MacBook 2.26 GHz Unibody MacBook Pro
Xbench 1.3 96.32 102.18
— CPU 130.45 158.53
— Memory 126.07 178.66
— Quartz Graphics 149.15 177.57
— OpenGL Graphics 264.8 80.92
— Disk 28.60 32.13
Windows 7 Index 3.2 4.0
iTunes Visualizer (fps) 60 60
CPU with 720p Trailer 35% 20%

Overall the machine certainly feels speedy, with minimal pauses between application changes. Disk performance is basically the same, seeing as the drive was just transferred between systems.

A big change I have noticed is that this computer is far quieter than my previous MacBook. That one had fans that would peak at 6200 RPM when doing anything remotely computation intensive. Even watching Flash video would cause the fans to spike. On this computer, they seem to peak at 2200 RPM, as that was the maximum speed I observed while encoding some MP3 files recently. Obviously it’s a change that won’t be listed on the spec sheet, but it is a welcome change for anyone using their computer for semi-heavy lifting.

I’ve been very happy with this new machine and the benefits it brings. Though I said it about the last MacBook I owned, this MacBook Pro will likely stick around for a long time, thanks to its powerful processor, aluminum shell and fast graphics chip.

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It has happened. After 2 solid years of service, my MacBook has cracked on the top case, in the above picture.

I thought I was being careful with my computer, but even with careful usage, it seems that a combination of the monitor spacers and palm pressure cracks the case on the edge. Naturally the new unibody MacBooks don’t show this problem.

If this problem has happened to your computer, Apple now repairs the case free of charge, regardless of warranty. Take it to the Genius Bar and it should be taken care of.

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Not much comes close to setting the interwebs ablaze than an Apple keynote. Fanboys everywhere were glued to their computer screens yesterday to learn what new things would come out of Cupertino this summer. While the WWDC is a developer’s conference, there were many intriguing announcements that are of interest to the general Mac-using public.

Here are some of the big points from the keynote yesterday:

iPhone 3G S
The iPhone 3G — and, it could be argued, the iPod Touch — have been fairly revolutionary for mobile computing. Apple tries to continue that with the iPhone 3G S, which they are touting as the most powerful iPhone yet. According to the keynote, nearly all the standard operations done on the phone are faster and more responsive. Things like launching messages, webpages and basic applications all seem to be quicker. Hardware wise, a new 3 megapixel, autofocusing camera makes an appearance, which even includes video recording. Hardware encryption and voice recording were also added.

Prices vary by carrier, naturally, but Apple’s price is $199USD for 16GB storage, and 32GB goes for $299USD. Is it worth it? While I don’t use an iPhone myself, I think the benefits over the iPhone 3G are subtle, but if you jumped in with the original iPhone, or have even held off purchasing the phone since the beginning, now is certainly a great time to join the party.

iPhone OS 3.0
The big deal of the keynote was more detail about the iPhone 3.0 software. Since the entire convention is for developers, most of the announcements were for the SDK included in the new software. The biggest news is that the new software includes support for copy and paste right on the phone. Additionally, landscape mode has been added to multiple applications, Find My iPhone and an undo function have been added. The latter is available just by shaking the phone — sort of like an Etch-A-Sketch function, and Find My iPhone is a feature of MobileMe that enables users to track their phone should they lose it, and optionally wipe the data remotely should it be stolen.

Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall (those taking Steve Jobs’ place presenting the keynote) had a few digs at AT&T about functions added to iPhone 3.0, that may not be available from AT&T until later. Tethering is a feature many people have asked for, now that most phones are connected to the internet with a speed almost equal to a home DSL line. It is a way of connecting the phone to a computer through USB or Bluetooth so that the phone can be used as a modem to get the computer online. The other jab at the American provider was that multimedia messaging service won’t be able to share your photos, videos and sounds with other people until later in the summer. This feature, which is available on nearly every other handset in the world, will finally bring the iPhone on part with what can be considered an essential service.

New MacBook Pros
In what I thought was a somewhat unusual move, Apple announced that the 13″ aluminum MacBook would now be a MacBook Pro, making the white polycarbonate model the only remaining MacBook. Besides the natural speed increases, the hardware changes made to the whole line were SD card slots instead of ExpressCard and a new, longer-lasting internal battery that cannot be removed. The battery situation is one I think may see some strong opposition. For a computer that is a “pro machine”, where the user is in the field for a long time, the inability to swap out a battery and get another 4 hours could be frustrating. The fact that all the previous MacBooks could have batteries swapped while the computer is sleeping means that with enough batteries, users can work continuously. Fortunately, though, I think that the power and design of the computers mean that the batteries may be an afterthought.

Snow Leopard
My personal favourite announcement of the keynote was the announcements about the newest Cupertino cat, Snow Leopard. As previously shown, Snow Leopard foregoes hundreds of new features in favour of making OS X faster, smaller, more efficient and more stable. The big news was the addition of technology to take advantage of multi-core processors and advanced GPUs. Grand Central Dispatch makes it very easy for developers to use every ounce of power from advanced Intel CPUs. This is because early versions of OS X were not optimized for multithreading, preventing software from using all available horsepower. To take advantage of GPUs, Apple has spearheaded an initiative to create a new language that threads operations in a way that GPUs can handle. Best of all, nearly all the major manufacturers have jumped on board.

Breaking from tradition, Apple has decided that this new upgrade should be available for $29USD for Leopard users, making it the cheapest 10.x upgrade yet. A family pack for 5 users will be available for $49USD, which is a full $150 off the Leopard price. If a value pack is available with a Snow Leopard license, iLife 09 and iWork 09 for ~$100, I know where I’ll be when it’s available in September.

As we’ve come to expect from Apple’s keynotes, a wide array of new products and services will be available from Apple this summer, making it yet another exciting time to be a fan of the fruit company.

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Batteries are technology’s weak link. While tech like processor clock speed, hard drive capacity and graphics cards has accelerated rapidly over the last few years, battery capacity and total usage time has remained relatively constant. Sure, the newest lithium ion power packs can give your computer a solid 2 – 3 hours of charge, but we’re still a few years away from being able to work untethered for a good 6 – 8 hours.

I bring all this up because my MacBook has a problem with the battery that I’ve seen on others. As the above screen capture shows — from the iStat nano widget — the battery suddenly has 4% health after I used it for 10 minutes. The health is different from the actual charge because it represents the maximum possible charge the battery can take, which means how long the computer can run. What seems to happen on my computer is that it appears normal for a while, but then suddenly drops to less than 10% without warning. My friend had a MacBook with a similar problem — it would shut down when it had (supposedly) 30 minutes of power remaining.

Apple states that a battery is considered defective if it holds less than 80% of its original capacity and has fewer than 300 charge cycles. A charge cycle is the the time between a full discharge and charge — from full power to shut down. If the battery meets this criteria, it may be eligible for replacement. Since I have AppleCare, it seems that I will be taking the computer to the local Apple Store to see if a Genius can get me a new one.

Has anyone else seen a problem like this?

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I really like finding little applications that do a single specialized task really well. In this case, it is a Dashboard widget called Deep Sleep that puts your computer into hibernation. I discovered it on MacOSXHints and have been using it regularly for a few weeks.

Mac laptops use three sleep mechanisms: Safe sleep, deep sleep and quick sleep. The primary difference between them is how the computer reacts when all power is removed. Safe sleep is the default behaviour and will resume normally even after the power source is completely disconnected (that means you can change batteries without fully shutting the computer down). Deep sleep also wakes normally (albeit more slowly) and draws no power at all. Quick sleep will not remember any data when started after a power loss.

The nice part about this widget is that it enables you to use the deep sleep method once, then have it revert back to the standard form afterwards. It is especially convenient for when you know the computer won’t be needed for a few hours, but you’ll need the full battery afterwards. This ability is also useful for when the battery has aged and no longer holds the original power (like mine).

So if you need to put your computer away for a while, but still want power when you wake it again, give Deep Sleep a try.

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