Tag: reviews

When I got my 14″ iBook in 2004, I made a custom case with felt and velcro that protected my computer from general scrapes and scratches. I had this case for 5 years, and used it for my MacBook, then MacBook Pro. It was not designed for the new shape of the MacBooks, so it did not fit snugly. It did the job well enough, but when I received a gift card to the local Apple Store for Christmas, I added a case to the list of purchases. After browsing the store, I saw the Incase Canvas Sleeve and picked one up.

This case protects the computer from scratches using a canvas outside and a soft fabric interior. Technically it doesn’t protect against larger drops but serves as a protective layer between the aluminum exterior of the laptop and another case. It works nicely in the computer slot of my backpack and doesn’t add too much bulk.

So far it has worked very well. My MacBook Pro — which doesn’t show fingerprints or scuff marks as easily as the earlier MacBook — has very little in the way of scratches. I have the Incase sleeve to thank for that.

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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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px100Using a computer, and especially an iPod with music means having a set of headphones that sound good, pack well, and don’t break the bank.

For the last year or so I’ve been rocking a set of Sennheiser PX100 foldable headphones and I believe they satisfy all the above criteria.

The Sound

The most important aspect of any piece of audio equipment is of course, the sound. Despite the small package, these Sennheisers provide excellent sound in many configurations. They pump the bass for rock music, while maintaining the mid and high notes for classical, or even regular talking in podcasts. I find it very enjoyable to listen to movies using these headphones as well.

The fit

The PX100s work in an on-the-ear configuration, where the pads don’t actually cover the entire ear and instead rest on them. This means that ambient noise is not cancelled or blocked in any meaningful way, unlike the PX200 which have an over the ear design.

I find the design of these headphones very comfortable. They do not clamp too much, and the soft pads mean I can wear them for many hours without discomfort. That said, I sometimes find that they tilt forward on my head, to the point where I need to readjust them to be comfortable again. This doesn’t detract from the usability of the ‘phones at all, though.

Value

At $80 CAN, the Sennheiser PX100 headphones are somewhat expensive, but I think you get what you pay for. In this case, you get a solid pair headphones, plus a plastic carrying case that is crucial for everyday use. With the case, I don’t have second thoughts about tossing them into my backpack, which was how my previous pair of Sonys broke.

Only time will tell how they hold up to daily use, but over more than one year of nearly everyday listening, my ‘phones show very few signs of wear. They are an excellent choice for listening to any type of music.

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As home networks become larger and larger, new technology will be required to get gadgets connected that are sprinkled around the house. D-Link, along with other manufacturers, has recognized that many electronics now require internet connectivity, but are either not wireless, or located next to an ethernet plug.

A possible solution to this problem is network adapters that work over existing electrical wires embedded in walls. There are multiple technologies in the market now, and many do not work together, but most work in the same way. An adapter is plugged into the wall socket, with an ethernet cable connected to a device, then another adapter is plugged into a socket and wired router. Now the device is connected to the network, and can enjoy (theoretical) speeds of 200 Mbps.

Setup

In terms of installation, I don’t think I’ve used a network product with an easier setup. With an adapter connected to my router, and another connected to my Playstation 3, I had internet within seconds. The adapters are small enough to fit in convenient places, and the LEDs provide feedback about device status and network connectivity.

Performance

I bought a set of these adapters to connect my PS3 to my network and enjoy media shared on my computer. After the setup and a quick connectivity test, I was excited to try a movie. Sadly, this was where the set fell short.

D-Link says that under ideal conditions, these adapters can provide up to 200 Mbps throughput (which is about 25 MB/s). In my house, I achieved about 3 MB/s. This was found by using my MacBook to transfer files over ethernet. Disappointed but not defeated, I moved the second adapter through my house to test the transfer speeds. Speeds ranged from 768 KB/s on the opposite side of the house to 6 MB/s in the same room as the router. This was about the same as my previous solution, so I decided to return the adapters.

Conclusions

I can’t say I’m all that surprised about the performance, as wiring varies from house to house. My house was especially tough because the router room is on a different subsystem than the living room. This product would probably work best in a fairly new house, with sockets in basically the same area.

If you’re planning on purchasing a set of PowerLine adapters, be sure to check your supplier’s return policy. Test them immediately in a variety of locations and configurations, and look at alternative solutions if they don’t perform close to the manufacturer’s estimation.

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