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Macs Only! Blog Archive--February 2008

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Copyright 2008 by Bill Fox All rights reserved.
Last Updated: February 29, 2008

Go to: Jan '08

[2/29] Trans International has 1GB and 2GB RAM Modules for Latest MacBook and MacBook Pro Models

Parallels Christmas OffersApple released refreshed MacBook and MacBook Pro models on Tuesday of this week. Macs Only! sponsor Trans International today announced the worldwide  availability of 1 Gigabyte (GB) and 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM (PC-5300) SO-DIMM memory for the newly released Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro (all speeds, screen sizes and colors). The Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro both have two memory expansion sockets for main memory expansion so each can hold up to 4GB of RAM. memory modules conform to Apple's stringent electrical and mechanical design guide lines.

Please click here for pricing and availability. [Bill Fox]

[2/27] [Updated] Brief Hands-On Report--Apple's New Dual Quad 2.8GHz Mac Pro

As consistent readers already know, I am giving up my terrific 3G 2.4GHz 15" MacBook Pro with glossy LED-backlit screen. I have been using a MacBook Pro (1G, 2G and now 3G) as a desktop Mac and traveling Mac for nearly two years.

The upsides of having just a MacBook Pro are lower cost and the lack of any sync requirements. The 15" MacBook Pro does everything I need to do, and then some, plus it does it all reasonably well.

The downsides are the MacBook Pro struggles a bit with my 30" monitor, it is good but not great at fast 3D games, it has a full and/or rapidly filling hard drive carried everywhere and it uses several ExpressCard 34s for a plethora of peripherals to attach and detach--plus its traveling weight now that Apple has released the MacBook Air. Not only is the MacBook Air some 2.4lbs lighter, it will force me to shed a bunch of peripherals that I rarely use anyway. The total weight savings could approach 10lbs or so.

The first part of my new 2-Mac office arrived last week. It is a dual quad-core 2.8GHz Mac Pro with the standard 2GB RAM and standard everything else except for the graphics card, an Nvidia 8800 GT upgrade. I got a great deal on it through the developer program purchase plan. I thought about the $400 cheaper single quad-core 2.8 GHz model since it is probably powerful enough for my uses. But I got the dual quad-core model in case Apple had dumbed down other features on its entry-level single quad-core Pro as Apple has done in the past. Anyway, the standard dual quad-core model will be more re-saleable in the future.

As an aside, I would have picked up a 24" aluminum iMac if I didn't already have a 30" Cinema Display and Apple hadn't dumbed down the top graphics system from the previous 24" white iMac.

My last Pro desktop was a quad-core 2.5GHz PowerMac G5 with with a stock Nvidia 6600 graphics card. Unfortunately, I was never able to get a faster graphics card. It was literally a beast with relatively noisy case fans. It worked very well and was, at the time, very fast (see my review). But I was not too unhappy to see it go due partly to its noise profile and partly because my first MacBook Pro had faster graphics.

My new Mac Pro looks identical on the outside as my ex PowerMac G5 but it is nearly silent in operation. It is even much quieter than my MacBook Pro which revs its fans when pushing the 30" Cinema Display. I have yet to do anything that causes fan noise from the Mac Pro except for a short burst when starting up or waking from sleep.

I installed three additional SATA hard drives in my Mac Pro. I thought the PowerMac G5 had a good drive system but the Mac Pro's system beats it hands down. There's no messing with cables and connectors, just screw a drive onto the sled that pulls out of the Mac Pro and push the sled back in. Installing the three drives not only gets them off my desk along with the clutter of cables, power brick and power cords but it silences them as well. I can barely hear all four drives running in the Mac Pro and then only if I listen very carefully. The three as external drives had significant fan noise and usual drive noises.

It took nearly three hours for the Migration Assistant to move 130GB of data from my MacBook Pro to my Mac Pro. All went well except that I had to re-authorize my Adobe CS3 applications. I also had to authorize my iTunes-purchased songs on the Mac Pro. Neither was a problem. Apple has really perfected the migration process.

The Mac Pro came with Leopard 10.5.1 and I upgraded it to 10.5.2. It runs Leopard very well with one exception. My Mac Pro occasionally reboots when waking from an overnight sleep. According to Apple's discussion boards, this annoyance is common among Mac Pros running 10.5.2 and it will surely be fixed in an upcoming update.

Finally, is 2GB RAM enough? So far it is for me but I don't use Photoshop much and don't render large images. I'm keeping my eye on RAM usage with Activity Monitor in the Dock. So far it shows a healthy 20% green wedge at a minimum with all of the applications I use open and while using them.

I'll post some Mac Pro speed tests shortly.

The second part of my new 2-Mac office, a MacBook Air, is scheduled to arrive Thursday. [Updated to reflect correct graphics card for the PowerMac G5 Quad.] [Bill Fox]

[2/27] Bigger, Faster 1.8 HDDs Coming From Toshiba for MacBook Air?

The MacBook Air comes standard with an 80GB 1.8" Toshiba hard disk drive running at 4200rpm with an older PATA interface. Some have criticized the capacity and speed of this drive but the only alternative offered by Apple is the 64GB solid state disk drive for nearly $1000.

Toshiba announced two new 1.8" HDDs with capacities of 80GB and 120GB running at 5400rpm with a newer and faster 1.5Gbps SATA interface. The new drives have a faster 15ms seek time as well. Mass production of the new drives will be in April.

Along with high speed data transfer, the new drives offer high level vibration resistance and excellent shock resistance. They will contribute to the achievement of environmentally conscious products, thanks to near silent operation and low energy consumption and full compliance with the EU RoHS directive.

April is perfect timing for Apple to refresh the MacBook Air in June or so with these faster and larger drives. We think our 80GB MacBook Air on order will be fast enough, though. It is scheduled to arrive on Thursday of this week. [Bill Fox]

[2/27] Brief Hands-On Report--iPhone Software v1.1.4

Apple released iPhone Software v1.1.4. It is available via iTunes. According to Apple,

This version of the software includes bug fixes and supersedes all previous versions.

We installed v1.1.4 in our iPhone using iTunes 7.6.1 with no problems. In subsequent use, no problems were encountered. [Bill Fox]

[2/27] Brief Report--Apple Updated MacBooks and MacBook Pros

Yesterday, Apple released revised the lineups of the MacBook and MacBook Pro for the same price breaks as before, i.e. more Mac for the same buck. They represent the fifth version of the MacBook Pro released since early 2006. I'm glad to see that Apple is keeping them up to date.

The MacBook lineup comes in three models and includes faster processors and larger hard drives across the line: white 2.1GHz and 2.4GHz models with 120GB or 160GB 5400 rpm hard drives and a black 2.4GHz model with a massive 250GB 5400 rpm hard drive.

The MacBook Pro lineup also comes in three models and includes faster processors and larger hard drives across the line: a 2.4GHz entry model with a 200GB drive and 2.5GHz 15" and 17" models with 250GB hard drives. The two top models have a 2.6GHz CPU option for an additional $250 and several drive options.

The main new features of the MacBook Pros are the addition of a multitouch trackpad, like the one in the MacBook Air, and an optional ($100) LED Backlit screen for the 17" model that has already appeared as standard in the 15" model.

All feature Intel's latest version, i.e. "Penryn," of the Core 2 Duo CPU. It is manufactured on a smaller 45nm die so it is more energy efficient at the same clock speed (GHz). Here's Apple's press release for more details. [Bill Fox]

[2/25] Follow Up--Mac OS X 10.5.2, How Fast Is It?

Two weeks ago Apple released the 10.5.2 update for Leopard and the Leopard Graphics Update 1.0. They are available via Software Update or as stand-alone files from this Apple Web page. Last Monday, I posted some quick speed test results that were focused on OpenGL graphics so today here are the results from the remainder of my usual suite of speed tests.

Speed of 15" 2.4GHz MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo running Leopard vs Tiger
Test 10.5.2 10.5.1
Performance Change (%)
Altivec Fractal 1.3 (GFLOPS)
Cinebench 9.5 Rendering (2x)
-OpenGL Hardware Lighting
Let1kWindowsBloom 1.0+
Xbench 1.3 - CPU
- Threading
- Memory
- Quartz Graphics
- OpenGL Graphics
-User Interface Graphics
Startup (sec)
Shutdown (sec)
Dup. 500 MB Folder (sec)
Quake III Arena (frames/sec)
Halo 2.0.2 (frames/sec)

In our original speed test that compared Tiger (10.4.9) to Leopard (10.5.1), Leopard ran substantially slower on four tests: Let1kwindowsbloom, Xbench 1.3 Threading, Xbench 1.3 User Interface Graphics and Startup time. The latest Leopard update 10.5.2 shows a slight improvement in two of them, Xbench 1.3 User Interface Graphics and Startup time.

Leopard 10.5.1 ran substantially faster than Tiger 10.4.9 in four tests: Xbench 1.3 Memory, Xbench 1.3 Quartz Graphics, Shutdown time and Halo frame rate. 10.5.2 shows a further improvement in two of them: Shutdown time and Halo frame rate.

Most notably, there are clear improvements in OpenGL performance in 10.5.2 as shown by Cinebench OpenGL Hardware Lighting (+2%), Xbench 1.3 OpenGL Graphics (+25%), Quake II Arena (+72%) and Halo (+15%). [Bill Fox]

[2/25] Brief Hands-On Report--Apple MacBook, MacBook Pro Firmware Update 1.0

Last Tuesday, Apple released a firmware update for the Mac Book and MacBook Pro. It is available via Software Update or as a stand-alone file from this Apple Web page. Last week, I didn't see much on Mac Web sites about it. According to Apple,

This MacBook and MacBook Pro firmware update addresses an issue where the first key press may be ignored if the computer has been sitting idle. It also addresses some other issues.

I have not experienced this problem with my 15" 2.4GHz MacBook Pro (3G with LED backlit screen) but I installed the firmware update anyway without a problem. In a week's use, no problems have occurred. [Bill Fox]

[2/25] Brief Hands-On Report--iTunes 7.6.1 and Apple TV 2.0

I downloaded and installed iTunes 7.6.1 via Software Update when it came out late last week. According to Apple,

iTunes 7.6.1 includes several bug fixes and improves compatibility with Apple TV software version 2.0.

I have not run into any problems with my music or video libraries since installing the iTunes update. I did set up my new Apple TV "Take Two" over the weekend and iTunes 7.6.1 worked seamlessly with it after syncing up and registering the Apple TV. More on the latter later after I've had a chance to use it--right now I'm downloading "Jesse James" in HD. [Bill Fox]

[2/18] A Mac Guy new to Windows Culture--Catching Up

Hi all! I started in my new job on February 4th. I've been going through orientation in DC for the past two weeks, meeting terrific new people and in between doing the new job itself, all of which has left little time to attend to my blog. Now I'm on a direct flight from the West Coast to an East Coast meeting so I've got a few hours to catch you up.

Living within a Windows XP Culture

Unfortunately, my new organization is tightly locked into an exclusively Windows XP environment. My old organization more or less accommodated Macs and Linux machines so this will be a new experience. My new organization has a surprisingly small and superb IT staff. The CIO provides just one of three Dell machines to employees, either a specific desktop or one of two specific portables. Since most employees travel a lot, most of them use the lighter of the two, a four pound Dell Latitude D430 with a smallish 12" screen and a docking station. All run Windows XP SP2 and are configured in a standard way by the IT staff, including being locked up tight. By policy, no software can be installed by employees and no computers other than official computers can be hooked up to the network directly. Of course, Microsoft Exchange Server running Outlook provides email, contacts and calendaring. While away, employees use either a VPN connection or Citrix to get email and access to their shares or Outlook Web Access over the Web for email alone. They also supply a BlackBerry to senior people running the mobile version of Outlook.

No Macs or iPhones are "supported."

What's a Mac guy to do?

Fortunately, there is a Citrix client for Mac that actually works pretty well on Mac OS X Leopard. The only exception is that the resolution of fonts via Citrix is too poor for my eyes without using a large monitor but this is a problem for Windows machines too. And the resolution handled through Citrix may be increased in the near future. Outlook Web Access also works okay for email and does not suffer from the font problem at least on the Mac using any Mac Web browser.

The bigger problem is my iPhone because it has become such an essential tool. Since the CIO of my new organization refuses to implement IMAP mail in Microsoft Exchange Server, I cannot get email directly on my iPhone. The claim is that an IMAP email server produces an unacceptable security risk. I don't know about that because many firms, including the currently security-concious U.S. government, provide email via IMAP. However, a workaround is to enable email forwarding to my .Mac account on my iPhone. The only difficulties with the workaround are the additional header and all emails are from "me" rather than the actual sender. Still, it works. The other alternative is to use Outlook Web Access with Safari when my iPhone is connected by Wi-Fi.

Anyway, I am learning to survive in a Windows XP culture.

New Macs on Their Way

As I wrote previously, I'm going back to a two-Mac arrangement--a Mac Pro at home and a MacBook Air on the road, largely to shed several road pounds. I ordered a standard dual 2.8GHz quad-core Mac Pro with the Nvidia GeForce 8800GT graphics card upgrade to drive my 30" Cinema Display and because I am an incorrigible gamer. The Mac Pro will show up this week while I am on travel.

I ordered the standard 1.6GHz MacBook Air with 80GB hard drive after seeing Macworld's online review. It seems fast enough and I really can't see paying $1000 more for a 64GB flash RAM drive despite desperately wanting one. After reading how slow software installation is over Wi-Fi "n" I ordered the external USB SuperDrive plus the USB/Ethernet adapter--they will also arrive this week. The MacBook Air order said 7-10 business days to ship which is quicker than I expected.

While I was at it, I also ordered an Apple TV "Take 2" and an Apple 500GB Time Capsule so there will be more to write about in the coming weeks. [Bill Fox]

[2/18] Brief Hands-On Report--Mac OS X 10.5.2 and Leopard Graphics Update 1.0--How Fast is It?

Apple finally released the 10.5.2 update for Leopard and the Leopard Graphics Update 1.0 a week ago. They are available via Software Update or as stand-alone files from this Apple Web page.

We (Dana is still tending to his Macs) downloaded and installed the updates via Software Update with no problems on a number of Macs, including: 15" MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, 24" aluminum iMac Core 2 Duo, 12" 1.4 GHz PowerBook G4 and 1.4GHz PowerMac G4 Cube.

So far the updates seem to have fixed all of the issues I had with Leopard on my MacBook Pro but not the occasional freezes on Dana's iMac. I haven't had a kernel panic or loss of video on wake from sleep, an unexpected quit of Dreamweaver CS3 or an inadvertent wake from sleep caused by Apple's aluminum wireless keyboard.

One of our problems with Leopard was slow OpenGL graphics performance in our speed tests. I had just a short time in between trips to check OpenGL performance and it seems to have improved. The Cinebench 9.5 OpenGL Hardware Graphics test increased marginally from 4023 to 4122, the Xbench 1.3 OpenGL test increased a more substantially from 129 to 161 and, finally, the Quake III Arena UB test surged from 398 frames/sec to a whopping 686 frames/sec. I'll do some more extensive testing next weekend when I return from travel but OpenGL graphics are looking good, at least on my MacBook Pro.

So, my conclusion is that 10.5.2 looks good enough to update my daughter's 17" 1GHz Powerbook G4 and spouse's 24" 2.33GHz white iMac from 10.4.11 to 10.5.2 next weekend. [Bill Fox]

[2/7] Brief Hands-On Report--Apple released QuickTime 7.4.1

QuickTime 7.4.1 for Leopard, Tiger, Panther and Windows is available for download via Software Update and as a stand-alone file from this Apple Web page. According to Apple,

QuickTime 7.4.1 addresses security issues and improvescompatibility with third-party applications.

The details on the security issue are:

CVE-2008-0234--A heap buffer overflow exists in QuickTime's handling of HTTP responses when RTSP tunneling is enabled. By enticing a user to visit a maliciously crafted web page, an attacker may cause an unexpected application termination or arbitrary code execution. This update addresses the issue through improved bounds checking.

I downloaded the update via Software Update and installed it with no difficulties in a MacBook Pro C2D running Mac OS X 10.5.1. In brief use of the updated Quicktime, included viewing embedded movie TV spots and Apple ads and movie trailers that launch the standalone QuickTime player, I experienced no problems. [Bill Fox]

[2/6] Brief Hands-On Report--Apple released iPhoto 7.1.2 and Other Software

Apple released iPhoto 7.1.2 update and it is available via Software Update if iLife '08 is installed or as a stand-alone file from this Apple Web page. According to Apple,

This update addresses issues when publishing photos to a .Mac Web Gallery, improves overall stability, and fixes a number of other minor issues.

There is a security update as follows:

CVE-2008-0043--A format string vulnerability exists in iPhoto. By enticing a user to subscribe to a maliciously-crafted photocast, a remote attacker may cause arbitrary code execution. This update addresses the issue through improved handling of format strings when processing photocast subscriptions. Credit to Nathan McFeters of Ernst & Young's Advanced Security Center for reporting this issue.

We downloaded the iPhoto 7.1.2 updater and updated and used iPhoto. We did not discern any issues during brief use.

Apple also updated,

Braille Display Update 1.0 -- It is available as a stand-alone file. According to Apple,

Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard includes a powerful screen reading technology for the blind called VoiceOver that supports a variety of refreshable Braille displays. When you have a supported Braille display connected to your computer, VoiceOver automatically detects it and sends it information about what is displayed on the screen. This installer adds support in Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard for the following additional refreshable Braille displays:

  • GW Micro BrailleSense
  • GW Micro SyncBraille 20
  • GW Micro SyncBraille 32
  • HandyTech Easy Braille
  • HandyTech Braille Star 40
  • HandyTech Braille Star 80
  • HIMS BrailleSense
  • HIMS SyncBraille 20
  • HIMS SyncBraille 32
  • Nippon Telesoft Seika Version 3
  • Papenmeier Braillex Trio

Pro Kit 4.5. It is available via as a stand-alone file. According to Apple,

This update improves reliability for Apple's professional applications and is recommended for all users of Final Cut Studio, Final Cut Express, Aperture, Logic Studio and Logic Express.

[Bill Fox]

[2/6] Apple added Memory to iPhone and iPod touch

The iPhone now comes in 8GB and 16GB models for $399 and $499. The iPod touch now comes in 16GB and 32GB models for $399 and $499. [Bill Fox]

[2/4] Introduction the LabVIEW--New Free Online Seminar from Apple

If you are new to LabVIEW on the Mac or thinking about using it, Apple is providing an opportunity for you in a new free on-demand online seminar introducing LabVIEW.

According to Apple, this seminar introduces you to the fundamentals of creating computer-based measurement and automation applications using the Mac and LabVIEW graphical programming. The presenters are: Afshad Mistri, Marketing Manager for Apple, and Mike Neal, LabVIEW Product Manager from National Instruments.

LabVIEW graphical development has revolutionized the development of scalable test, measurement, and control applications. Regardless of programming experience, engineers and scientists can use LabVIEW to quickly connect with measurement and control hardware, analyze data, and share results.

Register for the free on-demand online seminar on this Apple Web page. [Bill Fox]

[2/4] New LabVIEW Drivers for bTop-2 Hardware--Free from PSI

There is a new set of (free) Mac OS X LabVIEW drivers for the bTop-2 hardware from Perfectly Scientific, Inc. (PSI). The drivers were developed by Urs Lauterburg at the University of Bern, Switzerland, to render bTop-2 data acquisition/control from within a LabVIEW development environment according to Aaron Golden, Chief Scientist at PSI.

This free software package can be downloaded from PSI's Web site.

Note that all bTop software is free, and that PSI has an academic-grant program so some folks can qualify to receive free hardware as well. [Bill Fox]

[2/1] [Updated] Why I will definitely buy a MacBook Air

People are writing about why they won't buy a MacBook Air and most of the media is dwelling on features that the MacBook Air lacks which if it had, it would not be a MacBook Air but a MacBook "Lug". Others write that people who buy the MacBook Air must have more money than brains because of the price/feature ratio that they themselves concoct.

I recently wrote about my deciding on buying a MacBook Air. The article was somewhat inconclusive so I want to set the record straight--I will definitely buy a MacBook Air! But not just yet. Okay, so why is that.

First and foremost as a road warrior, weight has become my primary consideration in a notebook beyond meeting certain minimal standards. Sure, I can get a notebook that weighs less than the MacBook Air's 3 pounds but none, repeat none, run Mac OS X and have a decent-size screen, full-size keyboard, a fast Core 2 Duo processor running at 1.6-1.8GHz and decent graphics, my minimal standards. I traded in a fabulous 17" 1.5GHz PowerBook G4 for a 15" MacBook Pro, in part to shed nearly 2 pounds and some 2D inches. I'm looking forward to shedding another 2+ pounds and a few more 2D inches with the MacBook Air. While the MacBook Air is slower than my MacBook Pro, it is much faster than my previous 1.5GHz 17" PowerBook G4 according to Macworld's tests. That makes it clearly fast enough for the road.

In addition, every single potential deficiency seen by others in the MacBook Air has an acceptable solution, mostly using Bluetooth, WiFi or USB. Today, an take-apart article shows that it will be relatively easy to replace the MacBook Air's internal battery, if one can deal with 19 very tiny screws.

In my previous article I worried a little about having to buy a new $29 airline seat power adapter because the MagSafe connector is different on a MacBook Air. But that does not seem to be a problem since the old MagSafe connector works according to Macworld and I use my Mac on Aviator stand during airline flights to avoid the problem of people reclining their seats in front of me.

Will the MacBook Air be my only computer? Probably not, but because it can drive a 23-24" monitor and connect wirelessly or via a USB/ethernet adapter to an external hard drive it could be my only computer if I didn't enjoy (addicted to?) 3D games. So, I'll probably keep my MacBook Pro or sell it and get a Mac Pro with an Nvidia 8800 GT graphics card and use the MacBook Air just for travel.

Okay, so what's holding me back from ordering a MacBook Air today?

First, I want to see if I must spend an additional $999 for the solid-state hard drive (SSD). I'm "gun shy" because a Sharp ultra-portable that I once tried had a similar micro hard drive to achieve its small size and weight under 3 pounds. But it was incredibly slow to boot, launch applications and use. Macworld's review partially alleviates my concerns with regard to the speed of the 80GB hard drive model but I want to compare the two myself.

Second, without a major sponsor these days, the cost of the bleeding edge has become more of a concern. I feel that I got burned on buying the first generation MacBook Pro (I'm now using a terrific third generation model) and I'm willing to wait for user reports on the first generation of the MacBook Air and maybe even for the second generation to come out. But the MacBook Air is definitely for me. [Bill Fox]

[2/1] Brief Hands-On Report--Apple released iWeb 2.0.3

Apple updated iWeb 2 from the iLife '08 suite to v2.0.3. The update is available for download via Software Update or as a stand-alone file from this Apple Web page. According to Apple,

This update addresses compatibility with Mac OS X.

Very informative--c'mon Apple. While we laud Apple's commitment to elegant simplicity, we hate being treated non-information. Anyway, we downloaded the update via Software Update and installed it in iWeb because we are using iWeb to fashion a new and simple look to Macs Only!. In brief use we encountered no issues but we had none before the update. [Bill Fox]


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