Macs Only! Blog Archive--October 2008

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Copyright 2008 by Bill Fox All rights reserved.
Last Updated: October 31, 2008

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[10/17] Apple's new Mini DisplayPort is new Industry Open Standard

With the new MacBooks, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and 24" LED Cinema Display, Apple introduced the Mini DisplayPort in place of its DVI and Mini DVI video ports and connectors. DisplayPort is a relatively new industry open standard from VESA that is detailed on this Web site. Introduced in 2006, it's logo is shown at right.

The Mini DisplayPort connector is small, has no acursed screws and its cable is thin. It is designed expressly for today's graphics and display technology whereas the old VGA connector was designed in 1987. A comparison of the Mini DisplayPort with the DVI and VGA connectors from is shown at right.

The objectives of the DisplayPort specification are:

"The DisplayPort specification defines a scalable digital display interface with optional audio and content protection capability for broad usage within business, enterprise, and consumer applications. The interface is designed to support both internal chip-to-chip and external box-to-box digital display connections. Potential internal chip-to-chip applications include usage within a notebook PC for driving a panel from a graphics controller, and usage within a monitor or TV for driving the display component from a display controller. Examples of box-to-box applications for DisplayPort include display connections between PCs, monitors, and projectors."

The DisplayPort specification has super perfomance. The initial DisplayPort 1.1a technology provides over twice the capacity of single-channel DVI. It provides a bandwidth of 10.8Gbps and works with cables as long as 15 meters.

One of the best things about the new Mini DisplayPort is that it is an open standard and not a proprietary standard. Under the slogan "A Standard That's Open to Everything" describes the Mini DisplayPort as:

"A free and open standard enables complete interoperability--meaning you can connect to any display or projector from a single connector. Future extensions of DisplayPort in 2008 will provide enhancements such as multi-monitor support and a simple adaptor that enables a single cable connection to to a multifunction monitor that includes a USB hub. DisplayPort's micropacket architecture improves display connectivity and usage options that improve the viewing experience."

What about HDMI, the cable interface associated with high definition TV? According to the DisplayPort white paper, HDMI is well suited to TV applications but is limited in terms of performance scalablity and by its design as a consumer electronics box-to-box connectivity solution. DisplayPort overcomes these limitations. Those who have an HDTV know that HDMI cables are proprietary, very expensive, thick and quite stiff. The issue of HDMI vs DisplayPort is covered in this September 18, 2008, EDN article but it does not reach an unequivocal conclusion. When asked about HDMI during the Q&A session at the Apple Event on Tuesday, CEO Steve Jobs mentioned that Apple thinks DisplayPort is much better for computer applications--hurray!

Fortunately, DisplayPort will "co-exist" with legacy interfaces. While the actual specifications can not be directly interoperable, interoperability at the product level is possible. A number of companies (e.g. BizLink) already make or are working on a variety of interface adaptors and connectors. Hopefully, some of these will work both ways, not just one way (i.e. computer to device) as Apple's new notebook adapters presently do so that legacy Macs and their graphics cards can connect to Apple's new 24" LED Cinema Display.

Finally, at least two DisplayPort certification centers have been set up. The first was back in March 2008 at Allion Test Labs in Taiwan and the second was in June 2088 at the Electronics Testing Center, also in Taiwan.

It looks like the last awful, geek-designed computer connector will be biting the dust thanks again to Apple's insanely-great sane leadership. Three cheers.... [Bill Fox]

[10/16] Trans International has Memory for New MacBook and MacBook Pro

Trans International today announced the worldwide availability of a 4 GB memory kit [2X2GB] DDR3 1066MHz (PC-8500) SO-DIMM for the newly released Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro. DDR3 SO-DIMMS provide MacBook and MacBook Pro users with desktop-like power by offering 2GB of memory density for each memory expansion socket. The Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro each have two memory expansion sockets for main memory expansion. memory modules conform to Apple's stringent electrical and mechanical design guide lines. Check them out for the MacBook here and MacBook Pro here.

A good selection of 5400RPM and 7200RPM SATA Drives are also available to replace or upgrade the factory drives. Hard drives are now user replaceable on both MacBooks and MacBook Pros. [Bill Fox]

[10/15] The salient features of Apple's new notebooks: MacBooks, Pros and Airs--My take

Yesterday, Apple released updates to all three lines of its notebooks, extending its novel MacBook Air construction technology to the MacBook and MacBook Pro lines. The new "unibody" construction technology consists of carving the frame out of a solid 2.5lb piece of aluminum. The new 13" MacBook weighs in at 4.5lbs instead of 5.0lbs, the 15" MacBook Pro is 5.5lbs and the MacBook Air is still 3.0lbs. Curiously, no mention was made of the 17" MacBook Pro until the Q&A session and the answer was that an update to it is coming.

The biggest visual update was to the 13" MacBook line (image courtesy of Apple, Inc.). Two all-new aluminum MacBooks were introduced to replace the two higher-end plastic models. They have thinner tops enclosing an LED-backlit screen surrounded by black (like an iMac's display), a new Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics chip set that is much faster than the former Intel X3100 integrated graphics, a new glass multi-touch trackpad with integrated button and a backlit keyboard just like the MacBook Pro on the high-end model. Their prices are $1,299 and $1,599. Apple also kept the entry level white plastic MacBook but lowered its price by $100 to $999, not $800 as speculated. Gone is the black plastic MacBook. The new MacBooks also have a new mini DisplayPort in place of a mini DVI port to which a DVI, VGA or Dual-link DVI adapter can be attached, all at extra cost. A 128GB solid state hard drive is a $700 option on the lower model or a $600 option on the higher model.

The 15" MacBook Pro line at $1,999 and $2,499 gets the same beautiful but larger 15.4" LED-backlit display surrounded in black as the 13" MacBook and the same large glass multi-touch trackpad with built-in clicker. The MacBook Pros' graphics are improved from the Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT to the 9400M plus 9600M GT (yes both!) and they get the same mini DisplayPort that can use one of three extra cost adapters like the MacBook. The 128GB solid state hard drive is a $600 or $500 option on the new MacBook Pros and the drive bay is now easily accessible like on the MacBook. The MacBook Pros still have a fast FireWire 800 port but no eSata port. They also still have an ExpressCard/34 slot to distinguish them from the MacBooks.

The MacBook Air line at $1,799 and $2,499 gets some updates as well but not the new black glass surrounding the screen nor the new glass trackpad. The really new features of the MacBook Air are the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics, mini DisplayPort and a SATA (serial) interface for the hard drives in place of the slower PATA (parallel) interface. The 128GB solid state hard drive is a $500 option on the low-end MacBook Air.

In summary, the new aluminum MacBooks are the most revolutionary. With 2.0-2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs and the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics, the new aluminum MacBooks should now be excellent game machines for the Mac masses. If you don't need a FireWire port or ExpressCard slot, the MacBooks are a bargain and every bit as beautiful as the larger and heavier MacBook Pros. I have been working on the 13.1" screen of my original MacBook Air for going on 7 months now while on the road nearly half the time and no longer miss the 15.4" MacBook Pro screen that I gave up. The MacBooks are now a full pound to 2.1 pounds lighter respectively than the 15" and 17" MacBook Pros. If I were a MacBook user, I would definitely be looking to upgrade to one of these babies!

The MacBook Pros are evolutionary in that they are faster and, I think, much better looking with the black glass around the screen. I was already a convert to the glossy screen so the loss of the matte option isn't a big deal to me. Only the glass trackpad that also acts as a clicker is revolutionary. Okay, I guess the unibody construction is revolutionary as well but it has been on the MacBook Air for awhile. The new easy user access to the hard drive is very welcome. All of the changes are welcome but they wouldn't motivate me a lot to trade in a recent MacBook Pro. On the other hand, if I were still hanging onto a PowerBook G4 or original MacBook Pro, this new MacBook Pro would get me to trade up for sure.

The MacBook Air is going on 7 months of age. I really love mine. This refresh brings some speed increases, especially in graphics, but this performance increase is not really needed for what I do with my Air. For those who want to use it with a 30" Cinema Display or do some gaming with it, this update is for you--I have my Mac Pro for those and other tasks. The capacity of the hard drive goes up 50% to 120GB but I've still got 30GB unused on my 80GB Air and that is with a Boot Camp Windows XP partition. The capacity of the solid state hard drive doubles to 128GB and this is very welcome but the $500 extra outlay is still a bit steep for me. The new MacBook Air's battery does not appear to last any longer, something that would interest me. Still, these features make a very attractive MacBook Air even more attractive to those who want one so Apple's Air sales should remain strong. I think I will wait for black glass surrounding the screen, a glass trackpad with built-in clicker, a reasonable price on the solid state drive and better battery life along with any newer stuff in a future edition before I trade up. [Bill Fox]

[10/15][Updated] Apple's fabulous new 24" LED Cinema Display

Yesterday, Apple also introduced a fabulous new 24" LED Cinema Display with a bright LED-backlit screen surrounded by black glass, iSight camera, microphone and speakers. It looks like a chin-less 24" iMac and is the perfect external display for a new MacBook, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

The $899 24" LED Cinema Display has a three-headed cable that combines a MagSafe connector for charging your 'Book, a mini DisplayPort connector for the video signal and a USB 2.0 connector for the 3-port USB 2.0 hub. Its maximum resolution is 1920x1200 pixels, the same as Apple's $899 23" Cinema Display, but it looks thinner because the back is curved and the edges are thinner like an iMac.

If you have a new MacBook or Pro or Air, you are good to go with this new display because it has the new mini DisplayPort. Unfortunately, Apple does not list an adapter for earlier 'Books or Mac Pros. Perhaps, a third party will develop one in time if Apple will license the mini DisplayPort [Correction: The Mini DisplayPort, according to Apple, "...defines a new license-free, royalty-free, digital audio/video interconnect, intended to be used primarily between a computer and its display monitor, or a computer and a home-theater system". Thanks to James Reid for pointing this out--Bill.] I sure hope so because this display would be a great less expensive replacement if my 30" Cinema Display were ever to conk out. [Bill Fox]

[10/7] New Pro Drive, a Dual 2.5" Drive Enclosure from Trans International for the Mac Pro

The Pro Drive, a unique storage enhancement solution for the Mac Pro, is now available from Trans International. Pro Drive enclosures are designed to enhance the performance of Mac Pro internal drives.

The Pro Drive is a dual drive RAID enclosure that accommodates up to two 2.5" SATA hard drives. It fits into the Mac Pro's internal drive bays. The Pro Drive can be used as redundant drive to protect against drive failure (RAID 1 configuration) or striped to become one high performance drive (RAID 0 configuration). RAID 0 and RAID 1 configurations are controlled by a simple dip switch that is easily accessible on the back of the unit.

According to Trans International, Pro Drives offers phenomenal performance when four Pro Drives (eight physical notebook 7200RPM drives) are striped (RAID 0) together, achieving more than a 400MB/sec data transfer rate. Or they can be used as individual volumes with RAID 1 for worry free, automatic, instant data security.

Check out the Pro Drive enclosures with dual 2.5" drives up to 1TB or without drives on Trans International's web site. [Bill Fox]

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