Smarterbits

Duncan Davidson's Sweet Mac Setup

My desktop is an eight-core, early-2008 Mac Pro with 14GB of RAM, an upgraded ATI 4870 video card, an SSD boot drive in the bottom DVD drive bay, and 24TB of online storage across several arrays, both internal and external.

Actually had to stop reading there. My heart was already racing from envy, even if I’ll never need such power.

Coincidentally, best SMS images?

    Sandboxing Eroding Mac's Identity?

    Andy Ihnatko:

    The Mac must never, ever become a consumer product like the iPad, saddled with artificial limitations in the name of safety, reliability, and tidiness. If Apple refuses to give us the 21st-century equivalent of HyperCard, why can’t they at the very least treat AppleScript and Automator like the gems that they are?

    So disappointing. Never would have expected such poorly argued, misguided work from Ihnatko. Misses the point in almost every way.

      Shawn Blanc Reviews the MacBook Air

      A few years from now, I believe we’ll look back and say the 12-inch PowerBook was the best laptop we ever owned until our MacBook Airs. The MacBook Air is the new 12-inch PowerBook — the new blend of power and portability that also invokes a fondness that few Macs in the lineup can.

      Functionally, the 12-inch PowerBook is a distant cousin of the 13-inch MacBook Pro today rather than the MacBook Air; performance on par to the Pro MacBook line with little sacrifice. What the Air and PowerBook do share is the ability to make you fall in love with your computer as soon as you take it out of the box.

        Number Crunching 10 years of Geekbench Scores

        The new Sandy Bridge equipped Macs have all outperformed their previous generation counterparts in benchmarks by a significant margin. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some specific product lines to see how they’ve performed over the years. To that end, I put together some charts comparing Geekbench scores for the iMac, the MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air. For each successive model iteration, I used the highest available processor configuration1 to find the appropriate 32 bit Geekbench score. While useful for the purpose of this excercise, Geekbench scores presented here, like any specific benchmark, shouldn’t be considered an end-all, absolute reflection of real world performance.

        Click through the links to view the charts.

        Here’s the data for the iMac.

        The MacBook Pro and the PowerBook G4.

        And the MacBook Air.

        (Some of the data was missing from the MacBook Pro Chart. The average percentage increase for the January 2006 release was 188%. The average percentage increase for February 2011 iMac update was 74%.)

        So what can we glean from this data?

        • Not taking into account milestone processor upgrades(Highlighted in Blue), the average improvement for each iMac and MacBook Pro refreshes in the last 10 years are 14% and 12 %, respectively. 
        • Milestone improvements in processor lines take much longer on the MacBook Pro than the iMac. The notebook took 5 years to convert from PowerPC to Intel, and almost another 5 years to make the leap to a quad-core Sandy Bridge processor. Comparatively, the iMac made 4 generation leaps in the same time period, going through the G3, G4, G5, Core Duo and i7 lines. Perhaps more useful to us, it only took 3 years for the iMac to go from the Core 2 line to the i7.
        • Speaking of PowerPC, notice how the PowerBook lagged behind the iMac 300 points right before the introduction of Intel Processors. The difference would be greater if you compared it to its sibling pro level desktop. The Quad-Core 2.5 Ghz G5 PowerMac scored a 3318, nearly 300% higher. This goes to show how handicapped the PowerBook using PowerPC CPUs. This explains, even more than the inability to reach 3.0 Ghz, the need to switch to Intel. 
        • And what a difference the Intel Processors made. Performance per watts indeed.
        • I’d posit that scores within a processor family (PowerPC, Core 2, i7) tend to double every 3 years, give or take. The current crop of i5-i7 Macs analyzed, other than the Air, would find themselves in the middle of this 3 year cycle. The Air would be at the end of a cycle yet it has managed to nearly double its score in under one year. Might be useful to know if you’re considering an upgrade.

        Some of this may not be news to you. If you’ve followed Apple for any reasonable amount of time, you’ll already be familiar with a lot of the history these charts characterize. For those of you who, like me, are newer to the Mac platform, maybe visualizing 10 years of Mac Geekbench scores can put into perspective how far we’ve come. 

        As with the Mac Pro, comparing Geekbench scores for specific product lines can help choosing which machine will get us the most longevity for our money. While we all know a current iMac will offer more power than a current MacBook Pro, those who like to obsess over such things might semi-accurately compare the rate of performance improvements between the two. More information can never hurt.

        I included the MacBook Air scores to help underline how early we are into the future of the next generation of MacBooks. Using a relatively nascent line of Intel Ultra Low Voltage processors (ULV), the Air is truly a product still in its infancy. Imagine where we might find ourselves in 10 more years. 

        —————-

        1. High end models tend to introduce new processors whereas mid to low-end models are often just the previous generations CPUs at a lower price. The goal is to try to see the difference new processors, although I suspect the results would be similar if you compared lower speced’ models to each other.

          Managing Downloads

          Oldie, but a goodie from Shawn Blanc:

          As a side note, after eighteen months with Leopard’s default download folder, I’m now back to downloads being saved right on the desktop. The intention of the downloads folder was that all your downloads would be in one spot, and that they wouldn’t clutter your desktop. But I found using the download folder meant the files were always an additional click away, and then after being used never got dealt with.

          I’ve been using the downloads folder as my default for the longest time, if only because it’s the default for most applications. The extra click isn’t the issue, it’s the amount of clutter it gathers. Managing my downloads folder is always the furtherest thing from my mind, making it the one folder on my computer that has a relentless appetite and disregard for hard disk space.

          Put Blanc’s tip to the test. By simply clearing out your desktop at the end of the day (which I already do myself regularly), you’ll save yourself a boatload of work later on. Better yet, you might end up dealing with those downloads immediately.

            The 12-Inch PowerBook Review - Enough •

            Enough

            Before we begin…

            How far can minimal hardware get you? Patrick Rhone, on his Minimal Mac podcast, “Enough”, hosts a segment along with Myke Hurley inviting a guest to commiserate on what he would need to get through the day on the last generation (then current) 1.4 Ghz Core 2 Duo MacBook Air. It seems simple enough an excercise, but the fun starts once his guests start coming to grips with the limited storage and capabilities of the Air, finding exactly what is “Enough”, for him or her. One might might reduce this to a pedantic test of technological frugality, but if such a constrained and comparatively underpowered device can actually suit the needs of Rhone himself, what does that say about the computers we already own? What does it say about hardware performance and its relation to the user? 

            The ethos of “enough”, as I see it, isn’t about managing limitation. Rather, it concerns itself with the recognition and acceptance of neccesity.

            This is the mindset with which I’m approaching this review of the 12-inch PowerBook, a notebook released 7 years ago, an ancient relic by technology standards. Far from being but a mere collectible antique, this notebook has a single goal in mind; become my main, day to day portable computer.

            Let’s start with how, exactly, one ends up possesing a PowerPC notebook in 2011 to serve as his workhorse portable. Since the iPad 2 entered my life, I left my notebook behind to use a combination of the iPad and my iMac for my computing pleasures. For most daily activities, it’s an ideal situation. Any reading, browsing and simple text editing and email can easily be handled by the iPad. For the most part, I never missed my 13-inch MacBook Pro. Still the iPad presented limitations to my workflow that simply can’t be solved. For one, maintaining this site exclusively on an iPad, while possible, is exhausting. Strictly as a text input device, the iPad is more than capable; while never becoming perfectly acclimated to the software keyboard, it was still relatively simple to capture my thoughts on a day to day basis. The problems began when the need arose for manipulating and formatting text for publishing. This is where, in my mind, the iPad continues to fall short. As someone who doesn’t use Markdown or write posts in HTML, I’ve grown used to using the formatting tools of applications like Mars Edit to help publish content on SmarterBits. The iTunes App Store, despite being filled with various blogging applications, still lacks a robust and feature complete text publishing application. I begun using two, sometimes three individual publishing apps to complete my work, using one to add links, another for proofing and adding links. Robust multitasking is still something the iPad struggles with. For all the progress iOS has made in that regard, viewing, comparing and editing several pieces of text simultaneously on the iPad is a chore. Jumping in and out of applications to copy and paste text is doable but becomes rapidly tedious once you begin juggling more than an app or two. Navigating multiple Safari windows compounds this struggle. Lastly, the iPad’s ergonomics -shockingly- are not suited for long form writing on public transit or areas where a sturdy surface is lacking. There is just no way to comfortably and effectively type on your knees with the device while sitting in a cramped bus seat. As I spend a minimum of 3 hours commuting each day, this particular issue was increasingly becoming a deal breaker.

            Thus, another solution was needed. As perfect as the new MacBook Air would be for me, they are simply outside my budget at the moment. But life must go on and so my search turned to the used market. Here’s the criteria I set out with:

            • Match the footprint of an 11-inch air as closely as possible.
            • Be able to perform my specific writing workflow, including running essential applications for the task. 
            • Run a modern, standards compliant web browser. 
            • Durable, ready for road life. 

            Anything else beyond that is gravy. While good graphics and video performance would be nice, they are performance areas I was willing to compromise in order to fulfill my other criteria. After a bit of searching and spending the tidy sum of $200, here’s the 12-inch PowerBook I ended up with:

            • 1.33 Ghz, single core G4 PowerPC processor with 512 K L2 Cache
            • 12 inch, 1024x768 LCD display 
            • 512 MB DDR SDRAM 
            • 60 GB ATA Hard Disk 
            • NVIDIA GeForce FX Go 5200 with 64 MB DDR SDRAM
            • Combo Drive (R/W CD - R DVD) 
            • Airport Extreme Card 
            • No backlit keyboard 

            Add another $40 to max out the ram at 1.25 GB and here’s a machine that’s far from abeater Mac. While I may not be editing HD video on Final Cut Pro X with my PowerBook, I’m feeling confident it’ll be up to the task of managing and publishing SmarterBits on a daily basis. Before embarking on this review, let’s adjust our expectations. Here’s where I anticipate issues arising:

            • The latest version of Mac OS X supported on this machine is 10.5.8 Leopard. This will impact the available software I can use. No iCloud or Mac App Store either. Luckily, MobileMe will run through July of next year. 
            • 60GB Hard Disk. Like the Air, storage is at a premium. Not to mention that with an old ATA drive such as this one, and unlike an SSD, the more content I put into it, the more likely it is performance will be affected. 
            • 64 MB Video Card. Can’t wait to see how YouTube performs with this. 
            • No DVD burning. Though, I highly doubt I’ll need it. 
            • Limited Expansion. Only accepts older ATA drives, so the storage options aren’t fantastic. Ditto for RAM, which is already maxed out at 1.25 GB. (OWC doesprovide ATA SSDs if you’re so inclined.) 
            • Non-Scrolling/Non Multitouch trackpad. This is probably the thing that will annoy me most about this machine. Beyond not having multi-touch, the 3rd generation PowerBook trackpad doesn’t accept scrolling gestures or two finger right clicks. (It was introduced in the following,1.5 Ghz, model) This is mostly a problem of habit. I haven’t used arrows or the mouse to scroll through pages in ages and I’ve never owned a Mac that didn’t have native trackpad/mouse secondary clicking. We’ll see how much this tests my patience. 
            • Old battery. Any used notebook will typically arrive with a used and well-cycled battery. This one is no different. Apple rates a new battery for this model as having a 5 hour life. The seller told me to expect 2-3 hours depending on usage. If I can get the latter, it’ll still be better than many PC notebooks today. 
            • Old wireless networking. The airport card on this machine supports 802.11b/g only. Since I don’t plan on watching much video on this, I don’t think it’ll be a big issue. More interesting will be how Safari performs with a slower connection. 

            I’m optimistic about this machine, but it’s also important to ground ourselves in reality. This PowerBook scores a feeble 654 on Geekbench, nearly 10 times slower than the new baseline MacBook Air. Technological challenges will surface and it remains to be seen how well this machine can conquer them, if at all.

            If you’re immediately skeptical, know this: I’m writing this article, from beginning to end, on my PowerBook. I’ve already used it on the bus, metro and at work, all on a single charge. Nothing has crashed, beachballed or kernel panicked. After one day of use, I might even be tempted to say it’s been enjoyable. Again, part of owning this machine is about finding out what I truly need from a computer. Best of all, I get to live it out to see if reality stacks up to what I think is enough in my mind.

            There’s lots of things to cover, so stay tuned as we dig into this machine.

              Beater Macs

              Adam Williams:

              Let’s face it, Macs are expensive. They are more than worth it of course, but there’s no getting around the fact that any recently released Mac, regardless of model, costs a significant amount of money and is a gleaming thief-magnet, liable to being dropped or lost.

              I agree completely and I love how he outlines getting a “beater” Mac for under $300 to use as a secondary machine you can feel comfortable abusing. I’ve been doing the same thing for as long as I’ve had a Mac. Collecting and repurposing old hardware can also be quite an enjoyable hobby in itself. I just have one problem with his article.

              I think Williams severly underestimates what you can get for $300.

              Nowadays, at that pricepoint, you should be able to do better than a G4 iBook. 1 Last year, for a $100 more, I was able to pick up a used 2.0 Ghz C2D Macbook Pro(Pre Unibody) in excellent condition, with no repairs required.  That’s no longer merely “beater” territory.

              In fact, I’m writing this post on a 2006 2.16 Ghz C2D iMac that I picked up for $150. The harddrive had failed so I was able to get a good deal for it. I’m booting Lion from an external FireWire 400 drive and I spent $70 maxing out the RAM to 3GB. 2 I’ve spent less than $300 for my main, day to day machine.

              So I’d like to offer up some complementary points to Williams’ article to help in your search for a “beater” Mac:

              • I’d recommend using eBay last if you’re looking for the best deal. Check Craiglist or any other classified sites you have in your area first. eBay has it’s own economy and market where used Macs tend to retain their resale value much more. You’ll have to spend an enormous amount of time watching and bidding agressively on multiple items on eBay to get the same deal you’d negotiate with a single seller in a few hours on Craigslist. You’ll also save on the shipping and worries if you can pick up locally. Tip: people tend to overprice on Craigslist in response to most buyers aggresively lowballing, so don’t be afraid to negotiate.
              • If you’re comfortable doing repairs yourself, or have someone who is willing to do it pro bono, look for notebooks and desktops that have broken/missing disks and Ram. It’s easier to negotiate a lower price with these and those parts are generally cheap and easy to replace. I’d avoid broken/missing batteries, logic boards and screens. Those parts, even for older PowerPC Macs, are still expensive and difficult to replace.
              • If you’re willing to spend a bit more, $400 - $500 should get you something with an Intel processor and decent specs. You’ll get a more powerful desktop in this price range than a comparable notebook, as is the norm. Here’s an Aluminium iMac listed at $550 and a Macbook Pro for the same price in my area. Sticking with our $300 budget, here’s a dual G5 PowerMac and at $400, a 15’ PowerBook G4. You can probably negotiate on the prices of all of these. Point is, there are better deals to be had than just an iBook.
              • A 1Ghz PowerPC processor is the bare minimum that will run Leopard, and as such, it will run minimally. Stick to Tiger.

              The more important thing to retain from Williams’ article is just how much life can be squeezed out of Apple Hardware and Software, something most of you already know:

              I know that to some extent I’m going to be preaching to the choir here and many within Mac.Appstorm’s knowledgeable readership will be well aware of the usefulness of older Mac models. For those who are new to OS X however, the above will hopefully offer an idea of just what you can get out of these old machines, for a fraction of the price that a new Mac commands.

              Old Macs aren’t merely useful as secondary machines, they can also in some cases make perfectly good main machines. Whenever people tell me that despite wanting one, Macs are just too expensive, I almost always suggest trying a used one, even if just to get a feel for the system if they are switching from a PC. If you have an old Mac lying around you don’t use, gifting it to someone you know who’s desperately in need of an upgrade can be a wonderful thing.

              In many situations, even an old Mac can be a huge upgrade from a modern PC.

              Link via Minimal Mac

              ————————-

              1. He did spend only $150 on his, but I’m assuming the addition of a new harddrive and his time spent came up to around the same thing.

              2. DDR2 RAM chips are strangely still quite pricey.

              3. At the moment I’m writing this, I’m using simultaneously Mars Edit, Twitter for Mac, Safari (6 tabs), iTunes, Mail and encoding videos with Handbrake. My 5 year old iMac isn’t screaming, but there’s no noticable slowdown either, everything is smooth.

                7 Months Flashless

                It has been 7 months since I’ve followed John Gruber’s advice and abandoned Adobe Flash. Put simply, the experience has positively affected almost every facet of using my computer. It’s faster, cooler, runs longer and most importantly, it’s infinitely less prone to infuriating me.

                Removing Flash from your computer feels like switching from using a capable metal tool to one made of carbon fiber; Just as dependable, but requires so much less effort to operate. On a laptop, you immediately start to notice the difference in battery life when surfing the web. You come to appreciate the newfound silence of your computer as fans don’t maniacally whirr so often anymore. The difference is most noticeable when switching back to a computer that does have Flash installed. Almost as soon as you playback any video, you immediately sense the burden you’ve placed on its shoulders. If anything, going Flashless gives one the sense they’ve granted their computer a new lease on life. I had to give up my original MacBook Air two years ago because video would cripple it and wreak havoc on its battery. I’m convinced this wouldn’t have been the case had it not been for Flash. Had I known then what I know now, I could very well be writing this article on that MacBook Air.

                I’m choosing to use the word positive because in all honesty, Gruber’s system was never meant to be anything more than a workaround, a specific customization with its own benefits and challenges. Calling the experience successful or groundbreaking, even if it feels that way, would be a misnomer. Even if every Daring Fireball reader rid themselves of the burden, a large number by most any measure, the overall effect on the PC market would still be negligible. Going Flashless, you also start to realize how nascent HTML 5 is and just how ubiquitous Flash still is on the web. At best, living without Flash is akin to belonging to a small, young and ambitious movement. The potential is there, but there’s lots of work ahead of us.

                Apple is certainly determined to push things along. In the case of iOS devices, the denial of Flash is indeed groundbreaking; It’s changing the game. In the case of the Mac, the gesture seems more symbolic than anything. Despite no longer shipping with Flash built-in, I’m skeptical about how long new Macs can stay in this virgin state. Many of the web’s most popular sites still require flash and I suspect most causal users have no compunction about installing the software the first time they are prompted to. 

                Consider the following scenario:

                Shawn purchases a new MacBook. He races home to set it up. Immediately, he launches Safari and logs into Facebook to share the news of his new purchase. At the same time, he notices a bunch of his friends have been commenting on a video link someone posted. Wanting to be part of the conversation, Shawn decides to check out the link. This is when he first encounters it: Flash 10 is required to watch the video.

                I’d wager this occurs frequently, if not regularly.

                Your mileage may vary but sooner or later, you’ll stumble onto a site that makes regular use of Flash content. An unexpected side effect from my experience with this is the increased frequency with which I find myself using Google Chrome. Turns out my browsing habits require it to be more than just a stopgap. While on some weeks I may encounter so little Flash content that I consider uninstalling Chrome all together, on others it acts as my default browser, all depending on the news I’m following at the time. I don’t personally mind, Chrome is an excellent browser. I’m more partial to the look and feel of Safari but Google’s offering feels more powerful, much faster in use by comparison. Don’t be mistaken, having to resort to Chrome frequently shouldn’t be taken as a sign that proves how much you do need Flash. Rather, consider it as a barometer to judge how much Flash content you consume and the rate at which web developers are converting Flash content to HTML 5.

                With regards to content, it would seem that most web designers aren’t in a hurry to make the switch, at least on desktop browsers. They have, however, been busy adapting their content to function on the ever growing population of iOS devices. For example, both YouTube and the New York Times have no trouble displaying content on the iPad. Advertisers on the Times have even moved to HTML 5 on the device. Yet, in Safari, many YouTube videos simply aren’t converted to play in HTML 5 and the overall experience is lacking; Videos seem to generally load and stream less effectively than their Flash powered counterparts and the HTML 5 player isn’t so visually striking, even from a minimalist perspective. Some content on the Times website will still require you to download Adobe’s software if you visit the site from your newly purchased Mac. Gruber has suggested masquerades and extensions to jump over those hurdles, but it’s strange that they are required at all. Why the discrepancy? In most cases, it does makes sense for web designers to create different sites depending on the devices they are being accessed from. Adapting content and layout to conform to the specific strength and weaknesses of different devices is essential. What’s more apt to cause head scratching are those sites which display the same content in the same structure on both the Mac and iOS yet default to showing Flash content on one and HTML 5 on the other. What’s the reasoning behind that? On this point, differentiating between the mobile web and the desktop web seems redundant, wasteful and unnecessary.

                Yet despite all my qualms and worries, I plan to continue living Flashless and I’ll continue to make the recommendation to anyone whom I think may benefit from this lifestyle. If you’re using older hardware, especially laptops, the difference it makes will be impressive. Even just switching to using Chrome exclusively will be a net positive. The built in Flash player is that much less demanding. A lot of web content hasn’t shown up to the party yet, but strides are being made, especially because of the impact of the iPhone and iPad. It’s faint, but the writing is on the wall for Adobe Flash.

                I promise, 7 months is more than you’ll ever need to be convinced of that.

                  A Random Collection of OSX Tips & Tricks

                  These types of articles are a dime a dozen, but Robert Lo Bue shares a few tips I hadn’t even heard of before, so it’s worth a look.

                  No. 6 is just gold.  Wish I’d known about that a long time ago.

                    On Notice.

                    Dear,

                    • popular iOS app developer and twitter clients.
                    • Google
                    • Blackberry
                    • Facebook
                    • Dropbox
                    • Amazon
                    • Media conglomerates

                    We just announced our new OS for all our iOS devices. We think there’s something for everyone in iOS 5. Hope you like it.

                    Cordially,

                    Apple

                    P.S. : Godspeed.