Thursday, December 24, 2009

I have no 27" iMac i7 screen issues

Gen asked what 27" iMac screen issues I've had, and I'm happy to say I have never had any.

However, for those of you who have experienced 27" iMac video flickering, Apple has released the 27-inch iMac Graphics Firmware Update 1.0:

About 27-inch iMac Graphics Firmware Update 1.0

Updates the graphics firmware on ATI Radeon HD 4670 and 4850 graphics cards to address issues that may cause image corruption or display flickering.

The iMac Graphics Firmware Update will update the graphics firmware on your iMac.

Do not disturb or shut off the power on your iMac during this update. Loss of power could result in your iMac failing to start up.

For detailed information on this update, please visit this website:

Monday, November 30, 2009

DDR3 1333 MHz works in new quad iMacs

Although Apple has included DDR3 1067 MHz memory with the new iMacs, but the built-in DDR3 memory controller officially supports 1333 MHz memory. Someone has now tried 1333 in his new Core i7 iMac and yes 1333 MHz memory works, with some caveats. The biggest issue is that the memory must have a cache latency of 7 - CL7 (like the 1067 MHz memory Apple provides) to work properly. However, a lot of 1333 MHz memory out there is the slower CL9 speed. CL9 modules can cause the iMacs to become unstable. Furthermore, it seems the speed boost from 1333 MHz RAM is at best small, even in synthetic memory benchmarks. Presumably, the lack of a third memory channel (as in the Mac Pros) limits overall memory performance.

So, save your money and get 1067 MHz RAM, to go along with the 1067 MHz RAM Apple provides. 4 GB may be fine for basic usage, but 8 GB is the sweet spot for most more advanced users from a price perspective, as the additional 4 GB is only US$85 for name brand RAM at some large retailers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kramer VS-30FW FireWire 800 Hub | Seagate FreeAgent Desk for Mac | SanDisk Extreme FireWire CompactFlash Reader | Transcend 600X CompactFlash

Because current iMacs only come with a single FireWire 800 port, a hub is often necessary if you have more than one FireWire device. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, FW800 hubs are hard to come by. Luckily I was able to find the Kramer VS-30FW 3-port FireWire 800 hub for under US$80 at a reputable dealer, so I immediately bought one. I had been told that this hub is popular in professional audio/video environments. In fact, the VS-30FW can be rackmounted in batches of three according to the Kramer website, using their rack adapter.

The hub is a small metal device and seems solidly built. One thing I liked about the power adapter is that it has a screw collar on the plug, so that the plug cannot be pulled out by accident. That's a nice touch, that I've only seen before on higher end equipment. It only has three ports, which means it basically functions as an active 1 --> 2 splitter. One port is used for the input, and two ports are outputs.

I now have it hooked up to my quad-core iMac, splitting my single FW800 port to one FW800 chain and one FW400 chain. This is done with a Seagate FreeAgent Desk for Mac external FW800 drive, and a Belkin FireWire 400 hub hooked up to a Seagate FreeAgent Pro 750 GB external FW400 drive. Both drives were reasonably quiet. Sitting behind the computer, I could barely hear them, as they have no fans. I did notice a slight hum from vibrations transmitted through the table, but this was gone if I put the drives on top of a cloth.

The FreeAgent Desk for Mac is a multi interface drive, and I was thus able to test FW800, FW400 (through the Belkin hub), and USB 2.

The test consisted of a 3734.5 MB file transferred from the external drive to the iMac's internal 2 TB Hitachi HDS722020ALA330 SATA drive.

USB 2.0: 104.3 s or 35.8 MB/s (34.1 MiB/s), 286 Mbps
FW400: 93.5 s or 39.9 MB/s (38.1 MiB/s), 320 Mbps
FW800: 43.4 s or 86.0 MB/s (82.1 MiB/s), 688 Mbps

FW800 likely gets reasonably close to the drive's max transfer rates, while FW400 is less than half as fast, and USB 2 is slower still.

FW800 also can mean significantly greater speeds for CompactFlash downloads too. Using a SanDisk Extreme FireWire CompactFlash Reader (daisychained through the Seagate FW800 drive) with a 16 GB Transcend 600X UDMA CompactFlash card containing 15726.71 MB worth of Canon EOS 7D files, the speed difference was very obvious.

FW400: 405.2 s or 38.8 MB/s (37.0 MiB/s), 310 Mbps
FW800: 226.4 s or 69.5 MB/s (66.2 MiB/s), 556 Mbps

It would be nice Apple offered eSATA support for hard drives, but having FW800 is almost as good for non-RAIDed hard drives, and FW800 is very flexible for other usage as well like audio/video devices and CompactFlash readers too. One nice thing about FireWire is having that other FW400 drive hooked up didn't slow down the FW800 transfer speeds. FW800 hardware can run at full speed in mixed FW400/FW800 setups. (See below for one exception.)

However, there were two problems I noticed during testing with the Seagate FreeAgent Desk for Mac drive.

1) If I turned on the option in the OS X System Preferences to allow the computer to put hard drives to sleep, sometimes the computer would hang if the Seagate drive were plugged in. Unchecking that option solved that problem.

2) Once after some testing, the transfer rate over FW800 from the Seagate drive dropped to just under 20 MB/s. Going back to FW400 gave me almost 40 MB/s. I couldn't figure out why, so I rebooted, and was able to get my 80+ MB/s speeds back. I don't know why this happened, but it has not happened again since.

Now I just await Apple's fix to the disappearing external FireWire drives caused by 10.6 Snow Leopard. My older external region free bit-set SuperDrive is not detected in Snow Leopard, but works fine in 10.5.8. I can get around this problem by taking the IOFirewireSerialBusProtocolTransport.kext from 10.5.8 and installing it in 10.6, but obviously, this is a hack. Apple is aware of this problem (Bug ID# 7201113) and is working on it.

I also wonder how long it will take Apple to implement USB 3.0, given that USB 3.0 peripherals are now out. My guess is 2011 - 2012, which may be about the time I'll want to replace my Core i7 iMac anyway.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

iMac Core i7 power utilization

Using my trusty Kill-A-Watt power meter, these are the measurements I got for the iMac:

Off - 2 Watts
Sleep - 2-4 Watts
Idle, screen off - 55 Watts
Idle, min brightness - 71 Watts
Idle, mid brightness - 96 Watts
Idle, max brightness - 157 Watts

With screen set to mid brightness:

Booting up - Up to 184 Watts
Transfer file to iMac over Ethernet - 125 Watts
Cinebench OpenGL - Up to 142 Watts
Cinebench multi-CPU - Up to 196 Watts

With screen set to max brightness, the Cinebench multi-CPU benchmark can bring the iMac's total power utilization to 257 Watts.

This means the screen power can vary by almost 90 Watts between the lowest and highest brightness settings, and for the CPU, going from idle to near full usage, total power utilization will increase by 100 Watts. TDP of the Lynnfield Core i7-860 CPU is only 95 Watts (not 100) at max usage, but that doesn't include the increased power needs of other parts of the computer such as memory, etc. when the computer is run at full tilt. The power utilization would likely increase even more with heavier usage of the hard drive and GPU.

Given these numbers, we shouldn't feel the need to completely power off our Core i5/i7 iMacs to save energy. Sleep is good enough, as the difference in power usage between sleep and off is negligible. However, if you leave your computer on 24/7 without sleep, the machine will still use about 55 Watts (when the screen is off). At say 14 hours a day in this mode, that's 0.77 kilowatt-hours. At 11¢ per kilowatt-hour for example, that works out to about 8.5¢ per day, or $30 per year.

Handbrake 0.9.4 64-bit - 15% faster.

Handbrake 0.9.4 is out, and it finally comes in a 64-bit flavour. The Handbrake site states it's about 10% faster than the 32-bit version, but with my Spirited Away clip from my Core i7 iMac review, I'm getting a 15% boost in speed compared to 0.9.4 32-bit. These were my speeds with Handbrake 0.9.3.

The default setting on 0.9.4 is no longer the same, and neither are the settings in the Advanced section. This may be important since if you just change the main settings, 32-bit 0.9.4 seems much faster than 32-bit 0.9.3. However, if you take the default Advanced settings from 0.9.4 and use them with 0.9.3 as well, the speeds get much closer. I changed the main 0.9.4 settings to replicate the old 0.9.3 default - 1500 Kbps Average, 2-pass with Turbo first pass - and then re-benchmarked, but using the settings in the Advanced section from 0.9.4 for all tests.


This sped up encoding in 0.9.3 slightly, but the biggest gain was from using the 64-bit of Handbrake 0.9.4.

Handbrake 0.9.3 32-bit: 120.4 s (vs. 126.7 s with the 0.9.3 default)
Handbrake 0.9.4 32-bit: 121.6 s (1% slower)
Handbrake 0.9.4 64-bit: 105.5 s (14% faster)

64-bit Handbrake 0.9.4 is 15% faster than 32-bit Handbrake 0.9.4, and 14% faster than Handbrake 0.9.3. To put it in simpler terms, using these settings on similar animated material, it would only take 16 minutes to encode an entire 90 minute movie on my 2.8 GHz Core i7 iMac. Nice.

Well, sorta. If you adjust Handbrake 0.9.4's Advanced settings to the same flags that are default with 0.9.3 (ref=2:bframes=2:me=umh), then 0.9.4 slows right down. 32-bit 0.9.4 takes 196 seconds (or well over 3 minutes) to encode the same clip. Obviously the behaviour of the two versions with certain flags is quite different.

I should point out that Handbrake doesn't fully utilize all 8 virtual cores. However, it sometimes does come close.

Not bad for the first release of the 64-bit version of Handbrake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Core i7 iMac - Benchmarks and first thoughts

I finally received my 27" Core i7 iMac last week, right before a killer busy weekend, so I haven't had as much time with it as I would have hoped. Nevertheless I've been able to run some comparative benchmarks and get some initial impressions of it.

Ergonomics 1: The height of the 27" iMac is the same as the old 24" iMac, and like the 24" iMac, the height is not adjustable. Unfortunately, this means that the ergonomics is still potentially problematic for some people. The height forces me to look upwards to see the top of the screen, as I am not tall. To put that in perspective, I have an external 24" screen that is height adjustable. Even if I raise that screen to its maximum height, which is too high for me, it's still shorter than the 27" and 24" iMacs. Raising the chair doesn't help, because it means taking my feet off the floor. Lowering the table can help in certain situations, that is if the table supports lowering. Either way, those represent ergonomic compromise. Fortunately for me, I don't need to sit at that computer 8 hours a day. If you're a person who is under 6 feet tall and need to use this computer all day long, you might want to consider a different setup. One such setup could be a 21.5" iMac and a second screen. The main problem with this is the lack of a Core i5/i7 option with the 21.5" models, and the lower end GPU. The other option is just to get a VESA adapter and mount to lower the 27" screen, but that is a fairly large chunk of change to spend just to get the screen a couple of inches lower.

Ergonomics 2: The pixel size really is quite small for a desktop computer. This wouldn't be so bad if Snow Leopard were resolution independent, but it isn't. When surfing with Safari, I found that initially my tendency was to lean forward to read the small text. Since then I have taken to increasing the zoomed size whenever I start Safari. The good news is that this zoom setting is retained for all sites. The bad news is that the zoom adjustment is very coarse grained, zoom slightly blurs images, and the zoom setting is reset when Safari quits or opens a new browser window. Firefox does remember zoom settings after a quit, and has more fine grained zoom control, but unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective), the zoom setting varies from website to website. Each site has to be set independently. Again, here the 21.5" iMac has the advantage. The pixels are still more densely packed than the 24", but it's less severe than the 27". At least in the store, surfing Safari on the 21.5" at the native zoom setting was noticeably more comfortable than on the 27". When Apple adds a half decent GPU and quad-core to the 21.5", I might consider one to replace my 27".

Ergonomics 3: The Magic Mouse is an interesting design. Initially I did not like it that much but it is growing on me. The scroll function works very well, and is much nicer than the scroll ball on the Mighty Mouse. The scrolling feel is very much like the popular iPhone and iPod touch. Right clicking also works well. On the negative side, the mouse feels a bit narrow even for my relatively small hands, and the low profile and sharp edges can be uncomfortable. The lack of Exposé control is also a disappointment. Overall though, it seems to be a significant improvement over the Mighty Mouse. Let's just hope that its being Bluetooth doesn't end up be a problem like it was with my 24" iMac.

For the keyboard, I recommend getting the wired keyboard with numeric keypad, for the same price. It can be very annoying doing real work without a proper numeric keypad. The aluminum laptop-like keyboard isn't bad in terms of feel, but some of us still long for the old style IBM keyboards.

Screen quality: I have not yet formally calibrated the screen yet but I have been impressed with the quality of this IPS screen out of the box. It is certainly nicer than the Dell 2407WFP beside it, which after some attempted calibration still doesn't look as nice. The glossy screen is potentially a problem for some people, but luckily I prefer to work with my ambient room lights dimmed, so I don't notice many reflections.

The LED backlight is much more even than my previous non-LED 24", which suffered from mild corner dimness.

I have not encountered the much reported screen flicker issue. Some have attributed this to graphics drivers, but I have not seen it.

Speed: The machine feels noticeably faster than my previous Core 2 Duo model. Part of this may be due to the hard drive speed, but much of it seems to be the available memory and multiple fast cores. With (inexpensive) 8 GB RAM, the iMac almost never needs to page to disk with my usage, even if I have a virtual Windows XP machine and several OS X applications running in the background. Furthermore, with the 4 fast CPU cores, even just basic OS navigation is noticeably more responsive, as are most apps. Whereas the Core 2 Duo iMac was fast, the Core i7 is near instantaneous for many actions.

Compute intensive applications are hugely improved now. The extra efficiency per core and extra cores are very welcome with video encoding for example. My Core i7 is more than three times as fast as my older Core 2 Duo 2.33 GHz, for Handbrake H.264 encodes.

In this test I transcoded Chapter 7 of Spirited Away to H.264, from the computer's hard drive, and measured the total time to completion. At first I thought there might be something wrong with Handbrake 0.9.3 on Core i7, as I was getting speeds slower than my Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. Then I realized it was because I had mistakenly installed the PowerPC version of Handbrake on my iMac. Yet even running under Rosetta, the speed of Handbrake was not terrible. The Intel version was however nearly 5X as fast, with the iMac 3.5X as fast as my MacBook Pro. It took just 2 minutes and 7 seconds to encode that 10 minute chapter using the default 2-pass x264 encoding settings. In other words, the iMac Core i7 can encode at nearly real-time speed under Rosetta, and nearly 5X real-time using native (32-bit) code.

The 3D types are going to be happy with Core i7 as well. Cinebench screams on this iMac.

The Core i7 iMac is 3.2X as fast as my MacBook Pro in Cinebench, and a mind-blowing 25X as fast as my iBook G4. Isn't 800% processor utilization on 8 (virtual) cores just sheer geek beauty?

Click picture to enlarge.

With all this speed, the current Mac Pro seems even more a ripoff than it did before. Core i7 Lynnfield in the iMac can usually keep up with the Bloomfield quad Mac Pro, for much, much less money. Unless there is an absolute need for full internal expandability right at this moment, then potential Mac Pro customers should wait until 2010 Q1, when 6-core and 12-core Gulftown based Mac Pros should make an appearance. Only at that time will the Mac Pro truly be worth a premium over the Core i7 iMac.

All in all, Apple has a big winner on its hands with the new Core i5 and Core i7 iMacs. However, a note to Apple: We've achieved enough already with iMac thinness. The next thing to conquer is iMac ergonomics, with either some height adjustability, or just lowering of the iMac's height in a fixed design, by decreasing the iMac's chin size. Oh and please add an eSATA port or two, too.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Core i7 quad iMacs now shipping

The quad iMacs started shipping a couple of days ago, but they were all Core i5 models. The Core i7 iMacs started shipping today, direct from Shanghai.

I ordered later in the day on Oct. 20 and my Core i7 has not shipped yet, but my order status has now changed to "Prepared for Shipment".

[Updated 2009-11-12]

Just after midnight, I got the shipment notification email from Apple. That would be early Thursday afternoon in China.

Monday, November 02, 2009

New iMac screens - Pixel density considerations

The new value machines amongst the new iMacs are the Core 2 Duo 21.5" models unless you want a fast GPU. They are quite a bit smaller than the 27-inchers, but they can be more ergonomic, they are still full 1080p HD resolution, and just as importantly they have a much larger pixel size than the 27" models. The larger pixel size can be a significant advantage for a desktop, especially for an OS like Snow Leopard which is not resolution independent. In order of increasing pixel density (or smaller pixel size):

15" G4 iMac: 1024 / 12" = 85 ppi
24" iMac: 1920 / 20.4" = 94 ppi
20" iMac: 1680 / 17.1" = 98 ppi
17" iMac: 1440 / 14.4" = 100 ppi
21.5": 1920 / 18.7" = 102 ppi
27": 2560 / 23.5" = 109 ppi
13" MacBook Pro: 1280 / 11.3" = 113 ppi
12" G4 iBook: 1024 / 9" = 114 ppi

As I no longer have the eyes of a teenager, my favourite desktop pixel density for web surfing in Safari is somewhere around 90-100 pixels per inch (ppi). That includes the 20" and 24" iMacs, with the 21.5" coming in very close at 102 ppi. I had a chance to check out the 21.5" and 27" iMacs in person and I found the 21.5" more pleasant for general surfing than the 27" at normal desktop seating distances, at least with Safari. While it's true the 27" is still a lower pixel density than the laptops, people generally sit closer to laptop screens so the higher pixel density is less problematic for laptops than desktops. Luckily, while this is a problem for Safari, it's not as much of a problem with Mozilla Firefox, since Firefox is more easily adjustable. The 27" iMac might just be enough to push to me to Firefox as my primary web browser on the Mac.

We can only hope that the new 27" screen is a hint to full resolution independence to come in OS X 10.7.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Best 27" bang for the buck is the Quad

Despite some expectations, the dual-core iMacs may not actually be the best value in the 27" iMac line.

The price advantage of the Core 2 Duo 27" iMacs is in large part due to the much lower end AMD Radeon 4670 GPU option in those machines. However, the Radeon 4850 is roughly twice as fast, helpful with applications like gaming, Aperture, and Final Cut Studio, as well as OS X features like OpenCL°. If you want to take advantage of that GPU power boost from the Radeon 4850, then the price comparison becomes very interesting.

3.06 GHz Core 2 Duo - US$1849 / CAD$1964
3.33 GHz Core 2 Duo - US$2049 / CAD$2184
2.66 GHz Core i5 Quad - US$1999 / CAD$2099
2.80 GHz Core i7 Quad - US$2199 / CAD$2319

Out of that group, the Core i5 quad-core machine is the best deal. In fact, it's even cheaper than the 3.33 GHz dual-core model (which I suppose might make sense, since the 3.33 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU is actually significantly more expensive than the 2.66 GHz Core i5 CPU). While 2.66 GHz doesn't seem that fast, Hz for Hz, Core i5 is faster, and there are four cores too. Furthermore, in dual-core mode, Core i5 can ramp up to as high as 3.2 GHz using Turbo Boost.

But bang for the buck be damned. I've ordered the Core i7 quad-core iMac. It will be nice having eight logical cores (!) in my iMac, even if only for bragging rights.

°Both the Radeon 4670 and 4850 support OpenCL, but the 4850 will be faster. Apple Canada and Apple UK (among other international Apple pages) erroneously do not list the Radeon 4670 as supporting OpenCL.

However, Apple USA has recently updated its OS X tech specs page to include the 4670.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow Leopard Up-To-Date upgrade disk is full version

After waiting several weeks after Snow Leopard was released, I finally received my Snow Leopard Up-To-Date upgrade disk for my 13" MacBook Pro. I had already installed Snow Leopard on that machine so... shhh... I tried it on my 10.5.8 iMac instead. The install app wanted to upgrade 10.5.8 to 10.6, and provided no option to reformat and install. However, I was able to do that by rebooting off the install disk.

I then retried the Up-To-Date disk on the 10.6 iMac. The install app refused to work on 10.6. However, again, I was able to reformat and reinstall by rebooting off the install disk.

The Up-To-Date disk not only works to update 10.5 to 10.6, but also can do a clean install of 10.6 on any supported Mac.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New 27" Quad Core i7 iMac ordered!

I predicted Apple could use Intel's L3426 Xeon chip for a new iMac, due to its very good power characteristics, perfect for a thin iMac. Alternatively, I thought they might use the mobile version of Core i7 instead. I was wrong on both counts, and I am very happy about it. Apple has somehow managed to wedge a Nehalem Core i7-860 desktop processor into the new iMac. This 2.80 GHz chip has a TDP of 95 Watts, which is over twice as hot as the previous 45 Watt TDP mobile chips Apple used, but Apple says the new design is still quiet. And it's stinkin' fast. Apple claims a SPECint_rate_base2006 score of 100, which is roughly twice as fast as a quad-core 2.0 GHz Xeon 5130.

Furthermore, when the multiple cores aren't being used efficiently, this chip can boost its clock speed all the way up to 3.46 GHz to compensate.

I presume OS X will be making heavy use of Intel's Enhanced Speedstep Technology to keep power usage down, and to keep the iMac quiet. While it's possible the new iMac will be significantly louder at full tilt, I think most people will be fine with that compromise, as long as the machine remains quiet with surfing, basic business applications, and email.

Another interesting feature is the size and shape. The previous 24" iMac had a height of 20.5". The height is actually slightly smaller on the new iMac, at 20.4", which means the overall height isn't any taller than the previous 24" iMac. While this is still tall, the centre of the screen has now been shifted downwards, as the size of the "chin" at the bottom of the iMac has been decreased. I was thinking that with a larger screen I might have to resort to a VESA mount to bring the screen lower for better ergonomics, but with this change it may not be absolutely necessary. The widescreen format doesn't hurt either, as more pixels are distributed sideways, at the expense of vertical resolution. If I do decide to lower it more, there still the option of the VESA mount available with the 27". It's not available with the 21.5" iMac, but it's much less needed for that unit.

The most welcome upgrade to most people however is the addition of two more memory slots in the new iMac. FINALLY, Apple has included 4 memory slots in the iMac. 8 GB of RAM is now relatively inexpensive using 2 GB RAM modules, and the hardcore geeks can upgrade the thing all the way up to 16 GB. The iMac still uses SO-DIMMs which are usually reserved for laptops, but that's fine by me.

Apple almost hit one out of the park with this upgrade. I immediately put my order in:

27" Quad-core iMac
2.8 GHz Core i7, with Turbo Boost up to 3.46 GHz.
4 GB DDR3 RAM (to be upgraded to 8 GB)
ATI Radeon HD 4850 GPU with 512 MB RAM
2 TB hard drive

I had decided to forego Apple Bluetooth devices, since my experience with them has not been pleasant. I said it'd take "some serious marketing" for me to get even the multi-touch mouse. I did forego the Bluetooth keyboard, and ordered the wired keyboard with numeric keypad, but caved on the Magic Mouse. It's new and seems interesting, but most importantly it comes free with the iMac. Since I already have RF mice and wired mice I can use if I don't like it, I figured it can't hurt to give it a shot, but the option of a wired Magic Mouse would have been nice.

There is one big downer about the new iMac though. While it has a Firewire 800 port, it only has one of them. This represents a loss of the Firewire 400 port from my three year-old iMac Core 2 Duo, although it is not unexpected since recent iMacs only had the Firewire 800 port too. This wouldn't be a big issue if Firewire 800 hubs were common, but they aren't. I currently use a Firewire 800 Compact Flash reader. With about 15 GB of files on a card, my USB 2 reader takes forever, and OS X tells me it would take about 10 minutes with Firewire 400. With Firewire 800 it's only about two-thirds that time, shaving off several minutes. Either I downgrade the port with a Firewire 400 hub to Firewire 400 only and deal with the slower speeds, or else I scrap my Firewire 400 drives for USB 2, and use the lone Firewire 800 port with my Compact Flash reader at full speed. Neither is an ideal solution.

[Updated 2009-10-23]

Although I could not find a FW800 hub locally, I was able to find a Kramer VS-FW30 3-port Firewire 800 hub available at a respectable out-of-country online vendor, so I promptly ordered it. I'll be sure to post back once I've had a chance to give it a whirl.

Apple is bigger than Google

With the bump in Apple's stock price today, it is now bigger than Google. With a current stock valuation of just under $200, Apple is now worth over $178 billion, and Google is at $172 billion and change. For reference, AT&T is worth just over $152 billion, and Intel a paltry $113 billion.

I'm starting to wonder if AAPL is getting a little ahead of itself.

Monday, October 19, 2009

$1.67 billion profit

Apple posted a $1.67 billion profit last quarter.

Apple sold 3.05 million Macintosh® computers during the quarter, representing a 17 percent unit increase over the year-ago quarter. The Company sold 10.2 million iPods during the quarter, representing an eight percent unit decline from the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 7.4 million iPhones in the quarter, representing seven percent unit growth over the year-ago quarter.

“We are thrilled to have sold more Macs and iPhones than in any previous quarter,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO.

You've come a long way, baby.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Apple Performance Update 1.0: No more spinning beachball of death?

I have been infrequently getting the annoying spinning rainbow beachball of death on my 13" MacBook Pro with Snow Leopard, most noticeably while using Safari 4. It almost seemed as if the hard drive was failing, but after each pause everything was fine, and Disk Utility showed no problem with the drive. I then thought it was Snow Leopard itself, but it turns out it may be caused by hard drive pauses associated with Apple's latest Macs. This is hopefully corrected with the Apple Performance Update 1.0:

This update addresses intermittent hard drive related pauses reported by a small number of customers.

Products Affected
MacBook Air (Mid 2009), MacBook Pro (17-inch, Mid 2009), MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2009), MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2009), MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2.53GHz, Mid 2009), iMac (20-inch, Mid 2009), MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2009), MacBook (13-inch, Early 2009), MacBook (13-inch, Mid 2009), MacBook (13-inch, Aluminum, Late 2008), MacBook Air (Late 2008), MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2008), iMac (24-inch, Early 2009), iMac (20-inch, Early 2009), Mac mini (Early 2009)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I've had it with Apple Bluetooth products

Given that the Apple Mighty Mouse's scroll ball has a nasty habit of not functioning properly after just limited usage, it has gotten a well deserved bad reputation. Even the cheap throwaway mice I get at the hole-in-the-wall PC shop in the $5 surplus bin never suffer this problem, yet Apple's pricey Bluetooth mouse does.

But that's not the worst of it. What's even worse is when the batteries in the mouse (or keyboard) die. Put in new batteries, and... nothing. Half the time the computer refuses to recognizes the mouse (or keyboard). Turning it off and on again helps once in a while, but the only really consistent ways to get the computer to re-recognize the mouse (or keyboard) is to reboot, or to manually set it up again from the Bluetooth preference pane. Very, very irritating. What about not letting the batteries die? Doesn't help. If you swap out the battery it's the same effect. Reboot may be necessary.

So lately I've just taken to putting my Bluetooth keyboard in the cupboard, and using a wired keyboard. As for the mouse, I've still been struggling with the Mighty Mouse, but won't get another one with my next iMac. Even if they introduce a brand new multi-touch mouse, they'll have to do some serious marketing to win me over if it's Bluetooth. The proof is in the pudding, and so far Apple's Bluetooth pudding is pretty rotten.

However, if they offered a wired multi-touch mouse, maybe I'd get that instead. Or perhaps a Microsoft RF mouse. Wireless, without all the Bluetooth headaches.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Intel L3426 = Quad-core Xeon iMac?

Intel released a curious new CPU a few weeks ago. It's a Xeon, a chip class usually reserved for high-powered workstations (including the Mac Pro) and servers, yet this chip is quite different than the usual Xeons. Dubbed L3426, it is a relatively inexpensive 64-bit low-clocked (1.86 GHz) quad-core Lynnfield CPU, with a TDP of only 45 Watts, which makes it very interesting for consumer Mac fans.

The reasonably low TDP makes a quad-core Xeon iMac a distinct possibility for the next iMac release. This would seem to support previous Xeon iMac rumours. While 1.86 GHz seems slow, this chip class is actually very, very fast on a per-clock basis, and furthermore, it can rev the clock speed up to 3.2 GHz using Intel's Turbo Boost technology when its multiple cores are not being efficiently utilized. In addition, the Xeon L3426 supports Hyper-Threading, like all the Xeon 3000 series processors. This further differentiates it from Intel's consumer class Core i5 CPUs, which do not support HT.

Alternatively, if Apple wants to put quad-core into the iMac, it can use Intel's Clarksfield Core i7 Mobile class of processors. These chips have the same 45 Watt TDP and are quite similar to Xeon L3426, but are somewhat slower clocked, yet still remain very, very fast. In fact, it is possible that Apple will use Core i7 for low-end (1.60/2.80 GHz) and mid-end (1.73/3.06 GHz) iMacs, and Xeon L3426 for the top-of-the-line (1.86/3.20 GHz) iMac model, although ironically the reported Xeon L3426 pricing is cheaper than the Core i7 Mobile chips. Whether or not it is truly cheaper, the take home message is that Xeon L3426 isn't prohibitively expensive for consumer Macs.

There is also Core i7 Mobile Extreme which is faster clocked than Xeon L3426, but that chip has a higher TDP, which makes it less attractive for use in near-silent all-in-one iMacs.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Telus and Bell Canada to get the iPhone

In just a few short weeks, the two Canadian CDMA providers Bell and Telus will get the iPhone. How is this possible? Well, it turns out the two companies have been building an HSPA network together to access all the cool phones and to get in on that lucrative foreign roaming action.

BTW, at one point Telus try to buy out Fido's GSM network, but then Rogers outbid them and incorporated Fido into Rogers, thereby creating a GSM monopoly in Canada. It was disappointing to say the least. It's about time we get some 3GSM competition around here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Video head to head: iPod nano vs Canon 5D II

This is a ridiculous comparison of course, but nonetheless it's worth a glance just for fun. Here is the new video-enabled iPod nano vs. the well-respected Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR.

No ISO 6400 or rack focus rig on the iPod nano unfortunately. ;) By the way, with the EF 35 f/1.4L lens and Compact Flash card, the 5D Mark II goes for the bargain basement price of about US$4200.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

HDTV resolutions well supported in Snow Leopard

It took Apple long enough, but HD TV resolutions are finally well supported in Mac OS X. Here is a screengrab of my 13" MacBook Pro supplying 1920x1080i to my Panasonic PT-AX200U home theatre projector, in 10.6 Leopard.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Safari 4 in Snow Leopard is very, very fast

Just how fast is Snow Leopard? It's hard to say since every application will perform differently. However, one application that just about everyone uses these days is a web browser, and on the Mac, Safari is the most popular.

After browsing around the net a while with Safari in Snow Leopard, it definitely feels faster. But how much faster is it really? Let's put that to the test.

Hardware: 13" MacBook Pro, 2 GB 1067 MHz DDR3, 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo
Software: SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark 0.9

Mac OS X 10.5.6, Safari 3.2.1: 3261.8 ms
Mac OS X 10.5.8, Safari 4.0.3 (5531.9): 824.8 ms
Mac OS X 10.6 32-bit, 32-bit Safari 4.0.3 (6531.9): 657.6 ms
Mac OS X 10.6 32-bit, 64-bit Safari 4.0.3 (6531.9): 479.2 ms
Mac OS X 10.6 64-bit, 64-bit Safari 4.0.3 (6531.9): 478.4 ms

(Lower is better)

As you can see, Snow Leopard's Safari 4.0.3 is noticeably faster as a 64-bit application than a 32-bit application. Still, even the 32-bit version of Safari 4 in Snow Leopard 10.6 is significantly faster than Safari 4 in Leopard 10.5.8. Of note, the speed of the 64-bit Safari 4 was essentially identical regardless if Snow Leopard 10.6 was running in 32-bit or 64-bit mode.

The older Safari 3.2.1 wasn't even in the same league, and our results mirror our previous benchmarks from back at the beginning of the year when the Safari 4 beta was released.

I personally will be sticking with the default 64-bit Safari, but those of you using third-party Safari plugins might benefit from the 32-bit version, since most of these plugins are currently incompatible with the 64-bit Safari.

P.S. Some of the more astute geeks might be wondering how I got 10.5.6 Leopard and Safari 3.2.1 running on a 13" MacBook Pro, considering the machine shipped with 10.5.7 and I believe Safari 3.2.3. Actually, I had a previous install of 10.5.6 on an external hard drive, as a backup for my white 13" MacBook. I hooked that drive up to the 13" MacBook Pro, and it actually booted, albeit initially with a few errors, and Safari 3.2.1 worked fine with the machine.

13" Mac laptop and 64-bit Snow Leopard: It works!

13" Mac laptop and 64-bit Snow Leopard: It works! Well, sorta. I can confirm it works on the latest 13" MacBook Pro at least.

Whether your Mac's CPU is 64-bit or not, Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard's 64-bit kernel is normally only able to load if the machine also has a 64-bit EFI. You can tell if your machine has a 32-bit or 64-bit EFI by typing this command in Terminal:

ioreg -l -p IODeviceTree | grep firmware-abi

However, according to OSnews, the OS X seed notes claim that the 64-bit kernel of Snow Leopard is not supported on any 13" Mac laptop, even if it has a 64-bit EFI. Despite this, 64-bit Snow Leopard loads on my 13" MacBook Pro (aka MacBookPro5,5) just fine.

The latest 13" Mac lives up to its "Pro" name after all.

Despite having this 64-bit capability, I will usually run in 32-bit mode since 32-bit kernel extensions (like printer drivers, etc.) won't run when the 64-bit OS X kernel is loaded, and 64-bit applications can still run normally with the 32-bit OS X kernel.

Friday, June 12, 2009

MacBook Pro's best new feature: Battery life

Apple has devoted a fair amount of screen real estate on its website bragging about the new battery technology in its new MacBook Pros. It turns out it's not just marketing speak to hide the fact the battery is no longer user replaceable.

According to AnandTech, the advertised 7 hour battery life (or 8 hours for the 17" model) is real. The 15" MacBook Pro is advertised to get 7 hours of battery life, yet with light usage Anand was able to get over "Eight, freakin, hours" out of the thing, and 6.5 hours with moderate usage. Even with relatively heavy usage he was able to get nearly 5 hours.

The MacBook Pro has just raised the bar enormously for battery life on full-fledged laptops.

It will be interesting to see if this battery life increase is limited to Mac OS X, or if it will be seen under Windows as well.

Monday, June 08, 2009

13" MacBook gets Firewire (again)

Firewire, welcome back!

Many of us old timers complained about the loss of Firewire on the aluminum 13" MacBooks, expecting that it was gone forever. Well, good news, it's back. However, that 13" machine is no longer called the MacBook. The new 13" update has pushed it into the MacBook Pro category, and it gets a new Secure Digital slot as well. Also, even the low end model now gets the illuminated keyboard. Interestingly, it also has a non-removable battery now, like the MacBook Air.

Further good news is the pricing has actually decreased. That's a nice shift in Apple's marketing. Maybe it's time for me to jump into the market for a new laptop again.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Baby Shaker iPhone app sparks outrage

Apple released a new third-party application in its iTunes store for the iPhone recently, called Baby Shaker. It has since been taken down, but it is shocking that it was allowed to get through in the first place, especially since Apple continues to refuse a lot of potentially very useful (and inoffensive) applications.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New iPod shuffle? No thanks.

The new iPod shuffle has come out, with possibly the weirdest interface ever designed for Apple. No scratch that. The shuffle itself doesn't even have an interface. The shuffle's front is now absolutely naked, with the interface now on the headphone cord. That might actually be a good thing, except now there is absolutely no way to control the shuffle when using third party headphones. The really strange part is the fact that no control dongle exists for those third party headphones, either from Apple itself or from third parties. That will come of course, but who knows after how long? Given that Apple's included earbuds have always been absolutely terrible (as would be expected for included earbuds), this is a dealbreaker for many people until the dongle comes out. Even when it does come out, it will still be a problem, in terms of price. I wouldn't be surprised if they want upwards of US$29 for the dongle. Twenty-nine bucks isn't a lot in the greater scheme of things, but it is compared to the cost of a shuffle, especially when previous shuffles could be had for less than $50. And finally, even with such a dongle (or the included headphones), controlling the shuffle now seems a little complicated. I'm sure one can learn, but one might have expected something more intuitive from Apple.

Let me backtrack a bit though. The design is actually interesting in some ways. One thing I've always missed on the shuffle is the ability to know exactly what song was playing. I thought the way around it would be to have a small one-line LED or LCD screen or perhaps text-to-audio, but also thought Apple would implement neither. They've now added VoiceOver, which is essentially the latter idea, with multi-language support to boot. The other thing I've missed on the shuffle is proper playlist support, but Apple has now implemented that too. Despite all these advancements however, the lack of a controller dongle for third party headphones leaves me scratching my head for this announcement.

Somehow, this almost seems like a grand Onion parody.

I guess the best news is that VoiceOver may appear in non-naked non-shuffle iPods (and iPhones) too in 2009.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

New iMac - No quad for you

Apple disappointed many today by releasing an update to the iMac... without quad cores. This was not overly surprising however, as only high-power and mid-power quad-core Intel CPUs exist at the moment. The low power mainstream version that Apple will likely use in the iMac (and MacBook Pro) will not be out until about 2009 Q3 or 2010 Q1.

I want a new iMac, but I'll simply wait. My dual-core iMac will have to do until then. Hopefully by that time 8 GB of RAM for the iMac will actually be affordable, instead of the CAD$1200 it is now.

By the way, Apple finally added another USB port. Too bad they didn't make it five, like on the new Mac mini. However, they removed one Firewire port to make room for it.

New Mac mini gets dual video outputs

As the rumours predicted, the newly released Mac mini gets two video outputs and five USB ports. Nice.

Monday, March 02, 2009

iPhone holds 2/3rds of mobile browsing market share

AppleInsider reports Net Applications' numbers which show that Apple's iPhone completely dominates the mobile browsing market, with a 66.6% share. All the other competitors are at less than 10%. One might not be surprised though, considering that Apple's Safari along with the iPhone's OS make for the only mobile browser actually worth using. Everything else is terrible by comparison.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Safari 4.0 Beta vs. Safari 3.2.1 Benchmarks

Yesterday, Apple released a beta version of Safari 4.0 on both Windows and Mac OS X... and it's faaaast. Using the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark, we can see huge improvements in speed going from Safari 3.2.1 to Safari 4.0. Safari 4.0 is in a whole other league. Previously Firefox 3.0.6 had the edge over Safari, but the new version of Safari is now also several times as fast as Firefox.

Cube G4 450 with 768 MB RAM

Safari 3.2.1 Run 1: 70637.8 ms
Safari 3.2.1 Run 2: 35922.4 ms
Firefox 3.0.6: 25779.6 ms
Safari 4.0 Beta Run 1: 16029.8 ms
Safari 4.0 Beta Run 2: 12592.4 ms

MacBook Core 2 Duo 2.1 GHz with 2 GB RAM

Safari 3.2.1: 3739.6 ms
Firefox 3.0.6: 3440.0 ms
Safari 4.0 Beta: 867.0 ms

As you can see, with modern Intel dual-core machines, browsing was already fast. However, the new Safari 4.0 breathes new life into our old PowerPC Macs too.

Safari 4 is much faster than Safari 3 on Windows too. Unfortunately, the Windows version seems much more unstable, so I won't be using it until it gets some more updates.

[Update 2009-02-25]

Cube G4 1.7 GHz: 5648.8 ms

Nice. Now only if Adobe could speed up Flash.

By the way, this is what I get when I try to run the SunSpider bench on my Cube G4 450 with Firefox

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Mac mini to have two video outputs?

A user at the MacRumors forums has posted a picture purporting to show a new port layout for the rear of an unreleased Mac mini. Included in the update is a fifth USB port, Firewire 800 (replacing FW400), mini-DVI (replacing full DVI), and mini-DisplayPort.

The addition of mini-DisplayPort in itself is not surprising. However, what is surprising is the inclusion of both mini-DisplayPort and mini-DVI -- two separate video outputs. If true, this could possibly mean dual monitor support for the Mac mini, something many Mac users have been hoping for ever since the Mac mini was released.

Mini-DisplayPort can pass through video signals for DVI or HDMI if necessary. DVI is electrically compatible with HDMI as well. VGA can also be supported with the appropriate dongle. Assuming the picture of the Mac mini is real (which is a big assumption), and assuming that the Mac mini could use both ports simultaneously, this would provide very good flexibility for different combinations of dual display devices.

[Update 2009-02-20]


Monday, February 09, 2009

Woz to be on Dancing with the Stars

Well, I certainly didn't see that one coming. The great Woz is one of the new competitors for the 2009 season of Dancing with the Stars.

That was a stroke a brilliance ABC! I usually despise "reality" television, but this is one show I will probably actually watch.

Here is the official press release.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mac pirates get hit with iWork '09 trojan

Ah, the benefits of an increasing user base: Mac viruses and trojans. A bootleg version of iWork '09 floating around the BitTorrent sites apparently is infected with OSX.Trojan.iServices.A. This is a pretty significant milestone for OS X, as apparently over 20000 Mac users have already been infected.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

iLife '09: More idiotic system requirements

Phil announced iLife '09 at Macworld, generally acknowledging (in not so many words) the sucktitude that was iMovie '08. Phil spent a lot of time telling us how much more has been added to iMovie '09, and if the hype is in any way representative then it should represent a marked improvement over iMovie '08... not that that would be very hard to accomplish. The real question though is if it will be anywhere near as nice as iLife '06's iMovie HD.

Unfortunately, Apple again has some idiotic and arbitrary system requirements for iLife '09. For example: "iMovie requires an Intel-based Mac, Power Mac G5 (dual 2.0GHz or faster), or iMac G5 (1.9GHz or faster)." So, an old iMac G5 1.9 or Intel Mac Mini Core Solo 1.5 are fine, but a single processor Power Mac 1.6 or 1.8, or even a dual processor Power Mac 1.8 are not?

What we already know is that iLife '09 does not include any high definition disc burning features, even on plain DVD. We can understand this for HD DVD since the HD DVD format is dead (although Apple's DVD Player already can play HD DVD made with DVD Studio Pro). There is AVCHD, but this won't work on all Blu-ray players, as plain AVCHD on DVD is not an official Blu-ray format. There is also BD9 (and BD5). However, I wonder if licencing and/or specifications are holding it back, or if it is just because Apple hasn't had the time to implement it yet.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Steve Jobs explains weight loss due to "hormonal imbalance"

Steve Jobs yesterday issued a letter indicating his significant recent weight loss is due to a "hormonal imbalance". This soothed the markets, and AAPL was up about 4% for the day, and right now is trading up another buck and change premarket to about $96. This is all despite the fact that the statement was extremely vague. In this context "hormonal imbalance" could mean all sorts of different things, including even the possibility of a recurrence of his neuroendocrine tumour. (We all of course hope this is not the case.)

Nonetheless, the markets are happy, and I wish Mr. Jobs all the best in his recuperation. Hopefully Phil Schiller will be an effective stand-in for him at Macworld too.

Apple announces new MacBook Wheel

Simply awesome!

Apple has done it again. Welcome to the future of laptop computing.