The Robservatory

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MacBook

Limited ports limit my interest in new Mac laptops

As I sit here working on my late 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro (rMPB from here on), I wonder if it will be the last Mac laptop I ever own.

That’s a strong statement, I know, but Apple’s pursuit of an insanely stupid “as thin as a knife edge at all costs” design goal has led to a new generation of machines that make them much less portable than they were before…despite being thinner and lighter.

Here’t the thing, Apple: Beyond a certain point, thinness is irrelevant. And honesty, you’ve more than reached that point with every laptop you make. You reached that point, in fact, a few years ago.

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The new scaled Retina MacBook

I stopped by the Apple Store today to look at the Apple Watch (summary: amazing tech, but it’s a watch, yawn) and the new ultralight MacBook, which is potentially much more interesting to me than a watch.

I spent some time typing (definitely less travel and firmer, but felt fine to me), and looking at the colors (silver—boring, gold—schlocky, space gray—omg perfect!). Speed for simple tasks seemed more than fine, though I’d hate to push it with Motion or Final Cut or anything like that. It’s definitely amazingly thin and light.

But the thing I really wanted to look at was the screen. This is a retina device, with a stated screen resolution of 2304×1440. On the MacBook Pro side of the fence, each of the stated pixel values is halved to get the effective ultra-sharp resolution you’ll see in the machine’s default mode. The 13″ rMBP’s 2560×1600 screen is effectively 1280×800 as shipped; the 15″ rMBP’s 2880×1800 gets you 1440×900. In both cases, each full-resolution dimension is halved to find the default usable screen resolution.

Given that the new MacBook’s screen is 2304×1440, I was expecting to see the display effectively at 1152×720. This is less than you get on an 11″ Air (1366×768), which is odd given the larger screen. I was curious how it would look. I should however, have read Jason’s reviewer’s notebook before heading to the store, as he points out that this isn’t the case.

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11.6″ MacBook Air: Who needs a netbook?

As I’m really enjoying my new 11.6″ MacBook Air, I thought it might be interesting to compare it with some other portables I currently own. Specifically, I wanted to compare the Air to my previous fave ultra-portable Mac (the 12″ PowerBook G4), a Dell Mini 10 running Mac OS X, and my current fave Mac laptop, the high-res anti-glare 15″ MacBook Pro.

What follows isn’t a comprehensive set of benchmarks done under controlled conditions. It’s more of a quick look at performance (and measurements and specifications) across a series of machines, three of which can be considered “ultra portables.”

Read on for the table…

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My new favorite (for now) laptop Mac

A while back, I tweeted that my new MacBook Pro was my fave-ever portable Mac—this despite having only used the machine for under two weeks at that point. A few people asked me “why your fave-ever?,” so I thought I’d use those queries as an excuse to post here on my near-silent blog.

The specific machine in question is a 2010 15″ MacBook Pro with the 2.66GHz Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, and (when new) a 5400rpm 500GB hard drive…and, oh yes, the single most important spec: the anti-glare 1680×1050 high resolution screen.

This machine replaced a 2008 MacBook Pro (last of the non-unibody laptops) with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB of RAM, and a 7200rpm 200GB hard drive (and the only screen at the time, the standard 1440×900).

Comparing the two, the only area where I gave up anything at all was in the hard drive’s speed. I took care of that problem by installing a new Seagate Momentus hybrid hard drive, the 500GB version, to be exact. (A hybrid drive is one that combines a small solid state drive—4GB in this case—with a traditional drive, and then uses its firmware to optimize performance on the fly. For more on the Seagate hybrid drive, see this excellent article at Anandtech.)
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Deals to be found at the Apple refurb store…

If you know me at all, you know how I feel about glossy screens, especially on laptops. As nice as the new MacBook and MacBook Pros are (and they are very nice, based on some early hands-on time with the new MacBook at the local store), the glossy screens are a deal breaker for me. I tried to use a MacBook for six months or so, but in the end, the glossy screen was too much for me, so I went up to the MacBook Pro and its nice matte display.

With the lack of a matte option on the new MacBook Pro line, I won’t be buying another Mac laptop (of the 15″ variety) until Apple comes out with some form of non-glossy screen–whether that’s a true matte screen, or just an effective anti-glare coating, I don’t really care. But until there’s a solution, I’m going to use what I have for as long as I possibly can.

My current machine is a two-year-old 15″ 2.33GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM–and it’s a very nice machine. However, it’s already two years old, and I want to get at least five more years out of my matte screened laptop…so I figured I’d go look on eBay for used last-gen 2.6GHz MacBook Pros–the fastest 15″ machine with a matte screen available, basically.

On my way to eBay, though, I got sidetracked by the Special Deals section of the Apple Store–otherwise known as the Refurb Store.
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My Apple event wishlist

Macworld logoBy now, you’ve probably read that Apple’s holding a “Mac-related” presentation on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Pacific. You may have also read the predictions that we’ll see a new iMac introduced at that meeting.

The prediction makes sense—the iMac is currently the “gray beard” of the Apple lineup, an aging-if-dependable workhorse that’s made its way into many homes as the first Mac in the household. So predicting that Apple has chosen to upgrade this machine, and swath it in aluminum to match the mini, MacBook Pro, and Mac Pro, is about as risky as predicting that Paris Hilton will make tabloid headlines or that George Steinbrenner will rant about his Yankees’ poor performance at some point during the season.

Read my Macworld blog entry, My Apple event wishlist, for the rest of the story…

Black Mac is back!

After just under a month on the road (Portland to Austin to Memphis to Austin to Portland), my black MacBook is now back in my possession! The good news: so far, the power adapter isn’t overheating. The bad news: it still makes more noise than I would consider “normal,” though it’s not audible from as great a distance as before.

What’s truly strange is what they replaced:

  • APP-646-302 DSPL 13.3 GLOSSY AUO: I’m assuming that’s the 13.3″ glossy screen…
  • APP-603-9181 ASSY, BEZEL, BEST: I think this is the bezel that goes around the screen.
  • APP-616-0268 BATTLITH LITH, 55WHR, ATL, BLK: A new battery.

I guess I understand the battery replacement…but why the screen and bezel? Perhaps the connection between the screen and the machine itself was somehow causing an issue? Or maybe a tech’s screwdriver slipped and gouged the original screen :).

In any event, it’s back, and based on the first hour or so of usage (downloading 2.52GB (well, it feels like that much!) of system updates), the overheating problem seems to be resolved. Hooray!

Update: After letting the machine run for a good two hours, I felt the power brick, and it seemed notably cooler than before the fixes. To confirm, I hooked up the USB temperature probe, and found that the temperature now maxes out around 94F. That’s a good 30+ degrees cooler than before. So while it’s still warm to the touch, I no longer fear a meltdown if I leave it too close to something made of plastic.

How hot is too hot?

If anyone out there is using a MacBook (or a MacBook Pro, for that matter), and has access to a temperature probe, I’d be interested in knowing the temperature of your power adapter brick. (Just stick the probe between the adapter and work surface, or hold it on top with a book or somesuch.) Apple just sent me a replacement for my first one, as it was making a scary sounding noise (sort of a grating static-like sound), and was getting to be *very* warm–at least, what I consider to be very warm.

Within an hour or so of powering up the machine, the adapter brick will go over 123F, which strikes me as too hot to be normal. It’s basically too hot to hold comfortably for any length of time, and the brick will warp plastic if I set it on such for a period of time. My PowerBook, for instance, never got anywhere near 123F; its adapter stayed cool to the touch. And since both bricks exhibit the same behavior (noise and very high temps), then I think I must have an issue with my MacBook, not the adapter (or perhaps the wall-to-brick cable, but that seems unlikely).

On the other hand, if everyone out there is also recording 123F and can hear the grating static-like noise, then I guess everything’s normal…scary, but normal. Still, I find it hard to believe that the brick should be getting that warm, just from the machine being powered up. (As soon as I put it to sleep, the noise in the brick vanishes, and temps return to normal).

June 24 update: I spoke with Apple again this morning, telling them that the new adapter exhibited the same issues as the old. They have agreed (without any prodding on my part) to take my MacBook in for a look-see. So I spent some time this morning reinstalling OS X and removing my third-party RAM chips; it’s now ready to go back to Apple on Monday morning.

July 12 update: My MacBook has been with Apple since June 28th, with a status of “Parts on order.” Not much of an update, really, other than knowing that I still don’t have resolution on the issue.

-rob.

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