September 29, 2004
How the other half lives: Moving up to the G5
My new G5 came today; I've only just scratched the surface so far, but I'm pleased and impressed.
The coolest thing was probably Apple's new transfer utility that moves files and applications over from one machine to another. I expected this to be fairly hit or miss, with problems with licensing, purchased iTunes music, and who knows what else, but it went very smoothly.
Essentially, you mount the old Mac as a FireWire disk (hold down 'T' at startup), and the program copies over your applications, documents, and preferences.
Microsoft Office came over without a hiccup. My purchased iTunes music came over without a hiccup, just asking me to enter my iTunes ID the first time I played one. It asked me which user accounts to migrate, and moved them over without a hitch.
The only slight problems I saw were with Circus Ponies' Notebook, which somehow builds a key based on hardware, so I had to re-enter my registration key to regenerate, and with Stuffit Expander, which failed the first time I tried to unstuff anything. I downloaded the new version, release 9, and all has been well ever since.
In a way, the smooth migration is a little bit of a problem: Instead of having a few days to evolve your work process over, you spend an hour with the machines tethered, and your new machine is a clone of your old. I'm almost scared to turn the PowerBook on, lest I launch a war for control of my data, and I haven't really decided who's boss yet.
Looks like around 3.5 hours per unit on Seti@Home, which I doubt is multi-processor aware (yes it is: 'top' shows it using up to 178% of processor time), and an XBench score between 215 and 220 (the PowerBook -- 12" 867 -- is about an 85). Haven't burned a DVD yet, or gotten into iMovie, but I can't wait.
September 21, 2004
New Mac time
So I have an order in for a new dual 2.5-gigahertz G5. A friend let me take advantage of an expiring developer discount, which saved me around $500.
I waited to make the decision until the new iMac G5 was announced, and I was sorely tempted to go with the less expensive box. I didn't because a) my usual personal buying strategy is to buy higher end machines, with an eye toward being able to bear them for longer before I can't stand working on that old crappy box that once was scary fast, and because b) the dual G5s look like a bargain to me, even at their higher prices.
But what if you're looking to spend $2,500-$3,000? Well, you could buy a PowerBook, and a fairly nice one. But if you're looking for a desktop solution, you can buy a computer, but only without a monitor. The dual-1.8 G5 plus a 20-inch Cinema Display comes in around $3,300. For now, you can still help Apple empty overstocked warehouses of overpriced 17-inch Studio Displays at $699, but that price, along with the reports of backlight problems with the displays, is just going to drive people to buy their LCDs from somebody else.
On the one hand, I really hope Apple has a plan to fill in that middle ground, possibly with a less-expensive 17" Cinema Display (they certainly buy enough 17" widescreen LCD panels). On the other hand, I think Apple may be intentionally splitting its market into home and education users, who are expected to buy eMacs and iMacs; and professionals who don't care much what their systems cost, since the company is picking up the tab.
Note that I don't consider the new Cinema Displays overpriced. I haven't used an Apple display since the snakebit AppleVision 1710av, working pretty happily through a succession of Sony, ViewSonic, and Nokia monitors. But I have my eye on one of these new Cinema Displays, or an equivalent display, and for now at least, the big Apples compare very well with Sony's and Samsung's big and wide-screen LCDs, typically coming in $50-$100 below the competition.
September 07, 2004
CyberTool: It changed my life
Mark Frauenfelder asks people for their experience with the Victorinox CyberTool. My quick reply:
I've had mine since soon after they came out (2-3 years?), and rely on it.
It's got all the bits you need to take apart any computer. I've disassembled 10-15 laptops with mine, and use it for field trips to do maintenance on my company's electronic signs.
We found a Leatherman Juice tool in our office, and I started trying to use it, but the CyberTool beats it hands down, for the way it fits your hand, the selection of tools (ballpoint pen! Eyeglass screwdriver!), and maximum portability.
I once used one of the bits to replace a blown fuse when I couldn't find a replacement.
My developers “borrowed” mine for a few weeks, and I didn't think I was going to get it back, so I'm likely to buy enough to go around.
I worry about packing it in my checked luggage, since it's so easily pocketable. I have other (often better) tools available, but the CyberTool is sort of like a phonecam: It's the tool that's on you that's going to get the most use.
I think I have the middle level, with 34 or so tools -- the same one in the BoingBoing picture.
All in all, $50 very well spent.
Fry's in Atlanta
Take one Best Buy, add a Micro Center, a Radio Shack and a coffee shop, plop it down next to Gwinnett Place mall, and you've got Fry's Atlanta.
The geek's choice of big box retailers has come to the Deep South, and I checked it out over Labor Day weekend. About the only thing that kept my wallet in my pocket was the fact that I had just bought a G5 (about which, more later).
This is an almost comically big store. I would guess it's 4 times the size of the average Best Buy.
There are a lot of things at Fry's you could chase all over Atlanta looking for: electronic components, model rocketry supplies, kites, PC components, digital and analog cameras, TVs of all screen sizes, refrigerators, microwaves, technical books, surveillance/security hardware, and software. They carry a jillion different kinds of flashlight, electronics tools and meters, and the Victorinox Cybertool line, whtich I rely on almost every day.
They've got a Mac section, including Apple hardware, a smallish Mac software section, and a reasonable number of accessories; I would place their Mac section roughly on par with Micro Center, and smaller than CompUSA.
Prices across the board seemed competitive, but not "so low they're INSANE!" except on their doorbuster specials, which really are amazing. Their ads have been featuring a 250-gig hard drive for $119.99 (after mail-in rebate) this week, a 512-megabyte stick of DDR400 RAM for $59.99 (limit 1 per customer). I saw somewhere that they were selling a Duron 1.6-Ghz system for $99.
CD prices looked competitive, but I didn't really check out DVD prices.
Looks like a place you could take the whole family; there are a fair number of science toys for older kids, the videos for younger, and the coffee shop if the family runs out of steam before you do.
If I were young and single with the freedom to throw away a chunk of my paycheck every week, Fry's would likely take its share. Internet buzz on the chain suggests their customer service is somewhere between average and abysmal, but for a lot of projects, they provide a one-stop resource.
September 01, 2004
Nothing left to take away: the iMac G5
Almost everybody reading this already knows, but Apple introduced the new G5 iMac today (actually yesterday, as I check the clock). Single processor, 1.6 or 1.8 gigahertz, hooked to Apple's great 17" or 20" LCD display. A little skimpy on memory with 256 megabytes stock on each model.
The big news is the minimalist design. It's a 2-inch deep rectangle, with an aluminum stand keeping the whole thing from floating off your desk.
Many of the stories talk about the debt the new design owes the iPod. I wonder if they considered putting a clickwheel under the display, to be used as a hardware equivalent of Synergy, and to allow scrubbing in other media apps.
If the monitor-spanning hack works with it, you could build an amazing system by hooking a new 20" display into a 20" iMac, all for around the price of a 17" G4 PowerBook.
Update: The monitor spanning hack works; here are pictures to prove it.
Speaking of, when will we see a G5 PowerBook? Checking out the innards, it looks like Apple could build a 17" G5 PowerBook right now, if people would buy a 3-inch-thick PowerBook. In other words, if they could design it like a Dell.
Taking the shorter list first, here's what I don't like about the new iMac:
The monitor is still locked into the CPU, so you're forced to upgrade them together.
No FireWire 800?
Things I love:
The pricing: the systems are $400-$500 less than the G4 systems they replace.
They're VESA-compliant, so you can hang the whole thing from a desk or wall mount.
Find myself agreeing with Chuck Toporek that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth should be standard to further cement Apple's place as the PC maker who includes what costs extra with the leading brand. I wonder if they're doing it to push build-to-order sales, since the integrated wireless options are only available through the online Apple Store.
Find myself disagreeing with Paul Jackson of Forrester Research that this machine should have been a media center PC competitor. Jackson obviously likes his, but I don't know a single Media Center PC owner, and I haven't seen any evidence from ads and store displays that they're setting the world on fire.
I continue to hold out hope that Apple will legitimize this space, as they did with MP3 players when they introduced the iPod, by introducing an iServe that, among other things, can interface with your cable or satellite provider and stream video to any computer in the house (and the TV, naturally). There have been a couple of rumors about iPod-related products in 2005, and if the iPod eventually supports video, the iServe is right there.
Side note: Jackson says, "Better still would have been a software option to turn this machine into a full Wi-Fi access point: Intel's Grantsdale chipset already promises this functionality for PC owners." It does this, Paul. So will any Mac with an ethernet port and an AirPort card since 1999. Simple matter of checking "Share my Internet connection through...."
Like Adam Engst's suggestion that a new iMac plus Open Door's Envision would be a dandy living room installation, that would double as a digital picture frame.
Adam repeats the conventional wisdom that Apple has to disable monitor spanning to differentiate Pro and Consumer machines, and Glenn Fleishman suggests monitor spanning would add $75 to $100 to retail price. I doubt it. The monitor-spanning hack above proves the hardware support has been included on almost every recent consumer Mac. It's entirely a marketing decision, and I think it's one that doesn't make much sense in 2004.
Now that the G5 Pro line is all dual, it's differentiated by 1) having twice the CPUs, 2) faster frontside bus, 3) more maximum memory, 4) PCI-X expansion, 5) FireWire 800, 6) digital audio both in and out, 7) gigabit ethernet, and 8) much beefier video cards. Letting the iMac span monitors would be a very powerful argument for why the Mac is worth the premium over a Wintel box. It would also probably sell a lot of Apple displays.
On the PowerBook side, most of the same differences persist, although my 12" model shares some of the limitations of the iBook. Once again, only the Pro models (the "PowerBooks") are allowed to span monitors, even though the iBook features a 32 megabyte ATI Mobility Radeon 9200. Again, Apple would be better served by shipping a software upgrade that enabled spanning across the product line and really playing up what a difference the extra real estate makes.