The Computer Blog

Monday, October 31, 2005

Quesiton answered-iMovie HD is not dual-core aware

MacWorld today published benchmarks for the new 1.9 GHz iMac, comparing it to a 2.0 GHz iMac and a 2.0 GHz dual-core PowerMac G5. In most tests, the 1.9 GHz was slightly faster than the 2.0 GHz iMac; the 2.0GHz iMac beat the 1.9 in a couple. The most interesting thing in the benchmarks was what they showed about iMovie HD rendering, i.e., the dual core 2.0 GHz PowerMac was four seconds slower than the 1.9 GHz iMac and three seconds slower than the 2.0 GHz iMac. (In other tests, the dual-core PowerMac took half the time of the iMacs….in applications that are dual-core aware.)

After looking also at the dual-core and dual-processor G5 PowerMac benchmarks published by MacWorld earlier, I feel it’s fairly safe to say that MHz is not a myth when it comes to iMovie’s performance. iMovie HD seems to render faster as clock speed increases, regardless of whether the computer is single or dual CPU. There are some speed variances not explained by that conclusion, but I’m holding to that as a general rule.

Final Cut Pro is another story (as would be Photoshop, etc). But if you’re just working with iMovie HD and thinking of trading in your 2.0 GHz iMac for a dual-core 2.0 GHz PowerMac, you might want to think again.

Two Almost Faux Pas

Two “almost” faux pas occurred this week involving two companies I’m doing business with. One is Tiger Direct and the other is UPS. Before I go any further, let me clarify that the faux pas with Tiger Direct was mine and I was shipping with UPS because my vendor didn’t give me a choice.

Over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever ordered the wrong hard drive until last week. One of the websites I routinely visit is “barefeats.com”, and there was a link there to a deal at Tiger Direct for a 300GB Maxtor Diamond Max 10 SATA hard drive. While MicroCenter also had a good deal on that hard drive this month ($114 after a $70 rebate), Tiger Direct had an even better one ($134 before a $50 rebate). I was looking to replace my dual G5 PowerMac’s boot drive with something bigger and faster, and this hard drive looked to fit the bill. But when I clicked on the link at Barefeats, it took me to a Tiger Direct webpage that said all the hard disks had been sold out. Still, I continued to watch the site and, sure enough, Tiger Direct got some more SATA disks in stock.

Somehow, instead of ordering a SATA drive I ordered a the 300 GB Maxtor Diamond Max 10 PATA drive and didn’t discover the error until I had received it and opened the packaging to install the drive. As soon as I saw the drive’s IDE back end, I knew I had the wrong one; and a check of my order’s print-outs confirmed the mistake had been mine and not Tiger Direct’s. I called their Customer Support line to get an RMA and talked to Sales to get them to ship me the SATA drive I had been originally after. The salesman was very patient; I hadn’t expected to need my credit card which I had left in my billfold in a far away place; he held on quietly as I walked out to get it and fetched it out of its hiding place.

On its back, the invoice for the mistakenly-bought drive contained instructions for the return. They were full of very strict conditions, which left me wondering if Tiger Direct would deny me any kind of return credit at all. I realized I would most likely, since I had opened the original packaging, get hit by their 15% restocking fee. I had not looked at their return policies before my purchase; if I had, I probably would have bought the drive from my local MicroCenter. But I was committed now, so I had to bite the bullet and proceed. I could understand a 15% restocking fee; but if they denied me any credit for my return, it would be the last time I’d do business with them.

Happily, I can report that the Tiger Direct warehouse received the hard drive via FedEx and I have been credited the full purchase price. Looks like I’ll do business with them again.

The other “faux pax” involved your favorite shipping company and mine, UPS. I ordered memory upgrades for my dual G5 PowerMac from Crucial.com and paid them to send the order to me via 2 day air. They didn’t tell me whom they were going to use; it turned out to be UPS. They gave them to UPS on the 25th, and the first notices on the web showed an “on-time” delivery of Oct 27th. But a day later, the web showed the delivery had been rescheduled for Oct 28th. This was not the first time I had paid for 2 day air with UPS and had them take three. I decided not to stand for that.

I contacted Crucial’s customer service department via e-mail, gave them the order number, explained to them what UPS had done, and told them this was not the first time I had experienced this. I reminded them I had paid for 2 day air and told them I would regret choosing another vendor because of the actions of their shipper. Well, that seems to have worked. By the afternoon, the web was showing the estimated delivery date back on the 27th and the package was moving.

(NOTE: Crucial said I could use FedEx in the future but I needed to call them when I placed the order and make that known. I guess I’ll phone my next one in.)

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dual Core G5 Comparison

In a blog a few days ago, I speculated that a single-processor dual core 2.0 GHz G5 probably has little to offer over a dual processor 2.0 GHz G5. Yesterday, MacWorld posted some benchmarks for the dual core 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac. I searched their website for benchmarks of the dual processor 2.0 GHz (the 2005 model with a Radeon 9600 video card and Tiger) and found them. Most of them line up, i.e., use the same benchmarking application, though there are two exceptions. In general, the new dual core single processor is slightly faster than the older dual processor G5. Here’s what I dug up:

G5 Model Speedmark 4 Cinema4D iMovieHD Render Photoshop CS2 Actions
Dual Core 2.0 208 1:23 0:36 1:04
Dual 2.0 (2005) 205 1:24 0:29 1:06

G5 Model Unreal Tournament iTunes Compressor/Mpeg2
Dual Core 2.0 40.6 0:58 (6.0.1) 6:20 (C2)
Dual 2.0 (2005) 38 1:08 (4.7) 4:46 (C1)

Certainly, if you own a 2005 dual processor G5, the new model is nothing to get excited about. The gap is a little wider if you own an earlier dual G5 PowerMac, like mine, but still nothing to spend $1000 over (which would probably be the difference between what I could get for mine and what I’d have to pay for a new one).

From a personal standpoint, I’d love to have access to these benchmarks to run them on my dual G5 PowerMac sporting a Radeon 9800 video card (the 128 MB version). I’d also love to see some Final Cut Pro rendering benchmarks.

On a side note, one of the curious points is the large time delta exhibited between Compressor (noted as “C1” above) and Compressor 2 (noted as “C2” above). I’m not familiar enough with the differences between the two versions to understand why it exists: Is it encoding a higher quality file? A bigger one? Or is Compressor 2 actually less efficient than Compressor?

There’s also quite a split on the iMovie HD Render test. Does iMovie HD utilize two processors better than a single-processor that contains a dual core? Is it even “dual-core aware”? (The answer to this question will appear in tomorrow’s blog.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Death of an iSight

Ever since I sent a couple of iSight’s out to two of my sons, we’ve been using the cameras quite a bit to host one-on-one or three-way conversations. I had a one-on-one with Tim last week using my 1.8 GHz iMac but got choppy audio. So, I moved the camera and its stand back to my dual processor G5 PowerMac.

Knowing the three of us would probably talk sometime that weekend, I cranked up the PowerMac, started iChat, and waited for it to recognize the iSight. I wanted to tweak the lighting in the room and make sure the camera was ready to go. But when iSight started, it showed me eligible only for an audio chat. Checking the camera, I cycled it off and on and noticed its power light would come on and go back out. iSight would not recognize it no matter what I did, and that included unplugging the camera and its connectors, restarting the PowerMac, and trying the camera with a different chord and Firewire port. I borrowed my wife’s iSight, plugged it in, and iChat recognized it right away. To absolutely lock down that my iSight was dead, I tried it on my iMac. No joy.

Normally, I have receipts for every piece of computer hardware and software I own. But I couldn’t find anything for this unit, except the web order number from Apple. I couldn’t research the purchase date because the Apple website “order status and history” does not go back that far. I knew I had owned the unit for quite some time, but I wasn’t sure exactly how long. My wife thought I had bought it about the same time she bought hers, and that’s been an almost unbelievable two years. That meant the warranty had expired. Apple would repair it but for the same money it cost to buy a new one. So, I ordered a new unit.

The salient point is that iSight’s do fail, and this is something to consider when buying a new iMac with an integrated one. If you do and the iSight dies, are you willing to surrender your iMac for service and take the down time that will accompany that? If the answer is “no’, then you might want to look for one of the previous units or just wait to see what Apple’s switch to Intel means to the product line and use an external iSight. If you’re comfortable with that, press head. I’m sure the new iMacs will be a good buy. (Note: If I was going after one of the new iMacs, I’d go with a 20 inch screen. The inclusion of Front Row and the Apple Remote sets these systems up to be used to view videos, slideshows, and whatever else where a larger screen would be most profitable. Even without a TV tuner or PVR, you could drag one of these into a room and use it as an entertainment center.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A New, Old iMac G5

I’ve been feeling for a long time I wanted to step down from my 20 inch iMac to one with a 17 inch screen. If you’ve been reading my blogs since I began posting them, you know I’ve said several times that writing on a smaller screen feels better to me, i.e, more intimate. The larger 20 inch screen is great for desktop publishing and especially for video editing; but even with desktop publishing, a 17 inch screen is not confining unless I start working with multiple page layouts. Most of my work has been two page spreads; and it wasn’t that long ago when a 17 inch screen was the recommended one for desktop publishing.

With Apple’s switch to Intel coming, I want to ensure I’ve positioned myself to run current generation software and the upcoming Universal Binary software using PowerPC. That means I need to get the fastest CPU and system I can. While the G5 iMacs really occupy a narrow performance band, the second generation G5 iMac has improved performance over the one I own in CPU, graphics, and storage system areas. I also have a soft spot for ATI graphics cards (my current iMac uses a Nvidia GeForce 5200X), for having my systems somewhat matched up, and I already own a dual processor 2.0 GHz PowerMac. Because of all that, I’ve wanted a 17 inch 2.0 GHz G5 iMac. Not only would that satisfy me emotionally, but it would satisfy me from a performance standpoint as well. (Benchmarks at Macworld show the 17 inch 2.0 GHz faster than the 20 inch 2.0 GHz machine and as much as 30% faster than my current 1.8 GHz machine on some tasks.) I really want to get back into writing fiction again; and anything I can do to encourage myself to do that, I want to do. So, I’ve been hunting for a 17 inch 2.0 GHz machine. Since the new iSight iMacs have been released, what’s left of their predecessors, especially as their prices have dropped, have been flying off Internet and store shelves like wind-blown rain in a hurricane. The only unit the Apple Store had left was one with a wireless mouse and keyboard, two peripherals I would never use. I passed.

Saturday morning, a refurbished model showed up online at the Apple Store. It was only $949, not much more than I thought I could get by selling my 1.8 GHz 20 incher. (PowerMax had offered me a $900 trade-in I almost took, but they only had a 20 incher to sell me.) I almost ordered it. I mean, I had clicked through the screens and gotten to the one where all I had to do was enter my credit card’s security code; then, I chickened out, thinking I’d take a little time to think about it before I committed. Well, when I came back two ours later, it was gone. Already sold. So, when one also showed up on Sunday morning, I jumped on it. It’s due to ship out to me on the 26th.

Whenever I’m upgrading, I always like to give family members a chance at what I’m letting go. If we were in a better financial position, I would be willing to give the system away to someone in the family who really wanted it and could use it; but the hurricanes and the airplane have really strung us out financially, so I really need to sell this unit and keep my out-of-pocket expenses low. I sent a note out to family members telling them I was going to sell the unit and what they could have it for if they were interested, and I would be willing to work out a payment plan with them if they couldn’t afford it up front. I have had one family member express some possible interest; but nothing solid, and I’m moving forward with ads on my workplace’s intranet next week. I also intend to put it up for sale on eBay, then.

How am I sure I’m going to be happy with a smaller screen? I’m not. But I’ve learned to trust my feelings over the years, and they’re leading me in this direction. I’ve also run some “tests” by running my wife’s 17 inch 1.8 GHz iMac from an external Firewire 400 hard drive containing a backup of my iMac’s operating system, applications, and data; and I got those same good feelings I’ve been writing about. Besides, if I need the larger real estate, I’ve still got it on my PowerMac; and it’s set up so I can boot my PowerBook from it if needed. There’s also a reasonable chance that the 20 inch unit won’t sell right away, giving me an opportunity to work with both systems to make sure I’ve made the right choice.

Kind of my head arguing with my heart it might be wrong. I don’t feel it is.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Trip to the Apple Store

Friday night, my wife and I traveled across town to the Galleria and the Apple Store. She wanted to look for cases for her iPod Nano, and I wanted to see if they had any 17 inch model 2.0 GHz iMacs. The greeting on the Apple Store’s voicemail said that the new video iPod and the new iMacs would not be in until October 25th, but we found they had already arrived.

The new video-capable iPod is much thinner than the photo-capable iPod that preceded it. I watched some video on the video iPod’s wider 2.5 inch screen, and it had very good but not exceptional quality. I’m not seeing much discussion about the other benefit of the bigger screen, i.e., a better photo presentation. Indeed, for me that is as big a reason to upgrade as any other. The Apple Store had plenty of the new iPods available for sale. (I didn’t pick one up because I still wanted to upgrade my main desktop machine to a 2.0 GHz iMac and really need minimize my cash outlay. My wife’s making noises that she might get me a video iPod for Christmas.)

The new iSight-equipped iMacs were also in attendance as well. The iSight camera’s familiar round lens does not poke out of the top bezel. Instead, there is a small greenish black square in the middle that is the lens opening that has a tiny, round light on either side of it. When the iSight is working, the light on the right is on.

At the unveiling of these units, Steve Jobs said that the new iSight camera had better resolution than its previous incarnation. That may be; but I could not see any noticeable difference. Picture quality looked the same. I also had thought that the camera’s new mounting position would yield a more natural view of each person, but that didn’t appear to be the case, either. Using preview mode to judge what I would look like to another video conference attendee, I still appeared to be looking slightly down instead of directly at the camera. The difference in view was negligible.

Likewise, I had seen a review stating the new iMacs had brighter screens. I could see no difference in display screen quality between the new units and those of the previous generation.

Photo Booth was kind of fun. Apple developer documents are hinting at the possibility that Apple might release this application later as a standalone item, and I hope it does.

I came away from these experiences convinced that, if one owns an iSight, the previous generation of iMacs is a better value than the new one is. Performance will be almost identical, with the new ones having a slight edge due to the 0.1 GHz faster CPU speeds. Even though the newer versions also sport PCI-E, a little research will show you that the Radeon 9600 AGP and PCI-E versions yield almost identical performance. Likewise, the newer DDR500 memory in the new iSight iMac will probably yield little or no real performance gain due to the relatively slow bus speed the iMac uses. Feature-wise, once you get past the iSight and PCI-E, the two generations are similarly equipped.
The new iMac represents a step backwards in terms of user-replaceable parts. While you could replace the hard drive, the optical drive, the midplane assembly, and even the display screen of the previous generation iMacs, you can only replace memory in the new iMacs without blowing the warranty.

In the end, we didn’t buy anything from the store. I felt the new iMacs were not as good a buy as the previous generation, especially consider their lower prices. Because I want to move to one of those iMacs, I put off buying a video iPod. And my wife discovered that there are no cases available for the iPod Nano; the market is still playing catch-up there.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dvorac, the Mac, and Platform Bias

In one of John Dvorac’s recent articles, he accuses the media of Mac bias and states it’s all because the columnists responsible for that coverage use Macs at the office. (Yes, there is a huge Mac conspiracy, and it involves 5% of the computer market.) I’ll take that as a truism, knowing how when I was looking at what platform to use when I was starting to use computers to write, I was advised to go with the Mac. And wish I had. I went with Windows because that was the platform being used at my day job I wanted home work to be compatible. And I’ve paid for it ever since.

Do I use Macs now? Yes. Do I think the Mac platform is better? Yes. In every sense? No. Does it bias what I’m writing? Well, that depends. I admit I’m a bit biased toward the Mac (having used both Windows and the Mac) but I do give Windows its just due. John makes the case that the media coverage on Microsoft is lame because the writers use Macs. Uh, huh. When was the last time anyone in your house got excited about a change to Windows XP? Could it be instead that Microsoft has simply failed to capture the public’s imagination? And Apple has?

Many of the mainstream PC magazines have voted Mac OS X as the outstanding operating system, and most of them use Windows machines. Secondly, Apple is in both the hardware and software business while Microsoft really is a software only company. It’s a lot easier to excite people about something they can hold rather than something they can only view on a computer screen. Individual users will get excited about new software that contains features they’ve been looking for; but the American public gets excited when you give them a new toy.

Frankly, I consider Dvorac’s argument a case of “speaking out of both sides of his mouth”. I’ve seen just as much prejudice against the Mac in his writing and in that of the Houston Chronicle’s local computer columnist, Dwight Silverman, an admitted Windows junkie. If Dvorac’s argument that computer writers cover the platform they’re using more than any other is true, then that also explains his own coverage and his latest bitch. However, I find that hard to buy for one overriding reason: journalists, especially those working for large papers or magazines, write about what they think will sell. They have to. Their jobs depend on it.

Nothing like a little controversy, eh, John?

Verax G03 Graphics Card Fan on an ATI Radeon 9800 (OEM)

I knew when I bought an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro (OEM) video card to use with Motion in my G5 PowerMac that I might need to replace its stock cooling fan because it was noisy. I ran it once, confirmed that was the case, and replaced the card with the silent Radeon 9600 that came with the machine. Of course, then I had to research what solutions to the problem might be out there.

The most obvious, expensive, and effective one was a fan from Verax called the G03. I looked at it, the ATI Radeon Cooler from Arctic Cooling, and some heat sinks that would have been totally silent had I chosen to use them. In the end, I chose the Verax fan because users had reported it was silent and its installation appeared fairly easy.

The new fan arrived a few days ago by Priority Mail. The fan and assembly looked like a black candy with curved shrouds inserted into a silver cup made of bent forks. The fan cage is tall, about one inch high. Mounted on the card, the fan cage definitely obliterates the PCI-X slot next to the AGP slot when inserted into the G5.

Mounting the fan on the card was painless. The fan in my OEM card was held in by plastic spread rivets. I removed the center posts with a pair of needle nose pliers that then allowed me to pull the rivets out. All I needed to do to remove the original fan was unplug its two wire power feed from the mounting bracket on the card and pop it off. Then, I cleaned old thermal paste off the GPU using some alcohol, applied thermal paste supplied with the fan, popped two new plastic spread rivets into the holes left by ATI’s, aligned the holes in the fan’s base with them, and popped the new fan into place. Power for the new fan comes from a small 3 pin plug that connects to wires from a pass-through Molex plug I connected in between the power chord and plug of my Pioneer DVR-109 in the optical bay. (I ran the small wires for fan power up through the hole from the PCI bay in the case. They’re long enough to run from the optical drive bay down to the fan. If you want more detail on actually mounting the fan, go to this article at Accelerate Your Mac.com.)

If I ever decide to use my PCI-X slots for anything, I’ll probably have to do some wire routing to get it all snuggled in. Also, the fan costs about $80, so it isn’t cheap. That said, it is extremely quiet. I can’t tell it’s there at all. And that makes it worth it.

The only regret I have at all is that I didn’t get a retail card instead of an OEM. The OEM card has half the memory of the full-blooded retail car; and if I’m going to go to this kind of trouble to make it quiet, I might have well have gone after the “top of the line”. Sometimes being penny wise really is pound foolish.

The New PowerMacs - Is Apple Frackin' Crazy?

Today, Apple did, as rumored, release dual-core PowerMacs. The “low end” model is a single processor, dual core 2.0 GHz model priced at $1999; the middle model is a single processor, dual core 2.3 GHz model priced at $2499, and the “top of the line” model is a dual-processor, dual core 2.5 GHz model priced at an incredible $3299. The dual processor 2.7 GHz (single-core) G5 PowerMac is still available, priced at a lower $2799.

I’m disappointed in this offering.

First, as an owner of a dual processor 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac, I see absolutely no reason to upgrade to anything but the single-core, dual-processor 2.7 GHz G5 or the dual processor, dual-core 2.5 GHz PowerMac. I might be able to “squeak out” enough money to purchase the dual processor 2.7 if I sell or trade-in both my PowerMac and my 1.8 GHz iMac, but there is no way in hell I can afford $3300 for a single Mac! This is an outrageous amount of money for most of us private citizens; only a strong business case can propel one into paying that much money for one machine.

The only Mac purchase I’ve ever regretted was $2999 for a dual processor G4 PowerMac that became passé within a year when the G5’s were introduced. I think about that when I’m thinking about shelling out 3 grand a year or so before MacIntel is introduced.

Secondly, the jury is still out on the performance of these new offerings. Will a dual-core single processor 2.0 PowerMac outpace a single-core, dual processor 2.0? I doubt it; and even if it does, I would not think it would not be by much. Likewise, I’ll be very interested in seeing the benchmarks of the current dual processor 2.7 against a dual processor, dual-core 2.5. One would hope the dual processor, dual-core machine would win, even at the slower speed, just because it can process more data. But will its bandwidth prove to be adequate? It would not be the first time Apple had botched a bandwidth issue; Firewire 800 performance on G5 PowerMacs is evidence of that.

If you already own a G5 PowerMac, the only reason, and a weak one at that, to buy one of anything but the high-end dual processor, dual-core machine is the inclusion of PCI –Express which will allow you to run multiple PCI-E graphics cards and monitors. Other than that. I'd recommend you save your money and wait for the dual-core MacIntel PowerMacs. They'll be a better value.

As for my Computer Roadmap….

At least I now know what I’m going to do. I’m going to upgrade my current PowerMac by adding a bigger hard drive, a Radeon 9800 Pro video card, and more RAM. Motion 2 and Soundtrack Pro will be next while staying with Final Cut Pro 4 and DVD Studio 3. I’m also going to upgrade from my current 20 inch 1.8 GHz PowerMac to a 20 inch 2.0 PowerMac to get the slightly increased speed, a better graphics card (Radeon 9600 with 128 MB video RAM vice my Ge 5200FX with 64 MB RAM), and Gigabit Ethernet. (I’ve got a deal going with PowerMax to take my 1.8 as a trade-in.) We won’t be looking at any PowerBook upgrades until the Intel powered versions come out, and I won’t be trading in or selling any of our current PowerBooks until I either know Rosetta works and works well or I’ve got replacement software.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Computer Roadmap, such as it is...

Ever since Apple announced its transition to Intel CPU’s, I’ve been trying to bring my own personal Computer Roadmap into focus. That’s a hard thing to do when I don’t know exactly what Apple’s plans are, but things have progressed far enough where I have a hazy idea of what I want to do. So, here’s where I’m planning to go, subject to change, of course.

First, I am not going to move video production to the Intel platform anytime soon. This activity needs the most horsepower and the most trouble-free operation I can provide to it. I suspect Apple will need two years to work all the bugs out of the operating system on the new hardware. During that time, there is a high probability that older PowerPC CPU’s running under a tried and true OS would provide better productivity than a newer, faster Intel-powered CPU running under a new port of the operating system. Eventually, the new Intel systems will outpace the current PowerPC’s; but I can worry about that three years from now…if I need to! I can upgrade my software now to carry me through the transition to HD in the unlikely event I even need to go there. I suspect DV will work just fine for me and most consumers for at least the next five years.

I do have some leeway in how I execute this “hold in place”, and that will depend on the makeup of the next PowerMac release. If that occurs on October 19th as rumored, I’ll know by the end of the week what road I’m going to take. If the PowerMac line is all dual-core, dual CPU, then it is likely I will want to trade in my dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac on a newer model, if Adobe Photoshop CS2, Final Cut Pro, or DVD Studio will benefit from the upgrade. If it will be FCP 6 or DVD Studio Pro 3 before dual-core support means anything, then I’m going to sit where I’m at, upgrade my current PowerMac’s memory, and work with what I’ve got. I’ll look at another PowerMac upgrade two years after the Intel transition, i.e., three years from now.

Secondly, I consider my PowerBook as the computer most desirable to upgrade to an Intel CPU. As I’ve said in other blogs, my flight planning and GPS updating software runs only under Windows. So, I need a PowerBook that can run Windows and OS X. If Apple makes the PowerBook both powerful enough and speedy enough where I can run my Windows’ based flight simulators well, then there’s a good chance I would set up my systems to run everything other than video from my PowerBook and not keep another Mac desktop for everyday stuff, a chore currently handled by a G5 iMac. However, that would all depend upon whether application performance and stability under Rosetta was acceptable; and it might not be. I believe Rosetta’s ability to perform has probably been oversold, but I won’t know until I can actually run my own applications using the technology. Hedging my bets against this is what will probably drive me to keep a PowerPC iMac around.

If Rosetta doesn’t work really well, it could prove to be a bad spill for Apple since it would encourage buyers to buy their hardware to run Windows on and ditch OS X. Only if a significant number of users are running most of their applications using Universal Binaries would such a scenario be prevented. Apple is counting on that large scale migration happening. It must, or Apple could be in trouble.

I spent a lot of money a few years ago to transition to the Mac and OS X; and I’m not in the mood to undertake that kind of expenditure to follow Apple through the Intel transition also. I plan to slow my expenditures for software over the next few years and shift most of my current PowerPC applications to my PowerMac which will stay on the PowerPC platform. But I will have to make the move to an Intel based version of OS X eventually, and it will probably be iTunes more than any other application that forces it to happen. There will be a point where PowerPC versions of iTunes will not be available; and then upgrading a couple of machines to Intel CPU’s will be unavoidable. That is an angle of the whole iTunes picture I hadn’t thought of until now and I’m not sure anyone has previously explored. It indeed points to a different aspect of the “iPod halo” that won’t affect Windows users at all but will impact the Mac community greatly. Just like current OS 9 and even early OS X users can’t use the iTunes Music Store anymore at all, the PowerPC crowd will find themselves locked out until they buy a new Mac with an Intel CPU.

This brings up another concern for me, and that is the disappearing Firewire interface first seen on the iPod line. As Apple continues down the USB 2.0 road, it will have less and less incentive to retain Firewire in its Macs. As one who has used USB 2.0 and Firewire on both Windows and Mac platforms, I consider Firewire the more dependable and speedy of the two interfaces. I mentioned earlier that one of my possibilities was to use my PowerBook as a desktop by booting it from an external hard disk and using an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse with it. I’m counting on Firewire to be there to do that. If I let my iMac go and then set up all my processes to use only my PowerBook, what happens if Intel-based PowerBooks are released only sporting USB 2.0? I have no confidence that booting from a USB 2.0 external drive will be as fast or effortless as booting from a Firewire 400 drive. Am I setting myself up for another upset if that comes to pass? I doubt if anyone can argue that won’t happen. It is unlikely as long as digital camcorders use Firewire as an output interface, but there is already research afoot to transfer that function to Bluetooth and other wireless technologies.

Seems like I’ve made an argument to keep an iMac, doesn’t it? Which brings up another question: which one?

I can make do with my current iMac just fine. But if I know I’m going to settle in a few years, I’d prefer to upgrade the machine. I had first thought I might step up to the new iSight carrying iMac just released; but I’m thinking that a Rev B iMac might be a better buy. First, either iMac would give me a faster video card with more memory than I’ve got now. The Rev B machine has a Radeon 9600 with 128 MB of RAM and the new iSight version has a Radeon X600 with 128MB RAM. While the newer Radeon might be faster, I’m not convinced it will be significantly faster.

While the new iSight carrying machine has an iSight buried in it, it’s not going to be a better video conferencing machine than the dual processor PowerMac I already own. You also can’t point an internal iSight at other objects in the room without turning the whole machine, and that is a definite disadvantage. Also, if the iSight goes out, you’ll lose your whole iMac while they perform maintenance. When I already own an iSight, it’s hard for me to see the advantage in the new machine for including one in the unit. For those folks who don’t own an iSight, it’s a no-brainer.

Both machines sport a bigger hard drive than I have (250GB vs 160 GB), integrated Airport Extreme, Bluetooth 2.0 (which I don’t have), and Gigabit Ethernet (which I don’t have). While I’m not using Gigabit Ethernet now, at some point I’d like my iMac to have it so I can move files between it and my PowerMac faster.

But the newer iMac also has two rather major drawbacks. It does not sport an internal modem. Say what you will about having broadband, it does down. (Mine did yesterday for four or five hours). Additionally, many businesses still use a fax as one of their primary forms of sending data quickly. I’d have to buy an external modem if I bought the new machine. That weighs in the Rev B’s favor.

Also in the Rev B’s favor is the memory setup. It comes with two memory slots and uses PC3200 RAM, the same as my current iMac. That means I can transfer the 1GB PC3200 memory in my current iMac to it and upgrade to 2 GB by simply buying another 1 GB stick. That would cost me $ 165. The new iMac has only one memory slot and 512MB on the motherboard of DDR 2. Buying a 1GB stick of DDR2 would cost me only $142 but going to a 2GB stick would run approximately $650; and that’s if I don’t buy it from Apple. The ability to get the Rev B to 2GB with a $165 expenditure gives it slight edge over being able to take the iSight version to 1.5 GB for $142.

In the iSight version’s favor, the screen is reported to be brighter than the original version’s or the Rev B’s.

The only thing that is user replaceable in the new iMac is the memory. In the Rev B, the memory, hard drive, and optical drives are user replaceable.

For me, the overall argument seems shifted toward a Rev B machine. I sent a request to PowerMax for a quote detailing what I might get for my 1.8 GHz G5 iMac on trade in. After I get that and see what the new PowerMac line looks like, I’ll decide what upgrades, if any, I’m going to make. If anything I want is available, that is. Rev B iMacs are quickly becoming rare, even online; and this really isn’t a good time financially for me to do any upgrading.

I haven’t mentioned my PC, and that’s because it’s a minor player in all this. I will maintain the capability to run Windows natively, and Apple’s transition to Intel is now offering me the opportunity to do that without maintaining a separate box. As for the fate of my current PC< if I decide to keep a separate Windows box, I’ll move it up to a new AMD CPU (from its current AMD XP 2800) sometime in the next year. That will more than likely be an impulse buy, something that happens when a really good deal shows up at MicroCenter or Fry’s. But I’m looking harder at whether an Intel based Mac might do the job for me and relegate the Windows PC desk into oblivion so I can replace it with a bookcase.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

iPod Nano - 2, Cyclops iMac- 0

Three of my family members have now opted for iPod Nano’s. My son Michael wanted and got one as a graduation gift, Tim decided to buy one on his own, and my wife wanted one for her birthday, which I dutifully ordered. Michael and Tim have the 2GB versions; Connie is getting a 4Gb version. Michael’s and Connie’s are white. Tim’s is black.

If this is any indication of how popular the iPod Nano is going to be with the general public, then Apple has a monster hit on its hands.

I’m looking more and more at the new video capable iPod. The larger screen is attractive to me not as much for viewing video as it is for general viewing of photographs. Its shorter battery life than my current iPod Photo is a detractor, but probably one I can put up with.

A couple of nights ago, I downloaded the “Weapon of Choice” music video by Fatboy Slim and starring Christopher Walken. I’ve always thought that video was such a kick ever since I first saw it, and buying it would allow me to test how the whole system worked. It took me a couple of attempts at various times to get it successfully loaded; I kept getting error messages from the iTunes Music Store. But it finally worked. I played the video in its native size (which corresponded to a 4 inch diagonal screen) and also full screen. Despite other reports on the Internet I had seen, the full screen version was not terribly pixilated. The video quality was still good. Now, if iTunes only had the Shania Twain “I’m Gonna Getcha Good! Video”, I could fantasize all weekend…

Heh, might have to make a trip to the Apple Store this weekend.

After reflecting more on my overall situation, I have decided against upgrading to the new iMac. The cost just doesn’t seem worth the additional gain, though I’ll continue to re-examine that position as my financial situation changes and more becomes known about performance and quirks of those systems. The lack of a modem and the single memory slot are big detractors, and Apple’s price for a 2 GB upgrade is ludicrous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Merits and Demerits - Apple's New Machines

Today, Apple released two upgraded products and one new one. The long-rumored video enabled iPod, an iSight equipped iMac and a new remote control for it are now available from the Apple Store. Am I looking at purchasing any of these? Maybe.

My wife gave me a new 30GB iPod Photo for my birthday this year. I use it constantly to play my music and really like it, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use it for slideshows or showing photos to a friend. Before today’s announcement, I really had little interest in a video-capable iPod. Today, well, that feeling hasn’t changed much.

The video-equipped iPod does have a 2.5 inch color screen, and that is half and inch larger than the one on my iPod. That makes me feel a little better about watching a video for a couple of hours on such a tiny thing, but not much. Frankly, I’m not into music videos (though I might be if they are free) and could get interested in downloading TV shows the night after they air, if the shows might be the one I routinely watch. The only TV show I make time for every week (when there is a new episode on) is SciFi’s “Battlestar Gallactica”. The list I saw this afternoon of the iPod downloadable shows are only from ABC and a couple from Disney; I had no interest in any of those. Would I be interested in downloading movies and watching them in the future? Not unless it was the only way of viewing them. I would prefer to get a DVD and watch in using my 12 inch PowerBook before succumbing to the cramped confines of the video iPod. I did think of one place where the video iPod might be ideal: on my recumbent exercise bike.

The iMac line also was revamped, though the changes were evolutionary vice revolutionary. The biggest changes were the inclusion of an internal iSight camera, the replacement of the AGP video interface with PCI Express, and the inclusion of Gigabit Ethernet. CPU speed was ever-so-slighty bumped up from 1.8 GHz to 1.9 GHz for the 17 inch model and from 2.0 GHz to 2.1 GHz for the 20 inch model. By the way, there are only two models; the 17 inch 2.0 GHz iMac has gone the way of the do-do, as has the iMac’s internal modem. If the deletion of the modem was an attempt to force people to get broadband, it stinks. Apple has forgotten that even if one doesn’t use dial-up (and broadband does not stay up all the time), many businesses still receive data electronically by fax. To get a modem, you have to buy a $49 USB modem Apple is now selling. It’s an example of Apple cutting prices in one area but making it back in another. The 17 inch iMac is still at $1299, but the 20 inch model is only $1699.

Will I upgrade my older 1.8 GHz 20 inch iMac? Maybe. I had hoped this iMac upgrade would introduce noticeably faster CPU’s, perhaps in the 2.5 GHz range. So, the speed bump is disappointing. However, the inclusion of the iSight, Gigabit Ethernet, and the move to PCI Express with 128 MB of video ram is making me take a look at what the cost might be. (And I do have to add in the cost of a USB modem as well giving up a USB port for that.) I will contact a company I know takes trades and get a quote on what an upgrade would cost me. Then, I’ll decide whether I want to take the plunge.

Complicating that decision is Apple’s transition to Intel next year. When that occurs, I would like to combine the functions of my iMac and my Windows XP/98SE PC. Whether with an iMac or a PowerMac, I’d be tempted to buy one if I could dual boot it between OS X and Windows XP. I will probably keep one desktop strictly for video editing; but if I could combine my “every day” functions into one machine, I could maintain one less set of hardware and free up space in my office currently sacrificed to my PC set up. If I buy now, I probably would not buy again next year. On the other hand, I have absolutely no desire to replace all my current software with Intel versions and don’t trust that Rosetta will run those apps satisfactorily; that argues for staying with PowerPC.

On an auxiliary note, several Mac related websites noted the absence of the CRT e-Mac from the Apple Store after today’s update. Indeed, they are not available. If you’ve been thinking about buying one, better pick one up at the Apple Store or out of some other retailer’s inventory.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

WordPerfect vs Word- Too Bad There's No WP for Mac

Having used both WordPerfect and Word for personal and professional uses, WordPerfect is the better word processor and desktop publisher of the two, despite Word’s dominance in the market place. I switched over to Word and Office mainly because of compatibility, i.e., WordPerfect’s inability to convert complex Office documents correctly, a weakness it still suffers from. That’s too bad because it’s another case of the best product not being the market leader; and it’s not how competition is supposed to work. But the reality is that since Microsoft Office is so prevalent, if one wants to compete with it, one has to build software that can convert Office documents without a hitch. Without that ability, one might as well not even show up at the ballpark.

That said, it’s also too bad Corel dropped support for the Mac. It stopped making WordPerfect for the Mac long ago and finally dropped Corel Draw support a few years back. It would be interesting if Corel would bring back Mac support for its products. The resurgence of the Mac on the Intel CPU might open an otherwise closed opportunity for Corel to grab market share, at least in the word processor market. I can’t comment about Quattro Pro or Paradox and their abilities to substitute for Excel and Access; it’s been too long since I used either of them.

I do have a copy of WordPerfect 9 on my Windows PC. I’d probably use it to write with, but I don’t use the PC for writing at all. Ergonomics on my Macs are so much better I always use them, and I’ve tried all kinds of screen and keyboard setups on the PC. Of course, now that I’m on the Mac platform, WordPerfect is not an option because it's not available.

Corel might want to think about changing that.

Emprex Micro Storage 2.2GB HD Quits

I routinely used my Emprex Micro Storage 2.2 GB hard drive to not only store files I needed on the fly but to transfer files between computers. This morning while at work, I hooked up the drive to my PowerBook to transfer a Word file to my work PC, the little blue activity light on the drive flashed, but the drive did not mount. Uh-oh. It had been working fine. I moved the drive to my work PC, a Windows XP powered HP Compaq Pentium 4, and tried it there. Windows flashed a message to me that it couldn’t recognize the USB device I was trying to attach. So, I’m fairly certain that something in the little drive has died. I tried putting it back on the PowerBook and bringing up Disk Utility in a long shot attempt to salvage something, but it was to no avail. I have contacted Emprex and am not sure about the warranty or if there is anything else I can do to troubleshoot it (I doubt it).

In the meantime, I’m going to have to find something to replace it. I’m still leaning toward a small hard drive, though I may not go after a 1 inch form factor anymore. A larger 2.5 inch external drive would probably be more economical, but I have yet to go shopping to see. I might replace it with a 2 GB Flash drive, but the problems I’ve been seeing lately with those drives (see my earlier blog about the 00000000.000 files and folders) make me a bit skeptical of that route. A trip to Fry’s and/or Microcenter is in order, probably the latter because there’s a 300GB SATA hard drive I’d like to buy from MicroCenter to put in my dual G5.

iPod Nano -Made in China

As a graduation present for my son Michael, I ordered an iPod Nano from the Apple Store. When I placed the order, the tag-line under the graphic for the item said it would be shipped in 1 to 2 days after I placed the order. It was, directly from Shenzen, China.

The second entry on the FedEx website said that the iPod was suffering from a “regulatory agency delay”. It did but only for a day or so before the iPod was speeding across the Pacific to reach Texas. The FedEx website said the package would be delivered on Oct 5, but it actually made it here by Oct 3, only a couple of days after I had placed the order. The delivery person missed me at home, so I went up to the nearest FedEx shipping center and picked it up.

I was surprised by two things. The first was that it shipped directly from China. The second was that FedEx got a “free shipping” item to me so quickly all the way from China.

As for the iPod Nano itself, you’ll have to ask my son. Even though I’m greatly curious, I’m maintaining the discipline not to open the damn thing to take a look at it.

Hurricane Lessons - The Impact of Computer Technology on Flying

When we heard that Hurricane Rita was accelerating past a Category Three and supposedly headed for Houston, we made a decision to fly our airplane out. I had been planning to fly out and see my sons in Alabama and Florida; and so, we decided to head off in that direction. Flying that far east seemed to make sense; it wasn’t impossible that the hurricane would turn that far east. But no matter where we went, the decision to fly the airplane out meant I had to plan the flights out.

We flew to Troy, Alabama from Friendswood, Texas and spent a few days there waiting for the hurricane to do its worst. Luckily for us but unluckily for the folks just a touch to the east, the hurricane turned more to the north than expected. Yet, during the whole time we watched and waited, we had instant access to the latest information via television or the Internet.

Some form of computer technology positively impacted every phase of the flight out, our time there, and the flight back.

I belong to the Airplane Owners and Pilots’ Association, and they provide me with a Real Time Flight Planning software tool. Running on Windows, the software hooks up via the Internet with servers at AOPA and downloads the latest flight restrictions around the country, plotting them on a map of the United States. (I actually run this software on my 1.5 GHz G4 PowerBook under Virtual PC 7.02 and Windows XP SP2.) This allows me to plot my routes around these areas, and this is a critical task at this time in our country’s general aviation history. While the FAA does have a website where these areas are depicted, being able to actually plot routes around them adds a whole different and more usable dimension to my abilities.

Likewise, the use of Global Positional Satellites as a navigational aid in light aircraft has become a major factor in keeping pilots cognizant of where they are and how a flight is progressing. Advances in computer technology now means I can haul on board my aircraft a portable GPS unit with a 256-color display that shows me my flight path, the terrain, and even superimposes weather radar depictions over my current moving map display. I no longer have to figure out my groundspeed or my wind correction angle; the GPS’s computer can do it for me.

If I owned a PDA running Pocket PC software, I could load it with a software application named “Anywhere Map” that, once hooked up to a GPS, will provide a moving map complete with the aircraft’s current location, projected path, a ring graphically depicting the aircraft’s glide range, and even graphical depictions of the FAA’s Temporary Flight Restrictions updated daily. This software can be run with other packages that also superimpose weather radar information over the moving map and the package also contains all the airport information one would ever want. My GPS or my PDA could display runway length and width, a graphic showing the runway orientations, communication frequencies, pattern altitudes, what facilities are located on the field, and even what restaurants and hotels may be nearby.

Additionally, when I’m on the ground, I use my laptop or a computer located within a FBO (Fixed Base Operator, a business that sells aircraft related services at an airport) to check the latest weather reports, find out what the forecasts for anywhere are, look at the current weather radar pictures for that area, and check for new flight restrictions. I can even use my cell phone, which has a color display, to get the same information via the web or via subscription based services available over my phone’s digital network.