The Computer Blog

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A 3 GHz iMac.....NICE!!

Apple released a 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo powered iMac this week. For the first time, a consumer Mac will be operating at speeds previously reserved for the Mac Pro.
I’ve said several times in this blog that the iMac is my favorite Mac, and the one I would recommend for users wanting a desktop. The trick of making yourself happy with one, of course, is to buy one that meets or exceeds your current needs. I could happily say that a 3.06 GHz iMac would exceed my current needs, but then most any machine would since I already own a 2.66 Ghz dual processor Intel dual core Xenon powered Mac Pro and and Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. Regardless, in a true demonstration that men are only as big as their toys, I want a 3.06 Ghz iMac with a 24 inch screen, need one or not!

While acknowledging there has no be no logic in such a purchase at all, I did take a look at what the best configuration of such a machine would be for me. I would rarely
use it as a gamer but would be entirely likely to employ it running Final Cut Pro, Motion 2, Compressor, or Photoshop. So, I decided to take a look at taking the bottom of the line of the 24 inch iMacs and building it to order so I could compare its price against the base price of the top of the line 24 inch iMac. Here’s why…

I consider Rob-art’s “barefeats.com” website as the premiere website when it comes to measuring and discussing Mac performance, and a while back it posted some tests that measured the performance of the ATI Radeon 2600 HD (among others) and the Nvidia GeForce 8800GT. The Radeon is the GPU in the low end 24 incher, and the GeForce is the CPU in the high-end 24 incher. While the GeForce GPU is definitely stronger in some games, the Radeon is the faster GPU when working with “pro” applications (like those I mentioned above).

Hence the effort to price out a 24 incher with the Radeon GPU (starts at $1799) and upgrading it to a 3.06GHz CPU and upgrading the hard drive from 320GB to 500GB. That makes for a $2049 machine that will ship in 1-3 business days versus a $2199 machine that also ships in 1-3 business days. Not a lot of savings. If I was going to spend more, I’d kick the hard drive up to 750GB, adding another $94 of cost, and bringing the total to $2143, $56 less than the top of the line machine. That makes it a trade of hard disk space for a little less gaming performance but better “pro app” performance. This is the configuration I’d go after.

Will I buy one? Oh, I’m REALLY tempted! I’d love to be able to benchmark that machine using Cinebench against a current 2.0 GHz iMac, my 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, a 2.66 GHz quad-core Mac Pro, and possibly a 2.0 GHz Intel Core Duo iMac, a dual processor 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac, and a dual processor 1.25 GHz G4 PowerMac that are still lurking out in my family. More than likely, I’ll show some restraint and won’t get the thing now, if at all, though. But, with me, you never know. Sometimes my wild hair wins out, even if the rest of it is turning slightly grey!

To Each His Own

It only took me four hours of using my wife’s old iMac and switching back to my Mac Pro with its 23 inch ACD to decide that I was going back to how I’ve been operating, i.e., with my quad-core 2.66 GHz Mac Pro and its 23 inch Apple Cinema Display as my main machine. Even with the iMac’s screen turned up to full brightness, my eyes were feeling tired after working on it for several hours and refreshed when back on the Mac Pro. That plus the Mac Pro’s speed and smoothness won me back over, and I also really don’t like managing multiple data sets anymore. That’s too bad for me, because I really do love iMacs.

Much to my surprise, my stepson (from my first marriage) did not want to swap one of his current systems for the iMac. So, I’m going to put the iMac up for sale using an online swap sheet at work. If I can sell it for $500 (and I believe I can move it for that price), I can offset just about all my costs of the upgrade, except for the money I had already saved up and don’t mind sacrificing. I would have the new iMac completely paid for within a month.

I’ve been playing with my wife’s new iMac, and, despite all the rhetoric on the web about that model’s screen quality (mainly about its uneven lighting and color which one can easily see), it’s screen does appear brighter than the old iMac’s. If I had the money, I could easily be talked into buying a 24 inch iMac (with its even better screen), but I don’t. Besides, even if I don’t want to admit it to myself, an iMac really doesn’t match my mission anymore. In addition to something I can use for desktop publishing, graphics work, video editing, writing, and a flight simulator platform, I need something that can act as a media server for the Apple TV in our living room. An iMac can do all that; but, at some point, its lack of storage expandability does it in. A Mac Pro really does do me better, even if it is not as elegant as an iMac.

I’ve also been playing on the other side of the Mac performance scale as I helped a friend join the Mac community by setting up an old 457 MHz G4 Digital Audio Power Mac running Panther. Most of her set-up problems were due to miscommunication between her and her daughter (who set up their internet account on Yahoo! AT&T) and not understanding for a while that mail server settings for att.net and yahoo.att.net are different. We got it all sorted out and up and running. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the machine ran Panther, its web applications (Safari, Firefox) and Office 2004. It had 1GB of RAM, a 128 GB hard drive, and a Rage Pro video card hooked to a 17 inch Dell VGA monitor. (I really think this is a 466 MHz G4 and that its clock speed is being mis-reported by the operating system.) I swapped out her CD-RW with a Pioneer DVR-105 I had sitting around and gave her a copy of Toast 7 to use with it. It works for her, and that’s all that matters.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Demise of Go Live

If you’ve ever stopped to read the disclaimers on the front page of this website, then you know that I maintain it and have maintained it for many years with the help of Adobe Go Live. I’m personally big into integration when it comes to computing, so Go Live was attractive to me because of its integration with Photoshop, Illustrator, and In Design, products I was already using, not to mention its slant toward print designers rather than web programmers.

This week Adobe announced that Go Live will be no longer supported. It’s the end of the line for that product, something I’ve been expecting for a while, ever since Adobe acquired Macromedia and Dreamweaver. I suspected Adobe’s assurances that Go Live would be supported were half-truths and it would only be supported through the version 9 release and then dropped in favor of Dreamweaver. Looks like I was right.

To their credit, Adobe is offering a $199 upgrade path to Dreamweaver CS3 for registered Go Live users (and I haven’t registered my copy so I just might now), though I’m not sure I’m going to pursue it. Frankly, I have never pushed Go Live to the limits of its capabilities and probably will not upgrade my CS3 applications anytime soon, so I’m no hurry to move. What does make me think about stepping over to Dreamweaver is the lack of documentation surrounding Go Live and the plethora that’s available concerning Dreamweaver. It saves me a lot of time when learning an application to have some good books around.

I need an application what will let me do what I need to with a minimum of hassle, including hand-coding. I realize that the latter is purer and less bloated, but time is the one thing I’m short of, and hand-coding does take time. From what I’ve heard of Dreamweaver, I’m just not convinced I’ll buy anything by moving to it, either. I will take some time, though, to evaluate my options; but my first choice would be to spend that time on learning Go Live 9 better and spend the money I’d use on the Dreamweaver crossover on something else.

Perhaps the biggest thing about this shift is how computing seems to be going full-circle with respect to its relationships with respect to prosumers and professionals. When the GUI revolution was beginning, the trend was to take the land that had only been in the hand of the professionals and redistribute it to the everyday consumer. For the last few years, though, that trend has been reversing. There is an ever-growing gap between software for the consumer and prosumer and that for the professional as evidenced by the ever-growing propensity to bundle high-powered applications and drive prices up out of reach of the average consumer.

The demise of Go Live is just one more piece of evidence of that philosophical switch.

I’m not really sure this is a good thing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Time Machine, Airport Express, and USB Drive

When Apple released Leopard and its new Time Machine feature, rumor said Time Machine would work across a network, backing up your Mac to a network drive. Users quickly realized that the promise wasn’t made to come true, and there was much consternation in the Mac community. This year, though, after Apple released its Airport Express spin-off known as Time Capsule, a combination of an Airport Express Base Station and an internal (network) hard drive, the capability that had been promised with the release of the “n” models base stations, showed up for us everyday Airport Extreme base station owners. Last week, I decided to put the capability to the test.

The real reason I decided to do it was not that I wanted to write about it but because I needed some kind of setup that was invisible to my wife. I had rigged a Western Digital 320GB hard drive with a Firewire 400 interface for Time Machine’s use, but she still had to turn it on in addition to turning on her iMac, and that was not within her normal habits. Of course, I could have just left the hard drive on all the time, but I didn’t want to do that because of the wear on the drive, the extra energy usage, and the small risk of fire. I decided to set up Time Machine using that same drive but hooked into our Airport Extreme Base Station via its USB port.

In the past, when I had tried to substitute a new drive into a Time Machine setup, I had never been successful. Instead, I always have been forced to wipe out the old Time Machine backup and restart a whole new backup on the new drive. So, I started out her reconfiguration by reformatting the drive before installing it on the network by plugging into our Airport Express Base Station. Once that was done, I mounted the disk on her iMac over the wireless part of our network (which is a “N” network but her machine only has a “G” networking card.) and told Time Machine to use the network disk as the backup device. I then commanded Time Machine to “Back Up Now” and instructed my wife not to turn off her iMac or the network set-up until Time Machine was done. While I don’t know exactly how long it took to back up her 160GB of data, applications, and operating system files, it was almost 24 hours before the dialog box of the backup disappeared. She had used the machine unfettered in the meantime while the whole thing had run quietly in the background.

Backups only take a short time now, but the sluggishness of this set-up makes me hope I never had to do a full restore from it. If I do, I will be hooking the Time Machine disk to her iMac via a direct Ethernet connection or Firewire, if that didn’t work, and hope I could bring everything back in a short period of time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Great iMac Swap

When I learned that Microcenter was selling new 20 inch iMacs at $200 off, I decided it was time for a change. Combined with the money I had already saved toward just such a purchase later in the year, I could get my wife a new machine for only about $600. That was too good a deal to pass up, so last night we drove up to the store. I sat her down at a 20 inch iMac already on display and changed the desktop picture to a solid color to make sure she was okay with both the color gradients and the lighting differentials of the newer, cheaper glossy screens. She actually liked them better. So, I bought her the 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo model with a 250GB hard drive and Radeon 2400HD video GPU with 128 MB of video RAM and took it home.

Setting up the new iMac was relatively easy. Only shortly after we watched the introductory video did a wizard ask us if we wanted to transfer data from another Mac, which we did. I hooked up a Firewire 400 cable between machines and then booted her old Mac while holding down the “T” key on the new aluminum keyboard it had been attached to. That didn’t work; the iMac booted normally instead of into Target Disk Mode. Recognizing the problem as one due to the newer keyboard, I swapped it with the older Apple keyboard and tried again. It worked that time. The wizard on the new machine recognized both the Firewire connection and the old machine and began transferring files. It was “sit back and wait” time. My wife had over 100GB of data to transfer, so it took the machine a couple of hours to move everything over. At the end of that, I hooked up the new iMac to our network via a CAT 6 cable and ran Software Update until it had downloaded and installed every available change. I then launched several of her applications to make sure they ran error free and then shut the machine down and added a 1GB stick of DDR2 RAM to kick it up to 2GB. After putting it back together and setting it in its rightful place on my wife’s desk, I cranked it up and tested its operation again and saw no problems.

Typically, I’d take her old machine and find someone in the family who wanted it. Not this time. I’ve always had an affection for flat panel iMacs, so I’m going to use her old one in my office in the place of my MacBook Pro being hooked up to a 20 inch display. I’m going to set it up by cloning my MBP’s hard disk onto the iMac and then load copies of my iPhoto and iTunes libaries onto it, too, as well as most of my most frequently used data. Then, I’m just going to sit and use it for a while. In time, I may grow weary of having to maintain two sets of data and feel like it’s time to set the machine free and give it a better home. I may also take the calculated risk of replacing the iMac’s virbrating optical drive with a new one and upgrade its hard disk to a newer, larger one. But, for now, I’d just like to use it for a bit to kick myself loose writing. I also feel better about having a machine with an internal iSight. That way, my external and rare Firewire-driven iSight remains a spare.