Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Macs; System Updates

New Macs

Apple has upgraded their iMac line, and also has a faster MacPro. Both use the new Intel i-series of chips, the i3, i5 and i7. Two of these have already appeared in the 15" and 17" MacBook Pros, so it was just a matter of time before they made it into the iMacs as well.

The fastest chip, a 3.6 GHz i5 is available on both the 21.5" and 27" iMacs, and a 2.93 GHz i7 is an option on the 27" only. Even though it has a slower clock speed, it's a quad core, which almost doubles the processing power.

The smaller one starts at $1195 and the other at $1695. They have four memory slots; both ship with 4Gb RAM but support up to 16 Gb (four 4Gb modules). You will spend some money for those. Base price for the 27" i7 is a buck shy of $2200.

The graphics chips go up in speed and quality with the price; the best 27" has the ATI Radeon HD 5750 with 1Gb of video memory. The better this chip is, the more performance you get out of the main processor. This is why the 13" MacBook Pro, even though it uses the same 2.4 GHz chip as the two-year-old 15" model is so much faster.

I maxed out the top model at the Apple Store, and found that I could get the works for $4415. That did not include any optional software beyond iWork and the $169 AppleCare. Visit the Apple Store site and see for yourself what those applications cost. This configuration includes two drives: a 2 terabyte SATA 7200rpm (amazing in itself) and also a 256 Gb solid-state drive. SSDs are faster than any mechanical drive can be, booting up in 2 seconds and loading Photoshop in just one. The package includes both the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, and the charger (see below).

I have been warned by others that Apple does not use the fastest SSD drives in the industry, though, so I would investigate just getting the 2Tb drive and then getting the SSD from Other World Computing for $89 more than Apple's.

Bottom line is that 80% of you will be more than satisfied with the cheapest and the leastest $1199 model with no options beyond AppleCare, and you will love the 27" to pieces. Extra RAM can be added later.

Magic Trackpad; Battery Charger

Two interesting products that never existed before are a battery charger for $29 (for their wireless mice and keyboards) and a standalone multi-touch trackpad that brings the same kind of control to desktop Macs as found on the new laptops. If I were a desktop user I would get one of these for sure. The Magic Mouse has multi-touch as well, but not the rotate effect, and the 4-finger swipe that brings up Expose.

There are battery chargers everywhere, of course, but the Apple device has a smart charger that detects when the batteries are fully charged and cuts the current, reducing the usual parasitic charge that such devices usually have: 30 milliwatts instead of over 300. Coming with six AA batteries, you will never have to buy a box of disposables again.

MacShop NW Leaves Portland

One of my favorite Mac shops has closed their Portland office, focusing exclusively on their Newport store. If you live on the coast, this is your best place for buying and fixing Macs from an authorized Apple dealer. Their site is http://www.macshop.com/. Locally, I still send people to MacPac on NE Whittaker Way, MacForce on SE Salmon St. right next to the river, and PowerMax in Lake Grove, which also contains the service center for the entire MacStore chain. MacPac does component-level fixing similar to what MacShopNW did, and is the place to go for oddball out-of-warranty repairs. The others are fine for AppleCare fixes and I don't recommend against any of them. This was not always the case, but it has been quite a while since I heard any customer complaints against them. The MacStore branches have a small service area where they can add RAM, replace hard drives, and the like.

System Updates

Not too many updates since last mailing. iTunes is now at 9.2.1, fixing bugs in the 9.2.0 version. The latest ones are needed for renting movies from the iTunes Store, and to support the iPhone 4 and the iPad. If you have an older iPhone or iPod and are having no problems with the iTunes you are using, there is no need to update it.

Safari 5.0 for Leopard and Snow Leopard seems to be behaving itself. I have had no problems with it, beyond minimal glitches loading Flash videos due to the fact that I am running Click2Flash, a great utility that prevents loading all those Flash ads unless you really want to see them. I find just a blank space where the video should be, so I have to right-click (or control-click) on the space and choose Load Flash from the popup menu. Hopefully there will be an update to Click2Flash soon.

Safari 4.1 for Tiger is another matter. So many people have problems I have put it on my permanent Avoid It list. Stick to version 4.0.5.

Sadly, Safari 3.1, the last good version of Safari 3, is getting obsolete and some web commerce and banking sites are refusing to talk to it. An alternative is Camino or Firefox, or Google Chrome. Everyone should have all these browsers available. Firefox is up to 3.6.8 now, and it seems to have fixed many of the troubles that bedeviled users of 3.5 and early versions of 3.6. My own second choice is Camino (google it) but I drop into Chrome occasionally as well. Once the Mac version of Chrome is at parity with the Windows version it will be a pretty hot browser.

Other updates all seem fine. Get the current Java and Security updates, firmware updates, keyboard updates and anything else that is being offered now. It's been a long time since I could say that.

One exception is Leopard 10.5.8. I am still wary of it, but it is increasingly necessary to get any of the others. If your Mac is at 10.5.7 and you have not received any messages that you must upgrade to use a desired program, stop there. I always cross my fingers before updating someone to 10.5.8, in addition to doing a full disk check with Disk Warrior and Repair Permissions with Disk Utility.

It is important to Repair Permissions after running ANY new software installation, and after running any updates. That includes Flash, printer drivers, scanner drivers, anything.