Category Archives: apple

MacBook Pro retina pricing

I usually like reading ReadWriteWeb, but I think this article this morning is just link bait (which obviously worked, because I’m linking to it):

Buying a MacBook Pro with Retina means shelling out at least $2,199 for a notebook with a 15.4-inch, 2880×1800 display. Top-end models approach $3,500!

By comparison, the cheapest 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,799, with half the resolution and a different but roughly comparable set of features and specifications. (The Retina version is smaller and lighter but lacks a DVD drive, and uses expensive Flash storage instead of a slower conventional hard drive.)

Anyone who has used an SSD knows there’s nothing “roughly comparable” between the these two computers’ configurations. But we can help them with the math.

Let’s take the cheapest 15-inch at $1799. To get “roughly comparable”, we’ll need to upgrade the RAM to 8GB ($100), and upgrade to the same 256GB SSD ($500), for a total of $2399. You could add another $100 to upgrade to the 1680×1050 hi-res screen, but let’s assume you don’t want that.

To be fair, that machine will have a DVD drive and an ethernet port. So, let’s add those to the base retina MacBook Pro. Base model is $2199, add the USB SuperDrive ($79), and add the Thunderbolt ethernet adapter ($29), for a total of $2307.

So the retina MBP is actually cheaper – AND it comes with 1GB of video RAM, vs. 512MB in the classic MBP.

Is the retina MBP expensive for a laptop? Yes. But none of the 15-inch MacBook Pros are cheap. The new model with the retina display is actually quite aggressively priced, IMHO, as compared with the prior models.

On the MacBook Pro with Retina display

There has been much written about the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. I’ve had one for about a week; I’m not going to write a review, as I’m not sure how anyone could compete with this review…but rather I’ll just mention a few things I’ve noticed in using it for my work.

First, the retina display is quite striking when you use it with applications that have been updated with retina graphics. Most websites that have not updated their graphics don’t look good at all, as I said earlier:

The “blurry” effect is actually more noticeable on the MacBook Pro than it is on the iPad. So for the many, many folks I’ve heard saying “my site looks ok on the iPad, so I’m not going to worry about it” – my recommendation is take a look at it on the MacBook Pro, and make sure you’re comfortable with how it looks. Hint: it probably looks worse than you think.

There are two things that I’ve found a little painful at the moment when using the new MacBook Pro, as Joshua Johnson also noticed.

First, trying to edit 1x artwork on the retina screen is definitely a challenge. At the moment, you just can’t really tell how it’s going to look on a non-retina screen. Maybe a future update to Photoshop CS6 or Pixelmator or some other app will fix this; we’ll have to see.

And second, taking a screenshot on the retina MBP results in an image that’s twice the size you expect; for example, if you’re running at the “ideal” 1440×900 effective resolution, screen shots will be at 2880×1800. That’s great if you need a 2x screenshot to display on a retina display…but if you need a screenshot to display on a 1x display, you don’t have great options. You can downsize it in Photoshop or other editor, but you lose quality.

My solution to both of these problems has been to connect a regular non-retina screen for those tasks. This also has the advantage of letting me see quickly how things are looking on both retina and non-retina screens side by side, at the cost of being tethered to my desk…

All in all, the machine is beautiful, the screen is stunning when viewing high resolution content, and the machine is quite fast as compared to my other machines. I think the issues I mentioned above will probably (hopefully!) work themselves out as the software catches up with the display.

Mac Pro fortune cookies

TUAW has an article up today wondering if Thunderbolt might mean the end of the line for the Mac Pro in its current form:

The arrival of the Thunderbolt interface, Meta Media says, will allow Apple to return to its beloved sealed-box model of computer production with no user-serviceable parts inside, just like the original Macintosh. No expansion cards, no hard disk upgrades, just Thunderbolt (aka Light Peak) interfaces to connect … well, to connect anything you like really.

The comments to that article are full of opinions, as expected. As someone who uses a Mac Pro every day, I’ve thought about this off and on for the last year or so. Thunderbolt definitely changes the game, providing two 10Gbps channels on one cable.

The big differentiators for the Mac Pro today over the other models in Apple’s lineup are CPU, RAM capacity, display capabilities, and internal storage. CPU and RAM are both significant, but the lower end machines are making this up quickly – witness the impressive performance of the new Sandy Bridge-based Macbook Pros. A next-gen iMac could be quite impressive on these fronts if Apple chose to push the envelope.

As for internal storage, the MP has four internal drive bays for SATA drives; I have all four filled in mine. However, a Thunderbolt port with two 10Gbps channels for external drives would certainly suffice, even compared to a potential future MP with 6Gbps SATA…and for the folks who really need the I/O performance – folks editing HD video, say – Thunderbolt RAID systems could be a step up over what they can do now with 2/4 Gbps fiber adapters.

Multiple displays make up another area where the MP shines – it’s the only Mac where you can have more than two displays (not counting network- or USB-connected displays of dubious performance). I use three (with two video adapters), and I know folks with more. While I could get by with two large 27-30 inch displays myself, there are others who would not be so understanding. As I understand it, Thunderbolt supports one Display Port display at the end of the chain. Seems to me a future MP replacement would ideally need to support at least 4 2560×1600 displays to be accepted by the real power users, so Thunderbolt isn’t helping too much here…unless they built in more ports.

In any case, it appears to me that Thunderbolt definitely enables Apple to make some real changes to the MP line if they want to, specifically with respect to storage and other peripherals that have traditionally used PCI Express. They could either redesign and slim down the existing MP by getting rid of most of the internal drive bays and the space used by the PCIe slots, or potentially even drop the MP completely in favor of a “super-iMac”.

Time will tell.

My take on Apple’s Magic Mouse

Never one to let new toys sit on store shelves too long, I picked up a Magic Mouse as soon as they were available in the local Apple stores. I was one of those rare folks who actually liked the mouse-formerly-known-as Mighty Mouse, so thought I’d write about it from that perspective.

First, I love the scrolling action when you slide your finger on the mouse. _Love_ it. I also find that I really like the momentum scrolling option, which, like the iPhone, dampens the scrolling effect when you lift your finger rather than stopping abruptly. I thought I’d hate the momentum (makes sense on the iPhone, but on a computer?!?), but it didn’t take long to get used to it, and then like it, and then actually be bummed when it didn’t work well in an app. The only app I’ve found so far that it doesn’t seem to work well in is Tweetie; I think it is actually working, but it’s so highly damped that you can’t really tell. [I saw a tweet from Loren saying he's waiting for his mouse to come in so he can work on it.]

If you want to stop the scrolling abruptly, like other mice, just don’t pick up your finger when you’re done scrolling…and it will stop in its tracks. Perfect.

The only scroll-related gotcha I’ve found is when you’re in an app where you can scroll down one line at a time (the example for me is the ThinkOrSwim trading app, looking at level 2 quotes, trying to scroll down one line at a time)…with the mighty mouse, it was easier to scroll down just one line, or three lines, or whatever you wanted. With the magic mouse, it’s still possible, but takes some finesse, which I haven’t mastered yet.

The other thing I really like is the fact that you can use the whole surface of the mouse for scrolling. Sometimes I’ll be reading a long web page, and take my hand off the mouse. Now when I want to scroll down a bit, I don’t have to position my finger right on the scroll ball, but in fact can just stick a finger anywhere on the mouse and scroll around.

Right-clicking on the magic mouse works exactly like it did on the mighty mouse, which works well for me. The two-finger swipes to go back and forward in a browser do work…but I haven’t trained myself to do it yet. It’s a touch awkward now, IMHO, but who knows, maybe I’ll grow to like it.

I do miss the extra buttons on the mighty mouse, which I had assigned to dashboard and expose. My hope is that Apple maybe adds some options in the mouse preferences to re-map the two-finger swipe to other functions, so we can customize the behavior to our liking. Or perhaps there are other gestures the mouse can recognize that just aren’t implemented in the driver yet. I’m not holding my breath, though. :-)

All in all, I like it a lot. I’ll probably end up buying another one for my other computer now. And, in case you want one, here are make-me-rich Amazon links for the Magic Mouse and the wired mouse!

Lightroom and Mac Pro performance – part 2

Back in February, I wrote about the performance I was seeing with my Mac Pro, and compared it to several other machines. My intent was to compare performance between various different machines and configurations…but it had the unexpected side effect of giving me a baseline with which to measure new versions of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

This data proved to be quite useful when Lightroom 2.0 was released, and I could test the 32-bit build against the 64-bit build. What I found was surprising.

Just like last time, the basic test was generating 1:1 previews for 211 raw images (compressed NEF format from a Nikon D200), about 1.75GB of files.

First, Lightroom 2.0 32-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization between 350-500% throughout
Total time 4:57, average 1.41 sec/image

And Lightroom 2.0 64-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization between 500-550% throughout
Total time 7:06, average 2.02 sec/image

So the 32-bit version on OS X 10.5.5 was actually a bit faster than my previous tests of Lightroom 1.3.1 on 10.5.2, which could be due to either the Lightroom 2.0 upgrade, or 10.5.5 changes.

But the 64-bit version of Lightroom 2.0 totally blew chunks, as you can see. Pretty disappointing, and totally reproducible for me, so I opened a ticket with Adobe. They got back to me saying they could reproduce the problem, and also had a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about how there is more overhead in accessing memory in 64-bit mode (which I’m not sure I believe, but I’m not up to speed enough on the Leopard 64-bit implementation to know for sure).

Well, Lightroom 2.1 was recently released, and here is the data:

Lightroom 2.1 32-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization between 350-500% throughout
Total time 4:55, average 1.40 sec/image

Lightroom 2.1 64-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization about 400% throughout
Total time 4:05, average 1.16 sec/image

Wow – obviously a big change; the 64-bit version now totally rocks. There was something in the 2.1 release notes about enabling SSE extensions in 64-bit mode – sounds like that might have been the bug!

I didn’t record the memory usage numbers, unfortunately…but I remember watching during the runs, and the 64-bit version seemed to be using about twice the memory that the 32-bit version did.

MobileMe growing pains

By now we all know about the couple of days it took for the .Mac to MobileMe transition to happen. I didn’t really complain about it – during the whole time, email was working fine (from a mail client), and sync was working most of the time. It was just the new web apps that took a while to come up.

More recently, on Friday, there was a complete mail outage for 1% of MobileMe users, and said outage has still not been fixed (as of Wednesday mid-morning). I’m in that 1%.

I’m not really too upset for myself; I’m watching this more from an academic perspective. I use the MobileMe sync a lot between two Macs and an iPhone, and I do use the email, but not often. The fact that mail is down doesn’t dramatically affect my life at the moment. And in general, I’ll be the first to say I really like MobileMe and what they’re doing with it.

But after the email being down for 5 days so far, the techie in me can’t help but wonder what is wrong. Apple put up a KB article about it, saying:

On Friday, July 18, 2008 (2008-07-18) we experienced a serious issue with one of our MobileMe mail servers. This issue is currently affecting approximately 1% of MobileMe members. Affected members are unable to send or receive email at or access email using any email client software such as Mail on a Mac or Microsoft Outlook on a PC.

Let’s look at what could perhaps cause something like this:

1. Complete server failure. Well, in 5 days, you could for sure have another server in there. Actually in more like a couple of hours, assuming their service contract with Sun (they appear to be using Sun’s mail servers) is up to date.

2. Disk failure. Perhaps the entire disk array that this 1% of mailboxes is stored on melted down. Even if this was true, you could almost certainly restore from backups in hours, or worst case days.

3. Centralized disk failure. If they’re using large storage arrays, it’s possible there was a systemic failure and they can’t get it back online. However, they’d probably have a much bigger problem than a 1% outage if this was the case.

4. Multiple storage failures. If multiple drives all failed at one time, causing an array to come down, and there was no usable backup, then they might send the failed drives out for data recovery – eek. But still – I would think this could be completed in a day. I’ve never done it, though, so perhaps this takes a while.

5. Data corruption. If something went terribly wrong, and the server was writing corrupted data, it could conceivably destroy a lot of data before your monitoring knew something was wrong. Hmm. Restoring from backup is the obvious thing to do, although you might have incremental data loss from the window since the last backup (assuming transaction logs corrupt also).

Like I said, I like MobileMe, although it’s certainly taking a PR beating right now. But I’m definitely curious what’s going on, and what could possibly take 5+ days to recover from. Any ideas?

iPhone and Exchange – push and DNS

It seems lot of folks are having problems getting Exchange push email working reliably with the new iPhone 2.0 software. For me, it worked flawlessly when I was outside of the office, but when I was in the office and connected to our corporate LAN via wi-fi, it was unreliable at best. If I instead connected to another wi-fi network (like the guest network from the folks two floors below us), everything worked fine.

There is an Apple KB article talking about this:

When roaming between home and office networks with Wi-Fi enabled, “push” may stop working if your company’s Exchange ActiveSync server has a different IP address for intranet and Internet clients. Make sure the DNS for your network returns a single, externally-routable address to the Exchange ActiveSync server for both intranet and Internet clients. This is required so the device can use the same IP address for communicating with the server when both types of connections are active. A workaround to avoid this issue is to disable Wi-Fi on the iPhone.

Yep, that sounded like the problem. Our internal and external DNS for our corporate mail server is different, just as the article surmised. But it turns out in our case, it was non-trivial to change them to be the same thing.

But it turns out there is a workaround that works for me. If you go into Settings / Wi-Fi, find your wi-fi network, and click the blue button next to it, you’ll see something like the following:


And here’s the tricky part. Tap on the “DNS” setting, and edit it. In my case, rather than using the internal DHCP-assigned DNS servers, I typed in two external DNS servers. These new servers will override whatever is returned from DHCP, and when asked for the IP of our mail server, they will return the externally-facing IP, since that’s all they know about.

And that was it! The push email is now working 100% reliably. A little too reliably, actually. :-)

Note – I obviously no longer have internal DNS resolution within my corporate LAN, but that’s not a problem for me. Your mileage may vary.

Note 2 – this also assumes your external mail server IP is accessible from your LAN. This may or may not be the case, depending on how your firewalls and the rest of your network are configured.

8 months with the iPhone

It’s been about 8 months since I started using an iPhone. Oddly, I wasn’t even interested at the time; I got the phone as a freebie for going to the Office 2.0 conference in 2007, and it sat on my desk for a week before I even activated it. Color me unexcited.

But then, things changed. Turned out I did like it, a lot. It was “fun”. I’m a sucker for fun gadgets. I switched my regular phone number over about a week later, and I’ve been using it ever since.

So the other day, I was out to lunch with someone, and he asked how I liked it. And while I was answering, I had two interesting realizations:

1. It’s still fun. I mean, all the little animations and eye candy. The little things. Could I live without them? Sure. But having them there somehow makes the whole experience continue to work.

2. It’s the first “smart” phone I’ve ever had that didn’t annoy me. I mean, really. Smartphones I’ve had in the past (from Audiovox, Motorola, Palm, and others) all eventually sucked at the little things. You know, like making phone calls. Sometimes I’d find that the phones were too busy doing something (gosh knows what exactly) to even let me make a call. Or too busy to ring when a call was coming in. Sometimes they’d lock up. Sometimes they’d get into a weird mode where anything I did would take 10+ seconds. Sometimes they’d make me want to throw them against a wall.

But oddly, the iPhone has done none of these things. It’s not perfect by any means – it’s got a few little bugs…but at risk of sounding like a fanboy, I have to say it works better as a phone than any phone I’ve had in the last 3 years.

And that is something I never thought I’d say.

On routers, Time Capsule, and Back to My Mac

This last week, I was working on getting Back to My Mac working on my computers. This requires everything in your router (specifically UPnP or NAT-PMP) to be working just so…and it wasn’t. :-) I had a Linksys BEFSR41, which is on Apple’s supported list, but no love. UPnP was enabled, but nothing.

So then I get the crazy idea to just unplug the router’s power, and then plug it back in. I mean, if all else fails, power cycle, right? Well lo and behold, it started working…who would have thunk? So then I’m playing with Back to my Mac, and it’s all looking good. For a while.

Then my router started getting flaky. Like, every few minutes it would stop responding in the admin interface, and connections to the internet would be stopped. The only way to fix it was to either wait a few minutes for it to come back, or power cycle it. Clearly this was not going to be ok.

So I went down to the Apple store (about 5 minutes away), and bought the last 500GB Time Capsule they had in stock. I was thinking about doing this anyway, since I wanted 802.11n in the house, but a dead router was a great excuse to do it sooner rather than later. Got the Time Capsule home, plugged it in, everything worked as expected. Actually, not everything worked right away – I had to power cycle my cable modem to get things talking to each other – but after that everything was great. And Back to My Mac is working fine.

On the storage side of things, I switched my Time Machine backups to use the drive in the Time Capsule; again, everything worked as expected. I’m seeing about 10MB/sec doing backups over a gigabit ethernet network – not stellar, but it’s fast enough for what I’m using it for. And it’s working about 5x faster than Glenn Fleishman is seeing in his Macworld first look, for some reason. I won’t complain about mine. :-)

Mac Pro performance

I’ve been torturing myself with the idea of buying a Mac Pro for a while…I mean, come on – 8 cores, for $2799? So last week, I finally broke down and pulled the trigger. But of course it didn’t stop there – I added another 10GB for a total of 12GB of RAM, and added a couple of disk drives as well.

It certainly “feels” fast – but I wanted to actually make some measurements, to see if it was just my imagination. I could run benchmarks, but that didn’t sound like much fun. So instead, I ran a process in Adobe Lightroom 1.3.1 to create 1:1 previews for 211 raw images (compressed NEF format from a Nikon D200), which is roughly 1.75 GB of files.

Here’s what I did. And yes, I’m apparently geeky enough that this sounded like fun. :-)

On the Mac Pro and the Macbook Pro, I generated these 1:1 previews in an existing Lightroom catalog with about 12,000 images in it. On all other systems, I generated the previews in a brand new catalog with nothing in it other than these 211 photos.

All of the virtual machines mentioned below are using VMWare Fusion, running on the Mac Pro.

Here are the configurations I ran, and the results:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.2
CPU utilization between 350-400% throughout
Total time 5:36, average 1.59 sec/image

Macbook Pro, 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 cores, 4GB RAM, OS X 10.5.2
CPU utilization between 150-200%
Total time 13:35, average 3.86 sec/image

Dell XPS 420, 2.8 GHz Pentium D, 2 cores*, 3GB RAM, Windows XP SP2
CPU utilization about 50%
Total time 27:00, average 7.68 sec/image

Virtual machine, 2 processors, 3GB RAM, Windows XP SP2
CPU utilization between 150-200%
Total time 8:58, average 2.55 sec/image

Virtual machine, 1 processor, 3GB RAM, Windows XP SP2
CPU utilization about 100%
Total time 15:12, average 4.32 sec/image

Virtual machine, 2 processors, 3GB RAM, Windows Vista
CPU utilization between 150-200%
Total time 8:29, average 2.41 sec/image

* – not sure why this process on the Pentium D only seemed to be using a single processing core, that’s what happened when it ran.

Clearly the Mac Pro is pretty darn fast, and Lightroom interestingly appears to use up to 4 processing cores. The VM data was interesting to see, as well; I can run Windows XP in a VM dramatically faster than running it on my (admittedly old) Dell XPS 400. I wish I had a Core 2 Duo windows machine handy that I could try this on – would be interesting to compare that data with the virtualized Xeon processors on the Mac Pro.

UPDATE 10/30/2008: Additional data from Lightroom 2.0 and 2.1, on OS X 10.5.5, comparing 32-bit and 64-bit performance.