'Book Value

Getting Settled in with the Unibody MacBook

Charles Moore - 2009.03.24 - Tip Jar

I'm into my second week using the 2 GHz Unibody MacBook for production work and things are going reasonably well.

It's Fast

The machine has so far proved very stable and seems comfortable running my suite of production applications with the standard 2 GB of RAM. I still plan to max it out to eventually, but it definitely feels like it's breathing easier than the 1.33 GHz G4 PowerBook with 1.5 GB of memory has for the past year or so. I expect that the faster processor and video accelerator contribute to that impression.

With the PowerBook, I would perceive things slowing down as the virtual memory swap files accumulated and hard drive accessing increased after two or three days of uptime. There are six swap files in the var/vm folder after nine days of uptime on the MacBook as well, but slowdowns from accessing them are not notably perceptible. I expect that the 5400 RPM hard drive (as opposed to the 4200 RPM unit in the PowerBook) helps with that.

Adjustments

There have been some adjustments and annoyances - getting used to being without Eudora Classic being the biggest. I'm getting used to Thunderbird, but not liking it a whole lot more with familiarity. It works, but many routine tasks that were so easy and slick with Eudora take more steps and are more tedious. It does, however, do a much nicer job of rendering HTML email.

Actually, I still have access to my email files in Eudora Classic - the program starts up and runs; it just refuses to send messages over my dialup connection through the Apple USB modem.

Slow Dialup

Speaking of which, the USB modem has proved reliable so far, but I do notice that throughput with this setup (I'm not sure the modem itself is to blame) isn't as lively (so to speak - I get 26,400 bps connections) as it is with the PowerBook G4 or even the old Pismo PowerBooks.

The Slipstream Dial-Up Accelerator software I've been renting from my ISP for five bucks a month for the past 18 months or so refuses to work on the Intel machine. I phoned tech support and got a dismissive and terse "not compatible, sorry" response from the agent I spoke with, so I canceled the service, which was only marginally satisfactory anyway. The operative theory behind the software is that it compresses - and therefore degrades - the quality of webpage images to varying degrees, depending upon how much speed (i.e.: compression) you specify using a slider on the interface window. To get substantial improvement, you really have to nuke the image resolution.

Opera Turbo Preview

Happily, Opera released a public preview of their Opera Turbo browser last week. Turbo uses a server-side optimization and compression technology that, like the Slipstream Dialup Accelerator, speeds up data transfer by reducing the amount of data that needs to be downloaded in order to view pages by up to 80%, thereby providing significant improvement in browsing speeds over limited-bandwidth connections like mine, although it is mainly targeted to smartphone users on slow connections.

No matter - it works really well, a lot better than the Slipstream accelerator software, and it degrades images less in the bargain. Since Opera is already my favorite browser, it's no hardship using it. The software is alpha-quality at this point and has some compatibility problems on a few sites, but the increase in speed is nothing short of dramatic, especially if I turn the images off altogether. A timely introduction, and it's free.

Opera says Turbo will be part of future desktop versions of their browser, and I can't wait for a fully debugged final version to be released.

You can watch turbo in action in a video linked from the Turbo blog site.

Another Casualty

Another tool that broke was the little Notepad Deluxe mini-database application that I've used for years as a temporary parking space and organizer for work-in-progress research material. The program starts and runs and accepts the registration serial number, but the registration won't "stick" through a quit and restart. Notepad Deluxe hasn't been updated for some time, and evidently development has been terminated, so I guess it's a casualty.

As a replacement, I've found that the freeware text editor Smultron works quite well. What commends Smultron for this task is that it displays all open documents in a list with Quick Look icons to your left, similarly to the iTunes interface, so you can easily switch between documents.

Closing Thoughts

I'm getting along reasonably happily with the smaller display, although it is an adjustment after the 17" screen in the PowerBook - more scrolling on webpages and so forth. The LED backlit display is wonderfully bright, which helps, and I find its glossiness pretty much a non-issue for me. One odd idiosyncrasy, though, is that the brightness setting doesn't stay set and has to be reset from time to time.

On the provisional to-do list for this week are getting an initial Time Machine backup done and installing more software, particularly MacSpeech Dictate.

In general, I'm finding this MacBook a pleasant work tool so far.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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