The Low End Mac Mailbag

MacBook Air a Road Apple?, Beautiful Macquarium, a Compact Flash to SCSI Adapter, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.01.18 - Tip Jar

A Beautiful Macquarium

Dave D'aranjo's MacquariumFrom Dave D'aranjo:

I've just finished my Macquarium using instructions and inspiration that I found through your site....

Here's the link: <http://www.davedaranjo.com/Macquarium/>

Many thanks,
Dave D'aranjo
davedaranjo.com

Dave,

Your Macquarium is a thing of beauty. Did you paint the old Mac casing dark gray, or was it that way when you found the computer?

Dan

Another Pismo Lover

From Alan Nakamura:

Dan,

I found your website a couple of months ago when I was looking for a used Mac. I had my eye on a Mac mini, but after doing research on your website (which was a gold mine of information BTW), I opted for a Pismo PowerBook, noting in your columns about its durability and flexibility. I found one on eBay for $175, with an AirPort Card, 512 MB of RAM, and a great battery (holds a 4 hr. charge)!

I totally agree with the comments Mr. Marques made about the Pismo. After owning Toshiba and Dell laptops, this Pismo is one of the most reliable and durable laptops ever made. It never skips a beat, always comes up on command, and Tiger runs excellently on it! I take it with me to the jobsite, check my email at the local WiFi hotspot, and print up job proposals for customers using a StyleWriter portable printer I found at, of all places, a thrift store for $5!

I've been a PC user since 1995, and with the success I have had with the Pismo, I found a 500 MHz G3 iMac with 512 MB RAM, a 40 GB HD, and AirPort for only $80 with the keyboard, puck mouse, and Tiger included! I'm currently using this as my main computer! Who needs 2 GB RAM and a 2.0+ GHz Intel chip for basic word processing, emails, and surfing the Web? This baby does it all, and very smoothly, too!

Since I found your website, I check it every day to read all of the latest information about Macs and Apple. Please keep up the good work . . . your website and your staff offer a resource you couldn't ever find for the Windows environment, and I applaud all of your efforts.

Alan Nakamura

Alan,

Thanks for sharing your story. I've been a Mac user since the tail end of the Mac Plus era, and I sold my DOS computer within 6 months of getting my first Mac. I barely touched Windows 286/386, which were the current versions at the time, so I missed the whole relearning experience Windows users go through.

Macs have traditionally had good build quality and a stable, elegant operating system. You'll find few Mac users who would switch because we've generally had such a great experience with Macs. That's part of why we love our Macs, even old ones - and that's the reason I started Low End Mac nearly 11 years ago, so I could share my knowledge and love of the Mac with others.

I have my first Mac, and my second, and my SuperMac clones. I work on a 2002 Power Mac Mirror Drive Door computer, and I have a Blue & White Power Mac G3 next to me that I've just booted into Tiger for the first time today.

I'm glad we were able to help you make informed choices about your Pismo and iMac. Our goal at Low End Mac has always been to educate our readers, giving them the tools they need to make their own informed decisions about what to buy, when to upgrade, and when to move to a newer Mac.

Dan

Problems with D-Link USB WiFi Adapter

From James Johnson:

Hello Dan:

I wanted to get WiFi capability for my Mac PCs, so I asked on the list that I am part of if anyone used anything other than Apple's WiFi devices. The resulting information convinced me to buy a D-Link DWL-G122 on the 15th of August in 2006. I downloaded the Mac drivers and installed it, and it worked fine from August of 2006 until about April 2007, when it just did not work anymore - and it even crashed the 400 MHz iMac and my 1.33 GHz Mac mini. I used D-Link's website to communicate the problem to D-Link in hopes of exchanging my dead device. Here is what I put in the blanks on the website:

"Device stopped working. It even crashed the computer. I tried it on another computer with a newer OS and the same thing happened. F/W ver. 2.02 S/N DR5Z25B051039 First computer running Mac OS X 10.3.9. Second computer running Mac OS X 10.4.6."

D-Link's response was:

Dear James Johnson,

Your Case ID is DLK#########.

Date of Reply: 5/16/2007 Products: DWL-G122_revB Operating System: Mac OS 10.3

James,

Unfortunately, there are no Mac OS drivers for DWL-G122_revB.

Should you require further assistance with your D-Link products, please reply to this message, or call toll free at 877-###-####.

For D-Link's preferred Home Networking application please try http://www.networkmagic.com/nmlp/dlinksupport.php from Pure Networks. It simplifies Microsoft Networking and may allow you to trouble shoot your network on your own.

Thank you for networking with D-Link.

Sincerely,
[deleted name]
D-Link Technical Support

My response to D-Link was:

Does this mean that the Mac OS X driver that I was using was for a later version or an earlier version of the device? It worked very well from August of last year till sometime around April of this year.

James Johnson

I also sent them one of the drivers for the device. I am trying to keep others from getting into the same situation that I am in. I wanted them to exchange the device so I could go on using WiFi without shelling out a ton of money for Apple's solution.

The issue was never resolved, and I use an Airlink 101 brand WiFi transceiver now. I have better connections and better speed with Airlink 101 than I ever had with D-link. I hope others do not have the bad fortune that I had with D-Link.

It is unfortunate that Hawking prices the Mac OS compatible products $10 higher than the same thing with a Windows XP logo on the package. Why do they assume that because we use the Mercedes of computers that we are made of money? If they were priced the same, then I would buy a WiFi transceiver from Hawking.

James Johnson

James,

Thanks for sharing your story. Let's hope it serves as a warning to others about the level of customer support Mac users can expect from D-Link.

Also thanks for the heads up on Airlink 101, a brand I wasn't at all familiar with. Looks like they have five different USB WiFi adapters, four supporting 802.11g and its extensions and one with 802.11n support. It's sad that only one mentions Mac OS X support, the AWLL3026 802.11g Ultra Slim USB 2.0 Adapter, but at least they haven't completely neglected Mac users.

Using Google, I've only found one online vendor who lists this adapter, and they're out of stock. Another option is the Asus/Addlogix WL-167g USB 2.0 Wireless WLAN Adapter, which supports Macs, Windows, and Linux. It's available from Other World Computing for just $30. For those who want 802.11n, they also list the new NewerTech MAXPower 802.11n/g/b USB Adapter for $55.

Dan

Compact Flash to SCSI Adapter

Hello Dan!

Wow, I was surprised when I received an email from you! I've been a long time reader of Low End Mac since the late 90's. Now, back in Japan, I still check LEM everyday (which also helps retain my English skills!)

Yes, the LC II is running on a 128 MB CompactFlash Memory Card. This works by using the CF->SCSI adaptor and a 40-pin SCSI to 50-pin SCSI+Power adaptor.

Compact Flash in a SCSI adapterThe CF->SCSI adaptor is in a 2.5" form-factor, so some simple adaptors (for mounting and the SCSI port) are also necessary to be used on a desktop Mac.

I bought this card directly from the company that sells these cards. This is their website: <http://www.artmix.com/j_home.html> (Though it is in Japanese).

The CF->SCSI adaptor is called "CF PowerMonster", which is the second one down from the top.

Essentially, it is a standard IDE to SCSI adaptor, but a CF card slot is placed instead of a standard IDE port.

It is easy to get in Japan, as you can just order directly from them on their website. However, outside Japan, the only way to buy one seems to be through eBay. A bit of searching on Google showed that the owner of the company "Artmix" seems to have an eBay account, which can be found here: <http://myworld.ebay.com/artmix/>, and has sold this adaptor in the past.

Although the Dual CF to IDE adaptor is listed right now, the CF to SCSI adaptor does not seem to be available right now.

Currently, "Artmix" seems to be the only company that sells such adaptors. Though it is easily available by ordering online, it may become rare if they stop making it....

The performance is not bad . . . at least on the LC II, there's no difference between a normal hard drive, except there's no noise! The Performa 450, which runs a webserver, has a similar adaptor to drive a 2.5" ATA hard drive. It is the same as the CF to SCSI adaptor, except that it has an IDE port instead of the CF slot, and a standard 2.5" ATA drive is bolted on top of it.

In my case, I'm using a 2.5" Seagate Momentus drive, which was a stock drive inside the first generation Mac mini G4.

The only hard part is formatting on these adaptors. If I remember correctly, I had to format it using a modified version of Apple HD SC Setup, and then update the drivers using the more modern Apple Drive Setup. Without doing this, for some reason it will display the "?" at startup, even if the system is properly written in the CF card.

Third party formatting utilities, such as Silverlining from LaCie, may also work, but I wanted the "genuine" Apple drivers . . . for no reason ;-)

I also have a Power Mac 6500 that runs on a 1 GB CF card. The adaptor for that is a standard CF to IDE adaptor that I got for about 500 Yen (about $5).

Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions!

I always enjoy visiting Low End Mac! I have links to the LEM profiles of the LC II and Performa 450 on the site so people can find out more . . . I hope you don't mind.

Yoshihide Katagiri

Yoshihide,

Thanks for your email. This is something a lot of us have been longing for, although the US$90 price before shipping makes it an expensive way to put Compact Flash in an old PowerBook that uses SCSI drives. Of course, SCSI drives are expensive and hard to find compared with IDE drives and CF cards, so it could be a great way to put a big, relatively fast drive in an ancient Mac.

Dan

HD iTunes Movie Resolution

From Ed Hurtley:

Dan

In Something New in the Air you rhetorically inquire as to if the HD movies are 720 or 1080.

According to the Apple TV specs, the Apple TV is still limited to 1280 x 720p at 24 frames per second. It specifically lists "iTunes Store purchased video: 320 by 240 pixels, 640 by 480 pixels, 720 by 480 pixels (anamorphic), or high-definition 720p" in its formats. My guess is that the "new" Apple TV is really just a pre-software-upgraded one. No hardware update. 1280 x 720 at 24 frames per second has always been the maximum resolution Apple TV could play. (And if you want 30 frames per second, the resolution drops to 960 x 540.)

Even at that resolution, it is limited to 5 MB/s. Which is odd, since many of the 720p HD trailers on Apple's trailers site are over 5 MB/s. That means that the free trailers are quite possibly higher quality than the actual HD rentals.

Ed Hurtley

Ed,

Thanks for the info. I'm still living with an analog TV and mono sound, so I don't pay a lot of attention to digital video. That stuff should become a lot more affordable in a year when analog broadcasting is on its last legs here in the States.

As for Apple TV, it's now just two steps from being a great digital hub for TV. Add a television tuner so you can use it like a TiVo/DVR and a SuperDrive so you can watch DVDs and burn your own discs, and the world will beat a path to Apple's door.

Dan

MacBook Pro to Replace a 12" PowerBook?

From Ben Chong in response to The MacBook Air Misses the Mark:

MacBook Pro as a replacement for a 12" PowerBook? Are you kidding?

I upgraded from a 12" PowerBook (1.5 GHz) to a MacBook. No Pro.

If you are concerned about size/weight etc., the MacBook is the perfect update. And It's a real upgrade with a higher res screen.

No aluminium case? Who cares?

Ben,

My Turn is our column for reader-submitted articles. It's meant to provide a different perspective, which is important when you're writing about computers designed for those who "think different". While most of us would not consider a 15" MacBook Pro (instead of a 13.3" MacBook) as a replacement for a 12" PowerBook, it makes sense to Barry Shell.

Why? For the same reason people chose the 12" PowerBook over the 12" iBook in the first place: it's one of Apple's "pro" aluminum-clad 'Books. Were there a 13" MacBook Pro, I suspect Barry would choose that vs. the substantially larger 15" model, but it's not a choice Apple gives us.

Dan

MacBook Air Whiners

From John Christie:

Dear Dan,

From all complaints the MacBook Air is a poor offering from Apple because it isn't a low end Eee PC and it isn't a Toshiba RX1 (starting at around 4000). Both of those computers are much slower. Both of those computers have much smaller screens. And....

None of that matters, because you'd have someone whining over what it's not no matter what it was. If it was an Eee PC, it would be underpowered, cramped, and useless. If it were an RX1, it wouldn't have enough memory or CPU and be overpriced. If it had two USB ports, it would be a disaster because there weren't 3, or a disaster because they could have used one spot for ethernet, or it would be terrible because there's too many ports and it looks bad, or is fragile, or is now too heavy, or....

I think it's a pretty good laptop on spec and design. You don't get compact like this without paying unless you want to make a lot of compromises. If you want more ports then it's bigger and heavier. If you want more battery life it's bigger or is less powerful. If you want more power it's bigger and less battery.

I also don't think the battery life is going to be as poor as people are suspecting. I'm guessing from the weight (batteries can be roughly guessed for capacity by weight, assuming comparable technologies) that the battery is pretty close to a MacBook battery (in the 80-90% of that range). That should easily get 4 hours or more with an LED lighted screen, no optical drive, and a more efficient CPU and hard drive. It's hard to get a new MacBook down to 3 unless you pound the optical drive. I watch movies on mine all the time straight from battery with loads to spare.

And what about the fabulous innovations this ushers in? Apple is trying to make it so that those complaints don't matter by giving you options to computer differently. Other people just sell you the one product and let you hope for the best. With this change in computing model they're also trying to help by changing the ecosystem. It's that kind of thinking that makes them different. You can't just look at the computer by itself and compare it because, in reality, there is no competition.

We ordered one in our lab right away. I guess when Apple sells 36 models of laptops, then everyone will be happy.

Okay Dan, the letter's too long. Sorry.... :)

John

John,

The Mac Web exists to second-guess Apple. :-) And we're the first to speak up when a new Apple product doesn't live up to our expectations, regardless of whether Apple intended to meet our expectations or not. The Cube was a perfect example: We weighed it on the same scale of cost, performance, and expandability as the Power Mac G4 towers and found it wanting. We measure the Mac mini against the theoretical midrange modular Mac that we all want Apple to produce, and we find it wanting.

I admitted long ago that I didn't really "get" the iMac at first, because I'm more of a technophile and geek than the average Mac user. I want Apple to "think different" about the midrange, just as they've done throughout the product line.

I look at the MacBook Air and recognize it for what it is: A complement to the desktop Mac, not a desktop replacement. It's a field computer, and in light of that most of its compromises make sense. I don't like 1 USB port because it means you can't print a file from your USB flash drive without a hub. (Too bad wireless USB didn't make it into the MacBook Air. I was kind of hoping for that as well as wireless power in light of Apple's "air" theme.)

Apple never intended the MacBook Air as a replacement for the 12" PowerBook, so anyone who views it in that light will be disappointed. It's not meant to be the smaller MacBook Pro they long for and hope Apple will make someday. It's something new and different, but also a phoenix rising from the ashes of the PowerBook Duo line. I think it's going to be a raging success. I know I'd be very tempted to choose it as my next notebook.

Dan

MacBook Air a Road Apple

From Julian O'Connor:

Dear Dan

Limited, compromised - I nominate the MacBook Air as a Road Apple.

Why?

Because it exhibits many of the faults not seen for years in Apple's product range:

  • Running cheaper, slower components to keep size down (and probably cost too - without these savings even the basic Air would be Mac Pro money) like the Macintosh LC.
  • Removing the ability to expand the computer in the most common and basic ways like the Macintosh Classic.
  • Lacking sufficient connectivity to be useful in the real world like the PowerBook 150. Okay, that one isn't very fair to the Air, but another USB port would have saved so much bad press.

My favourite are the last two paragraphs of the Mac TV entry. My updates are in brackets:

"If you're very tight for space, don't need a lot of memory, and aren't interested in a lot of speed, the beautiful black Mac TV (of beautiful silver MacBook Air) is a really cool find, although it's not much of a Mac."

"But with no expansion slot, an 8 MB (2 GB) RAM ceiling, and poor performance, the gorgeous-but-crippled Mac TV (MacBook Air) earns the title of Road Apple - the oldest (newest) Mac with this designation"

Maybe I'm just bitter because the cost of a compromised MBA makes a real replacement for my PowerBook 12" so much more unlikely! I wonder if this 'ultra high end of the low end' machine is really a better bet for Apple than the proven market for a MacBook Pro 12.

Many thanks for your attention,
Julian O'Connor
UK

Julian,

I think this is the first time a Mac has been nominated as a Road Apple before it shipped, and from the perspective of a 12" PowerBook replacement, it definitely qualifies. Problem is, it's obviously not intended as that. There's no optical drive. There are too few ports. There is no expandability. And the footprint is too big.

We have to look at the MacBook Air as an addition to the Mac matrix, not a replacement for any existing model. That's how we got the iMac, iBook, Cube, and Mac mini: New kinds of Macs, or at least rehashes of long gone designs. (The iMac comes from the all-in-one tradition, the Cube is in some ways a successor to the 20th Anniversary Mac - designed for executives, not average consumer or power users, and the Mac mini is in many ways descended from the Cube.)

Like the Cube, the MacBook Air was designed because it's what Steve Jobs wanted. Unlike the Cube, I believe the MBA will be a success because it has enough features for its intended market and it can run Windows, giving it a much broader potential market. I'm not ready to declare it a Road Apple, although that day could come.

Here's hoping Apple will someday replace the 12" PowerBook with a small footprint MacBook Pro.

Dan

Dan

A 12" PB replacement it is not, that became clear as soon as I saw the onboard graphics. Regarding your reasons for it's possible success; I think the Cube had more than was required for it's intended market but still managed to fail because the market didn't really exist. I think the MBA will follow that route too, unless it can be made much cheaper once production is underway.

Also, running Windows is a disadvantage for this particular niche as it makes it a direct competitor against quite a few less compromised and far less expensive offerings from elsewhere. Granted none of them look as nice, and that's the iPod/iPhone business model, but the iPod/Phone have function as well as form. The MBA is functionally compromised whether it runs OS X or Windows, so all it has left is beauty - but that didn't save the Cube! In the old days Apple could say that they needed a super-sub notebook to get OS X into that market but Windows compatibility means Apple can't stand the MBA in a position of it's own any more.

Still, at least it's given everyone something to talk about instead of the iPhone!

Julian

Julian,

The MacBook Air uses some expensive components: the special, reduced-size Core 2 Duo CPU, the miniature hard drive, and a MagSafe adapter that only works with this one model. The screen and keyboard are commodities, though. If it takes off, I'm sure Apple will be able to reduce the price a bit.

Dan

Disappointment with MacBook Air

From Keith Veitch:

Just agreeing with many of the comments on the MacBook Air. I have been holding on to my 12" PowerBook for a while now in anticipation of a smaller footprint MacBook. Thinness is not an issue for me, it is the footprint for working on fold-down tables in planes (and more often) trains as I travel across Europe. An 11" widescreen would have been perfect (and would it not also improve battery life?) - still better than portable DVD players.

Lack of an optical drive is less of an issue for me, as long as there is the option of an external one, but the single USB hub would pose a problem. I like to add a mouse when possible and don't trust Bluetooth ones, which always seem to run out of battery just when I need them. In view of the lack of ethernet (which is the primary connection offered in my experience of US hotels) and, as noted, the overwhelming lack of wireless access when working in offices other than your own, transfer of documents will have to be by USB key [drive]. Has no-one at Apple ever attended a conference where that last minute PowerPoint (sorry, most do not know what Keynote is) has to be handed in on a USB key [drive]? I also like to use my USB-connected/powered Altec Lansing speakers as my sound system in hotels, while still working - carrying a hub or switching USB devices, USB-ethernet adaptor, external DVD drive, are all additional pain.

And in view of the multimedia capabilities, why not a few control buttons on the front to allow it to be used as a big iPod, as offered my many PC equivalents?

I was really interested to note the comments regarding the Asus Eee, as that is an option I am seriously considering, if I do finally decide that MacBook is too big - so MacBook possibly, but MacBook Air never for me.

Keith

Keith,

Always good to hear from a road warrior who knows only too well the importance of multiple built-in ports. I think one of the unfortunate ways Apple keeps thinking different from the rest of the industry is its decision to provide as few USB ports as it thinks it can get away with: one on the clamshell iBook and MacBook Air, two on most other 'Books.

You make a valid point about Bluetooth (and other wireless) mice. Batteries run down, and there's no way to charge most of them in the field. (My wireless mouse is charging as I write this. I should have put it in its dock last night. And I only know of one wireless mouse that has a USB cable for charging and use when the batteries have run out of juice.) There's also the complaint that Bluetooth doesn't always respond immediately to mouse movement, although I have no experience in that area.

Apple long resisted putting USB and FireWire ports on the front of Macs, finally doing that with the Power Mac G5. They still don't do it with the iMac or Mac mini, forcing you to reach around the back. But that's another rant entirely. (To date Apple has consistently avoided something almost every PC maker does, putting a big, ugly multicard reader in a laptop. A SD slot would be a welcome addition to the MacBook Air.)

The MacBook Air does work with Apple's remote, which may make up for it not having any controls you can access when the lid is shut.

Apple hasn't yet come up with a replacement for the 12" MacBook Pro. Let's hope they do this year.

Dan

Dan,

As a quick follow on from the mail I sent 2 minutes ago, I do take exception to your comment that the MacBook Air "is small enough that you can take it with you almost anywhere". It is thin, but having exactly the same footprint as the MacBook, it is not small.

Finally, following all the noise generated about non-replaceable batteries in iPods and iPhone, except by expert dismantling, and experience with failing batteries myself, is the whole machine meant to be disposable?

Keith

Keith,

I don't think Apple intends the MacBook Air to be disposable, although they have made a big deal about the aluminum casing being easy to recycle (Jobs forbid!). As long as replacement batteries are available, I think the MBA will make a wonderful field computer years and years from now.

With its large footprint, relative to the 12" PowerBook, I don't think the MBA is a use-it-anywhere notebook, but the issue I was addressing there was its lack of a security lock. I think the MacBook Air is small enough and light enough that users will be less likely to leave it sitting on the desk when they walk away in a public setting (most of which have no place to lock up a traditional laptop either - how do you secure a 'Book at Starbucks?).

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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