The Low End Mac Mailbag

More Crumbling Macs, Good News about MacBook Air Storage, WiFi Options for Classic Mac OS, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.01.23 - Tip Jar

More Crumbling Macs

From Jim Scott:

In the process of fixing up and finding new homes (kids, schools, the needy) for about 600 Macs in the last 5+ years of my retirement, I've had my hands on just about every Mac model from the Plus up through the latest aluminum iMacs. But the vast majority of the Macs have been beige.

The worst beige Mac crumbler in my experience, hands down, is the Performa/LC 580. Apple apparently changed the supplier of cases with the 580 models. The 520-57x models are among the sturdiest, but the 580s are very brittle machines - even those that have lived quiet lives in rooms without outside windows. I've lost count of how many 580 cases I've had to hold together with clear packing tape. It was 580s that caused me to find and start using Ambroid Pro-Weld in order to put together shattered cases, restore broken CD drive buttons, etc.

I even had one 580 case fall apart when I picked it up. That's crumbly.

The next worst beige crumblers are the Power Mac 5200 through 5500 models. The cases tend to get more and more brittle with age, and those finger-killing pull tabs used to release the front and rear panels snap off. Even worse, all those little air vent slot dividers on the sides, back, and top tend to break when the Macs are moved, leaving gaping holes. God forbid someone decides to stack these guys, because that will cause the case to collapse over the CRT neck.

First-generation iMac cases tend to be very solid, even the inner gray shell to which the CRT is mounted. But the slot-load iMacs, from 350 to 700 MHz, have very brittle inner shells that get worse with age and heat. The outer cases (except for the handles) will take a lot of abuse, but I've seen a lot of inner gray shells that have literally crumbled. The longer a slot-loader runs, the more brittle it becomes from the heat.

For example, I bought a 600 MHz Snow iMac slot-loader a couple of years ago. In its previous life, it had run 24/7 in a truck stop kiosk with a touchscreen setup. The outer case was in pretty good shape, aside from a good coating of diesel dust. But when I took the outer case off to clean it as well as the interior, I found the inner gray shell broken in numerous places. Only one of the four screw studs for the CRT hold-down screws was still intact. There were bits of gray plastic pieces everywhere. I had to transfer all the guts to a new inner framework in order to "save" that iMac.

Other problems with slot-load iMac plastics include power buttons that have retaining tabs break off and carry handles that break right at the base of the 4 retaining screw studs. After having one slot-loader drop on my foot when the handle came off, I now give slot-loaders a visual inspection of the handle and a test tug before I attempt to pick it up with the handle.

Apple cut corners with plastic quality with the Performa/LC 580. But it really went cheap with the plastics on the iMac slot-loaders. Of course, Steve Jobs' obsession with quietness played a role too. The heat buildup inside a convection-cooled slot-loading iMac really does a job on the plastics, not to mention the electronic components.

- Jim Scott

Jim,

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I haven't worked much with 500-series LCs/Performas. I do have a 5200 and 5400 in my storage room that I hope to experiment with someday - thanks for the warning about the plastics.

I have two slot-loading iMacs but haven't taken them apart or experienced any problems with the handles yet. Something to keep an eye on!

Dan

Potentially Good News about MacBook Air Storage

From Timothy Sipples:

Dan,

I've been researching the question of why the MBA is limited to 80 GB of disk, fearing that this is a technical limitation with no hope of Apple or the aftermarket coming up with an expansion solution. Fortunately the educated speculation suggests MBA owners should be able to upgrade.

The basic issue is whether Apple is using a 5mm or 8mm high 1.8" hard disk. We'll know soon enough when somebody cracks open a MBA, but Apple already gives us a clue: the drive spins at 4200 rpm. I cannot find a 5mm 80 GB part that spins that fast. Toshiba's MK8022GAA, for example, spins at 3600 rpm.

So if it's an 8mm part, that's great news. Apple (in a future build-to-order offering) and/or the aftermarket could replace that drive with the 120 GB Toshiba MK1214GAH, for example. Samsung also makes 1.8" drives, and both Toshiba and Samsung now make 160 GB 8mm parts, although those might spin slower. (For reference Samsung quotes a $199 price for their 160 GB Spinpoint N2 part.)

Given that there are both solid state and hard disk MBA flavors, and that Apple is unlikely to stock two different motherboards for servicing and inventory reasons, I strongly suspect that the hard drive isn't soldered to the machine. So if the MBA's case is as easy to open as rumored, and if the drive isn't too deeply buried, any reasonably competent technician should be able to swap the drive.

I don't know about you, but I'd feel somewhat better about a 120 GB or even 160 GB MBA. Warranty issues aside, it's looking like that's going to be possible.

As to why Apple has not jumped to 120 GB or 160 GB already, even for BTO, my suspicion is that there's some market engineering going on. For one thing the higher priced 64 GB SSD looks a lot less impressive next to a bigger hard disk, and Apple makes a nice profit on the SSD "upgrade". Also, Apple leaves room for a Revision B to the MBA without any additional engineering. Some early adopters might kick themselves, but that's how it goes. And then there's the fact that an 80 GB MBA owner is going to want to replace the machine sooner than a 160 GB MBA owner, so Apple sells the next Mac that much sooner. A 160 GB MBA is also closer to satisfying a single-Mac life than the "iMac accessory" 80 GB MBA. And a 160 GB MBA owner is likely to use Windows and Linux more often, while the 80 GB owner will stick to Leopard because there's much less room for a second OS.

Timothy Sipples

Timothy,

Thanks for doing the research. I'm sure most potential MacBook Air buyers were disappointed at the 80 GB hard drive, although it is the fastest 1.8" hard drive offered. Many would gladly sacrifice a bit of speed for 120 GB or 160 GB of storage, and it's good to know that this should be possible.

Dan

MacBook Air Reconsidered

From Brendan Nystedt:

Dan,

I have to put in my two cents on the little guy. I was torn at first sight when I played with it at Macworld, but after contemplation, I appreciate it much more. I decided yesterday that MBA will become my next portable, but not for a few years.

My plan is to wait for my MacBook to live its life, then pick up a used MBA and refurbish it. The clincher was the news that the battery was a snap to replace, making this a non-issue once the third parties deliver solutions (similar to aged iPods, MBA two years from now could have better battery life than today). And with the price of solid state going down rapidly, today's low-end hard drive MBA models could be made into SSD zingers for pennies on the dollar compared to the staggering cost today.

My notebooks are usually supplemental machines to my desktop Macs. Since my last portable was nicked in Canada, I am very careful to keep important things in duplicate on my desktop computer while my portable remains as bare bones as possible. MBA will be a great machine for this usage, but only once I can get one at a lower price.

On another note, I have to say the omission of the optical drive is a visionary move on par with Apple's deletion of legacy ports and floppy drives about 10 years ago. Get used to it, folks.

Love your site!

b. n.

Brendan,

Thanks for sharing your analysis. The greatest value will probably be in a year - or whenever the next generation MacBook Air comes to market and Apple blows out refurbs of the original model. Of course, the more features and power the 2G model has, the lower the cost of the old MBA. I think a 128 GB SSD would be just about right, and they should be a lot more affordable a year from now.

Dan

WiFi Options for the Classic Mac OS

From Clark Hugh Stiles:

Regarding wireless for Classic OS: A bit pricey for us poor folks, but available: MacWireless 11b USB Stick.

I haven't used it, just found a description and link somewhere a few months back, and pulled the bookmark into my Mac info folder. Oh, and I too live in Grand Rapids, small world.

Clark

Clark,

Thanks for the info. $150 for a WiFi adapter is mighty steep, but it does work with Mac OS 9.0.4 and up. And it only supports the old 802.11b protocol at that.

At that price, a wireless access point might make more sense. They're not as compact as a USB dongle and require AC power and an ethernet cable, but they're transparent to the OS, so an 802.11g access point will work with any version of the Mac OS that can do TCP/IP over ethernet. Great for desktops, but not so good for notebooks.

They're also a lot cheaper than the MacWireless USB dongle, selling for $30 and up.

Dan

USB 2.0 Cables Are Sometimes Different

Dan Knight wrote:

There's no such thing as a "USB 2.0" cable. Cables are passive devices that work at whatever rate the ports they are connected to allow, so a "USB 1.1" cable will work at USB 2.0 speeds when connected to a USB

2.0 port on your Mac and your USB device.

Not true!

USB 2.0 cables include extra shielding that many (but not all) USB 1.x cables lack. While this would not technically prevent you from using these older cables with newer devices, you may experience sub-optimal performance caused by interference and signal loss (especially true for longer cables).

To quote from the USB 2.0 specification PDF (Page 86) available from http://www.usb.org/developers/docs/

"6.3 Cable USB cable consists of four conductors, two power conductors, and two signal conductors. High-/full-speed cable consists of a signaling twisted pair, VBUS, GND, and an overall shield. High-/full-speed cable must be marked to indicate suitability for USB usage (see Section 6.6.2). High-/full-speed cable may be used with either low-speed, full-speed, or high-speed devices. When high-/full-speed cable is used with low-speed devices, the cable must meet all low-speed requirements.

Low-speed recommends, but does not require, the use of a cable with twisted signaling conductors."

- Steven Hunter

Steven,

Thanks for the additional information. I've been using "USB 1.1" and "USB 2.0" cables interchangeably for years and never noticed a performance difference. Maybe I should find the time to run some benchmarks with a USB 2.0 hard drive....

Dan

The majority of the older cables probably have sufficient shielding for most High speed devices, especially over shorter distances (1-2 meters). The operating environment also plays a role. At work we have a lot of Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) from all the power and devices around here while at home it isn't likely much of an issue.

Mac Switcher Mistakes

From Mike Sheridan:

Dan,

I think [30 Top Mac User Mistakes: How Many Are Apple's Fault? is] a very good article, but I strongly disagree with your point about the Home and End keys.

From a usage standpoint, I more often want to get to the start or end of a line than I do the start or end of a document. Page Up and Page Down also don't seem to have any real logically applied meaning to them, they should really be called Scroll Up and Scroll Down, since they don't actually move a page at a time (screen sizes vary, but pages are concrete objects, so if the key says "page" then it should move a page, not a screen).

From reading your article, it doesn't seem that you use keyboard shortcuts all that much - but as one that lives on them and has recently switched to Leopard, I'm very disappointed with the Mac shortcuts, especially if one turns on Spaces.

Your article states that keyboard shortcuts are listed in the menus - well, I don't know which version of OS X you're running, but mine shows very few shortcuts in the menus. Whereas XP clearly shows all available shortcuts from their menus (okay, its a setting that you control, but it shows a lot more shortcuts than OS X does).

I understand that there are concepts that are different, and I will grow more comfortable with them over time. However, the actions that one can control via the keyboard should most likely be the same between the two systems: go to next word, go to end of line, go to end of document, etc. And what I would expect from the elegant Mac OS is the ability for me to ensure that I can set up the system to my liking.

I've been looking around for someone that has a program and mappings that control common actions in OS X w/ the same or similar keystrokes as I use in XP. Given the relatively small user base of OS X w/ keyboards and the extremely large user base of Windows - this is something that I would have expected to exist already. But since it doesn't really seem to exist (sure, programs exist to change the mappings, but people have to know what all of the action/mapping possibilities are and decide on something) - I might just try to find some free time and write an app that users can use to choose from standard OS X shortcuts and Windows style shortcuts. But given that Spaces and some other popular OS X applications seem to already step in there, it may be a hard problem to solve and the reason that no one else seems to have done it yet.

Cheers
Mike

Mike,

I work extensively from the keyboard - Cmd-S to save, Cmd-O to open, Cmd-P to print, etc. It drives me a bit crazy to see people who refuse to learn how to perform basic functions without reaching for the mouse, but I long ago learned that once you've shown them the alternative, it's their choice which way they want to work.

The use of Home and End to go to the start and end of a line on the screen is rooted in the ancient days of command line interfaces and text editors - the roots of Microsoft with Microsoft BASIC and MS-DOS. They were programmers keys back then because word processing didn't yet exist.

Apple has consistently used the Home key to bring you to the start of a document, but using the word "Start" on a key would seem to imply a completely different function. Likewise, End has always taken you to the end of your document, although there is the potential to confuse that with quitting or ending a program. In retrospect, it might have made more sense to label them "Top" and "Bottom", but there were already Home and End keys, so Apple used them with its new graphical user environment.

Likewise, Page Up and Page Down have their roots in computer terminals, where they always mean "screen up" and "screen down". If Apple made any mistake, it was in not renaming the keys.

Anyhow, if Apple really wants to attract Windows users - and Intel-based Macs make that easier than ever - they should develop a transition System Preference where switchers can elect to have the user interface and keystrokes behave as they do on Windows. It would drive regular Mac users batty, but it would simplify life for switchers and make it that much easier for them to explore the Mac OS.

Your program could be a big step in that direction. Good luck with it.

Dan

Dan,

Why does it drive you crazy to see people do things with keyboards instead of the mouse? The mouse is really a bad device, and it's a lot slower than using the keyboard for a large number of things.

I wasn't disputing what the origin of Home/End were. And I've been a PC programmer for about 20 years now. I still say that from a usability standpoint, if one is using the keyboard often, Home/End for Start/End of a line are the right mappings. You like other mappings, and if we asked 10 people we'd get 10 opinions....

We got ourselves a Mac mini for Christmas once we'd seen Leopard and I investigated enough to learn about the Mach microkernel and BSD variant of Unix that underlie the system. As a longtime nerd, I fully understand the benefits these bring to a computer system, and with the OS X UI, wanted to see just how stable a personal computer could be (though I rarely have problems with XP). The little bits that OS X throws in for free are great, and as we move more and more away from thick-client applications, OS X really starts to shine (I think) in its elegance and simplicity for most users and yet provides a huge amount of nerd horsepower under the hood that's well understood by the legions of Unix knowledgeable users.

Also, the fact that I could use my existing KMD (as Apple likes to shorten them) with the Mac mini was great. I could get in for just the cost of a new box - something all PC users are familiar with doing.

In the end, there should really be a convergence of shortcuts that people learn and use across platforms. If you use Google Docs & Spreadsheets online - those shortcuts exactly mimic the ones from the Windows world, whether or not you access them via a Mac or a PC. Having consistent behavior will become more and more important for wide acceptance.

The key will be to make it easy for users to switch their key mappings safely.

I wrote this on the mini, and I can't tell you how many times I wanted to go to the Start/End of the line, but ended up a world away in the document b/c of the different meanings that I haven't gotten used to yet - which I wouldn't mind if there were some other shortcut that was easy to use to do the same thing....

If I hack out the mappings, I'll let you know. If you like it, maybe you can help spread the word....

Just a final thought, I think one thing that Apple could do to help bring in a wider audience is to tone down the "It's a Mac, so its better". When PC people go to an Apple Store and ask, it gets irritating quickly the number of times that the sales associates say "and b/c it's a Mac, it's just better and more intuitive". It's not necessarily more intuitive. And in the end, I think it's really the author of the applications rather than the author of the OS that has the most impact on how intuitive the experience is. The idea of an OS as a user experience should be set aside for the benefit of everyone. The best interface is the one no one has to think about or debate - and that's not where we're at yet....

Cheers
Mike

Mike,

I'm with you on keyboard commands. People are so used to reaching for the mouse, they don't seem to realize that there's a faster way. It probably takes no longer to learn Cmd-S than to learn that Save is under the File menu.

As far as consistency goes, Apple has been producing guidelines for Mac software developers since the first Mac apps (MacWrite, MacPaint, Microsoft Multiplan and Word, etc.) were being developed. Cmd-S is save, Cmd-P is print, Cmd-O is open, Cmd-Q is quit, and so forth. It's a 24 year legacy we can't expect them to abandon for the benefit of switchers.

Maybe the best tool would capture keystrokes like Ctrl-S, pop up a dialog box explaining that Cmd-S is the Mac shortcut for Save, and asking the user if they'd like to map Ctrl-S to Save. That way it wouldn't interfere at all with the Mac standards while allowing users to use the shortcuts they're familiar with.

As for the Mac being better, it provides a better user experience because Apple controls the whole thing: hardware, operating system, and developer standards for software. It's no more or less intuitive than Windows or Linux, but it is better designed in many respects - like the consistent menu bar at the top of the screen instead of tied to a specific window. Mostly it's a matter of what we're used to, and people who switch operating systems have to expect things to be different.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets should recognize this and allow users to choose to use Mac or Windows shortcuts. The developers of Firefox have finally realized that it's more important to be consistent with the OS than consistent across platforms, so Firefox 3 will finally look like a Mac app, not a port from Linux.

The best interface is consistent and gets out of the way, something the Mac has been doing since 1984, and it's a big part of the reason people are choosing Macs and OS X.

Dan

Core 2 Duo Mac mini or 1 GHz PowerBook G4

From Seth Windom:

Hi Dan,

Recently I've gotten sick of Windows after some many years of fixing my various computers, so I have decided finally to get a Mac - but the problem is I can't make up my mind. But either way I want to get either a used Intel Mac mini or G4 PowerBook, and I just want it for minor stuff like web browsing, chatting, and stuff like that. I was thinking of the 1 GHz PB because I spend crazy amounts of time on the computer, but since it is a bit slower I would have to do some upgrades (hard drive and RAM). But then comes the mini a faster, newer, better overall system, but a desktop.

Which would you pick, Dan?

Seth Windom

Seth,

That's like asking whether I'd rather drive a Mustang or a Taurus. The Mustang is sporty, lots of fun, and really designed for two passengers. The Taurus is heavier, safer, boring, and comfortably seats four - up to six in a pinch. It has front wheel drive and a huge trunk. When picking one vehicle, practicality trumps cool.

The Mac mini has gobs of power, and for things like ripping CDs into iTunes or working with digital video, it's going to run circles around my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, let alone a 1 GHz PowerBook G4. But it doesn't sound like you're interested in "heavy lifting" applications, so you should find a 1 GHz PowerBook G4 has plenty of power for a browser, messaging software, and the like.

The big question is whether you want power or portability. (The ideal, of course, would be a Mac mini at home and a MacBook Air in the field - a Taurus and a Mustang - but that requires a much bigger budget.)

Dan

MacBook Air, MacAir, or AirBook?

From Alvin:

AirBook is an easy name to have; they should just have one word for names. I find it easy too to call it MacAir - not that I'm fond of the Mac name anyway. Marketing mostly compromises the names, it's just better marketing wise to let people know it's a MacBook.

I think it'll be a flop like the Cube, coz' if you're in the middle, that's usually indecisive, a flip-flop as you call it. It has no target market, coz' the execs have the pros already. But the smart thing is, Apple will never have flops anymore if by flop it means that Mac wasn't profitable; because they now use the precaution of the pre-order.

The Air is really just a good experiment for another take 2 as Apple is fond of doing lately. Just like the mini was the take 2 of the Cube. Just like the Cube, it's too advance for its time, add the recession in the US for even the execs not buying it. Same for Japan, which isn't doing as well either, where minimalism and thin are factors.

Gbu,
Alvin

Alvin,

I like your analogy of the Mac mini as "take 2" of the Cube. In the same light, we could view the MacBook Air as take 2 of the PowerBook Duo series, which was more ahead of its time than the Cube. I think it will be a success for Apple, but not a huge one. It limits its market by being a companion to a desktop Mac, but I think the market is large enough that Apple will make a profit on each MBA sold.

Dan

MacBook Air with AirPort Express

From Owen Strawn:

Dan,

I've never used wireless so I may be understanding how it works, but isn't AirPort Express the simple, compact, and convenient answer to every complaint about the MBA?

Owen

Owen,

Not really. The US$99 AirPort Express will let you print wirelessly to a USB printer and it does act as a wireless router (using the older, slower 802.11g protocol) if you have access to an ethernet port, but that's about the only way it addresses features missing in the MacBook Air.

If you're going to carry an extra device, the US$179 AirPort Extreme Base Station has it all over AirPort Express: 802.11n WiFi, gigabit ethernet, and support for a printer or hard drive on its USB port. For even more flexibility, Time Capsule has a built-in 500 GB or 1 TB hard drive, 802.11n WiFi, acts as a print server, and works with Time Machine. At US$299 with 500 GB of storage, it's bigger and more expensive than the Base Station - but probably lighter and cheaper than the Base Station plus an external hard drive. And being able to use Time Machine in the field minimizes the amount of work you might lose should your notebook be stolen.

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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