The Low End Mac Mailbag

2.6 GHz MacBook Pro Worth It?, iBook Video Fixed, Compact Flash vs. SSD, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.03.13 - Tip Jar

2.5 GHz or 2.6 GHz MacBook Pro?

From Richard Mamary:

Hi Dan,

I am looking to buy a new Penryn MacBook Pro, today even. The only thing holding me back is whether to get the standard 2.5 GHz, or upgraded 2.6 GHz processor. The Apple Store salesman said the difference is negligible. (So much for upselling training...)

I haven't been able to find any benchmarks comparing the two, but if the 4% increase translates to speed, a 4 hour render would end up saving me ten minutes. Might there be any other reasons to spend the extra $250 for the faster CPU? Do you think the 4% would actually translate that way to time saved?

In your opinion, is it worth it? Do you know of anyone out there who has tested the two of them, against each other?

At this point, I do exclusively SD video editing with FCP, as well as creating SD presentations in AE. HD, can't be too far down the road for me as well, but my client list is still not asking for it yet. I still work predominantly on an old dual Power Mac G5 tower and can't afford to upgrade to the Mac Pro just yet.

So, I will settle for now with replacing my aging PowerBook G4 first.

Can you help guide me to making my decision?

Regards,
Richard Mamary

Richard,

I haven't yet seen a head-to-head benchmark comparing the new 2.5 GHz MacBook Pro to the 2.6 GHz version. As the computers are otherwise identical, and as the only difference between the 2.5 GHz and 2.6 GHz CPUs is clock speed, the most difference you're going to see is 4%.

If your MacBook Pro is working on heavy duty tasks 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, you'll save 1.6 hours per week - or have an additional 1.6 hours of billable work you can do. That's 80 hours a year, assuming the computer is almost always working hard.

If you're doing a lot of video work, that's likely to be true, and if your time is worth more than $3 per hour, you can cost justify the $250 for the upgrade the first year. I don't normally recommend a 10% premium for a 4% speed gain, but it sounds like you're doing the kind of work where the additional income generated will more than cover the difference in price.

Dan

iBook Video Problem Fixed

From Guilherme Maranhão:

Dan,

I may be typing this too soon, but anyway, here it goes:

As I was browsing the Net on Sunday, my video on my iBook simply went crazy. Lines, strange colours, you name it. That great picture that someone took of their DIY fix for the famous iBook video problem came to my mind. Flames!

I tried to turn the computer on on Monday, but nothing - boing and a blank screen. I was able to use Target Mode to retrieve what I had in the hard drive.

Today I decided to take it apart and check if pressure on the video chip would make the video come back. Read some tutorials on how to remove the bottom case and started that. To my surprise there was a undone screw inside my laptop! It fell out as I removed the RF shield. In fact, half (or more) of the screws inside the bottom case were very loose. I found that strange and kept going. Even removed the foam on top of the chip and powered the computer up.

Perfect video. With or without pressure on the chip, and pressing it didn't make it even flicker. Got whatever I could get of the foam back in its place. Checked a few screws on the top case too, and found some loose as well, but didn't go further.

Reassembled the computer and I'm typing this now on it. Amazing!

I'll let you know if the situation changes.

- guilherme maranhão

Guilherme,

Thanks for writing. Screws coming loose inside computers - that's a bad, bad thing, especially for notebooks, as they get moved about quite a bit, giving the screws opportunity to roll anywhere. And that can cause shorts, such as the video short you experienced. Glad the fix was as easy as putting back the undone screw.

Dan

Compact Flash vs. Solid State Drives vs. Hard Drives

From John Muir:

Hi Dan

Perhaps you could pass along the link to my own experience with CF in the precise same PowerBook to Cameron.

I was discussing my experiences with flash with Matthew, who also recently wrote about his experiences in one of Charles' postbags. He reports that he's had the best luck with professional grade UDMA cards such as Lexar UDMA 300x CF cards.

It is possible Cameron has a damaged card, which hopefully he can deal with under warranty. I tested my own card in its IDE adapter before going inside the PowerBook, and it seemed to be in fine fettle. Unfortunately the hammering that a full OS X system gave it - virtual memory especially I expect - did eventually prove too much. I got just about a year out of it before I couldn't restore a working drive image. Although my card was certainly lower end. Matthew reports better experiences with CF himself.

SSD's (2.5" flash hard drives, no adapters required) are definitely to be preferred. The problem right now though is that the only ones with good performance are on the small end: SLC "single layer cells" being mandatory for decent virtual memory handling, among those available to us consumers. Prices are set to tumble with Intel's announced push into the field. But those of us on IDE may be left in the cold while all the action is SATA....

My old PowerBook is awaiting a 250 GB Western Digital drive, which is currently shipping its way to me! Priorities change, and I need that machine back in action for the road, with a lot of elbow room too. Fortunately 2.5" hard drives are much more affordable now than the last time I looked, and absolute silence is something I can forgo for now.

I'm still attached to that old machine, but funds and Apple's will permitting my next laptop will be flash powered. Five years plus is more my time-frame for a good machine anyway!

John Muir

John,

Thanks for writing. Solid state drives have come a long ways, but they have quite a ways to go before they really become affordable. The only one I'm finding widely available is from Transcend, which has a range from 64 MB at $10.41 to 8 GB at $159.95 (from Amazon.com). The smaller, less expensive SSDs could be great for older PowerBooks, but OS X (especially Leopard) is pretty demanding of space. And a 250 GB hard drive costs less than Transcend's 8 GB SSD!

Dan

Dan,

Exactly. Fellow LEM reader Matthew Atkinson (who is running a more costly and unfortunately now unavailable Samsung SSD) answered my query about the Transcend models just as I expected: steer clear!

Things should really speed up, size up, and come into affordability in the next few years. Unfortunately, it coincides with SATA displacing IDE as the overwhelming majority of the laptop drive market. I wouldn't hold by breath for a handy 64 or 128 GB SSD in the right price range for my IDE PowerBook ever coming out. Yet alone 256!

John

John,

Thanks for the feedback. I don't know a thing about Transcend, but we'll be sure to share the warning. I'm sure SATA will eventually displace IDE, but the PC side of the industry tends to be slower in adopting new technologies than Apple, so we may see IDE SSDs for the next couple years.

Dan

Dan,

Reportedly Transcend are cheap, but slow. They use MLC (multi layer cell), which doesn't help, but the real problem is right there in their performance spec: 8 megabytes per second is the fastest write speed they can aspire to, which means your virtual memory will be a real drain on the system, which has to wait through all that every time.

I'll be as keen as the next flash aficionado to see a well priced, well sized, top performing IDE SSD. The problem is - and both Samsung and Intel are doing this - SSD's are anything but mainstream or low end and are being aggressively targeted at speed demons. Their thinking seems to be going towards: anyone with an IDE based system need not apply.

I can't say I entirely disagree with them. This is a breaking technology, and the steep costs need to be recovered after all. I'm expecting Apple to be the ones to put the next flash in my computer.

John

Further Compact Flash Developments

From Cameron Reid:

Thanks Dan for forwarding John's message, and thanks John for the link and the info.

Seems like UDMA is recommended. The latest bit of interest regarding this situation is this:

I bought a bus-powered FireWire 2.5" IDE HDD case so that I could transplant my current PowerBook's HDD into a portable storage drive for larger files when needed. I finally got this in (backordered for months) and, for fun, tried out the 'non-working' CF card with the IDE connecter in the external case. I formatted it as HFS+, transferred some very large files, formatted again with 5 partitions, transferred some larger files again; it worked every time with great speeds, equal for sure with that of my internal drive (where the files were being transferred from). Anyway, trying to keep this short, as I'm sure you're both busy, Kingston is replacing my card under warranty, but the interesting thing about this situation is that the card is currently working, even when with the same adapter connected internally, or through a USB card reader externally, I was getting errors and problems.

All in all, I'm hesitant to try using my replacement card internally because of the same problem occurring, however I don't need the card elsewhere, so I'd hate to waste the money.

I'll keep you posted on further developments.

Cameron,

UDMA isn't just recommended, it's required for booting. You can use a CF card without UDMA for data storage.

It's good to know the card is working when used with a FireWire-to-IDE adapter and IDE-to-Compact Flash adapter - and that Kingston is standing behind its product. But unless is has UDMA support, it's not going to work inside your PowerBook.

Dan

G4 Dual? and a 7600 in the Workplace

From Geoff Phillips:

Hello Mr. Knight,

I'm a long time reader/first time writer. We had Macs at school (University of Central Arkansas), but I've been a PC guy until a few months ago. My office was clearing out some old G3s, so I'm the proud owner of a Lombard and a 500 MHz iMac, my two first Macs. At work I'm on an upgraded 733 G4 which runs CS2 on Tiger very well. I've been shopping for a low-end G4 tower to mirror my work machine at home. All I do is page layout and ad building for a newspaper. To be honest, the 500 iMac (384 MB RAM) running Panther is fast enough for most of what I do (running older versions of InDesign, Photoshop, and illustrator), but I'd like more upgradeability, storage, and bigger/multiple monitors.

Getting to the point . . . I've found a "Dual G4 450 Power Mac" on eBay for a great buy it now price (please don't snipe it on me). I'm not interested in a 450 Power Mac, as I don't think it'd run too much faster than the 500 iMac I already have, but if it's actually a dual processor, then it's coming home with me. This is a link to the eBay picture showing the mobo . . . it seems to be missing a heat sync but does appear to have more chips on the board than the other G4 singles listed on eBay.

http://i16.ebayimg.com/06/i/000/de/ed/5233_1.JPG

Please help me figure out if this is a dual processor or not. The seller states it has a 20 GB hard drive, which as I understand didn't come in the DP 450, and with the missing heat sink I'm betting he misidentified it, but if it is a DP it'd be a sweet machine for a song.

The 2nd part of this email is to report a Power Mac 7300 alive and kicking at the newspaper. It hosts our advertising dummy system and to my knowledge hasn't been so much as restarted in several months. It's the 180 PC compatible model running 7.5.5 with (I think) 256 megs of RAM. With a room full of G4s and G5s, it sure stands out. The screen is burned in with the ad system window, but the computer has been in service for more than a decade now without a hiccup that I'm aware of. We are due for a tech upgrade in February of 2009, so it'll be there a bit longer if you'd like me to sneak a picture of it sometime.

Thanks for a spectacular website . . . helped me get both the Lombard and the iMac up with Panther, wireless, and more than I ever thought possible out of 7-year-old computers. Any advice on the G4 would be much appreciated!

That's the eBay link [removed] but please don't publish it . . . been looking for one of these for a while now!

Geoff Phillips
Photographer/Graphic Designer

Geoff,

Looking that the photo you linked to and comparing it to the dual 450 MHz "Mystic" Power Mac G4 I own, I suspect it's not a dual-processor machine - the heat sink is too small. Still, with 512 MB of RAM, Tiger, and a 20 GB hard drive, it's worth the price.

When you get it, use About This Mac under the Apple menu. That will tell you what it actually is. And if it is a single-processor machine, you have lots of upgrade options - see our Guide to Power Mac G4 Upgrades, which was recently updated. The 1 GHz PowerForce 55 sells for $160 with a 2 MB L2 cache, which should make it faster than your work machine for very little money. (Or really make it scream with a 1.8 GHz upgrade, like the NewerTech one we reviewed in February. Not cheap at $325, but boy is it fast!)

Dan

OCR Software for Leopard

From Bill Doty:

Hi Dan

I switched to an Intel MacBook Pro 15.4. It has Leopard 10.5.2 on it.

My OmniPage Pro for OS X program crashed when I tried to run it. It ran fine on the G4 Quicksilver. When I tried to reload the program, I got an error message -61. I suspect the program will not run on an Intel Mac. I checked the company website, and their system requirements list Mac OS X 10.1. They say nothing about Intel Macs.

The Epson scanner programs also crashed, but I got updates from Epson, and it seems fine.

Do you have a suggestion for an OCR program? I tried ReadIris a couple years ago and was not impressed. Has that one gotten any better? I also found a couple others: Simple OCR, (but I don't think this runs on a Mac) and ABBY Fine reader.

Thanks
Bill Doty

Bill,

I have almost no experience with OCR software on the Mac, but OmniPage Pro X is six years old, so I can understand why it might break under Leopard or on an Intel-based Mac. (It even supports Mac OS 9.x!) I wouldn't expect Nuance to update it after leaving it alone for so long.

About.com only lists four OCR programs for Mac OS X: OmniPage Pro X, ReadIris Pro, ABBYY Fine Reader Pro, and MacTiger. I found even less options on MacUpdate, and VersionTracker is hopeless when searching for "ocr".

The most recent article I can find on Mac OCR software was published here on Low End Mac in 2001, so it's pretty dated. Sorry I can't be more helpful.

Dan

WWDC '06 Leopard on a Blue & White G3

From Jeff Koenig:

Hi Dan,

Wanted to send in a report of some mild success I had installing Leopard on my B&W G3. The possibility of "future-proofing" the B&W just a little bit longer is a very exciting prospect for me and one that I hope people won't give up on.

  • What unsupported Mac have you installed it on? G3 B&W (Rev2)
  • How much RAM? Maxed out at 1 GB
  • How fast a CPU, and what brand, if it's an upgrade? Originally a 400 MHz G3, just recently maxed it out with a 1 GHz G4 Sonnet Encore ZIF
  • What video card does your Mac have? PCI Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 (flashed with a Mac ROM - so I can have Core Image & Quartz Extreme)
  • Which installation method did you use, a modified installer or installing from a supported Mac? The one that I got to work was the original WWDC '06 build (9a241). I used a modified install file, but only to get around the G3 check, since technically I meet the minimum spec requirements already. I used Disk Utility to restore the Leopard DMG to a just-large-enough partition on one of my internal hard drives and then selected that partition in the Startup Disk control panel. At first, startup just skipped right over it and then booted back into 10.4.11. Then I got to thinking - I still had 9.2.2 installed on another partition because I had to boot into it to do the ROM update for the G4 upgrade. On an experimental hunch, I booted into 9.2.2 and selected the Leopard Install partition in the 9.2.2 Startup Disk control panel, and a few minutes later I was at the install screen. I did an Archive & Install, came back later, and it had completed installation and restarted, but it was hanging at the grey Apple logo with the spinning progress indicator. I hit the reset button and tried holding Shift to boot with extensions off. It took a few minutes, but I got in. Then I tried rebooting in verbose mode, and again it took a few minutes, but I got in a second time. Feeling fairly confident, I did a plain restart and got all the way to the desktop in a normal amount of time.
  • What doesn't work? Especially check out Time Machine (which requires a second hard drive at least as big as your main one), DVD Player, Front Row, and VLC. Well, there's not much there to begin with, given that it's the earliest dev version. It's more like Tiger with a few new Dashboard Widgets, Time Machine, Spaces, and the new Safari.
      The main problem is that it doesn't recognize the G3's built in Ethernet jack for connecting to the Internet. It sees it in System profiler, but I'm unable to work with the connection at all in the Network settings. I haven't experimented with Time Machine just yet, since it would require me to format a drive, and while I do have an external USB drive attached, I don't have anywhere to put the stuff on that drive temporarily just to be able to test Time Machine. Maybe I'll try putting my old 4G Click Wheel iPod into disk mode, give that a whirl, and get back to you.
  • How does performance compare with Tiger subjectively and objectively? More testing TBD, but just navigating around, visiting each of the Control Panels, playing with Dashboard Widgets, etc., performance was fine. Not as fast as 10.4.11, but it's acceptable in my opinion - certainly a lot better than I expected.
  • Have you made any changes to your Mac since installing Leopard - more RAM, a better video card, a faster hard drive? How has that improved things? No, I wanted to make sure I had everything maxed out before I started the Leopard project. The only other thing I may try later, is to install a PCI Gigabit Ethernet card that has Mac drivers already built in so I can connect to the Internet in Leopard. I found one on Newegg for about $10, and it's on the way. Of note, I also have a PCI USB 2.0 card installed, and I replaced the original DVD drive with a SuperDrive from OWC, and then I put the DVD drive into an external FireWire enclosure from an old LaCie CD burner I had whose laser had gone defunct.

I should mention, too, that I wasn't the first person to do this. I found some old threads on Insanely Mac from when the Leopard dev version first came out, where another guy with a B&W with a 650 MHz G4 upgrade had success with this. He also had the problem with the built-in Ethernet jack. I learned so much from reading those old threads, and from your article on Installing to Unsupported Macs here on Low End Mac and on Mac Rumors.

As of this weekend, 9a241 is as far as I got. The ideal (and my goal) is to get to 10.5.2 (and so forth with future releases). It will take a lot of help from people much smarter than I, and I'm not sure if 10.5.2 is even within the realm of possibility just yet, but this is at least a step in the right direction.

Thanks,
Jeff Koenig

Jeff,

Congratulations. This should apply to people with the Yikes Power Mac G4 as well, as it uses essentially the same motherboard at the Blue & White. Keep us posted!

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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