The Low End Mac Mailbag

Macintosh Peace of Mind, PA Semi and the iPhone, $40 802.11g PCI Card, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.05.01 - Tip Jar

Mac Value and Peace of Mind

From Josh Rutherford:

Dan,

Bravo to the responses claiming that Apple computers are overpriced. Blame the media and savvy advertising dollars for plastering your Sunday paper with $499 Acers and $799 Dells. I'm reminded of the resource triangle concept we learned in IT school: Fast. Good. Cheap. Pick two.

I used to sell PC laptops for a major chain retailer, and we ooh'ed and aah'ed over the new models when they came out, with their RAM upgrades and shiny gloss screens, but at the end of the day they were all just nice-looking shells saddled with a 20-year-old operating system that compromises too much. My experience is that people want the power and flexibility that OS X provides, but someone put the idea in their head that the hardware in that $399 Black Friday no-name Winbook is the same, or at least "good enough", as what Apple's putting in the MacBook. After all, they both have Intel processors, right?

That point alone is why the so-called "hackintosh" market is destined to stay a fringe. It is not an oncoming tidal wave; it's a ripple in the pond. OS X is largely not open-source; it is not ours, it is Apple's, and we are paying for the privilege to use it. The microcode in the chipset on a Dell or Toshiba that makes it go to sleep and wake as it should is also proprietary information. And very few people have the time or energy, or a good enough lawyer, to do that much reverse-engineering. Innovators in communities are few, and the masses are many.

Hobbyists will always play and hackers will always tinker. I don't have the time for all that, and I don't have time for just "good enough." I want to get my work done, be able to enjoy a DVD or CD, play with my virtual photo albums, surf the Web, type an email or letter . . . and do it all without the OS or some poorly written software getting in my way. That's why I own a Mac and why my Windows boxes are gathering dust.

I have peace of mind with my Mac, something I don't have with Windows. Apple doesn't compromise, and it's all the better for it. And when you think about it . . . peace of mind is a pretty good value.

Regards,
Josh Rutherford

Josh,

Well said. You can run a crappy operating system on crappy hardware just because it's cheap. You can run a crappy operating system on good hardware because you're required to run Windows. You can run a great operating system on run-of-the-mill hardware because you think Macs are overpriced. Or you can run a great OS on excellent hardware to get the full Macintosh experience.

I think Macs are worth it, and every encounter with Windows further convinces me that I'm right. But hobbyists aren't happy unless they're cobbling together their own boxes and tweaking hardware - the perfect mindset for the hackintosh community. And you're right, it's always going to be a small fringe group. But best of all, they'll be promoting the Mac experience, which most people will only have by buying a Mac.

Dan

The Mac Pro Is Overpriced

From Joe Blasi:

There are many good desktop systems they match or are better then the single CPU Mac Pro. At a lower cost like $900 - $1,900 the single CPU Mac Pro comes with a lot of high cost workstation/server hardware that most uses don't need like high cost FBDIMM's and comes with a low-end video card stating at $2,300.

The new iMacs are nice but still come poor build in screens.

Apple also makes you over pay for video cards like $150 for a ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT 256 MB or $150 part of the base system cost + $150 = $300 for a Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB

And they don't give the Cross Fire bridges that should come with the card. People of said that Cross Fire works on the Mac Pro in Windows. Does an EFI ROM really cost that much more?

You can get good high-end desktops with 4 GB of desktop RAM, Quad core and better video cards for $1500 - $2,000 and they give less heat from the chip set and RAM.

The power G4 and G5 had tower systems in the $1,200 and up price range.

The Mac Pro RAID card is also a rip-off at $800 for a 4 port card when good hardware PCIe x4 or faster cards are $400 - $500 with 8 or more port cards at $600 and up.

Joe,

This is Low End Mac, so I'm going to have to assume that high-end users know what they're talking about - and that Apple has some pretty savvy engineers who make pretty reasonable choices.

The Mac Pro is a high-end computer aimed at the workstation market, especially video professionals and heavy Photoshop users. As such, the emphasis is on moving massive amounts of data quickly. I'm guessing that's why Apple designed the Mac Pro to use fully-buffered DIMMs instead of less expensive ones. It's also why Apple doesn't put a high-end video card in the Mac Pro: It's not what the target market needs.

If you're looking at Cross Fire and bridging video cards, you're probably into gaming, and Apple has never positioned the Mac Pro as a gaming machine. It's a serious tool for people willing to spend $2,000 and up for the best video/graphics hardware, operating system, and software available.

I agree that Apple is missing a huge market by not offering a tower or minitower that's not optimized for high-end applications. The iMac has the power, but no expansion slots - and you're paying for a new display every time you buy a new iMac. Were Apple ever to build a midrange desktop, I'm sure it would be competitive with the $900-$1,900 PCs you refer to, but Apple has shown complete disdain for that market since going Intel.

Dan

PowerPC vs. Intel Macs

From Mark Garbowski:

Hi Dan

There has been a lot of comments from fellow Mac users about need for Apple to introduce a midrange computer with expansions slots, I guess you could call it Open Mac, something folks from Florida tried in the last month or so.

I recently moved from a dual 867 MDD to a mini, and video editing was the main reason for the move. I guess my point is, Apple's 5-year-old expandable tower that I gave up for a mini was more than capable of running latest release of OS X. Sure, I added RAM to max it out at 2 GB, at one point had an upgraded video card in it, and added DVD-RW drive and a USB 2.0 card, but cost of the upgrades was peanuts compared to getting a Mac Pro. If it was not for hours that the G4 needed to render my videos, I would still be using it today.

I guess my point is that Apple, in my opinion, is clearly defining the market, and let's face it, from mini to iMac, MacBook to MacBook Pro they have packed all that is needed or required by 90% plus of their clients into every Mac they sell. They all have a hard drive, optical drive (except for MacBook Air), wireless, Bluetooth, USB, and FireWire.

I remember a discussion that went on in the PC world few years ago about the possible demise of the ATX form factor. Folks argued expandability, but besides that there is really no real reason for ATX to stay alive. If we look 10 years back (I ran a PC store at that time), we would not advise a customer to buy a motherboard with built-in sound, the built-in video was an absolute heresy, and here we are, 10 year later, and most PC manufactures sell everything integrated in the motherboard. Why? Well, that motherboard replacement today costs just about what a decent sound card cost 10 years ago.

What is my point? Well, I think that Apple pays really good money to a bunch of market researches, call them visionaries if you like, and we get what they believe is the way to go. Apple has now created a clear-cut line between work and home computer: If you need a workstation (name suggests that it will be a tool), you pay a premium for it and get a Mac Pro; if you need a home computer, then depending on your budget either mini or an iMac or a MacBook.

Yes, I can hear now all the voices raising up from the fellow LEM readers commenting on a limited Mac that mini is, well my response to it is this: I have used one for over a month now, the 5400 RPM spin of the hard drive does not bother me at all, I have an external USB 2.0 hard drive connected to it, and it's possibly the best computer I have ever owned (price to performance ratio). I will admit to purchasing a Quicksilver 2002 last month via the LEM Swap List, why? Well, it works great, and I'm a bit of a sap when it comes to those old G4s - and if folks out there need expandability, get one of the late G4s or G5s and install whatever cards you need in it, and if you need it for work, spend the money on a "workstation".

Mark

Mark,

You make some good points. For video work, the worst Intel Mac ever - the Core Solo Mac mini - will outperform any dual processor G4 Power Mac ever, and the Power Mac G5 Quad is the only PowerPC Mac ever built that had more raw power than today's entry-level Mac mini.

Like you, I'm used to a tweaked out Power Mac G4. Mine has dual 1 GHz CPUs, 2 GB of RAM, two 400 GB hard drives (one just for backup), two USB 2.0 cards, SCSI (which I've never used, but it came with the used computer), and its stock video card. Except for video, it really has all the power I need. If I ever upgrade to Leopard, I'm pretty sure I'd pick up a better video card, but that's the only change I can anticipate making. (Cost vs. benefit, I just can't justify a dual 1.6 GHz upgrade, although it is tempting.)

Were I buying a Mac for video work, I'd look at used 17" Intel iMacs and white 20" Intel iMacs. The 17" provides enough screen space, but the 20" isn't priced much higher. And I'd set it up as a pretty much dedicated video machine, replacing my old eMac.

The only problem I see with today's Mac line is that there's nothing in the middle for those who want a modern, Intel-based Mac and expansion slots without spending over two grand.

Dan

PA Semi and the iPhone

From Matthew Wright :

Hey again Dan,

Apple buys PA Semi-

so many questions- If Apple ends up using PA Semi chips in future iPhones/iPods does that mean they'd essentially be running OS X (the stripped down version on the iPhone) on [new, still in production] PowerPC processors? It's the ARM that's in the iPhone now right? How does that compare to Intel chips architecturally? Is there a distinctly different version of the OS for iPhone's ARM processors, other than it being stripped down?

The implications are confusing for this layman- if they keep writing OS software to support PA Semi PowerPC chips (if they wind up in future iPhones/iPods)- well, what the heck does it all mean Alfie? Will/Could the OS X of the near future run or be made easily to run on other similar chips (Power6, Power7, Broadway, etc.) if it's being coded to run on the PA Semi chips?

Inquiring minds want to know,

Matthew

Matthew,

As far as I can determine, the CPU in the iPhone is a Samsung S3C6400, which is a 667 MHz ARM1176JZF. That means that the version of OS X on the iPhone has been compiled for ARM.

PA Semi has designed its own PowerPC CPU, the 64-bit PA6T, which is optimized for power efficiency. As PA Semi's website is down, I have to depend on third-party sources for information. The PA6T is apparently available in single- and dual-core versions and uses 7W of power at 2 GHz.

I have no idea how that compares with the chip found in the iPhone, but with two cores and 3x the clock speed, I suspect the future iPhone (and iPod touch) could be far more powerful than today's models. It's possible that Apple could replace ARM with PowerPC, but Apple is mum.

The question is whether Apple will use the PA6T architecture or have the newly acquired company apply what it knows to building a better ARM processor.

Dan

Kiss Intel Good-bye?

From Scott Cook:

Hey Dan,

I think the discussion of what Apple will do to prevent people from building their own "Hackintosh" is kinda irrelevant now that Apple has purchased their own chip designer. I predict Apple will obsolete all Intel Macs as soon as their own new, fast, cool running, low power consumption chips are ready. Apple dropped the G5 because it wasn't fast enough, ran too hot, and used too much power. Intel chips were a good fix until another "real" Mac was ready. This will be the next major change Apple will go through.

All today's current Intel Macs, and their software, will be made obsolete in the next few years. It's what I would do if I were Apple . . . I can hardly wait! haha

Scott Cook

Scott,

That's a distinct possibility, but I don't think it's at all probable. Sure, the PA Semi chip draws just 7 Watts at 2.0 GHz and is available with dual cores, but I suspect it only has half the processing power of a dual-core Penryn. On top of which, Apple wouldn't have the same efficiency of scale that Intel does, as Apple would use millions of CPUs per year while Intel is producing hundreds of millions.

But in the end, I think the Intel decision is irrevocable. Why? Because it makes it that much easier for Windows users to migrate to the Mac while still having access to Windows.

I suspect the PA Semi team will be working on chips for the iPhone, iPods, Apple TV, and other Apple products that don't run the full Mac OS.

Dan

More on DVD User Op Patch

From Scott Cook:

DVD User Op Patch is one of the first things external DVD customers need for their Mac. You can't watch a DVD with Apple's DVD Player unless you have an internal Apple branded DVD drive in your Mac; at least not in Panther, which is what Mr. Emery and I are using in our iBooks.

The trailers and stuff don't bother me much. They only show up on the first viewing of the DVD. If DVD Player is showing you a movie for the second or subsequent time, it offers to start the movie where you left off last time, which is always the ending credits for me. I start the DVD over at that point, go to the menu, and then play the movie. If I want to watch the trailers again, I start the DVD at the beginning.

You may not want to print this next paragraph: Another application I use to view DVDs on my iBook is Mac The Ripper. I rip the DVD to my iBook's hard drive, which takes quite a while for a G3. I then enjoy the movie in the comfort of my living room recliner with my iBook on my lap and my headphones on. My iBook's battery easily lasts through a 2.5 hour movie. Mac The Ripper has more sinister uses, such as DVD piracy, which I neither engage in nor condone. I just want the movie on my hard drive, which of course Hollywood won't allow.

Scott Cook

Scott,

Thanks for sharing this information. And, for the record, we have nothing against Mac The Ripper. Ripping a DVD you own to your hard drive temporarily has traditionally been allowed under the "fair use" doctrine. This may be a legal mess thank to the DMCA, but unless you're pirating DVDs or sharing your rips via BitTorrent, you should be okay.

Dan

$40 Wireless-G PCI Card for Power Macs

From Chris Kilner:

Hi Dan,

I know that with the recent availability of NewerTech 802.11n adapters with Mac drivers from OWC for ~$50, many users aren't looking for the slower 802.11g cards anymore, but for some (like me), using Apple's built-in drivers and having a PCI card seen as an AirPort Extreme card can be a big help (i.e., the kids are used to using AirPort cards and the menu bar dropdown). Buffalo-brand adapters with the Broadcom chips used to be easy to come by, but now it is harder to find Broadcom-based PCI cards . . . hence this email with the solution I found.

I recently picked up a Linksys WMP54GS Wireless-G PCI card from Radio Shack for $40 to replace an AirPort card in my son's Power Mac G4 (so the AirPort card could be used in a recently-acquired Clamshell iBook for my daughter). This is the "speed booster" version that uses a Broadcom chip and it has a Broadcom copyright notice on the bottom of the box (the similar, but not "speed booster," v. 4.1 WMP54G PCI card from Linksys that is also sold by Radio Shack for $40 uses a Ralink chip and requires installation of Ralink drivers and use of Ralink's wireless app. - older v. 1 & 2 of this card used Broadcom chips). As an easy drop-in for Power Macs that is still widely available, I thought your readers would want to know about it. My son's G4 is running 10.5.2, but I first learned about this card from reports on xlr8yourmac.com that mentioned it working with 10.3 and 10.4, so it should work with any recent version of OS X.

Chris Kilner

Chris,

If you're willing to spend the money on an 802.11n router and cards, you gain up to 4x the throughput plus nearly twice the range, but sticking with 802.11g can save you the additional investment in a new router, making that $40 Radio Shack card attractive. Besides, 802.11g hardware is already faster than almost anyone's Internet connection, so unless you're streaming video to Apple TV or backing up wirelessly, there's not a lot of real benefit to the faster protocol.

Dan

12" or 14" iBook G4?

From Brian Troisi:

Hello! At wegenermedia.com, they have a mid 2005 iBook G4 12" for $499. For $529, they have a 14" mid 2005 iBook G4 (1.42 GHz, 60 GB hard drive, etc.) Do you think it is worth the extra $29 for the 14" version? Well, kinda dumb question (or of course it is!) but I am not sure if the 14" will be too large. I have handled 12" iBooks at my school, and they seem like a very portable and small size and weight. The 14" is 1 pound heavier, which may not seem like a lot, but is it a big difference? Have you ever handled a 14" iBook before? The 14" iBook is obviously larger than the 12", but I don't think that it would be a real big deal. Considering how many PC laptops are 15.4" windscreens, so....

Any advice is appreciated! Thank you very much! :-)

Brian,

Feature for feature, spec for spec, the only differences are the larger display, the larger and heavier design, and a slightly faster (less than 7% faster) CPU. They use the same version of the G4 CPU, have the same video processor, and even display exactly the same information, as both have 1024 x 768 displays. Unless you have a reason for wanting a larger screen (maybe doing presentations or having older eyes), stick with the smaller iBook.

Dan

VGA with a Power Mac 6100

From Thomas Friedle:

Dear Dan,

I have been working with Macs for many years, at work, in school, and I have finally decided to get a Mac for myself. In the next few days I am planning on ordering a shiny new black MacBook, but as of today that will no longer be my first Mac.

On my way home today I spotted a yard sale, and I though I would stop by and have a look. There I purchased my first Mac . . . a Power Mac 6100. The owner gave me the Power Mac, an Apple Design Keyboard, and a 1-button mouse for only $2. He was even kind enough to hook it up to his monitor to show me that it worked. I was excited and bought it right there on the spot without thinking, a horrid mistake. The problem is I do not own the right kind of monitor for it. Do you know of anywhere selling cheap HDi45-to-VGA converters or know any cheap monitors?

I am planning on installing Mac OS 8 on it, if it doesn't already have it, and use it for no-distraction typing, or maybe convert it into a simple web server. I love my first Mac, and I would love to see it in action.

~Thomas

Thomas,

HDi45-to-VGA adapterThat HDi45 connector was one of Apple's big mistakes. The problem wasn't so much Macs that needed a monitor adapter, but monitors that required HDi45 Macs. And, as time goes by, it's harder to buy the adapters - and more dear. Worse yet, the Apple adapters aren't VGA; they are for Apple's DB15 connector, which requires a Mac DB15-to-VGA adapter.

The only HDi45-to-VGA adapter I can find on the Internet (hooray for Google!) is available from The SCSI Store and sells for $24.95.

Dan

Dan,

Thanks for the advice. I'll definitely be ordering the adapter tomorrow. I just got the Mac OS 8.1 and 9.1 CDs from a great friend, and I'm planning on installing one of them when the adapter comes in. Anyway thanks for the help!

~Thomas

PS. I just got my MacBook, best thing I ever bought.

Pismo with an External Widescreen Monitor

From Gerald Wilson (following up on More Pismo Resolutions with an External Monitor):

Dear Dan,

Ran test on Pismo connected to Dell 24" widescreen (2407WFP) with native resolution 1920 x 1200. Pismo now upgraded to Tiger, all patches. So don't know if a Panther Pismo would achieve the highest resolution. Essentially results same as previous for panther Pismo on Dell 20" widescreen.

However, Pismo can also drive 1920 x 1200 (coo) at 59.9 Hz, but (shame) at only 256 colours. Not so good therefore with OS X.

The colour depth setting for the external monitor seems to be independent of that set for the internal XGA screen. So reducing the internal display to 256 does not seem to free up VRAM for the external monitor. Don't know how the graphics system splits the VRAM up.

Recommendation: Pismo users can make good use of widescreen monitors with 1680 x 1050 resolution (available in 20" and 22" size). For higher resolutions, forget it.

rgds,
GWW

Gerald,

Thanks for the additional info. OS X isn't much to look at with 8-bit graphics, but I'll add a note to our Pismo profile that this resolution does work at this reduced bit-depth.

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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