The Low End Mac Mailbag

Beyond Google, 10 Years on the G3, the Cube Is Not a Road Apple, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.11.13

Beyond Google

From Christopher Beaver:

Dear Dan -

At the coffeehouse today, I overheard two business students discussing a business plan. They wanted to start a new form of web information center for travelers. Then I wondered, why not compete with Google. They're starting to seem a little tired, aren't they.

Google to my mind has become like watching network TV. The limit before cable was network TV, those three channels. There were more networks in the earliest days of television but the essence after World War II was really only three. Good-bye Dumont. Good-bye Westinghouse.

With Google it's like walking into a Safeway store. You think you're getting everything that's possible. The shelves are lined with goods. But there are also glimmerings at the edges of your thought that you're being limited, censored, constrained. Where are the organic foods? Is there any room in the magazines for something other than CosmoGQHouseFashionYorker?

My searches on Goggle don't seem to turn up very many sites for individual artists for one objection. You can find them but they don't really turn up as regularly nor near the top as more commercial or structured sites. The political spectrum, too, seems awfully narrow. Where's this fundamentalism I keep hearing about? Very rarely do foreign sites appear. Then too, we may remember that Google conspires with China to limit freedom of thought in that country. My own website is banned in China (not that I take that personally) or should I say, banned in Google. I'm starting to wonder what Google's doing to all of us. Are we conspiring to limit our own thought by over-relying on Google?

Lycos and the usual list of other search engines (which I found where else, on Google) don't seem that innovative either or maybe I should be seeking something "more specialized," "more niche" - is that the way to describe the idea, more like cable TV? Of course I wouldn't really describe any of the cable stations as edgy or "freeform" or individualized.

Maybe it's time for new search engines.

Instead of network news, are there any search engines one could describe as alternative or indie or even (gasp, choke) irresponsible or rogue? Instead of the New York Times, maybe we could use a little Village Voice, Berkeley Barb or Boston Phoenix. Where's the Allen Ginsburg of the internet to help us howl?

Or have I simply been missing search engines that exist right in front of my eyes?

Many thanks for any and all ideas you have for me. Including not wanting to hear rants like this one.

Christopher B

Christopher,

Google became the best search engine on the Internet by developing a weighting algorithm for ordering search results and indexing everything they could access on the Internet. And they've constantly tweaked their system as people learned how to take advantage of one algorithm - it looks like they may have finally solved the problems caused by link farms as well.

Just as Microsoft Windows isn't the best operating system but is good enough for 90% of the people all of the time, Google falls down in certain areas, but for most searches most of the time it's going to produce useful results. That's why Google owns over 90% of the search market.

How tight a lock does Google have? Looking at our site logs, 94% of search engine traffic arrives through Google, 3.5% through Yahoo (the leader before Google), 0.5% through Ask Jeeves, 0.4% through MSN, 0.3% through AOL, 0.1% through Dogpile (which uses Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves all at once), and 0.1% through Alta Vista, which was the champion search engine a decade back.

Google just works, although it has its shortcomings, and it's definitely vulnerable, as were Alta Vista and Yahoo before it. But of the 36 search engines delivering visitors to Low End Mac in October, 29 brought in less than 250 visitors - and 13 of those delivered less than 10.

If Microsoft, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, AOL, and the rest can't take 5% of the search market with their resources, odds are against anyone doing it without a stroke of genius that rivals what Google did at its launch. Sure, even 0.01% of the search engine market is a huge number, but I don't think there's money to be made competing with Google and the other generic search engines. Where money probably could be made is specialized search engines, such as one specific to the Mac market or history students or drug research.

Dan

Dan

As usual thanks for your analysis and insight.

One wonders whether some naively enthusiastic person or partners are even now at work on the specialized search engines you hypothesized. I use the word "naively," because that's how most of my documentary film projects usually start . . . with naive enthusiasm. If only I knew at the beginning what I've learned by the end!!

And for me personally, I have to confess, Google still rules the roost even with any shortcomings one might be able to cite.

Thanks again for your perspective on Google.

Christopher B

Core 2: The Big Difference Is 64-bit Support

From Yuhong Bao regarding 1 Core, 2 Cores, 4 Cores, 8: How Much Difference Does It Make?:

Dear Dan:

Actually I think the major gain in Core 2 over Core is 64-bit support and new x86 extensions such as SSE4.

Yuhong Bao

When I wrote that column, we didn't have a 64-bit version of OS X, so the benefits of 64-bit support in the Core 2 processors was unknown. That changed in October.

Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard" gives us two things: a true 64-it Mac operating system and a new core written for a world of multiple CPUs with multiple cores. Leopard is smart enough to determine which cores share a cache and which don't - and which should work best for a given task. This probably won't make much difference at all for the dual processor and dual core Macs, but the the quad-core and 8-core Macs, it could make them even more efficient.

Primate Labs has done some extensive benchmarking of Leopard on a Core 2 iMac and a 1.6 GHz single processor Power Mac G4 in 32-bit and 64-bit modes. On the iMac, 64-bit Leopard is nearly 10% faster overall, while on the Power Mac it's nearly 14% slower. Breaking things down by individual tests, the big gain comes in integer performance with Core 2, which is 18% faster.

I'm sure we'll know more about the benefits of 64-bitness and SSE4 as others put Leopard through its paces.

Dan

Is the Cube a Road Apple?

From Joseph Burke:

Dan

Something you need to to consider is that the value issue with the Cube was eventually addressed. The slower model was priced higher than a G4 tower, but the price was lower than the G4 tower on the faster model, so it was a better value. The Cube was also intended to be a designer model, a computer that looked cool with any decor in a nonstandard configuration while still retaining a family resemblance to the rest of Apple's computers. It definitely accomplished that goal.

It wasn't intended to be a low-end mainstream machine for the masses like the mini, so you really can't apply the same value equation to it, since it was catering to a more upscale market that is willing to pay more even though better value may be found elsewhere. I also fail to see how the design of the Cube was "compromised" in any way. Given it's mission, it does everything it was designed to do and does it well. The way it disassembles for upgrading was absolutely brilliant thinking. You have to expect that a machine with compact dimensions like the Cube or mini are going to come with an external power brick by necessity and that locating ports for adding peripherals while still maintaining a clean appearance is going to be a challenge. You also seem to dislike the convection cooling, yet how many G3 iMacs also used convection cooling and weren't deemed Road Apples because of it? How about the early compacts that Steve Jobs deemed should not contain a cooling fan? Is your opinion of them any less for lack of a fan?

I think that the touch sensitive power button and the location and close proximity of the ports are insufficient complaints to call it a Road Apple. I would much rather see the mini in a Cube case than the one it is in now. At least you would have better upgradability, which was also a brilliant stroke by Apple in the design of the Cube. Let's see them get a PCI-Express slot into the mini. The Cube had an AGP slot, and you could upgrade the video card. It also had the CPU on a card that is upgradable, and more memory slots than the mini comes with. It also did not use expensive laptop components like the mini. The Cube is definitely a better value when compared to the Power Mac G4 than the mini is compared to the iMac or Mac Pro.

As to the Quicksilvers, I am aware that the 733 MHz DA had a few more features than the 733 MHz QS and cost more, so let's go the other way and compare the 733/800 MHz QS's to other models in their own range. The 867/933 MHz singles. How does the value equation change when you compare the cacheless entry models to the 2 MB cache machines? Is it far more than you would expect from the difference in MHz alone? If the 117 MHz PowerBook 1400 and the 233 MHz WallStreet without cache are singled out from their respective generations as Road Apples, then why wouldn't the cacheless Quicksilvers be singled out from theirs for the same reason? It is also a step backwards to remove the cache that was present in an earlier model. Surely the cache couldn't have added so much to the price that the entry models would have become unsellable if it had been included.

You also say that the problems with the snow iBooks are not the result of an engineering flaw. I say it is. The decision was made by Apple to go with lead free solder on the production lines. Lead free solder is more brittle and tends to break down more quickly over time. The location of the power button also contributes to the problem of iBook failure. These are both engineering decisions, and should therefore qualify the G4 snow iBooks as Road Apples. The other issues with the G3 models look to me like a result of using low quality parts or the cheapest assemblers to save money. This should also be enough to qualify for Road Apple status. A laptop should last more than a year before becoming unusable. I have been using my current eMachines (yes eMachines ) laptop for over three years. I think it is pretty sad when a bottom of the barrel PC maker can build a better laptop than Apple.

We also have an issue of certain G4 PowerBooks that fail to recognize their second memory slot after a while. This has to be either an engineering flaw or the sourcing of bad components to save money. Surely this must also be enough to qualify those models as Road Apples.

Joseph,

I don't know where you get the idea that I have something against convection cooling. I don't. It's one of the reasons the Mac Plus, slot-loading iMacs, Cube, and older, cooler running PowerBooks were such friendly computers.

I consider each and every version of the Mac mini a Road Apple - just haven't written the article yet. Overpriced laptop components, horrible access to the insides, only one RAM slot in the G4 models, and "vampire video" in the Intel models all add up to a computer that looks cool but costs more than it should and is desperately short of expansion options.

From a technological standpoint, the Cube was a success - and from a design standpoint. Except for the power button and some problems with the enclosure, no real flaws. And very upgradable: CPU, video, and hard drive. It was universally praised for its looks, and universally panned for its price. While Apple did later reduce the price, the damage had been done. The Cube will always be viewed as an overpriced Mac, although not on the same level as the 20th Anniversary Mac.

I wish you would stop equating the PowerBook 1400 and the "MainStreet" PowerBook G3 Series, which had no level 2 cache whatsoever, with the Quicksilver models that had a 256 KB onboard level 2 cache running at full CPU speed but no level 3 cache. Benchmark after benchmark has shown less than a 10% performance difference, whereas the two PowerBooks took a much more significant performance hit due to their lack of an L2 cache.

Also, you seem to think that the 733 MHz Quicksilver is the same as the 733 MHz Digital Audio Power Mac but with the L3 cache removed. It's not. Apple had a new motherboard and enclosure for the Quicksilver Power Macs. Leaving out the L3 cache, which did not have a huge impact on performance, was a reasonable decision when designing an entry-level Power Mac.

Dan

The One Thing I Miss from Tiger

From Trevor Howard:

Dan,

Since upgrading to Leopard, I've considered it a mixed blessing, I see things that are both faster and slower on my Mac (Dual-Core G5, Late 2005, 2 GHz). For instance, in general, its a little slower than Tiger, a bit noticeable, but things like Spotlight seem to go quicker, and the folder item count updates quickly. I haven't really used Spaces yet (I don't see a use for it for me I guess...). And no Stacks either (I'm still stuck in my old way of organizing things . . . and I don't know if I feel like going through trying to integrate stacks into my system for the 50k+ pictures videos and etc. spread across five hard drives.)

But anyways, I'm dealing with the performance loss really, even if it is (according to istat) eating all but 329 MB of my 3.5 GB of RAM at idle and loading things feels like Tiger on a Pismo at times. But the one thing I'm not dealing with is an issue I'm wondering if anyone else encountered relating to the audio.

See, in my convoluted setup I have a pair of Klipsch Ultra 2.0s hooked up to the analog speaker port for when I'm sitting right at my desk, and then an optical cable (as well as a VGA cable) run from the back of my G5 to my home theater setup across the room - this gives me the option of, if I'm sitting at my couch, I can watch videos and the like on my 50" DLP through my home theater system, or if I'm busy at my desk I have a set of bespoke speakers for that as I watch it in a window.

So anyways, to watch things on the TV in Tiger, I used to turn the Klipsch speakers "off" in Tiger by pressing the volume control all the way down on the keyboard (so I didn't have to reach across my desk and fiddle with the knob constantly). Note, in Tiger this did not mute the output from the optical at all, it turned it all the way down but the volume output was still "active", but not through the analog speaker output

Not so in Leopard, if you turn the volume all the way down it mutes everything, so in order to watch stuff with the audio from my home theater, I have to leave the volume at one bar, which leaves the Klipsch speakers on, which I hear, across the room, somehow, and it disturbs me.

Now I looked throughout the audio menu and nowhere can I find any sort of option to just mute the stupid analog output and leave my optical active. Am I blind, or did Apple really miss something here?

Thanks,
Trevor H

Trevor,

I'm living with Tiger for the foreseeable future, as I still depend on the gloriously useful, increasingly outdated, very efficient Claris Home Page to write and edit HTML for use on my websites. Also, I've never used any of my Macs with two audio outputs - the most I use is a cheap pair of analog speakers so the sound comes from my desk, not the floor.

I sounds like Apple hasn't really thought things through on the audio front. Be sure to let Apple know of your problem. Let's hope 10.5.1 will get it right.

Dan

Dan,

Well I've considered downgrading to Tiger at this point, especially given the performance issues (which are beginning to get more and more on my nerves, I'm guessing its the 6600LE graphics card that's causing a good chunk of my problems here, given the performance issues are mostly related to loading images up in Preview, moving Preview around, Exposé at certain times, and when I have a bunch of windows open). I sadly have yet to write Apple about my issue; I guess part of me is still thinking in the "It's probably some stupid switch or something hidden that I missed", and I was hoping someone would point it out to me.

Ah, yeh, one of the things that "sealed the deal" so to speak with my conversion to Mac OS was that in the really old days (Win 3.1 + DOS) I used ClarisWorks for word processing and such, and I very very much missed it (I always disliked Microsoft Word, because it was not "simple" - or rather it stopped being simple somewhere around XP), and I was quite delighted when I fired up AppleWorks to find that it was identical to the ClarisWorks I loved (at the time I didn't actually know it was ClarisWorks). And I do remember using Home Page back in the day (when I was 8, and I actually had my own website, which in those days was a fairly big deal! Even if I didn't have any idea what to do with it and never had any meaningful content on it.) And I remember it was quite fantastic (what little I do remember of it, that is...)

Anyways, I'm hoping for a patch or something to resolve it if it is an issue, but I really think Apple will be working on other issues other users are having before they get to my comparatively little one. Maybe at least they might release a patch that improves performance for those of us straddled with a graphics card only a centimeter away from a GMA 950 (sometimes I ponder in which direction that centimeter is...)

- Trevor

10 Years on the G3

From Andrew T:

Hi Dan,

Great article covering the G3. My 233 MHz G3 was my first desktop, and I still have it sitting beside my desk. I have one question though. In your article you mention that the earliest G3s ran 7.6? Is this true? 7.6 is one of my favorite OS's and I would love to run it on my G3 and watch it scream. Can you confirm this or is this a typo in the article.

Thanks for the great writing and keep it up!

Regards,
Andrew

Andrew,

I have no hands-on experience with the "Kanga" PowerBook G3, but PB5300s profile says that it can run Mac OS 7.6, although it shipped with Mac OS 8.

In the Mac Rumor forums, RacerX says, "...the PowerBook G3 was pretty much a PowerBook 3400c with the 603e processor swapped out with a G3 processor. So theoretically Mac OS 7.6 should be able to handle all the hardware other than the processor." dhazeghi reports, "In case anybody is still interested, 7.6.1 does not install on an original Kanga G3 PowerBook. I just tried, and I get an error along the lines of 'this software cannot be installed on this computer.'"

I have one source that says it should work and one that says it does, although a third says the installer will not work.

As for the Power Mac G3, it does require Mac OS 8 or later.

Dan

OS 9 on a USB Memory Stick

From Jonas, following up on Running Mac OS 9 from a USB Flash Drive:

Hi Dan,

iBook as digital framsI thought I'd share with you how that old Mac ended up. As you see, it became a nice photo frame, running OS 9 and a screen saver. I damaged the logic board, so that I couldn't replace the hard drive, but the USB stick is perfect for this application, since it is completely silent. Speed doesn't really matter for a photo frame.

I also thought that I'd share the fate of an old Bondi blue iMac (32 MB RAM). I replaced the hard drive with a 120 GB drive, installed SoundJam MP and Arkaos Visualizer for visual effects. One thing that I like about it, is that the program starts playing where it was when the program was shut down. So I just have to press the power button, and soon it starts playing.

a new Mac fanI also noticed that many Mac people love new Macs despite their shortcomings, and hate old Macs, no matter how useful they are. So I let one test person try the jukebox, to see if it was likable. As you see in the picture, the jukebox seems to be just fine.

Best regards
Jonas

Jonas,

It's the same way with many things. Some people lust after new cars, some love vintage cars, and others are content with reliable transportation that's neither brand new nor old enough to interest a collector.

Great way to repurpose and old iBook, and a clever use for an old iMac. :-)

Dan

7200 RPM Drive in 1 GHz iMac G4

From Thomas Hofts:

In your story you said:

"The entire third generation of G4 iMacs is officially supported by Leopard, and to get the most out of the next version of OS X, you will want to bring memory to at least 1 GB. The 17" and 20" iMacs came with 7200 rpm drives, but the 15" may have a slower drive. If so, replacing it with a 7200 rpm drive will boost overall performance."

The 15" (1 GHz USB 2.0) does have a factory installed 7200 rpm 80 GB drive. I just got one off Craigslist and put in 1 GB of memory and installed Leopard. It is very speedy and works great, although the heavy graphics programs (Google Earth) are a bit jerky due to the iMac's poor graphics card.

Thomas,

Thanks for another data point. Apple seems to have pretty consistently used 7200 rpm 80 GB drives in that era, although they never promoted the fact.

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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