Charles Moore's Mailbag

Other Great USB Keyboards, Cooler Running Laptops, the Value of Old G3 Macs, and More

Charles Moore - 2007.12.17 - Tip Jar

Another Great USB Keyboard

From Stephen:

Charles:

I enjoyed your article about alternative USB keyboards. Unfortunately, it's a couple weeks late for me. But that's okay, I'm very pleased with my new Matias Tactile Pro 2.0. I think it deserves a mention even though it is a bit pricey.

I've been trying for a very long time to keep my old Apple Extended Keyboard II working with my Quicksilver through a Griffin iMate. But every Tiger update would make it quirkier, and it's not officially supported any more above 10.3.9.

So I splurged and bought the Tactile Pro. It cost about the same as the old Extended keyboard when it was new 15 years ago. It has a very nice clicky feel and has really improved my typing. They claim that it has the same key mechanisms as the old Apple keyboards, and it sure feels like it. It's very solidly built, and I expect it to last as long as the old Apple Extended Keyboard, though who knows if USB 2.0 will be around in 15 years!

Stephen

Hi Stephen,

I tested the Matias Tactile Pro some time ago, and it's an impressive 'Board - spectacular-looking and evidently high quality. You can read my review, Has 'the Best Keyboard Apple Ever Made' Been Resurrected?

However, it's a very different 'board from the Kensington SlimType.

I understand the appeal of these "clicky" keys, but for persons with neuropathy-related typing pain, they are about as bad as it gets. With both the Matias Tactile Pro and the Apple Extended Keyboard II (I have one of those as well) as little as a minute or two (literally) of typing will have the nerves in my arms and hands burning from fingertip to shoulder and neck.

I suspect it's a combination of the serial tiny shock impacts of the over-center action that makes the "click", and the hard landing at the bottom of the key's travel. The worst keyboard of all in this regard in my experience is the one that came with my old Mac Plus. On the other hand, membrane-type keyboards, whose feel some deride as "mushy", suit me a lot better, but the least troublesome of all are the ones with the combination of membrane and mechanical scissor-action with a light touch, short travel, and soft landing exemplified by the best laptop keyboards and the Kensington and iRocks 'boards I reviewed here last week.

Thanks for your comments.

Charles

Charles:

I somehow missed your original review of the Matias when I was looking for a new keyboard.

I understand now about the soft touch keyboard and the neuropathy problems. That would certainly make a keyboard like this one impossible to use. I learned to type on a real live manual typewriter and have never been able to slow down my "punch". Also, years of being an acoustic musician and tying knots for a living (I used to have a business building commercial fishing gear) have given me pretty strong hands. And being a computer admin for at least a decade kept the "punch" going - switching keyboards all day long made me push 'em down pretty hard to make sure the command connected because every keyboard had a different touch.

I really dislike laptop membrane keyboards, they drive me bonkers because I type a key and it gives me multiple characters. I probably type with the backspace key as much as any other one!

Thanks for your reply,
Stephen

Hi Stephen,

I also used manual typewriters for years, and indeed you did have to hammer the keys. I developed chronic neuritis not long after I switched to using computers, although I don't consider typing on computer keyboards a causative factor (the neuritis affects me all over my body, and I don't type with my face or feet), but definitely an aggravating one. I do remember reading somewhere that mechanical typewriters are not nearly as conducive to RSI as flat computer keyboards because of the "springiness" of the key arms, their being configured in graduated tiers, and the fact that you have to take regular breaks from typing to whack the carriage return.

I also used to be an acoustic guitarist, but the neuritis has pretty much ended that, although I've hung on to my Guild D-25 (one of the last batch made with the solid flat back in 1973) and my customized Harmony Sovereign 12-string.

Charles

Comments on the Kensington SlimType Keyboard

From Walt in CA:

Charles,

I am also a big fan of the Kensington SlimType keyboard - and here is another reason to like it: you can get essentially the same keyboard in a Mac and Windows version. I use a Windows unit at work and a Mac at home. It is very handy to have the same basic keyboard in both places; the few differences are minor. My only complaint about the Mac version is the two control keys in the lower left. Odd. Why not give us a user programmable key?

Like you, I have found this keyboard to reduce discomfort associated with typing. I get the same benefit at home and work, and the Kensington is vastly better than the stock Dell keyboard.

Keep up the good work!

Walt in CA

Hi,

Good point about the platform ambidexterity, which is typical of several Kensington products, and applies to the iRocks version of the keyboard I profiled in the review as well.

The redundancy of Control keys is a quirky bit of weirdness with these 'boards. I don't mind a whole lot, as I use the Control keys a lot, and it's handy to be able to just stab at the general direction of the end of the bottom row, however it would probably have been more sensible to leave out the extra Control key and make the remaining three to the left of the spacebar wider, especially the Command key.

The SlimType is the most comfortable keyboard I've ever used, and that includes several purpose-designed "ergonomic" types that cost a lot more than $30-$40.

Charles

Another Good USB Keyboard from MacAlly

From Jeffrey:

Charles,

I've read with interest your discussion regarding the Best Alternative USB Keyboards. I've found pleasure in one that was not mentioned in your article: The MacAlly IceKey. Now, I cannot make any claims regarding its feel or qualities compared to the other third-party keyboards that you mentioned, since I do not have experience with them, but compared to Apple's offerings, I consider the IceKey a dramatic improvement, and so I offer it up for your consideration.

Regards,
Jeffrey

Hi Jeffrey,

Yes indeed. I tested the MacAlly IceKey four years ago, and until I discovered the Kensington SlimType, it got my vote as being the closest to my benchmark of keyboard excellence - the PowerBook WallStreet keyboard.

It also uses laptop-style, short stroke, scissors-action keyswitches, but I have to give the SlimType the edge for comfort thanks to its somewhat lighter touch than IceKey, although even the SlimType's action is stiffer than my ideal, my only real complaint about the 'board. The WallStreet's keyboard's touch is about perfect; light, short, butter-smooth, and with a soft, slightly flexible landing.

However, I like MacAlly products, and the IceKey is a very nice keyboard.

Charles

Cooler Running Laptops

From Bryan:

Hi Charles,

Interested to see you're only getting to 40° C, it must be colder in Canada than New Zealand! I was running (processor bottom-side) around 55° - 58° with Leopard 5.1, and this along with the backlighting on the keyboard being far more enthusiastic - and thus more difficult for me to see, has convinced me to go back to Tiger 10.4.11. The fan comes on far less with Tiger on my 1.33 GHz 17", I'm running Mail, Adium, Safari and Lightroom normally.

Really enjoy and appreciate your column on LEM.

regards

Bryan

Hi Bryan,

You're happily right: It's colder here than in NZ - extraordinary so this year, as winter came early, at least by recent standards, and it hasn't been above 0°C for a week. We usually don't get snow that sticks until after Christmas here on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, but it came with December this year.

On the PowerBook 17" front, you may find my OS X Odyssey 901 column on Applelinks, Keeping Temperatures Down With Leopard (and Tiger), interesting:

As I type this, I'm running in OS X 10.5.1 Leopard, dialed up to the Internet for the past three hours, and the processor bottomside is reading out at 36.5° C. It's not that cold in the house either.

I've found that the charm is selecting either "Reduced" or "Automatic" in the processor speed pull-down menu of the Options pane in the Energy Saver Preference panel.

Works with Tiger as well, and for some strange reason, Leopard seems to run cooler at "Reduced" than OS 10.4.11 does, although the opposite obtains on "Automatic" or "Highest."

Charles

MacBook, PowerBook, and Other Laptop Temperatures

From Andrew:

Charles,

I really enjoyed your article on a cooler running laptop. Such a thing actually does exist, but sadly Apple isn't selling it. It is called an ultra-low-voltage processor (ULV), and they are commonly used in ultraportables due to their tiny, low-capacity batteries. Currently many manufacturers sell ultraportables with the Intel ULV Core 2 Duo at 1.66 GHz. This is quite slow for a processor these days, but in the ThinkPad X61s that I tried, idles at 36°C and topped out at 60° Celsius, never causing the fan to roar. Of course, it is used to stretch as much runtime as possible from tiny batteries (the X61s runs for 4 hours on its slim 4-cell battery, and a whopping 10 hours on the big 8-cell), but such a processor would be perfect in a low-noise/low heat role as well.

I don't own that Core Duo MacBook that you mentioned in your article anymore, largely on account of all of the heat-related defects. My daughter's third generation (pre-Santa Rosa) Core 2 Duo (2.0 GHz) MacBook idles at 44° Celsius and tops out at 72° Celsius when playing Doom 3, which is a whole lot cooler than the first generation MacBook I used to have. My current ThinkPad T60p (2.16 GHz Core Duo) idles at 43° C and tops out at 65°C while the ThinkPad R61 I just bought for my associate (1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo Santa Rosa) idles at 41° C and maxes out at 68° C.

My guess is that the Core 2 Duo chips run a bit cooler than their Core Duo predecessors, and that the internal architecture of a laptop has just as much to do with its operating temperature as the processor itself. The two MacBooks clearly show that the Core 2 Duo is cooler-running than its predecessor, but based on the smaller degree of difference in the ThinkPads, the laptop's cooling system, made up of fans, heatsinks, and other measures, likely matters even more.

I remember reading all of the complaints about the original 867 MHz 12" PowerBook getting so hot that the cases warped, while the 1.0 GHz Rev B model that I owned (and the 1.5 GHz Rev D I bought later) were significantly cooler.

Take care,
Andrew

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for your note (and article referencing my column!)

Interesting about the ULV Core 2 Duo processor. Probably a lot faster than the 550 MHz G4s in my Pismos even so.

Glad to hear that the Santa Rosa MacBooks have simmered down somewhat.

One thing that Leopard has done for me is got me experimenting with using reduced processor speed in the Energy Saver Preference panel. It works pretty well. Most of the time I don't notice any speed slowdown, and set at Reduced the G4 PowerBook runs in the 40° to 47° range when warmed up and working fairly steadily (i.e.: online and surfing or emailing).

Switching to Automatic, which is supposed to adjust processor speed according to demand, bumps up operating temperature a few degrees to the high 40s/low 50s range, but still comfortably below the fan cut-in threshold of 58.5°.

With the setting of Highest, the temperature cycles up and down between 54° and 60° at about one-minute intervals.

Cutting to the chase, reducing the processor speed makes using Leopard (or for that matter Tiger) a lot more pleasant on this machine. I just have to remember to crank it up before using iListen dictation software, which is pretty sluggish a Reduced speed.

Charles

Wouldn't the automatic setting bump it up for you with iListen? On an unrelated note, all of the lower-case i-names are getting to be annoying, don't you think?

Andrew

Hi Andrew,

Yes it does. However, with Leopard at least I find that if I leave it on Automatic, it does tend to get into the cooling fan from time to time even doing routine things like email, so I'm inclined to run in "Reduced" and activate "Automatic" or "Highest" as required when I do something processor intensive like dictation that I really need the extra power for. Most of the time, it's perfectly satisfactory at the "Reduced" setting for my purposes.

The iNames are a bit of a pain when typing (and dictating), but in general I kinda' like them.

Charles

Life in the Old Dogs Yet...

From Chris:

Hi Charles,

Thought you'd be interested to hear this story since you're a big fan of the WallStreet PowerBooks....

Recently over here in England, the clocks went back, and it started to get dark really early, and I started to feel uncomfortable travelling home after a day's work at University with my Core 2 Duo MacBook, even in a relatively nondescript backpack - partially my paranoia, but I got to thinking how I could be hugely inconvenienced with my main machine stolen (or lost or destroyed in an accident) if the worst were to happen.

I started to look at the Asus EeePC - £219 for a Linux-based subnotebook didn't seem like bad value, and it would hardly be the end of the world if anything happened to it.

But then I got to thinking about something that was shoved in a drawer and forgotten after its last hissy fit - my dead WallStreet. Nine years old - it had been refusing to do anything last time I tried it, but I dragged it out, plugged it in and . . . it bonged. POSTed fine, showed the Happy Mac, and then the screen went black, it bonged again and began to load Panther. (Normal behaviour - it hasn't loaded OS 9 in a very long time, and I suspect it won't until I start zapping the NVRAM and such, which I'm loathe to do since it could render 10.3 unbootable.)

Since then, it's been travelling to and from Uni with me each day and hasn't been too argumentative since I worked out that the left expansion bay is a bit dodgy and moved the battery to the right hand one. True, the battery only holds a 21% charge, but there's power sockets liberally scattered around the campus and ethernet points make up for the lack of an AirPort card. True, it's big and heavy, but it goes and is quite a talking point when I pull it out!

I still find the most amazing thing to be that a little machine with a 266 MHz G3 runs OS X 10.3.9 - it's not at any great speed, but it works. I know it would likely be a lot quicker under 9, but I'm a latecomer to the Mac (2005), and I've never gelled with 9.

Anyways, all the best and keep up the campaign to show that old computers aren't useless!

Chris

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the WallStreet anecdote. Always delighted to hear about people still getting useful service from them.

Still useful indeed. My wife is still using ours as her main axe running OS 9. She could switch to my old iBook running Tiger, but OS 9 is really fast on the old 233 MHz machine, and for some reason Google Gmail works exceptionally well with Netscape 7, so she's in no hurry to migrate, also taking into account that the WallStreet keyboard is so superior to the iBook's.

At just short of nine years old, the original battery is just about licked, but it still holds a bit of a charge, and she doesn't use it much as a mobile computer.

Back on Standard Time here in Nova Scotia too. Dark at about 4:30 PM. I expect earlier in the UK, since you're farther north. We're right on the 45th Parallel here.

Charles

The Value of Upgrading G3s

From Brin

Hi Charles,

I have a specific example of the value of upgrading the G3: my 10-year-old daughter. G3s tend to fall into the hands of the avid Machead for little to no financial investment. My daughter uses the Internet for homework and watching some episodes of her favorite anime. The G3 is nice for such an application because of it's low initial investment vs. upgradability. The G3 currently runs the latest build of OS X 10.4.11 with 1 GB of RAM and a series of sub-40 GB drives. Most of these are upgrades out of other machines that were purchased and upgraded in their own right, and the best of the lot trickled down to this machine.

It works well for her needs, and if a large hot chocolate were to mysteriously appear all over the insides of the machine, most of the value of the machine could be reinstalled in a newer model. The only thing lacking is a more serious video card. The Rage 128's 16 MB of VRAM is proving a serious liability in today's visually overdriven internet. For the smallish sum of $60 or so I believe a suitable replacement can be found.

Much like a teenager's first car, you need a first computer to be modern enough to be usable but old enough to be expendable.

Regards,
Brin

Hi Brin,

I agree with you about both cars and computers for teens. Expendible is better. A downer for our family at Christmas 1999 was that my son's year-old WallStreet got stolen on the bus as he made his way home.

Fortunately, the insurance company came through, and the purloined laptop was replaced with a Lombard a couple of months later, but it leaves a bad taste.

Charles

Booting OS 9 from RAID

From Eric:

Hello Mr. Moore,

I'm sorry to bother you, but I hope I don't take up too much of your time.

I have gotten two G4s, one with an internal SCSI card. I'm not sure what it is yet, I believe it is an Adaptec, but it might be an ATTOS. I haven't stripped them yet.

Anyways, I have two 9 GB SCSI drives, and I was wondering if you can set up and boot OS 9 in a RAID environment from SCSI controllers without using software. I've been searching the Internet, but OS 9 configurations are spare, and I'm sure this was not something 90% of most Mac owners did with Mac back when this equipment was new.

My goal is the fastest disk speed possible for digital audio recording.

Sincerely,
Eric

Hi Eric,

I've never tried it with the sort of setup you describe, but I would be exceedingly surprised if it wouldn't work.

I never had any trouble booting OS 9 from any SCSI configuration I ever did try - no other software necessary.

If you want to test, just drag an OS 9 System File, Appearance Folder, and Finder file onto your SCSI drive, put them in a folder named System Folder, and select that volume from Startup Disk. You won't be able to do much with it without a full install, but it should tell you if it will boot.

Charles

iBook G4 a Bit Weak on AirPort

From John:

Hello there,

(I'm not sure whether this counts as a laptop problem or an AirPort one so I'm hedging my bets in sending it to both of you!) A friend recently bought an 800 MHz 12" iBook G4 from eBay as a Christmas present for his wife, and as the local Mac guy he came to me to set it up. It's a nice little machine with a decent battery after four years, upgraded RAM to 640 MB and came with an AirPort Extreme card already fitted much to his surprise as he'd already bought another one.

I did a clean install of Tiger for him, ran all the updates, and have the machine up and running nicely, ready for a new convert to the Mac. But there is one issue....

Compared to my 12" PowerBook G4 and the other Macs in the house, the iBook gets a very weak signal on WiFi. I found it would fall off my 2007 AirPort Extreme network for no apparent reason, while my own computer would still be connected just fine sitting by its side. Wanting to investigate, I booted the iBook from a FireWire caddy I happen to have 10.5.1 already installed on and used the Leopard only trick where you hold down option before clicking on the AirPort menu in order to see detailed stats. Sure enough, my network was showing up with an RSSI (a measure of signal strength) of -78 or so, compared to my PowerBook's -58. For comparison my Mac Mini which lives sitting on top of the base station has a signal of -33.

Since my friend had a second AirPort Extreme card to try, I duly swapped them around and found exactly the same weak reception. To test the laptop's internal antenna I even tried leaving it disconnected from the card to see if it would make a difference: it does, no networks at all would show up that way. So the antenna is working, and it is connected properly. Same can be said for both cards . . . but the end result is not great.

Also, since the signal strength is weak the data transfer speed is quite choppy. I copied three gigs of files to the laptop just fine when sitting on the same desk as my base station, but just downstairs it's a different story and single megabyte files can be tricky.

I've heard that the new AirPort Extreme base station I have is among the strongest WiFi hotspots on the consumer market, so I'm concerned that the laptop will be less than useable on my friend's non-Apple (and likely budget priced) base station. I took the laptop to another friend's house to try out his network and found (to my surprise) that it wouldn't show up at all unless his WiFi router was set to channel 9. I've never had anything as strange go on with the handful of Apple laptops I've used before ... very odd.

Do you have any ideas?

Thanks for listening,
John

Hi John,

Wish I could help, but I'm anything but a WiFi or AirPort expert.

Perhaps someone in readerland will have something to offer.

The antenna is working to some degree, but I'm wondering if it may be damaged or defective and delivering only a weak signal.

Beyond that, I'm stumped.

Charles

Hi Charles,

Fortunately Dan Knight was able to provide me an answer in no time: the iBook's AirPort Extreme antenna cable needs to be pushed into the card for a second click. It was only halfway in when I was doing it, no matter how fully done it looked at the time.

Thanks anyway,
John

Hi John,

That's happened to me before with PC Cards. Glad you got it sorted out.

Charles

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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