Charles Moore's Mailbag

MacBook Design Limits USB Ports, Unibody Audio Prolem Solved, G4 Upgrades Disappearing, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.02.18 -Tip Jar

A Letter of Appreciation

From Matthew:

Hi Charles,

I just thought I would shoot you an email to thank you for yourpublications. I'm a recent switcher and am running a Rev C. 12" PowerBook G4 andhave really found a lot of use for your aim on lower-end Macs, althoughI realize (especially after reading your stuff!) that this littlewarrior is no slouch!

Your focus on performance rather than bells and whistles reallyapplies to users like me. I look forward to your subsequentarticles!

- Matt

Hi Matt,

Thanks so much for your kind comments, andcongratulations on joining the Mac fraternity. The 12" PowerBook is one of the great Mac laptopsof all time, and as you've observed, still has lots of useful life leftin it.

The Low End Mac approach to affordable andconservationist computing is especially well-suited to current economicconditions.

Thanks for reading.


Your MacBook Review and USB Ports

From Daniel:

As long as Apple persists in hinging the display across the backusing the "drop-down" hinge that they introduced with the iBook in 2001 and refinedwith the aluminumPowerBooks in 2003, rather than mounting the hinge on top as withalmost all PC laptops, they will continue to deprive themselves of theentire back of the computer for I/O.

If they would give up on this hinge and use a more traditionaldesign, they would open the entire back side to I/O. As it is, theyhave literally nowhere else to go, as the front of the MacBook is takenup with the hard drive and battery and the right hand side is taken upwith the DVD.

A traditional hinge design would have the added advantage of beingergonomically superior by holding the screen up and a little fartherfrom the keyboard. I believe the reason they went with the drop-downapproach was to allegedly make the computer fit better on an airline ortrain seat-back tray table, giving about an extra inch of clearance tothe seat back when the display is open.


Hi Daniel,

I agree with your recommendation if it wouldfacilitate the inclusion of more I/O ports.

However, I do find the side-mounted ports convenient,especially when the machine is on a desktop stand with a lot ofperipherals plugged in.

My 17" PowerBook is pretty good in that departmentwith arrays of ports on both sides and a front-loading opticaldrive.


Unibody MacBook/MacBook Pro Sound Issue

From Malcolm:

Hi Charles,

I read about this issue withsome fascination, as I do music with my MacBook Pro and regularly useheadphones with no issue. If it is the same set of iPod headphones thathas caused the same issue in two different machines, my guess would besomething slightly odd about the headphone plug or a (hopefully short)run of bad luck.

As a user of a G4 iBook as well as two iMacs (and a former Pismo user - the MacBook Prowas an insurance replacement when the Pismo was stolen), I find thetrackpad both a blessing and a curse. The multi-gesture stuff is great,however in applications it either does not work or gets in the way (Imainly use Reason and Apple Logic Studio). My way of getting round thisis using a Wacom Bamboo tablet, best thing ever for precisecontrol.

Anyhow, hope your MacBook experience is a good one and that you haveno issues with the sound(!)


Oh, before I forget, if you have the fading in/out screen issuereported not long after the Unibody launch, just disable the automaticadjustment for ambient light in power saving.

Hi Malcolm,

Thanks for the comments and tips.

There is a good report on AppleInsider about the headphone plug issue, withphotos and videos.

I'm actually finding the trackpad better than Ithought it would be, but I'm still not convinced about the buttonlessgimmick.


Problem with Digital Audio Out

From Mark:


A quick note - Chris wrote to say that he had problems with theDigital Audio Out being stuck "on". This also happened to me recentlyon my new Unibody MacBook. I freaked - but a quick Google brought methe solution - and it's not at all serious. There's a microswitch inthat port that sometimes gets caught in one position or the other. Thesolution is as simple as plugging in and unplugging a pair ofheadphones (once did it for me - others reportedly needed a fewattempts).

More info at the Canadian Mac User's forum,


Hi Mark,

Thanks for the helpful information.

There do seem to be some issues with the sound-outports on the Unibodies.


G4 Upgrades Disappearing?

From Vance:


I enjoy your columns. I was wondering, though - are G4 acceleratorson their way out? OWC seems to have dropped many dual processor models recently, andSonnet seems to have as well. You can't get a 1.8 dual processoranymore, it appears.

Do you know what is going on?


Hi Vance,

Not specifically regarding those particular products,but I think it's inevitable that with the passage of time that G4upgrades will gradually go off the market.

I'm more conversant with the situation in laptopupgrades than the desktop market, and last year Daystar discontinuedall of their lines of G4 upgrades for Pismos, Lombards, and aluminumPowerBooks.

FastMac andWegener Mediastill offer G4 Pismo upgrades, but for how long?

It wouldn't surprise me if supply of G4 chipperyfactors into this dynamic as well.


Editor's note: I was able to find one 1.8 GHz dual G4upgrade still on the market, the SonnetEncore/MDX G4 Duet, which is exclusively for those few G4 PowerMacs with a 167 MHz system bus - the faster Mirror Drive Door

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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 and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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