I have been using a 144Hz monitor for gaming for a while now, but I recently replaced the monitor I was using with the M1 Mac Mini with a 120Hz, 1ms G2G one.
Wow! With that monitor, Mac OS is as smooth as an iPad Pro. Ok, I get it. The ProMotion display on the iPad Pro is 120Hz, so of course it’s that smooth. The thing is, I’m not used to seeing that while working on a desktop. The difference is *immediately* obvious.
I hadn’t gotten around to writing about my newest Mac, even though I’ve had it for a while now. Unfortunately, now that I am finding the time, it’s because of an unexpected problem with it. Oh well, that’s life.
A few months before the new M1 Macs were announced, my mom’s iMac (20-inch, Early 2009) started to fail for her. This machine had already had its HD replaced once and, from the symptoms I was seeing, it looked like it was on the verge of happening again.
Since I had stopped using my iMac to host GCW, and I had a gaming PC with enough horsepower that I could use it as a backup to make music, I wasn’t really doing anything mission critical on the Mac, so decided to wipe it and give it to my mom as an upgrade. That machine was incredibly badass for its day, and is still running fine. Between the processor upgrade (Core2Duo to i7), the Fusion Drive, the top (at the time) Mac graphics chip (780M), and the increased system RAM (4Gig to 24Gig), the new machine behaves easily >10x faster than what she had. Woot!
Of course, my secret plan in all this was to replace my iMac with a new M1 Mac when they became available. 😉
What I got
What I ended up getting was this…
Of course, this wasn’t my first Mac mini, and I had lots of peripherals lying around, so “downgrading” from the iMac wasn’t a big deal, but I have to say I was not prepared for how much faster this new machine is.
I can honestly, say that this is the most responsive Macintosh I have ever worked on, and that includes my (almost) current gen, max spec, work MBP, which cost four times as much.
Starting up an application? Instant. Starting an Intel-based application via Rosetta 2? Almost as fast (after the first startup). Gaming performance? Everything is faster, even comparing against the dedicated 780M in the iMac, and that includes games written for the Intel architecture.
Wow! To say I’m pleased with the performance would be a massive understatement.
And now the bad news.
Like any first generation product, there have been growing pains — Blutooth dropouts, USB issues, etc. Generally, these have been minor and new releases of macOS 11 are bringing improvements.
At this point though, there are two issues which are pretty serious:
Lack of support for M1 Because of Rosetta 2, most applications you run work fine on M1. However, the closer you get to things that are at the edges, like printer drivers and music software, the more likely you will be to see problems. I’m still nowhere close to having all of my music software running on the new machine, but at least my mainstay, Reason, works as does Logic Pro (of course).
The display flickering bug This is a reasonably wide-spread issue that causes certain combinations of content being displayed to flicker in brightness and have faint vertical lines. The problem is quite bad, when it happens, but I usually only see it when watching videos with dark backgrounds.
Here is an example:
It’s hard to get a good demonstration of the problem, because it usually only occurs when the display is in flux, but at one point I did manage to capture a video of a static case. Here’s a close up:
At this point, there’s no fix for the problem. Anecdotally, there’s some evidence that this is a software bug, which hopefully means it will eventually get fixed, but who knows.
Also, in case you think it’s just me, here are some links from around the net:
I had an old, broken 2009 MacBook Pro sitting on a shelf because I had never gotten around to trying to fix it. It had three significant issues:
It randomly kernel panicked every once in a while
It had an SSD drive in it that no longer worked
Three of the keys on the keyboard didn’t work.
Last weekend, I finally decided to see if I could get it into working shape again. To start, I took the back off and removed the failed SSD drive. The MBP is too old to run a current version of MacOS, but it still has a working HD drive, so I decided to install Linux there.
To fix the keys, I tried removing the key caps and cleaning the switches, but after putting them back together they still failed. By chance however, I noticed that if I *smashed* the key beside one of the failed ones (in frustration? 🙂 ) then the original keys would start working for a bit. This led me to pulling that other key cap off and cleaning it, and after putting it back together all the keys worked.
This only left me with the random kernel panics, so I booted the Mac into hardware test mode and let it do a full test. Even after 10 minutes of hammering RAM and CPU (with the fans screaming), there were no failures, so I chalked the problem up to either a Mac driver issue, or something to do with the now removed SSD.
For linux, I just went with Ubuntu, mostly because there was a tutorial about installing on Macs that seemed pretty reasonable. The only wrinkle was the lack of a driver for the MBP’s discrete graphics card. I went for the easy option of doing nomodeset in grub, and ended up with…
I don’t think it’s worth putting a new battery in it, but if I needed a home computer for email and web browsing this would be perfectly useful. Nice!
Just a quick note to say that I have upgraded to a new machine. I had been using a Mac Mini to host GCW for many years, but the hard drive in the old beast is starting to sound like the gerbils are getting tired, and I thought it was time. I know no one … Continue reading “A new machine, a new era.”
Just a quick note to say that I have upgraded to a new machine. I had been using a Mac Mini to host GCW for many years, but the hard drive in the old beast is starting to sound like the gerbils are getting tired, and I thought it was time.
I know no one would guess I had given up on the Mac universe, so without further ado, here is the new beast…
It’s a 27″ iMac, with the 3.5 GHz i7 and the upgraded graphics chip (780M w. 4Gig of RAM). I must say, it is amazing. It’s actually fast enough to play PC games under Parallels with completely acceptable framerates even at high detail levels.
And so, it’s the end of an era: I am getting rid of my gaming PC. I’m also getting rid of the Mac Mini I was using for the server, and the MBP I was using for music. Believe it or not, at the end of this process, I will have just the one iMac in my home office, plus a station to hold my work laptop when I bring it home. I’m not sure how long I can stand it, but that’s the plan.
In any case, I have once again transplanted Great Castle Wilson to new hardware. This move was more difficult than previous ones, since (for some unknown reason) I was unable to load the mysql database directly by importing the records from the old site. Instead I had to use the export/import capabilities built into WordPress, which at least appear to have been successful. This is the first time I’ve tried this though, so if you see anything wrong/missing, please let me know.
One note: So far of all the old blogs on GCW I have only gotten this one going. I don’t think the others get many visitors, but I will get around to moving them eventually.
I have two Mac laptops, a 15″ MacBook Pro from 2011 and a 13″ MacBook Air from 2012. I use the MBP as my main home Mac, and it’s also the one where I do my music production. The MBA is my work laptop. To give you some idea about their relative performance, here are … Continue reading “MacBook performance”
I have two Mac laptops, a 15″ MacBook Pro from 2011 and a 13″ MacBook Air from 2012. I use the MBP as my main home Mac, and it’s also the one where I do my music production. The MBA is my work laptop.
To give you some idea about their relative performance, here are their GeekBench scores — bigger numbers are better:
As you can see even though the 15″ MBP is older, it is a bit faster (19%). Mine even has an aftermarket SSD in it, which likely improves things further.
For comparison purposes, here are the numbers for the fastest current generation MacBook Pro and Air:
In both cases, that’s a gain of about 25% over what I have. I do find it interesting that the current MacBook Air is faster than my existing MacBook Pro.
Anyway, all this rumination is because I have been thinking about upgrading my work laptop to one of the new MacBook Pros. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Air, but unfortunately it only has 4Gig of RAM, which is fine for almost everything I do, except for running VMs with entire WebSphere installs on them (that require 4Gig allocated to the VM at minimum). You can get a new MBA with 8Gig of RAM, but honestly, for this use case I think going for 16Gig makes more sense, which means it has to be a Pro.
The thing is, given that the performance improvement is really not all that significant, I could probably hold off on getting a new machine for another year by switching my work environment over to the current MacBook Pro. The problem with this idea is that it would require me to move all the music software I use over to the MacBook Air. If you aren’t a musician, you simply don’t understand how painful that can be. Suffice it to say that I have three separate hardware (i.e. physical) “keys” that lock various pieces of software to one machine only. You have to painstakingly un-authorize each music application (and all the plugins) on one machine, then move the keys over, then re-authorize on the other. In a world where most of the software I use can be installed on a new machine by just connecting my Apple ID and going to the App Store, the music software industry just seems archaic.
In any case, it may yet come to that. I don’t imagine I’ll see much of a bonus this year, and without that I can’t actually afford a new machine. I guess we’ll see.
Yesterday morning, when I woke up, I fully intended to not buy the new iPad. Based on what I had gleaned from the tech news community, it was heavier and thicker than the iPad 2 (which I already owned) and, despite more powerful graphics, was effectively the same speed when it came to my most … Continue reading “Mini-review: iPad 2012”
Yesterday morning, when I woke up, I fully intended to not buy the new iPad. Based on what I had gleaned from the tech news community, it was heavier and thicker than the iPad 2 (which I already owned) and, despite more powerful graphics, was effectively the same speed when it came to my most common use: browsing the web.
But… as I was standing in the lineup at Timmy’s to get my morning coffee — reading RSS feeds on my phone, as usual — I saw a post that said “most stores will be open at 8am for potential iPad buyers”, and I thought, “Gee (or something like that), it’s 8:20 and there’s a Future Shop between here and my work! I might as well go look at them at least.”
As you have probably surmised, I went, I saw, I purchased. I’ll warn you now, if you are vacillating over buying the new one, don’t look. Seriously, don’t look!
For me, tablets are defined by exactly two things: their responsiveness and the quality of their screens. In the iPad’s case, the responsiveness is as good as ever (and I still believe that the compromises that the Apple team made to get there were the right answer), but the screen is something else entirely. I can honestly say that this is the highest quality display I have ever seen. The iPhone 4 may have higher pixel density, but the small form factor doesn’t do it justice. Looking at the iPad screen you get the same sense that you are looking at a printed page that you get from e-ink screens, but with beautiful, vibrant color. [Yes, I know it has more glare and isn’t outdoor readable — everything has trade-offs]. Text is absolutely gorgeous and reading is a joy. Scanning through photos leaves you thinking you’re looking through a 10″ window.
As to the rest, I can’t say I’ve seen a significant performance improvement overall (either from the improved graphics processor or increased system memory). It may stutter a little less, but not so I’ve noticed.
I will say the “back” camera is much improved. I’d include a picture here, but I’d have to reduce it in size, which would defeat the purpose. The front-facing camera is just as crappy as it was in the previous generation; I actually find it to be so bad that I’m not even happy using it for FaceTime. Oh well.
We’re now a 3 iPad family. Deb has my old one; the 3G will come in handy for her business travel. Her first gen one is now in the hands of Dennis. I’ll let you know the result of that toughness “road test”. 😉
Friday after work I picked up a new laptop. It’s one of the just released MacBook Pros with the “real” i7 processors (i.e. 4 cores, multi-threaded). In addition to an 8Gig memory upgrade, I had them replace the DVD drive with a 128Gig SSD to hold the core OS and applications. For the few times … Continue reading “How fast is fast enough?”
Friday after work I picked up a new laptop. It’s one of the just released MacBook Pros with the “real” i7 processors (i.e. 4 cores, multi-threaded). In addition to an 8Gig memory upgrade, I had them replace the DVD drive with a 128Gig SSD to hold the core OS and applications. For the few times when I might still need a DVD burner, the old drive was placed in an external USB enclosure. I must say, being able to easily get these kinds of aftermarket mods done is one of the reasons why I shop at Carbon Computing rather than the Apple Store.
After playing with the new machine for a weekend, I can categorically state that it is everything I had hoped for. It boots from power on to desktop in < 20 seconds; apps start before the dock icon can complete its first bounce; WoW was above 80fps most of the time [low: 55fps; high: >150]; It’s awesome.
I actually had a spare copy of Windows 7 lying around that I never got time to install under Parallels on the old laptop. When I installed it on this one I could give it 2 dedicated processors and 3 Gig of RAM without even noticing any performance impact. Seriously, the machine appears to run as well with Parallels running as without.
But here’s the thing… The apps themselves don’t actually seem much faster. Even on my old laptop, for anything other than a hardcore developer task (like doing a full build of a product plus running the test suites), as often as not the rendering/processing power of the machine wasn’t the limiting factor. In this connected world we live in, if I’m waiting for something it’s usually a remote server, either on the internet or some network shared device, not my local machine.
In general, I believe we’re well past the point where machines needed to run at 100% to simply render the UI fast enough, with the one exception perhaps being gaming. Even there it seems that we’re reaching a point of diminishing returns: Is that extra bit of motion blur and depth of field processing really making the game more fun?
For the average person’s use case — reading mail, browsing the internet, editing files, and playing Farmville — an iPad 2 (with a BT keyboard) will be every bit as useful as my laptop. Heck, even a $300 netbook will do the job.
So is that it? Do we need machines to be faster? Not until we discover how to put the performance to some use more interesting than making the windows jiggle when you move them [yes, Linux I’m looking at you]. I’ve tried to think of possibilities here, but to me the most interesting directions appear to be data driven, again making the speed of your internet connection more interesting than your CPU. I guess we’ll see.
Here’s what I’d like to see for the next iPad, along with any related, current rumours… Higher resolution display — the rumours say everything from “no change” (== 1024×768) to “retina display” (== 2048×1536). Retina display seems unlikely, but I would like something higher than we have now, at least when I’m reading books. Can … Continue reading “iPad 2 Wish List”
Here’s what I’d like to see for the next iPad, along with any related, current rumours…
Higher resolution display — the rumours say everything from “no change” (== 1024×768) to “retina display” (== 2048×1536). Retina display seems unlikely, but I would like something higher than we have now, at least when I’m reading books. Can we do 1280×1024 maybe?
Cameras front and back — this is widely believed to be part of the story, but the current rumours are that the cameras will be low resolution (0.3Mp front; 1.0Mp rear). Honestly, if they put in something less than what’s in the iPhone, they’re idiots.
Lighter — using the current iPad to read is equivalent to strength training. There are rumours of the next iPad having a carbon fibre back to reduce the weight. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Faster — this would be both as a result of a faster processor, and because it would have more RAM. A big part of the experience for this device is browsing the web, but the iPad is not the best tablet for doing this any more; let’s fix that.
Apparently, Apple has called a press conference for next week to discuss something Mac OS related. Apple: Back to the Mac? October 20 It’s a mark of where we are that most of the buzz around this is: Will it be called “Lion”? Will it include FaceTime integration? *sigh*. My take: “Back to the Mac” … Continue reading ““Back to the Mac””
Apparently, Apple has called a press conference for next week to discuss something Mac OS related.