2011 15" MacBook Pro i7 2.2GHz + SSD = Speed Demon

Its 2011 and its time for another Apple hardware refresh. To my surprise, I found that I hadn’t updated my personal workstation in over 4 years. Even though I had kept up with the latest stable of iOS devices over the years (more on the latest refresh later), I had relied on my stable MacBook since late 2007. Perched on my desk is a Black MacBook 3,1 with:

  • 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo
  • 4 GB DDR2 RAM
  • 256GB HDD
  • 13.3″ LED Backlit Screen

MacBook Black

 
As a regular multi-tasking power user, it has handled my workload quite well. Generally, the kind of tasks I use this machine most often for are:

  • Browsing + iTunes + Reading PDFs + Downloading Media
  • TextMate + Browsing + iTunes
  • Post-Process RAW Files in Aperture & Photoshop + iTunes
  • Photoshop + Browsing + iTunes
  • Local Media Server + Off-Site Backup Server

I don’t see it becoming harder to continue to do these tasks, but it is sluggish managing these and powering a 23″ external LCD at the same time. I usually don’t venture into transcoding big files or any sort of gaming, however with iOS leading the way to OS X Lion, I believe its time for a change.
As any self-respecting geek, I would be remiss without ample research on which way to go. The Apple lineup has changed over the years and its become increasingly hard to decide between

  • Late 2010 MacBook Air – $1,299 – $1,799
  • Early 2011 MacBook Pro 13″ – $1,199 – $2,899
  • Early 2011 MacBook Pro 15″ – $1,799 – $3,899

My trusty iPad handles about 80% of my weekly workload, if need be, yet it just isn’t there when it comes to writing code for prolonged periods of time (not doing as much of this as I would want), editing PSDs or multi-tasking during video conferences. So I had to limit my test factors down to:

  • Mobility
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Future ready

As much as I wanted to justify getting a MacBook Air, I couldn’t find any justification for one over an iPad. Its just not powerful enough to handle a growing workload, as the experts detail over at MacPerformanceGuide.com:


Conclusion – I don’t see the MacBook Air as a viable primary machine for a photographer or other graphics professional, but it will surely please any road warrior looking for more than an iPhone or iPad, but not a full-size laptop. For those purposes, I can highly recommend it, as it’s fun to use, and fits just about anywhere.

If you are working with RAW files extensively, then you are going to suffer through this over-glorified iPad. Its a beautiful machine all said and done, but just not for me.
So I was down to two – MacBook Pro 13″ vs MacBook Pro 15″. Being used to a 13″ screen, I really wanted to not add any bulk to my already gadget-heavy trips. However, once you break it down, Apple has made some curious choices with this machine:

  • Only Dual-Core i7 CPUs
  • Only Integrated Intel HD-3000 Graphic Chips (No AMD Radeon Option)
  • No Anti-Glare Hi-Res Widescreen Display Option

Even though, besides these three almost every other bit is just the same as its bigger siblings, it just feels crippled. Here’s a list of key differences between the two options from MacPerformanceGuide.com:

The screen size doesn’t seem like much, but the difference between 1440×900 & 1680×1050 is gargantuan. Add to that the Glossy vs. Matte coating and the only real choice left was the 15″. Here’s what I am talking about, thanks to Wei Yang:

Normally, I would just upgrade the CPU & RAM to the max allowed and rest easy for the next 2-3 years. However, there has been a lot of talk about SSDs coming of age by experts like AnandTech – The SSD Anthology, it required a review. A 500GB 7200RPM seemed fast enough, but these graphs from BareFeats.com made it seem pre-historic:





LEGEND
C300 SSD = Crucial RealSSD C300 6Gb/s 256G SSD
OWC SSD = OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 240G SSD
Apple SSD = Apple factory installed 256G SSD (Toshiba?)
WD 500G 7K = Western Digital Scorpio Black 500G 7200rpm HDD (WD5000BEKT)
Sea 500G 7K = Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid 500G 7200rpm HDD
Tosh 750G 5K = Toshiba MK7559GSXF 750G 5400rpm HDD (Apple factory option)
Hit 500G 5K = Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 500G 5400rpm HDD (Apple factory option)
Hit 320G 5K = Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B 320G 5400rpm HDD (Apple factory option)

If you are having a hard time visualizing what that translates to, check this video out by iboorgut:

And this one by Alen09:

20-24 seconds flat to get to your Desktop! My now seemingly archaic 2007 MacBook takes about 2-3 minutes to get me to an usable Desktop. Here’s how Geekbench sees my MacBook vs the new MacBook Pro 15″ i7 2.2GHz:

Geekbench

Overall, there’s a minimum of 4x jump in performance & why not – here’s a list of the major improvements:

  • Battery = 2 hours -> 7-9 hours
  • WiFi = 2×2 MIMO -> 3×3 MIMO (source – AnandTech)
  • New Ports = Thunderbolt & SDXC
  • RAM = 4 GB 667 MHz DDR2 -> 8 GB 1333 MHz DDR3
  • CPU = 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo -> 2.2 GHz i7 Quad-Core
  • Storage = 256 GB 5,400 RPM HDD -> 128 GB Apple SSD

With Apple supporting TRIM for Apple branded SSDs in Snow Leopard OS X 10.6.6 itself & more support coming up in OS X Lion, SSD was a no-brainer.

In layman terms, TRIM keeps your SSD optimized for unused memory blocks and keeps future WRITE operations speedy enough. Yes, I would like to get the OCZ Vertex 3 Pro when it comes out, but only if OS X Lion supports TRIM for 3rd party SSDs. With at least one SATA 6 Gb/s interface, the new MacBook Pros are certainly ready on the hardware front for these best-of-breed drives.
What has me particularly excited are these stats posted on AnandTech’s super-detailed review of the 2011 MacBook Pros:

AnandTech
AnandTech
Photoshop performance is just amazing on the new systems. The high end 15-inch MacBook Pro is actually faster than last year’s 8-core Mac Pro. Of course this is because Photoshop doesn’t scale perfectly with core count but it just shows you just how powerful these new quad-core CPUs are. If you do a lot of Photoshop work, the Sandy Bridge upgrade will be worth it.
Aperture performance is similarly class leading. Here the 2010 Mac Pro actually outperforms the high end 15 by around 6% but the fact that we can even mention the two in the same sentence is huge.

My final choice was whether to upgrade the CPU to 2.3 GHz or not & MacPerformanceGuide.com nailed it down pat:

The 5% faster 2.2 => 2.3GHz CPU option is not worth the $250 upcharge, since 5% is barely noticeable. But because this site’s testing requirements always require the top-end, I opted for the trivially faster CPU. My advice to most users is to put the savings into a larger or faster solid state drive…

Technically the 2.3 GHz option is an Intel 2820QM with a 8MB Shared L3 Cache, vs 6MB in the 2.2 GHz option or the Intel 2720QM; additionally, the 2.3 GHz will turbo to 3.4 GHz instead of 3.3 GHz (2.2 GHz). In daily use, users have only reported a 1.5% increase in CPU performance, which doesn’t justify the cost for now.
There you have it. My final spec ended up looking like this:

  • 2011 MacBook Pro 15″
  • 2.2 GHz Quad-Core i7 Sandy Bridge
  • 8GB 1333 MHz RAM DDR3
  • 128 GB Apple SSD
  • 15-inch Hi-Res Antiglare Widescreen Display
  • 750 GB 7200RPM OWC On-The-Go Pro FireWire 800/400 + USB 2.0 External Drive

The last bit was a tough one – Storage. I could open up my new machine and install a second hard drive in the Optibay or get a fast-enough external drive. I opted for the latter for now, but if Lion supports 3rd party SSDs I might get a bigger one internally and move things around. Thunderbolt would have been another option instead of just FireWire 800, but there aren’t any devices to buy as of now, once they crop up I am sure they will be worth a look.
Having ordered this beast, I am writing mini reviews like this one to bide time. I plan on posting a detailed review once I get my hands on this Speed Demon.

Leopard OS X Hackintosh – OSX86 Mac in India


We run a pure Mac development environment with Macbooks and Macbook Pros for my startup in Bangalore. Recently, my maxed out Macbook lost its LCD backlight and had to be sent into the Apple Store (Imagine). Running a new startup without a computer to work with isn’t advisable, besides personal withdrawal issues. I realized that we need an extra system in the office so that if something breaks down, we have a machine to work with. Obviously, as a startup we can’t go around buying Mac Pros for redundancy.
So I chose to go the Hackintosh way. I got a 10.5.2 Hardware Compatibility List off the OSX86Project Wiki and speced out a system that was under $500/Rs.22,000 and started looking for people who could deliver the goods. I found ‘Pintu’ at Karnataka Computers who did the entire thing up for me. So this is what my config looks like:

  • Gigabyte Motherboard GA-945GCM-S2L
  • Intel 2.4Ghz Core 2 Duo
  • Transcend 1 x 2GB Ram
  • LiteOn 20x DVD Burner
  • NVidia XFX 7200GS 256MB
  • 500GB Hard Disk Sata (a little extra)
  • Netgear WiFi USB Adapter WG111v3
  • Logitech Wireless Keyboard + Mouse Set
  • Cabinet, SMPS, Wires etc.

It is such a smooth machine, that I ended up buying a 22″ LG Flatron LCD and making it my mainstay. My Time Machine backup had me up and running in a day – yes it took me that long to retrieve my data. Besides the slow data recovery, the only problem I had was that my USB devices need to be connected before I start up or restart my machine, I am hoping that its a fix that’s out there. Update: I upgraded to modbin 9.3.0 kernel and its all taken care of.
A working and powerful Mac desktop in under Rs.30,000/$750 in India. Awesome.
These guys did a bang up job at finalizing the configuration and delivering it in Bangalore within a couple of hours:
Karanataka Computers, 080-2229-0815
karanatakacomputers@vsnl.net

iPhone Websites – Fringe Necessity

iphone-wallpapers-at-poolga-on-flickr-photo-sharing.jpg

I am in the middle of rapid prototyping a new Rails based web application for India and we are coming up with multi-platform interface for it and I thought, “why not for the iPhone?”. So I started researching the other sites out there that iPhone compatible and after a bit of search came across a great resource – World of iPhone Links, updated frequently and sorted alphabetically this is the ultimate iPhone sites list so far.
Second in the US (behind RIM) and third globally (behind Nokia and RIM) Apple is now a global force in the smartphone market. Any new web application/service cannot ignore the iPhone or the Nintendo Wii (more on that soon).

XBMC on OSX Project

xbmc
I hardly run across a software project that really excites me. But when it happens, its euphoric. For the longest time I have been a proponent of the Xbox Media Center (XBMC). Whether its against the AppleTV or Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 (forget the Wii for media), its stood its ground. I even read an interview of good ol’ billionaire Bill Gates praising this open source piece of work. Ever since I have become the proud owner of Jobs’ Macbook I haven’t looked back and had to sever my ties with all things Redmond.
But I just ran into the OSX XBMC Project and I feel like a kid again. I am planning on supporting this development in the small way I can (thank you paypal), so if you want and can, please do! They have just gotten video working and I can’t imagine a consumer release taking more than a few weeks.
Sure I have Perian on Quicktime, YFlicks, VLC, iPhoto and iTunes to take care of all my media needs. But I want to do it all and more under one hood. It’s not really possible and unless Lord Jobs updates Front Row on Leopard with the new Apple TV firmware, XBMC doesn’t even have a real competitor.
My favorite Media Player on my favorite OS! Thank you Elan, Cayce and Scott.
Update: The guys over at OSXBMC just released a full package for v.0.1. Check it out.

Top Mac OS X Leopard Apps

I guess we all have our own list of Mac Apps, here’s mine:
adium.jpgAdium – Multiple IM support. Wish it supported video
alarmclock-copy.jpgAlarm Clock – A simple mp3 alarm clock tied into iTunes
aperture.jpgAperture – Nothing beats this pro photography app
azureus.jpgAzureus – Old habits die hard. No other torrent software allows this level of control.
comicbooklover-copy.jpgComicBookLover – Nice way to manage and view my huge comic collection
appicon.jpgDeskshade – Lock your desktop and show off your wallpapers in a jiffy
entourage.jpgEntourage – When I am not using gmail, this is one I turn to
logo-do-firefox.jpgFirefox – The only browser that matters. ‘Nuff said.
ical.jpgiCal – The funnest calendar app and its free from Apple
logo-copy.jpgInsomniaX – The only way I know to disable the sleep mode on my Macbook
marsedit.jpgMarsEdit – When I need to just write something and publish it, this is my goto app
menucalendariconsmaller.gifMenuCalendarClock – Quick and Easy way to get to my daily meetings
netnewswire.jpgNetNewsWire – A desktop rss feed reader above the rest
adobe-photoshop-cs3-icon-tutorial-14304593.jpgPhotoshop – The be-all-end-all of photo editing apps
secret_folder_icon.gifSecret Folder – Simple and easy way to keep my private folders private
skitchSkitch – Screenshots, graphical notes, design ideas, doodling and sharing all the fun stuff like you couldn’t even imagine before
textmate.jpgTextMate – I don’t know why it’s addictive, but it is and versatile to boot

MacWorld doesn't disappoint

design_keyboardair20080115.jpg
So we have

  • Macbook Air – World’s thinnest laptop 1.6/1.8Ghz C2Duo and with 80GB HDD or 64GB SSD
  • Apple TV 2 – New firmware with new menus, supporting Flickr (finally) and .mac, HD Downloads and Rentals
  • iPhone 1.1.3 – All that we knew already
  • iPod Touch Firmware – Mac Apps for $20
  • Time Capsule – NAS with Time Machine sync
  • Mac Office 2008 – Windows does Apple redux

MacWorld Mania


Its the morning of January 15th in India and I wish it were opening time for Macworld Expo 2008 already. I know ‘Theres something in the air’. I just bought myself a Macbook a month back and realized that there’s a new one – Macbook Air (?) coming out today. Fortunately for me there are 2 other people in my family who are going to buy Macbooks so I hope to ‘replace’ mine with theirs. But it has to be compelling enough. I really love my machine. 12″ maybe a tad small, but if its done right the way only Apple can, why not?
Viva la Apple!