Archive for January, 2011

Moving to an SSD: The OCZ Vertex 2

My wife and I recently traded our MacBook and MacBook Pro for MacBook Air’s , one 11.6 and one 13 inch model.  I moved most of the data on my MacBook Pro to my Mac Pro not only because it had plenty of storage space but also to get more utilization out of that machine.  The move instigated a side-effect I didn’t anticipate, and that was to get me pondering what would happen if I installed a Solid State Drive in the Mac Pro.  I hadn’t considered it before because of the cost and how I had the Mac Pro configured.  At the moment, a 1 TB hard disk holds all applications, system folders, and my user folders, eating something over 700GB altogether.  However, my Applications, Library, and Systems folders only take 105 GB of space, and so a hard disk in the 120GB range would barely work.  I also believe that if I do a clean reinstall I will recover some space (and I’m hoping for at least 10GB) due to garbage from uninstalled or upgraded applications still sucking space in my Library folder.

My interest in SSD’s peaked this week when MicroCenter put a Vertex 2 160GB SSD on sale for $259 after rebates.  I almost jumped on that one, but my out-of-pocket costs are what kept me from it.  Without the rebate, the price was a decent $279 but with tax and the cost of an Icy Dock adapter the price escalated to slightly above $300.  That was about $100 more than I wanted to spend.  I decided to save up and wait for the Intel Emcrest SSD’s (rumored to be released next month with much higher read and write speeds than anything currently on the market) until this morning when I stumbled on a “Super Shocker” deal at Newegg.  With a $30 rebate, they were selling a 120GB Vertex 2 SSD (2.5″ format) for only $169!!  That put my total cost even with an Icy Dock in the $220 range before the rebate and $190 range after.  SOLD!

I am expecting the Vertex 2 to arrive later this week.  I intend to install it where my Time Machine disk is in the Mac Pro and move the TM disk out to an external case.  I plan to load a firmware update to the SSD first using Windows 7 under Boot Camp and then erase the drive and reformat using HFS Extended.  I intend to load OS X up from scratch, and, once I have that working, start reinstalling all my Applications.    I’m going to use it and my current hard disk as alternating boot drives until I am satisfied that the SSD is working fine and will fit my needs.  At that point, I’ll wipe out the Applications, Library, and Systems folders from the hard drive so all that remains is my User profile, which I will have pointed toward long before.  That will isolate the User folder from my applications hard drive and put me in a position to clone the SSD to a replacement later.  And my intent is to replace the OCZ with an Intel Emcrest drive if they turn out to be the barn blazers they are rumored to be.  I’ll make the OCZ Vertex a scratch disk and give Photoshop, its other CS 5 apps, and Final Cut Pro and company all the performance they can handle.  Won’t it be sweet?

Switching to the MacBook Air

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had decided to trade in my 2009 MacBook Pro for a 2010 13 inch MacBook Air. I made a deal through PowerMax that brought my out-of-pocket expenses down (though still pretty high!) for the swap and ordered a 13 inch 2.13 GHz MacBook Air with 4GB RAM and 256GB of flash memory storage.  I spent about a day picking through the data on my current MacBook Pro and getting the data set moved and slimmed down so it would all fit on the Air.  I now have the Air up and running. I really like the new machine, though I found Apple had thrown me one curve I wasn’t expecting. More on that later when I talk about performance.

The first thing you notice is the higher resolution of the Air’s screen.  The Air’s thirteen-inch screen’s resolution is 1440 x 900 where the MacBook Pro’s screen, which is roughly the same size, is 1280 x 800.  That makes the icons on the Air finer and smaller, resulting in a tad more eye strain, though the display is bright and clear.  Fonts are very crisp.

The keyboard is the standard Apple full-sized keyboard with the same chicklet keys that live on the MacBook Pro.  The backlit feature is missing, but that’s not something I use a lot.  The key touch seems a bit lighter than the MacBook Pro, though I suspect most folks won’t notice a difference.  The Power Button is the upper most right-hand key on the keyboard instead of its own individual aluminum button, and I really like that.

With 4GB of RAM (random access memory) and 256GB of flash storage standing in for a hard drive, boot up and shutdown times are half what they were on my MacBook Pro.  Application launch times are also similarly cut.    That said, I gave up 4GB of RAM and .4GHz of CPU time to switch to the Air, so I was very unhappy to discover that Apple has artificially handicapped the Air by making it unable to boot into OS X’s 64 bit kernel. In fact, I was so mad about it I almost decided to send back the machine; I felt I had made enough performance and financial sacrifices as it was, and the fact that Apple did it arbitrarily was one straw too many.  Instead of doing that, I went to the Product Feedback section of the website and told Apple I wanted it turned back on.  I realize that with only 4GB of RAM the performance gain would be pretty small, but I’ve seen some benchmarks that put the speed improvement using the 64 bit kernel at 9%; and that’s enough to be noticeable, so I want it!  If there is a trade-off in battery life to be had, I want to be able to make that trade and not have it taken from me by Apple.  The Air is a nice machine, but its performance is crippled enough!

The only bug I’ve encountered really isn’t one that belongs to the Air as much as Snow Leopard, and that is the despite being entered into the Airport set-up as a the prime “remembered” network, the machine always makes me re-enter our home network information every time I want it to connect wirelessly.  To overcome the irritation, I have a USB Ethernet adapter I hook the machine up to when I run it as a desktop with my Apple wired keyboard and 24 inch Apple Cinema Display.  For some reason, my wife’s setup with an 11.6 inch MacBook Air doesn’t seem to suffer from that malady, and it probably has to do with how she manages her system versus how I do it.  She uses sleep more than I do; when I’m done for the day or night, I shut mine down.

One quirk I’ve noticed in using the machine with the 24-inch display has to do with the display’s power chord routing.  The Cinema Displays are built to work with MacBook Pro’s that have all the ports on the left side of the machines (as you face them).  The MacBook Air has its mini-display port and one USB port on the right side of the machine, causing you to have to split off the power chord and run it to the left behind the Air.  The natural lay of the MagSafe adapter makes you have to twist it into place, and there is…for now…enough force in the magnetic grapple to keep the power adapter from popping out.  But this could be a problem later.  Worse case, it could force me to use the power adapter that came with the Air when plugged in at home, which would make using it there a bit more of a pain, but one I’d overcome by buying another adapter I could leave in place.  Still, that is something a user should not have to do.  Apple needs to design a fix to this problem.  A swiveling head would fix it, though I’m not sure of the impact on reliability.

Overall, I’m happy with my switch to the MacBook Air.  My only real complaint is I still feel the machine is a bit overpriced for what you get…about a $1500 price point would have felt a lot better.  But then this is Apple I’m dealing with, so what can I say?  Obviously, I was willing pay the premium to get where I got; only time will tell if it takes me where I hoped it would.

I know I must be Crazy, but I’m Buying a MacBook Air

I’ve been kind of impressed with Connie’s MacBook Air. When Steve Jobs said that the MacBook Air was the direction Apple’s notebooks were heading, I thought he was crazy. Now, I’m beginning to see what he was saying.

I’m not a fan of computing “in the cloud”. I still have vast reservations about putting all my personal data on someone else’s servers and having to have an Internet connection to avail myself of it or my apps. To me, that’s like setting myself up for computing suicide. Admittedly, my thoughts about it may be a bit antiquated. I mean, my Internet connection doesn’t go down much at all and most of the time I can get on the Net from wherever I’m at. That doesn’t mean that quality or speed is always there; there are still plenty of places within the US where the Internet is called “high speed” but is not and where a reliable connection to the Net is gotten when you can.

Secondly, I am running a Gigabit Ethernet system on the wired part of our home network and love it, and it is currently accessible to both my Mac Pro and my MacBook Pro. A MacBook Air can only tap the wireless part of our network; and though it is a wireless N network, it is still much slower than the Gigabit speeds I’m used to.

Thirdly, my MacBook Pro is now running 64 bit applications in terms of Adobe Premium Design Suite CS5 and 8GB of RAM via a 500GB hard disk. It doubles as my daily desktop and notebook with our really heavy lifting done by a 2.8 GHz Mac Pro with 16GB of RAM. On top of all that, I own an iPad which I can run standalone as a tablet or turn it into a net book using Clamcase. So, you’d think I’d be all stoked up and happy as a clam. And I am. Yet, I still keep looking for some way to consolidate and simplify how I’m operating. And I’ve been concerned that I’m carrying with my too much personal information on my MacBook Pro. While it’s sometimes convenient to have that with me during the workday, I also know it puts us at risk if the notebook is stolen. I keep it fairly secure, still…

At one time, too, I had thought the iPad would be of more use in the airplane than it is proving to be. I use a flight planning application called Foreflight I love that also runs on the iPhone. It’s a great pre-flight tool. But the current iPad’s bulk and limitations on display brightness as well as temperature restrictions and the inability to use the cell phone features in flight make it less than an ideal tool for in-flight use. I’m starting to lean away from using it in-flight at all. I’m also paying redundant data fees as I pay for a data plan on our current iPhones as well as for data usage. I’m not leveraging our data plan funds like I’d like.

My job with the shuttle program is obviously ending, and where I’m going from here is unknown. But the future seems to be pointing toward me working from home or hitting the road more, and both of those directions point toward off-loading more work onto my Mac Pro and making my mobile system as light and efficient as it can be. So, when I look at everything, consider my needs, ongoing data plan costs, and what I want to do, I am now starting to think that buying a 13 inch MacBook Air might be the way to go.

UPDATE: After thinking about it some more and discussing the situation with my wife, I have taken the plunge and ordered a 13 inch MacBook Air. I ordered the current “top of the line” version with a 2.13 GHz Intel Core Duo CPU, 4GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD for storage. I bought it through PowerMax which gave me a pretty good deal on a trade using my MacBook Pro. Still, the buy was an expensive one; but I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been convinced it was the way I needed to go.

My plan is for my wife and me to move to iPhone 4’s soon and for me to tether my MBA to the iPhone and shut down my iPad’s data plan except for those instances where it is REALLY needed. I still will have the iPad with us in the cockpit, though how much remains to be seen. Because of Foreflight’s ability to load up every sectional in the United States, more than likely, the iPad will be in the cockpit as a contingency tool, though whether it is sitting on a kneeboard on my leg or simply placed where we can get to it remains to be seen. But as long as I am an AOPA member, I’m going to continue to use the AOPA Flight Planner as my primary preflight planning tool and paper checklists and a standard (small) kneeboard in the cockpit. That’s not a direction that’s cast in concrete. If I change my idea about how I’m going to operate, I’ll blog about it here or, if it’s cockpit-related, in The FlightZone on this website.

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