Mac Updates

I picked up my iMac back in 2011. As usual with Apple products I ordered the smallest RAM possible and picked up some Crucial to take it to 16GB. At the same time a colleague was also buying an iMac so I passed on the Apple RAM at a low cost to him as it was no use to me. That was my first mistake.

Over the last year I was getting infrequent crashes, every 2-3 weeks, almost always when iTunes was running. I put it down to software and looking at the crash dumps I was always drawn to a graphics card driver issue. I dismissed it as that, hoping an OS X update at some point would resolve it. It didn’t. That was my second mistake.

At Christmas I dug deeper, downloading a memory module checker and checking the RAM chips individually. Turns out I had some faulty RAM and that was something that I had introduced to the system. I bought some replacements (RAM is ridiculously cheap now) and in the last three months I have had zero crashes. Happy days but a lesson learnt. I’d still recommend buying a Mac with the minimum amount of RAM assuming you can easily replace it, but keep the Apple original in case your replacement chips are faulty and if you ever have to return the Mac to Apple.

One aspect I’ve loved with the iMac is the screen. 27 inch and with a resolution of 2560×1440 it’s been a joy to use. Despite it’s size though, I’ve often wished for more. A second screen would really help day to day and especially with the podcast. After thinking and researching for a while I finally plumped for the Asus PB278Q.

Why do manufacturers persist with tacky stickers?
Why do manufacturers persist with tacky stickers?
I’m quite picky about the kit I use and while it would have been fine I’d have always been a bit ticked off with a physically smaller second screen or one with a lower resolution. The Asus is a 27 inch screen which is the same size as the iMac and also shares the same resolution – 2560×1440. Another obvious choice would have been the Apple Thunderbolt Display but that costs £899 and has no flexibility when it comes to adjusting screen height. The Asus is fully adjustable and can be rotated 90 degrees too. It also cost £467 from Amazon which is a massive difference to the Apple Thunderbolt. Other options were from Dell and Samsung. Although Dell have been making monitors for years looking at recent reviews and also customer comments on Amazon there seems to be an issue with quality control and although most were happy with the product, there were too many who had real issues with their monitors. As for Samsung, it didn’t look the best, the Asus had far better reviews…and it was a Samsung :-). First impressions out the box were good. Design wasn’t a patch on the iMac but it was sturdy with a good base. The only initial negative was the garish stickers that PC manufacturers love to put on cases, laptops and monitors. Thankfully they were easy to remove leaving just the button indicators, the ASUS logo and the unnecessary HDMI and DisplayPort logo’s on the front. When will they learn. The material is black matte plastic and although the bezel is a touch larger than I would have liked, it does melt into the background in use.

iMac and Asus
iMac and Asus – look small in the pic but they are both 27 inch screens

The Asus comes with lots of connectivity options – HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA and DVI and admirably comes with a full set of cables in the box. However for the iMac I needed an mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort but there are some great sub £10 options on Amazon. Setup was easy. Plugin the cable, power up the monitor and the iMac auto detected the screen and enabled an extended desktop giving a total resolution of 5120×1440. Thats a lot of pixels and brings me to my biggest fear when it comes to screens. Dead pixels.

I shouldn’t really check as chances are in day to day use it would be unnoticeable…unless you go hunting, but hunting I went. Happily the Asus has no dead or stuck pixels. The screen itself is more matte than the iMac so reflections are much reduced. As for the screen itself I think it’s excellent. Clear and crisp, no noticeable lag with my ageing eyes and I can use it easily all day long without any tiredness. Applications were well sized, nothing too small or unclear and full screen video was crisp and clear – no smearing that I could see. I don’t really game too much on the Mac although have been bitten by the emulator bug over the last couple of weeks, but that’s for another post, but the games I tried all played well.

The menu controls are easy to use and give you full control over screen colour, brightness etc and also allow you to flick between a number of presets. It was straightforward to match the iMac display so it looked roughly the same to my eye’s. You can also control audio levels as the monitor has built in speakers which are ok, but nothing spectacular. You can alter menu positions, menu language and also turn off the power light indicator which makes the display on the front of HDMI and DisplayPort logo’s even more annoying. I might have to find some black tape. Apart from that I’ve nothing more to say technically about the monitor and I’ll point you to TFT Centrals review of the PB278Q which is incredibly detailed and covers all aspects of the monitor. Suffice to say, they liked it.

I’ve had the monitor for a week now and love it. It’s a luxury purchase but delivers a big gain in productivity. 2 years ago I was sure I didn’t need anything more than a 27 inch monitor, I’m now pretty sure that I don’t need a third monitor…but in 5 years time will it be two retina monitors? Time will tell.

New Toys

It’s 4 years and 8 months since I bought an iMac and moved to Apple. The 24″ model has done me proud over that time but I’ve been wanting to upgrade for a few months now. The latest upgrades saw me finally pushing the button. So what did I order?

The works basically. A 27″ iMac will be winging it’s way to me shortly with an SSD, i7 CPU, fast graphics card and instead of a mouse (Logitech wins over Apple every time) I’ve went for a trackpad as with Lion coming soon I can see gesture support being heavily used throughout the OS and third party app’s over the coming year. I really can’t wait to see just how fast this thing is. The SSD will make a massive difference but that quad core CPU should chew through tasks. The only thing I didn’t upgrade was the RAM. Comes with 4GB, but Apple want £120 for another 4 – I can buy 16GB of Crucial RAM for the same price.

There’s only one snag. Ordered almost two weeks ago but the delivery date is still over 4 weeks away – June 24th. I hate waiting especially as Apple have grabbed the cash already. Grrrr. Still, nice toys on the way so can’t complain. Interestingly when I check on the status today the Apple page say’s come back tomorrow for more functionality – linked to rumours of Apple store updates on May 22nd?

Only downside to new toys is getting rid of the old iMac. Will probably sell on eBay but I never really like the eBay experience for a variety of reasons. It’s still worth a few hundred pounds though so needs must.

Another new toy soon – a car. No idea what I’m buying or when apart from ‘soon’. Need to consult with my friendly car geeks as I’m useless when it comes to cars. Looking forward to it though – the Focus is coming up for 10 years old. Showing it’s age and I’m getting bored with it.

A Year with the Mac

It was one year ago today that I took delivery of an Imac, my first ever Mac. While I’d had an iPod for a couple of years and used a Mac at university, this would be my first time away from pc’s and Windows. While the learning curve was steep’ish I took to the Mac really well and even though I’m still learning I’m now a fan of the Mac operating system and the hardware that Apple make. While Apple products are not to everyone’s taste and they are always accused of being expensive I can’t see me moving away from the Mac platform anytime soon.

The hardware has been great so far (touch wood). I was slightly apprehensive about buying an iMac due to it’s all in one non upgradable design. However I’m a console gamer now and have no real need to upgrade the hardware a bit at a time. The hardware’s most impressive feature is how quiet it is. You hardly notice it’s on which I certainly can’t say about most PCs that I’ve owned and used. One year on and it still feels fast as it did on day one even with new software that’s come out over the last couple of months that usually push up requirements.

The iMac is used every day and wakes from sleep in a couple of seconds while taking the same time to sleep at the end of the day. It sure beats the experience I’ve had using Windows and the slow start-up times or slow times when setting the machine to sleep. Even when i have to reboot for software updates and the like, the start-up times have remained consistently quick. It’s obviously slower than day one due to the apps I launch at start-up but it doesn’t slow down as much as Windows does over time. I guess what I’m trying to say is…it just works. Always. Not had a problem yet. I’m not saying there are no problems, but I’ve had none…yet.

One issue I do have are Apple mice. They really do suck. I bought a wireless Mighty Mouse and I lasted three weeks with it before putting it aside and plugging in my Logitech. From reading elsewhere seemingly Steve Job’s hate’s clicks and buttons but really – only having one mouse button is really limiting. The Mighty Mouse has a virtual right click and also a squeeze click but I found the squeeze was difficult to do and the virtual right click awkward as you had to lift from the left click for this to work. The Mighty Mouse is now an occasional laptop mouse…very occasional.

The operating system is also a lot more user friendly than XP and although I haven’t used Vista enough to be sure, I’m off the mind that it has a better set of features than it too. Through the use of Expose, Dashboard, Spotlight and Preview I find that day to day tasks are more easily carried out on a Mac than on a PC. I can get more things done and I’m also more pleased with the end result. It’s very hard to put into words why it feels and works better, but it does. I also make far more use of the built in app’s like Mail, Address Book, iCal etc than I did on Windows although I think Vista built in app’s are far more useful than XP’s. The O/S is also more fun than Windows and looks/feels a lot more stylish and has a lot of polish. Again not a big feature but it’s another little plus point. Oh, no spyware or virus worries either. It’s also about to get better (I trust) with Leopard coming out in the next month or so. What helps the O/S and Apple are the third party app’s found on the mac.

Some of them are Mac only exclusives and it’s no secret that I craved a couple of the app’s so much that they helped seal my move to the mac platform. Many are tightly integrated with the mac platform so much so that they feel like part of the O/S which I can’t say for many app’s on the Windows platform. Another little push came from Parallels, virtualisation software that meant I could move to the Mac but be safe in the knowledge that a fast and fully working XP was merely a button click away. I also think there’s a myth surrounding third party app’s. Before I switched I was told by a few people and also a lot of blogs that there isn’t as much shareware/freeware/third party on the Mac platform. While that’s true from a quantity point of view I’ve found the quality and range of app’s to be excellent and there is nothing that I feel I’ve missed in moving platforms.

So there you have it. A happy switcher one year on. During that year I’ve also seen a couple of friends move to the Mac who also have similarly positive experiences. Maybe it’s the Apple halo effect, maybe it’s the positive press that Apple garner on the web or maybe it’s just that the alternative to Windows and PC hardware is a better end user experience – can so many people be wrong? There are definitely some issues, it’s not a platform for everyone (gamers for example) and not everything is wonderful but in general a Mac makes for a great home computer that I would highly recommend. A few months after buying an iMac I also bought a Macbook Pro which again has been a good investment. Next Apple product will probably be an iPhone but not the first version. I reckon I can hold off until a 3G phone comes out in 2008. My only regret about switching a year ago is this…I wish I had done it sooner.

Mac Announcements

Initial thoughts…

  • New iMacs. I don’t like them. The design isn’t as clean as the iMac’s of old. Not convinced by black surround or by glossy screen. Love the size of the new keyboards but would need to try them first as the key’s look close to the style of the Macbook. Fine for laptop – not so sure for desktop. Good options on hard disk size though.
  • iLife – some nice improvements here on photo management and also video creation. Not much else for me
  • iWork – Numbers look very interesting. Tried Keynote over the last few days and it is very impressive. Must try Pages to see how good/bad it is especially as Office is delayed until next year.
  • .Mac. Some improvements at last. Disk space upped to 10Gb which is nice. Was also impressed with the new picture and video albums – .Mac Web Gallery. Very clean presentation and it reallt does feel like an app on the web. Sharing options were also nice to see with friends able to upload photo’s with them sync’d back to your mac. A nice upgrade to .mac but still feel they could do so much more.

More meh than yeah for me but some nice changes all the same. If you commit to everything Apple I can see why it makes sense but with sites like Flickr and so many other websites established with communities it’s hard to see many people moving over to the web albums. Good for one off’s more than a whole set of albums for me.

I’ve Moved

It took a long time to deliver but I’m finally there – I’ve moved to Mac. They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

iMac up and running

I’ve posted a full Flickr set of the unboxing of the iMac and iPod – not too many pics as it’s been done already. It’s too early to feel settled with OS X although I’ve so far managed to do everything I’ve wanted to, including an almighty struggle to get my iTunes library over to the mac from the pc. I ended up hacking the library xml file to get it to work. However the iMac hardware is stunning. Quiet, fast and bright – in fact too bright much like when you view a TV in a store and it’s set to 100%. I ended up reducing the brightness to just over half to make it easy on the eyes. Even then it was brighter than my last LCD. Still can’t get used to using the Apple key for cut, copy, paste and there are obviously lots of oddities that will take time to understand. Expose is stunning though and makes managing multiple windows a painless task – windows could learn a lot and that still hasn’t been addressed in Vista which is an issue as more people move to larger and larger desktops.

The iPod is as impressive as ever. Screen is bright, video’s look sharp although I still think it’s too small to watch TV episodes and movies on. Most noticeable are the new earbuds – comfy and sound good. Gapless playback is also welcome…at last.

Downsides. Only one at the moment – the Mighty Mouse. It is OK but not a patch on my old Logitech which will be pressed back into service. The virtual right mouse button is awkward and the side buttons require a lot of pressure to activate. Not for me and it defies logic as to why Apple couldn’t design something better.

Seeing as I’ve spent only a day with the iMac I’m surprised how easy it is to perform basic tasks although I do feel vulnerable due to my lack of knowledge. If something went wrong I would probably struggle badly. With Windows I felt comfortable that no matter what I did I could rectify the situation – it will take a while to get that feeling with the Mac. Hardware has also worked like a dream, both new and old. Joy of joys – I don’t have any dead pixels (well none that are obvious and although I’ve scanned a few times and can’t see any I ain’t going hunting). Thoroughly delighted that I finally made the move. It will be interesting to see how the next few weeks go as I scratch beneath the surface. To be honest I can’t wait.