Me And My MacBook Pro

*shudder*Regular read­ers of this site — hi, Dad — will know that I’ve just pur­chased a MacBook Pro, a high-end Apple laptop of the swanky ‘ooh, get him’ vari­ety. There has been some demand — hi, Sian — for my impres­sions on the new MacBook. So, brace thyselves for a post that may push the envel­ope of geek­i­ness for blog about writ­ing. Well, I do write using my MacBook. And what won­der­ful things I can write on such a shiny new com­puter!

Meh.

First Impressions

Just so people read­ing this know, my MacBook Pro is the 15-inch (glossy), 2 GHz Intel CoreDuo, 512 Meg RAM (DDR2). It runs Mac OS X ‘Tiger’ 10.4.7. It was assembled the week of 16th June 2006 in Shanghai. Full spe­cific­a­tions are avail­able here.

Aesthetically, the MacBook Pro is a well designed piece of hard­ware. It looks breath­tak­ing open or closed, and its matte alu­mini­um (alu­min­um) fin­ish is sweet.

Backlit Keyboard and Trackpad

The key­board is full-sized and firm to the touch. It is back­lit too, so in low-lit con­di­tions (or when you put your hand over the light sensor beneath the speak­er grill) a bright glow appears between the keys. Looks fant­ast­ic! And is use­less. If you use your com­puter in a room so dark that you can’t see the key­board, you’ll get migraines on top of migraines, and it’ll be your own fault. The track­pad is much wider than I’m used to, and has the bril­liant fea­ture of two-fin­ger scrolling: put down two fin­gers, move them left and right or for­wards and back and con­tents of a win­dow will shift accord­ingly. This is a great inter­face enhance­ment. No longer will I have to aim for fiddly scroll­bars. The matte met­al either side of the track­pad makes for a great place to put one’s wrists — hands can slide eas­ily and don’t get clammy.

Display

This is extremely bright, and I often find myself (like now, late even­ing) turn­ing it down to work. The glossy fin­ish is fant­ast­ic and makes it easi­er to work for longer peri­ods. The glare, which some see as a dis­trac­tion, is neg­li­gible on my screen. The col­our sat­ur­a­tion is rich­er than my iBook, and indeed rich­er than the flatscreen dis­play I used to have as my main dis­play (it’s now boxed).

Wireless Range

Is good. Comparable to the iBook; it picks up the same 10–12 net­works avail­able in my neigh­bour­hood. When woken from sleep, it con­nects to my WPA-encryp­ted hid­den-SSID net­work faster than the iBook.

MagSafe Adapter

I have, right before I was due to sub­mit my PhD, walked through the power cord of a laptop and watched it spin beau­ti­fully through the air. Ah, happy days: that laptop was unhurt but for the power sup­ply, and it was a race to get back to my office and backup my files to the net­work before the bat­tery failed. So I appre­ci­ate an adapter that prom­ises to make this kind of drama a thing of the past. I haven’t exper­i­enced any heat­ing issues at the point where the MagSafe con­nects, as some oth­ers have repor­ted.

Issues

Memory and Rosetta Emulation

With the shift to Intel pro­cessors, soft­ware writ­ten for the old PowerPC archi­tec­ture is not going to work. Fortunately, Mac OS X uses an on-the-fly trans­la­tion tech­no­logy called Rosetta (Chompollion lives on). This works as a lay­er between an old PowerPC applic­a­tion and the Intel archi­tec­ture. Generally speak­ing, I haven’t had any issues with this. However, I have noticed that the pro­cess ‘trans­late’ (which is the name of the Rosetta dae­mon) can take up a huge amount of paging file space. There have been reports that, due to the nature of Rosetta oper­a­tion, the paging file can get big­ger and big­ger. As of right now — and, OK, I’m run­ning a few apps — my vir­tu­al memory size is 7.32 GB, which seems a little large. Mind you, I’ve just checked the VM size on my iBook, and it’s 5 GB. Maybe that’s just par for the Mac course. My main employ­ment of Rosetta is for Microsoft Office. They run faster on my MacBook Pro than they did on my MacBook Pro.

Migration Issues

On first boot of the MacBook, I took the oppor­tun­ity to pull all of my applic­a­tions and set­tings from my extern­al Firewire hard drive. Big mis­take. Once the trans­fer was done, I fired up the MacBook and wondered wheth­er I’d wasted my money: the sys­tem was slow and my hopes that the new sys­tem would be a stranger to the spin­ning pizza of death (POD) were dashed. I used this slug­gish sys­tem for a few hours and thought hard about send­ing the bug­ger back to Apple. Then I came to my senses and did a com­plete rein­stall of the OS. This time, the MacBook was very respons­ive and a pleas­ure to use (there’s some­thing indes­crib­able about hav­ing a GUI that responds in nano­seconds to user input; it starts to gen­er­ate the illu­sion that the win­dows are real…) From that point until now, I’ve been manu­ally trans­fer­ring applic­a­tions and set­tings. Why? Well, it turns out that there are some issues with migrat­ing all your gub­bins from a PowerPC Mac to an Intel Mac. There are vari­ous applic­a­tions and pref­er­ence panes that might be culp­able, but if you get a new MacBook and find it is slug­gish after using the Migration Tool, you might want to go ‘old school’ about trans­fer­ring your files.

CPU Whine

Yeah, this was anoth­er irrit­a­tion, and anoth­er down­er on my first day as a MacBook Pro user. When the CPUs idle down, there is a def­in­ite buzz that comes from the left side of the com­puter. It sounds like a buzz­ing fluor­es­cent light. “Christ,” I thought, “a buzz­ing, slug­gish machine. [Tony The Tiger voice:] Grrrreat!” Well, I sor­ted out the slug­gish prob­lem (see above para), and I found a quick work­around to the CPU whine. Because the whine res­ults from the inter­fer­ence of idling pro­cessors (sup­por­ted by the obser­va­tion that dis­abling one core elim­in­ates the buzz), you ‘just’ need to make sure the CPUs are under con­stant load. The load doesn’t have to be much. The best solu­tion I found was by this guy (who, in a saintly fash­ion, pack­aged this work-around so that even a new­bie like me could down­load it). His pro­gram, which you can run in the back­ground and for­get about, will load the CPUs just slightly; buzz van­ishes! Presto! Well, I like it, but not a lot. Apple need to fix this with a firm­ware update.

Installing Windows XP Pro

Because I’m inter­ested in run­ning Windows XP nat­ively on my MacBook, I’ve been ars­ing around with BootCamp, the beta ver­sion of an applic­a­tion that cre­ates a hard disk par­ti­tion for Windows XP and helps you burn a handy CD of drivers for use with Windows. At star­tup, you get the choice of which oper­at­ing sys­tem you want to boot into. So far so cool. But my Windows XP CD doesn’t con­tain Service Pack 2, which means that it gets halfway through the install­a­tion until at a crit­ic­al point — i.e. the point you need to use the key­board — the bloody key­board stops work­ing. Right. So, how do I get Service Pack 2 onto my Windows XP disk? Well, through an arcane art known only as ‘slip­stream­ing’, it is pos­sible — giv­en the right con­junc­tion of celes­ti­al bod­ies — to com­bine Service Pack 2 with your Windows XP install­a­tion CD to pro­duce a Windows XP SP2 CD. With me so far? How sad. I haven’t quite com­pleted this pro­cess because I’m using Parallels desktop to run XP as a slip­stream­ing envir­on­ment. Describing that will take anoth­er art­icle alto­geth­er.

Describing that will take anoth­er art­icle!”

Steady.

Overall Impressions

Well, it’s a fant­ast­ic machine and, des­pite its quirks, it is meas­ure of my attach­ment to it that, even on that depress­ing first day, there was no way I would send it back. Now it runs like a dream, the screen is so beau­ti­ful I don’t need to span the desktop across to my Philips TFT (because it looks too dull). A note on bat­tery life: It isn’t fant­ast­ic. My iBook G4 out­per­forms the MacBook Pro by almost an hour; then again, the iBook doesn’t have an Intel dual-core pro­cessor inside, and the screen is much dim­mer. I can write on the MacBook Pro even when I’m in the con­ser­vat­ory at the back of our new house, which gets very sunny. The out­look, then? Fair. Ooh, I love my preeee­cious MacBook.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

10 thoughts on “Me And My MacBook Pro”

  1. Hi there! I’m glad you were able to find my QuietMBP work­around and that it’s work­ing for you. I just thought I’d cor­rect one minor detail: it’s not an AppleScript that is run­ning behind the scenes, it’s a “real pro­gram.”

    Also, I hope you won’t let the work­around stop you from com­plain­ing to Apple. I worry that many people are installing the work­around and decid­ing to just “wait it out.” Apple won’t fix it if we don’t keep com­plain­ing.

    Daniel

  2. Hi Steve

    Crikey, sounds like the Terminator. The only safe place for a Dell is in an indus­tri­al met­al press.

    Ian

  3. Thanks for your com­ment, Daniel. I”ve made a cor­rec­tion to the blog entry. I think you’re right about the need to com­plain to Apple. The more heat, the more likely they are to provide a fix.

    Cheers,

  4. Well I don’t under­stand a word of all this, I am what they politely call a “high level” user, ie an idi­ot on a PC, but I see you’re in touch with Sian on this Mac stuff so all will be well (I have good reas­on to know that Sian is a woman to be admired on any tech­nic­al mat­ter what­so­ever, and prob­ably on most or all oth­er mat­ters too.)

    Talking of tech­nic­al mat­ters, I chal­lenge you to come over to deb­log and do the set tomor­row, the Douglas Day.

  5. Alright, Maxine — you’re on. I warn you, though, I’m feel­ing par­tic­u­larly thick this week…

  6. Well you can’t have expec­ted it all to go smoothly on the first day! Sounds like you’ve got it sor­ted now though and I must admit am very jeal­ous. I want one! Unfortunately it wasn’t so long ago that I got my iBook so don’t feel I can jus­ti­fy it but my hubbie’s (Dell) laptop is on it’s last legs, so am con­vin­cing him to go MacBook pro. I like the idea of vir­tu­al PC to run all those quirky bits of soft­ware I can’t get for my iBook, but sounds like it’s not 100% sor­ted yet– I sup­pose will take a while for every­one to get up to speed with the new intel macs (I notice open­of­fice doesn’t have easy-to-install ver­sions for the intel macs yet).
    Keep me pos­ted (espe­cially about the ‘whirr­ing’– my ibook is always totally silent and have to say that it is a joy, so not sure about get­ting a whirrer).

  7. Sian, I know what you mean. I only bought my iBook last year, and I had planned to sell it to part-fin­ance my MacBook (that plan went out the win­dow when I knackered the USB ports, but any­way). It’s still worth it for me, I think, becuse this is my main work com­puter and I use it for hours each day. I’m also wait­ing for an Intel nat­ive Open Office installer. Microsoft Word is, on my MacBook, as fast as it runs on my iBook G4, but it doesn’t have the zip­pi­ness of the Universal Binary apps.

    With the whirr­ing sor­ted out thanks to that pro­gram I men­tioned in the post, the MacBook *does* have a slight fan noise when idling — my iBook doesn’t have any unless it’s get­ting hot. It’s still not really loud enough to notice, though.

  8. My Macbook Pro laptop gets heavy use.….so I think any­one…
    that needs to have con­fid­ence in apples battery…needs to
    think it over. I have the fam­ous bat­tery fail­ure with met­al
    on the out­side buck­ling. My research has not found a spe­cif­ic bat­tery conditioner.….which from my point of view
    is vital to laptop health main­ten­ance.
    What I have found is a uni­ver­sal latop bat­tery con­di­tion­er…
    the MH-C777PLUS-II Universal LCD Charger…from cre­at­ive
    tech­no­lo­gies. I can’t say this will work 100%. Please does any­one have any oth­er options.

  9. My Macbook Pro laptop gets heavy use.….so I think any­one…
    that needs to have con­fid­ence in apples battery…needs to
    think it over. I have the fam­ous bat­tery fail­ure with met­al
    on the out­side buck­ling. My research has not found a spe­cif­ic bat­tery conditioner.….which from my point of view
    is vital to laptop health main­ten­ance.
    What I have found is a uni­ver­sal latop bat­tery con­di­tion­er…
    the MH-C777PLUS-II Universal LCD Charger…from cre­at­ive
    tech­no­lo­gies. I can’t say this will work 100%. Please does any­one have any oth­er options.
    mftorrey@comcast.net

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