Saturday, July 28, 2007

More late night techie blogging

At first glance there does not seem to be any way to hook a keyboard and mouse and monitor to a Macbook and use just that keyboard and monitor and mouse. The little picture of a monitor in the menu bar will just let you either mirror the two monitors, or extend your desktop across the two monitors. But there is. Set the "wake on Bluetooth" preference to "Yes", plug the external monitor in and pair the Macbook with your keyboard and mouse (if they aren't already paired and are Bluetooth rather than USB), shut the lid, and the screen goes blank as the Macbook goes asleep. Click the mouse and/or press a key on the keyboard, it wakes back up -- but it appears only on the external monitor. At this point you can put the Macbook aside (leaving it plugged into the monitor of course!) and treat it as a weirdly shaped Mac Mini.

Now, in the interests of balance after the glowing review I gave it earlier, here's the list of things I do not like about the Macbook:

  1. Few games. And the games there are don't work well on the Macbook due to its use of on-board Intel graphics that are 2d not 3d oriented, and due to stupidity on the part of games makers. I had to download a crack from the Internets to run the Mac version of Civilization IV on my Macbook, for example, because the out-of-box copy decided my Macbook didn't have enough graphics memory. (Which is true, but the crack, which removed the graphics card limitation as well as the need to stick the DVD in every time, ran just fine).
  2. No multiple virtual desktops. Linux has virtual desktops. Windows XP has virtual desktops (via the PowerToys add-in). MacOS 10.4 Tiger, on the other hand... nope. To be fair, that's coming in MacOS 10.5 Leopard, due in October, but everybody else has had it for years and while the Expose' feature helps, that's not how I usually work -- I usually have my programming stuff open on desktop #1, web on desktop #3, email on desktop #4, that way I don't have to fight through programming windows to get to web windows and so on.
  3. Remember that I said that the Macbook sucked air in around the keys in the keyboard rather than the bottom? Well, heat from the CPU and power supply gets trapped between the case bottom and the motherboard, because there's no ventilation under the motherboard. The CPU never overheats (I tested this with 200% CPU load, i.e., maxing out both CPU's, plus full disk load, and nothing got anywhere near overheating), but the rear left of the little beasty gets really toasty. The CPU doesn't care that it's around 130F, but your leg might.
  4. When you crank up the CPU usage, the fan comes on and really howls. To be fair, the fan almost never comes on when I'm just Internet'ing, web browsing, and word processing. It's when I'm playing games or videos or something that it gets a bit noisy.
  5. The power supply is small and cute and attractive, a piece of computer sculpture like everything else Apple. It also is only barely capable of supplying sufficient power for the Macbook when you crank up the CPU usage by, say, playing a game. If you'd previously run down the battery and are trying to charge it, it'll take hours to re-charge, and get very hot too. Not dangerously hot, but definitely toasty. If you play a game for hours it'll also get very hot.
  6. Apple's patented "MagSafe" connector for the power supply is cool because if you trip over the power cord it'll just unplug rather than yank the computer off the coffee table, and also has much less and tear on the computer plug when plugging and unplugging than a normal banana type plug, but because it's patented by Apple there are no third-party power supplies for the Macbook. Not a big deal, except Apple doesn't have a car power supply, so you'll need to use an inverter if you want to blog on the go using EVDO.
  7. Because of the lack of sufficient USB ports for both keyboard/mouse and computer music gear, if you want to go with external keyboard/mouse while at home base you'll need to go Bluetooth. I found only one Bluetooth keyboard that was reasonable to use with a Mac -- Apple's own wireless keyboard, which isn't actually a bad keyboard (at least it's slim and has decent feel) but is rather wide (doesn't fit well on my keyboard tray). I found only two Bluetooth mice that are big enough to use for regular use (the others I found were tiny little mice for use with PDA's that would be painful to use). One is an ugly gun-metal grey Logitech two-button wheel mouse that is now several years old. I find that it doesn't have very good resolution (it's an older LED-based mouse) and the wheel is very "clicky" (not very fine resolution). It does, however, fit my hand well. The other is Apple's own Wireless Mighty Mouse. This is a laser mouse and good resolution, it also has a scroll trackball rather than a scroll wheel (allows scrolling side to side as well as up and down) and a pair of squeeze sensors on the side to serve as a 4th button (pressing down the scrollball is a 3rd button). The squeeze sensors are usually programmed to trigger Expose'. This mouse is a thing of beauty, but is pill-shaped and does not fit my hand as comfortably as the Logitech mouse. The 4th button is handy given the lack of virtual desktops so I live with it. This mouse has a poor durability record, it quits about 6 months in because the mouse trackball on the top eventually gets gunked up with normal hand oils and stuff and quits working. Keep your receipt, you'll need to exercise the 1 year warranty, and treat it as a consumable item (i.e. figure you'll need to buy a new one every year).
  8. The dock is annoying. While you can click on a picture of an application to bring it back to the front (if it's already running), you can't choose which window of the application to bring back to the front. You have to use Expose' for that. Combining the taskbar and application starter into one dock may have seemed a good idea, and I must admit it's cool eye candy, but it is annoying.
  9. The on-board speakers point *backwards*. Now, granted, to a certain extent this is necessary because if they pointed upwards they'd give feedback to the microphone (which is at the top of the screen next to the iSight camera so you can do video conferencing while looking at the camera and have the microphone pick up what you're saying). But it means that any sound you do hear from the on-board speakers is even more muffled than usual for the lot that is pathetic laptop speakers.
  10. Parallels, the system for running Windows applications while MacOS is still running, won't run many games even with the new DirectX 9 support. In particular, it won't run my fave, Civilization IV Warlords (sob!). Basically if a game is not listed on the Parallels website as working with Parallels, it ain't gonna work. You'll need to dual-boot using Boot Camp to run those games.
  11. Windows Activation will throw a fit when you dual-boot using Boot Camp *plus* run Parallels. This isn't Apple's fault. This is entirely Microsoft's fault. But it's still annoying.
  12. Under heavy use (as in, 200% CPU use plus thrashing the disk drive), the battery life is approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, at which point the Macbook shuts down into sleep mode until you plug it in. Figure you'll get a little over 2 hours with all the radios (WiFi and Bluetooth) on, and approximately 3 hours with the radios off. My old HP had an extended battery that I could regularly get 4 hours on. Yeah, the extended battery stuck out of the bottom and back of the laptop and made it somewhat heavy but it was nice to be able to take a long flight across country and not worry (much) about power.
Now, does that mean I'm having buyer's remorse? No. For what I'm using it for (basically a combination Unix programming workstation and a music workstation), the Macbook is an amazing value. With its fast dual core processor and with the 2gb of RAM and 250GB hard drive that I replaced the originals with, it's fast as snot (well, at everything except real-time 3d video processing) and MacOS makes Windows look like the primitive garbage that it is. Despite the fact that it is Unix, it boots considerably faster than Windows XP, logging in happens considerably faster than XP, and its sleep mode works 100% reliably (with XP it was always a crapshoot as to whether it'd come out of sleep mode correctly -- not entirely XP's fault, it was 3rd party drivers that sometimes would mess up, but still annoying). The above annoyances have work-arounds and don't significantly impair how I use my Macbook. I just list them in the interests of balance.

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