The 'Book Review

How Did Retina MacBook Pro Get EPEAT Gold?, Set Up a $300 Beater Mac Notebook, and More

This Week's Mac Notebook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.07.20

General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Apple Updates

Products & Services

Software

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

How Did the Retina MacBook Pro Get a Gold-Level EPEAT Rating?

Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt addresses a question that's certainly been perplexing me since Apple's bust-up with EPEAT was reconciled last Friday with complimentary announcements that "all eligible Apple products" were back on the Green Electronics Council's registry - giving them the Gold label that indicates they are approved for purchase by schools and government agencies that are required to buy only EPEAT-approved computers.

It was also announced that all four models of its new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, a machine whose batteries are glued to the aluminum chassis with an industrial adhesive so powerful that it has been proved impossible in teardowns to remove them without rupturing their integrity and "leaking hazardous goo all over" (as iFixit put it) have been awarded EPEAT Gold labels.

Say what?

Elmer-DeWitt cites The Electronics TakeBack Coalition's National Coordinator Barbara Kyle commenting:

"While we are very glad to see that Apple has rejoined the EPEAT program, we are astonished to see that in reposting its products to the EPEAT registry, Apple has actually listed four versions of the Mac Book Pro with Retina as EPEAT Gold level products. We seriously doubt that these MacBooks should qualify for EPEAT at any level, because we think they flunk two required criteria in the 'Design for End of Life' section of the standard. They are:

  • Criterion 4.3.1.3: External enclosures shall be easily removable by one person alone with commonly available tools.
    While you can open up the enclosure, you can't completely remove one half of the casing from the large group of batteries. They are glued to the case with industrial strength glue.
  • Criterion 4.3.1.5: Identification and removal of components containing hazardous materials.
    This criteri[on] specifically applies to batteries, as well as circuit boards over 10 cm2 and other components, and says they must be safely and easily removable. Gluing the battery in does not quality as 'easily removable.' In fact, it's exactly the kind of design that this standard seeks to discourage."

So how did the Apple's Retina MacBooks get Gold label ratings?

Ms. Kyle further explains:

"It's important to understand that the manufacturers grade themselves against the EPEAT criteria first, and then EPEAT conducts a review of this grading. That EPEAT review has not yet occurred. They can require the manufacturers to remove any product from the registry if it is not found to conform to the IEEE standard.

"Apple is often a design leader in electronics, but they really blew it here. They are ignoring a really important design goal here - designing to promote product longevity and reuse. Designers should make it as easy as possible for users to replace their own batteries. This is like designing a car with tires that you can't replace when you have a flat without making an appointment at the dealer and paying them a hefty fee for the tire."

Ergo, at least if the EPEAT system has any integrity, we should be able to expect that the MacBook Pro with Retina Display's presumptuous Gold label rating will be downgraded without delay. I try to be wary and skeptical regarding conspiracy theories, but it's hard not to wonder if there were any under-the-table quid pro quos associated with Apple's return to the EPEAT fold.

MacBook Pro Retina Display 'a Solution in Search of a Problem'

ReadWriteWeb's Antone Gonsalves contends that only Apple could get away with charging a $400 premium for a feature that no one needs, that few people will notice, that doesn't work with most apps, and that was not on anyone's wish list until the company announced it last month.

He's talking about the 2880 x 1800 resolution Retina Display in Apple's newest MacBook Pro model, noting that while Retina-grade ultrahigh-resolution may be a valuable innovation on the iPhone and iPad, it's a solution in search of a problem on the MacBook Pro, and that until Apple unveiled the new machine at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, no one thought the resolution on current MacBook Pros was insufficient.

Gonsalves acknowledges that Apple has shown the ability to turn new features into virtual must-haves, even if they're not really needed, and suggests that strategically Apple's ploy is to use the new MacBook Pro to set a standard for quality that people will demand from other PC makers, which would have Apple sitting pretty with its long-term contracts with manufacturers of high-resolution screens. He observes that while that's a good plan for Apple, most consumers would be better off waiting until the Retina technology becomes less expensive and better able to actually deliver a higher-quality experience in real-world applications.

Publisher's note: Gonsalves must not have much of a short-term memory, as a Retina Display was one of the most popular guesses for features on the 2012 MacBook Pro update. It's also a bit disingenuous to claim that it "doesn't work with most apps" when in fact it does - it just doesn't give them the doubled Retina resolution. (It's like saying your HD TV doesn't work with standard definition content because it doesn't display is in high definition.) Most apps will have to be updated for that, and several already have. dk

Retina MacBook Pro Display Glitches when Waking

The Register's Anna Leach says that reports are cropping up on support forums about problems encountered when Apple's new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is woken from sleep, upon which on affected machines the operating system's user-interface redraw process completely collapses, scribbling bits of open windows and phantom fragments of closed ones all over the screen. Others are reporting that animations and graphics, such as scrolling, gets choppy and sometimes freezes up entirely.

Example of the Retina Display glitch
Example of the Retina Display glitch.

A software issue in support for the MacBook Pro's automatic switching between the onboard Nvidia and Intel graphics chipsets is suspected as a possible cause, and it's noted that the problem seems to only affect users with Mac OS X Lion, with Mountain Lion developer's preview users saying they've not experienced the anomalous behavior.

Apple Thunderbolt Display Plagued by Noise with New MacBook Air

Electronista reports that some users of Apple's Thunderbolt Display and the new 2012 MacBook Air line are finding that after a few hours' use, the display's speakers distort, crackle, and emit a static noise. The article says that thus far there are no permanent solutions. Temporary workarounds including disconnecting the Thunderbolt cable and replugging or changing output methods away from and back to the display's speakers.

Setting Up a Beater Mac Notebook for Under $300

AppStorm's Adam Williams observes that Macs are expensive, making Apple laptops especially so when used in road-warrioring mode - thief-magnets that are also liable to being dropped or lost. As a freelance writer, Williams says he needs a real computer for significant work when he travels that he can lug around, collecting accidental knocks without worry, as well as a Mac that can act as temporary backup if his MacBook Pro ever needs repair. In short, an older, expendable Mac that doesn't need worrying about.

Alternatives he considered are:

  • MacBook Air - too expensive and potent thief-bait
  • Netbook - portability and weight advantage offset by a small screen and cramped keyboard, and he'd like to remain in the OS X environment if possible.
  • Hackintosh - needs lot of tedious hacking to get up and running, making it less expendable

An iBook G4 turned out to be Williams' choice for a cheap but capable beater Mac, obtainable for no more than $150 and not taking too much time to get up and running. Anything older than an iBook G4, he says, and it won't run OS X 10.4 Tiger or 10.5 Leopard very effectively; any more powerful, and it starts to get too expensive to be an expendable Mac.

Williams snagged an immaculate 1 GHz iBook G4 for just over $100. He recommends upgrading system memory to at least 1 GB and making sure you have an AirPort wireless card installed. He also makes several software suggestions. As a longtime Mac user says he is very pleased with his iBook, finding that using Tiger no hardship at all.

Tips for Buying a Used MacBook

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler says if you're planning on purchasing a used MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air, he recommends that you thoroughly test it to ensure it works properly, noting that while new and Apple Certified Refurbished Mac systems come with a one-year warranty and 90-days of free technical support, that will likely will not be the case with a used system, so it's due diligence to ensure that your prospective purchase is working properly. Kessler outlines several things you can do to determine that the system is working well and does not need repair.

He also advises making sure the system comes with its recovery DVDs (the gray discs that were shipped with the system), a vitally important point that many overlook when purchasing used. These discs are crucial to being able to test and restore the computer's operating system should that become necessary.

Kessler suggests a kit of tools and test software to take along for vetting your prospect MacBook Pro in order to test most of the system's functions properly and check it for problems, and explains how to proceed.

Reviews

AnandTech: 2012 MacBook Air a Reasonable Upgrade from Older MacBook Pros

AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi says that Apple laptop characterizations are becoming confused, with the MacBook Pro having once stood for tons of power plus upgradability - but with the new Retina Display model it's now just tons of power, the Retina Pro machine now essentially a thicker, faster MacBook Air.

2012 MacBook Air models
11" and 13" 2012 MacBook Airs.

Lal Shimpi notes that MacBook Air doesn't help in the clarity department, since you can now order an Air with up to 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD, so users who were once forced into Pro territory because of RAM and storage requirements can now happily live with an Air, and the Air is now more affordable as well. While the 11" model still starts at $999, the 13" version is now only $200 more, while getting Ivy Bridge, USB 3.0, and faster SSD.

He observes that the 11" MacBook Air is a great option for those who want the portability of a tablet but find themselves wanting to attach a keyboard to it most of the time, its 11.6" display boasting the highest pixel density of all of Apple's non-Retina displays at 1366 x 768, and with Thunderbolt, the 11" MacBook Air can give you the best of both worlds: an incredibly portable computer when you're on the go, with enough power to serve as your desktop Mac when docked to a Thunderbolt Display. However, Lal Shimpi says if couldn't have more than one system, he'd opt for the 13" MacBook Air.

He comments that thanks to architectural, frequency, and thermal improvements, one of the cores from a 2012 MacBook Air ends up being faster than both cores in a 2010 MBA. Stated another way, the 2012 models end up being more than twice as fast as the 2010 models in many CPU tests, and battery life has also improved thanks to Intel's 22nm silicon. And by offering 8 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD options, Apple has made the MacBook Air a reasonable upgrade for owners of older MacBook Pros.

13" MacBook Air Is the Perfect Ultrabook

VentureBeat's James Pikover says that generally considered the premier Ultrabook (though its not officially labeled one), the MacBook Air remains the thinnest and lightest 13" and 11" Ultrabook, offering a near-perfect balance of size and power, and what's remarkable about the 2012 model is that it drops the price by $100 and offers the updated i5 or i7 at faster clock speeds while also doubling the RAM to 8 GB, so for less money, "this year's stock MacBook Air outperforms last year's high-end model by 150%* for nearly every application."

Unfortunately he also reports that running certain processor-intensive tasks the 2011 models fan will scream and the left side of the keyboard heat up to around 100F while on the 2012 MBA the same thing can happen, but it rarely does thanks to the improved performance of Intel's Ivy Bridge processors which make it nearly impossible to stress the Air to that point in normal use, and battery life is greatly improved too.

* Publisher's note: Geekbench scores show a much more modest 22% improvement in CPU performance - this year's 2.0 GHz i7 model vs. last year's 1.8 GHz i7 version, which is coincidentally a 22% difference in CPU clock speed. Macworld Labs reports an overall 41% improvement when comparing the 2.0 GHz 13" MBA to last year's 1.7 GHz model. While the SSD is twice as fast, nowhere do I find anyone reporting even 50% better overall performance, let alone the 150% Pikover claims, and claiming that this year's stock 1.7 or 1.8 GHz MBA outperforms last year's top-end 1.8 GHz i7 models by 150% is simply preposterous. Mr. Pikover needs to relearn his basic math skills. dk

13" Mid 2012 MacBook Air from a Windows User's Perspective

TechSpot's Shawn Knight notes that while the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display has been hogging most of the press attention, the 2012 MacBook Air has been upgraded with Intel Ivy Bridge processors sporting HD 4000 graphics, higher capacity storage and memory options, an improved 720p FaceTime HD camera, and support for USB 3, with the 13" model also receiving a $100 price cut, now starting at $1,199.

Knight approaches the MacBook Air as a strictly Windows user, noting that the setup process for a new user isn't much different than you'd find on a Windows machine, and that one of the great things about working on a Mac is that only one company sells it, and Apple doesn't load the Mac down with licensed bloatware designed to further line its pockets and cause headaches to the end user.

Knight summarizes that four years after its unveiling, the Air is still one of the sexiest notebooks on the market, and with the recent slight price adjustment, it seems to be competing well on value terms.

Expert Reviews: 13" MacBook Air Gets a Welcome Performance Boost

Expert Reviews' Tom Morgan notes that Apple might have the smaller ultraportable market all but sewn up with the 11" MacBook Air, but there are far more alternatives once screen size jumps up to 13", with the latest 13" MacBook Air having been upgraded with Intel Ivy Bridge processors and Thunderbolt technology plus USB 3.

Morgan observes that if you're already familiar with the MacBook Air, it could be difficult to spot the differences between the existing model and this new version, but Apple has reduced the size of the MagSafe adapter and replaced the old USB ports with faster USB 3 variants, although it hasn't colored them blue to avoid spoiling the generic gray look its been using for the past five years. It also has a Thunderbolt port instead of a Mini DisplayPort connector.

The old Sandy Bridge processor has been replaced with one of Intel's latest low-voltage Ivy Bridge chips, and Apple has also upgraded the old 3 Gbps SATA Revision 2 SSD with a faster 6 Gbps SATA Revision 3 model, which should help reduce boot and application loading times, as well as speed up file transfers. Intel's HD 4000 integrated graphics are a welcome step up from the previous generation, and despite receiving a significant performance upgrade, Apple has managed to keep the Air's battery life at the same level as last year's model.

13" MacBook Pro Resting on Its Laurels?

The Register's Stephen Dean notes that while the latest MacBook Pro with Retina Display may be setting a new standard at the top of the range, a modest update for the standard 13" MacBook Pro looks a bit like Apple resting on its laurels with the older design, although he acknowledges that its got some pretty good laurels to start off with.

While the aluminum unibody design may be essentially unchanged in nearly four years, Dean praises it as still one of the smartest, most attractive 13' laptops on the market, with a build quality that "makes most of its rivals look like a lump of Lego."

AnandTech: 2012 MacBook Pro the Last Classic Mac Laptop?

AnandTech's Vivek Gowri notes that with most of the attention from Apple's hardware refresh event centered around iOS 6 and the new Retina MacBook Pro, the updated 2012 edition of the regular MacBook Pro (MBP) has been flying a little bit under the radar, being essentially just an Ivy Bridge-infused version of the venerable unibody MacBook Pro chassis that we've known and loved for the last few years.

x2012 MacBook Pro line
13" and 15" 2012 MacBook Pros.

The 13" model retains a dual-core processor and integrated graphics only (albeit upgraded to Intel's latest HD 4000 graphics), while the 15" unit makes the switch from AMD to Nvidia's new Kepler-based GT 650M dedicated graphics, and USB 3.0 is now supported across the board, plus there's a free update to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion when it releases later this month.

Gowri deduces reasonably that this revision is likely to be the last iteration of the original unibody MBP, which will have had a roughly 4.5 year run as one of the most instantly recognizable notebook computers on the market by the time it's discontinued - a great notebook and a very solid and well-engineered portable system, the latest and last in a line of standard-setting notebooks that helped shape the direction of the notebook industry over the last five years - but at this point, an aging design retaining features that are starting to matter less and less.

Apple Updates

MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Update 1.0 for 2012 Models

This update fixes an issue that can lead to increased CPU power consumption, and it improves compatibility with some USB devices.

This update is recommended for all Mac notebooks introduced since June 2012.

Link: MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Update 1.0

Tech Trends

Ultrabook Numbers Not Good

Cnet's Brooke Crothers reports that Apple continues to fend off the Ultrabook challenge, with shipments of the thin-and- light Windows laptops significantly below what Intel had hoped for while Apple's MacBook Air continues to coast enjoying continued popularity, according to IDC analyst Jay Chou, who told Cnet that "The [Ultrabook] volume isn't there, and it's going to be way below what Intel had hoped for." Intel had projected at the beginning of the year that Ultrabooks could take 40% of the consumer laptop market.

Mr. Chou thinks PC vendors might move a million Ultrabooks this year out of a total of about 225 million laptops IDC estimates will ship by the end of 2012, accounting for a proverbial sip-in-the-ocean, while Apple sold about 2.8 million MacBooks in its most recent reported quarter, up slightly from 2.75 million in the same quarter last year.

MacBooks Outselling Ultrabooks 10:1

Smarthouse's David Richards notes that the roughly 500,000 Ultrabooks that were shipped in the first half of 2012 falls woefully short of chipmaker Intel's aggressive targets for the thin-and-light notebooks, having projected at the beginning of the year that Ultrabooks could take 40% of the consumer laptop market. Richards observes that even if PC vendors manage to sell one million units for the full year, that would only represent about 0.4% of the 225 million laptops that IDC predicts will be sold during the year.

Meanwhile Apple's MacBook Air, which obviously inspired the Ultrabook initiative, continues to dominate the sector.

DigiTimes: Global Notebook Shipments to Enjoy 5% Growth in 2Q12

DigiTimes Research's Joanne Chien reports that global notebook shipments, facing overstocked inventory in March and a weakening worldwide economy starting in May, only achieved sequential growth of 5% in the second quarter, and compared to the same period a year ago, volume dropped 1.8%, reaching only slightly greater than 50 million units, according to DigiTimes Research findings.

However, sales performance was uneven. Asustek Computer charged ahead with sequential shipment growth of 36% in the quarter, while Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell, and Toshiba all suffered on-quarter drops of 4-7%, and Acer, benefiting from its netbook shipments and pricing strategy, managed close to the notebook market average, as did Lenovo.

Chien notes that HP's rank as the number one vendor is on the bubble, with its shipment gap over Lenovo in the quarter less 500,000 units, while Asustek's market share of 11.3% helped the company overtake and pass Dell to become the fourth-largest vendor worldwide. Apple and Samsung Electronics ranked seventh and eighth respectively in global sales, trailing closely behind Toshiba in sixth place with a gap of less than 2%.

Products & Services

Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive for Mac an Ideal MacBook Air Companion

Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive for MacPR: The Backup Plus portable drive for Mac from Seagate is a good solution to the problem of limited affordable storage capacity with MacBook Airs, the base model MacBook Pro with Retina Display and other SSD-equipped laptops, with the option of increasing transfer speeds by upgrading to Thunderbolt technology.

Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive for MacBackup Plus is Time Machine ready for making easy, automatic backups of your Mac. Since it is Mac formatted out of the box, simply plug it in, set it, and forget it. It is USB bus-powered so it requires no external power source and can be upgraded to Thunderbolt technology, FireWire 800, or USB 3.0 with optional add-on adapters.

System Requirements

  • Mac OS X 10.6 or higher, or Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP SP3 (32-bit and 64-bit)
  • USB 2.0 port

The Backup Plus is available in 1 TB and 500 GB capacities starting at $119.99

Software

Upcoming Pixelmator 2.1 Optimized for MacBook Pro Retina Display

PR: The ever-busy Pixelmator Team is about to release a new major version of Pixelmator: Pixelmator 2.1, codenamed Cherry, revealing that its "least secret feature" will be complete support for the new Retina display on the MacBook Pro.

Pixelmator 2.1 Cherry is already fully Retina-ready, including all of the user interface elements as well as the image editing engine itself.

Pixelmator 2.1 gains Retina Display support
Pixelmator 2.1 gains Retina Display support.

Pixelmator developer Saulius Dailide says the new MacBook Pro with Retina display (they've got a few around the office) looks totally incredible, and is a brilliant fit for image editing using Pixelmator. Dailide says they're also impressed by the MacBook Pro's speed and power, HD graphics and video support, beautiful looks, and many other great features, declaring that Apple did a phenomenal job on the new MacBook Pro, which he contends is very likely the best Mac that has ever been made, and surely the best laptop on the planet.

You can check out a preview video of Pixelmator 2.1 Cherry on the Retina MacBook Pro.

Publisher's note: Pixelmator 2.1 will probably be a free upgrade from version 2.0.x, which is currently on sale in the Mac App Store for half it's regular $29.99 price. No idea if it will return to this price when 2.1 arrives. dk

Bargain 'Books

For deals on current and discontinued 'Books, see our 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, 13" MacBook Pro, 15" MacBook Pro, 17" MacBook Pro, 12" PowerBook G4, 15" PowerBook G4, 17" PowerBook G4, titanium PowerBook G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G3, and iBook G3 deals.

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