The 'Book Review

New Configurations for Entry-Level Retina MacBook Pro, Mountain Lion Cuts Battery Life, and More

This Week's Mac Notebook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.08.03

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

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

Apple Adds Build-to-Order Options for Entry-Level MacBook Pro with Retina Display

The online Apple Store Apple quietly expanded the available range of build-to-order options for the $2,199 base model MacBook Pro with Retina Display which had heretofore been limited to a 2.3 GHz Core i7 processor and 256 GB of flash storage, with the only performance hardware option being a $200 RAM upgrade from 8 GB to 16 GB.

Configuration options for entry-level Retina MacBook Pro
More options than before on the entry-level Retina MacBook Pro

Buyers of the low-end model can now also opt for 512 GB ($500) and 768 GB ($1000) SSD upgrades and/or upgrade the standard 2.3 GHz CPU to a 2.6 GHz unit for a reasonable $10.

Editor's note: I suppose it would be cynical to suspect that this was part of the game plan all along, for after a first wave of early adopters were persuaded to pony up an extra $600 for the higher-end model in order to get a more reasonable capacity storage drive. cm

Mountain Lion Killing Battery Life Like Lion Did

Forbes Contributor Tim Worstall says that Apple's new OS, OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, seems to be causing problems with battery life just like its predecessor OS X 10.7 Lion did - it's just that it's hitting a different set of users now.

Worstall observes that this is rather more than just a few people whining about a small decline in battery life - the actual loss seems to be some 50% of previous life under OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, which is a very significant factor for laptop users.

Even more troubling, Worstall says that Apple doesn't seem to really know why the move from Snow Leopard to Lion caused such a diminishment of battery life, and they've not been able to issue a fix. The move from Lion to Mountain Lion hasn't fixed the problem for those who were so affected, and moreover it has started to cause the same problems for users who hadn't been affected under Lion.

Something to consider before making the leap, if you haven't already.

Editor's note: Personally, having skipped Lion entirely, your editor is going to install Mountain Lion on a separate hard drive partition and keep the existing Snow Leopard install intact for now. cm

Publisher's note: I haven't been able to find anything definitive about this issue, but based on some research, it seems to impact 2010 and older models. dk

Columnist Opts for Late 2011 13.3" MacBook Pro

Busman's Holiday's Steve Wood (a one-time Low End Mac columnist) says that his 12" PowerBook G4 was on its last legs: Dented and dinged, the battery held about a 20 minute charge, the screen was dark in areas at times, one key was missing, and it finally refused to take a charge. After looking around a bit at used MacBooks, he went shopping for the most affordable new MacBook Pro he could find, and with the refresh to new models then possibly less than a month away, he went ahead and bought the then-current 13.3" MacBook Pro.

Why not wait for the new Ivy Bridge machines? Because while the older Sandy Bridge MacBook Pro shipped with OS X 10.7 Lion, it could be downgraded to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, preserving all Wood's old PowerPC applications.

Wood says he decided to hold off downgrading the new MacBook Pro to Snow Leopard until after a 16 GB RAM upgrade arrived from Crucial, but he ended up liking Lion on the MacBook Pro well enough to just leave it as the operating system, realizing that he could get by without using any PowerPC applications - his main reason for considering Snow Leopard - although he adds that Snow Leopard on his Mac mini remains his main operating system for most of his work.

Wood notes that his last new Apple laptop, the 12" PowerBook G4, lasted 6-1/2 years, and observes that it will be interesting to see the lifespan of the new MacBook Pro, noting that a niece's MacBook Pro required a new motherboard after just a year-and-a-half of use.

Video Guide to SSD Installation

A Register Hardware video tutorial notes that an SSD is arguably the best hardware upgrade you can install on any laptop or desktop PC, coming in a range of capacities and prices that will deliver instantly noticeable improvements in performance along with enhanced reliability.

The Register's video has all the info you need to go about the installation yourself.

Reviews

Engadget: Mid 2012 13" MacBook Pro 'a Capable Machine'

Engadget says:

"When the MacBook Pro with Retina display is in the game, Apple's 'regular' Pros may seem a bit like also-rans. After all, why would you choose them when you could get a brilliant 15-inch 2,880 x 1,800 IPS panel and a Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor? Well, price, for one thing. While we walked away from our Retina MBP review mighty impressed, that model starts at $2,199. The latest crop of Pros, meanwhile, keep the same pricing scheme as last year's models ($1,199 and up), but step up to Intel's third-generation Ivy Bridge processors. We took the entry-level 13-incher for a spin to get a feel for how the dual-core Core i5 CPU, 4 GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 4000 stack up to the competition. Read on to see how it fared."

InfoWorld: MacBook Pro Impresses, but Retina MacBook Pro Dazzles

InfoWorld's Tom Yager says that while the new 15" MacBook Pro is blazing fast, the all-new Retina MacBook Pro is unsurpassed, noting that Apple's 15" MacBook Pro has long been a go-to notebook for professionals of all stripes, and that the latest 15" MacBook Pro - updated in June with with Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs, 1600 MHz memory, enhanced graphics, and USB 3.0, is back on the leading edge - but its completely reengineered sibling, the MacBook Pro with Retina display, defines a new edge entirely.

Yager contends that the Retina MacBook Pro is a pro notebook through and through, squeezing the Ivy Bridge-fueled performance of the 15" MacBook Pro into a 4.5 pound package measuring just 0.71" thick, observing that that the display is literally nothing like you've ever seen, and the whole machine is an engineering marvel, pushing notebook computer technology two years into the future - and with no early adopter tax, since it can cost less than a comparable bundle of upgrades to 15" MacBook Pro.

Yager concludes that he had heretofore considered Apple's traditional unibody 15" MacBook Pro to be a near-perfect design, and it's now noticeably and measurably faster than previous models, but even if the Retina MacBook Pro didn't have the Retina Display, he'd still see it as this era's template for the professional notebook, overturning conventions that notebooks can be either fast or portable and that displays can be either compact or readable.

Editor's note: Some of us might dispute that a laptop that offers no practical expansion or upgrade potential, can be called truly professional grade, but Yager begs to differ. cm

Apple Updates

SMC Update for Mid 2012 MacBook Air

MacBook Air SMC Update v1.5 fixes several sleep/wake issues to improve the stability of MacBook Air (Mid 2012) computers and is recommended for all users running OS X v10.7.4.

It also enables Power Nap support for users running OS X v10.8 or later.

File Size: 698 KB

System Requirements: OS X 10.7.4 or later

SMC Update for Mid 2011 MacBook Air

MacBook Air SMC Update v1.6 enables Power Nap support on MacBook Air (Mid 2011) computers and is recommended for all users running OS X v10.8 or later.

File Size: 663 KB

System Requirements: OS X 10.8 or later

Products & Services

Crucial v4 SSD Lower Priced SSD Upgrades for Older Macs

PR: If you bought a computer before 2011 and you're looking to upgrade to an SSD, the Crucial v4 SSD might be just what you're looking for. Designed to deliver substantial performance for mainstream computers, the Crucial v4 SSD was created to complement the abilities of your system. Since computers made before 2011 typically have slower data transfer capabilities than newer systems, they're best-suited for the Crucial v4 SSD, which was built with these transfer speeds in mind.

The Right Performance

The Crucial v4 SSD delivers everything you've come to expect from Crucial's line of SSDs: faster read/write speeds, faster boot times, faster application loading times, and increased reliability compared to traditional hard drives. The developers have taken of our SSD expertise and fine-tuned it to deliver powerful performance for mainstream computers at an affordable price.

The Right Price

Why pay for performance you can't use? To complement your system, Crucial thought it made sense to deliver a mainstream solution that would save you money while maintaining a high level of SSD performance. Since the Crucial v4 SSD doesn't include pricey features that cater to high-performance systems, they're able to offer a high-quality product at an affordable price.

Quality You Can Depend On

Crucial is a trusted name in SSDs as a brand of Micron, one of the world's leading SSD manufacturers.

Crucial's v4 SSDs are available in 32 GB, 64 GB, 128 GB, and 256 GB capacities with suggested retail prices of $50, $70, $100, and $190, respectively, are covered by a three-year limited warranty, and are compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X. They can be purchased directly from Crucial's website or from a variety of resellers.

Capacity 32 GB 64 GB 128 GB 256 GB
Sustained Read 200 MBps 230 MBps 230 Mbps 230 Mbps
Sustained Write 60 MBps 100 MBps 175 Mbps 190 Mbps

Publisher's notes: These are the same size as a standard 9.5mm laptop drives and use 3 Gbps SATA Revision 2. Crucial v4 SSDs are available at Amazon.com. dk

On-Lap 1302 13.3" Portable, USB Powered, Thin, Light, Plug & Play LCD Monitor

On-Lap 1302 Portable LCD MonitorPR: The On-Lap 1302 LCD monitor weighs a modest 654 grams (23 oz.), and with its 8mm (1/3") ultra-slim design, is claimed to be the lightest 13.3" monitor for portable devices with driver-free and Plug & Play features make it ready to be used anywhere.

The On-Lap Monitor is specifically designed to adapt to changing conditions, from coffee shop to office.

Rotational Feature Allows for More Creative Use

On-Lap 1302 Portable LCD MonitorThe On-Lap Monitor offers an exclusive rotational design feature that lets you secure it onto the laptop cover, server case or glass wall, and rotate to angles between 0 to 225 degrees. Besides easy storage, it can allow for sharing presentation with others.

One On-Lap Monitor, Multiple Satisfactions

On-Lap 1302 Portable LCD MonitorThe On-Lap Monitor supports DVI signal through a HDMI port, and can connect to a laptop, digital camera, iPhone/iPad, or any electronics device that supports DVI signal output and a HDMI port to allow for expanded images and application use.

Note: On-Lap 1302 supports HDCP, but does not have a speaker or touchscreen function.

Vertical Display Allows for Better Viewing

On-Lap 1302 Portable LCD MonitorOn-Lap Monitor uses a 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen LED panel that not only can be used horizontally but also be changed to vertical display in a matter of seconds.

Specifications

  • Screen Size: 13.3" TFT LCD (16:9)
  • Resolution: 1366 x 768
  • Power: 5V 1.0A
  • Dimensions: 334mm x 227mm x 8mm (13.15" x 8.93" x 0.315")
  • Weight: 654g

Standard Accessories: Digital Image Input and USB power Y cable x 1, Stand Bricks x 1 set

Optional Accessories: Analog Image Input and USB power Y cable x 1, Stand Bricks 2 x 1 set

Price: $165

Publisher's note: Reviews have been posted on Macworld, AnandTech, and PCMag, and you can find some on YouTube as well. Consensus seems to be that it works, but image quality isn't as good as a notebook's built-in display, so it's for extra space, not color accurate work. NewEgg sells the display for $165. dk

Microsoft Unveils New Bluetooth Touch Mice and Keyboards for PCs and Mobile Devices

PR: As it celebrates its 30-year anniversary, Microsoft Hardware is announcing the launch of several new mice and keyboards, all tuned for use with Windows 8. Four of the devices are Bluetooth-enabled, pocket-sized yet sturdy, and specially designed for use on the go including with tablets.

Microsoft Wedge Touch MouseIn the coming weeks and months, the company will introduce two new Bluetooth-enabled keyboards and mice to the market - the Wedge Touch Mouse, the Wedge Mobile Keyboard, the Sculpt Touch Mouse, and the Sculpt Mobile Keyboard. On October 26, the general availability date of the new Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft will also release updated Windows 8 gestures for the Microsoft Touch Mouse.

Microsoft Sculpt Touch Mouse"Its an exciting time for the whole company for lots of reasons, but this is something were thrilled about and we can't wait to see peoples reactions," says Brett Kelleran, general manager of Microsoft Hardware.

The new keyboards and mice, specifically tuned to Windows 8 and designed for mobile computing, is the largest collection of Bluetooth offerings the company has ever announced at one time.

As PCs get smaller, lighter, and thinner, they are appearing with fewer and fewer USB ports. Coupled with a growing ubiquity of Bluetooth-enabled PCs, there's a clear trend developing.

"It's only natural that keyboards and mice adapt accordingly," Kelleran says.

Microsoft Wedge KeyboardThe new keyboards and mice have special touches designed for just such use, including a cover for the Wedge Mobile Keyboard that doubles as a stand for your tablet, a mouse that sleeps when the computer sleeps to save batteries, and the battery door cover slides instead of unclipping so users on the go won't lose it. And with the Bluetooth-enabled devices, there's no need for cords or wires, and no need to take up a USB port.

"We've thought about each and every detail to ensure our customers have a great mobile experience," Kelleran says.

Young Kim, industrial design manager for Microsoft Hardware, says the devices have a high level of craftsmanship from the thought and planning that goes into each one, to the way they're designed, to the way they're manufactured. For example, instead of painting plastic to look metallic, the devices incorporate metal.

"When we use authentic materials, were able to connect with customers in a way that's more than just appearance level. Its a level of authenticity and pride in craftsmanship that you would expect from very high-end jewelry that you can get in consumer electronics," Kim says. "It compliments that lifestyle our customers are looking for."

Microsoft Sculpt Mobile KeyboardThe Bluetooth-enabled Microsoft Sculpt Mobile Keyboard ($49.95) is sturdy, but just over one pound and ideal for travel. It has a Comfort Curve design to position hands and wrists naturally, and a battery saving mode that powers the keyboard down after a period of inactivity (and wakes it up again with the tap of a key). The ultrathin Sculpt Mobile Keyboard's Comfort Curve design encourages natural wrist posture with a slight, six-degree curve. Windows 8 Hot Keys let you quickly search, share or access your devices, settings and Windows Start screen with the tap of a finger. Connecting to any computer enabled with Bluetooth is easy, with no transceiver required. And you'll enjoy up to 10 months of battery life with an on/off switch that conserves battery power and a two-color battery life indicator that warns you when its time to switch batteries.

The pocket-sized Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse ($69.95) is designed for the mobile lifestyle, but still provides four-way touch scrolling and navigation. It's Bluetooth-enabled, and features BlueTrack Technology, so it can be used on virtually any surface. It also has backpack mode, which means it will power down and sleep along with the computer its paired to, saving battery life.

The mouse packs full functionality into a stylish, compact frame. Small enough to fit in your pocket, provides four-way Touch scrolling and navigation at your fingertips. Plus, it features BlueTrack Technology, so you can use it on virtually any surface, whether you're in a conference room, a coffee shop or at home on your couch.

Microsoft Wedge Touch MouseThe artful and minimalist design of the Wedge Touch Mouse comes free of cables or USB transceivers you simply turn it on and connect it to your Bluetooth-enabled laptop or tablet for a clutter-free experience. And when you pair it with your Wedge Mobile Keyboard, you'll get a complete and comfortable mobile computing setup anytime, anywhere. Battery-saving technology completes the picture, as the mouse powers down and goes into sleep mode along with the computer its paired to, extending battery life.

Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard with coverThe slim Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard ($79.95) is designed for use with a tablet but brings the comfort and efficiency of a full-size keyboard, and has a durable cover that not only protects your keyboard from scratches but also quickly converts into a tablet stand. When you're done using it, simply snap the cover back on the keyboard to power it down before you stash it in your bag.

The keyboard also uses the latest in Bluetooth technology, so you can wirelessly connect to your tablet without a cable or transceiver.

The keyboard features Windows 8 Hot Key, media keys, Bluetooth technology, and a durable cover to protect it and your tablet from scratches. The cover also converts into a tablet stand.

Microsoft Sculpt Touch MouseThe Bluetooth-enabled Microsoft Sculpt Touch Mouse ($49.95) is finely tuned for use with Windows 8, including a four-way touch scroll strip for navigating up and down, left and right, and swiping through windows and documents.

This mouse is a great portable solution for smooth and easy navigation. With a four-way touch scroll strip, you can breeze up and down, left and right, and through applications and documents with a simple finger swipe, making it great for navigating the Windows 8 Start screen. Plus, it connects via Bluetooth so you can enjoy a reliable and clutter-free wireless connection while freeing up an additional USB port. BlueTrack Technology lets you ditch your mousepad and use your mouse on virtually any surface, including granite, marble, carpet and wood. The Sculpt Touch Mouse's portable form factor is perfect for getting things done on the go, and its ambidextrous design provides comfort with either hand.

The Microsoft Touch Mouse ($79.95) has been updated specifically for use with Windows 8 to incorporate finger swipes and movements that allow for navigation, switching through apps, and zooming in and out.

Sonnet Echo Express SE Thunderbolt Expansion Chassis for PCIe Cards

PR: Sonnet has announced that it's added another model to its Echo family of Thunderbolt expansion chassis for PCIe cards, the Echo Express SE. The new, lower cost device enables the use of a wide variety of high-performance PCIe adapter cards, originally designed for use in desktop computers, with any computer equipped with a Thunderbolt port.

Sonnet Echo Express SE Thunderbolt Expansion Chassis for PCIe CardsThe Echo Express SE was designed for users needing a simple way to connect an adapter card to their computer, and supports the majority of Thunderbolt-compatible PCIe cards. Weighing in at a modest 2.4 pounds and measuring a relatively trim 5.7" wide by 8.8" long by 2.9" tall, the SE is lighter and more compact than its siblings, yet it still provides great protection for the card with its rugged aluminum case. The new chassis supports a single half-length (up to 6.5" long), full-height, single-width, x8 PCIe 2.0 card and ships with an external 60W power supply. Like the other Echo Express expansion chassis, the SE has dual Thunderbolt ports to support daisy chaining of devices, and features a temperature-controlled fan to help keep hot-running cards cool; when not needed, the fan slows down to a whisper. The SE also conserves energy by powering on and off with the computer to which its attached.

The Echo Express SE enables the use of Thunderbolt-compatible professional video capture, audio interface, SAS and SATA HBA, 8 Gb Fibre Channel, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and RAID controller cards with iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro computers equipped with a Thunderbolt port. The list of compatible cards is available on Sonnets website, and is continually expanding as more cards are tested and certified. Like the other models in the Echo Express family, the SE was designed, engineered, and built by Sonnet in California.

More compact than the Echo Express and Echo Express Pro, the Echo Express SE is ideal for use with half-length and single-width PCIe cards and is priced even more affordably, said Robert Farnsworth, CEO of Sonnet Technologies. More users than ever can take advantage of the groundbreaking performance of Thunderbolt technology using Sonnets Thunderbolt expansion chassis for PCIe cards.

The Echo Express SE (part number ECHO-EXP-SE) is available now for $399.95. More information on the product and compatible PCIe expansion cards is available online.

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.

We also track iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, iPod classic, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle deals.

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