Mac News Review

Apple Tops in Tech Support, Penryn iMacs and Psystar Open Computer Reviewed, and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2008.05.09

PowerBook, iBook, MacBook, and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in The iNews Review.

All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Products & Services

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

News & Opinion

Apple Tops Consumer Reports' Ratings in Latest Tech-support Survey

PR: CR's June Computer Package also features ratings of desktops and laptops.

Computers are one of the most trouble-prone products. In its June 2008 issue, Consumer Reports tracks in its annual product-reliability surveys. When it came to solving problems, wait time on the phone, and the knowledge of support staff, Apple's tech support received high scores across the board for both laptop and desktop systems in Consumer Reports' latest survey featured in the June issue.

Consumers looking for stellar tech support should consider a Mac since Apple's topped Consumer Reports' latest Ratings of tech support services. The latest annual laptop tech-support survey and desktop tech-support survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, draws on subscribers' experiences with 10,000 desktop and laptop computers. Results revealed that tech support solved problems for only about 60% of the respondents who used it. Apple's tech support was much more successful than others, solving problems more than 80% of the time.

Other companies that stood out in CR's survey were Lenovo, which was outstanding at problem-solving for laptops, and Dell, which was above average in this area for both desktops and laptops. Consumer Reports also found HP and Compaq offered inferior support.

Extended Plans

The relative shortcomings of computers and their support creates a ready market for extra-cost service plans which roll together an extended period of both repair coverage and technical support. Sometimes for-pay support is touted as being of higher quality than the free service. Other extras might also be included, such as in-home tech support and repairs, and online storage for backup.

Consumer Reports doesn't recommend buying a plan on the basis of its repair coverage alone. Some credit-card companies offer extended coverage, often doubling the manufacturers' warranty period if the card is used to purchase a computer or other warrantied item. As with extended warranties for other products, CR's data suggest that on average, computer repairs cost about the same as the plan if the computer indeed needs a repair during the first few years.

About 50% of the computers in CR's latest survey were covered by some type of paid service-upgrade plan, but results and analysis suggest such plans generally aren't good buys. Below are some instances when consumers may consider purchasing an extended plan for their new computer. CR notes that cost and coverage of extended plans vary widely, so consumers should do some research.

For laptops that travel a lot.

If the laptop will be especially vulnerable physically, say if it will often be used on the go, consider a plan for repair reasons that will cover accidental damage. Many plans do that while most factory warranties specifically exclude coverage resulting from accidents or misuse.

When buying a Mac.

CR has long said it's worth considering an extended plan for Macs due to Apple's very brief tech support, which runs out 90 days after purchase, although unlimited support is available in its stores. While CR's survey showed Apple's track record for solving problems among consumers without paid plans was already a standout, it was even better than for support with a plan.

For certain PCs.

Consumers who anticipate the need for continued hand-holding past the free tech support period with a Dell or Gateway PC should consider buying an extended plan, according to CR. These companies were significantly better at problem-solving for consumers with paid plans as opposed to the standard support offered with the purchase of a PC.

Where to Get Help

Consumers in the need for tech support for their computer have many options, although Consumer Reports notes below that some may be better than others. Below are some choices consumers should consider:

Free phone and Internet support. Manufacturers typically offer free tech support for a year after the computer is purchased. Most survey respondents reached tech support by phone, though the help was frequently less than exemplary, with 59 percent reporting at least one problem. The least effective help was obtained through the manufacturers Web site or by e-mail.

In-store support. Walk-in support for Macs available at the Genius Bars in Apple stores, provided the best troubleshooting by far, solving problems 90 percent of the time - and the advice is free; the cost of any needed repairs depends on the problem and the coverage the computer has. It covers all Macs - under a plan or warranty or not.

In-home service. Seventy-five percent of respondents who utilized in-home service reported no problems, although fewer used that option than other types of coverage. Dell offers in-home service for the first year on most systems as does HP if consumers purchase a customized desktop.

Online forums. If free tech support has expired or is lacking, consumers can visit online forums for help, although quality may vary from site to site. CR's June report includes recommendations for both PCs and Macs.

Consumer Reports Latest Tests of Desktops & Laptops: Thinnest, Smallest and Largest

Consumer Reports' look at 24 laptops, 14 desktops and six all-in-ones features the thinnest (MacBook Air by Apple), smallest (Asus Eee PC), and largest laptops (HP Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook) ever tested, along with laptops and desktops of unprecedented processing speed. Even component integration is getting extreme, as more manufacturers stuff computer circuitry into monitors to create sleek, one-piece desktops. CR also found basic budget computers and more powerful workhouse- and high-end models that would be fine choices for most people.

The report which includes comprehensive Ratings and buying advice for tech-support services, desktops, laptops, all-in-ones, and monitors are available in the June issue of Consumer Reports, on sale May 6. The reports are also available online to subscribers.

Source: Consumer Reports

OS X Leopard on Old Macs

Mac 360's Kate MacKenzie says:

"The Information Super Highway could easily be called the Misinformation Super Parking Lot. Or, Junk Yard.

"One thing is for sure, Matt Freestone doesn't know squat about Macs. He says Mac users have to buy new Macs to run OS X Leopard. How old is your Mac?

"In reading one of the most poorly written, illogical and unreasonable articles about Macs vs. Windows PCs, or Leopard vs. Vista, I came away with two thoughts.

"First, some people shouldn't be allowed to write about that which they do not know. Second, old Macs seems to run Leopard quite well (contrary to poor Matt's assertions to the contrary)."

Editor's note: Be sure to read Low End Mac's article on Unsupported Leopard Installation. dk

The iMac Philosophy

TUAW's Erica Sadun says:

"Let me tell you something about my mindset. When I bought an iPhone, one of my first thoughts was: 'How do I hook up a Bluetooth keyboard to this thing?' It's that kind of thinking that has always stood between me and the iMac. Because in this world, there are two kinds of people: the iMac people and the tower people.

"iMac people love the all-in-one package that their system brings.... The iMac delivers the entire computing experience in a single friendly unit. Customization? They do it at the store. Buyers decide what kind of memory and hard drive space they want. And then they buy it. And they're done.

"Tower people don't think that way. Memory, drives, peripherals - these are all things that ebb and flow throughout the lifetime of the unit. More USB ports? Throw in a card. Widescreen monitors just went on sale? Buy one and eBay the current screen.

"Coming from an tower perspective, the iMac has always puzzled me. It makes people happy without ever needing to be disassembled and reassembled...."

DIY Macs: The Key to Apple's Future?

PCMech's Tyler Thompson says:

"I saw someone over at DailyTech ask a question about building a Mac and watched him take machine gun-like shots over and over from PC and Mac fanboys for asking a stupid question. You know it's bad when you have both sides of the computer world bashing you. Of course you can't build your own Mac.

"But, Why not?....

"I have also been reading business reports showing that Apple is going to have to do some things to maintain its market after dominating the MP3 player arena. Analysts say Apple needs to do something to keep revenue coming in.

"There is a simple solution that will earn Apple money, give DIY users - like many that read our website - full control over their systems, and still gives Apple control over the market itself."

OpenOffice 3.0 Beta Now Easy to Install on a Mac

ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick reports:

"The free office suite OpenOffice is now offering a beta of version 3.0 for testing [Editor's note: The beta requires an Intel Mac; version 2.4.0, which requires X11, works with PowerPC Macs] and it's easier than ever for Mac owners to start using it right away. Why would you use OpenOffice when Google Docs is so easy? Some times it's nice to have a more robust, desktop toolset than Google Docs offers. The new OpenOffice could fill that need nicely.

"With strong looking support for importing and exporting even the newest Microsoft document formats, OpenOffice is easy to try out. Mac users no longer have to run the X11 program in order to use the suite."

Did Apple Invest in PA Semi Prior to Acquisition?

EE Times' Peter Clarke reports:

"Word on the street is that there is still a little more light to be shed on the saga of PA Semi and Apple.

"Readers will remember that the news broke that Apple had acquired PA Semi for $278 million in cash on April 23.

"Subsequently a source has said that Apple was an investor in PA Semi prior to the acquisition. I haven't been able to find anything in the public domain about this but strategic investors sometimes prefer to go unlisted. This does make some sense as a relationship was known to exist between the two companies and it had been reported elsewhere that Apple considered buying PA Semi in 2005."

Reviews

Penryn benchmarks from MacworldPenryn iMacs Approach Quad-Core Performance

Macworld Labs' James Galbraith has also posted some new iMac benchmarks, but using a different, Speedmark 5 benchmark protocol where baseline scores are relative to those of a 1.5 GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100, with which they determine that every Penryn model enjoys a modest performanceboost over corresponding preceding models, (e.g.: 13 percent for the base, 2.4 GHz model), while the 3.06 GHz iMac approaches Mac Pro performance levels.

Penryn iMacs: Enough Features and Performance for All

Macworld's Roman Loyola reports:

"Finally, eight months after the aluminum iMac made its debut, Apple has released an update to its flagship consumer desktop model. Under the hood, the new iMacs differ significantly from the original aluminum iMac, and those differences result in speed increases.

"On the outside, nothing has changed, and the iMac is still available in 20- or 24-inch aluminum-encased models. The major changes involve the Intel Core 2 Duo (Penryn) processor now at the heart of the iMac....

"However, a slate of under-the-hood improvements have facilitated a performance spike in the standard models that makes them an especially good value for people looking to upgrade...."

Penryn iMac 'a Versatile Multimedia Machine'

VNUnet's Cliff Joseph reports:

"Apple's MacBook notebook computers have sold like hotcakes over the past year and the iMac - formerly the flagship of Apple's home range - has taken a back seat.

"However the company recently updated its entire iMac range and one of the main beneficiaries is this new entry-level model

"...though games are a weakness, the iMac does well as a versatile multimedia machine. There's a webcam and microphone built into the unit, along with the stereo speakers....

"There are cheaper Windows PCs available but they rarely have the same range of hardware features and added software that you get with the iMac...."

Psystar's Open Computer: Compatible, but No Mac Build Quality

Macworld's James Galbraith reports that the OS X-capable Psystar PC has arrived in their lab and relates first impressions:

"Because we think it's informative to see how OS X performs on a computer that isn't a Mac, Macworld ordered a Psystar Open Computer about a week or so ago. The machine, which Psystar touts as a low-cost alternative to Apple's hardware, has arrived in our lab...

"We had a bit of scare . . . when we tried to start up the computer. As soon as I hit the power button it sounded like I'd turned on the garbage disposal. I quickly unplugged the power cable and opened the case. It turns out that one of the power cables was getting caught in the fan. I rerouted the cable and restarted. The crunching sound of the cable hitting the fan was gone, but the fan was still pretty darn loud. You won't want this computer sitting on your desk....

"That said, I've been impressed by how compatible the Psystar is with applications and peripherals - many of the OS X features work as they would on a legitimate Mac...."

Psystar's Open Computer: Is It Worth It?

ZD Net's Larry Dignan reports:

"There are a few things you need to know before hopping on the Psystar Mac clone bandwagon: You can't download a software update, which means patching is impossible. You'll never be a card-carrying member of the Apple ecosystem. And the hardware doesn't come close to the designs Apple offers. Those caveats aside the Psystar Open Computer isn't so bad....

"But....

"Its hardware isn't made by Apple's design team, it will likely never work as a full member of the greater Apple ecosystem, and one ill-intended software update could turn it into a $750 brick [although you could switch to Linux or Windows]."

Products & Services

EMC Backs Up Macs

internetnews.com's Paul Shread reports:

"EMC is now offering its Mozy online backup service to Mac users.

"MozyHome for Mac has already been downloaded more than 43,000 times by beta users and is the clearest sign yet that the high-end enterprise storage giant sees consumers as a big growth market....

"MozyHome for Mac offers 2 GB of online backup for free, or $4.95 a month for unlimited online backup capacity. All files are encrypted with 448-bit Blowfish encryption, and the encrypted files are transferred via a 128-bit SSL connection."

MozyHome for Mac Internet Backup

PR: Backing up your stuff has never been so sexy.

Mac users, rejoice! The moment you've been waiting for is finally here. MozyHome for Mac is making its 1.0 debut as the first unlimited online backup service for the Mac. You didn't think we'd limit the Mozy goodness to Windows users only, did you?

Thousands of beta customers have worked to bring the power of Mozy to Mac users like you. Our new Mac client is sleek, sexy, and dare we say . . . scrumdidliumptious. So get started with MozyHome for Mac 1.0 today and protect your photos, music, documents, and more. It's the most inexpensive insurance policy you'll find anywhere.

  • Download & Install the MozyHome client
  • Select the files to back up
  • Let MozyHome for Mac do the rest

System requirements:

  • MozyHome for Mac requires Mac OS X 10.4 or higher.

MozyHome cost $4.95 per month per computer.

Mac RAM Memory Upgrades Made Easy

PR: Upgrading Apple and Mac computer systems with memory is now foolproof at TheUpgradePlace.com . Their new upgrade tool makes finding a 100% compatible memory upgrades for Mac and Apple computers a simple and painless process. Upgrading system memory still proves to be the least expensive and most effective performance boost in the industry.

The Upgrade Place, a 25-year veteran memory upgrade distributor, has taken the headaches out of upgrading Apple and Mac computers. Some Apple and Mac systems have special memory upgrade requirements that even give Apple's technicians a challenging time.

Buying RAM memory upgrades from third party manufacturers usually comes with big savings on price. Until now, even upgrading Apple and Mac systems through the official Apple Store has been a daunting task. Users may receive inferior products or even the wrong memory for their Apple model. Installing the wrong memory will lead to system failure, instability, confusing beep codes, kernel panic error codes and eventually long Apple tech support calls.

The Upgrade Place now offers a memory upgrade solution that takes the headache out of finding Apple and Mac memory upgrades. They offer a new Apple memory tool where simply clicking on the appropriate Apple model, speed and monitor size will lead to a straightforward list of memory upgrade options and factory specs.

Partnering with iRam Technology, The Upgrade Place offers memory that is 100% guaranteed compatible with even the most difficult Apple models. Some systems require special memory builds or heat sinks to ensure stable operation (or just to work at all). iRam Technology rigorously tests their memory modules in each appropriate computer model to ensure full and guaranteed compatibility. iRam memory is assembled using major brand components for long term reliability in the largest memory manufacturing facility in America and offers a Lifetime Warranty on all of their memory products.

The Upgrade Place also offers other top tier quality upgrades such as industry standard DDR & DDR2 memory, USB flash drives, external hard drives, network storage and more.

To find Apple compatible memory, visit the website or or call 1-800-338-1531 to speak with their upgrade experts.

Editor's note: Coverage goes back to the original iMac, beige Power Mac G3, and G4 iBooks, and titanium G4 PowerBooks. dk

Software

WeatherDock: Weather Forecast Info in the Dock & Window

PR: WeatherDock displays weather information based on xml-feeds supplied by weather.com. It displays textual weather information as well as icon-based. Next to the current conditions it contains 10 day forecasts with 2 day-part's weather information.

For the current conditions it displays the current temperature and feels like temperature and the current sky conditions. It displays the current pressure, wind speed, wind direction, the humidity, Dew point, visibility and UV-index.

The forecasts for today and the upcoming nine days, contains per day-part information on the temperature, condition, wind speed and direction, the humidity and the chance of precipitation, as well as sunrise and sunset information for that particular day.

Main window

The main window shows all sorts of information. It displays the current condition as a big icon and contains all sorts of detailed information. WeatherDock shows 5 or 10 icons containing forecasts for the upcoming 5 or 10 days.

Informative Dock icon

WeatherDock updates it's application icon with an icon representing the current weather conditions. You can customize this icon by adding 'badges' to them representing all sorts of weather information.

Desktop icon

Next to the Dock icon, you optionally can add this icon to your desktop, this icon will then always be visible on top of your other applications on a location you desire, but will hide itself when it could get in the way.

Status menu item

WeatherDock can add a menu item to you menu bar. This item contains direct information on the current conditions, but when selecting it you have instant access to more detailed information as well as forecast information.

WeatherDock 2 has added many features allowing you to display weather information the way you want it. The new features include a fully customizable icon, a desktop icon and a menu item.

New in version 2.4.7:

  • Fixed Work/Home feature, which could default back to 'Twenthe, Netherlands' in certain cases
  • Fixed print date localization issue
  • Fixed Italian print-out localization
  • Fixed English help localization
  • Fixed German preferences localization
  • Added sunset/sunrise information to print-out

System requirements:

  • WeatherDock is a Mac OS X Native application written in Cocoa / Objective-C. It requires a minimum of Mac OS X 10.3.9 (Panther) to function.
  • It has been tested and run in Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), 10.4 (Tiger) & 10.5 (Leopard) on both Intel and PowerPC configurations.
  • WeatherDock runs native on both PowerPC and Intel processors.
  • WeatherDock requires an Internet connection to retrieve its weather information, this requires approximately a 10 KB download every 30 minutes.

System Support: PPC/Intel

Free

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