Mac News Review

Mac Desktop Decline, Fusion Drive for Older Macs, Late 2012 Mac mini Teardown, and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.11.03

Mac notebook and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. Older Macs are covered in Vintage Mac News. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

Purchases made through links to Amazon.com and Apple's iTunes/iBook/App/Mac App Store support Low End Mac.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Tech Trends

Desktop Mac Deals

News & Opinion

Apple Reports Record Fourth Quarter Revenue and Profit

PR: October 25, 2012 - Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2012 fourth quarter ended September 29, 2012. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $36.0 billion and quarterly net profit of $8.2 billion, or $8.67 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $28.3 billion and net profit of $6.6 billion, or $7.05 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 40.0% compared to 40.3% in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 60% of the quarter's revenue.

The Company sold 26.9 million iPhones in the quarter, representing 58% unit growth over the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 14.0 million iPads during the quarter, a 26% unit increase over the year-ago quarter. The Company sold 4.9 million Macs during the quarter, a 1% unit increase over the year-ago quarter. Apple sold 5.3 million iPods, a 19% unit decline from the year-ago quarter.

Apple's Board of Directors has declared a cash dividend of $2.65 per share of the Company's common stock. The dividend is payable on November 15, 2012, to shareholders of record as of the close of business on November 12, 2012.

"We're very proud to end a fantastic fiscal year with record September quarter results," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. "We're entering this holiday season with the best iPhone, iPad, Mac and iPod products ever, and we remain very confident in our new product pipeline."

"We're pleased to have generated over $41 billion in net income and over $50 billion in operating cash flow in fiscal 2012," said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's CFO. "Looking ahead to the first fiscal quarter of 2013, we expect revenue of about $52 billion and diluted earnings per share of about $11.75."

Mac Unit Sales, 2006 to present
MacBook sales have increased rapidly while desktop sales stagnate.

Publisher's note: Apple reports sales of 4.923 million Mac, up 0.6% from 4.894 a year ago. Desktop sales were 968 thousand, down 24.3% from 1.278 million last year, white notebook sales of 3.955 million units is a 9.4% increase from 3.616 million in 2011. Low desktop sales can be attributed to no updates to the Mac mini since July 2011, the iMac since May 2011, and the Mac Pro since July 2010 (unless you count faster CPUs in Mid 2012, but that was the only change to this increasingly outdated model). Although Macs are a less substantial part of Apple's corporate picture, Apple continues to grow the Mac platform. dk

Mac Desktops Now Represent Just 3% of Apple Sales

Venture Beat's John Koetsier notes that Apple's former corporate name, Apple Computer Inc. (Steve Jobs dropped Computer in 2007) is almost unthinkable now, with Apple's fourth-quarter earnings showing that Mac desktops now account for a lowly 3% of its overall sales, a just over $1 billion ripple on Apple's $36 billion sales ocean.

On the flip side, the iPhone and iPad together as of this past quarter accounted for almost 70% of Apple's revenue, while Mac portables bucked the post-PC trend, enjoying 47% sequential growth over last quarter and 17% year-over-year, but still account for only 15% of Apple's revenue.

Mountain Lion Supports Fusion Drive on Legacy Macs

AppleInsider's Mikey Campbell notes that in a post to Tumblr, developer Patrick Stein has unofficially confirmed that Mountain Lion provides Fusion Drive support for current Macs, and was able to "build" a hybrid drive compatible with Apple's new storage technology.

"While the informal test does prove that Fusion Drive is active and usable on older Macs, the process of configuring the hybrid storage devices is definitely not plug-and-play. It remains to be seen if Apple will offer Mac owners an easy way to configure their own components without having to run Terminal and command line code."

And in his blog posting, Stein notes:

"I will actually not use Fusion drive on a Mac as HFS+ is not really keeping my data safe (see my HFS+ fails miserably demo). Using two HFS+ disks concatenated just increases the risk of data failure. And Time Machine as backup has failed me as well in the past."

Mac User Rolls His Own Fusion Drive - and So Can You

Tech Crunch's Darrell Etherington says Apple's new Fusion Drive option for desktop Macs is actually more about how OS X handles storage, startup, and other operations at the software level, and that Mac developer Patrick Stein has proved that you can create your own Fusion Drive at home using some Terminal action and existing hardware, so long as you have a computer capable of running OS X Mountain Lion version 10.8.2, which provides the necessary software support.

Mac Fusion Drive: Pro Users Beware

ZDNet's Robin Harris reports that Apple's new Mac Fusion Drive option for desktop Macs, an SSD/hard drive hybrid, sounded like a great idea, but it is turning out to be another flashy Mac feature that won't work well for pro users, due to OS X's aging architecture.

Harris says he was initially bullish on the Fusion Drive, largely because it is the first hybrid drive with enough flash capacity to give users a truly SSD experience - while offering capacity at a much lower cost per GB than you get with pure SSD media.

However, he says that as more details emerged, he's changed his opinion of Fusion, now deeming it okay for casual users whose work doesn't involve processing dozens of GBs of data regularly, but recommending professionals who use large data apps where availability is critical avoid the Fusion Drive because of the way it manages data, and citing Seagate's Momentus XT hybrid drive algorithms as data management done right.

"Seagate's Momentus XT hybrid algorithms take a different tack: they look for the most frequently used small files and keep them in the flash read cache. This works well because disks are good at retrieving large files, and choke on lots of small files."

Harris observes that Fusion Drive is like Time Machine, another glitzy Mac OS X feature that power users turn off because it hurts performance, but that an even better reason for power users to avoid Fusion Drive is OS X HFS+'s "primitive" file system's approach to data integrity.

Publisher's note: Seagate's most recent Momentus XT hybrid drives have 16 MB and 32 MB flash caches, which is far smaller than the 4 GB Fusion Drive sets aside for caching, so it's impossible for them to cache really large files. And while hard drives are "good at retrieving large files", the sustained transfer rate of Momentus XT is 1.23 Gbps, a bit less than the maximum 1.5 Gbps bandwidth of SATA Rev. 1, less than half the bandwidth of 3.0 Gbps Rev. 2, and just over 20% of the bandwidth of Rev. 3, which current Macs use. SSD is a lot faster than that.

As for the Mac's HFS+ file system, it's been around since 1998, and it's had journaling since the release of OS X 10.2.2 in late 2002. Apple continues to improve HFS+, but it's probably not the ideal file system for servers and power users. In time, Apple may move to something even more robust, but HFS+ has been working well enough for 14 years. Patrick Stein's HFS+ fails miserably demo points to it shortcomings, so let's hope Apple is working toward something even better. dk

Apple Could Become the 5th Largest PC Brand in 2013

DigiTimes Research's Joanne Chien estimates that Apple's total Mac system shipments will surpass 24 million units in 2013, up 15% from 20.8 million units in 2012 - and giving Apple a good chance of becoming the fifth largest PC brand vendor worldwide.

Chien also projects that total iPad shipments will reach 65 million units in 2012 and rise to 75 million - or even 80-85 million - units in 2013, and says DigiTimes Research estimates that the Apple in-house designed A6X System-on-Chip's overall performance is four-to-six times as fast as the new Microsoft Surface's Tegra 3 and twice as fast as Samsung Electronics' Exynos 5250, used in Google's Nexus 10.

Reviews

Can a Quad-Core 2012 Mac mini Replace a Quad-Core Mac Pro?

Bare Feats' Rob-Art Morgan says some readers have asked if the Late 2012 Mac mini with a Quad-Core i7 processor can match the power of a Quad-Core Mac Pro, looking to recycle their keyboard, mouse, and display - and save a pile of money by replacing their old Mac Pro with a new Mac mini.

With the aid of OWC Labs, Morgan has endeavored to come up with a quick answer using CPU and a GPU benchmarks.

Mac mini bests Mac Pro in Cinebench 11
2.3 GHz Mac mini bests 2.93 GHz Mac Pro in Cinebench 11.

He notes that while the 2012 Quad-Core i7 Mac mini is a real contender when it comes to CPU power compared to the cross-referenced Quad-Core Mac Pro and Quad-Core iMac examples, its Intel HD 4000 integrated GPU is weak in comparison to the Mac Pro's (and iMac's), which will affect its ability to handle advanced Pro Apps that make use of the GPU for certain types of effect rendering, as well as hamstringing hard-core gamers.

The Mac mini is also limited to to 16 GB of RAM, while the newest Mac Pro Quad-Cores can be expanded to 32 GB, and the mini maxes out at two internal drives (Server version), while the Mac Pro has four internal drive bays, plus two internal optical bays (which can also be used for non-optical purposes) and four PCIe slots, although the Mac mini has the advantage of Thunderbolt and USB 3 ports that can be used to support expanded external storage options including a Thunderbolt-to-PCIe expansion chassis.

Publisher's note: Although Morgan doesn't mention it, the Late 2012 Mac mini also supports Fusion Drive and uses 6 Gbps SATA Rev. 3, which could give it much better disk performance than the aging Mac Pro and its 3 Gbps SATA Rev. 2. The Mac Pro is way overdue for a real update, not just the processor upgrades it received earlier this year. Hard to believe Apple still has a "pro" model without Thunderbolt, not to mention USB 3. dk

iFixit's Late 2012 Mac mini Teardown

PR: Apple announced the release of a whole bunch of mini stuff this week, but our favorite mini in the bunch is the 2012 Mac mini. Last year's iteration of the Mac mini impressed us with its accessibility and upgradeability. Will the newest Mini follow suit? To the teardown-mobile, Robin!

Late 2012 Mac miniFor the first time in a long time, we were able to give our plastic opening tools and pentalobe drivers a well-deserved day off. A firm grip and a good twist is all it takes to get into the 2012 Mini. Inside, we found an empty extra SATA connection on the logic board perfect for adding a secondary hard drive, replaceable RAM and hard drive, and modular components - just like in last year's model. Kudos to the Mini for receiving an excellent 8 out of 10 repairability score, and to Apple keeping it so fix-friendly.

Highlights

  • Users can still upgrade the base model Mini into a dual hard drive setup with a dual hard drive upgrade kit (http://bit.ly/mac_mini_kit).
  • Mac mini memory upgradeOur 2012 iteration of the Mac mini is equipped with 4 GB of PC3-12800 DD3 RAM, but can easily be upgraded to 16 GB.
  • The Mini is basically unchanged internally when compared to last year, which in this case is a good thing. This machine can be upgraded, repaired, and eventually recycled with a little bit of time, and non-specialized tools.
  • Removing the shielding off the WiFi card reveals the following chips:
    • Broadcom BCM4331 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi chip
    • Broadcom BCM20702 Bluetooth 4.0 transmitter
    • SiGe 5503A 2304A 802.11a/b/g/n Wireless LAN Front End
    • SiGe 2598L
    • P2303A TUB2P
    • 7871 1228 C6050
  • Mac mini teardownSome mini players on the top of the not-so-mini logic board:
    • Intel V227C254 2.5 GHz dual-core i5
    • Intel L232TB45 Thunderbolt Port Controller
    • Cirrus Logic 4206B Audio Controller
    • SMSC USB2512B USB Hub Controller
    • Broadcom BCM57765 gigabit ethernet and memory card controller
    • Intel E224B809 platform controller hub
    • SMSC 1428-7 system management bus temperature sensor
    • Parade PS8401A HDMI/DVI level shifter
    • LSI L-FW643E-2
    • AELTA 8904C-F
    • LM4FS1AH

Tech Trends

Windows 8 'More Like iOS than OS X'

AppStorm's Connor Turnbull notes that:

"With the release of Windows 8, Microsoft has been far from subtle in its vision for the future of operating systems. Opting to radically change the default desktop to the same style as Windows Phone and the Xbox 360, Microsoft have changed up some of the fundamental aspects of Windows, as well as adopting new features like an App Store.

"On the strike of midnight, October 26th, I bought my copy of Windows 8 and got it up and running on a MacBook Air. In this article, I'm going to share some of my initial impressions with the rival operating system, and compare it feature-by-feature to Apple's latest OS, Mountain Lion."

"Most notable to any Mac users trying out Windows 8 is the one-at-a-time focus in apps. Much like we're used to on iOS, Windows 8 really centers users on a single app at a time, rather than having an extensive amount of windows open at once. This is the big change that will likely turn off most long-time OS X (and Windows) users from giving it a serious go.

"Windows 8 is the first version of Windows that I could actually seem myself switch to from OS X . . . Windows 8 is, honestly, more like iOS than OS X...."

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