Mac News Review

Maximize Mac Performance, Fusion Drive Hack, New iMac Delay?, and More Mac News

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.11.16

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

Rumor Roundup

Tech Trends

Products & Services

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

News & Opinion

Maximize Your Older Mac's Performance

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler says if you have an older Mac system that seems to be on the slowish side, a few upgrades can help you get the most out of it.

He suggests that first you should a look at how much RAM you are using on a regular basis using the Activity Monitor utility. If the Page Out frequency is high and the Swap Used count is regularly in the hundreds of megabytes or gigabytes in size, then the system is regularly writing memory contents to the hard drive to free up physical RAM for other purposes.

In such cases Kessler says, your use of the system is regularly demanding more RAM than is installed, and you should look into purchasing a RAM upgrade.

Another component that is a major contributor to slowdowns is the hard drive, especially in instances where you are low on memory and the system writes memory contents to disk. Replacing the conventional hard drive with an SSD can speed things up.

Publisher's note: We have always recommended memory as the biggest way to improve performance, followed by a faster hard drive - or a hybrid hard drive or SSD. While there are lots of SATA SSDs for Intel-based Macs and G5 Power Macs, you may not be aware that there are 3.5" and 2.5" SSD solutions for older Macs that use IDE/ATA drives, particularly from Other World Computing. OWC has also done extensive testing of Macs over the years and has often found models that will work with more system memory (RAM) than Apple officially supports. dk

Fusion Drive Hack for Older Macs

Blogger Patrick Stein notes that since Apple has announced the Fusion drive, people have wondered if it's possible to use the Fusion drive on older machines with a SSD and HDD.

Stein observes that the Fusion drive uses a core storage VolumeGroup as can be seen in this Apple support document

He's posted a tutorial on how create a roll-your-own Fusion drive.

Publisher's note: It appears that you need OS X 10.8.2 or later, so this isn't an option for "older" Macs that can't run OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. For older Macs, the best option is probably a hybrid hard drive, such as Seagate Momentus XT, which combines a fast hard drive with an intelligent SSD cache. dk

Recent Apple Keyboards Easily Damaged by Spills

The Register's Alistair Dabbs says that if you think a little spilt tea on a keyboard is easily cleaned up, and you have a recent aluminum Apple keyboard, think again. With these 'boards, sticky keys are not the problem associated with spills so much as dead keys. He notes that while big, old clunky traditional keyboards once had massive key caps punching switches, and even a few years ago, had some kind of rubber membrane for keyswitches, lifting the key caps on an Apple keyboard, reveals precision bits of moving plastic with raw metallic surfaces showing through. Spilt beverages will hit metal almost immediately, with strong potential for killing the key.

"What on Earth are companies such as Apple thinking?" queries Dabbs. "Anyone would think they had deliberately designed their peripherals to be irreparable, forcing you to buy replacements more frequently than was previously necessary." And, no; running the keyboard through the dishwasher doesn't fix it.

ARM: Why Moore's Law Is Becoming Irrelevant

MIT Technology Reviews senior IT editor Tom Simonite reports that ARM's CEO, Warren East, says power-efficient chips for mobile devices (such as Apple's A-series system-on-chips) will move into desktops, laptops, and servers.

ARM is the Cambridge, UK-based company that licenses the energy-efficient processor designs used in many mobile devices, including Apple's. While these chips were once considered significantly less powerful than the Intel x86 processors found in desktops, laptops, and servers, Simonite says Microsoft is exploring a switch to ARM technology (already found in the Microsoft Surface RT) for traditional computers, suggesting that ARM technology will soon shape more than just mobile computing. Apple is also rumored to be planning an eventual shift away from x86 to A-series processors in its laptop and desktop Macs.

In the interview, Mr. East says that Moore's Law, which predicts the rate of improvements in computing power, is becoming irrelevant, and that in future it will be more and more about efficiency, not only for mobile devices and PCs, but perhaps even more so for servers.

Asked to comment on the recent Bloomberg report that Apple is considering switching its laptops and desktops to ARM-based chips, Mr. East declined, saying you'd have to talk to Apple about that, but contends that in general there's no intrinsic limitation in the ARM architecture that prevents it from being at the high end of performance, and noted that the ARM microprocessor was not designed for mobile in the first place, but ran a computer (the Acorn Archimedes) with a windows-based operating system called RISC-OS, and it's perfectly capable of supporting keyboards and mice.

How to Share Your Mac's (or PC's) Optical Drive with Another Computer

Mac.Tuts+'s Bruno Skvorc explains how you can share the optical drive from one computer with another OS X machine - or even cross-platform to a certain extent, allowing you to use your Windows box's optical drive through your Mac - with DVD/CD Sharing an option supported in OS X since version 10.4.

Rumor Roundup

New iMac May Be Delayed Until December

Lionel of the French site macbidouille.com says he's learned from a commercial source that Apple has delayed the release of the new iMacs announced in October. Release of the 21.5" model had been scheduled for November 27, but Lionel says it's possible now that it could be well into the December holiday season.

The report says that Apple seems to be having more problems than expected with the new manufacturing process for these iMacs, which pass through a system of aluminum welding under high pressure, a technique that is used to assemble the wings of some aircraft, such as the Airbus A380.

Not good news for Apple, whose Mac sales were disappointing last quarter, with the iMac being a model that would normally be a strong holiday sales performer.

Tech Trends

Hard Drive Storage Density Could Increase Fivefold from University of Texas Research

PR: The storage capacity of hard disk drives could increase by a factor of five thanks to processes developed by chemists and engineers at The University of Texas at Austin.

The researchers' technique, which relies on self-organizing substances known as block copolymers, was described this week in an article in Science. It's also being given a real-world test run in collaboration with HGST (formerly Hitachi Global Storage Technologies) one of the world's leading innovators and manufacturers of disk drives, now a a wholly owned subsidiary of Western Digital Corporation.

"In the last few decades there's been a steady, exponential increase in the amount of information that can be stored on memory devices, but things have now reached a point where were running up against physical limits," says C. Grant Willson, professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the College of Natural Sciences and the Rashid Engineering Regent's Chair in the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT Austin.

With current production methods, zeroes and ones are written as magnetic dots on a continuous metal surface. The closer together the dots are, the more information can be stored in the same area. But that tactic has been pretty much maxed out. The dots have now gotten so close together that any further increase in proximity would cause them to be affected by the magnetic fields of their neighboring dots and become unstable.

"The industry is now at about a terabit of information per square inch," explains Prof. Willson, who co-authored the paper with chemical engineering professor Christopher Ellison and a team of graduate and undergraduate students. "If we moved the dots much closer together with the current method, they would begin to flip spontaneously now and then, and the archival properties of hard disk drives would be lost. Then you're in a world of trouble. Can you imagine if one day your bank account info just changed spontaneously?"

There's a quirk in the physics, however. If the dots are isolated from one another, with no magnetic material between them, they can be pushed closer together without destabilization.

That's where block copolymers come in. At room temperature, coated on a disk surface, they don't look like much. But if they're designed in the right way, and given the right prod, they'll self-assemble into highly regular patterns of dots or lines. If the surface onto which they're coated already has some guideposts etched into it, the dots or lines will form into precisely the patterns needed for a hard disk drive.

This process, which is called directed self-assembly (DSA), was pioneered by engineers at the University of Wisconsin and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When Professors Willson, Ellison, and their students began working with directed self-assembly, the best anyone in the field had done was to get the dots small enough to double the storage density of disk drives. The challenge has been to shrink the dots further and to find processing methods that are compatible with high-throughput production.

The team reports that it has made great progress on a number of fronts. They've synthesized block copolymers that self-assemble into the smallest dots in the world. In some cases they form into the right, tight patterns in less than a minute, which is also a record.

"I am kind of amazed that our students have been able to do what they've done," says Prof. Willson. "When we started, for instance, I was hoping that we could get the processing time under 48 hours. Were now down to about 30 seconds. I'm not even sure how it is possible to do it that fast. It doesn't seem reasonable, but once in a while you get lucky."

Most significantly, the team has designed a special top coat that goes over the block copolymers while they are self-assembling.

I've been fortunate enough to be involved in the experimental work of the top coat project from its inception all the way to our final results," says Leon Dean, a senior chemical engineering major and one of the authors on the Science paper. We've had to develop an innovative spin-on top coat for neutralizing the surface energy at the top interface of a block copolymer film."

This top coat allows the polymers to achieve the right orientation relative to the plane of the surface simply by heating.

"The patterns of super small dots can now self-assemble in vertical or perpendicular patterns at smaller dimensions than ever before," comments Thomas Albrecht, manager of patterned media technology at HGST. "That makes them easier to etch into the surface of a master plate for nanoimprinting, which is exactly what we need to make patterned media for higher capacity disk drives."

Professors Willson, Ellison, and their students are currently working with HGST to see whether these advances can be adapted to their products and integrated into a mainstream manufacturing process.

Other industry collaborators are Nissan Chemical Company, which partially funded the research, and Molecular Imprints, an Austin-based company cofounded by Prof. Willson that is a pioneer in nanoimprint lithography.

Products & Services

Seagate Backup Plus Family of Hard Drives Named as CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Award Honoree

PR: Seagate Technology plc has announced that the company has been named an International CES Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree for the Seagate Backup Plus family of external storage. Seagate Backup Plus Family of Hard DrivesProducts entered in this prestigious program are judged by a preeminent panel of independent industrial designers, engineers and members of the media to honor outstanding design and engineering in cutting edge consumer electronics products across 29 product categories.

First introduced in June of 2012, the Seagate Backup Plus family of hard drives are newly designed external storage devices, which work interchangeably with both Windows and Apple computers. These new drives deliver new features to protect, share and save nearly every aspect of ones digital life. Backup Plus drives come with a hassle-free Seagate Dashboard software for one-click local backup making it easier than ever to eliminate excuses about backing up ones most valuable digital content. Additionally, Seagate Backup Plus products are the worlds first external hard drives to provide backup for content on social networks, such as Facebook and Flickr. Storing a local duplicate copy of photos from social networks is now as easy as backing up files on your computer, providing additional peace of mind that nearly every aspect of one's digital life is safe from loss.

"Seagate is thrilled to have been recognized by the Consumer Electronics Association for our latest offering of external storage, Backup Plus hard drives," says Seagate vice president of Marketing Scott Horn. "This prestigious award helps underscore the important role storage plays in everything that people do today. Backup Plus storage illustrates that simplicity in design and function to address consumer needs is a true example of innovation."

The Innovations Design and Engineering Awards are sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the producer of the International CES, the world's largest consumer technology trade show, and have been recognizing achievements in product design and engineering since 1976.

Seagate Backup Plus portable and Seagate Backup Plus desktop will be on display in The Venetian at the 2013 International CES, which runs January 8-11, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Honorees will also be displayed at CES Unveiled: The Official Press Event of the International CES from 4-7 p.m. on Sunday, January 6 in the South Seas Ballroom C at Mandalay Bay.

The Innovations entries are judged based on the following criteria:

  • Engineering qualities, based on technical specs and materials used
  • Aesthetic and design qualities, using photos provided

The products intended use/function and user value

  • Unique/novel features that consumers would find attractive
  • How the design and innovation of the product compares to other products in the marketplace
  • Products chosen as an Innovations honoree reflect innovative design and engineering of the entries.
  • Examples may include the first time various technologies are combined in a single product or dramatic enhancements to previous product designs.

Innovations 2013 Design and Engineering honoree products are featured on the 2013 International CES website, which lists product categories, as well as each product name, manufacturer information, designer, description, photo and URL.

Software

Pixelmator 2.1.3 Adds New Color Management with Soft Proofing

PR: The Pixelmator Team has released Pixelmator 2.1.3, a significant update to its beautifully designed, easy-to-use, inexpensive yet powerful image editing application developed exclusively for Mac OS X. Pixelmator provides the tools needed to create, edit, and enhance still images. Version 2.1.3 introduces an entirely new and simplified Color Management tool redesigned to keep image colors perfectly consistent throughout all devices and a Soft Proofing feature.

Pixelmator 2.1.3
Pixelmator 2.1.3

The brand new Soft Proofing feature comes in handy for controlling image colors more precisely. It lets you quickly and easily apply different color profiles to images so you can get an idea of how the final outcome, such as the printed image, might look. This is great news for anyone willing to preview images in CMYK colors.

Full sRGB standard support makes all image colors inside Pixelmator look better as well. The sRGB color standard is widely used on most devices that we come across every day, such as digital cameras, scanners, or even the new iPhone. This means that the colors of images edited in Pixelmator will look perfect outside Pixelmator and across all Apple devices.

Additional features include the new Color Management look, enhanced PSD file format support, improved Automator actions, Spanish and Italian languages added, and more.

Pixelmator 2.1.3 is available from the Mac App Store at a promotional price of $29.99. For existing Pixelmator customers who purchased the app from the Mac App Store, the new update is free.

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