Hardware

Apple’s MacBooks Support 3GB of RAM

Who said that nothing good can come from breaking the rules?  Apple’s specs for the Intel Core 2 based MacBooks state clearly that the computer supports up to 2GB of RAM via a pair of 1GB chips.  But after extensive testing in the Skunk Works over at OWC (Other World Computing), it turns out that the MacBook can support just as much memory as its big brother, the MacBook Pro!

Apple claims that systems using the GMA950 graphics chipset require memory modules be installed in equal pairs.  Apple indicates that a massive performance hit is the result of unmatched memory.  But in OWC’s testing, this proved rarely to be the case.  In fact, in most tests there was a negligible performance penalty when running odd memory configurations.

With this is mind, the next logical question would be the MacBooks support for a 3GB memory configuration.  That was the next test the OWC lab rats decided to run.  Not only did the MacBooks boot with a 2GB and 1GB chip running in tandem, but the memory was also properly addressed by the operating system!

So now that the MacBook can boot and address 3GB of RAM, the next thing to test was performance.  Though specific benchmarks have yet to be posted, my source tells me that the MacBooks perform just as well in a 3GB configuration as they did with 1.5GB.

Not only is the MacBook a powerful and economical dual core notebook, but it turns out that it can sport just as much memory as the top of the line MacBook Pro.  And with modern applications consuming more and more memory, it becomes more and more advisable to add as much memory as possible to any computer that does heaving lifting.


Steve

Apple Announces the iPhone

MacWorld SF kicked off this morning, and as is customary, Steve Jobs got the show off and running with his keynote address.  Each year, the Apple CEO showcases the new software or products that showcase Apple’s creativity  in the personal computer market.  This year was no exception.  Jobs finally took the veiled off the long rumored iPhone.

Rumors of the iPhone have been circulating for so long that it might actually be hard for Apple to live up to the hype.  With so much wild speculation, how could Apple possibly meet with expectations?  I wondered… and now I know.  Apple simply put all of the functionality a customer could ask for into a single device and did it in a way the was truly revolutionary.

The Apple iPod was made famous by the click wheel.  It was the center piece of the systems well crafted navigation system.  That navigation and organization system made the iPod and the click wheel made that possible.  Following on that idea, Apple engineered a new user interface for the iPhone.  Knowing that the new interface had to be simple, intuitive and easy to use, simply made the entire interface a touch screen.  What could be easier than using your finger to point and click on screen?  One large touch screen was simple and offered remarkable flexibility.  With the physical buttons replaced with icons, suddenly there were no limitations for the user interface.  No buttons that only worked in one more and not in another.  No confusion for the user.

With the device interface constraints no longer an issue, Apple really took the device to the next level.  Not only is the iPhone a cell phone with all of the normal functionality, but the device was literally turned into a next generation iPod that could play music and wide screen movies.  While they were at it, engineers added Safari based web browsing, Google and Yahoo support, and even a powerful SMS based text messaging.

Apple partnered with Cingular for the service and even developed a new interface for voicemail.  Google added a powerful new software package that allows the iPhone to tap into Google Maps without the need to touch a full fledged computer.  Yahoo partnered to develop a new push based email system that works with Yahoo Email accounts, bringing functionality similar the those of the Blackberry.  All the major players jumped on the Apple bandwagon.

So what are the specs?  The screen size is 3.5 inches, 320×480 at 160 pixels per inch.  The device runs a version of OS X.  The device is offered with storage capacities of either 4GB or 8GB.  The iPhone is 2.4 inches wide, 4.5 inches tall, and .46 inches thick.  The battery will run for up to 5 hours when used for video, talk, or browsing and 16 hours when used for audio playback only.  Wireless support includes quad-band GSM, 802.11b/g, EDGE, and Bluetooth 2.0.  The entire phone weighs just 4.8 ounces.  Bluetooth support is included making it compatible with wireless headsets in addition to its built-in speakerphone.  A gyroscope in the phone makes it possible for the screen to be used in either portrait or landscape mode.

Pricing information isn’t currently available on Apple.com.  According to the information provided during the keynote presentation, one of the models will be offered for $499.  Further information was not available at the time of this writing.  Unfortunately the phone is not expected to ship until June of 2007 which means that those chomping at the bit to lay down their hard earned money will have to wait.

Jobs did hint at additional product announcements coming over the next few months.  With the great features found in the iPhone, it seems logical that a new version of the iPod will be forthcoming.  The iPhone’s max capacity will be 8GB.  That still leaves a great deal of need for high capacity iPods with the new interface, screen size, and functionality.

With an unprecedented, and largely unfounded series of rumors preceding the iPhone’s announcement, it’s impressive to see Apple delivering on a product that looks like it will actually surpass expectations.  With months to go before the product reaches the market, all we can do is sit back and see if the average consumer will be willing to a hefty price for a product that might well do for the cell phone what the iPod did for portable music.


Steve

Mac Based Tablet Announced

Mac users who have lusted over tablet PC functionality will finally have a Mac version to quench their thirst.  The product will be called the Axiotron ModBook.  It’s essentially a modified MacBook with a stylus compatible screen that allows users to write and draw directly on the screen.  The standard MacBook features will remain intact including integrated Combo drive and iSight support.

Pricing has not yet been set, but the product has been confirmed.  The actual press release will come at MacWorld SF 2007.  Though further details are still sketchy, it has been confirmed that the product will be available with optional GPS support.  The tablet will also be constructed out of a more durable material, an aircraft grade magnesium alloy.  From the sound of things, this will be the Tablet Mac that Apple never bothered to build (at least for the masses).

We’ve been hearing rumors of a Tablet Mac for years.  Some say that Apple has experimented with the idea.  Others have come up with crude home brew style solutions using Mini’s and old PowerBooks.  The Axiotron ModBook will mark the first commercially available solution.  The ModBook will be sold exclusively by Other World Computing.

More details to follow on January 9th when the product is officially unveiled.  A first hand demo is currently being negotiated, so keep your fingers crossed and keep an eye on Maclive.net for further information as it becomes available.


Steve

Seagate to Offer Encrypted Hard Drives

Seagate has announce plans to release a new generation of mobile hard drives.  The drives will offer a hardware encryption mechanism built into the mechanism.  Every bit of data that is written to the drive will be secure.  This maybe the best means by which mobile users can truly secure their data.

Mobile computer users are most vulnerable to equipment theft.  And when a computer is stolen, the computers data is ultimately compromised.  Seagate’s plan is to keep the computer data secure, even if the computer falls into the wrong hands.  The would be thief would have possession of the computer terminal, but without the requisite password, the con would have no way to access the data stored on the drive.

The idea is that a computer user would have to enter a password before the machine would even boot from the drive.  Some might see it as another step or a potential hassle, but many believe Seagate has the right idea.  In recent months, tech sites have reported massive problems with data theft due to stolen portables.  Recently the theft of a laptop computer resulted in the exposure of thousands of veterans social security numbers.  Mobile computers using Seagate’s DriveTrust line of hard drives would not be susceptible to such information disclosure.

It sounds like Seagate has a great thing going.  As long as the implementation is solid, secure, and unobtrusive, other manufacturers will likely follow suit.  It will also be important to note whether or not the new encrypted mechanisms are capable of the same access speeds found in current conventional drives.  As of yet, there is no word on performance.  If there is a serious performance hit due to the encryption overhead, DriveTrust will be doomed to failure.


Steve

Get a Bluetooth Headset Working with a PowerBook

One of the coolest uses of Bluetooth so far, is undoubtedly the use of wireless headsets.  I have two that I use with my cell phone, and I use the all the time.  It has gotten so that I can’t stand using the phone without the wireless headset.  The freedom and mobility are second to none.

And since I have two Bluetooth headsets, I always intended to use one with my PowerBook.  A wireless headset would finally make the voice capabilities of iChat something useful to me.  Unfortunately that was easier said that done.  My PowerBook is a 1.25GHz Aluminum model and it has built-in Bluetooth support.  But every time I tried to pair my headset with the laptop, it failed.

I have tried several times, off and on, over the last couple of months.  Each time a received an error and the pairing failed.  In fact, several times I hit Google in search of a resolution to my problem.  Each time I failed to find a solution.

Enter Apple Bluetooth Firmware Updater v1.2.  It was actually released in November of 2004.  At which time it appeared in the Software Update control panel and I ran the update.  It simply failed to solve my problem.

Early this morning I tried the update again.  I ran the installer from the DMG image and when it finished, I rebooted my computer and tried to pair my headset again.  Once again, it failed!

Then I started looking at my computer a little more closely.  On a whim, I checked the Utilities directory and found an application called Bluetooth Firmware Updater that was dated today.  That is when it occurred to me that the installer on the DMG install image had simply installed the firmware flasher on my system.  It had NOT actually flashed the firmware!

Running the Bluetooth Firmware Updater application took about 6 minutes.  The instructions are very clear in stating that it is imperative that the computer not be shutdown while the update is in progress.

Once the update completed, I rebooted to be on the safe side.  Then I tried to pair my headset one more time.  Bingo!  First try!  The headset has worked perfectly ever since.

Now, here is my complaint.  I know I am not the only person who is having this issue with Bluetooth headsets.  In searching Google, I read about dozens of others.  Now I realized that the problem is not that people are not updating the Bluetooth firmware, but rather that they simply don’t realize that it is a two step process.  I think that most users don’t realize that they need to run a separate flash utility once the install from the disk image has completed.

There is simply no documentation to describe the process at all.  That is strictly the failing of Apple tech support.  And it is a big disappointment.  In the end there was a complicated solution to a simple problem.  This could have been avoided if there had been some form of documentation.

Simply put, the solution is to download the Bluetooth Firmware Updater 1.2 and run the installer on the disk image.  Then look for an application called Bluetooth Firmware Updater in the Utilities directory.  Once you run that updated, the Bluetooth firmware will finally be flashed.

I have written this post in an effort to help the next poor hapless soul who finds himself in the same situation.  Until Apple fixes the updated, this will be a problem for countless others.  Good luck!


Steve

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