IntelliMac

On the very day the Mac Book Pro was announced, I placed my order. In fact, the order was placed within 5 minutes of the Apple Store being re-enabled (it’s typically disabled during such events). I was very excited to get it but all the orders got bumped back so I decided to cancel it and get a 20″ iMac Core Duo since it was available right away. On Tuesday I returned from school to find it sitting next to my desk.

If you have never bought a new Mac, then you might not appreciate the care and elegance with which Apple packages their computers. I’ve done it so many times that I expect it and hardly noticed the nice, well designed packaging. I had work to get done so I ripped it open, yanked out the goodies, and settled into hard core work playtime.

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After setting up the iMac on my desk, it created a significant problem. I already had the 20″ and 23″ Cinema Displays hooked up to the G5 dual and they commanded a large portion of my desk. Adding yet another 20″ display consumed what was left. To relieve the crowding problem, I have moved the 20″ into our bedroom for watching movies when connected to the laptop. That will work until it or the 23″ gets sold on eBay.

My intent for this system is to replace one of my dual G5 systems which I can then sell on eBay. The reason it may achieve that goal is that this new iMac supports monitor spanning. It can drive its own built-in 20″ display as well as my 23″ Cinema Display, providing me with the same amount of screen real estate I have now. Previous iMac systems were limited to mirroring when an external display was connected. Unfortunately, I must wait for the $19 adapter to arrive before I can use the 23″ with it.

Instead of using the default system install, I booted off the Install DVD and reinstalled the system with a few adjustments. Namely, I installed X11, XCode, and deselected all the additional languages. Formatting the drive and installing took a couple hours. When it was done, it prompted me to create an account which I did. Immediately after, it prompted me to add a picture to my account using the built-in iSight. Nice touch Apple!

While taking my account picture, I noticed that the iSight built into the iMac is considerably better than the one I purchased for use with my dual G5 and PowerBook. The resolution appears to be noticably higher and the light sensitivity and color balance is much better. I used to have to carefully control and adjust my lighting in the office so that the person on the other end didn’t see a washed out blob. The built-in iSight works well under a much wider range of lighting.

Speaking of light, before I got far enough along to adjust the screen brightness, I nearly got a suntan from the light put out by the display. The LCD in this thing is seriously bright. I find that I prefer using it in the lower half of the brightness scale. I look forward to having a screen this bright in my Mac Book Pro, making the laptop much more usable outdoors. I’ve read that a lot of other people have also noticed how bright the new displays are. The difference is really quite remarkable when compared to my older Cinema Displays.

To determine if the iMac can fully replace the G5, it seemed best to put it to work. This week I had several clients clamoring for some web site development work which requires that I run several programs including Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Tinderbox. To work on those sites, I would have to install the necessary software and get connected to my network and file server where the development versions of all the sites live.

I enabled the Airport and three networks showed up. That’s not surprising, but my G5 and PowerBook never see any network but the one provided by my Airport Extreme Base Station. This is not surprising. It’s well known that PowerBook and G5 systems have stinky wireless reception. The signals simply do not travel through metal very well, it’s a cross we must bear. The Airport reception on the iMac is excellent, just like previous iMacs.

After connecting to my network via Airport, data access was good, but not nearly as fast as the G5 dual. Of course not, the G5 is connected by gigabit ethernet to the server. The file server is also a dual G5 with five 300GB drives (RAID 0+1) packed into it. File access to it is really fast, typically faster than reading and writing to a local disk. To resolve the network speed issue, I synced up the G5 to the server and shut it down. Voila, a gigabit cable was freed and the iMac happily connected at full gigabit speed.

Some time ago, I got tired of having a mountain of CD/DVD media in my desk so I made images of all the disks and moved them to the garage. The ISOs all live on the file server so installing software was quick and easy. While the programs were installing, I configured my Dot Mac settings and let it sync up all my email acccounts, Address Book, Calendars, and web bookmarks. Dot Mac really makes it painless to sync data across several systems.

A couple things about my programs. I wanted to avoid the installation of any software that is not Universal Binary. A surprising amount of software I use regularly is already UB. However, this is immediately unavoidable as many apps simply are not. Even if the software isn’t UB, it still ran as well on the Intel based Mac. I say after having used Photoshop CS, DreamWeaver, AccountEdge, BBedit 7.1, Tinderbox, and MS Office for several days now.

When I say, “just as well,” I mean that it runs it as quickly and gracefully as it did when I was running it on my dual G5. I find that to be quite remarkable. My dual G5 is really, really fast and rare indeed is the occasion that I’m waiting for it to keep up with me. On one of this weeks projects, I had to open dozens of Photoshop files, manipulate them, and then save them for web posting. Other than using a Mighty Mouse instead of my stalwart Logitech MX 510, I could scarcely tell I had switched systems.

Speaking of that Mighty Mouse, I’m still deciding if I like it as much as my Logitech. It has all the most important features (left & right click, expose, dashboard, vertical scroll) and the ability to scroll horizontally quickly endeared me, particularly in Photoshop. However, a feature my Logitech has that I sorely miss is forward and back buttons for browsing web pages. The Mighty Mouse is a very nice mouse and a monumental improvement on Apple’s previous mice. Had it existed years ago, I never would have searched for a better one.

While I’m still on the positive aspects of this system, I need to point out that many aspects of the system are markedly faster than the dual G5. Booting is very fast. For reasons I do not know, running perl programs on a G4 or G5 were always slow to launch. After the perl interpreter had loaded, speeds were normal. On the iMac, speeds are extremely quick all the way around. It is as fast as running it on a high end dual P4/Xeon system running Linux or FreeBSD. I’m sure these gains are also visible in other programming environments so developers everywhere are surely pleased.

The other nice feature of this system is near silence. Other than the clicking sound made by the scroll wheel of the Mighty Mouse (which can be disabled), this system is whisper quiet. The dual G5 is also very quiet, typically generating less noise than the Dell laptop in our office. When it’s warm (70s+) or I work it very hard, the G5 fans speed up enough that you can hear them and occasionally get loud for a moment or two. In several days of very warm (low 80s) Texas weather, I worked this iMac harder than normal and I still have not yet heard the fans on the iMac. This morning, I heard the fans for the first time. The dual G5 and Dell are both turned off and the LaserJet is sleeping so the office is dead silent. The fans on the iMac are just audible. What a pleasant system to have in the office, or even the den or bedroom.

For the most part, I am extremely pleased with the iMac, but there are a few things that need to be addressed before I feel comfortable parting with the venerable dual G5. That $19 mini-DVI adapter needs to come in so that I can hook up the 23″ to it. I seriously need another gigabyte of RAM. I got it with 1 gigabyte and after opening up Photoshop and a few other apps at the same time, I ran out of memory and began swapping. To prevent that from impairing Photoshop performance, I had to quit a few other programs.

My G5 and PowerBook both have 1.5GB of RAM and that has proven to be enough that I can have as many apps open as I want without it ever slowing perceptably. It’s pretty common for me to have 3 or 4 web browsers open, Mail.app, iPhoto, iTunes, Address Book, Calendar, Remote Desktop, and then a few other heavy weights like Photoshop all open at the same time. On the iMac, 1GB seems to be the low end of practical. Thats just enough that you can open a memory hog like iPhoto or Photoshop and a few other apps without it swapping. Just logging in without any apps open uses about 450MB.

It seems that everything uses up a little more RAM on the Intel system. I’m sure that the non UB apps need more for Rosetta. Because I normally have Photoshop open with a few other programs I am using concurrently, like iPhoto and Dreamweaver, I’m not sure that 1.5GB in the iMac will be enough. I ordered another gig for $110. Having 2 gigabytes should take care of the only performance related issue I saw. I’ll be keeping that in mind when I order the Mac Book Pro. If you are considering an Intel mac, plan on ordering the extra RAM right away.

The last issue I had is with the USB keyboard. This is early hardware so I expected some issues and found others also have this problem. It is described on this thread so I won’t elaborate on it further. I have worked around it by installing a USB hub. I happened to have a couple of them so it didn’t cost me anything but a little aggravation. If this is the worst of the problems that I discover, I’ll remain quite pleased.

So, it would seem that once my mini-DVI adapter and RAM arrive, the G5 can get listed on eBay. It had been and remains a great system. I’ll miss the ability to easily pop it apart and stick in extras like a bigger drive and the TV tuner & video capture card. For pro use (like heavy Photoshop, InDesign, or Final Cut users) I expect the G5 to remain king for a while longer. The big pro apps work fine on the Intel but no better than existing G5 systems. When all the pro apps arrive as UB, most everyone will want to switch. The new systems are faster, quieter, and use less energy.

Classic is gone. May it rest in peace. New users won’t care and I suspect most others won’t either. The only classic app I still use is Delorme Street Atlas and it only on rare occasions when I don’t like the route Route 66 is offering. Now, I instead refer to maps.google.com. Should I ever need an old classic app, I can always run it on my other dual G5 (the file server).

Virtual PC doesn’t work on the new Intel systems, leaving me with only one G5 left to run it on. I am hoping that is not an issue for long. I contributed to the WinXP on Mac project and hope that bears some fruit soon. I would like to have Windows available for the few times a year when I need it. However, I want to run it on my mac, in a protected environment so I don’t have to worry about script kiddies installing a rootkit on it.

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Someone will miss the G5 though. Kayla really likes the big handles on it, and the little tongue that frequently sticks out at her when she’s standing in front of it. She loves the sound her nails make when she scratches them along the grating on the front.

3 Replies to “IntelliMac”

  1. :::sigh:::

    That machine WILL be my next home computer. Maybe the 17-inch version, though. Of course, I only got about half of what you were describing, but one day, I’ll understand a good 60%.

  2. Im getting a MacBook Pro as well, this Powerbook just seems to keep slowing down and that MacBook just looks shinier every time I look at Apple.com, :::sigh::: guess you made me an addict.

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