Category Archives: Notebook Computers

Speed Up PC

I was recently asked to speed up a slow laptop. Here are the steps that I took:

  • Apply Windows Updates: The computer had downloaded lots of updates (including Vista Service Pack 2) that were just waiting to be installed. This was a multi-step process since not all the updates could be updated in one package.
  • Run Spinrite: This checks for and automatically fixes hard drive problems
  • Remove Browser Toolbars: Google, Yahoo, and other toolbars in Internet Explorer and Firefox just slow down and junk up the browser without any real benefits.
  • Remove Google Desktop: This is a redundant desktop search tool that just slows down the computer.
  • Open Windows Task Manager, search for processes, and remove unnecessary applications and start-up items. This is done from Add/Remove Programs, from the startup folder and from msconfig.
  • Turn off Windows sidebar: This feature available in Windows 7 and Vista by default just loads pictures and a clock which people don’t use.
  • Remove some Windows features, as mentioned in 12 Ways to Speed Up and Slim Down Windows Vista.
  • Update Firefox: Firefox 4 has significant speed improvements.
  • Remove paid Antivirus and install Microsoft Security Essentials which typically uses fewer system resources and is a good and free Antivirus.
  • Run Disk Defragmenter
  • Update Power Settings: This laptop’s settings were to run the CPU at a max of 50% both when unplugged (to save the battery) and also when plugged in. The max CPU should be set to 100% when plugged in unless the computer is having overheating problems.
  • Install Foxit Reader: This is faster and less annoying than Adobe Acrobat which I removed.

iKlear Cleaning Kit

When clients give me computers that have lots of dirt and smudge on the screen, I grab iKlear to clean it. I saw a few years ago that it’s what Apple uses to clean laptops, especially the white MacBook prone to discoloration.

Now I also use iKlear to clean phones, tablets, and TVs. Do not to use Windex or other cleansers not specifically designed for monitors. They can permanently damage the screen. If you don’t want to spend the money, at least get a microfiber cloth and just use a small amount of plain water.

Virgin Mobile MiFi 2200 Review

There are several MiFi devices out there these days but none as cheap as the one by Virgin Mobile.  A MiFi allows you to get on a cellular network via your devices WiFi.  Your laptop or iPad has WiFi but probably not built-in cellular network support.  This bridges that gap.  You can also use up to 5 devices thru the MiFi at one time so its more useful than a built-in connection like the high-end iPad.  This MiFi 2200 can be had from walmart.com for just $139.99 with no contract.  In comparison, the Verizon MiFi is $269.99.  The Verizon data plan is $60/month with a 5GB data cap while Virgin Mobile offers unlimited data for just $40/month.

Activation

The first thing you have to do is activate the MiFi.  This is actually different from paying for service.  Activation involves creating an account, getting some special IDs from Virgin Mobile, and entering them into the MiFi.  This is a simple guided process that you do by connecting to the MiFi via wireless and going to virginmobile.mifi in any browser.  One odd thing is that the MiFi will not connect to 3G (EVDO) until it is activated.  This means you have to go through the activation website via the older 1xRTT Sprint network which is only slightly faster than dial-up.  While annoying, you should only have to activate your MiFi once.  Once activated, you will then see it connect to 3G.

You can provide your billing info without actually starting your data plan.  You’ve got an option to have your plan auto-renew which is nice if you plan to use it always.  If you plan to use it only on occasional trips, there is also the option to only pay manually so when you sign up for a month of service, it will simply end at the end of the month.

Data Plans

In addition to the $40/month plan that most will probably get, there is also a $10/month plan with 100MB cap.  That’s a great cheaper option if you just need to use the MiFi for a short period.  There’s one other secret extra special plan only available to people who buy their MiFi from walmart.  For $20/month, you get a 1GB cap.  That’s a nice additional plan option since that would likely cover most people for a week long trip.  This is plenty reason enough to purchase your Virgin Mobile MiFi from walmart.

Performance

Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint so it uses Sprint’s cellular network.  When you are connected to Sprint 3G, you can expect typical downloads speeds of 300Kbps to 1000Kbps.  While testing, I typically had 2-4 bars of 3G and averaged about 450Kbps.  This is no where near as fast as most DSL or cable speeds but for the price and mobility, I think its terrific performance.  If you are not in a 3G area, the MiFi will fall back to the older 1xRTT network where the best speed you’ll likely see is 100Kbps and more typical is probably half that.  I recommend you check out sprint’s 3G coverage map before purchasing to be sure 3G is available in the areas you plan to use it.  The 1x speeds are fine if you’re desperate for any connection but it will be painful to use.  As long as you’ve got 3G, you’ll be happy with the performance, especially at just $40/month.  If my home internet ever went out, I’d be happy to use this as an alternate internet connection.  And since you can start your data plan through the device, you can do just that whenever you have to.

Battery Life

You can expect to get about 4 hours of continuous use from the MiFi.  It can be setup to automatically power down after X minutes of no usage.  This can be handy to save battery life but it is also easy to simply press the power button until the light goes out to save battery.

If you are looking for a little more battery life like me, I recommend an external usb battery like the Satechi Battery Extender Pack.  The built-in MiFi has a 1150 mAh battery.  This Satechi has a 4800 mAh battery.  That means it has enough extra juice to fully charge the MiFi over 4 times.  It can also be used to charge almost anything else powered by USB such as iPhones, iPads or most other cell phones.

Admin Options

This MiFi offers terrific admin controls.  You can change the wireless SSID, the wireless password or admin password.  You can even setup port filtering, port forwarding, and mac filters.  Once you’ve setup your config, you can even back it up to a computer in case you ever have to reset your MiFi and restore your setup.

Conclusion

The Virgin Mobile MiFi doesn’t offer the fastest speeds.  It doesn’t offer terrific battery life.  But it is an amazing price with terrific data plan options.  If you’re a price conscious shopper that wants connectivity for any of their many WiFi gadgets, this is the device for you.  I think road warriors or occasional travelers would be happy with this device.

New MacBook Air’s (Late 2010) Review and Benchmarks

It would be easy to dismiss the new MacBook Air as slow due to its apparently slow processor but if you did, you’d be wrong.

Offerings

The new Air comes in 4 base models.

$994 – 11.6″ 1.4GHz CPU 64GB storage

$1194 – 11.6″ 1.4GHz CPU 128GB storage

$1294 – 13.3″ 1.86GHz CPU 128GB storage

$1594 – 13.3″ 1.86GHz CPU 256GB storage

What’s so special about it?

The obvious impressive feature of the Air is the size being extremely thin and weighing 2.3 lbs (11.6″ model) or 2.9 lbs (13.3″ model). But what really makes it worth having is what’s under the hood. The CPU is not cutting edge, maxing out at just 2.13GHz. However, the graphics and hard drive are so much faster, this more than offsets the CPU for most users.

Graphics (GPU)

The 320M graphics are about 2-3Xs faster than the previous 9400M. Graphics performance is becoming more and more important since apps like iPhoto and the Mac OS itself do a lot of animation and tasks that can be run on the GPU. The latest version of Mac OS X actually has the ability to run tasks that would normally be on the CPU on the GPU instead. Programs do have to be developed for that but it is something Apple is heavily pushing developers to do.

Disk Storage

The hard drive actually isn’t a hard drive. It has flash storage, much like that found in the iPhone or iPad. Flash storage is typically significantly faster but also very expensive. The price points that Apple has been able to create with this kind of fast storage is quite impressive. Any task that involves the disk will be massively faster than any other MacBook Apple offers. This is perhaps the most impressive feature of the new Airs. There are various hard drive tasks but most will fall in the range of 2-6Xs faster than a hard drive found in other MacBooks.

Screen

These MacBook Air’s have a much higher ppi (pixels per inch) than the other MacBooks. The higher the ppi, the sharper things look. The 13.3″ Air actually has the same resolution as the 15.4″ MacBook Pro. That means if you had them side by side, they could show the exact same content on the screen at the same time though the Air’s would appear slightly smaller since the pixels are squeezed into a smaller screen.

One thing I immediately noticed on the screen was that it seemed to be less reflective than the other MacBook’s. This is a photo of the Air 13.3″ next to a MacBook Pro 15.4″ with the screens pointed at the same set of windows.

The screen is clearly less reflective. This may be because the Pro has that sheet of glass across the whole area and the Air does not. Whatever the reason, I far prefer a less reflective screen.

What is it no good at?

Multi-threaded CPU intensive tasks are definitely the biggest weak point. In this regard, the MacBook Pro i5 is about twice as fast. If you do a lot of this, you may not be satisfied with the Air. If you don’t know what multi-threading is, then this likely won’t be a problem for you. An example of this is making digital backups of your DVDs with Handbrake. Handbrake is multi-CPU optimized and will perform much better on any other Mac.

Flash storage is typically smaller. The $999 MacBook Air has just 64GB storage. The 11.6″ can have up to 128GB and the 13.3″ starts at 128GB and goes up to 256GB. If you don’t plan on storing lots of photos or movies, the 64GB or 128GB should not be a problem.

Real World

In informal real world feel tests, typical tasks like browsing, email and application startup don’t feel slow at all. Safari and Mail load on one bounce in the dock. iPhoto feels quite fast, probably because loading all those photos from the faster storage really helps. For typical day to day use of a normal user, this MacBook Air is not only decent, but it feels faster than others just because of the flash drive storage.

Benchmarks

We benchmarked the MacBook Air 13.3″ 2.13GHz Core 2 Duo which is the fastest model. The overall Xbench score was 180. In comparison, a previous generation MacBook Pro 15.4″ 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo gets about a 137 and current generation MacBook Pro i7 gets about 174. The Xbench overall score tries to take every type of performance into account. This doesn’t mean the Air is faster than an i7. At multi-threading, the i7 is more than twice as fast. But overall, the Air is competitive because of the big gains in disk speed and graphics. The Xbench disk score was 238 compared to other MacBooks which get around 55 at best. It is this disk score that really raises the overall score.

Xcode is a development program for creating software for the Mac or iOS.  I’ve heard a lot about how this Air still couldn’t possibly be used by developers.  Well, we tested a rather large project consisting of over 20K lines of code to compile and about 15MBs of resources (images and data files).  When building a project in Xcode, it has to do both file copying (disk intensive) and code compiling (CPU intensive).  Building this project took 15s on a quad core Mac Pro with software raid drives and 33s on a MacBook Pro 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo.  The 2.13GHz Air was able to do it in 24s, much faster than the MacBook Pro.  This was a surprise but shows just how the old hard drives cause a slowdown of all the tasks in building the project.

Conclusion

All previous MacBook Air’s were higher priced and underpowered. They had much slower CPUs even though they were the same clock speeds. They had either slow hard drives or insanely expensive SSDs (solid-state drives) and subpar graphics. Apple clearly worked hard to make a product that could truly be a potential system for almost anyone.

The 11.6″ MacBook Air should be an attractive option at less than $1,000.  If you want small, this is it.  It is just 1.4GHz but for most uses, this should be fast enough. The $1300 model is probably the best value, offering you enough storage with 128GB and a much faster CPU at 1.86GHz.