Category Archives: Notebook Computers

New Macs On the Way

Lots of Rumors

Computer support clients often ask me for computer buying advice. Luckily for Mac users, there are many rumor sites such as MacRumors and AppleInsider that tell you about anticipated new products. Just keep in mind that the rumor sites are sometimes completely wrong.

New Apple Laptops

Apple said that on Tuesday, October 14, 10AM PST new Mac laptops will be announced. The rumor is that at least some will use a new “brick” process of building the case out of a solid block of aluminum.

Some have speculated that the prices will also be lowered (perhaps to $800 from $1100) as they were on the iPod Nanos recently. This would help Apple continue to gain market share.

New Apple Desktops?

While not anticipated, many users are still hoping for a new basic Mac desktop that would be cheap. The Mac Mini ($600) is nice, but you pay more for small laptop parts and it isn’t easily upgraded. The iMac ($1200) is a decent value, but it is also not easily upgraded and it is still more expensive than just buying basic computer without a monitor (something PC users can do for $400).

People have called this hoped-for box the Mac Cube (a reintroduction of that form) or jokingly the Mac Mac (to differentiate from the high-end Mac Pro that is out of the price range for most people). By attacking the low end desktop market, Apple would expand market share and largely eliminate the problem of “Hackintosh” Mac clones from Psystar.

Wait and See

So my buying advice is to wait until at least Tuesday before buying anything if you are considering a Mac.

UPDATE: The new laptops are out. There is a new aluminum 13″ screen MacBook
starting at $1299 and a new 15″ screen MacBook Pro
starting at $1999. There is no cheap laptop or desktop as many people hoped, but Apple is keeping its old white plastic MacBook around at $999, a $100 price drop.

Testing RAM

You should test new RAM to make sure that it works. You should also test existing RAM when your computer is acting weird. Computer RAM does go bad. When it does, you can see erratic behaviors such as computer freezes, incorrect screen drawings, and corrupted files. Most people assume that this is due to a virus.

A few years ago I saw a manager in a Reston, Virginia office reprimand an employee because the manager assumed that the employee somehow infected a computer with a virus. The important computer documents had been corrupted and could no longer be opened. We figured out later that the real culprit was just bad RAM that had incorrectly written the files to disk.

Testing RAM on a PC

Using a bootable CD such as Ubuntu or the Ultimate Boot CD as described in my Live CDs post will allow you to run utilities to test PC RAM.

Testing RAM on a Mac

Thanks to command-tab.com for creating a utility for thoroughly testing RAM on a Mac computer. Run their install package, shut down the computer, boot up while pressing the Command and S keys (to go into Single User mode), then type memtest all 2 in order to run the memory test twice.

I recently ran this test after adding more RAM to a computer for a Washington D.C. customer.  The test showed that the new RAM had no problems.

My MobileMe Experience

Oh My, MobileMe

You’ve probably already heard of the disastrous launch of Apple’s MobileMe service. Apple has taken a lot of heat for this and heads have rolled over at Apple HQ for it. There are still some remaining issues to be fixed but for the most part Apple has gotten MobileMe working. I’m currently using a free MobileMe trial to evaluate it to see if it will meet my needs. The biggest of my needs is getting all of my emails from several accounts on my iPhone as quickly as possible.

Push Email

If you use a standard POP or IMAP email account, you are limited to a 15 minute check frequency in the iPhone Mail application. In addition to that limitation, if you set up multiple accounts, it will drain your battery all the quicker. My solution was to set up just one account on the phone and have all the email accounts I want to get mail from forwarded to that one. MobileMe is the perfect choice because it offers push email. Instead of that 15+ minute wait for new mail notification, push means you get near instant notification of a new message. In my experience, near instant means about 10 seconds or less.

When MobileMe launched, it was simply unreliable. Some of my messages would arrive instantly, others would never notify me without opening the Mail app. Besides a couple of bad days this month, things have worked far more reliably lately although I still manually check the mail if I haven’t gotten any notifications in a while. Once I had my MobileMe account set up on the iPhone, I still had to get all my email accounts forwarding to my username@me.com email address.

VersaForward to Forward Email

I use Email Forwarding by VersaForward Service to get all my mail to my me.com address. You can set up all of your email accounts to forward to the email address you check on your iPhone. This is a service with a fee paid monthly or every 6 months. To get a discount, use the promotional code TECHDC when signing up for a free trial. That will give you 50% off the first 3 months. Alternatively, you can run home desktop versions of VersaForward either with the entry-level VersaForward Personal or the more powerful VersaForward Professional.

Once you’ve got your email forwarding set up, you can get all of your email messages on your iPhone in a timely and reliable fashion.

Other MobileMe Features

MobileMe does cost $99/year although it offers more than just an email address. Push contacts and calendar updates help keep your iPhone, Desktop, and laptop all up to date with your latest changes. The MobileMe Gallery is a very elegant photo sharing system which creates a website with your photos to share with others as you want to.

Besides mail, my favorite MobileMe feature is iDisk. You can basically consider this a hard drive that you have access to on your computer but the data is stored on the internet. It is the simplicity of iDisk on your computer that makes this so useful. It appears like an external hard drive would. Drag files to it like normal. You can log in to me.com to access the files on the iDisk so it is a great place to keep important files that you might need remote access to. You have a total of 20GB of storage on MobileMe. You can allocate this between email and data storage. The iDisk can work with Macs and Windows as well.

Give Me a Chance

MobileMe got off to a slow start but now that it is finally working, you can see the advantages that it offers. For me, the push email is the #1 selling point. As long as it continues to work, I expect to become a paying customer. The free trial lasts 60 days so you can try it yourself to see how you like it.

Tiny Laptops

Small (2-3 lbs) and cheap ($300-400) laptops, also known as netbooks, have been the largest growing computer segment over the last year due to Asus’ Eee PC. These haven’t needed to be powerful computers because they can run Linux, with the Eee PC running the Xandros distribution of Linux.

Recently Asus has been joined by many other manufacturers in this market. Asus has lost some of limelight by making their newer machines slightly larger and more expensive.

The current model that most people are excited about is the MSI Wind. This and the many of the current crop of Eee PC’s run the Intel Atom chipset which is inexpensive and uses less power than similar class chips. Via will also be coming out with the Nano chipset which will outperform Intel.

Dell will likely also become a big player in next couple of months with their expected line of laptops. Lenovo (formerly IBM) is also rumored to have a cheap small laptop in that time.

With more power in this current group of laptops, they can run Windows XP or be hacked to run OS X as people have already done with the MSI Wind. Although Apple wouldn’t be happy about it, a cheap OS X laptop might be easier to achieve in the next few months as these devices become more ubiquitous. Of course, Apple is always rumored to be coming out with their own small laptop or tablet too.

Another reason to be excited about these laptops is the forthcoming Ubuntu Notebook Remix, using the most popular Linux distribution of Ubuntu but tuned and designed for small laptops and able to take special advantage of the Atom chipset.

Microsoft has had difficutly in this market because Windows Vista is not meant for low power laptops with small screens. So despite wanting to kill off XP, Microsoft has had to make an exception for this segment of laptops and continue to sell XP for it.

For more on these tiny laptops see the sites:
Liliputing
Asus Eee News Mods and Hacks
Eee User