Jason Snell on the new MacBook

The MacBook doesn’t need you to love it, but someone will

Coincidentally, Jason Snell has weighed in at almost the same time as I did on the new MacBook.

Apple shouldn’t build new tech to support people who are reluctant to give up old habits.

That’s a brilliant piece of thinking and writing and while I don’t feel it applies to me, it applies to many.

My questions about the new MacBook are less about the MacBook, more about my computing setup in general. The MacBook appeals to me as an outrigger to an iMac. If I weren’t considering an iMac I’m not sure I’d be considering a MacBook.

But, that brings up an interesting question: how many people will buy and use the MacBook as their only computer? If a person already has a portable computer (like me with a 15″ MacBook Pro) is there still a need for the MacBook as a more portable computing platform.

Maybe. People are attempting to use iPads as their only computing platform and if one can do that, one could use the MacBook as well.

Thoughts on the new MacBook

Apple is coming out with a new MacBook computer and it looks fantastic. I’m guessing this computer will be a very big success although it hasn’t been without controversy and the various tech blogs are going nuts with all kinds of speculation about why Apple did this.

I think many are making the mistake of attempting to fit it logically into Apple’s current portable computer lineup and that may be the wrong way to think about it. Maybe an easier way to understand Apple’s engineering and design tradeoffs is to think of it being as portable as an iPad Air with a keyboard running Mac OS X. It’s an extremely light weight, small computer that has numerous design and engineering tradeoffs to support its size and weight. It may not be as powerful as a 13″ MacBook Air or Pro, but it’s more portable than either and portability is what it’s all about.

Having an even more portable Macintosh appeals to me because while my iPad Air 2 is a wonderful device for browsing the web and running apps, I dislike text editing in iOS and almost always pass those tasks back to my MacBook Pro from my iPad when I’m in a situation that makes that possible. And, I like using a mouse with my computers and use Apple’s less than wonderful wireless mouse, which I like better than a trackpad for text and photo editing. So, for me, the MacBook would be a more portable adjunct to an iPad.

The very same engineering tradeoffs that are bugging many appeal to me, discussion below.


This is the first Macintosh portable that’s fan-less and Apple was able to do this because they’re using a lower power and slower processor, they’ve miniaturized the logic board, and like all Apple portables now, it’s got an SSD and not a spinning disk. Fan-less is a great thing in that the machine will be as quiet as an iPad.

But, to make it fan-less, which no doubt was an important design goal the machine had to be lower power than a MacBook Air or Pro with a tilt towards a larger battery relative to it’s size and weight. This computer is all battery which allows it to be used all day on a single charge and that’s the way Apple sees it being used: unplugged, only plugging it in when not in use.

One USB-C Port

The single (new) USB-C port has been one of the most talked about features of the new MacBook; this computer has a single port that’s used for charging and I/O. USB-C is a new protocol (designed by Apple and Intel) and it’s considerably faster than USB 2 and 3 and backward compatible with both.

No longer will the computer have a MagSafe power connection (that’s held in place magnetically), the USB-C port will supply both power and I/O. MagSafe was Apple’s invention to prevent pulling your computer off your desk if you tripped over its power cable. Brilliant invention and it’s saved many a computer.

Glenn Fleishman at Macworld posted a long piece on the physics of whether a cable connection like this could detach, MagSafe-like, saving the computer in case of a trip over its power cable: Will your new MacBook crash to the ground without MagSafe? (Yes.).

I think almost everyone who’s been concerned about this doesn’t understand what this computer is all about. I’m writing this with my MacBook Pro sitting on my desk plugged in. When my computer is on my desk I see no reason not to plug it in and I’m guessing that most people use their MacBook Airs and Pros like I do: while on the desk, plugged in, while off the desk, on battery.

The new MacBook is positioned as an iPad and when is the last time you used your iPad plugged in? Rarely if ever do people do this. They charge them overnight, then unplug them and carry them around and use them. That’s the way Apple has designed this new MacBook to be used. It’s interesting that it’s Apple’s first portable Macintosh designed this way and because of this, for many, it’s a hard concept to digest. It doesn’t bother me at all and frankly, Apple’s latest incarnation of MagSafe (on my Retina MacBook Pro) hasn’t seemed like an advancement to me, it feels cheap compared with the older versions.

The single port is giving people fits because of connectivity concerns as well. But, if you charge your computer at night that port won’t be filled with a power cable during the day when you’re using the computer.

But, what might you want to attach during the day when you’re out and about? It’s not like you’re going to walk around with an ethernet cable hanging out of it, or even a CD/DVD burner. This computer is built to connect to the world wirelessly and while not everything can be connected this way, the few things we need wires for Apple has built dongles for. Again, think iPad: iPads have a single Lightning port and various attachments that can connect to it if one needs video out or to read an SD card.

For me, the lack of multiple ports would not be a problem even though I routinely connect a USB 3 hub to my computer with a LabelWriter and my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 photo printer connected to it (I connect to my laser printer wirelessly though our Airport Extreme), I don’t leave it plugged in all the time as I might go for days without using it.

So, the single port doesn’t throw me at all.

Screen Size

There has been a lot written about Apple’s new MacBook but as usual, it’s Dr. Drang that got me thinking about it from a slightly different perspective.

The importance and unimportance of ports

I’ve been uncomfortable with the screen real estate on my Retina MacBook Pro because before it, I had the 2011 MacBook Pro with the slightly higher resolution matte HD screen (a non-glossy screen) and that screen, while tougher to read because of text size, gave me more space to work in. It wasn’t a huge difference but I do notice it when, for instance, I’m looking at my blog and make Safari’s window big enough to show the background a bit. My old 2011 MBP showed this fine with the window taking up only slightly more than half the width of the screen. The new 2014 MBP’s different resolution makes that window take up close to 3/4 of the screen. This is exactly what Dr. Drang is concerned about with the 12″ screen on the MacBook except he’s concerned with height, not width.

The reason I buy 15″ computers instead of 13″ is that I like to have multiple windows open at the same time and have them positioned so I can see them simultaneously.

If I had an external monitor or iMac (which I’ll probably get soon) then the need to have a larger screen in a portable computer would be diminished, but like Dr. Drang, I see a even a small difference in screen height as a potential problem in reading long web pages (more scrolling) or seeing enough stuff on the screen at one time to get my work done.

This is a tradeoff: portability vs screen size.

The other piece of this influencing me is that I’ve been a one computer guy for a long time: I’ve been using Macintosh portables since there were Macintosh portables and while cloud services now make a multiple computer setup a lot easier to deal with than ever before, I feel myself resisting, wanting to keep things familiar.

I’ve been resisting buying an external monitor for this computer because an iMac is a better investment and the new retina 5K screen iMac is incredible. If I had an iMac and a MacBook Air or the new MacBook it would change the way I work and while this might not be a bad thing, knowing me, it would take me a while to get used to it. Honestly, that kind of change scares me and my computer is such an important part of my life, I don’t consider changes like this lightly.

I think the new MacBook is fantastic and when one changes the way one thinks about it (more iPad running Mac OS with a keyboard, less low power MacBook Air) it makes a lot of sense for many people, including me.

I’m working on my brain to get it a bit more ready for a possible change and for me, the first step is to write about it.

Making the leap to SSD on a MacBook

Making the leap to SSD on a MacBook

Actually he made the leap on a MacBook Pro but this post goes into just the right amount of detail on the why and how of solid state drives for portable (and desktop) computers.

My friend Dale and I have been talking about this type of thing for a few weeks now and both of us almost pulled the trigger on it last week when Apple had things on sale. Low end MacBook Pro and SSD drive to replace either optical or HD leaving optical. It’s totally doable and the screen on the MacBook Pro is easier to read (larger dot pitch) than on the 13″ Air. I actually ordered the Mac but then chickened out at the last minute and returned it. I’m not quite ready to do this yet but I’m quite sure that solid state is the (near and far) future.

[via Daring Fireball]

Disaster and Air change my computer strategy

I’ve been a MacBook Pro user and before that a PowerBook user since there have been portable Macs. I moved to having a PowerBook as my sole machine many years ago and a 15″ MacBook Pro has been my only computer since they came out. My current three year old 15″ MacBook Pro is one of the last models before the line went unibody and I’ve been considering an upgrade for a while now.

Yesterday afternoon I was doing some work downstairs with my MacBook Pro and was finished and ready to cook dinner. So, I closed the computer, walked upstairs to the office, opened the computer thinking I’d connect one of my externals and do a SuperDuper backup like I do every evening at the same time. When I opened the computer the optical drive made its typical noise but the machine didn’t wake up. I tried hitting the brightness button on the keyboard, waking it up with key hits, and then after trying every method I know to wake a stubborn MacBook Pro, I did a keyboard/power button reset. The machine’s optical drive made its sound but all I heard afterward was a click of the hard disk, a small flash of the sleep light, and the computer was dead.

I pulled the battery and unplugged it and held down the power button for 5 seconds to reset the power manager and that didn’t help either. I attempted to connect a backup firewire drive to it and hold option down to boot off the external but it didn’t get far enough into the boot process to recognize the other drive.

In short, I was in trouble. I wasn’t sure at that point if I’d crashed the hard disk or something else happened but that was the end of what I felt I could do.

Miniaturization isn’t always good
One of the liabilities of using a portable computer is the miniaturization of its components relative to iMacs and Mac Pros and between smaller hard disks, energy saving powering the machine up and down, and moving the computer around, components take a bit more of a beating than they do on the larger machines. Apple builds this increase in liability into the cost of AppleCare which is a lot higher on portable Macs but that’s never stopped me from buying it. I’m glad I have.

I called AppleCare and told them what happened and the very polite guy on the other end told me it might not be the hard disk, it might be the logic board and he made an appointment for me at the Apple Store in Danbury, Connecticut (my favorite local Apple store) and they would attempt to diagnose the problem before sending it in.

I made dinner and watched a movie to get my mind off of it but I was seriously bummed last night.

Luckily when these things happen my wife gladly loans me her 13″ unibody iBook (I’m using it now) and I had a SuperDuper backup from the day before that was bootable and so, I was back in business in a few minutes, minus some things I’d done during the day yesterday. Before going to bed I made sure that I could continue working on this setup and used MobileMe to pull down the few updates I’d made to my address book and calendar yesterday so those things are synced. I also tried to remember what I’d done during the day and updated a few files that I knew I’d worked on. My guess is no matter what happens to the MacBook Pro hard disk I’ll be fine.

I figured that this trip to the Apple store would also give me a chance to see the new MacBook Airs and see how readable their screens are relative to the iPad or to a 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air
I walked into the Apple store early for my appointment and immediately went over to a table full of new MacBook Airs, both 13″ and 11″ models.

Each of these machines is spectacular in its own right. They’re both paper thin, very light, very sleek and extremely attractive. I was tempted to just buy one on the spot, seriously.

I shut both of them down and started them up to see how the solid state boot process worked and it’s very fast, amazingly fast. The 13″ which has a faster processor felt a bit zippier but for what most people will use these for they’re both fine. The 13″ as had been stated in many reviews, feels as fast as a MacBook Pro. It really does.

I then got both of them set up the way I’d be using them:

1. Changed desktop to a light blue instead of Apple’s space scene

2. Made the dock hide

3. I ran Safari and made the window fill the entire screen to give each an iPad like feel.

I went to this web site (Richard’s Notes) and read the last post. On the 13″ model, which has the same resolution as a 15″ MacBook Pro things were smaller than they look to me here on this MacBook (which is similar to my older 15″ MacBook Pro). Not too small to read but a bit smaller for sure. On the 11″ model, which also has a very high resolution screen, things shrunk more, a lot more.

But, and this is a big but, I didn’t find either of them unreadable. In Safari hitting Command + will increase text size and one size up on the 11″ did the trick. The 13″ could be left alone although it too was a lot easier to read in Safari with an increase of one text size.

I also tried using the Monitors control panel to reduce the resolution on each of them but using any of these machines in resolutions other than their native resolution seems to play havoc with antialiasing on text and I think the better solution for the cleanest screen is to increase text size in Safari rather than mess with native resolution.

I was able to hold onto these two MacBook Airs and walk over to an iPad and launch Safari and pull up my web site. The iPad in landscape orientation was just as readable as the 13″ without text size adjustment but the 11″, which compares with the iPad in footprint is a bit tougher to read. Again, the fix is simple in Safari although in other applications may be more complex.

Bottom line, I’d love to have either model of MacBook Air but if I had to choose one today I’d choose the 13″ model as it would be more universally useful to me and more readable.

But, that wasn’t the end of my exploration at the Apple store.

Back to the iMac
Given that I’ve just had a hardware failure on a 15″ MacBook Pro, my only computer, which gets used for everything all day long and given that it’s three years old, coming to the end of its life, and given that “cloud computing” with MobileMe, my iPhone and maybe an in between device like an iPad or a MacBook Air is starting to come into sharper focus, it seems like it’s time to toss the entire scenario up in the air again and come up with some other solutions.

If one isn’t going to be a one computer guy, what kinds of things could one do with the approximately $4000 it would cost to get a new high end 15″ MacBook Pro and a 27″ Apple display (with AppleCare on both).

Well, one could buy a 21″ iMac with a Core i5 processor, 8 gigs of memory, 2 terabytes of hard disk space and AppleCare for $2218. This gives you a very fast computer, a big monitor, bigger components, and cheaper AppleCare for a very decent price.

One could add to that a “low end” 13″ MacBook Pro with 4 gigs of memory and 250 gigs of storage for $1448. Maybe buy a low end iPad for the plane and have the small MacBook Pro and iPad as a traveling kit.

Or, one could add the 13″ MacBook Air with 4 gigs of memory, 256 gigs of flash storage and AppleCare for $1948.

Or, could could add the 11″ MacBook Air for a bit less money.

The Guy with the MacBook Air
After I started thinking about these things and then walked over to the 15″ MacBook Pro that I thought might be my next machine, it looked like a huge brick compared with the MacBook Air models or even its 13″ MacBook Pro cousin.

Wow, it may be that my days of being a 15″ MacBook Pro user are coming to and end. This is huge for me. I mean, if Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) uses a 15″ MacBook Pro as her sole computer, that’s about as cool as it gets, right? This is what I’ve been doing for years and years. But, my guess is that if Stieg Larsson had lived to write more books, Lisbeth would be using a MacBook Air in future episodes.

If I get an iMac that takes the pressure off of a single portable computer being a jack of all trades. The portable device can potentially be more like an iPad and be primarily a “reader” and only secondarily a creator.

While I’m not happy that my computer failed, I’m not sure I’d have come to this new place in my thinking about these things had I simply seen the MacBook Air models, as amazing as they are. I also had to reconsider the idea of having a desktop computer, not just for the big screen or lower price, but also for its durability.

I’m not sure I’ll be doing this entire change at once or when I’ll actually start doing it, but in reality, I could easily walk into an Apple store today and buy both the iMac and some kind of portable computer “companion” and be done with it.

Those are my notes. I’ll have more to add to this tomorrow after spending a day in New York with a friend who will be carrying an iPad. We plan to get to at least one Apple store in addition to the photo expo at Javits. Stay tuned.

MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement

MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement

As some of you may remember, I dropped my MacBook Pro a little over a week ago and killed its internal hard disk. I ordered a replacement from Other World Computing and installed it and aside from some dings on the case I think I’m back up to speed with this computer.

Testing the Internal HD
It wasn’t until I tried to erase my internal hard disk (running from an external backup) by writing zeros rather than a simple erase that I was able to determine for sure that something was wrong with it. I was able to erase it and test it without problem with disk tools but subsequent use showed me there was something wrong. Writing zeros confirmed this. I thought, incorrectly, that writing zeros or “zeroing all data” was a matter of security (not simply killing a directory but killing all data) but in fact, it’s also a test of writing to every track and sector of the hard disk. Once my friend Dale aimed me in this direction I found that Disk Tools choked about an hour into the writing of zeros: it found a track it couldn’t write and sat there clicking. I then knew the hard disk was shot and I’d need to replace it.

Which Replacement HD?
Other World Computing has numerous SATA internal hard disks that will work in a MacBook Pro so the question was, which to get?

The hard disk that I had in it that I was replacing was a standard, Apple installed Seagate Momentus 100 GB 5400 RPM drive. OWC sells Hitachi/IBM, Seagate, and Toshiba replacement drives. Whatever I got had to not only work in the MacBook Pro (any of these will) but it had to be compatible with Apple’s energy conservation software, it’s motion detection software, and given that MacBooks and MacBook Pros run pretty hot, whatever I got ought not be any hotter than what I was replacing.

I decided to stick with Seagate as I knew it would work with Apple’s system software so the question was, 5400 RPM which is what I was replacing or 7200 RPM which is a substantial performance increase. Given that I’m about to install Aperture on this computer, I considered the 7200 RPM drive as it would give me faster performance for what is undoubtedly a disk-intensive application (Aperture does a lot of reading from and writing to the HD as it moves through images as on large RAW files not everything will fit in memory or even in a memory cache). However, my guess was that 7200 RPM is a hotter drive than 5400 RPM and I noticed that Apple offered it in their 17″ MBP but not in their 15″ as standard equipment. This might be simple product segmenting: higher performance on larger, more expensive machine to push people into buying it but it also might be that the chassis on the 17″ is big enough to absorb the extra heat.

In the end, I went with almost a direct replacement: 120 GB Seagate, 5400 RPM.

Instructional Video
I’ve heard that HD replacement in a MacBook is very easy, there’s a bay under the machine and it’s like putting in memory.

HD replacement in a MacBook Pro is more complex and the machine has to come apart. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t bother me but given that I’d dropped and damaged this machine I wasn’t sure how precise the fit and finish was anymore and it wasn’t all that great before this accident: the case was coming apart at the seams. However, I had no alternative as I had to either do this myself or let Apple fix it with AppleCare and given that I’d dropped it, it would have cost some money, more than the part alone.

OWC has QuickTime videos on installing their parts in just about every type of Mac including a longish video on the MacBook Pro for putting in memory, a hard disk or a new optical drive. You should download and watch it if you are considering doing anything to the innards of your computer as it will show you exactly what you will be doing on your own.

MacBook Pro 15″ (intel) Video

Given that I was going to be taking this machine apart I copied the video to my wife’s iBook so I could re-watch and review it there as I did the procedure (you can see the iBook in the image above). If you’ve opened up computers before and are relatively handy, this video is all you’ll need to put in a replacement HD. It’s excellent and very reassuring to watch.

I thought I had all the tools I needed but alas, I found I was missing a Torx T-6 screwdriver so I ended up ordering this excellent kit from OWC:

Newer Technology 7 Piece Screwdriver Kit

You only need two of the seven screwdrivers for this job:

Torx T-6
Phillips 0

It’s also useful to have a tweezers, a long bladed pocketknife and a clean white towel to work on. I took notes and labeled each pile of screws. Be aware, there are many screws that need to come out and many are different and need to go in the right places. Keep them sorted.

Take it apart
I won’t go into all the detail as the video will give you enough of that but my notes may be helpful in addition to the video.

Make sure your computer is backed up if possible. If your HD crashed and you need to do data recovery in it, do it before going further. I’m assuming here that you’re on top of this.

Also, leave the new hard disk in it’s anti-static bag so as not to mix it up with the old hard disk you are removing.

1. Shut the MacBook Pro down (don’t sleep it) and unplug all cables and power cord. The computer is closed and latched.

2. Spread clean towel out on a clear work surface. A large dining room table, well lit is perfect.

3. Turn the computer over and remove the battery.

4. Remove various screws on the bottom: memory cover, inside battery compartment.

5. Remove various screws on the case around the perimeter, back and sides. Open the computer and keep the screen as near to vertical as you can, not all the way opened.

6. Gently pry up the top keypad/touchpad but be aware: there is a ribbon cable attaching it to the motherboard so do not yank it up, just loosen it as the video instructs.

Note: this was the toughest part for me as my computer had been dropped and the fit wasn’t good anymore. A new or un-warped computer should be a lot easier.

7. On my computer, the ribbon cable was taped onto the motherboard. Simply pry up the tape and unplug the end of the ribbon cable from its connector on the motherboard. Make note of where it plugs in, it’s a very small rectangular connector that’s hard to differentiate from other components next to it. Put the keypad/touchpad aside, out of the way.

8. You can now see the hard disk in the bottom left corner. It is held in place by a simple 2 screw bracket but there are various wires tucked in around it.

9. Gently lift up on the wires and plastic pieces tucked in around the hard disk to expose two screws on the right side attaching the plastic bracket to the computer’s chassis. Make sure you’re looking at the correct screws, you don’t want to take apart the actual hard disk itself.

10. Unscrew these screws and be careful not to strip the wires that are now in close proximity. Also, be careful lifting them out; if they fall back in and roll under the hard disk it will be awkward to get them until you get the hard disk out.

11. Gently undo the hard disk from its power/data port in the back. It’s a wide ribbon connector fixed to the back end of the chassis. As you do this, also, un-stick the ribbon cable from the top of the hard disk (it’s just taped) so you can loosen it in back. This is delicate so be careful.

12. Lift the hard disk out of the machine. Make note of how the plastic bracket is oriented and installed on the right side of the hard disk.

13. Remove the plastic bracket from the right side and the 4 screws holding the rubber shock absorbing system. Keep them close by as you will need them for the new hard disk. As you do this, be aware, again, of how the plastic bracket is oriented.

Warning: don’t mix up the old, possibly damaged hard disk with the new one going in. Immediately put the one you just took out someplace out of reach and sight.

Take a deep breath, get a drink of water, pee. The rest is reversing what you just did.

Put it back together

MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement (detail)

In the image above note the area on the left where the internal hard disk goes (now removed). Also note the shock absorbing rubber mounts about to be attached to the new hard disk as well as its bracket.

13. Open the anti-static bag holding the new hard disk and hold the hard disk in your hand with its label facing up and it’s ports facing back (the label will be upside down to you in this orientation).

14. Attach the 4 rubber mounts to the new hard disk and clip the bracket onto the right side.

15. Lift up on the now loose brown ribbon cable under which the new hard disk will go and attach it to it’s power and data connector in the back.

16. Gently nudge it into place so that the right shock absorbing rubber rings are in their correct place and you can see through on the right to screw the bracket in place.

17. When everything is wiggled into place, screw the bracket down and reattach the sticky ribbon cable on top of the new hard disk.

18. Nestle the various wires and plastic stuff back into place around the now secured hard disk. Check the area to make sure things are flush so the keypad/trackpad can fit back on. Make sure no wires are bound or rubbing.

19. Place the keypad/trackpad in place so you can reconnect the ribbon cable. It’s awkward in that you need to hold it at an angle so the ribbon cable will reach. Reconnect the plastic connector making sure it’s pushed down on the right place on the motherboard. If there was tape, push down on that to hold the connector in place.

20. Gently lower the keypad/trackpad into place and starting from the front (away from the screen), snap the screw guides into place. Work your way around, not forcing anything until everything is flush an connected.

21. Close the screen and latch it.

22. Turn the computer over and replace all inner screws, memory cover and all bottom case screws.

23. Replace all perimeter and back case screws. You may need to squeeze down on the lid to hold the keypad/trackpad in place so as the screws line up. Do not force or over tighten these screws. Back off if they’re not fitting as you may have things misaligned.

24. Replace battery and you’re done.


The machine will not boot from this blank, unformatted hard disk so you’ll need to boot from your external backup.

Plug power cable back in and connect external hard disk that you will be booting from.

Turn on computer and boot from external.

Use Disk Tools on external to format the new hard disk. Don’t forget to partition it using the GUID partition table as it’s an Intel-based Mac.

Once it’s set up use SuperDuper! to copy your backup to the new internal hard disk.

When that’s done, set startup to the new internal hard disk and boot the machine.

Enjoy your new hard disk and let me know if you run into problems I might be able to help with.