Archive for November, 2006

Favorite Zune Feature

November 27th, 2006

I recently had a chance to play with a Microsoft Zune at Target and I was struck by one ‘feature’ that I hadn’t heard about online. It wasn’t WiFi or anything like that; it was anti-aliasing…or the lack of it.

When a user navigates the Zune interface the menu system animates by zooming while fading out. It’s a nice effect…until you see it live. You see, when the menu is shown statically the text is anti-aliased, but as soon as the menu animation starts the anti-aliasing turns off. The text and images are then drawn all old-school sans anti-aliasing. The net effect is jagged text zooming larger and larger. Not pleasant nor polished. After the animation ends the text is drawn in it’s final position with no anti-aliasing. Then anti-aliasing ‘snaps’ on and all the text on the screen is redrawn anti-aliased.

It’s little things like this which make me appreciate the attention to detail and quality Apple puts into virtually all it’s software and hardware. Even Rev. 1 products. On the flip side, this seems like a typical clueless design move allowed to ship by a management team desperately trying to imitate the iPod’s success.

cheers, will
music: damien rice | 9

1 Comment »

# posted at 1:25 am by Will

Mac Mini = Mac Expensive or The Missing Mac

November 16th, 2006

Hi All,
In this installment of ‘Tales from ES’ I’ll be covering what I perceive as a hole in Apple’s current product line. But first, let me back up. I’ve been doing some research for a possible home server box (for backup, subversion, a media hub and possible PVR). I started looking at options and of course I checked what Apple has to offer first.

Currently consumers who want a Mac but don’t want an integrated display have two options: 1) A Mac Mini 2) A Mac Pro. Certainly most consumers are going to balk at a Mac Pro which starts at $2500. I know I did. 🙂 That leaves the Mac Mini at $600. $600 bucks for a very limited home server seems pretty expensive so I started investigating alternatives. I priced up a Dell (to run Linux on) and found a deal for $289 for a Athlon 3200+ (single core 2.0 Ghz) processor. The specs: 512 MB RAM, 80 GB HD, DVD, integrated graphics. Now $289 is very cheap, but a single core is so last year. I started to think, what type of modern computer could I build for cheap?

After about a week of research I came up with this to compare to a Mini (Mac Mini in parentheses):

Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86 Ghz (Core Duo 1.66 Ghz) – $182
SATA 80 GB HD (60 GB HD) – $41
Micro ATX Intel MB w/ Integrated Graphics (as good or better than Mac Mini features) – $71
Case & Power Supply – $55
512 MB RAM (512 MB) – $56
Floppy – $6
DVD-RAM (Combo drive) – $28

The total: $439

The results are clear. The machine I’ve ‘built’ is much better than the beleaguered Mini. One could argue the Mini is going to be rev’d any day, but I’m guessing the price isn’t going to drop. If you recall, when the Mini was introduced two years ago, it started at $499. $499 is a heck of a lot closer to my $439 and is closer to an acceptable price to pay to run OS X, even without the expandability. Sadly, those days are gone. What is left is a machine that has actually increased in price, decreased in value and has a niche form factor. The Mac Mini is a machine Apple has positioned to fail.

The solution: the mythical ‘pro-sumer’ machine, the Mac Mini Pro. It would be reasonably priced with some expandability. First, users aren’t going to be toting a desktop around like a laptop, so why make it as small as possible? Out is the super tiny case, in is a moderate mini tower offering. As for price I see the Mini Pro with the specs listed above, but with a nicer case, falling in about the $579 mark. While the Mini drops to the more palatable $439 dollar range and truly becomes a budget Apple computer using a legacy processor.

The Mini Pro would use cheaper standard parts compared to the Mini and also add some advanced features. It would include: two PCI slots, a PCI Express slot (integrated graphics out of the box) and two extra internal drive bays. This would hit the consumer who wants some expandability and customizability. Tinkering with music or video, you’ll quickly run out of space on the slow Mac Mini hard drive. The only option is to pay a premium for a external drive. Need a decent sound card for making music? Out of luck with a Mini, the best you can do is an expensive breakout box. I could go on. My guess is you’ll find the majority of current Mac Mini owner’s have at least one external device attached to their Mini that could be put into a mini tower case.

Right now Apple is limiting their options for the ‘pro-sumer’ market by not offering a scaled down tower. I believe there is one factor for this; margins. First, margins on niche designs like all-in-ones or ‘mini’ pcs are much higher than a simple tower. Second, it’s all about driving sales to their $2500 tower if you want customizability. In the end, the consumer gets the short end of the stick. Without any hardware competition all we can do is grin and take it; telling ourselves it’s all just part of the cost to run Mac OS X. My question, at what point does the cost become too high?

cheers, will


# posted at 5:39 am by Will

Apple's Good Reliability? Part 2.

November 13th, 2006

I took my iMac to the shop this weekend to get repaired and was pleasantly surprised to find out the failure was covered by an ‘extended warranty program’ Apple started in August. Not sure how I missed that announcement, but I was happy I wouldn’t be dropping $310 to fix my machine.

This leads me to wonder about the quality of the parts Apple has been purchasing and/or the long term reliability of their hardware design. Recently it seems every month Apple is announcing another ‘extended warranty program.’ It’s no secret Apple likes to design virtually everything in their boxes, but one has to wonder if it wouldn’t be worth scaling back some of their designs in order to use standard (read: tested, reliable and cheaper) PC parts.

cheers, will

# posted at 8:30 pm by Will

Apple's Good Reliability?

November 7th, 2006

Hi All, recently Consumer Reports did their annual computer reliability survey. As always, Apple did quite well (1st in desktops, 2nd in laptops). I pat them on the back. However, one event has prompted me to make this post; my iMac G5 death. Sure, having a computer fail is nothing new, but I’ve had my MacBook in the shop for about 6 weeks since I bought it and now my iMac has bit the dust. To mark this occasion I’ve decided to list all the Apple computers I’ve owned (and sold) and the failures related to them. To add insult to injury – all failures were out of warranty except the MacBook. Just think of this post as my way to vent. 🙂

– Performa 6360 (no problems)
– iMac Bondie Blue G3 233 Mhz (no problems)
– Dual Processor G4 450 Mhz (two power supply failures)
– iBook G4 800 Mhz (three motherboard failures…are you kidding me! One was covered by an Apple recall.)
– Powerbook 12″ G4 867 Mhz (two motherboard failures within 10 months, battery failure)
– iMac 20″ G5 1.8 Ghz (hard drive failure, motherboard/power supply failure ?)
– MacBook 13″ Core Duo 2.0 Ghz (two heatsink replacements – random shutdowns, display problem, palm rest replacement)

As you can see, two things stick out. First, these are mainly Rev. A products. Second, I have not had good luck with Apple computers. Sigh.

cheers, will

# posted at 6:59 pm by Will