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March 2011 Meeting Hilights

By Monte Ferguson

There were three topics that sparked a lot of discussion at our March meeting. They were; MacOS X Lion, aka 10.7, MacBook Pro updates, and the iPad 2.

The question came up innocently enough…."What do you know about Lion?" Which launched a lengthly discussion and answer session about the upcoming release of MacOS X. We reiterated that a number of features were being brought back from iOS to MacOS X. Auto saving documents and versioning both look like they'll be immediately useful. Mission Control, a way to see all open windows and apps at a glance, also looks useful. We went over to Apple's web site and viewed some screen shots to provide a backdrop on the discussion. Lion certainly looks interesting. At this point it is too early to form a real opinion about it. It is due to be released sometime this summer. By the time WWDC ends in June we should have a very firm idea of the release time table and the feature set. (At this time minimum system requirements are unknown.)

The next topic we talked about were the new MacBooks. Duane stated upfront that these were definitely something to covet. In fact he's contemplating replacing his black MacBook with one of the new MacBook Pros.

On the surface there is nothing remarkably different from the models they replace. All of the changes are under the hood. The biggest new feature is the Thunderbolt port. It is tech developed jointly between Intel and Apple. It uses a standard Mini Display Port adapter. It transmits data at 10Gbps up and down! That means it smokes both USB 2.0 and Firewire 800. (It even handily trumps the just released USB 3.0) It is capable of daisy chaining up to 6 devices and it also allows a Mac to be booted in Target Disk mode. In short it offers all of the features of the previous In/Out standards and provides enough bandwidth to power future needs. Better yet, for the next few months, Apple will be the only computer manufacturer to implement it. PC makers will totally have to retool their logic boards to support the new port. The rest of the hardware features are less sexy than Thunderbolt. Yet they offer performance boosts that further define the Pro line from the MacBook and MacBook Airs. In the processor space you can elect for a choice of either a dual-core 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5 or a dual-core 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7. Where the change really happens is with the 15-inch and 17-inch models, which feature quad-core Intel Core i7 processors running at 2.0 GHz (15-inch only), 2.2 GHz, or 2.3 GHz. Hyper-Threading is now standard on all the MacBook Pro models, enabling two threads to run simultaneously on each core, making Mac OS X think that there are eight cores on a quad-core processor and four on a dual-core processor and enabling tasks to be spread out more evenly. The GPU’s have also seen improvements. The 13-inch model comes with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384 MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory as its only option. The 15-inch and 17-inch units also support the same integrated graphics for reducing power consumption in normal conditions. But they also come with discrete high performance GPU’s for heavier duty tasks. The 15-inch model comes with either the AMD Radeon HD 6490M graphics processor with 256 MB of GDDR5 memory in the 2.0 GHz CPU configuration, or the AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics processor with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory in the 2.2 GHz CPU configuration. The 17-inch model always relies on the latter.

The biggest news of the day was the release of the iPad 2. The new model is lighter and thinner. You can see and feel that right away. The tactile impression is greater than the hard numbers would suggest.

We lucked out as our own John Burch managed to snag an iPad 2 when they came out. He also brought along his original iPad as a comparison. My impression after holding it was that it felt easier to hold. (The original iPad always made me nervous that I would drop it. It’s curved back and slick finish contributed to that.) In terms of performance it felt snappier. No doubt due to the new A5 chip, which replaces the A4 found in the previous model. John said that the graphics performance is noticeably improved. John said that he gets the same battery life with the iPad 2 as he did with the original iPad. We didn't have time to test out the built in cameras ourselves. You can now buy the iPad in white or black. John's was white. Normally I’m not a fan of white objects. They tend to show too much wear and dirt. However, the coating on the iPad seemed to resist finger oils. We didn't try out all of its features but we all had a chance to compare the two models.

John also picked up the Smart Cover. It is a snazzy, and attractive, way of protecting the iPad screen. The Smart Cover is soft and segmented. It is a flap-like device. It attaches to the iPad via magnets, along one side. When it cover the screen the iPad automatically goes to sleep. When you start to remove the cover it wakes the iPad up. It can also be folded into a stand to hold the iPad up in landscape orientation. Apple claims that the inside lining, made of microfibers, helps keep the screen clean. It is a separate purchase, priced at $39 for the polyurethane model. There is a pricier leather model, in more muted color schemes.

Retro Mac After talking so much about present and future of the Mac, and iPad, we then reversed gears for our featured presentation. We turned on the Way Back Machine. We invited all of our members to bring in their oldest surviving Macs. They did not disappoint.

I think John Burch came with the most stuff. He had a way old Mac with an add on cooling fan, external hard drive and more. We had fun looking over the old gear. It’s truly stunning to see and hear how much this gear originally cost. Yet, how reliable it is/was. Most of these machines could have been fired up right then and there. We also joked and reminisced about old Mac issues, add-ons and products.

We rounded out the meeting by mentioning some club business. Monte informed everyone that a new Members Only Mailing List had been setup. Anyone who was at the meeting but not on the list was encouraged to look him up.

We had a great time. It was Duane’s idea to have a retro night and it turned out swell.

Posted: Saturday, April 30th, 2011

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