Full Metal Jacket Addenda

Amazon Rebates

I almost hesitate to mention this, lest Friday’s mostly glowing 15-inch PowerBook review be perceived as my shilling for Amazon affiliate spiffs, but if you’re considering a new PowerBook (or any other new Mac for that matter), Amazon is currently offering some very nice rebates (PDF form):

The rebates are good through 20 December 2005, and must be redeemed before 20 January 2006.

The only downside to ordering a new Mac from Amazon instead of Apple.com is that you can’t get build-to-order options; so, if you want one of the larger/faster hard drive options, you can’t do it at Amazon. But if you want the stock configuration, you’ll beat Apple’s price by up to $200, you’ll probably save a bundle on taxes, and at the same time you’ll help support Daring Fireball by using the above links to get to Amazon. The $200 rebate on PowerBooks will nearly cover the cost of upgrading to 2 GB of RAM from a good memory vendor like OWC or DMS. (I paid $226 from OWC.)

Safe Sleep

Entirely unbeknownst to me while writing the review, new PowerBooks now support a new “Safe Sleep” mode, where the contents of RAM are written to disk before sleep, so that if the battery is completely depleted during regular sleep, the computer will still “wake up” and restore your session when you plug in a power adapter or fresh battery. It’s not something you have to turn on, or a new way to put your computer to sleep. It’s something that kicks in automatically if you run out of juice while in normal sleep mode.

This Apple support document has a photo showing the special “waking from Safe Sleep” progress bar, and a description of the feature. I haven’t yet tried it, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Matt Johnston has a full report on the feature, including unsupported Open Firmware hacks to enable it on many recent Macs running 10.4.3 or later. (As he points out, this is not supported by Apple on any machines other than the new PowerBooks.)

On-the-Fly External Display Recognition in Wintel Laptops

After writing about the clever ways that PowerBooks take advantage of external displays, I asked if any readers knew whether any PC laptops supported similar functionality. Several readers replied that some PC laptops support this (readers specifically mentioned Dell and Sony), and that it works pretty well, albeit not quite as automatically as on Apple’s. Two readers specifically mentioned that Windows sometimes refuses to let them change on which display the Start bar appears, for example.

Those Glossy Screens

Readers offer two reasons for the growing trend of super-high-gloss displays on Wintel laptops. One is that they offer superior contrast, blacker blacks and brighter colors than on traditional non-glossy displays. The second is that it’s a marketing gimmick, designed to make the glossier displays look better on showroom floors; i.e. similar to the way that when compared side-by-side in a showroom, typical consumers will choose a new television with over-saturated colors over one that is configured for truly accurate color representation.

Judging from the response amongst DF readers, most consider it a gimmick, but a vocal minority is hoping to see such screens appear on Apple laptops in the future. I personally find these screens a bit repulsive, but I can’t say I’ve ever tried using one for an extended period of time, and it’s entirely possible that this is the direction in which all LCD screens are moving.

Cf. this page from Sony regarding their Xbrite technology.

Migration Assistant

This was the first time I used Apple’s new Mac OS X Migration Assistant, and it worked like a charm. I wanted to mention this during the review but forgot. It’s worthy of praise — I moved my entire user account over from my previous machine via FireWire target mode and it all just worked. I suspect many long-time Mac users are somewhat skeptical of Migration Assistant — I certainly was. But I figured if I was dissatisfied with the results, I could easily restore the PowerBook to factory state and do the migration manually, as I have with previous new Macs.

Jon Hicks bought the same PowerBook I did (replete with 7200 RPM drive upgrade), and is similarly delighted by the Migration Assistant.

Seagate and Hitachi Drives

Speaking of the 7200 RPM drives, I mentioned in the review that there are two 7200 RPM 100 GB notebook-size drives on the market, the Hitachi Travelstar 7K100, and the Seagate Momentus 7200.1, and that I was happy that mine came with the Seagate, as benchmarks showed it to be faster than Hitachi’s 60 GB 7200 RPM drive.

Ends up that when compared against Hitachi’s 100 GB drive, however, the Hitachi is slightly faster. Cf. benchmarks at Bare Feats and Tom’s Hardware. And, it ends up that some people are getting the Hitachi drives in their built-to-order PowerBooks; Apple is using both, and there’s no way to tell which one you’ll get until your PowerBook arrives.

However, I’m still glad I got the Seagate: Bare Feats’ report indicates that the Hitachi drive is noticably louder. To my ears, the Seagate in this PowerBook is the quietest laptop hard drive I’ve ever used.

Reader Joshua Bryant emailed:

With the 7200 drive, the reason you are hearing complaints as to the noise is because the Hitachi is ridiculously loud! I have the same PowerBook as you and I too got the 7200 drive except I ended up with the Hitachi. It is so ridiculously loud that after using Audio Hijack Pro to record a speaker phone interview, I couldn’t make out some of the interview listening later due to the loud click of the HD when it is accessing the disk. It sounds awful.

The Enter Key

A few readers defended the Enter key Apple places next to the right side Command key, most of them arguing that it’s convenient for dismissing dialog boxes without having to move your hand off the trackpad. But if it’s so great to be able to dismiss dialog boxes without moving your hand, why don’t they have similarly-conveniently located Enter keys on desktop keyboards? I still say the answer is to make it configurable, which ought to please everyone.

Trackpad Drags Not Registering

I wrote:

However, occasionally drags don’t seem to register on the trackpad — I’ll drag one finger across the pad, but the cursor won’t move at all on screen. I’ll immediately repeat the same finger drag, and it works.

Ends up this is caused by the “Ignore accidental trackpad input” option in the Keyboard & Mouse System Prefs panel. It’s on by default; turning this off has made the problem go away for me. I can’t recall ever having problems with “accidental” trackpad input, so this feature was clearly causing me more harm than good. Thanks to the slew of readers who pointed this out.

Titanium Flakiness

Matt Gessford emailed:

Just a quick note regarding your first footnote. You say: “… the 15-inch model remained stuck with the inferior prone-to-flaking Titanium case for another eight months.” In my experience, this is false. I have had my 1 GHz TiBook since July 2003, and have not had a single paint issue. I don’t recall reading any paint problem posts on the Apple Discussions from anyone with the last version of the TiBook. I think this issue was finally stamped out when the DVI model was released, but I’m not positive of that.

I stand corrected. But this backs up my assertion that it’s often better to wait for Rev. B or C models of brand-new generation Mac hardware.