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The Northern Spy
January 2003

The 1G TiBook


by
Rick Sutcliffe

The introduction

of the one Gigahertz version of Apple's TiBook, closes the gap between the high end laptop and desktop units. Compared with the 500MHz model of two years ago, the new units have twice as much of almost everything—speed, cache, video and main memory, and disk drive space. Both the video memory and the 1M L3 cache are DDR, which ought to improve throughput on many common functions. The main memory is PC-133S. There's also a Super Drive in the new model (and it comes with DVI video out, Jaguar, DVI to VGA adapter cable, S-Video to composite adapter, installed Airport and modem, re-designed power adapter, and software on DVD. The video is supplied by an ATI Mobility Radeon unit with 64M of dedicated DDR RAM. The only thing that hasn't changed is the form factor. The screen is still the same size as in the original TiBook.



Setup

The Spy's first task was to increase the memory from 512M to 1G. (Not everyone would need to do this, though.) This took a couple of minutes. Just unlatch the keyboard catches, move it aside, and the memory is readily available. Pop the latches sideways, wiggle the memory slugs out and replace with two new ones. Done. Comment: It would be a lot cheaper for the customer in the end if the machine were shipped with one 512M slug which could be augmented by a second, rather than two 256M slugs, both of which must be wasted to do this upgrade.

The second task was to re-partition the 60G drive (nuking everything installed on it.) Sorry, Apple, but the Spy is uncomfortable with putting everything on a single volume. To do this, one boots with the install DVD and chooses the disk utility from the Apple menu. In theory, all that's needed is to divide the disk into an appropriate number of partitions, resize these to suit, and that's it.

In practice, it's not so simple. The partitioning software is clumsy, probably not intended to be used at all. It doesn't want to make the highest numbered partition any smaller than 5G, and has a mind of its own when changing sizes of the partition you're working on, often changing one or more others at the same time, even if they are supposedly locked. Best approach is to unlock the first partition and the other one you want to grow or shrink. The two should move in size together, gains in one matched by losses in the other automatically. When you have the size you want, lock the higher numbered one, but leave the first unlocked while doing the next. After three or four retries, I gave the main OSX boot partition 27G, and most of the others 4-5G, except for a 1G swap partition, which I still have to teach OS X about. (Don't want the memory swapping done on the main volume, as it would fragment.)

One bug that surfaced after giving some of the partitions new names in the Finder is that the partition map still knows about the old names, and the System Profiler thinks there are a bunch of zero-sized unmounted partitions with the old names. I suspect this creates a performance hit on booting. Recommended workaround: Rename and re-initialize each partition to its final name before leaving the disk utility.

Next, I installed my new BookEndz docks (from Photo Control Corp. at http://www.bookendzdocks.com/) and mounted the machine in one. This took some doing the first time, but the two units gradually got used to their marriage and are now quite compatible. These docks make it possible to work with a large screen and keyboard at both home and office desk, while still having the option of being a road warrior. It was necessary to change docks, by the way, because the new TiBook has different video ports. I had bought additional DVI to VGA converter cables and at first though I wouldn't need them after all as the BookEndz unit has a VGA signal split out at the back. But this signal proved not to be very good (ghosting with both docks) so I used the adapters anyway (very clean and sharp signal by contrast). Too bad. This could have been a nice bonus, but wasn't properly executed.

This done, I installed a full system X on the main partition, then copied the boot partition of my old TiBook onto the second partition and made it the default for now. Of course, it wouldn't run properly because the hardware has changed. (The only fault appeared to be an inability to awake from sleep without a hard crash, though.) I wasn't sure at first what was at fault so I copied all the extensions and system files from the system folder of the new install to that of the second partition. I copied folder by folder as loose files, not wanting to erase all the other items I had in the extensions, preferences, and other folders. I could probably have gotten away with copying just the Mac OS ROM file, which was the most likely culprit. Shoulda logicked that out first.

With these moves complete, the machine booted my OS 9 partition properly and I could install all my programs, utilities, and development software. A couple of days of fine tuning, and I had that working correctly. Time to check out the newest version of Jaguar. I held down the option key on booting to bring up the startup manager. It thinks for a long time, looks around all the partitions for system folders (including those on external drives), and then offers to boot from one. The choice here, by the way, does not affect the default set in the startup control panel (or corresponding OS X preference panel). Set up this way, the machine will boot from one partition by default, but be available to boot the other when needed. Note that this choice is by partition, not by folder, so whatever option is set on the OSX partition (X or 9.2) will boot if that partition is chosen, and this sub-level of detail cannot be selected at this level.

I then configured the classic folder with a more spartan set of extensions than the one in partition two (many don't work or are irrelevant in Classic) and got it working satisfactorily, set up printers using the Print Center application in Applications/Utilities, reconfigured the marginally functional OSX software dock to be far less obtrusive, installed DropDrawers (from Sig Software at http://www.sigsoftware.com/) to supplement it, and was ready to go. (Yes, Nellie, it bothers me to spell "centre" that way, but I ought to use their name in an article.)


The good

The new machine is certainly faster than the earlier models. Screen drawing, file opening and saving, and processor intensive tasks are all about twice as fast, as one would expect. Booting is somewhat leisurely, perhaps a slight increase in speed, but not nearly as fast as a twin 1G desktop unit. The track pad is improved, and no longer has the hover effect, where waving a finger in the air nearby sent the cursor skittering across the screen.

As I suspected, the scratch install of Jaguar proved far more stable than the upgraded-from-10.1.5 version I have been using on the desktop machine. It actually runs classic applications without crashing very often or shutting down classic applications the first time you close one of their windows.

Also, possibly due to better hardware design, and possibly due to the better-tuned OS, the new TiBook is better about docking and undocking, going to sleep and waking up, and faster when it mounts external drives.

Moreover, the price of the new high end is $200 lower than the previously top of the line 800MHz model, and there is an 887MHz model (Combo drive, no AirPort, half the main memory and video RAM, 40G hard drive) for $700 less still—not bad either, though less than terrific news for someone who just paid the higher price for a 667MHz unit.


The fair

DVD burn speeds are 1X rather than the 2X found on similar units in desktop machines. This is undoubtedly due to compromises that had to be made to fit the unit into a very small space and under the power requirements. Given the length of time it would take to burn a DVD on this unit, it ought to be plugged in for this task.

The power adapter has lost its stylish yo-yo design and is now a featureless white box. The two prong plug unit can be removed and replaced by a three-prong cord connector hooked into a small stud on the box. In most installations, this would be well advised, as there is otherwise a slight possibility of charge building up on the metallic case. The third prong allows such charges to drain away. Two small feet can be swung out from the adapter unit and used to coil cord, but in most cases these will be of little value. One should not transport the unit in a briefcase with the coiler prongs extended, as they are likely to get broken off.

The latest version of Jaguar (10.2.3) still cannot mount by volume (that is, by partition) but instead mounts or dismounts all partitions on a physical drive at once. Otherwise, X seems to be getting better all the time.


The future

At 34.5cm wide 24.2 cm deep and 3cm deep, the TiBook fits nicely in a variety of small briefcases and bags. Indeed, there is room for a slightly bigger computer in most bags, say 37cm by 27cm, which would result in a slightly larger screen. Expect Apple to make changes to the form factor on the next round of upgrades, say late fall 2003 or early spring 2004--possibly when they change processors to the G5 or the IBM 64-bit device. If the latter proves impossible, they may opt for dual processors, but that might require better batteries and force a form factor change anyway.


Still needed

It's true that megahertz alone is not all that matters. Throughput does. Still, Apple must be disappointed in IBM and Motorola for failing to deliver faster chips by this time. Had their technology partners gotten their act together, we'd be seeing speeds of 2G+ Hz by now. That we don't increases the likelihood of a processor switch in the next year or so.

The Spy would also like to see better mobile connectivity for these machines. Wireless phone technology is new and rapidly changing, so perhaps it is premature to build it in, but let's have it on a PC card (with software for the Mac) or a Blackberry-enabled telephone that can talk to the TiBook. Be best if Apple made the latter. Why not sell a PDA/Book reader/wireless telephone with Blackberry back to the TiBook to synchronize the appointment book and allow for instant, everywhere-enabled connectivity? Or, an AirPort enabled PDA running a version of MacOS? Then, Apple would have a digital hub to reckon with.


The bottom line

The original TiBook was a tour de force in both aesthetic and technical design, and has proven wildly popular among professionals who need the very best road equipment. This latest upgrade, though not perfect, is probably the best Apple can do given the constraints it has to work under. Overall, this is a significant enhancement of an already great unit and rates a strong buy recommendation. Perhaps Apple's stock does, too. They are still innovating, which can scarcely be said for many companies these days.


The bottomer line

FLASH:After publication of this column, and in a move that took everyone off guard, Apple announced both larger and smaller form factors of the PowerBook. The new machines have screen sizes of 12 inches and 17 inches, respectively, and perhaps should be dubbed AlBools as they are made of Aluminium (more scratch resistant) rather than Titanium. The two new machines have built-in Bluetooth, faster AirPort (optional on 12 inch, as is the SuperDrive) and a faster Firewire port on the 17 inch model (also with backlit keyboard). They have their ports on the side rather than the back. Apple will continue to sell the 15 inch model for now, but will undoubtedly rationalize the line at the first available opportunity.

--The Northern Spy

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