Macworld Expo: 17″ MacBook Pro

One of Apple’s big 3 announcements during the Phil Shiller keynote was the newly redesigned 17″ MacBook Pro. As you know I reviewed the 15″ MacBook Pro earlier and the 17″ has all of those same features but adds a little more…
The one thing that I find very attractive is the ability upgrade the 17″ MacBook Pro to 8GB of RAM!!! That’s unheard of on a laptop. Although I’m still not ready to carry a 17″ laptop again, I find the new very tempting. Apple also allows an “Antiglare screen” option which should make the professionals much happier. The use of a glossy screen has been a point of contention with many users. Although this will be welcomed, the NEW controversy will be the fact that the battery is built-in and not user removable or swappable. Granted the battery life has been drastically improved (Apple is claiming 8 hours!), it will be interesting to see if people buy in to the fact that they can carry an extra battery on long trips or to do work in the field.

Also check out Apple’s other New MacBook:

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Migrate Windows Boot Camp Partition to a New Mac

Although I love getting the latest and greatest Mac notebook, one of the things I always dread is having to setup my Windows Boot Camp partition all over again from scratch. Apple makes it really easy to migrate your Mac to a New Mac. You just run the Migration Assistant and it will handle transferring all of you data, apps, settings to the new Mac. That’s it, you’re done! However, Apple does NOTHING to help you move your Windows Boot Camp installation over. As much as I have tried in the past, I’ve never been able to simply backup/ghost the Windows partition over to a new drive or new Mac. Yes, I’ve heard stories of people using Disk Utility to do it, but I’ve yet to meet anyone that has done it 🙂 – urban legend… LOL

I have had my New MacBook Pro for a couple of weeks now and decided this past weekend that it was time to tackle getting my Windows XP volume setup. This time I didn’t have to start from scratch!


Winclone to the rescue

I had heard about Winclone months ago. It’s a Donationware/FREE Mac app that allows you to clone/backup AND restore your Windows Boot Camp Partition. I kept this utility in the back of my mind knowing that I would eventually be getting a new MacBook Pro and it would be worth a shot to try to use it to move over my existing Windows XP setup. I figured the worst that would happen is that it wouldn’t work or the restored Windows environment would be buggy/unstable and I’d just start from scratch anyway. So I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by giving it a shot.

When I knew that my New MacBook Pro was on the way, I fired up Winclone on my old Mac and cloned my Windows XP Boot Camp partition to an external Firewire drive. I used the Compressed option, which took my 60GB partition down to about 23GB (keeping in mind that there was only about 30-35GB’s used on the Windows partition). It creates a single Image file of your Windows drive. You can even mount the image as long as you don’t use the Compressed option.

According to the Winclone webpage one of the bullet items said: “Create a Bootcamp partition from within Winclone.” So I took that to mean that all I would have to do is fire up Winclone on my new Mac and it would not only do the restore, but also create the new Boot Camp partition. Sadly this was not the case. I looked everywhere in the app for the option to create a Boot Camp partition and it’s just not there. Since I was in no hurry to do this, I decided to send the guy an email asking about this and his response (very timely I might add) was that it was easiest to just use the Boot Camp Assistant (that comes with the Mac) to create the Windows partition and then quit the Boot Camp Assistant app and run the Winclone restore. It seemed simple enough and it worked perfectly. I fired up the Boot Camp Assistant and followed the prompts to create a new Boot Camp Partition. After about 5-10 minutes it was done and I just quit the app. So now I had an empty Windows partition ready to go.

Next I plugged in my external Firewire drive containing my Winclone backup image and then I fired up Winclone on my new Mac. I ran the restore of the Windows XP image and figured it would take a while so I went out and ran an errand. When I returned the restore was complete (I was gone for less than an hour, but I didn’t time the restore from start to finish). Fingers crossed, I rebooted my MacBook Pro, holding down the Option Key and there it was. I got the option to boot into Windows. Windows had to do some drive checking/repairing and I just let it do its thing. Once that was done, I saw my familiar Windows XP desktop. I was also being prompted to reactivate Windows (more on that in a minute). The next thing I knew I had to do was to update/install the drivers for all the things on the MacBook Pro such as the trackpad, iSight camera, graphics card drivers, Airport wireless, etc. Now instead of making you burn a CD, Apple includes these drivers on your Mac Installation DVD. This DVD is a dual format DVD, so when I inserted it, it did an Autorun and fired up the main menu allowing me to “Remote install Mac OS X on a MacBook Air”, “Install the CD/DVD Sharing app” for a MacBook Air, or install the Boot Camp Drivers. I picked the third option and it installed everything necessary to allow Windows to take advantage of the hardware built-in to the MacBook Pro.


What worked, what didn’t? Any gotchas?

For the most part everything worked PERFECTLY! During the first boot above I had to go grab an external keyboard. I have Windows XP set to require a login/password. In order to enter this password you have to press Control-Alt-Del. Unfortunately “Delete” on the MacBook Pro keyboard is NOT “Del” on the Windows keyboard. Apple takes care of this with their keyboard driver by mapping “Del” to the Delete key when you press the Function button. However, since I hadn’t gotten the drivers installed yet, the only way I was going to be able to login to Windows was to use an external keyboard that actually had a “Del” key.

I was stunned by how little I had to do afterwards. But there was one casualty. Although my Trackpad works, it doesn’t have all of the functionality. For example, I should be able to put two fingers on the trackpad and click for a right click. For some reason that’s not working now. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers and it’s just not working. However, two finger scrolling works, go figure. I went into the Boot Camp control panel and verified the settings were correct, it’s just not working. This is no biggie and may have something to do with the OLD Boot Camp drivers that were already present. This is one of the potential gotchas of NOT starting from scratch. It’s one I can live with for now. Usually when I’m in Windows via Boot Camp I’m doing a demo and I’d be using a mouse or tablet anyway. I also have a free little utility for Windows called Apple Mouse that lets you do a right click by holding down the Control button and tapping the trackpad button. So I’m good for now.

The other thing I had to do (which I fully expected), was to reactivate Windows XP. Windows looks for hardware changes like a different Ethernet card address and different processors, hard drives, etc. I was able to reactive Windows via the web with no problem. Everything else I’ve tried (so far) works fine. I can get online. My apps are working. No weird errors, no crashes. Winclone saved me HOURS of having to install everything from scratch.


Ongoing use of Winclone

Once I get my Windows environment updated the way I want (for example, uninstalling Adobe CS3 and installing Adobe CS4), I will use Winclone on a regular bases to create a backup of my Boot Camp Partition. This way if my Windows installation gets hosed, I can just restore it.


What about Parallels or VMware?

It’s true, with virtualization apps like Parallels, you don’t need to partition your drive. You would just have a Windows “image” that’s a file on your drive. It could even be on an external drive. With Parallels or VMware there’s also no need to reboot! Windows (or whatever OS you’re running) just runs in a Window right along side your Mac OS. So why Boot Camp? Parallels actually offers several modes of running Windows right along side your Mac OS including the ability to have it seamlessly integrate right into your Mac environment so that when you run Windows apps they show up in your Mac dock. It’s like running Windows apps in the Mac OS without seeing the Windows “window”. Although I love the sheer convenience of Parallels, I love the horse power of Boot Camp. When you run Windows under Parallels or VMware, you’re sharing resources with the Mac OS that’s ALWAYS running in the background. So you won’t have as much RAM available to either environment and you may not be able to take full advantage of your graphics card/3D graphics acceleration, Open GL, etc. Parallels is GREAT for the casual user or the user that isn’t running demanding apps. I actually use Parallels too. I use it for those times when I need to pop into Windows to do a task and don’t feel like rebooting my Mac. Both Parallels and VMware can use your Boot Camp Windows installation as their source for Windows, so you get the best of both worlds! If I need full power in Windows, I reboot and use Boot Camp. If I just need to do something quick or less demanding in Windows, then I run Windows in Parallels. The best part is that no matter which way I run Windows, it’s the SAME Windows installation with the same apps, files and settings. 


Windows XP starting up in Parallels 4 while the Mac OS runs in the background


Parallels 4.0

I also took this opportunity to upgrade from Parallels 3 to Parallels 4. While this isn’t a full review, it works great too. Because of the way Parallels installs stuff in your Windows environment, it changes just enough that Windows will probably need to be reactivated again. Had I known this up front I would have waited until Parallels 4 was installed before reactivating Windows. Since I had just recently reactivated it after the Boot Camp install, having to reactivate it again in such a short time probably appeared to Microsoft that I was trying to install it on two different computers. I was not allowed to reactivate it over the internet. I had to call in this time. It was still done automatically via a computer, but I had to answer the “how many computers are you installing this copy of Windows on?” question twice. It gave the necessary key code and I was all set. Parallels 4 is definitely faster than version 3. Also my Trackpad works perfectly under Parallels with the right-click functionally and scrolling.

I’ll have to review version 4.0 when time permits. However, booting up into Parallels now is dramatically faster. However, keep in mind that no matter how much they speed up Parallels, it will never be as fast as running in Boot Camp because you’ll always be sharing resources.

My Windows XP Boot Camp installation running in Parallels 4 as a Window on top of Mac OS X


The Bottom Line

The Mac is more popular than ever because of these capabilities. If you use Windows XP/Vista under Boot Camp on your intel Mac and you need to backup (duh, you need to backup), then Winclone is an indispensable Mac utility. If you need to migrate your Boot Camp Windows installation to another Mac, other than starting from scratch, there is no better way than using Winclone. You can download Winclone from here (yes it works with Vista too). Although there is no charge for this app, he is asking for donations. I had no problem donating because this is an app that I would have gladly paid for anyway. Apple should either buy this and include it with the OS or build-in this functionality into their existing Migration Assistant. People will be more willing to go to a new Mac if there is less hassle in doing so.

Reading SDHC cards via the ExpressCard slot

I’ve been using ExpressCard media readers for about as long as I’ve been using a MacBook Pro (years). I’ve used ones from SanDisk, Griffin Technologies, Synchrotech and now Belkin. Hands down my favorite Compact Flash reader/writer is the Synchrotech CF Express Card Reader. This is one of the only ones that takes true advantage of the ExpressCard slot’s speed when reading high-speed UDMA enabled Compact Flash cards. Read my earlier reviews of this card here and here.


What about reading SD cards?

My point and shoot still camera and consumer HD camcorder both use SD cards. So what about those? Although I love my San Disk 12-in-1 memory card reader, it’s really overkill since I’m only dealing CF and SD cards these days. Also since I don’t want to read CF cards at USB speeds, then I would only be using that reader for SD cards. So my answer is a very small ExpressCard Media Reader. I actually have a couple of these. However, I recently realized that the ones I have are older models that don’t read the high capacity SD (SDHC) cards. I ran into this problem just last weekend while doing an Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 demo. I needed the read the 8GB SDHC card from my Canon HF10 HD camcorder. My old Belkin ExpressCard reader wouldn’t mount the card. Luckily there was someone in the audience with a newer model and he let me use his.

Knowing that I was going to need to use one from here on out (SD cards continue to grow in capacity), I stopped by the Apple Store while I was in San Francisco for Adobe MAX. I was looking for the same brand that he had let me borrow (SanDisk). Unfortunately, I could only find ONE model and it was the Belkin. As a matter of fact it was the last one left and it looked just like the one I was using already. However, on the side of the packaging it did specifically show the SDHC logo, so I took a chance and bought it. When I got back to my hotel room, I compared the two and there was a difference in part number. So apparently Belkin had upgraded it. It worked like a charm!

Although these ExpressCard readers from Belkin and others (not counting the Syncrotech CF reader), go in the ExpressCard slot, they operate at USB speeds. So you really don’t gain anything speed wise (until someone develops a native ExpressCard slot one for SD), however, you do gain on compactness. When this Belkin reader is in the ExpressCard slot it’s flush with the side of my MacBook Pro. So nothing sticks out. You could even leave it in all the time if you don’t use your ExpressCard slot for other cards.

These readers read/write: SD/SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, MemoryStick, MemoryStick Pro, and xD-Picture Card without the need for an adapter. There really is no functional difference between the Belkin, SanDisk and Griffin Technology (although the Griffin reader doesn’t specially call out SDHC. It may not be updated yet!) readers. However, since they they all do the same thing and both the Belkin and SanDisk readers specifically list SDHC, you’re probably better off going with the SanDisk. Why? Because it lists for only $17.29, while the Belkin reader lists for $29.99. Had the Apple Store had the SanDisk model for that price, I would have gotten it.

If your Mac or PC notebook has an ExpressCard slot, then having one of these adapters is a must. They will fit in just about any pocket in your laptop bag. If you need Compact Flash support and you have an ExpressCard slot, then go with the Syncrotech. It will be way faster than your USB reader. If all you’re going to use is SD/SDHC cards, then you might be better off going with SanDisk’s very clever Ultra II SD/SDHC Plus Cards. These cards fold in half to expose a USB plug that goes right into your computer. No card reader necessary. They are my FAVORITE SD cards hands down!

2008 MacBook Pro Review

Fortunately my MacBook Pro is supplied to me by my employer. It’s my work computer. Therefore, I have to wait an adequate amount of time (usually around 18 months) before requesting a new one. This time around I waited a lot longer. The last two updates to the MacBook Pro were good, just not earth shattering. I didn’t feel like going through the hassle of transferring to a new MacBook Pro (including Boot Camp) the last two times. So I waited and kept using my MacBook Pro 2.33GHz model. Now I’m glad I did!


The New MacBook Pro

Apple has completely redesigned the MacBook Pro! As with anything, there will be some pluses and minuses and I certainly have my list. So let’s get to it:


The Pros:

The New MacBook Pro is crafted out of a single piece (brick) of aluminum through a new manufacturing process at Apple that looks pretty amazing. I can definitely see the benefits of this process because my New MacBook Pro is very sturdy. I can remember the days of the PowerBook G4 Titanium and how “flexible” those cases were. If you squeezed too hard while the CD drive was going, you would hear a grinding noise. Or if you flexed the casing too much the battery would fall out. Those days are gone, this thing is built very well. I also appreciate going to black keys on the keyboard. My keyboard over the years was really getting kind of grimy and this new keyboard should hide the dirt better. All the ports are back to being on one side. I kinda like this, although in some cases they are a little too close together. It can get pretty tight trying to plug in two USB cables, ethernet and Firewire 800. The speakers are much nicer and louder than any previous model. The new graphics card kicks butt! Graphics performance is night and day faster over my last model. Since CS4 takes advantage of the GPU, I’m seeing some really nice speed increases across the board. One of my long time pet peeves has finally been addressed. The two components that I have usually upgraded in the past on my MacBook Pro were the RAM and the hard drive. While I usually max out the RAM right off the bat, I may not upgrade the size of the hard drive until months later when larger capacities are available. Replacing a hard drive in PowerBooks and MacBook Pros has always been a real pain. Now Apple has made the hard drive very accessible via the same door that hides the battery. I took the cover off to take a peek and it was right there. I was speechless. The built-in iSight camera has improved drastically in image quality. Lastly I also really appreciate the speed. It is noticeably faster in many areas over my older model. If you want to continue to be in a happy place, stop reading now and go place your order. Have a nice day.


The Cons:

We have to take the bad with the good and there is some bad with this new model. While there are some Apple zealots out there that may not like to ever hear anything bad about Apple, the fact is Apple does make mistakes like any other company. The products are not perfect. Very cool, exciting yes, but not perfect. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and here’s mine: The two areas I was most concerned about was the glossy screen and the new trackpad. The new LED glossy display is VERY BRIGHT! Almost too bright. I find myself sometimes turning it down a notch. I’ve used it now in all the places I normally use it in around the house and no real issues. Photos look fantastic on it and color looks awesome.  Apple decided to cover the display with glass! I was thinking that this was going to be a nightmare. As you might imagine, glass is highly reflective. So far this hasn’t been an issue, but I do notice the glare when looking at it from the sides. Another interesting thing was actually seeing the reflection of the backlit keyboard in the display under certain lighting conditions. As I tell people with any display/monitor, you need to see it with your own eyes, before passing judgement. No reviewer can tell you if it’s going to be right for you or not. It will also depend upon the lighting conditions you’re going to use it under. While I like the new black keys on the keyboard, the keyboard itself is missing a couple of things. I really miss the separate Enter key on the bottom right of the keyboard. I also miss the ability of having a numeric keypad using the Numlock key. I can’t figure out why Apple would remove this functionality? In the Pros section above, I mentioned that I liked having all the ports on one side. I do! However, I do miss having a USB port on the right side too. On occasion I use an AT&T USB Connect 881U USB 3G modem for internet access when I travel. Due to the width of this modem, it blocks the other USB port. This wasn’t an issue before, because I had another USB port on the other side of the computer. As I write this I have a Firewire 800 drive and an Ethernet cable plugged in and it’s really tight with no space between them. Speaking of ports, I really miss the other Firewire port. My older MacBook Pro had both a Firewire 800 and Firewire 400 port. While Firewire is daisy chainable, I have to remember to always have either the right cables with me or an adapter since I have a mix of Firewire 800 and 400 devices. If you get the new MacBook Pro, you will definitely want to get this Firewire 400 to 800 adapter. Apple also completely changed the battery. While that’s not uncommon they did a couple things to make it a little harder on travelers. I normally travel with at least one extra battery for my MacBook Pro for those cross country flights. The new MacBook Pro’s battery is longer/bigger than the previous model, which is going to be a consideration for packing my computer bag. Also Apple removed the battery charge indicator from the battery itself and put it on the side of the MacBook Pro. While this makes it more convenient to check the charge of the battery while it’s installed, it makes it impossible to know if a spare battery is charged or not without first putting it in the computer. Speaking of which is not as easy to do either. Now the battery is behind a removable door, which you must take off first!


My biggest complaint!

Yes, this con is so big that it needs it’s own section. Like I said earlier, I use my MacBook Pro about 90% of the time. So that means that I’m going to be using the trackpad a lot too. Yes, I know I know – you say get a mouse or a tablet! I have both a mouse and a tablet and I use them. I use my Bluetooth mighty mouse when I’m doing demos and I use my Wacom tablet when I’m doing photo retouching and demos as well. However, there are plenty of times where I’m just doing email, surfing the web, writing this blog post, etc. and I don’t always have a surface to put a mouse on. I could be sitting in an airport, on a plane, sitting in bed or laying back in a recliner. I’m not going to grab a mouse in these situations. Never had to before, I shouldn’t have to now! The new MacBook Pro’s trackpad is completely redesigned. The separate “click” button is GONE! The whole trackpad (actually most of the lower section) is a button. This has it’s pluses and minuses too. Unfortunately it has more minuses than pluses. It’s just sometimes awkward to click and drag objects. Speaking of clicking, this trackpad is the loudest I’ve ever heard. When you click it, everyone around you will know! This includes your sleeping mate that is lying next to you while you work late. I could deal with this if the darn thing just worked consistently. It seems that depending upon where you click (for example the center vs. the sides, you may get a click you may not. Now in all fairness, Apple is rumored to be working on a software fix to address at least this one issue. Let’s hope they can address other issues too. The New MacBook Pro has additional gestures that you can perform on the trackpad such as pinching to zoom in and out of photos. Photoshop CS4, InDesign CS4, iPhoto, etc. take advantage of these gestures. However, as it stands right now in their current implementation, it’s just too sensitive to be useful. I’m also stunned that there is no way to turn them off! This makes working in Photoshop or iPhoto very challenging from the trackpad. Sure, you can just use a mouse! Yeah, I get that. However, that’s a workaround! The trackpad is built-in and should be usable! I had none of these issues with the old one and used the old trackpad the majority of the time. Let’s hope that much of this is addressed in the upcoming software update. I want to believe that I’ll get used to the trackpad. These few days were kinda rough. It puts me in the mind of the first week I started typing on the iPhone. I thought that was going to take a long time to get used to too. However, it’s second nature now. We’ll see how this goes over time.


The bottom line

Despite the issues I’m having with the trackpad, I’m very pleased with the New MacBook Pro. The Glossy display is no where near as annoying as I thought it would be. The new MacBook Pro is solid, gorgeous and fast! Migrating over from my previous MacBook Pro was a piece of cake (I still have Boot Camp left to do). It was worth the wait and I would gladly do it again. My configuration is the Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz, 320GB 7200 RPM hard drive with 4GB of RAM. Should you upgrade to the MacBook Pro. If you want a faster better built MacBook? YES! However, you need to see the display for yourself! What is acceptable for me, may not be for you.