Review: 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro 2.5″ Notebook Drive

Posted by:
Date: Sunday, October 10th, 2010, 12:35
Category: hard drive, Hardware, Review

Maybe it’s part of getting older.

When the idea of solid state hard drives first emerged a few years ago, there was some hesitancy on my part.

Not quite the smashing of all available nearby looms, but some hesitancy.

This was a new thing, a hard drive made entirely of flash memory with no moving parts whatsoever and thus mysterious. And after years of fighting with both ATA-IDE drives (including occasionally realigning the pins with a pen when they bent) and SATA-based hard drives, you become hesitant to change.

Beyond my own hesitancy came the idea of sheer capacity. Yes, various hard drive companies had been offering solid state options for a while, but when they first hit, their capacities were a fraction of what you’d find on a conventional hard drive with moving parts. Yes, a MacBook Air with a quiet solid state hard drive seemed cool when it first came out, but when your capacity topped out at 40 to 80 gigabytes, this put pause on being an early adopter.

Still, 120 gigabytes didn’t seem like something to sneeze at and with my 2008 white plastic MacBook’s conventional SATA hard drive slowing down during iMovie work, there seemed to be no time like the present to try an alternative.

The result: I’m going to be reluctant to have to ship Other World Computing’s 120GB Extreme Mercury Pro SSD drive back in a couple of days.

Having done the classic hard-drive-swaperoo of taking the new drive, putting it in an external carrier, cloning the old hard drive’s data to the new drive and then swapping the new drive in, the drive booted cleanly and without issue. In the following months, the drive has run a bit quieter than its conventional SATA alternative and felt just as brisk as a conventional notebook hard drive.

Even if the drive itself doesn’t blaze along at a professional grade speeds (there’s always been something cool about a high end 10,000 RPM desktop hard drive tearing through Photoshop and Final Cut processes without slowing down in the least), the Mercury felt like something you could install and forget about. Yes, this was a new thing, my very first flash hard drive. Still, once installed, it fell into the background, ran completely reliably no matter what was thrown at it and never seemed to slow.

Granted, this isn’t the most exciting news in the world, but it does offer a promise for the encompassing technology itself. Even if conventional SATA notebook drives still offer a larger capacity and these are the early years of flash-based notebook hard drives, there’s something reliable here. As strange as the idea of a hard drive without moving parts may be (upon removal from the box, the drive itself weighed next to nothing, almost if if you’d received a fake cardboard hard drive in the mail), the end product works reliably enough to install into grandma’s Apple notebook if need be (provided it supports SATA hard drives), makes sure all her old files have been cloned over for her to use and you’re off to the races.

No, this isn’t groundbreaking, but it is cool, fun to install and reliable in the end. The drive installs, it works briskly and you can put it in the back of your mind and get on with the rest of your day, remembering to feed your pets instead of wondering why your hard drive appears to be groaning loudly or, worse, scraping one of its data platters during day to day operation.

And at the end of the day, none of these are terrible things.

Give it a gander.

The 120GB Mercury Extreme Pro retails from US$289.99 and is available now.

Rumor: Current MacBook Air supplies being depleted, next-gen model said to be forthcoming

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, October 7th, 2010, 04:19
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

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With current supplies of Apple’s MacBook Air notebook drying up through the company’s indirect sales channels, rumors are spreading that a next generation model is on the horizon.

Per AppleInsider, all but one of the Apple Authorized Resellers that the web site tracks tracks as part of its Mac Price Guide have run out of low-end 1.83GHz MacBook Air, including Amazon.com, MacConnection, MacMall and J&R. In addition, at least two of those resellers are also reflecting no stock of the high-end 2.13GHz configuration.

This marks the first time the web site has witnessed this abnormal trend in regards to the Air since it began tracking availability of Apple’s Mac line on a daily basis over two years ago. For weeks now, the websites of certain resellers have indicated that inventory of the low-end MacBook Air was on the verge of depletion, urging shoppers to “order soon,” as only a handful of units remained in stock.

Sources familiar with the buy side of operations for big box retailers like Best Buy and Amazon.com say that Apple has indicted to them that it will not replenish supply of the notebooks until October 12th through October 16th at the earliest. Such expansive delays on low volume products like the MacBook Air are common only when Mac maker is preparing to overhaul the product line, these people say.

Mid-October hardware updates have become something of an annual tradition for Apple, who last year unveiled a redesigned line of iMacs and unibody MacBook on October 20th, 2009. Though last year’s products were introduced without a formal event, in 2008 the company held a special gathering for the media on October 14th to introduce new MacBooks. Back in 2005, the company similarly held two events in mid-October to introduce a new iPod, iMac, and a lineup of PowerBook notebooks.

All these signs seem to support persistent rumors out of the Far East that Apple is gearing up to overhaul the MacBook Air line with a newly designed 11.6″ display this fall, creating a more aggressively priced notebook for students and the business traveler. It’s reported that Apple plans to ship around a half-million units before the end of the 2010 calendar year. The current MacBook Air sports a 13.3″ display.

Rumors of a MacBook Air with an 11.6″ display first surfaced in July. The rumored hardware was anticipated to be even slimmer and lighter, and will be powered by an Intel Core i-series ultra-low voltage processor.

There’s also been a mixture of chatter regarding a much cheaper, thinner 11.6-inch Apple notebook that would weigh as little as 2.7 pounds due to the possibility of new carbon fiber unibody construction, though this and defined technical specifications have yet to be confirmed on any level.

The introduction of a new MacBook Air would likely come alongside an update to Apple’s iLife suite, a product that has also become long in the tooth. The last update, iLife ’09, was launched in January of 2009.

Recent rumors have suggested that a presumed iLife ’11 refresh will be written entirely in 64-bit code, will include a rewritten iWeb, and will drop the iDVD application. It has also been suggested that the software will be available for iOS-based devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and please let us know what you think in the comments.

Hitachi releases updated desktop, notebook hard drives, offers up to 750 GB capacities

Posted by:
Date: Wednesday, October 6th, 2010, 08:10
Category: hard drive, Hardware, News

Electronics maker Hitachi announced its new 375GB per platter, 5400-rpm and 7200-rpm, 2.5″ hard drives: the Travelstar 5K750 and Travelstar 7K750 on Wednesday.

Per Macworld, Hitachi has stated that the drives offer the industry’s highest capacities in a standard 9.5 mm two-disk design.

The Travelstar 5K750 and 7K750 drive families are the first Hitachi hard drives that feature Advanced Format, which increases the physical sector size on hard drives from 512 bytes to 4096 bytes, or 4KB—eight times larger. Hitachi’s previous generation drive was the Travelstar 7K500, which had maximum areal density of 370 Gbits per square inch. The new platters have an areal density of 472 Gbit per square inch.

Hitachi’s 5400-rpm Travelstar 5K750 drives feature an 8MB buffer for caching and a Serial ATA (SATA) 3Gbit per second interface for fast data transfer rates. The drive consumes 0.5 watts while idle and 1.4 watts power during read/write operations, which Hitachi said contributes to longer battery life in notebooks and other unplugged applications.

Hitachi’s 7200-rpm Travelstar 7K750 drive has a 16MB buffer, which allows quicker access to data and faster system performance, especially for multi-tasking and other high-performance office and home applications. It uses 0.5 watts idle and 1.8 watts during read/write operations.

The Travelstar 7K750 is a self-encrypting drive using Hitachi’s Bulk Data Encryption (BDE) specification, which encrypts data using protected keys in real time. It also speeds and simplifies the drive re-deployment process. By deleting the encryption key, the data on the drive is rendered unreadable, thereby eliminating the need for time-consuming data-overwrite. The drive is said to be “independent of OS so that a BDE hard drive can be used on an Apple Macintosh system. However, because Apple systems do not support the ATA security feature set, a BDE drive will function only as a standard drive in an Apple system.”

Both of the new Travelstar hard drive families come in capacities of 500GB, 640GB and 750GB.

Travelstar 5K750 Retail Hard Drive Kits will be available next month with a suggested retail price of US$130. The drive will be shipping to system manufacturers for qualification by the end of the year. The 7200-rpm Travelstar 7K750 family will be available in Q1 2011. Pricing for that drive has yet to be announced.

Older MacBook hacked into touch screen-equipped tablet

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, October 5th, 2010, 04:32
Category: Hack, MacBook

It’s been done before via Axiotron’s Modbook, but it’s being done cheaper.

Per PC World, older MacBook owner Matt of Enigma Penguin took it upon himself to convert the MacBook into a touch-based tablet with interesting results.

After taking the MacBook apart and removing non-functional hardware, Matt ordered a third party touch screen. Once it arrived, he removed the MacBook’s original display and cut the lid to accommodate the touch screen. After fiddling with drivers and other finalities, he’s got thing thing up and running (as mentioned in his blog). The device also uses Ink, the Mac OS X input alternative.

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, take a gander at the video:



As always, feel free to hurl in your comments and let us know what you make of this.

Rumor: Apple prepping smaller, lighter MacBook Air

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Date: Friday, September 24th, 2010, 05:27
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

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Things may be about to change for Apple’s MacBook Air, the super-slim notebook perhaps receiving an LED-backlit display nearly two inches smaller than the current model.

Per DigiTimes, Apple has watched sales of its ultra-portable trickle off to levels believed to be immaterial to its bottom line. As such, the product line has received little attention from the company, undergoing just two minor revisions in a 29-month span — the latter of which took place well over a year ago.

At just 0.76″ at its thickest point, the MacBook Air is undoubtedly slim enough for its target audience of business travelers and those consistently on the go. However, sales of the device suggest that its 13.3″ footprint and 3 pound carrying weight may be a bit more than that class of customers would prefer, especially given the resounding success of Apple’s more compact and lighter 9.7″ iPad.

In an effort to make the design of the Air more appealing and further differentiate the notebook from the company’s mainstream 13.3″ MacBook, Apple in 2008 reportedly began experimenting with a partial carbon fiber enclosure that would shave upwards of a 100 grams off its weight.

With plans for such a design failing to materialize over the last two years, it’s believed that Apple returned to the drawing board at some point and began crafting a makeover that would deliver both size and weight reductions, further pushing the envelop of ultra-portable notebook computing.

The first evidence to this end arrived earlier this year when an analyst citing sources in Apple’s Taiwanese component supply chain revealed that the company was placing orders for parts to fit a slimmer and lighter MacBook Air based around an 11.6″ LED-lit display and Intel Core i-series ultra-low voltage processor.

On Friday, a new report appears to further corroborate such claims, alleging that Apple’s primary notebook manufacturer Quanta has landed orders to produce the first 400,000-500,000 11.6″ “MacBooks” for delivery to the Mac maker before the end of the 2010 calendar year.

No further details were available from the report. Apple last updated the 13.3″ MacBook Air back in June of 2009 when it dropped the entry-level price to US$1,499 from US$1,799 for a model with a 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. A $1,799 offering based around a 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 128GB solid state drive was also introduced.

Stay tuned for details as they become available.

Analyst comments on supply chain, indicates that updated MacBook Air notebooks possible for September

Posted by:
Date: Monday, August 9th, 2010, 03:28
Category: MacBook Air, News

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A pair of updated MacBook Air notebooks could be en route along with updated iPods this September as analyst Keith Bachman with BMO Capital Markets this week issued a note to investors in which he said Apple will finally update its MacBook Air line next month. Per AppleInsider, Bachman offered the following quote:

“We are not yet clear on all the specs, but supply chain checks suggest that unit shipments o the new Air products could far exceed the current Air, which we believe could suggest lower starting prices,” Bachman wrote. “We project 2.9 million total notebooks in the September quarter, which we believe is reasonable.”

Updates have been repeatedly rumored over the last year but never panned out. The hardware was last updated in June 2009, giving it a Core 2 Duo processor and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics at a lower starting price of US$1,499.

Bachman also spoke of Apple’s anticipated update to its iPod line, though he did not specifically cite any industry insiders in his prediction for a redesigned, “much smaller” iPod nano.

“We believe that the Nano will be much smaller than past versions, and will not have a physical track wheel,” he said, adding that it’s possible that the iPod shuffle could be eliminated if the iPod nano is reduced in size.

Bachman also noted strong iPad and iPhone sales, and said checks in the supply chain indicate that the iPod touch has not been cannibalized by the iPad. BMO Capital Markets has maintained its “outperform” rating for AAPL stock, and has a price target of US$315.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases Magic Trackpad and Multi-Touch Trackpad Update 1.0, adds gesture support to some additional notebooks

Posted by:
Date: Wednesday, July 28th, 2010, 06:48
Category: MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, News, Software

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Apple on Tuesday issued an update to a number of recent notebooks, including the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air, bringing inertial scrolling and three-finger drag gesture support to some trackpads.

Per AppleInsider, the Magic Trackpad and Multi-Touch Trackpad Update 1.0 was released Tuesday afternoon by Apple. The file is a 75.09MB update that requires Mac OS X 10.6.4 to install and run. In addition to adding inertial scrolling and three-finger drag in recent MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks, it also adds support for Apple’s newly released US$69 Magic Trackpad.

Per Apple, the following MacBook and MacBook Pro models now have both inertial scrolling and three-finger drag gesture:

MacBook (13-inch, Early 2009)
MacBook (13-inch, Mid 2009)
MacBook (13-inch, Late 2009)
MacBook (13-inch, Aluminum, Late 2008)

MacBook Pro (17-inch, Mid 2010)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2010)
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Mid 2009)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2.53 GHz, Mid 2009)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2009)
MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2009)
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2009)
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Late 2008)

Inertial scrolling, but not the three-finger gesture, is offered in four additional models:

MacBook Air
MacBook Air (Mid 2009)
MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2008)
MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2008)

The new three-finger gesture was first discovered earlier Tuesday with hands-on tests of the Magic Trackpad. The capability allows users to quickly drag windows around. At the time, the feature was exclusive to the new hardware.

If you’ve tried the file and can offer any feedback, please let us know

OWC releases Slim ExpressCard/34 peripheral for MacBook notebooks

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Date: Wednesday, July 21st, 2010, 04:54
Category: Accessory, MacBook, MacBook Pro

Peripherals maker OWC has released a new eSATA ExpressCard adapter for MacBooks. The card, which is rated for 3GB/s, is hot swappable and ACHI compliant, requiring no drivers for any Mac notebook running Mac OS X 10.5 or higher.

Per MacNN, the card is said to be capable of 170MB/s read speeds and 120MB/s write speeds using external SSD-based eSATA drives and supports up to five disk drives on a JMicron JMB360 chipset. The ExpressCard is bootable for MacBooks with any Core 2 Duo chips, which cover all but the first generation.



The new eSATA ExpressCard requires Mac OS X 10.4 to install and run, with Mac OS X 10.5 or later required for hot-swapping. It also supports Windows 2000 and higher, including Windows 7. The card retails for US$40 but is currently on sale for US$33.

How-To: Work around Apple notebook blank screens

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Date: Friday, June 4th, 2010, 09:59
Category: How-To, MacBook, MacBook Pro

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As trusty and reliable as your MacBook or MacBook Pro may be, there are times where it will hate you and its screen will go blank. Sometimes this will take place as you’re working, other times after a restart or when waking up from sleep. The cool cats at CNET have assembled the following useful guide as to what may be the underlying concern and how to fix it:

Software issues:
The display going out could be a matter of a software configuration problem, either with the display drivers or with one of the active processes that interacts with them, such as the window server. There are a few ways you can overcome this. The first is to change the display configuration by either plugging in or unplugging an external monitor. This will cause the drivers to refresh the display output and desktop configuration; hopefully, this will reset the error. The second way is to try sleeping the system again by closing the lid and opening it. When you close the lid, you should see the battery and sleep indicator lights (green and white, respectively) turn on.

You can also use a key sequence to force the display to sleep and reset, which, hopefully, will force the display to reset properly and turn on. To do this, press and hold the Control and Shift keys, followed by the Eject key.

Lastly, if the display will not work even after rebooting, try loading into Safe Mode, especially if the display turns off after properly showing an initial gray screen. If safe mode works, you will need to troubleshoot the software setup by first uninstalling any recently installed drivers or utilities, and then by creating a new user account for testing purposes, since sometimes display problems can happen from an account-specific configuration problem. This will tell you if the problem is account-related or has to do with more global resources. If the problem persists in a new account, the next best step would be to boot off your Mac OS X installation DVD to see if the display works under a completely bare and fresh installation.

If the installation DVD works, then you will need to reinstall your OS by first reapplying the latest “Combo” update for your version of OS X (this is best applied when in Safe Mode), and then by run the installer from your OS X DVD and ensure that you have “Archive and Install” selected with the option to save user accounts and data (this is done by default in Snow Leopard).

If the display problems occur when booting from the installation DVD, it is likely you are suffering from a hardware malfunction and will need to troubleshoot the hardware setup.

Hardware issues:
Hardware issues that can affect the display output include firmware settings as well as the display hardware and controllers themselves. Many people have tried to reset the PRAM when they have issues such as the screen being blank when the computer is woken from sleep; however, many display settings are stored in the System Management Controller. Therefore, in addition to resetting the PRAM you may benefit from resetting the SMC on your machine. On most MacBooks you can do this by removing the power and battery, and pressing the power button for 15 seconds, but some models vary so look up how to do this for your particular machine.

Beyond firmware settings, you may have a problem with the display inverter or LED driver board, which is what runs the backlight on LDC displays. When this happens, the display should still be working, but will not be easily visible because of the lack of lighting. You can test this by shining a flashlight on the display at different angles, or preferably through the Apple logo on the back of the display. If you see graphics showing on the display, then your backlight is not working. If a restart or SMC/PRAM reset do not help, you will need to take the computer in for servicing.

Lastly, if you have recently had the computer serviced (especially if done by yourself), some of the display-related circuits may have been improperly connected or insulated upon assembly. Apple has foam and plastic insulation around circuits and connectors that can be shorted out by touching other components, so if you forget to put these back on when assembling the system, you can easily cause a component like the inverter to fail. Luckily this usually can be fixed by replacing the insulation, but you will need to have it serviced again to fix.

Work-arounds:
If you are unable to get your display working, you can still control your system in an attempt to save your work and safely shut it down. One way is to use Screen Sharing, which you may have enabled in the Sharing system preferences. You can then use Remote Desktop or Apple’s built-in Screen Sharing service to connect to and control your Mac.

Alternatively, if you have Remote Login enabled (SSH), you can use an SSH client on any other networked computer to log in and issue the “shutdown -h now” command to close down and turn off the computer. This will take familiarity with the Terminal, as well as knowing its IP address (unless you are on a Mac).

Here’s the basic procedure:
Launch the Terminal application with SSH support

Type the following command:
ssh USERNAME@Computer-Name.local

In this command, the username is the short account name on the system, and if you are using a Mac “Computer-Name.local” is the computer’s network name, such as Tophers-Desktop.local; however, it can also be the computer’s IP address.

Confirm connecting and supply your password (it will not be shown)
Issue the shutdown command by typing the following:
sudo shutdown -h now

This process will turn off the system, but will force applications to quit so you will lose unsaved data. However, it still is a better option than pressing and holding the power button to turn off the system.

If you’ve found any fixes or workarounds of your own, please let us know.

Apple quietly releases updated 13″ MacBook

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, May 18th, 2010, 03:35
Category: MacBook, News

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Confirming yesterday’s post, Apple quietly released a refreshed MacBook notebook, the new model incorporating a new faster 2.4GHz processor, and NVIDIA GeForce 320m graphics processor.

These changes bring it into line with recently released MacBook Pro model.

Apple is claiming that the new MacBook provides 80% faster performance, largely due to the the improved graphics NVIDIA GeForce 320m graphics processor.

Like the NVIDIA 9400m graphics chip it replaces, the 320m shares its memory (256MB) from the main system RAM, rather than possessing the discrete graphics memory found on the NVIDIA 330m (used by the MacBook Pro).

Per Macworld UK, the NVIDIA 320m is 40% more efficient than the 9400m chip it replaces. Apple is also claiming a fairly hefty 10 hours of wireless productivity from the new MacBook.

Another new feature (albeit a small one) is that the DVI socket now supports the DVI to HDMI adaptor, enabling users to connect the older monitors to the laptop.

The 2.4 GHz MacBook retails for US$999 and is immediately available.