Thursday, March 24, 2011

Intel Mac mini: How slow can you go?

I picked up a second-hand 2007 Mac mini over the weekend, my first Intel-based Mac. I would have preferred the 2008 version with nVidia graphics, but the whole package listed on Craigslist was too tempting:
  • 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini with 1 GB of RAM, 120 GB hard drive, SuperDrive, Intel GMA 950 graphics, and OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard - also 10.4.6 Tiger installer
  • 23" Apple ADC Cinema HD Display
  • Apple's DVI-to-ADC connector so the display works with the Mac mini
  • Apple's aluminum USB keyboard, the one with the numeric keypad
  • Bluetooth Mighty Mouse
  • 80 GB external bus-powered USB drive
  • speakers with subwoofer
I paid just a bit more for this whole setup than I did for my dual 1 GHz MDD Power Mac G4 about six years ago.

It's going to be a long, slow process making the transition. 1 GB of memory is inadequate, the stock hard drive is slow, and the external USB drive is even slower. When finances permit, I'm planning to max out RAM to 3 G and install a WD Scorpio Black hard drive, which is the fastest conventional hard drive on the market. Debating whether 320 GB will be enough or if I should go for the 500 GB drive - 400 GB is more than enough on my G4 Power Macs. My plan is seperate partitions for Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard plus a "work" partition and a spare partition where I'll be able to try Lion when it becomes available.

Right now I have 10.6.7 on the internal 5400 rpm Hitachi Travelstar (8 MB buffer) and have simply cloned the Leopard partition from my Power Mac to the external USB drive with an unknown mechanism. So right now I have the option of running Snow Leopard from a relatively poky internal SATA drive or using Leopard on a drive connected to USB 2.0, which means a maximum transfer speed of about 320 Mbps - about 1/5 of what SATA offers.

Next project: Finding a 7200 rpm 3.5" drive (I have several 80 GB from upgrading) to put in one of my NewerTech miniStack enclosures, which will let me use FireWire 400 - that's a bit better than 1/4 of SATA bandwidth. Then I'll be able to pick between a fast drive on a slow bus (FireWire) or a slow drive on a fast bus (SATA) and won't have to deal with a slow drive on a really slow bus (USB 2.0).

Unfortunately, the Cinema Display's native resolution is only 1600 x 1024 - a bit less than the 1680 x 1050 my 20" Cinema Display (on a Power Mac) offers. I'll probably end up putting the 20" on the Mini and the 23" on the Power Mac when I finally make the migration. At that point I'll have a dual 1.0 GHz MDD Power Mac with 2 GB of RAM and three 7200 rpm hard drives (one 80 GB plus two 400 GB) capable of booting into Tiger or Leopard and the Mini (with RAM and hard drive upgrades) able to boot Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard. They'll be side-by-side using Teleport so one keyboard and mouse can control both - the same thing I'm doing now with my pair of production Power Macs.

More on Low End Mac when I have enough speed to be able to work comfortably on the Mini....

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Display power consumption

I picked up a Kill-a-Watt a while back in hopes of learning more about energy consumption - how much does a second hard drive, increased RAM, or adding a USB 2.0 card increase the current draw on my G4 Power Macs. I'll get to that eventually, but I have done some testing of computer displays - and made some interesting discoveries.

The first one I tested was a 17" Gateway 2000 Vivitron 1770 that I picked up at a moving sale for $3. Who can resist that kind of price? I wondered if it might draw less power than my current monitor, and the Energy Star sticker was encouraging.

My Blue & White Power Mac G3 booted to 800 x 600 resolution at 60.3 Hz, and the Kill-a-Watt reported the display was drawing 90W. Bumping resolution to 1024 x 768 @ 60 Hz, that dropped a bit to 88W. Changing the refresh rate to 70 Hz increased that to 92W. This display has an 1152 x 870 setting - at 75 Hz, it draws 97W. Finally, at 1280 x 1024 and 60 Hz, that drops a bit to 95W. And when Energy Saver puts the display to sleep, elecricity usage drops to 3.6W.

This is an older monitor, not especially crisp, and slow to wake up, but it's a contender for use on a server, where it will only be powered on when necessary. The 1152 x 870 75 Hz setting is a good compromise between resolution and a steady display. (60 Hz tends to create a subtle flicker that can tire your eyes over time.)

Not bad for $3 - and I also got a free 15" 10-year-old Dell E550 at the same moving sale. It draws a whole lot less power - between 49 and 55 Watts in my various tests. Here's the quick overview:

800 x 600 @ 60 Hz, 49.4W; 75 Hz, 52.5W; 85 Hz, 54.8W
1024 x 768 @ 60 Hz, 51.6W
640 x 480 @ 60 Hz, 49.2W; 75 Hz, 50.6W; 85 Hz, 52W; 100 Hz, 54.2W

Interesting pattern: The higher the refresh rate and/or resolution, the greater the power draw - but not by a huge amount. There's only about 10% variance among the settings I tested.

This monitor also has one big plus over the Gateway Vivitron - the power button is up front, making it easier to turn it on and off. Thank goodness most displays moved away from rear-mounted power buttons years ago.

The third display I tested is an ancient Compaq 15" from the mid-to-late 90s. I picked up a few of these refurb at a very good price. They're not great monitors, but okay for setting up computers and testing. I was the same pattern in energy usage:

640 x 480 @ 60 Hz, 67W; 75 Hz, 71W
800 x 600 @ 60 Hz, 69W; 75 Hz, 74W
1024 x 768 @ 60 Hz, 73W

With Energy Saver putting the display to sleep, this drops to 14.5W - a lot more than the 17" Gateway Vivitron.

I next tested a 17" Micron display that my wife used to use with her Windows PC. No matter what resolution and refresh rate I chose, power draw was steady at between 118.5 and 119W. That surprised me after my other tests.

My stock CRT display for years has been a Samsumg 700DF, which supports up to 1280 x 1024 pixels. I've used it with my Titanium PowerBook and various G4 Power Macs, most recently with the dual 1 GHz Mirror Drive Door model. The display is crisp, but the refresh rate at 1280 x 1024 is a low 60 Hz. At tested resolutions and refresh rates, it consistently measured 120W.

By contrast, my 19" Dell flat panel display draws just 26W at its native 1280 x 1024 resolution. This is my primarly display - easy on the eyes, good resolution, and it sold for a great price when I bought it many years ago.

You can save quite a bit of energy by choosing the right display. The flat panel beats the CRTs hands down, the 15" Dell CRT draws about 30% less than the even older Compaq, and the Gateway Vivitron saves 20-25% over the Samsung and Micron monitors I tested.

End result: Until I can afford a new flat panel display, I'll keep the 19" Dell flat panel as my primary display on my Leopard machine (1.6 GHz dual G4 upgraded Digital Audio Power Mac), the Samsung on my Mirror Drive Door (the Gatewaw draws less power, but it's not crisp, wakes from sleep slowly, and has poorer color). On my server, I'm going to hook up the 15" Dell E550, which uses less energy than any of the CRT displays I've yet tested. I'll run it at 1024 x 768, which is lower than I prefer, but then I'm really only using this dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4 as a servery, so it's not a big deal.

Number Crunching

Electical rates range from 12¢ to 15¢ per killowatt-hour here in Michigan. By using a flat panel display instead of a 17" CRT, I save between 69 and 94 Watts - say an average of 85. That's roughly 2.04 kWH per day, 61 per month, for a saving of $7.30 to $9.20 a month, ignoring things like sleep mode and Energy Saver settings.

But you probably don't run your monitor 24/7. Let's say you have your monitor on 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and you're using it enough so sleep mode rarely kicks in. 22 workdays in a month times 0.68 kWH per day comes out to 14.96 kWH per month. Savings: $1.80 to $2.25 per month in this scenario - $22 to $27 a year.

Ballpark figure: If you're using a 17" CRT and replace it with a 19" to 22" flat panel display, you may reduce your electric bill $20 a year assuming a 40 hour work week - or  $100 assuming the display is on 24/7. Use that display for 5 years, and you've saved between $100 and $500, probably enough to justify that $99 flat panel display Dell had on clearance last week or that $160 22" 1080 x 1920 display you discovered on dealmac.

Other benefits of going flat panel: No flicker, so it's easier on the eyes, and crisp pixels, where CRTs can become fuzzy over time. Less heat. And you'll have all those extra pixels to play with if you go widescreen. I find a 1080 x 1920 display very tempting, as I often have a dozen or more apps active at once, lots of overlapping windows, and the extra screen width would be a real blessing. (I've tried 1440 x 900 displays. After years at 1280 x 1024, I miss the extra height. Going to 1080 makes things even better.)

You'll need to do your own number crunching for your display, the new one you're looking at, monthly usage, and your local electrical rate. Just be sure to do your due diligence before you buy a new monitor - find out what reviewers and end users have to say about things like color accuracy, glare, build quality, etc.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Brains of the iPad

There's very little definitively known about the 1 GHz Apple A4 CPU, other than it's an ARM CPU. Rumor is that it's Apple's customized version of the Cortex A9, the first multicore ARM chip. If it's a dual-core 1 GHz chip, it could easily have 3x the processing power of the iPhone's 600 MHz (or so) CPU.

No wonder everyone raves about how fast the iPad is compared to the iPhone and iPod touch!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Firefox 3.7 and Tiger

Firefox 3.6 went final last Friday, so I'm moving to that at my "regular" version of Firefox, replacing 3.5. I've been using the 3.6 Namoroka PowerPC G4 build for some time, and it's been very stable.

I wanted to put the 3.7 alpha on my Power Macs and soon discovered that it won't launch on Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" - it apparently requires 10.5 "Leopard" or later. That's a shame, as Tiger remains a great operating system and meets almost all of my needs. (Ditto for Leopard, which doesn't support Classic Mode. That's why I use two Macs side by side.)

Camino 2.0.1 remains my primary browser, with the PowerPC build of Firefox 3.7 playing second fiddle. I also use Opera 10 and Safari now and then.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

LEM Publishing Schedule Adjustments

As you may know, although I haven't publicized it widely, the past 12 months have been very difficult financially for Low End Mac. I've been looking for a part-time job to supplement that for some time, and I finally got my first interview - and a job.

I'll be working at the local Kohl's store unloading trucks on third shift anywhere from two to five days a week, and I'm in the process of adjusting my sleep cycle with 25 hour days (going to bed an hour later each night). By the time I finish training and start the real work, I should be on target.

This means changes in my schedule working on LEM, since I'll be sleeping days. No more updates during the workday. I'm hoping to have price trackers up first thing in the morning and work on articles after I get up late in the afternoon - not that much different from what I did the first 4 years of LEM, starting my website work late in the afternoon when I got home from work. Still, it's going to be a real adjustment for me. (This might give me the incentive to finally learn enough Joomla to move LEM to a content management system.)

I'm very excited about working for Kohl's, a company that seems to do its best to treat both its customers and its employees right, including benefits for part timers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Leaving GyazMail for OS X Mail

Last week, I began my migration from GyazMail, which I've been using just about as long as I've been using Mac OS X, to Apple's Mail application.

I chose GyazMail for one simple reason: It's a plain text email client, and I'm a firm believer in plain text email - no colors, no bold or italic, no big or small text, no use of multiple and/or unreadable fonts, no VCF cards, no embeded images. Nothing but good old fashioned text (plus attachments for images, MP3s, PDFs, Word documents, etc.). I'd used and loved Claris Emailer in my Classic Mac OS days and also used PowerMail.

How things have changed over the years. I do most of my personal email using Yahoo Mail, and Yahoo does everything in its power to get you to avoid using its simplest, fastest interface. And I get a lot more "enhanced" email these days with photos and the like. I don't tend to send fancy email, but even plain text diehards have to realize that the world has moved on to something much more customizable (for lack of a better word).

On top of that, GyazMail isn't the most stable email client. It works well, and it's been a pleasure to use it, but (1) it doesn't remember which emails you may have had open when you quit it, (2) it randomly quits without warning, and (3) it often reports that it has spontaneously quit when you quit it. Enough annoyances that over time I decided it was time to switch.

I'm not a huge fan of Mail, but it's free, it integrates perfectly with SpamSieve (the best anti-spam tool I've ever used - highly recommended!), and I've been using it for some time with a few email accounts I don't access very often. I've also learned that, unlike GyazMail, it has no problem working with multiple Gmail accounts - and I love my free Gmail accounts!

So last Friday I migrated my account settings one-by-one from GyazMail to OS X Mail. It took some fiddling with outbound server settings, authentication, and the like, but now it's working beautifully with my .mac (MobileMe) address, three Gmail addresses, and 4 different addresses. And now I can quit my email client and have it re-open messages I had open when I relaunch it.

I'm very happy with the switch.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Finally Migrating to Leopard

Monday, September 28, 2009. Mark that date on your calendars. It's the date I officially moved from Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" to 10.5 "Leopard" (I can't use 10.6 "Snow Leopard", as I don't have an Intel-based Mac yet) as my primary OS.

As I type this, I'm in the midst of the process: I've used Migration Assistant to migrate two user accounts from Tiger to Leopard. I searched for "(from old Mac)" and deleted about 6 GB of apps, folders, etc. that resulted from the merger. I'm currently running Drive Genius to find duplicate files on the Leopard boot partition. Once those are deleted, I'll be using SuperDuper! to clone this drive to my backup drive (using USB 2.0, since FireWire died on my dual 1 GHz Mirror Drive Door on Friday), moving the drive to the dual 1.6 GHz upgraded Digital Audio Power Mac G4, and then SuperDuper! to clone from the backup drive to the Leopard partition for that machine.

BTW, I've been ripping some CDs in iTunes on both machines, which have matching 16x Pioneer DVR-110D SuperDrives. They both peak at a bit over 20x. Very impressive!

I'll still be running Tiger on the MDD, as I still use Claris Home Page (from 1997!) as one of my important production tools, and Tiger supports Classic Mode whereas Leopard doesn't. Teleport is doing a great job letting move move between the two machines effortlessly while using one mouse and one keyboard. (Tip: If you're using Teleport with different versions of Mac OS X, set the one with the newer OS version as the master/host and the older OS as the slave/remote. I discovered that the clipboard didn't work in both directions when I had Tiger set as master and Leopard as slave.)

Except for that, I expect to be using Leopard for everything else from this point forward - email, browsing the Web, etc.

Because of the time involved migrating users, removing duplicates, and so forth, site updates will be somewhat delayed today.