Many people who know me know that I’m mainly a Mac person, and that although I consider myself a computer geek, my main tools are Macs. As you can guess, I was greatly looking forward to today, when Apple began its WorldWide Developer Conference, unveiling all sorts of new and fun stuff to play with.
If you followed this, you already know that Apple finally replaced the last 2 PowerPC-based lines – the PowerMac and the XServe – with Intel-based replacements, renaming the PowerMac as the Mac Pro. The XServe – which didn’t get a name change and doesn’t get its replacements, technically, until October – and the Mac Pro underwent the Intel treatment, sporting Intel Xeon Processors under the hood. In addition, the Mac Pro sports several new “features” we were hoping to eventually see underneath the G5 line: More graphics cards, more storage space, and – Thank god for this one – More optical drives.
Apple also unveiled a sneak peak at Leopard, it’s new version of OS X. Some of the stuff we either already knew or could guess: Boot Camp, Front Row, and Photo Booth are all going to be part of the new OS, while new versions of Dashboard, Spotlight, Mail, iCal, iChat and XCode will also ship with it. In addition, a few new touches are being added: Time Machine, which appears to be an easy-to-use Archive-retrieval system; Spaces, which allows you to set up multiple configurations of apps to the way you work best with them; and Core Animation – IMHO, probably the best addition listed – which enhances the abilities of animation on a Mac. (Yes, I could also mention the 64-Bit Unix core and the improvements to Universal Access, but – no offense meant to you if you need these things – most of the people I know, along with myself, aren’t going to care all that much: So long as they can get done what they want and need to get done, these things are relatively minor.)
While many of these things I am happy about, a number of things disappointed me about today’s showcase of new Apple swag, and a growing concern has been flagged in my mind. Has Apple finally leveled out with the rest of the industry? Or does Apple have something planned up its sleeves, waiting for January’s Mac Expo to be unveiled?
Note that the main focus of this complaint focuses on the Mac Pro and not the XServe. While I am also concerned about the XServe, the XServe is supposed to be more of a hidden piece hardware, where upgrades and modifications aren’t going to be done as often; as such, the design is probably optimized for what an IT person will need, not an average consumer.
Before I complain, here’s what I do like:
- The ability to use up to 4 graphics cards at one time, giving rise to the possibility of 8 displays at once.
- 4 bays for hard-drive storage, and 2 optical bays, which could possibly be used in an entertainment position when Blu-Ray and HD-DVD finally becomes available.
- The ability to add 16 Gigs of memory at a cheaper price. (Hey, if you know it’s gone down for Apple, it’s going to be cheaper to add more on our end too!)
- Keeping the dual processor spec while making all machines quad-cores!
- Prices came down on the Top-of-the-line machines.
- 1 step to configuration on Apple’s site. (Note to Apple: Since there’s now only one option, why not just streamline all of that by going straight to the configuration page from the main store page? it would take out an unnecessary step for us!)
- And, of course, the ability to finally have out-of-the-box 3Ghz Intel-based pro machines.
Yes, that’s it, that’s all I like about these new machines. All in all, not bad. The benchmarks and capabilities look freaking awesome, and it’s set up, with a few additional slot, would make this a great machine for almost any project.
So what in the world could I possibly complain about?
The PowerMac G5-like Casing
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting something new; that’s something that Apple is known for. The fact that Apple is getting away from design innovation by tweaking the design of yet another Intel replacement by adding or tweaking an existing case, as it did with the all of the Mac Book, ImAc and Mac Mini designs, while necessary for the machine, is still ultimately disappointing for a company known for innovative design.
How a machine looks, however, is not as important as how a machine works over time, and unlike the other Intel Makeovers, this one does leave me very concerned. First, if you haven’t looked at it already, take a look at the pictures they’re showing on the inside: the best thing about this is that everything is organized and clutter-free, making this the best-looking configuration since the G5s came out a few years ago. Take note, however, to the big box at the top near the back of the machine: That would be the power supply. Unlike the G5’s, where it sat at the bottom of the case, this now sits hidden away behind 2 optical drives – the first bad design element I’ve seen in a long time from them. How is the power supply supposed to keep air flow coming to it? Are we going to have to sacrifice that 2nd Optical bay we just gained to make sure the PWU stays cool, or does it have a secondary way of pulling air in from the front?
Airflow also raises a concern with the hard drives, nestled underneath the optical drives and power supply. How is air supposed to flow through and cool four hard rives in this configuration? I’ve seen worse in PC cases, but this is a serious one with potential problems down the road, as the Hard drives could easily overheat if cooling is not addressed properly. I hope there’s fans in those HD casings that keep them tool-less.
As far as motherboards go, which idiot thought that putting the memory on riser cards was a great idea? Granted, it’s great for cooling and space-saving, as it doesn’t come into play space-wise with the processors or graphics set-up inside, but it introduces a new area for failure. What happens if, one day while you’re working, the machine suddenly loses where the memory was? What about if those spaces short out? All of a sudden, it’s a trip to your local Apple Repair Shop to get it fixed.
These are all introduced by keeping the G5 casing that they modified. When they expanded the capabilities, they shrank other areas to make these possibilities real, and the end result is something that, while it still looks cool and is easier to upgrade, offers new potentials for new problems the G5’s couldn’t have.
What they should do to fix this: New case design. PC makers have, for years, struggled with the conventions of an ATX/BTX design, and have come up with many innovations that Apple could use.
For example, they could have utilized the front for the Hard Drives, with a swing-out door to access these. Granted, this might have required more wiring to keep it tool-less, but the airflow would have easily been spread across all components.
They should have kept the power supply at the bottom, or in an area of greater airflow. I see this one being the biggest concern for the new architecture, as the hard drives and optical are blocking much of the air coming into the unit. Unless the thing is water-cooled – a feature I’ve yet to se in PC’s, let alone Macs – that needs to move.
That motherboard also needs more space , so a bigger box is necessary. I’m sorry, but only unnecessary, replaceable parts should be on cards, not the necessary stuff. A graphics card, while necessary, can be replaced with something better down the road. A proprietary memory card can not.
Other Concerns, Hardware-wise: The other big thing – and the only thing not directly related to the G5-style casing – is the graphics setup, namely the lake of a dual/quad-card configuration and optional audio cards. While the necessity of either of the audio is debatable, considering the decline in recent years for PC-Card makers making audio cards. I still feel it necessary for more than the audio pro. The more processing power spent towards OS and application-based stuff, and the less reliance on what a card could do, the better. Those of us who don’t need audio setups in our machines could do without them, utilizing the OS and the processor to that fraction of a second we lose to process that beep. yes, it’s a small fraction, but ti still should be a choice if we want it or not – not a mandatory requirement.
More important, however, is the Graphics card options, and a lack SLI-based card configurations (Or, in the case of the X1900 and Quadro cards, lack of dual/quad card options.)As much as I like the fact that you can add up to 4 graphics cards in one machine now, the cards are underpowered and – more to the point – not interconnected. Hence, you have all 4 cards in one machine and 2 LCDs, 2 cards go useless, eating up space and power from the machine.
(Of course, this can’t totally be blamed on the graphics cards themselves, since the PCI-Express slots actually have less bandwidth between the four than the PowerMacs did. Interesting what the net provides….)
I really wish Apple would stop with some of its propriety nonsense and start using industry-standard stuff. So we can go down the local Wal-Mart aisle and pick up a hard drive, keyboard and mouse – can we go over to Best Buy and upgrade the processor? How’s about beefing up the graphics with the next-gen NVidia Dual (or – hopefully – quad) SLI Graphics cards components? Now that Apple is capable of making their machines Windows-friendly, how’s about using some Windows-friendly products and making standard drivers on the Mac side?
Liquid Cooling – Poof! This is one where I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, a liquid-cooled machine needs proper maintenance to keep it higher speeds going, and introduces a whole slew of new potential problems that could easily fry or burn your machine; Having that removed means one less headache to have to cause problems later. On the other hand, had they used a liquid-cooled system, their BOL mac could potentially be a 3 Ghz Chip instead of a 2. (I say potentially because no one has tried it with these chips yet; While it’s unrealistic to see a 5Ghz Woodcrest chip yet, these chips haven’t been out long enough for someone to push it that hard yet.)
Considering most of my track record has been on Cooling and Potential problems, this is a difficult toss-up. Since it’s a complaint about Apple, I’ll lean a little on the want side: they could have made it an option for users who want faster machines. (This way, those nutsy enough – like me – who have the money – not like me -could at it to the system at their own risk.)
Still Missing: Yes, I know, everybody’s got a wish list of their own, and they’re all different. The wishes I have are relatively minor, meaning, as computers go, they’re not necessary, especially on the prosumer line. That said, imagine the possibilities:
- Touch-Screen LCD screen on the front. Most of the cool kids already know what I am talking about. Maximum PC added it to their dream machine design a few years ago, and I am drooling to see this feature become standard on all machines. Think about it for a second: You’re using Photoshop, and rather than using a keyboard command (that might be used up alread) or your mouse to start and continue an action, just going to the tiny screen, which has your least-used, most-screen-realty-taken Palettes on it. You’re in the middle of that big School papaer and need some tunes to crank things up, but also need that little-extra screen real estate to keep the Encyclopedia Brittanica (sorry if it’s misspelled) open at the same time, so you have iTunes up on the smaller screen, where you press play on the screen. It turns into a kaliedoscope of colors while you keep on working. Or, say you’re watching a movie on your 30-inch cinema Display. That small screen could be used as both a control and an information device, keeping your screen feeling like it’s a TV set at home. I’m sure you could come up with your own ideas for this thing, so why not have it?
- More Expansion! Anyone remember the 9600? Wasn’t that machine light-years ahead of its time? That thing could be pimped out for a long time. Every piece, except for the motherboard, could be replaced; that 9600 604 processor could be swapped for a G3 and (if I recall correctly) a G4. It had 6 PCI Slots, and the case eventually used for the Beige G3 Tower, with 4 drive bays, all in an easy-access chassis. Now, we’re lucky if we get more than 3 expansion slots or 2 optical drives, and while we’ve had plenty of HD space, 4 just doesn’t seem enough. Forget about upgrading the processor: Not only is it soddered on, it’s going to be hard to replace. Now that we’re on Intel, shouldn’t we be past this?
- Fingerprint scanner built-in. This is the Pro model, and most pros I know have some concern over security. This is an area that’s still somewhat Grey, and Apple is known for turn grey items into hot items. (Three little letters: USB.) Tell me this ain’t a perfect match…
Even if these aren’t all-that inspiring or cool to you, think about this for a second: Apple gained much of its second wind from taking risks on new technology and being very innovative with it. USB, as mentioned, was an up-and-coming- port destined to replace the serial port (along with other ports, as well.) Beige was cool – okay, fine, standard – at that time, as well as everything being BIG and CLUNkY. (And people wonder why I prefer that era more….)
Along comes the iMac, with it’s innovative design and ease of use, along with new technology. Next was the Blue and White G3. Pretty soon, anything with the Apple logo HAD to be put out on display, even if it did little (Remember the cube, anyone?)
Point is, hardware-wise, other than for speed and more expansion options, this was a big yawn this time You want to really impress me? Take that 2-optical-drive expansion and make it six, with HDs running up and down behind them, then add the mother board and power supply, and squeeze it into a Standard G5 space. And yes, I’m sure I’ll see something -won’t guarantee monkeys – flying out of my butt the day that happens. (From Apple, Mind you – I already know you Modders could crack that problem in a day and a half. Okay, maybe two.)
I’m not going to rip into OS X 10.5 just yet, because we’re still waiting for a final appearance of the Leopard. But, as I stated above, there’s less than a handful of new features, most of which have little to do with how the finder functions, that interest me. Right now, only 3 things make it a must buy: XCode 3, which would finally give me a way outside of RealBasic to create Universal Binaries; Core Animation, which ties neatly to a lot of projects I want to do; and Boot Camp, which allows me to finally do that dual/tri/quad boot setup I’ve always dreamed of. Front Row won’t impress me until someone else creates it and without any DRM forced upon the stuff you use/save. Photo Booth’s a toy to me. Most of the rest I use alternatives such as Firefox, or have no current use for. Time Machine had potential, until an ugly interface took over the screen. (Yes, I see you scribbling fiercly at that cutdown you have for me, Mac-Fans; But you’re talking to someone who’s played Mortal Kombat to tell you that screen reminds him of one of the backgrounds used in the sequel.)
I suppose the best thing to do is to wait until this kitty’s out of the bag before I shred it, though. In the mean time, I’ll post one thing: Remember when the original Mac OS was innovative fore it’s time? Remember when each OS version jumped leaps and bounds above the previous version? Neither the black kitty nor the flying landscape MS calls Vista have much to offer, apart from a few new utilities, some tweaks to the OS, and improvements to core apps. (I’d say, at this point, MS is ahead in this race.) I dare say that Linux is the most innovative OS out there right now, if I could get the damn thing to work on my iMac.