HiTek Review

A tons of reviews and tips about technology product, software and hardware.

Category Archives: Hardware

The tales of a Macbook Pro’s battery

Ever had problems with the battery of your Macbook Pro? Thinking that you might have to replace it already when it’s been less than a year? Oh yeah, I know you know exactly what I’m talking about, yes, you! The MBP owner over there! Well you know what! I’ve had to go through those painful and frustrating moments too, but after a while of looking at the price of a new battery at the Apple store, I decided to give my mind a try.

Backstory

I’ve had my Macbook Pro for a while now. I dropped it many times and it ended up with a dent on the side right on the network port. What a joy I had when I was hammering my 3000 $ computer to put it back in shape. But, aside from a WiFi card replacement (which costed me 27.34$ on eBay), everything was working perfectly fine. What an indestructible, sturdy piece of art! Ironically, a few months later, my power adapter, which is supposed to be THE mythical MagSafe that no one can copy or break, decided to fail.

This is were our story starts

The little LED inside the MagSafe connected started to act up. It wouldn’t switch from green to orange when charging and later simply stopped turning on all together. Did I hammered too hard? Did I really broke the computer? Well, after nearly 8 months of enduring the broken adapter, I went to the conclusion that no, the computer was fine, but the adapter was dead.

On that day, I felt like cooking something so I picked up the laptop, place a movie on it and bring it with me in the kitchen. Surprise! By the time I was done getting everything out of the shelves, the computer simply shutdown. Hard stop. Blank screen. Nada. There was still a good 3 hours remaining in the battery so, what went wrong?

It took me two months to figure out the source of the problem and a solution that, luckily for me worked perfectly well. My battery have 97 cycles on the counter. It still holds 89% of its original charge so it can’t be that its time came. It made no sense. The next day, I went to buy a new battery but when I got to the Apple store, I saw that new power adapter with the L-shaped MagSafe connector. I wanted one anyway to replace the broken one so I picked it up and at that moment, I thought: “Hey! Maybe this is the solution!”. And it was…

I simply discharged my battery completely by rebooting the computer everytime it would crash to force every last bit of juice out of it, then, I charged it back with the new power adapter. Tada! Problem fixed! But… what was the problem in the first place?

Understanding Apple’s batteries

Laptop batteries costs a lot. Apple ones even more so. It’s not a “tax” as people like to believe. They are filled with complex electronics and this adds up to the cost. Its those same electronic components that caused problems. From my testing and experiences, I can say that the way the battery provide the power to the computer is extremely complex. The battery is composed of an undefined number of cell groups which each provide enough power to run the computer at a minimal state. Each of these groups have volt-meters and amp-meters on them. They are charged one by one to reduce cell degradation. If your battery is full, all groups are at their nominal volt and amp capacity. If your battery is half full, half of the groups are dead, the other half is full. It’s as simple as that. Were it gets more complicated is to how it is managing all of that power.

As I said, those groups can provide power for minimalistic usage. When you ask for more, like when you watch a movie, it uses more than one group at a time, but always in the same order. What happens if you charged that second cell group with a broken power adapter and filled it with a bad voltage? Exactly this. You would expect the electronics to skip the group and mark it as dead, but instead the voltages mix and the motherboard protect itself from a bad power input. By forcing a complete discharge the electronics thinks that those cells are empty so they will be charged the next time you plug the computer.

Voila! This is what happens when you provide bad power to your batteries. I’m lucky it worked. I could have blasted the battery if it was really badly damaged. The moral of this story is, don’t mess with your power; make sure it’s stable.

 

Hands on the Apple Magic Mouse

Why you want it
Most persons just look at the Magic Mouse and see just an other one button mouse because, obviously, Apple doesn’t make any two button mouses. I really don’t know where does that thing started since Apple has been making multi-button mice for years now. Anyway, this doesn’t matter anymore because, we are back to one and don’t need anymore of them. To reuse the words of one of our friends at Apple: “The face of the product is pretty much defined by a panel of multi-touch glass”. That is exactly what it is, and believe me, it is the perfect material for a mouse. It has a beautiful slim profile that might seem awkward at first but is actually very comfortable. The reason is, it feel like using a touchpad. In fact, it is so slim that it just sit there, hollow like a ghost, under your hand. It cause your hand to end up in a very natural position which is very similar to the one you would get if you where to just let it lay with a natural curve on a table.

On a more technical perspective: the laser is very precise, there is no wireless lag since it is using bluetooth and, believe it or not but the built-in battery have around 1500 hours at constant use!

Why you will buy it
The reason why you will probably buy it is the same one that convinced me. It have nothing to do with the actual product and in fact, you can already get it for free on the Internet. It is a custom driver called BetterTouchTools and it work with both the Magic Mouse and the MultiTouch Trackpad you get on the Macbooks. This special piece of software let you discover what that mouse can really do.

What Apple doesn’t tell you about it is that even though there is only 4 “gestures” (aka: left click, right click, scroll and two fingers swipe left/right) the mouse actually supports up to 4 pressure points (11 on the Trakpad). What does that means? Well, it means that you can use up to four fingers to do some crazy moves on the mouse! Yup! 4 fingers! In fact, BTT supports 39 different gestures on the Magic Mouse and 47 on the Trackpad! And the best part of it is that they are 100% configurable. You can set them to do one of the predefined action or a keyboard shortcut. Combined with softwares like Cockpit, you can lunch scripts as macros and have complex operations (like renaming a bunch of files to match a specific scheme) in the touch of one (but probably more) fingers.

With this tool, you can laugh at all of those who buy gaming mice with 8 buttons and support macros because, yours can do a lot more than them plus, it got the looks.

The only bad point
Strangely enough, the only bad point about that mouse is what Apple always did the best: Packaging. It look nice, it is small and very space-friendly but it has two little problems. First is the way the mouse is hanging in it. There’s a glued plastic piece that hold it there and the glue has the tendency of remaining on the mouse. Second is the lack of a little transport pouch that would have been welcome considering its pretty surface that I don’t want to scratch. Plus, it could have doubled as a wiping cloth.

Pleasant deception

Apple event
Well. Like I thought, the last Apple keynote was indeed a very interesting one. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t bring me the new MacBook Pro’s that I expected which means that I’ll have to wait a bit more to get my hand on those magnificent new laptops. On the other side, you might remember that I said a while ago that I was planing on buying a Netbook to fill the gap between my MacBook Pro and my iPhone. I am not anymore and I’m pretty sure you know why.

iPad, the hidden capabilities.
When Apple presented the iPad, they said that it has to excel at some key points to be useful and gain market share. They so much focused on them that the keynote even got a little long at some points. What really interested me in the iPad is what they didn’t told us. For instance, how many of you heard of the Optimus Maximus keyboard? Well probably not much. Here’s little link to present the product. The company that make it also have a concept called the Optimus Tactus. By now, you should have spotted the price of the Maximus which is 2 000 USD. Now guess how much the Tactus would cost! Exactly! Too much for anyone to buy! NOT! In fact, anyone can buy it! You just need to get an iPad and install a simple application.

This is how it works, this iPad isn’t about replacing a Netbook. It’s about a whole new bunch of possibilities. I’m planing to get the 64 GB wifi model. I don’t need 3G because I have my iPhone for that, same for the GPS. I’ll buy the two docks. One for my desktop to hold it close to my monitors, and the second one will always be in my backpack. With this setup, I have an awesome student notebook and a nice third monitor for my desktop. As a little plus, I also get an environment friendly and very capable device on the go.

The iPad is all about finding your way to use it. You might buy a 16 GB WiFi model and stuck it to your fridge. That way you always have your recipes, phonebook, morning journal, weather, etc. close to you. Try to tell me that you never dreamt of that. I’ll never believe you.

Conclusion
Where everyone see an oversized iPod Touch or a device that can’t compete with a laptop, I see a lots of possibilities, fun and futuristic setups. On that word, I’ll return to my hometree.

Kìyevame ulte Eywa ngahu

Every one apart me is a bloke

And you can’t argue with it!
No! You can’t argue with me about it and even if you want to try, and the only reason why you would want to do such a thing is that you don’t have a clue what a bloke is, then first go to this link to learn what it really means.

Now more seriously. Here’s the little backstory about it. I own a company based in Québec named “Centre de Solutions Informatiques Inc.” or C.S.I. for short. Our team is based on developers and hardware crack that follows 63 technology related RSS feeds that publish around 1 280 news a day. We are basically pure and polished specialist in computers and we’re endlessly learning and improving ourselves. Technology is everything we like, everything we do and everything we live for. We’re so enthusiast that, as I said, we’ve started a company. Yes! That’s how bad we are infected.

We’ve taken a big time looking at the market and I can assure you that in our current service zone, there is just no one that will do a better job than us for better pricing and better time. To do this analysis, we used the latest technology in marketing which is… ours beloved clients! We actually used feedbacks from our clients to build our price tags. Anyway, enough advertising and here comes the story.

One bloke in the see
I (not we) currently deserve personalized services to 2 company and around 25 persons. That’s in fact rather good. But in the end, every single one of my clients keep on… deserting me! Yes! I have absolutely no idea why, but every time they’ve got a problem, they first call me, I then friendly give them consulting and they finally go off like they suddenly knows anything about the computer world, which they obviously don’t, and make an ash of it.

This annoy me so much that it made me write this post just so that I could cool down instead of bashing through the head of one of them that did it an other time just a day before I’m writing this. I will not go into the details to respect his privacy but, he actually made Windows XP installed on an Intel Core i7 computer! Now, if you’re a bloke about computers, which I’m not, you’ll already scream at him because you know that Windows XP just can’t handle a dual core correctly. And this is not a dual core, it’s a quad with hyper-threading which make it even more difficult. You need at least Windows Vista or Windows 7 to handle all of that power correctly but WAIT! Their’s more! This computer is actually… the latest iMac.

I’m not joking. This is true, I swear that this is true! Now I’ll show you an other time that I’m not a bloke in this kind of stuff. You see, Windows XP has horrible power saving features. In fact, it doesn’t support half the the power saving features that are on that brand new computer. Now you’re probably already laughing at me saying that this is a desktop computer and that it doesn’t need power saving features! WRONG! Let me show you my point with a simple table:

Component Avg. consumption
CPU 85 watt
Memory 25 watt
Motherboard 15 watt
Graphic card 135 watt
Hard drive 5 watt
Monitor 50 watt
Total 315 watt

Now that look pretty normal, isn’t it? Nop; This is enormous! I have a server which has a very similar configuration to that and it’s doing 80. My Mac Pro is averaging 145 watts and it has 10 GB or HUNGRY fully buffered DDR2 memory and two old and not very economical Xeon 5400 series CPUs. That’s without counting the supercharged 8800 GT that benchmark like a 9800 GTX!

So, not only does he’s iMac now require a nuclear power plant to run, it also require an earth-sized power supply; which it hasn’t. The 2009 iMac has only a 365 watt power supply. Now you’re still laughing at me saying that 315 is smaller that 365. Well… Yes it is… But, this PSU only has 85% efficiency which move its maximum output to 5 watt less that the average needed. This could cause a problem.

Windows XP will basically kills my client’s computer. That’s how simple it is. By the way, if you’re interested, putting Windows Vista in it would decrease the consumption to 175 watt which is 45% less. That’s without saying that the performance would increase as Windows Vista is much better at handling multiple CPU cores.

The result
Not only this guy had an horrible services that will rot is computer on the mid/long run. It will also cost him 100 $ more to run his computer at the end of the year that it costed him if he installed Windows Vista in the first place. And here’s the interesting part: I didn’t even mentioned OS X yet. And here’s why: I’m not talking about dual booting or anything. The guy actually removed OS X 10.6 and put Windows XP in place claiming that it was a much lighter and faster operating system!

That basically means that my client, who decided to bought a Mac to give it a try, will not even see what OS X look like. Not to mention that OS X has even better power management capabilities than even Windows 7. Running Slow Leopard, that computer actually get down to 95 watt on average use which would save him 160 $ a year just in electricity.

The point
Every single one of my clients do that every single time. They always end up in my office begging for help to solve the issues that caused the idiot that they went to in the first place. And they do that, even when they are old friend of mine. I have absolutely nothing agains competition, in fact I even found it sporty, but when all the competition there is is that… I’d prefer to kick them in the face with a very, very big hammer.

Conclusion
That’s exactly why me and two of my friends started this company. We are so sure about this that we’re planing, building… no… it became hand-crafting, swinging and then throwing that hammer to their faces ourselves the best we can possibly do. We believe that average computer knowledge here in Québec sucks and we think we might just be what the province need to get up on its feet an finally learn how to appreciate that latest gadget that came out without having to ask the vendor how to turn it on.

I saw a snow flake

And it’s bad new
I have three very big project going on at school and the only thing I want to do next is kill myself. The bad new is not that I’ll die, it’s that I will not be able to write on my blog! I already switched to a 1-time-per-2-week schedule but it’s still not enough. So, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear about me for a while.

On the bright side
Do you remember, about 4 months ago I did some benchmarks of the samsung in my MacBook Pro? If you don’t, take a look here as it is like seeing the god of awesomeness. Anyway, here’s the big new: In that post, I said that I’d try to move the SSD in my Mac Pro to see how it stand aside the RAID. Well… It’s not going to happen today BUT… The SSD is now securely plugged in the Mac Pro with a handmade adapter built from the original Apple 320 GB HDD.

So as everything couldn’t get better, I’ll give you some early eyes-taken results that will make you lick your floor: safari open in half the time it was doing on the laptop and iTunes even faster. But wait! There’s more! My iTunes library is stored on my server which leverage the old RAID array and is connected using a gigabit link and it is STILL faster than the RAID alone!

Anyway, I’ll give some results when I’ll have some time to do the benchmarks. Now, I’ve go to go coding…

iPhone 3G S review – Hardware

Does it really need one?
No not really, the iPhone is a proven device since the start but, there has been some little changes since the release of the first iPhone 2 years ago. It is the first time two iPhones generation live together in the stores. You now not only have to choose how much space you want. If you’re planing on getting an iPhone and you’re not sure which one you want, this review is for you.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…
First of all, the 3G S is not only about having a compass in a phone. Even if many people only see that in the 3G S, there’s so much more. In fact, it was enough for me to get one at full price! Yup, no one is sending me hardware for review. I do this all on my own! At least, for now… Anyway, back to the iPhone. Well go through some specs comparisons and well talk about software features after that.

Component iPhone 3G iPhone 3G S
Core
CPU ARM 1176JS(F)-S v1.0 @ 412 MHz ARM Cortex-A8 @ 600 MHz
RAM DRAM, 128 MB DRAM 256 MB
GPU PowerVR MBX Lite 3D PowerVR SGX
Storage NAND Flash, 8 or 16 GB NAND Flash, 16 or 32 GB
Connectivity
Wifi 802.11 b/g 802.11 b/g
Bluetooth 2.0+EDR 2.1+EDR
Cellular GSM 850 900 1800 1900
GPRS/EDGE
UMST/HSDPA 850 1900 2100
GSM 850 900 1800 1900
GPRS/EDGE
UMST/HSDPA 850 1900 2100
7.2 Mbps HSDPA
Navigation
GPS A-GPS A-GPS
Compass No Yes
Others
Ear-Phone Stereo ear-phone
Microphone
Basic remote
Stereo ear-phone
Microphone
Advanced remote with volume control
Voice Control No Yes
Screen 3.5″
320×480 px
18 bit colors
Scratch resistant glass
Two fingers touch-screen1
3.5″
320×480 px
18 bit colors
Scratch resistant glass
Three fingers touch-screen
Oilophobic coating1
Camera 2 megapixel still 3 megapixel still
640×480 30 fps video
Auto-focus
Automatic macro mode

Majors changes
The iPhone 3G S was advertised as a very fast iPhone and there is specs to back those claim up. The Cortex-A8 is between 2 and 4 times faster than the older one. This make your web-browsing faster, your games smoother, and since the CPU is the bottle neck of that device, even data transfer is getting faster. Believe it or not but the iPhone 3G S sync 80% faster than the iPhone 3G.

With more memory, you can now run bigger and more complex applications without continuously getting interrupted by low memory warnings. With the iPhone 3G, applications had about 40 MB of free memory to run2. This is not very much when the interface itself is using a lot of graphical elements. OS 3.0 doesn’t eat very much RAM than OS 2.2.1 so if you choose the 3G S, you will literally get 128 MB of unused memory over what there already is. This is a real plus since, even with all that RAM, you’ll often run around 25% of free memory. But this time, no app will fill it up. At least, none that I know of!

The GPU also got a bit refit. The SGX is up to 4 times faster than the MBX Lite. This means better frame rates in games, smaller CPU usage when playing videos because of it’s wider support for hardware decoding codecs and more complex animations with support for Open GL ES 2.0.

Limited world
If you’re beginning to see my point you’ve probably stop reading here and got the iPhone 3G S. It’s not like the iPhone was a closed platform with very little developers. They will use those new technologies at their full potential. They will not cut features just to support the old 3G. If you don’t upgrade to the 3G S, you will see more and more of those low memory warnings and softwares that can’t keep up with the old CPU and GPU.

If you are using the iPhone solely for business purpose and can wait 2 or 3 seconds for your apps to load then the 3G is for you. On the other side, if you PLAN on using the iPhone only with business software, then there’s 90% you’re wrong and you’ll want to try that last game. If that happen, you might suffer a big deception.

Minor changes
The rest is pretty much minor. They are just add-ons that might be nice to have. First there is that support for 7.2 MB HSDPA which is nice but the iPhone can’t process data at that kind of speed anyway and there is no support for HSUPA which limit the 3G upload speed to 384 kbps. The new ear-phone are nice, specially if you own an iSkin Revo for the iSkin Solo. As this belt clip block the volume control, it’s nice to still have them on the ear-phone. There’s also a pretty nice new camera (which I use a lot by the way) which is nice addition and already well implemented. On the other side, there’s been report of issues with the oilophobic coating which loose grip with time and let marks on the screen under very high température.

Conclusion
That’s it! If you already own a 3G and feel that the app you use are a bit slow, you might love the speed boost the 3G S can give you as it make it feel just like if you had multi-tasking. See you next week with the iPhone OS 3.0 software review!

1: This data is not official but it would match the accessibility feature set, only available in the iPhone 3G S.
2: This is a best case scenario. There’s about 44 MB of available RAM when the device is rebooted. After 3 days, there’s generally less than 20 MB of free RAM remaining.