Category Archives: Hardware

An introduction to the Apple TV 4

The Apple TV 4 has recently launched and I’ve got my hands on one to review.

In this video I compare the specs of the new hardware with the Apple TV 3 and take a look at the new unit’s operating system: tvOS. I show installing an app, searching with the on-screen keyboard and built in voice command and briefly show Netflix and Plex apps in use.

Finally I sum up what I think of the Apple TV 4 and whether you should think about purchasing one.

I hope you enjoy the content. Please give it a thumbs up and, if you enjoyed the video, I’d be delighted if you subscribed to my channel.

Thanks for watching!

My first VLOG

Something I’ve wanted to do for a while is to VLOG as well as BLOG and this is my first attempt at the former.

I originally wanted to start my VLOG some time ago, however my iPhone 5s had a fault that meant that audio wouldn’t record when using the front facing “FaceTime” camera – the ideal one for VLOGing purposes.

My new iPhone 6s Plus, however, is fully working (I should hope so, I’ve only owned it for 3 weeks!) so I can now give VLOGing a go!

The above video was recorded during the first couple of weeks that I had my new iPhone and covers various subjects – a new bluetooth remote camera activation tool, a selfie stick, backing up my NAS to an external USB 3 hard drive and, most important of all these days, a look inside my fridge! You know it makes sense.

I hope you enjoy the video. Please give it a thumbs up on “the YouTubes” and don’t forget to subscribe if you want to see more content like it. Although goodness knows why you’d want to.

3D Touch on the iPhone 6s

One of the new features of the iPhone 6s is 3D Touch, a new technology that enables the device to not only detect traditional swipes and taps, but also presses into the screen.

The iPhone 6s can not only detect a forceful push on the display – it can also determine how hard you’re pushing it. That’s why Apple have called it 3D Touch – it takes interaction with our mobile devices quite literally into a new dimension.

The best way to demonstrate this new innovation is to show it in action, so please watch my latest video (above) to see it in action!

When I first heard about 3D Touch I thought it might be a bit of a gimmick, however I’m already finding that I use it every day – it really is rather useful.

This is only the beginning, as developers come up with ingenious ways to act on pushes “into” the screen we’ll no doubt begin to see all sorts of interesting new uses for this technology.

If you liked it, please give the video a thumbs up on YouTube and if you enjoyed the content, please subscribe to my channel where you can find lots more!

Comparing the iPhone 4, iPhone 5s and iPhone 6s Plus

Here’s a new video on my new YouTube channel I’ve started up to support my blog. There’s not much to write about as it’s all in the visuals!

The video compares and contrasts three iPhones: the iPhone 4 (released in June 2010), the iPhone 5s (released in September 2013) and finally the newest of the iPhones the 6s Plus released last month.

I think it’s interesting to compare the products’ specs. There’s not much hands-on apart from a quick comparison of how Touch ID has been improved on the 6s.

I talk briefly about 3D touch but think I incorrectly call it Force Touch, so I apologise for that!

I hope you enjoy the video. Please give it a thumbs up on YouTube and if you enjoyed the content please subscribe to my channel to be notified of new videos.

Adding a monitor arm to my desk setup

This week I added a new monitor arm to my desk setup. In this blog (and accompanying video) I describe why I chose the particular arm I went for and how I found using it since installing.

I’ve had a computer for years. So I’ve had different monitors for years too. I’ve never had an all-in-one (like an iMac) instead preferring to add a screen of my choice to a headless computer. The advantage of this approach to owning a computer is that you can change your display without having to change the entire hardware.

When I bought my cylindrical “trash can” Mac Pro in December 2013 (finally received in February 2014 as regular readers will know all about!) I knew that during the lifetime of the machine I would want to add a retina display. The prices and specs at that time were not good so I left it until July 2015 before purchasing an LG 31MU97 true 4K (and therefore “retina” display). It’s fantastic!

One of the criteria for my new screen was that it should include a VESA mount. As I said, I’ve owned different monitors over the years but none of them have ever had a VESA mount and I liked the idea of having that flexibility in my locker should I need it.

The stand that comes with the LG is not bad, as stands go, but for me (as I demonstrate in my video) the height adjustment isn’t quite enough, especially as in an ideal world I would have the screen at slightly different heights depending on if my desk is in a “sit” or “stand” position (I have a video coming up soon showing the sit/stand desk if you’re interested in one of those). Replacing the supplied stand with a new VESA based alternative seemed the appropriate solution.

What to get?!
Then the problems (and the research) start. Should I get an arm or a new stand? Should I get a mount capable of adding additional arms should I decide to get another screen? What manufacturer should I go for? Duronic? Ergotron, perhaps?

I spent quite a bit of time looking around at articles on the intertubes and videos on “the YouTubes” as well as looking at manufacturer’s own web sites and information.

It makes your head spin!?

I eventually stumbled upon a company called Chief based in the United States. I’d never heard of them, however their arms seem well constructed and, crucially, have a rather nifty cable management solution built in – most of the competition use standard clips similar to those found on normal stands.

I selected an arm called a “Kontour” (yes, with a “K”)  that I thought would work well for me. My computer and monitor are black so I rather fancied having the black version of the arm, however it’s not for sale in the UK unless you want to pay a hefty surcharge to have it imported from the US. So I went with the silver version instead at half the price.

Delivery and Installation
I bought it through a reseller that will remain nameless on this blog, however I won’t be using them again – the packaging was simply awful and I was very worried that the goods would be damaged too. However, Chief clearly build solid products so while the box had barely survived the journey, the arm seemed OK. A small scratch, but nothing functionally out of place.

In my video you can see part of the installation. Unfortunately both of my camera batteries were nearly out of juice so I couldn’t record the entire process, however hopefully you can see what I started with and how it ended up.

Final thoughts
The arm itself is of solid construction. It’s well built and the cable management is very nice. As you will see from my video, the spaghetti of cables you could see beforehand has gone and I now have a nice clear desk. I can even position my laptop below my LG should I need to. There was initially a small amount of wobble from the screen, however this was more to do with my desk and some tightening of bolts (on both the arm and the desk) virtually removed this annoyance. It’s certainly not a big problem or one I’m going to remain concerned about.

For the record, the arm I went for was the K1D120S. I would’ve preferred the K1D120B which is the black version, but not at twice the price. I can only comment on what I’ve used and having never come into contact with an arm by anyone else I can’t say whether  this one is better or worse than alternatives, however I’m pleased with what I’ve bought and it makes a nice addition to my 2015 desk setup.

LG 31MU97 4K monitor

Ever since I bought my new cylindrical Mac Pro just over a year ago, I’ve wanted a retina display to plug in to it. That time has finally come as I’ve purchased an LG 31MU97 31″ true 4K monitor.

A “retina” display is one that has so many pixels that you can’t see them. Most desktop displays are around 100ppi (pixels per inch) and this can be seen quite easily with the naked eye. Smartphones and tablets have been using much higher pixel densities for some time now. The iPad is typically 218ppi and some Android phones boast over 300ppi.

Instead of mapping their on screen elements across the same number of pixels, these high resolution screens use “virtual” resolutions with the elements made up of vastly more pixels thereby giving you enhanced definition – you can’t see the pixels (that’s why it’s called “retina” in Apple circles).

The reason I’ve wanted a desktop retina display for a while now is that all of my other computing devices have one – my iPhone 5s, iPad 3 and MacBook Pro all use high resolution pixel packed screens; and they look gorgeous as a result. Ironically, my most expensive computer – the one I use the most and every day of the week has had the worst quality display connected to it.

Don’t get me wrong, the display I’ve been using for the last 4 and half years (a 30″ Apple Cinema HD Display) is the best screen I’ve ever owned. Until now. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

Prices
When the Mac Pro launched in late 2013, Apple demonstrated it attached to Sharp 4K displays. These cost thousands and were out of the reach of most users, especially those of us who had just dropped a load of cash on a new cylindrical Mac masterpiece. Since then I’ve been watching the market closely.

First of all TN panel based 4K monitors dropped in price to a really good level, mainly prompted by gamers who were buying these displays ideal for their hobby. Professional users have been waiting for higher quality IPS panels to do the same thing. It’s taken a while, however there are now plenty of UHD screens out there at an affordable price.

What to buy?
For a long time I wondered what display to purchase. I toyed with the idea of getting 2 Dell P2715q’s. These are UHD (3840 x 2160) and about two thirds of the price of the screen I eventually purchased. I also considered screens from BenQ, Asus and Acer. All of these were UDH.

I finally went for the LG 31MU97. This screen is true 4K (4096 x 2160) and costs a little more than the UHD versions, but with added features. As well as the wider aspect (not entirely necessary for me, but still welcome) it had both sRGB and Adobe RGB compatibility. This is ideal for me with both my web and print work.

I followed a thread over on Mac Rumors for a while with some people reporting problems with the LG, however these were all but solved with the release of OS X Yosemite 10.10.3. I took a bit of a punt buying the display, however I’ve now been using it for 5 days and am very pleased with it!

LG31MU97

The colours pop out of the screen, text is sharp and highly readable and you can’t see any pixels. Despite running D300 cards, the Elite Dangerous Mac beta plays fine at 4K, although with a reduced frame rate. I’m still playing around with the settings, sometimes running at a lower resolution with higher detail and other times lower detail with high res. Not sure which way I’ll finally jump.

For desktop work, I’m using a scaled resolution of 2560 x 1350 which is close to the display resolution of my old 30″ ACD, but a little larger, which is better for my eyesight!

Very please with the purchase. If you have any questions, please post them below and I’ll answer them.

The Mac Pro – Two months on

It’s been a while since my last post, so it’s about time I wrote some more drivel.

In my last post, my Mac Pro had been with me for 2 weeks. Now after 2 months I’ve had a good chance to take it through its paces and, boy, it hasn’t disappointed.

The machine itself is understated, sitting silently on my desk calmly and effortlessly coping with whatever I throw at it. My old Mac Pro struggled to run Windows 8 under Parallels, this new machine performs that job admirably whilst being perfectly capable of not only running Windows 8.1 but also running Windows XP under Parallels and several programs under OS X Mavericks all at the same time. It hardly gets warm while doing it.

Internet Babble That Makes No Sense
That, really, is my point about the Mac Pro. I’ve read several blogs and watched a few YouTube videos where so called experts have said that no-one needs the power of a Mac Pro unless you’re editing 4K video. Some also point out that the single threaded Geekbench score of the latest iMac is slightly faster than the equivalent single threaded score on the entry level Mac Pro.

My response to all this is that no person uses their Mac Pro just to do one thing. We all perform multiple tasks on our machines, whether or not we consciously set out to work like that. Unlike the Haswell chip in the iMac, the Ivy Bridge Xeon processor in the Mac Pro is capable of 2 threads per core, so those commentators who are comparing the quad core iMac to the quad core Mac Pro and saying that it’s the same have no idea what they’re talking about. The new Mac Pro not only has a minimum of 8 threads available but it also has faster memory, faster PCIe based flash storage and faster “everything that connects those things together”. There’s simply no comparison. So stop it.

Astonishing speed
I bought the 6-core model so the 12 threads on my machine are ample for all my work and all the tasks that I need to perform simultaneously. The boot up time of the machine and the software is amazing. My old Mac Pro took several minutes to start up – and that was before I opened any software. I always used to put it into sleep mode instead for that reason. My new machine starts up in seconds – and that includes loading several programs. Photoshop appears in 2 seconds when it took about 3 minutes on my old machine.

In summary
In summary then you can rest assured that I’m not sorry about the money I’ve spent on my new machine. I spend a good deal of my time sitting at it working so, for me, it makes sense to splash the case on my main workhorse. To those naysayers who think it’s a waste of money I say this: “Go back to your crappy Windows machines and see if you can find your way around the badly thought out interface while you scan your system for viruses and leave me to enjoy my new toy.”

And yes, that was over the top. I should probably edit that last bit out…

 

The new Mac Pro is here

Computer February 2014In my last post I wrote that my new Mac Pro had finally left Austin, Texas some 41 days after ordering it and was due to arrive on Tuesday 4 February. It’s 2 weeks later now (18 February 2014) so time to report on progress.

The computer was actually delivered a day earlier than anticipated on Monday 3 February. It arrived just before 9.30am but I was so busy that day that I didn’t even open the box until after 5pm. Quite restrained of me, I thought.

After quickly starting the new machine up to check all was OK, I shut it down again and replaced the 12GB of stock RAM with 32GB I’d purchased from Crucial. I’ve read conflicting reports about the best way to upgrade the RAM. The new Mac Pro handles 4 channel memory really well so the argument goes that having 4 RAM sticks is a good thing to do. I went for 2 RAM sticks so that I can add more RAM later on if I need to without having to throw away the sticks I’ve just bought. I’m working on the basis that you can never have enough RAM and what seems like loads now, probably won’t seem so much in a couple of years.

I’m reminded of the famous Bill Gates quote from 1981 “640K ought to be enough RAM for anybody” although he later claimed he never said it.

Setting things up
I used my old Mac Pro for very nearly 7 years as my main computer. Thats quite a lifespan for a piece of tech that’s used for several hours a day most of the week. I’ve never been one for installing lots of rubbish on my system, I just don’t see the point, however over time I’ve inevitably collected a certain amount of faff that I no longer need. It was for this reason that I chose to avoid any kind of automated transfer of my files and manually install/copy what I needed.

Much of this process was, in actual fact, complete already as my data is pretty much all held on my NAS so as far as the computer was concerned it was a case of installing applications only. For this purpose I kept the new machine side-by-side with the old one until Sunday 16 February when it was finally time to shut down the old cheese grater for the last time. For that 2 week period I set up my old Dell monitor and a keyboard to use on the old machine, but now that’s gone, the Dell is being used as a second monitor for my new machine (as you can see in the photo above).

Mavericks
The biggest change – apart from the massive speed increase of the new Mac Pro – is having OS X Mavericks as my main operating system. My old machine was stuck on Lion so the move to Mavericks (on my new Mac Pro and my MacBook Pro) brings me right up to date. Mavericks has enabled me to use my second monitor as multiple monitor support on pre-Mavericks versions of OS X was flawed.

Summary
I just wanted to post that the new machine was here. I’ll post more details in the future about the Mac Pro itself and how its shaping up. Watch this space!

 

New Mac Pro is on its way (with a stop off in Duty Free)

I’ve written endlessly about wanting to upgrade my now ageing 2006 model Mac Pro 1,1. I’m almost boring myself about it, but luckily I’m a geek so can quite happily wax lyrical on the subject. Here I go again.

A quick recap. Apple’s professional top of the range computer is called the Mac Pro. It was first released in August 2006 as a replacement for Power Mac G5. I bought one of these machines in April 2007 and it’s served me astonishingly well being a reliable, stable and enjoyable machine to carry out my day to day work on.

There comes a time, however, in every computer’s life when it becomes obsolete. Luckily, for Macs, this generally takes much longer than their downmarket Windows based cousins. Yes, Macs are more expensive than PC’s but boy do you get your money’s worth out of them! I first thought that my Mac may need upgrading way back in Spring 2011. At the time I knew it wouldn’t be necessary for a year or so but in 2012 it quickly became clear that Apple didn’t plan to upgrade the hardware that had last seen a refresh in May 2010. To cut a long story short – you can read my previous blog entries to fill in the gaps – it wasn’t until 19 December 2013 that a new machine finally became available for ordering. The Mac Pro 6,1 also referred to as the “Late 2013” model. I placed my order on launch day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, estimated shipping dates slipped first to January then, after a few hours, to February. It stuck at February  until mid January when it then slipped again to March (where it remains for now). I was lucky – I just got my order in minutes before the estimates slipped to February. With this in mind, though, I was pretty sure my machine would ship pretty late in the month.

It’s been a tough month. OK, so there are plenty of people who’ve had a much tougher time such as those suffering flooding in Somerset, so I use the word “tough” in a kind of loose “I just stubbed my toe” or “I just cut my fingernails too short” kind of way. In other words, it’s not really tough, more a minor irritant.

There have been a few of us who ordered our machines around the same time sharing this whole experience on a thread on the Mac Rumors forums. My thanks go to Scissors, Subdiv, motegi, PPOP and many others on that thread. We’ve had a laugh in amongst the concern at the damage we’ve been causing our keyboards with continual presses of the refresh key while we have all been waiting for our order status messages to change from “Processing – Dispatch: January”. Mine stayed like that for no less than 41 days, finally flipping over to “Preparing for dispatch” late (UK time) on 29 January before leaving the factory in Austin overnight.

At the time of writing this (late in the evening on 30th January 2014) my Mac Pro has spent a pleasant day first of all at Dallas Fort Worth (no doubt looking through Duty Free and purchasing bottles of absinthe and export Swiss watches) before moving on to Louisville, KY and finally Newark, NJ. It’s getting closer, but I hope it’ll have made the effort to get on a plane by the time I get up in the morning.

My delivery estimate from UPS is Tuesday 4 February which actually suits me fine. I’ve got a busy few days (even the weekend is looking pretty full on) so Tuesday is probably the first day I’ll have any time at all to look at a new computer; so the fact it won’t be arriving until then is no great problem for me.

Conclusion
Perhaps the main reason why the ordering of the new Mac Pro has been somewhat of a strained experience for many of us is down in no small part to the length of time Apple has taken to update their flagship computer. As I’ve written previously, I fully appreciate the reasons why it had to be like that. The old Mac Pro form factor, although iconic, wouldn’t have been at all suitable for Thunderbolt and – like it or not – storage has moved on since the days of shoving everything into a tower. Some disagree about this final point at this moment in time, but I feel pretty sure that Apple will once again be proved right in their approach. They were right about the demise of the floppy drive, even about avoiding Blu-Ray altogether and they’ll be right about this too.

It’s great to see the innovation on the Pro line and it should give those of us who need powerful equipment to carry out our day jobs a sense of optimism that technology giants like Apple realise, after all, that iPads are for consumers and machines like the new Mac Pro are for the content creators who give the consumers the things they want to consume. Long may that continue!

Happy 30th Birthday Apple Mac. But where’s my new one, eh, Tim?

Macs old and new30 years ago today on 24 January 1984 the first Apple Macintosh computer was launched. It revolutionised desktop computing, introducing a whole new way of working and interacting with computers. It’s something Apple’s been rather good at over the years.

Although I occasionally worked with Apple Macs during the 1990’s it wasn’t until January 2005 that I jumped on the bandwagon myself at home. My first Mac was a Mac Mini, a wonderfully understated and yet powerful box that was marketed with “bring your own keyboard, mouse and monitor” something that would become a requirement again 9 years later when the new Mac Pro launched.

I was instantly hooked. The computers at work had run OS 9 (and before that OS 7) so having OS X 10.3 Panther was very exciting. Its amazing how quickly I forgot all the grief that Windows had given me over the preceding decade. I gradually came to love the OS and the hardware which had clearly been designed by people who care about what they do and give the attention to detail that had been sadly lacking in my computing life up until that point (perhaps with the exception of the Amiga).

The Mac Mini didn’t stay as my only Apple product for long. It was followed by the first Intel MacBook, the very first generation Mac Pro and then later an iPhone and iPad. The MacBook lasted me an astonishing 7 and half years before it was finally replaced only recently with the MacBook Pro with retina display I’m typing this on now. My Mac Pro has served me even better lasting from April 2007 (although strictly speaking it’s the August 2006 model) right up until today… well, that actually brings me on to my next point.

I’ve written on here before about how Apple took their eye off the ball when it comes to support for professional Mac users. I don’t want to go on about that on the Mac’s birthday – I’d rather eat some birthday cake washed down with oodles of real ale (is that normal?) – however it’s something which has caused me much consternation of late.

The Mac Pro received 3 updates between its launch in August 2006 and mid-2010 with a final “bump” in June 2012. Basically, from Spring 2011 right up until the launch of the redesigned Mac Pro in December 2013 there was nothing for Pros to get excited about, just a promise from CEO Tim Cook in Summer 2012 that “something great” would come “later in 2013”. As it turned out very much later!

In actual fact, for technical reasons I fully understand why Apple took so long to come up with a new design for the Mac Pro. I’ll write more about that in a future update probably as it’s not so much the delay that’s the problem as the total lack of communication. Apple’s famous secrecy gone mad. However, on the Mac’s birthday, while feeling optimistic about it’s future (even for pro users) I feel slightly miffed that it’s taking Apple so long to send me my new cylindrical “Late 2013” Mac Pro. Even on Apple’s 30th anniversary Mac web pages the new Mac Pro is given a year in the machine’s timeline of “2014”. Tells you all you need to know.

For me. I placed my order on launch day (19 December) and was told my new “Darth Vader” Mac Pro would ship in “January”. Here I am 37 days later with no news. Apple actually put an authorisation hold on my bank card for the full amount of the machine on Tuesday 21 Jan only for that to drop off again 2 days later. That got my hopes up a bit at the time so you can imagine how I’m feeling seeing yet another week go by with nothing to report.

However. I said I wouldn’t harp on about that on the Mac’s birthday so I’ll stop there. There’s still a week of the month to go, so a week for Apple to keep their promise to deliver the new hardware when they said they would. I hope they don’t let me down.

In conclusion
In conclusion, then, the Mac’s birthday shouldn’t be an occasion for me to lob insults at Apple because I don’t have my new toy yet. In fact, the Mac (and more specifically Mac OS X) has enabled me to almost forget I’m using a computer and to concentrate on getting my work done. It’s stylish, unfussy, stable, reliable and by far the best technical equipment I’ve ever owned. Happy Birthday, Mac, let’s hope there are many more to come!