Friday, May 22, 2009

My Mac Story – 006: Design – The “Smaller Bits and Pieces”

Last time I had a fairly close look at what the new MacBook looks like. This time I am going to take a closer look at some smaller, yet quite important parts.

The ports on the MacBook are all grouped on the left side of the unibody. There is the MagSafe power port, one LAN port (should support gigabit Ethernet according to Apple), two USB 2.0 ports, video adapter port (aka Mini DisplayPort), mike and headphones/speakers ports, and a Kensington lock slot. The front side of the computer does not contain any ports, just a thin slot that with blue light which goes on and flashes slowly when the computer sleeps, and there is the DVD drive on the right side of the body. There are no ports at the back of the notebook. When the screen is opened, the bottom part of the lid covers the back part of the body, so any ports there would be pretty useless, I guess.

The ports: Well, two USB ports are not exactly many. I would expect 3 or even better 4 on a notebook in this price category. OK, I can live with just 2 USBs, I had that on my previous notebook, but that one was bought when USB was still version 1.0 and a new thing generally. Since I have seen cheaper and smaller notebooks with more ports than the MacBook has, I can only say, it is not a serious downside, it is survivable but definitely not nice.

But what really annoys me, is the missing Firewire port, not even the miniature one. Come on, this is an Apple, or? If I remember computer history correctly it was Apple together with Sony who brought this technology to life, and it was Apple who touted it as something you do not get on a regular PC, but only on a Macintosh. What happened? Saving money, are we? It is quite strange, even my old Windows-only notebook has Firewire. Why is this important, well, simple, even Firewire 400 is faster than USB 2.0, so external drives work faster through Firewire. Anyway, guess I have to cope with it.

The MagSafe power port is a nice innovation. Well, it's not exactly a new feature on Apple notebooks, it has already been present on the previous version. The MagSafe power port serves connecting the MacBook to power mains. The power plug from the power adapter connects magnetically to the receptacle on the MacBook. Then if someone accidentally trips over the power cable, it just pops off without pulling the computer off the table and thus helps preventing partial and/or complete destruction of the computer or its parts. Overall this feature works nice and almost as intended. I have already managed to trip over the cable few times, and it got released. What does not work 100% fool proof, are the supports described in the previous post (No.: 005). They offer very little friction almost on any type of surface, so even though the MagSafe power port works, I always managed to pull the notebook with it, if only a little.

Plus, if the power cord is pulled perpendicularly to the body of the notebook, it has the tendency to pull the notebook with it. If it is pulled under any angle, then it works much better. I guess this is not a big issue generally, since when someone trips over the cable, it is almost impossible to pull it in a direct line from the body, so I guess the feature should work, and help.

There is one more feature of the MagSafe power port worth mentioning. It has rectangular shape, there are four small connectors visible inside it. The receptacle has the same shape, and there is no top or bottom side of the adapter. It does not matter which of the longer sides of the rectangle are placed on top or bottom, it works. On both longer sides of the adapter there is miniature diode light which glows when the adapter is connected. It shines amber/orange when the notebook is charging, and green when the battery is fully charged. This is one of the features that let user check the battery status at a quick glance without even turning the computer on, i.e., the user does not have to start the OS to display the battery charge status.

The MagSafe power port only shows two states: charging (amber)/charged (green). However Apple went even slightly further. On the left side, the notebook offers a designated small round button with eight miniature diodes that indicate the remaining battery charge after pressing the button. This feature works even when the notebook is closed and off. Like I have pointed out before, Apple really knows how to design things.

The diodes here indicate full battery charge.

Video port is not the standard DVI or VGA. They probably would not fit on/in the body. Apple uses a different format for which the user has to purchase either a VGA adapter or a DVI adapter for the so called Mini DisplayPort, or both. The price of each is approx. 29  Europe wide (well at least in its Western part). The question remains if a mini-DVI port would not really fit, and if this is just another way of earning a bit more revenue. Anyway, I am getting the VGA version soon, so we'll see how that works. For the time being, this feature leaves me fairly indifferent.

The DVD drive (RW) is a nice thin slot on the right side of the body. It is actually the only feature there. Apples have had slot-loaded drives ever since I can remember. Must have been a design thing initially, now it seems like a tradition. I just wonder, how well this design accumulates dust.

Well, the aesthetic side of the drive is very nice, until one decides to use it. Never in my life have I ever heard so much noise from a drive when loading or ejecting discs. It sure sounds like a CD/DVD shredder that cuts 1.5 x 4 mm stripes out of disc I decide I no longer need and want to destroy beyond use. It really is that horrible. The sound I mean. So, far the drive has returned all of the disc inserted without any obvious or visible harm. But the crunching noise it makes, is really spooky, if I ever wanted to give any advice here, this would be it: Try using it with the least important and the least valuable disc you have, and learn not to panic when you hear the sound. Took me a while getting used to, and even now, it scares the hell out of me when I hear it.

One more point of interest, mine seems OK, but friend who bought the MacBook some three weeks before me, had to have the drive replaced. When loading a disc, the disc went in, and immediately got spat out. Which reminds me that I should probably thoroughly test the functionality of mine. Would be horrible to find out that something is wrong when the warranty is out.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this blog constitutes in any form any advice, recommendation, guide and/or guidelines. If you use, imitate, implement and/or follow any of the actions described, you are and will be the only person responsible and/or liable. The author of this blog does not guarantee and/or recommend anything!

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