Living La Vida Rápida

I’d been happily working along on my 3-year old 17” iMac since I bought it back in 2003, using an even older 12” iBook while on the road. It’s a credit to Apple that, although long in the tooth, these machines kept on running the latest version of OS X, albeit in a fashion that seemed ever more poky as time went on.

Over the last year, as the number of applications “running in the background” grew to include Plazer, Adium, Skype, Snapz Pro and Quicksilver, along with Firefox, Safari, BBEdit, OmniOutliner, YummyFTP, iTunes, NaviCat and a few others running in the foreground, memory started to become an issue, and so I got used to the occasional — and then not-so-occasional — “spinning beachball” that means “hold on, I’m busy” on a Mac.

With Isaac singing the praises of the new MacBooks, along with my desire to amalgamate my digital life onto one machine (that whole “keeping things in sync” thing never actually works in practice), I decide that it was time for an technology upgrade.

And so last week I placed an order for a fully tricked-out MacBook, along with a 23” Cinema Display to use here in the office. While the display is currently on a truck between Mississauga and Charlottetown, the MacBook arrived on Friday, and I’ve been busily moving my digital life over.

Man is this thing ever fast!

While I’ve got the irrational and interminable need to upgrade as much as the next guy, this time I hung onto the old gear for a lot longer than I normally would; the upside is that the MacBook, with its faster processor (2 GHz vs. 667 MHz on the old iBook), quicker video, extra memory (2GB vs. 384MB on the iBook) goes like a bat out of hell. In the old world it would take most applications 4 or 5 seconds to launch; slower apps, like OmniOutliner, would take 10-15 seconds. Now everything just starts. Right away.

While this might seem a trivial issue, when you’re living in front of a machine, constantly switching tasks and focus, just being able to seamlessly move around without delay is a really big psyche-saver. I think of my old pre-upgrade gear as offering “death by a thousand little delays.”

Of course this too shall pass, and the sheeny quickness of the new gear shall soon feel as poky as the old stuff. But I’m enjoying the thrill of high velocity while it lasts.

Some brief notes about other cool upgrade spinoffs:

  • Parallels Desktop for Mac is amazing. With it I can run Windows 2000 apps “Virtual PC style” without a reboot. Except where Virtual PC ran apps like molasses, running them in Parallels feels like I’ve got a modern-day really fast PC buried inside here somewhere. I’ve got Quicken for Home and Business (my only reason, really, for running Windows) running like a top.
  • The first time I opened up the MacBook (with battery charged: thanks, Apple), I ran through a 2 minute configuration process, then a 15 minute wait for various software updates, and I was good to go; installing Windows 2000 from scratch took 10 reboots, several upgrades of the ‘Windows Updater’, a separate upgrade of the browser, installation of Service Pack 4, and several more reboots — about 2 hours in total — before I was ready to use it for the first time.
  • This is my first machine with USB 2.0 — my iPod, which used to work, but slowly now gets filled up real quick.
  • The “fit and finish” of the MacBook is brilliant: it’s beautiful, well-crafted, lighter than the old iBook, and is full of design candy.
  • The only app that I need to run that isn’t “Universal” (i.e. designed to run natively on the Intel processer inside the MacBook as opposed to through emulation) is AppleWorks (it was my word processor before Pages, and is still my primary spreadsheet). I don’t notice the difference: AppleWorks works just like it used to.
  • Quicksilver, which I’ve only begun to plumb the usefulness of, is a much, much more useful tool when you have enough memory: being able to known that a quick press of Control + Space will call it up, rather than having to wait and see if there will be a delay while memory gets shoveled around, makes it a different experience entirely.
  • The most noticeable increase in pure speed comes when using Google Maps (or Google Maps-dependent sites, like Plazes) — these pages used to load slowly, and operate like a turtle. On the MacBook they load about twice as fast, and I can zoom in and out with my Mighty Mouse like I’m using a local GIS app.

Expect more gushing with the larger-than-life display arrives tomorrow.


Cyn's picture
Cyn on November 1, 2006 - 01:51 Permalink

I very bizarre thing has just ocurred. I was seconds away from doing a search for “why is my macbook slower than my ibook” when I thought I’d check to my bloglines for any new posts, and here you were…blogging about your great new faster Macbook, which I presume is a Macbook Pro and not just a measly Macbook zilch like my new puppy with only 512 MB and 1.83Ghz.

It seems all I do is watch the spinning beachball from hell. God I hate that thing.

I figured by upgrading I would have been happy like you Peter, but I am not. It would seem I need to go buy some more RAM.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 1, 2006 - 04:23 Permalink

Bring your new 1.83 MacBook by my office and we’ll engage in some empirical research side-by-side.

In any case, as a general rule: more memory = good. For any computer in almost any situation. The cheapest way to take your poky old computer and give it some new juice is to invest $100 in more memory.

hb's picture
hb on November 1, 2006 - 12:19 Permalink


Have you ever considered running bootcamp with Windows XP when you really just have to do that Micro$oft thing?

Ann's picture
Ann on November 1, 2006 - 12:49 Permalink

What do you do with all that old hardware?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 1, 2006 - 16:31 Permalink

HB: I didn’t want to have to reboot my machine to use Windows (as Bootcamp requires).

Ann: Unclear at this time.

Kevin O'Brien's picture
Kevin O'Brien on November 2, 2006 - 18:52 Permalink

Any thoughts on what might be causing my new MacBook Pro to run they way you describe your old Mac?

10-15 seconds is not an unusual load time for, say, iTunes; Firefox is in the 4-6 second range, the DVD player can take over a minute, and frequently the whole machine needs a [apparently causeless] time-out which can be anywhere from 5-30 seconds, during approximately half of which there is a system-wide crash. Nothing boots “instantly” which I would consider to be in the less than 3 second range.

(On the upside, the spinning ‘beach ball’ is arround enough to remind me of better days in Mexico:)

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on November 2, 2006 - 19:08 Permalink

How much memory do you have, Kevin?

Cyn's picture
Cyn on November 3, 2006 - 03:52 Permalink

I’ll take you up on the offer Peter. It’s a mystery to me why my activity monitor on my macbook shows the same programs running as did on my g4 ibook, but yet runs slower. Both had 512 RAM. I’ve resorted to opening my activity monitor each time I login and shutting down things like iCalscheduler, iTunes helper and iTaf_user_daemon just to see if it makes a difference. It does, but I shouldn’t have to do this, I don’t think.

I’ll be over soon for a research session.

Isaac's picture
Isaac on November 3, 2006 - 13:45 Permalink

Its the 512MB of ram that’s doing it Cynthia — apple keeps the prices of their MacBooks down by only putting 512 in, but it really is a small amount for OS X — especially if you run any applications like apple works or office that are not intel native.

But really, 1GB should be seen as the minimum to having a smooth running computer, its a shame that thats not the minimum apple pushes — I, like Peter, have 2 — and even then I don’t have much free ram that is unused.

The cheapest way to make a computer run faster (within reason) has always been add more ram — especially so with OS X.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on November 3, 2006 - 18:20 Permalink

Thanks Isaac. You have convinced me to go RAM shopping.

Cody Swanson's picture
Cody Swanson on November 3, 2006 - 19:53 Permalink

Do yourself a favor if you’re buying a Macbook, buy it with 512 and source the ram from a 3rd party retailer. To get 2GB in my macbook was $800 from apple, from a 3rd party it was $320 plus I get to sell the 512mb for a small amount on ebay ($50).

The speed difference between 512mb and 2GB of ram on my macbook was substantial, especially with applications like Parallels and MS Office. Also, if you’re looking for a good bluetooth wireless travel mouse look for a BT500, I love mine.

Dannie Jost's picture
Dannie Jost on November 7, 2006 - 22:41 Permalink

Congratulations on the speed update!

Kevin's picture
Kevin on November 10, 2006 - 03:37 Permalink

I have 2megs. Sorry I couldn’t get over on Friday — it’s been busy.

After writing that note I started actually timing program loads. On Saturday I booted Safari in a little over 25 seconds. Rebooted the computer and it took (what I would consider to be a normal) 3-4. But oddly, I hadn’t done anything with the computer since the previous reboot (start actually). Also, simply putting it to sleep by closing the cover is fine but every so often it will really start cranking and a reboot is needed. But sometimes, even with a reboot, it will be randomly sluggish — that is, slow this time, normal another.

The “therapeutic reboot” isn’t a Windows patent :) I guess Macs don’t like me and I don’t much like them. Figures huh? I just wish Jobs would get over what I consider to be “I need to be different even if it means not doing [certain] smart things that makes us look like the other smart guys”-type thinking. Example (with kudos): the new two button mouse… where the buttons are hidden. My belief is that we were so long getting it because it took them that long to hide the fact that it had more than one button. Anyway, I don’t care anymore my *next* computer will be a SONY VAIO and I’ll remain in the SONY camp for the rest of my days, or the rest of their good days, which ever comes first. Problem is, I just dropped a few thousand on a *used* MacBook just to get rid of the insane geometry involving the mouse-pad on the 17” Powerbook. Shudda went SONY then :(