8 days in Apple land with the new MacBook Air

Getting hands-on with the new MacBook Air (late-2010)

I have just finished a relationship. Not a normal kind of relationship you understand, this one was with a laptop. A rather special laptop. Last new year a friend showed off his MacBook Air to me and I was smitten ever since. So when Apple announced their latest incarnation of the Air I leapt at the chance to get one for myself.

I have been a Microsoft person since the days of MSDOS and Windows 3.1 but I have acquired a not inconsiderable number of hours on Macs over the last year (at least for a Windows person) and unbeknownst to me they have been getting under my skin. So it was with a fluttering heart that I hit the ‘buy’ button at the online Apple store  two days after the announcement of the new Air and I became £1500 lighter of pocket, for a time.

I followed the progress of my order excitedly every day. I went for the absolute maximum specification you can buy – 2GHz, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD – which you cannot get in the stuffy Apple stores, so once it had been built I followed it from pillar to post as it travelled from China to Kazakhstan, Poland, Germany, then finally into the UK and to my work place.

In the presence of a trusted colleague I opened the box and turned it on for the first time. First impressions for the both of us (apart from “wow that’s so thin”) was something no-one else had mentioned in reviews – “oh my god, that’s fast”. After going through the install process I had done a boot-speed test and it booted in under 10 seconds. Truely astonishing. I’ve tested the fastest of the MacBooks Pro in the Apple stores and they take at least 30 seconds, so for a middle of the range spec’d laptop this is very impressive. It’s likely the SSDs in the Airs are seriously good, which goes some way to explaining their huge cost I suppose.

And so I settled down to getting used to my new MacBook Air. I copied across my documents, installed Office for Mac 2011, got Office Communicator working and Outlook syncing. All was well. I even installed Server 2008 R2 in a virtual machine which work a lot better than I expected, and when I discovered that crappily coded Skype didn’t work in MacOS X 10.6.4 I was happily able to run it in the virtual machine instead.

I was looking at 9 hours of battery life (at a snip) with an average of say 5 or 6, and was quickly getting used to being able to whip it out of my bag, open it up and get on the internet in less than 10 seconds, instead of the 5 minutes (!) that I have to wait for my old Windows 7 machine to be ready to actually be used.

I was even playing games on it. EVE Online and Portal worked beautifully on it. I had seen EVE on my friend’s Air and it was awful but this Air had a really rather good graphics card in it so games actually worked. Think about it, a laptop that weighs less than 1.5 kg that can play games really quite well. That’s just not normal.

Then I started to notice something… it was getting very very noisey. When you actually use the Air as a proper computer, to do some Adobe renders or play a game, it gets really really noisey. There’s a little slit hidden in the hinge of the screen and out of there comes all the heat, and there’s plenty of it.

OK so it’s noisey, I can wear headphones when I play a game I thought, fine. A compromise to be privilaged enough to have a laptop so small.

Then disaster. It dies. On the 8th day of use the last thing I do is play Portal at lunch time. I finish my game, mute the speakers ready for the next boot up (so the annoying boot-chime is gone) and shut it down. When I return home that evening I get it out of the bag and press the power button. And, nothing. After much diagnosis, and even trying to get the back off it (without success I should add) I give up.
Next day I take it to the Apple Genius guys. Seriously good those guys – you definitely get good support with Apple stuff. They were stumpted too, so they wipe the hard-drive for me (at huge effort to them) and I’m ready to refund. I phone up the online billing assistance number and they don’t quibble, I’m entitled to a refund whether it’s faulty or not since it’s less than 14 days since it arrived.

So there we are. I’m back to an annoying Windows 7 laptop that burns my knees and won’t play games very well.

So as things go I was very happy with my Mac Air. It was super light, very easy to use, attractive to look at, had a fantastic screen, and best of all was the most responsive computer I’ve ever used.
My only quibbles are that if it dies you’re at the mercy of the Apple support guys, there’s nothing you can do but hope that they will help you out. It is far too noisey when working hard, and the front edge is a little too sharp.

So in conclusion I think Apple have made a surprisingly good laptop with the new MacBook Air (late-2010). It’s small enough to comfortably stay in your bag on your shoulder at all times, fast enough for almost all uses and thus will have very long legs and will be a good long term investment – albeit a costly one! Unfortunately, it’s just not for me, I need a bit more power for my buck at this cost. Now it has died on me I can’t trust it not to die again, whether it’s a new machine or not. And for £400 less I can buy a 13″ Windows machine with an i5 processor and similar gpu. Sorry Apple, I hardly knew you.

Hybrid, New Album: Disappear Here

Slightly off the usual topic of my blog – but I am obsessed with the band “Hybrid” (thanks to my friend Dave who originally introduced their music to me) and I have just discovered that they are releasing a new album on 29th March 2010 called “Disappear Here”.

The album is available to pre-order on Amazon and there’s a really good teaser for it on their site (www.hybridsoundsystem.com).

First impressions… AMAZING! Hints of their original and best quality work with lots of drum and base and their usual thick globules of classical. Fantastic. I can’t wait for the release date!

I vote: fabricland.co.uk for worst website ever made!

Some days I’m amazed at the things I see on the internet, and today I nearly split my sides laughing when a friend at work passed me a link to look at…

http://www.fabricland.co.uk/ has to be among the worst websites I have ever laid eyes upon! In all my years of surfing the web, going right back to 1995 I have never seen so many colours, flashing boxes, or miss-uses of marquees. If there’s one thing it’s missing it’s music you can’t stop when you enter the site. Hell there are even dancing santas on there!

There’s even a fabulous parody of this site found here (http://www.peterserafinowicz.com/brian-butterfield/) total genius 🙂

Decide for yourself if Bing is any good

Microsoft recently re-made and rebranded their internet search engine. Launched not long ago Bing.com seems to me to be pretty good. I always hated Live search; in fact I used to prove to my peers how crap it was simply by searching for something that had recently been made live by Microsoft themselves, such as a new Microsoft download I might need, like SQL 2008 SP1. Low and behold 9 times out of 10 Live search would find almost nothing of use, but google would give me exactly what I needed in the first result.
I never bothered to try Yahoo – I mean who the hell cares about Yahoo now anyway. To me they are like the AOL of ISPs – you only use them if you don’t know better.

Well now that Bing is here there’s a nice little tool some Microsoft guy has setup to help you decide if it’s any good. It’s a blind-search test and lets you run a query against Google, Yahoo and Bing at the same time, but doesn’t tell you where the results are from until you vote for the column of results which best fits what you were searching for. I think it’s a very clever idea. Try it out here: http://blindsearch.fejus.com/

Daemon by Daniel Suarez – a truly fantastic read

Today I finished reading a novel. It took me maybe a week to read, but unlike other books where I have dipped in and out, this one made me want to read through the night on and on. I had to force myself to sleep, and when my eyes opened in the morning I would leap out of bed almost drooling in anticipation of what was to come next…
That book is “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez and I can’t recommend it enough.

Put simply (and it’s a cruel simplification) Daemon is a techno-thriller. It follows the events that are set in motion following the death of a super intelligent game designer who has an extraordinary vision of the future for mankind, and has let loose his greatest creation.

The story is filled with plot twists, strongly believable characters, and flys along at a relentless pace, never letting go of the reader until the very last word. Best of all one of its core themes – that of the world of computers, the internet, technology, and their roles in society – is so utterly realistic and accurate, that for the technologically savvy reader there is never the slightest issue with dodgy concepts or technological hiccups that so frequently fill modern literature and films of the same genre. One thing of note with this is that the realism is so high that it could almost be a prediction of the near future!

If this book (and it’s sequel) could be made into films, which would be a major struggle, simply because of the concepts it deals with, it could have the potential to rank up there with greats like The Matrix or Contact.

Here’s a passage which tickled me…

“Let’s stop kidding ourselves. We all know we’re going to build these things – so why go through the theatrics of feeling bad about it?” McCruder grabbed a grease pencil and turned to a whiteboard. He started drawing a casualty list with little human stick figures. “If we don’t make them, someone else will and people will die – along with us. That’s X number of people plus three. If we do make them, then people will die, but not us. That’s X number of people plus zero.” He looked up, vindicated by mathematics. “So we take the course that harms the least number of people.”

Check out the author’s website for more info: http://www.thedaemon.com/

Mobile Accessories – not the usual crap, this stuff is great!

I just found a site that sells accessories for mobiles and general portable techie stuff. It’s called ProPorta and I have to say I’m very impressed. They have all sorts of useful things, like cable tidies for headphone – whoever thought of that?! I never realised I needed some but I’m buying some now 🙂
They even sell minature GPS receivers that go on your keyring. Seeing that gave me the idea to permanently mount one in my car, they use such little power and they’re so small.

Check the site out, it’s great, and the stuff’s quite cheap too.