Digital World: Macbook rules

Once again, as with everything Mac, I find it necessary to establish my credentials as a Mac user and lover.

July 31, 2007 07:36

After long hours at the bargaining table, My Macbook (week no. 46, 1.87 ghz dual-core Intel processor) and I seem to have worked out an effective collective bargaining agreement; the number of wildcat strikes and unscheduled "coffee breaks" the computer has been taking for the past several months seems to have subsided significantly so that, at this point, whole days can go by with barely a crash. If this keeps up, I might even be able to drop my "emergency footing" habits of immediately backing everything up I do on a server, a USB flash drive or an e-mail to myself. I can just imagine what's going to happen when this article gets posted on the JPost Web site. The "crawlers" who search the Net will look at the title and say "Hey, another pro-Mac article!" It'll get cross-posted to blogs and Web sites, and the link will receive a place of honor on these sites - until somebody bothers to read the article, and the jig will be up! When I say "Macbook rules," I mean that I am going to describe the rules I've come up with to ensure that the Macbook can function more or less as a normal laptop (or notebook, as the current jargon is, according to - not about how much better it is than offerings by Dell or HP. Once again, as with everything Mac, I find it necessary to establish my credentials as a Mac user and lover. I've owned a Mac of one type or another since 1989, when I got an SE-30 ( I also had one of the earliest Mac laptops - a reassembled SE-30 with a third-party laptop screen and case (similar to the Colby Walkmac - see - but made by another company). I still have my original iMac Rev B ( and also own and actively use an Intel iMac ( and a PowerPC Mac Mini ( And, of course, the Macbook ( - except it's the 1.87 gHz model). It was, in fact, the flawless performance of the later iMac and the Mac Mini that prompted me to get a Macbook when a new laptop was in order. As you can see, I've gone a long path with Apple, not to mention spent a whole lot of money on their products. So if anyone has a right to criticize, it's me. And I wish I didn't have to. When the Macbook is good, it's very, very good. But when it's bad, it's awful. By "awful" I mean the following: Constant crashes - five, six even 10 times in a row; screen blanking out for seemingly no reason; Computer crashing and displaying scary looking lines on screen when it's been on for a long time and it gets physically moved, under certain circumstances (this one, unlike some of the others, is repeatable and demonstrable to those "geniuses" at the Apple Store); crashes for no apparent reason; refusing to restart after a crash until a certain amount of time has passed and on and on. If I had gotten it for free as a test machine or some such thing, I probably wouldn't be so upset - because I'd just go back to using my regular laptop. After the investment I've made, however, I expected the Macbook to be my "regular" laptop - but so far, it's getting killed in the reliability department by my old laptop, a three year old HP DV-1000 - which I have found myself being resorting to using when I have just had it "up to here" with the Macbook's antics. But those in the Macbook know - and especially owners - are familiar with all these issues. The Macbook is what it is; we must learn how to deal with it, and make it work. Since implementing the steps I list below, the amount of "down" time" I'm experiencing with my Macbook has been reduced drastically; where once I was spending hours a day, (where "a day" is 8-10 hours), trying to get it to work sufficiently that I could, say, write an article like this (word processing, how hard can that be?), I'm spending maybe 15 minutes a day dealing with temper tantrums. Heat dissipation/avoidance/prevention: As all Macbook (regular and pro) owners and users know, these models are considered "hot," as in too hot to put on your lap. Jokes abound on how you can use your Macbook to cook breakfast (, but some tests indicate that the Macbook does not run any faster than comparable PC duo-core machines ( Personally, what bothers me about the heat is not how hot it is, but what it does to the computer: The Macbook is very sensitive to heat, and if the processor gets too hot it shuts down or otherwise acts up. During my negotiations with the machine, I realized that if I wanted it to work properly I had to make sure to keep the heat down. Solutions included downloading the SMC fan control utility ( to get the fans to come on more often, elevating the machine off the table using a book holder contraption similar to this ( and various other hints and tips I discovered on various Web sites and forums. Why is heat such a problem for the Macbook? There are all sorts of theories, from loose sensors to misapplied thermal paste. One would think that the Apple people would get all the problems the first time, but here I am, with a brand new logic board installed, dealing with the same problems. Abandoning Firefox: It could be a coincidence (all of this is anecdotal to my Macbook, of course), but crashes seemed to come more frequently when I used Firefox. The Mac has a perfectly fine browser built into it, called Safari, but it doesn't have the plethora of plug-ins and add-ons Firefox does. On the other hand, it could be that it was all those add-ons making the machine crash more often, since the processor was running hotter and working harder even with only a few tabs open. I am thinking of experimenting with FF again, now that I've got the heat thing pretty much under control. Parallels vs. VMWare Fusion: One of the reasons I went for a Macbook was the promise of being able to run multiple OS - specifically Windows and Mac OS - on the same machine. Parallels (, a virtual machine that lets you run Windows as a Mac application, is an excellent solution if you want the best of both worlds. But: Parallels puts a heavy toll on the Macbook's processor, which causes heat, which, of course, the Macbook runs from like a scared rabbit. After my machine came back with a new logic board from Apple and I reinstalled Parallels - and promptly crashed - I was extremely upset, because dispensing with Windows was something I was not going to put up with. I need both platforms and, as I said, being able to run both on the same machine was one of my main purposes in getting a Macbook. But all is well now; I discovered VMWare Fusion (currently in Beta), which essentially does the same thing as Parallels - but seems to be far less taxing on the processor. Where internal temperatures would hover around 70 Celsius with Parallels running, VMWare Fusion ( keeps the temperatures down closer to 50-plus - meaning there is less chance the Macbook's heat defense mechanism kicks in. Desktop pictures: I had a great collection of backgrounds, but decided to forgo them - just in case. I now use the ones that came with the machine. They're more boring, true, but endless pressing of the restart button to get the machine up and running is even more boring. Trust me. Windows software: While I do have Windows installed and operational, I try not to use it unless absolutely necessary. I do need Windows for various installations and activities, but I decided that my very favorite Windows app - Replay Radio ( was out of the question. Ditto OpenOffice (, which I relied on for word processing. Instead of using the Windows version of these applications, I now use the Mac versions: Quicktime, which comes with the Mac OS and which can stream audio, and Neo Office (, a port of OpenOffice for the Mac (it's almost exactly the same). As far as Quicktime is concerned, downloading the free Flip4Mac plugin ( lets the Mac play ASX (Windows) streams without a hitch. Since I started with my new program, I've started to feel a little more confident in the Macbook - like maybe it can see me through the long haul. So far I've brought it in to Apple twice for repair; the first time they changed the logic board, the second time they told me it was fine. Just in case, though, I bought the Applecare extended warranty. If this thing starts acting up again, they're going to be seeing a lot of me!

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