The Day After the [Patches] Before

My office implemented both Meltdown and Spectre patches over the weekend…

In the previous weeks, both the Meltdown and Spectre processor vulnerabilities have been making a great deal of news. At my office – a financial firm – a Windows shop running Windows 7 (like most of the business world), implemented Windows based patches this past weekend. The results, especially in some of our older hardware, haven’t been very good. Thankfully, those machines are non-critical, non-business systems: For example, those that are used to display presentations in a conference room during a meeting. Unfortunately, the performance on those machines is atrocious. They are nearly unusable.

To understand what’s going on with those machines and why they now suck beyond all relief, we have to understand what the vulnerabilities are and what’s needed to patch both of them.

Meltdown Logo

Meltdown effects both x86 and ARM based microprocessors and allows rogue processes read all memory, even if unauthorized to do so. Meltdown effects nearly ALL processors used today. Resolution of this vulnerability will require a hardware revision, or effectively a new processor. For most computers – laptops especially – this isn’t likely to happen. Replacing a laptop’s microprocessor is expensive, and is likely not possible, as it would also require new system boards and supporting chipsets.

The only way to resolve this vulnerability is to come up with some level of operating system patch. Most of the operating systems used today have been, or are in the process of being, patched, including iOS, Linux, macOS and Windows.

Unfortunately, Meltdown patches are likely to cause performance issues, especially in older machines. The vulnerability makes all memory, including cache memory accessible. The patch works by constantly flushing the cache, making the computer work harder to put information back into it, where it can be read quickly. Unfortunately, since the cache is constantly being flushed, the computer is often forced to read it back into memory from the hard drive, slowing things down. In some cases, this happens far too often, forcing your computer’s hardware to fight against its operating system, putting it into a constant read loop. By the time the drive has read ahead enough information, its likely had the cache flushed, requiring it to start over again.

Spectre Logo
Spectre is a vulnerability that effects modern processors that perform branch prediction, or a way to predetermine possible execution outcomes allowing for speed of computations and actions. When the computer doesn’t predict where “you’re going” correctly, your computer may leave observable side effects that may reveal private data to hackers. For example, if the pattern of memory accesses performed by such speculative execution depends on private data, the resulting state of the data cache constitutes a side channel through which an attacker may be able to extract information about the private data using a timing attack.

There are two common vulnerabilities and exposure IDs related to Spectre, one for bounds check bypass and one for branch target injection. JIT engines used for JavaScript were found vulnerable. A website can read data stored in the browser for another website, or the browser’s memory itself.

Unfortunately, Spectre patches are also known to cause performance issues; and they have been reported to significantly slow down a PC’s performance, especially, again, on older computers. On newer, 8th generation Intel processors, performance has been known to take a 2% to 14% hit.

With both of these patches on your machine, your current computing experience is likely totally hosed, no matter what generation processor you have or how much computing power you possess.

For example, if you do anything with any kind of video, you’re going to have an especially hard time. Patches for both of these vulnerabilities are likely to result in a performance hit of anywhere between 10% to as much as 50%. As a result, graphic and video renders can take up to twice as long to complete, if they don’t just crash your machine.

However, it isn’t all gloom and doom. There does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Fixes for Spectre aren’t easy to implement. The problem is likely going to be around for quite some time. However, while a great deal of the vulnerabilities are executed through Java Script, and therefore while you’re surfing the web, Browsers such as Chrome, and Firefox are implementing other processes on top of the OS level patches you likely already have. You could also completely eliminate browser based exploits for both Meltdown and Spectre by disabling JavaScript all together.

It has also been suggested that the cost of mitigation can be alleviated by processors which feature selective translation lookaside buffer (TLB) flushing, a feature which is called process-context identifier (PCID) under Intel 64 architecture; and under Alpha, an address space number (ASN). This is because selective flushing enables the TLB behavior crucial to the exploit to be isolated across processes, without constantly flushing the entire TLB – the primary reason for the cost of mitigation.

Personally, I haven’t seen much of a slow down on my Late 2013 MacBook Pro. Thankfully, I seem to be falling somewhere in the 2% to 14% performance hit. How things go from here, however will help me decide if I stay with this Mac or wait until Apple releases a new Mac with a new processor that doesn’t fall victim to this nasty issue.

What happened to you and your computer? Do you have an older machine? Have you installed the patches? Are you experiencing a performance hit that you’d like to reveal or discuss with someone?

If so, give me a shout and let me know where you stand. You can find me in the Discussion are a below or you can send me an email.

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OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

For those that have the right equipment, this TB3 dock has a lot to offer…

http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/05/14/review—owc-thunderbolt-3-dock-is-the-only-game-in-town-for-firewire-800

Introduction
As I mentioned in my Mid 2017 MacBook Pro Review in the USB-C Ports section, you’re really going to want some kind of docking station for working with Apple’s new notebooks featuring their TouchBar (and those without…).

Over the years, I’ve found that having a docking station for my notebook computer is important. I hate plugging and chugging cables in and out of my notebook computer when I want to compute on the go; and I’ve found that doing so – plugging and unplugging cables in and out of a notebook – can actually be damaging to both the PC and the cables. At some point, you’re going to rush, and you’re going to tweak either a port or a cable, and then it won’t work right any longer. That can get expensive if it’s the PC or very inconvenient if it’s a cable you have to replace.

A little more than a year and a half ago, I reviewed the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock for 15″ MacBook Retina. The dock was awesome and to be honest, the type of dock that I really wanted for my family member for use with their Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro, but when we purchased the notebook back in June, the USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 version of the Henge Docks Horizontal Dock wasn’t supposed to be available for purchase until September 2017. Well, September 2017 is here, and the dock… well, it isn’t.

Thankfully, I got rescued by OWC and their Thunderbolt 3 Dock. It’s one of the best and most affordable Thunderbolt 3 docks available today.

As I noted in my Mid 2017 MacBook Pro Review, the notebook in and of itself is missing a LOT of ports. While it has four (4) USB-C ports that also support Thunderbolt 3, finding the peripherals you need that will work through these ports – keyboard, mouse, thumb drives, your phone, etc. – don’t actually exist yet. While all of these peripherals are available, they don’t have USB-C ports yet, and as such, aren’t supported natively on the Mid 2017 MacBook Pro.

Ports o’ Plenty
Thankfully, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock resolves all this. It has thirteen (13) ports, to provide you with all of the legacy connectivity you need. It has

• 5 USB-A 3.1 Ports, including 2 high power ports
• 1 S/PDF Out Port
• 1 Fire wire 800 Port
• 1 Gigabit Ethernet Port
• 2 USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 Ports
• 1 miniDisplay Port Port
• 1 SD Card Reader Port
• 1 Audio Out Port

owc-thunderbolt-3-dock-sg-ports-ms@2x

The nice thing here, is that if you find you need more ports than are offered on this dock, you can daisy chain another hub or dock to the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock either via one of the High Power USB-A 3.1 Ports, or one of the USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 ports. So, the dock is expandable, if you will. This is important, in that you may have more than five USB-A peripherals, for example. I know that I do. Between printers (plural) a DVD-R/W drive, desktop storage, a keyboard and dedicated ports for my phone, DSLR, Apple Watch and even my Firewire 800 powered Time Machine Drive.

Connectivity and Speed
When connecting devices to these ports, you’re going to be very pleased and very surprised. Nearly everything works with nearly every device in both macOS and Windows (under Boot Camp). However, you’ll find that the dock’s Firewire port will not work under Boot Camp, so, it won’t work with your Mac’s ability to boot into native Windows.

The ports that do work, however, work; and work very well. Thunderbolt 3 supports up to 40Gbps (gigabits per second). In reality when working with other USB 3.1 related devices, however, you’ll get about 10Gbps. It’s hard to know just how fast drive or data transfer rates will be for things like a USB 2.0 compatible thumb drive, but trust me… you’re really going to be impressed. When moving large data files, I was getting speeds equivalent to 80MBps (megabytes per second). This converts to about 0.625Gbps or 640Mbps (megabits per second). In comparison, some of the best REAL internet download speeds I’ve ever seen have been in the range of 150 – 195Mbps, and those downloads were lightning quick… LITERALLY. You’ll be able to copy large movie files in minutes instead of 30+ minutes or more to and from locally connected media.

The Dock also comes with an SD card reader. This is a huge deal, as nearly every Mac laptop has had an SD card slot for the last ten or so years. The fact that the MacBook Pro no longer has one is a huge issue in my mind. The fact that the dock has one makes it all that much more valuable. Its fast, too. When you pair Thunderbolt 3 speeds with this card slot, you get a really wonderful, really fast connectivity solution.

Conclusion
I’ve used a number of different docks and docking stations over the years with the computers that I’ve owned. On the Windows side of the world, this has been easy. Docking solutions on that side of the fence are many and myriad. On the Mac side, however, not so much. Macs don’t have specialized dock connectors that allow dedicated and quick connection to a permanent dock. In most cases, you either have to attach every port to a single docking solution (the those provided by Henge Docks) or you sacrifice a single native port for a port replicator styled dock like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.

There’s not much difference between how the two solutions provide connectivity. One uses all the native ports, the other only uses one, connecting you to the dock via a cable. Thanks to TB3 technology, though you’re going to get some of the best performance you’ve ever experienced when working with your peripherals.

The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is $299 and is available from their website.

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Apple’s Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro

Its new. Its controversial; but is it up to the task..?

Introduction
I’ve been a Mac since Apple dropped the PowerPC chip and embraced Intel. I have said many times that I bought my first Mac to be a Windows machine, largely because the hardware itself was so powerful and so elegant. To be honest, it took a while for me to be won over by OS X and macOS. However now, it is my OS of choice; and the Mac… well the Mac is still my go to computer eleven years later.

The Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro is quite a computer. Its powerful. Its thin. Its missing ports… Let’s take a look, however, and see if it is really worth all the hype, all the change and all the money that is required to make it work.

Hardware
Over the past couple of months while I’ve been waiting for accessory hardware to arrive so I can set up this device for an out of town family member, I’ve had a few friends ask me why in the world they purchased this computer, especially considering the cost.

The answer was simple – build quality.

I mean, have you SEEN this thing? If you haven’t, then you need to take a quick look at the unboxing video I did for Soft32 that was published just a few days ago. The hardware is seriously sweet.

As invoiced, the unit that I’m configuring has the following tech specs

Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID
• 2.8GHz quad-core 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz
• 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
• 1TB SSD storage
• Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory
• Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
• Backlit Keyboard – US English
• Silver, Aluminum Case

This configuration retails for $3100 USD. The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is $299 USD. So this particular installation, minus some minor accessories and apps, cost my family member $3400, plus tax, shipped.

…and this is where most folks choke and gag. The prices for the newest MacBook Pros are just totally nuts.

However, this notebook is likely going to last for at least 10 years before it will need to be replaced. When you compare that to a $1000 Windows PC that might last three or so years, the overall cost, is about the same. However, you’re likely going to buy at least two if not three Windows PC’s in that same time frame. So again, the prices are about the same.

That doesn’t make the new MacBook Pro’s cost any easier to stomach, though. It might justify it a bit more, but that down stroke is awfully steep. Its awfully steep… but let’s talk a bit about what you get for that price.

Form Factor
The new MacBook Pro is thin. Its REALLY thin. The original iPad’s dimensions can be found in the table below along with the Mid 2009 and Late 2013 MacBook Pros:

Size and Weight

Height Width Depth Weight
Orig. iPad 0.50 in (1.27 cm) 7.47 in. (18.97 cm) 9.56 in. (24.28 cm) 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg)
Mid 2017 0.61 In. (1.55 cm) 13.75 In. (34.93 cm) 9.48 In. (24.07 cm) 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg)
Late 2013 0.71 In. (1.8 cm) 14.13 In. (35.89 cm) 9.73 In. (24.71 cm) 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg)
Mid 2009 0.95 In. (2.41 cm) 14.35 In. (36.4 cm) 9.82 In. (24.9 cm) 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg)

As you can see from the above, the original iPad and the newest, 2017 15″ MacBook Pro are about as thick as each other. In truth, that extra tenth of an inch that the Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro has on the original 9.7″ iPad really only amounts to a diference of 0.254 cm (2.52 mm). Its also about as deep as the original iPad, too.

This should tell you something… Apple’s latest 15″ notebook has form factor specs in line with the original iPad… meaning that this notebook is thin. Oh, my goodness is it thin! In fact, (when the clam shell is closed) its as thin as Apple’s original tablet (the tenth of an inch is negligible). I think that’s amazing.

The last thing that I want to mention, and that I think is of note here is the 7th generation Core i7 processor. Apple introduced their Kaby Lake processor to the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro; and its made a difference in terms of speed, especially when you compare it to the Mid 2009 and Late 2013 models that I have in the house. The Mid 2017 is noticeably faster than both.

The Full 360

DSC_5227 - Top DSC_5229 - Front Edge
The three 15″ MacBook Pro’s – From top to bottom: Mid 2017, Late 2013 and Mid 2009 You can really tell how thin these things are. Remember, the Mid 2017 is as thin as Apple’s Original iPad
DSC_5230 - Right Edge DSC_5231 - Rear Edge
From the top down, Mid 2017: 2 USB-C ports and the headphone jack, Late 2013: USB-A port, HDMI Port and the SD Card slot, Mid 2009: Apple SuperDrive and the Kensington Lock Notice that the Mid 2017 doesn’t have any kind of black bar spacer on the lid hinge
DSC_5232 - Left Ege
From the top down. Mid 2017: 2 USB-C ports, Late 2013: MagSafe2 Power Port, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, USB –A port and the headphone jack, Mid 2009: MagSafe Power port, 10/100 Ethernet port, FireWire 400 port, mini Display Port, 2 USB-A ports, SD Card slot, microphone jack, headphone jack, (near the front of the MBP – battery test button and the battery power indicator)

TouchBar
This is going to be short and sweet. The TouchBar is new for the 2017 MacBook Pros. It provides an OLED strip of touch sensitive screen for context sensitive buttons that are governed by the active, running application.

DSC_5233 - TouchBar OS

Many are going to say that the TouchBar is nothing more than a gimmick. They may be right. The context sensitive buttons are cool; but I can see no real value to the feature.

DSC_5234 TouchBar OS 2

While it looks thanks to its OLED display, its nothing necessary. Having one doesn’t provide you with any advantage over not having one. That may change in coming generations as functionality for this feature grows and matures. However right now, its eye candy… nothing more.

DSC_5235 TouchBar Word

If you have a contrary opinion, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment in the Discussion area, below, and let me know.

USB-C Ports
This is probably the most controversial feature of Apple’s newer MacBook Pros. Apple has removed all ports on their new notebooks and replaced them with four – two on each side – USB-C ports.

I’ve spent the last couple of days setting up this new notebook and configuring it for my family member. They are moving from a Mid 2009 15″ MacBook Pro, and it has a number of different ports on it. This is going to take them a bit of getting used to.

Even me, with my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro… I’m having issues getting used to the fact that there aren’t any legacy ports on the new, Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro. I have had at least three incidents over the past 24 hours where the lack of any real port connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth excluded) was a big problem. When most of your accessories, thumb drives, etc., are all USB-A and all you’ve got is USB-C ports, you’re going to have a problem moving data, printing or connecting one device to another. When you’re trying to move data from one PC to another, for example, this can be a huge issue. In fact, it can be downright impossible.

I tried to transfer this file – this review – back and forth between my Late 2013 MacBook Pro and the Mid 2017 MacBook Pro. The easiest way to do this is with a thumb drive. Unfortunately, thumb drives make use of a USB-A connection. The only way I was able to put a file on a thumb drive was with the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock. This was fine because I was in a home office setting. However, this would be an issue if I was out and about.

Unfortunately, items like a USB-C Flash Drive aren’t as wide spread available as they should be. They’re available, but not as mainstreamed as I would like… and besides that, I don’t have any. Nor would I think, any normal consumer as yet.

If you don’t have one, and you plan on taking your Mid 2017 MacBook Pro out and about with you, then you’re likely going to need one of these. Juiced Systems makes a 6 port USB-C Adapter that is a must have to anyone that plans to use this advanced Apple notebook outside of an office setting where a dock of some sorts, exists. If you don’t have it, don’t count on using any of your standard, mainstream, widely available, low cost accessories with your new Mid 2017″ MacBook Pro. Models exist for both 13″ and 15″ notebooks. Currently, they’re available for about $70 USD, and they’re probably going to be $70 of the best dollars you’re going to spend on this new notebook. I know I’m wishing I had one for this review.

Keyboard & Trackpad

Keyboard
Because the device is now thinner than it used to be (see the chart, above), Apple had to do something different with the keyboard. There really isn’t a lot of room in the case any longer. The new keyboard uses the same butterfly switches made popular in the original 2015 12″ MacBook. The switches used in the new Mid 2017 MacBook Pros are the next generation butterfly switches. The second generation switches have a lower profile than even the first generation butterfly switches.

So, what does all this mean? It means you’re gonna have a really clacky keyboard. It also means that there isn’t going to be a lot of keyboard travel, either. What you’re left with is a very different typing experience. In order to completely experience what the typing experience was going to be like, I pulled this review over to the new computer and decided to at least write this portion of the review there.

The typing experience is definitely different than on older MacBook Pros. There isn’t a lot of keyboard travel. The keyboard is very stiff, and yes… very clacky. Its not too difficult to use, but it may take some folks a bit to get used to.

It may also be a bit of a detractor for some.

Keyboard feel and travel, the elements that make up the typing experience are definitely different. Again, its not bad, but it may take you a bit to get used to it.

Trackpad
The first thing that you notice about the trackpad is that its huge. Its at least twice the size of trackpads on older MacBook Pros. Its very much like the trackpad on Apple’s 12″ MacBook. Large and Force Touch enabled.

I haven’t used or even put my hands on the 12″ MacBook; and while I have 3D Touch on my iPhone 7 Plus, experiencing Force Touch on a notebook computer is very different. Its easy to understand how it simulates a click. What’s really gonna blow your mind, though, is how the secondary, force click actually works and feels like. It truly feels as though the trackpad not only depresses for the click, but depresses even deeper for the force click. Its truly a strange feeling. Its really cool; but its really strange. You’d never expect that there was a deeper click in that trackpad.

The new trackpad is a total winner. I’d love to have it on my Late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro.

Conclusion
This device is super thin and super light. In fact, it’s the thinnest and lightest notebook I’ve ever worked with. The new 7th generation Intel Core i7 quad core processor is fast. Its going to crunch through more than you think it will, in less time, too.

The TouchBar is cool; but I’m not certain if it’s the kind of enhancement that I would have picked had I been given the option. The bar is completely contextual and changes as needed by the active application. This is both good and bad, especially if you touch type and are used to tapping function keys with a certain finger, though in truth, doing this is a bit of a stretch for your hands. At the end of the day, the context sensitive buttons are kinda cool, but its really more of a gimmick than anything else.

The trackpad is awesome. I was really surprised that it was a Force Touch related component without any moving parts. It truly feels as though it has two levels of physical distance and travel with you press it.

The keyboard isn’t bad, but its not great. The level of key travel is greatly diminished and unfortunately, its stiff and clacky. Its not the greatest typing experience and will require some getting used to. For some, this may be a deal breaker.

The biggest issue with this device are its USB-C ports and the lack of any native legacy port on it. Its going to be difficult for anyone to use any kind of legacy device with this notebook computer without some kind of dongle, dock or adapter. Unfortunately, this means you have to carry some other attachment in order to use what you need to get your work done.

Okokokok… so what’s the bottom line?

As always, Apple has created a GREAT notebook computer that should last any user at least seven to ten years, provide you baby the crap out of it. Its expensive, for certain. In fact, it may be too expensive. The Late 2013 MBP that I bought was the top of the line machine, and it cost me just under $3000. The top of the line 15″ in the current generation is $4200, or $1200 more than what I paid nearly four years ago (this coming December). Most of that is going to be attributable to the 2GB SSD that’s available for it; but that price is still outrageous.

This machine is awesome, but it requires a great deal of compromises. If you don’t mind making them, and have enough money to get the machine that will grow with you, the new Mid 2017 15″ MacBook Pro may be the right machine for you.

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Unboxing the Mid-2017 15″ MacBook Pro

There’s a HUGE difference between the latest version and some of Apple’s other 15″ models…

This is the unboxing for Apple’s Mid-2017 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. The new unit its VERY thin and VERY light; and VERY lacking in available expansion ports. At least it has four (4) USB-C ports on it instead of just the one that you get on the 12″ MacBook.

The biggest story here, I mean, aside from the lack of expansion ports and of course the new Touch Bar in place of the standard row of function keys is the new device’s size and weight. As part of the overall review, I’ll be comparing the new MacBook Pro to two different models – the Late 2013 and the Mid-2009.

Without ruining the overall, surprise – I’ll have photos as part of the main review – the size and weight comparisons between the three Apple laptops that I have are below.

Size and Weight

Height Width Depth Weight
Mid 2017 0.61 inch (1.55 cm) 13.75 inches (34.93 cm) 9.48 inches (24.07 cm) 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg)
Late 2013 0.71 inch (1.8 cm) 14.13 inches (35.89 cm) 9.73 inches (24.71 cm) 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg)
Mid 2009 0.95 inch (2.41 cm) 14.35 inches (36.4 cm) 9.82 inches (24.9 cm) 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg)

I’ve also got a few device specific accessories that I’ll be going over as well. These are either specific to the Mid-2017 due to its USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connections. This is shipping up to be a very interesting August, kids. A very interesting August, indeed.

If there’s anything that you’d like to see or like me to address as part of the MacBook Pro review or as part of the accessory reviews, please leave a comment or ping me on Twitter, and let me know.

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The Future of the MacBook Pro

Even though some have moved on to other issues, it’s still kinda hangin’ out there…

I’ve been a Mac for about 11 years. While I originally bought my first Mac to be a Windows machine, I’ve fully moved over to macOS and have moved all of my app needs, wants and desires over to the Mac/ Apple side of the fence. This had made things good and bad; and I’m happy and sad with the results. In other words, I’ve gotten used to it, and I’ve fully transitioned.

While I admit that I was less than happy with the recent Late 2016 MacBook Pro’s, some interesting information has come to light, and thankfully, I’ve finally gotten the time to digest it all.

Apple prognosticator, Ming Chi Kuo has released a few bullet points describing how he feels Apple will address some of the laptop’s shortcomings:

  1. Apple will combat high price complaints by offering discounts. Apple is targeting the Late 2016 13″ MBP without Touch Bar. Its Apple’s desire that this unit eventually replaces the 13″ MacBook Air.
  2. Apple will address performance by working with Intel to insure that the latest Kaby Lake chips get used in all MBP’s going forward
  3. Apple’s done a great deal to address batter life at this point. Some of this was resolved by both OS and battery firmware updates. Implementing the latest Kaby Lake processors will further address this issue and put it to bed.
  4. Apple intends to get low-powered RAM sticks into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar so that it can eventually bump the specs to 32GB, resolving the criticism of high end Mac users.

There are some holes here, however. While cost is a huge issue, only addressing the price point of the 13″ MBP without Touch Bar doesn’t do anything for the rest of the product line. It only provides entry level discounts. The larger SSD’s, processor and RAM configurations when maxed out, price the 15″ MBP with TB, up over $4000, after tax ($3949.00, USD retail price). The 32GB configuration isn’t available yet; and my guess it’s going to be at least a $2000 add-on.

I have no idea how individuals like me, who have a real need for that level of processing power can afford a computer that will likely cost upwards of $6000 USD. It simply doesn’t make sense. I have no idea how the high end units will sell to the guys that have traditionally purchased them.

These are guys like me – freelance writers, graphic artists, photographers, programmers, etc. They work for themselves, or for small businesses. Apple computers are some of the best computers available today. Creative professionals like these need powerful machines with a lot of RAM. Unfortunately, the 2016 MacBook Pro, fully configured with 32GB of RAM and its largest SSD, is about double what last year’s MacBook Pro cost.

So what does the Future of the MacBook Pro look like?

It looks technologically superior; but it looks really expensive. I hope Ming Chi Kuo is right. I hope that it all happens.

How it all ends up, though, only time will tell. We’ve got a few months before WWDC hits, and with us approaching mid-March, it’s unlikely we’ll see a March event. So, it’s all about timing.

Right now, it’s expensive, and the port configuration(s) aren’t moving in a direction that I think will work for everyone. Certainly, you can get around the ports “problem” and use dongles while on the go and a docking station or other port replicator while at a workstation; but that doesn’t resolve the issue. It’s a band aide at best.

I’d love to hear what you all think. What do you think about the what Ming Chi Kuo says? Do you have a Late 2016 MacBook Pro? How do you get past the port problem, or the cost? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below, and give me your thoughts.

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OWC Announces Upgrades for 2016 MacBook Pros

OWC has found a way around the Apple upgrade problem with the 2016 MacBook Pros…

I’ve always been a huge fan of OWC. In many ways, I think they’re one of the best aftermarket Apple accessory producers in the world. They have hard/ SSD drive, memory and accessory upgrades for just about every Mac on the market, as well as support for models going back many years. If you have a Mac – any Mac – you need to at least check out their website to see what add ons and upgrades might be available for your hardware. It may also be that they’re local to suburban Chicago, too… but I digress.

With the release of the 2016 MacBook Pro’s, many in the tech industry, and especially in the tech journalism sector – myself included – were very disappointed with Apple’s latest hardware release. In fact, many – again, myself included – feel that Apple is truly ignoring their “professional users” and instead concentrating on a larger, more consumer oriented audience. To boot, they’ve been rather quiet about this. Instead, the only thing anyone is hearing on the lack of ports on the 2016 MacBook Pro (both with and without TouchBar) is the echo of the WWDC keynote – “we think you’re going to love it…” (or some such nonsense).

Clearly, not everyone does.

In an interesting CES development, OWC (Other World Computing) has released an add on for the 2016 Mac Book Pro called the OWC DEC that allows not only for internal storage upgrades, but includes a number of missing legacy ports.

When attached, the DEC sits completely flush with the bottom of the 2016 MacBook Pro, and while it does add to the thickness of the device, OWC says that it keeps the overall height of the device as the 2012 MacBook Pro. Exactly HOW it connects to the MacBook Pro hasn’t exactly been disclosed yet. The press pictures that OWC has provided show all four native USB-C ports unused (see above). However, when released in the Spring of 2017, the DEC will support the following, according to OWC:

  • Up to 4TB of additional Flash/SSD storage (for a maximum of 6 TB, including the factory installed 2GB SSD that Apple offers)
  • SD Card Slot/Multi-Media card slot
  • USB 3 Type A Ports for standard USB cabled devices
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • And other features to be announced at a later date

The key here is that last bullet – “other features to be announced at a later date.” The big things missing in the above list are:

  • A MagSafe Connector (including a USB-C to MagSafe Adaptor, yet to be developed or released)
  • An HDMI port
  • A Mini DisplayPort port
  • Additional Thunderbolt 2-3 ports (not using the Type C connector)
  • A rechargeable battery, for extended battery life

What additional features are included in the final, shipping product have yet to be determined or announced. The prototype is on display at the OWC booth at CES during the week of 2017-01-03.

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Apple Releases iOS 10.2 Beta 3 to Developers

There’s some noticeable changes in the latest beta release…

ios 10.2Big changes, kids. That’s what can be seen coming in iOS 10.2. Especially, in the US. The most noticeable is that the Videos app has been removed. While you’ll still be able to watch video on your iDevice, you’ll need to use the TV app for that. The Video widget, introduced in iOS 10.1, has also been removed and replaced with the TV widget. In countries outside the US, both the Video app and Video widget are still available for use.

The new functionality – app and widget – includes an “up next” feature which allows you to keep track of shows and movies you’re watching. It saves your place or recommends new TV episodes and movies across multiple devices. In the Settings app, there’s also a new section for the TV app, allowing users to choose whether they use cellular data for playback; and to choose the streaming quality over both Wi-Fi and cellular connections. You also get to choose whether you purchase video in HD or SD from the iTunes Store.

Additional changes to iOS 10.2 Beta 3 include the following:

SOS – The SOS functionality that allowed users to call emergency services by pressing the power button several times on the iPhone has been removed. According to Apple’s release notes, SOS is currently only available in India.

Messages – There’s a new “Send With Love” Screen Effect option in Messages that sends a heart along with a text message.

iOS 10.2 Beta 3 was released on 2016-11-14; and is currently only available to developers. It’s likely a public beta will be available in the coming days. iOS 10.2 has been promised an early December launch, and several features – including single sign on (SSO) for the TV app – are expected during this time frame.

There are a lot of changes going on at Apple. Some of these I understand and agree with, others are leaving me a bit confused. The first was the introduction of the new MacBook Pros. Unfortunately, at this point, I’m not a huge fan. Pro users don’t want thinner and lighter, they want expansion options and ports. The only pro feature that the new MacBook Pro has is price. They’ve priced a LOT of MacBook Pro users out of the MacBook Pro with this particular hardware iteration. One can only hope that Apple will see the error of their ways and price the device DOWN a great deal with the next iteration. My guess is that they WON’T do this, as Apple very rarely, if ever makes products significantly cheaper so more people can re/afford them.

It sure is expensive enough.

The other issue I have is with the true definition of Pro and how it relates to the iPad and its software. The iPad Pro could – and likely would – resolve a lot of “Pro” use if IT had some of the software that productivity professionals were looking for. Creatives would likely embrace the iPad Pro as a still and video editing machine IF the device had the software that they needed. However, as of this writing, even THAT is nowhere to be found.

All we really have is a set of hardware options – the MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro – that seem to be coming closer and closer together without any REAL direction as to why, or where the grand game is going. I have no idea what future hardware direction I really should be going in.

When I compute in my home office, I know I am going to want an external monitor, will want to access local and network based storage; and will want desktop classed tools, peripherals (keyboard and mouse, etc.) to work with. So it seems that a Mac is really the way I want to go.

When I’m out and about, thinner and lighter is usually better; but I don’t want to sacrifice hardware capabilities for portability… and I certainly don’t want to carry dongles or extra or different cables.

With the MacBook Pro that I have, I SHOULD be able to last at least another three years at least, (which would place me at about the 2019/ 2020 date range; but I should have been able to do the same thing with my Early 2011 MacBook Pro, and it died two years ago due to that model’s well publicized system board defects.

So where does this leave me?

That, kids… is the $64,000 question. I have no idea.

It’s clear that if I wasn’t a tech journalist, I’d be stuck with some sort of budget based, Windows laptop. Buying a Mac without a clear way to justify the cost, especially the latest models, just means you have money and not much else. While Apple DOES want to maintain its exclusivity… its boutique standing, if you will… practicality usually sets in at some point. The thing that made the MacBook Pro so popular in the past five to seven years was the fact that while the hardware WAS expensive, it wasn’t out of reach, especially the high end models.

Now, with prices for high end machines approaching the price of a private sale on a decent, used car, many people are going to think a heck of a lot more than twice about purchasing a Mac laptop. In many cases, it just doesn’t make sense; which is problematic when you’ve made the switch from Windows to Mac and you’ve been there for 10 years.

If you’re like me and you’ve switched and your Mac is also your Windows machine (either via Parallels Desktop or VMWare), and you DO in fact buy a new Mac laptop, but can’t buy as big and as bad as before, you’re likely to run into performance issues. At that point, don’t worry. You may need to give up some hard drive/ SSD space and convert your VM to a Boot Camp partition, but you shouldn’t have issues running Windows on your Mac. You may not be able to run both OS’ at the same time, but you can still do it all.

It’s clear that there’s a lot going on at Apple. It’s also clear that both iOS and macOS are in a state of flux, and that the public doesn’t have a very clear roadmap to guide their hardware purchases. As such, you’re going to have to be very careful about what hardware you buy, if any. The last thing you want to do is buy too much, or too little.

Apple certainly isn’t making this any easier on anyone really interested in their hardware.

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Thoughts on the New MacBook Pro’s with Touch Bar

Here are my initial thoughts, long and winded though they may be.

Introduction
I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately when it comes to PC’s. I’ve got a Late 2013 MacBook Pro that will be 3 years old in a couple of months. Its running just fine, so I really don’t need a new one; and I’m not looking to buy a new computer this year.

If it’s not clear, I’ve pretty much become totally disenchanted with Windows. Unfortunately, things haven’t gotten much better. In fact, the status of this issue hasn’t really changed in over a year. It’s still a problem, and all that Microsoft has is a work around – turn off auto text recognition.

That’s not an answer… but I digress.

With OneNote being the biggest reason why *I* would purchase a Surface Pro 3 or Surface Pro 4 (you’ll recall I dumped mind), I’m really not in the market for a new PC.

With the results of the recent Apple event (even if I was in the market for a new Mac), I’m not certain that I would buy one at this time. In short, I’m not happy and under impressed.

Here’s why (in as small a nut shell as I can put it…)

Cost
Let’s get this one out of the way first, as its likely the most visual issue (aside from the ports, issue, below) with the new MacBook Pros. Cost increases for the Late 2016 MacBook Pros, both with and without Touch Bar are high. They’re so high, in fact, that they’re high for Apple prices, and, THAT kids… says LOT.

Please note that all prices quoted are prices taken directly from Apple .com, and are before any applicable sales tax is added.

The entry level 13″ MacBook Pro, without Touch Bar, is meant to be a replacement for the 13″ MacBook Air. The entry level MBP is $1499. It has a dual core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Graphics 540 and two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. The 128GB 13″ MacBook Air still sells for $999; and has similar, if somewhat diminished specs. That represents a $500 increase; and you’re not getting much more for your money, in my opinion, to justify the cost.

The 256GB version sells for $1199, with the same tech specs. That represents a $300 increase, and all you’re getting is a 256GB SSD for the trouble. That’s hardly worth an extra $300 bucks.

The top of the line 15″ is $4299, up $1515 from last year’s top of the line, which maxed out at $2785. The unit includes a 2.9GHz quad core i7 processor, a 2TB SSD (a $1200 option), 16GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Pro 460 graphics with 4GB of RAM. The cost for this new unit represents a $1515 increase over the previous model.

You could buy a whole other MacBook Pro for that much. Let’s let that sink in just a bit…

At these prices, it’s very difficult to justify the purchase of ANY model. The biggest problem there is that these units are likely LESS upgradable than last year’s model (my guess is the SSD’s are soldered on to the motherboard). That being the case, you’re REALLY going to have to try to future proof the purchase by buying as much as you can. At $4300, and without some of the features and ports (see below) that most are going to want and need, then justification FOR the purpose is much more difficult.

Ports (and other Hardware Changes)

macbook-pro-touch-bar
There were a lot of hardware changes that were made for this model. The most noticeable is the new Touch Bar replacing the function key . I heard on Mac Break Weekly that the Touch Bar was technology that was first pulled together over seven years ago and has been lurking in the Apple R&D lab since before Steve Jobs passed away. It seems that this one feature has been kicked around for a while. Now that it’s finally been set free, we’ll have to see what Apple does with it… Hopefully, it will be much, MUCH more than just a simple gimmick.

USB-C
However, the most noticeable, and potentially most damning… potentially most upsetting… are the four (4) USB-C ports, representing the computer’s ONLY non-wireless connectivity. There are two (2) on each side. While they do provide Thunderbolt 3 connectivity through what is supposed to be just as a universal connector as the USB-A connector, USB-C is really still relatively new (two (2) years or less) and while GAINING acceptance, the “U” in its universalness hasn’t really taken hold yet. I think it will be at least another 18 to 24 months before you see any and all remaining port connectors on notebooks (especially) and desktop form factors (that survive) disappear in favor of USB-C.

Unfortunately, the transition away from other ports – or the inclusion of other ports – happened WAY too early on the MacBook Pro. When this transition is in full swing… when that happens or begins to take shape, THEN I think you can safely move to an all USB-C configuration. Right now, the MacBook Pro is in dire need of other native port connectors, including one to two (1-2) USB-A connectors and at least one Thunderbolt 2/ Mini Display Port connector. (I’ll get to the SD card slot in a sec…). The lack of a transitory set of connectors forces a few very aggravating conclusions

  1. The new MacBook Pro isn’t meant for “me”
    This is the more serious of the two, and it may be a very relevant and accurate question – who is this computer REALLY meant for? Its costs are upwards of $500 to $1500 MORE than previous models, so the cost would suggest a more professional user demographic. However, based on hardware limitations, connectivity and peripheral issues, etc., a more consumer based or casual user would appear to be targeted. Until Apple can really clarify this for us with either marketing material or other hardware configurations, the LATE 2016 MacBook Pro may be something that many pass on, despite it being the “fastest selling MBP ever.”If you’re interested in a similar point of view, The Verge has a very interesting take on this.
  2. If I buy it, I’m going to need to buy dongles for all of my peripherals

Get used to this; at least for this (and perhaps) the next hardware revision of the MacBook Pro. If you have ANY Thunderbolt peripherals, you’re likely going to consider, but pass on replacing them any time soon. Thunderbolt peripherals are expensive. Getting rid of them before they’re useful life is over isn’t an option. Carrying dongles or new/ extra cables for everything is NOT what I want to do with a new computer, and especially one that I’m ALREADY paying a premium for. When I have to add an average of $1000 MORE for that premium, I’m not happy with the choice OR the results.

MagSafe 2
This 10 year plus old savior of not only your REALLY expensive computer, but your premium priced power brick is now gone. I know that before this, my daughters MacBook G4 got tossed all over the living room when someone tripped on the cord. With the advent of MagSafe and MagSafe 2 many the life of a premium priced laptop had been saved. It’s gone now in favor of USB-C.

All of the issues we had with charging prior to MagSafe and MagSafe 2 are now back after a 10 year hiatus.

Gee… thanks a lot Apple.

If you think that my computing habits have changed enough to forego this from happening or if my family of seven has reduced in number any, then you’re sadly mistaken. I need this more than ever, and is going to be a huge factor in determining if I move to a newer MacBook Pro in the future, or if I decide to just stay where I am and try to hold out as long as I can.

Right now, this isn’t too painful for any Mac owner, as they likely have MagSafe/2. The moment their new higher, premium priced laptop gets snagged by a little one’s feet and both child and parent are crying for different reasons, will everyone really start missing this… AND wishing it was back sooner rather than later.

SD Card Slot
There are a lot of folks that say that they really didn’t use this thing. I use it every day. I have a Hyper Drive for my Late 2013 MacBook Pro, and I have a 200GB microSD card in it. All of my photos from my Nikon DSLR get transferred here so I don’t take up too much space from my 512GB SSD. This gives me near three quarters of a terabyte of space on my MBP, and honestly, I’d be lost without it.

Many audio and video professionals are going to have issues with this decision as well, as not every piece of AV equipment is setup to use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or some other form of wireless file transfer. While you transfer files with a cable, its again going to require that you get and carry a different cable, OR a dongle, and that just seems wrong, frustrating and expensive.

I think removing this, in the long run will turn out to be a mistake, but having Apple reverse this kind of decision isn’t likely going to happen either, so you should be prepared for some kind of long term work around.

Upgradability
Anytime you turn a product into an appliance – something you can’t upgrade – then as the manufacturer, you’re taking on the role of providing an appropriate upgrade path; or a path that provides needed options. While Apple has turned the MacBook Pro into an appliance, they haven’t really given everyone the options they are currently requesting.

The 15″ Late 2016 MacBook Pro doesn’t have a lot of upgrade or purchase options. You have a Quad Core i7 option that offers 0.2 GHz of speed/ turbo increase for approximately $200 – money not worth spending, in my opinion – three SSD options – 512GB, 1TB and 2TB – the last coming at a $1200 premium, enough to nearly buy a whole other MacBook Pro – and an AMD discrete graphics adapter bump that effectively buys you 4GB of adapter RAM vs 2GB of adapter RAM, for an additional $200. The device comes standard with 16GB of system RAM. (I’ll get into that, below.)

In this chassis, having turned the device into an appliance, you’re likely going to need to insure that you buy enough machine as you can afford. The SSD is likely soldered to the motherboard and not remotely end user upgradable. All of the other components I’ve listed (aside from RAM, addressed below), were already soldered to the motherboard; and you’ve not been able to upgrade any of those components since the mid-1990’s when CPU upgrades were tossed out because too many end users were zapping chips, creating way too many returns. The upgrade chips also didn’t sell very well – but that’s another story.

RAM Limited to 16GB
The Late 2016 MacBook Pro is limited to 16GB of RAM due to processor limitations. According to Apple and Intel, processor issues with the Intel Core processors used limit RAM to 16GB so processor heat and other issues don’t overwhelm the battery, greatly reducing battery life to something under 3 hours a charge. While this isn’t surprising, it is very disappointing. Apparently the case can get VERY hot with the Kaby Lake processor that allows more than 16Gb of RAM.

This is a huge limiting factor, however. The current (prior to the Late 2016 MacBook Pros) crop of Mac portables max out at 16GB of RAM. While we want Intel vs. AMD processors here – Intel processors are far superior in processing power – we don’t want to burn down the house, office or your pants. However, machines with this kind of processing power really want more than 16GB of RAM, especially for audio, video and still photography processing, and this current crop of MacBook Pros just doesn’t deliver.

I’m certain this will be resolved in the future, but having this issue now just provides one more reason to pass on this new Mac laptop; and honestly… that’s very disappointing.

Conclusion
According to MacBreak Weekly, the Touch Bar has been floating around Apple’s R&D department for over seven (7) years. That puts us back into Steve Jobs time, and is a piece of technology that Steve was obviously aware of before he passed in 2011. So, considering that this at least has his knowledge, if not his approval, to move forward, you can rest assured that the Mast of Macness had a good idea that this would eventually see the light of day. After seven (7) or so years, it may simply be that it didn’t make sense to hold this bit of kit back, so out it went. Unfortunately, rationalization on feature release isn’t something that we’re likely going to get much insight on from Apple.

While this may be the biggest draw to this new crop of MacBook Pro’s there are certainly some detractors among the attractions. While thinner and faster are always at the top of what Apple is trying to do, there comes a point when you have to ask if thinner and faster is really the way to go. I mean, to be honest, I could care less if this year’s MacBook Pro is thinner than last year’s.

Some people will say that Apple really is trying to merge iOS and macOS here, as the hardware seems to be on a collision course. They’re really getting to look an awful lot like each other, the thinner they get. While I have no idea if this is actually a goa here (previously, Tim Cook said they would never meet, but get asymptotally closer (close, but never intersecting). My guess is that there are a lot of folks that are really questioning that statement right about now.

To me, it’s irrelevant.

The Mac and the iPad Pro serve two different audiences, though those could flip flop from time to time, they serve different market segments. There will – at least in my lifetime – always be the need for separate tools as they address and serve different functions.

However, let’s get down to brass tacks – is this the right Mac for you? That’s going to depend on your needs and the current age and suitability of your current Mac, but my recommendation will be for you to wait.

Prices for the Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar are anywhere between $500 to 1500 (plus tax) more expensive than previous revisions. Their hardware limitations, lack of peripheral ports – and standardization on USB-C – puts them in a total cost of ownership category that is difficult for even the hard core professional to justify. According to IBM, which had the Mac at $563 cheaper to own over its lifetime, the high end 15″ MacBook Pro is now $952 more expensive to own over its lifetime, and that’s just for the current hardware. It doesn’t count in new cables, dongles or peripherals.

How anyone can afford something like this, without it being a machine that goes above and beyond what they have now, is very puzzling. I’m not certain how having its current limitations, will in the long run, appeal to anyone.

And just to be clear, I’m not hating on the new MacBook Pro. I’m a Mac lover. I’m just really disappointed in all of its limitations and issues.

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