New System!

After two and a half years of very heavy use, I am replacing my first Mac. With another one — I’m still ambivalent about some of the OS design decisions, but the hardware is first-rate.

The first one still works fine, other than a little wear and tear. It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro, the higher-end mid-2009 model with a 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 320GB hard drive, and upgraded to 8GB of memory. The only real problems with it are that the trackpad has somehow “popped up” on one side (so you can’t press it to click anymore, you have to use the “tap to click” option, or an external mouse), and the battery is down to between two and three hours of capacity (an irritant, but it hasn’t been a problem in practice). Unfortunately it’s maxed out at 8GB, as mentioned earlier, and with my heavy use of virtual machines (and especially memory-hungry compilers within virtual machines), that just isn’t sufficient anymore. I tried — I really, really tried — to put up with it, but even going to a compressed BTRFS drive a few weeks ago only lessened the pain, it didn’t eliminate it.

Yesterday I finally broke down and bought a new one: the latest iteration of the higher-end 13″ MacBook Pro, known as the “late 2011” model. 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, 750GB hard drive. The stock model only has 4GB of memory, but since I discovered Apple’s big secret a while back, I’ve kept my eye on the prices for the 16GB upgrade. No place had it locally, but TigerDirect turned out to have it online for less than $200; it should be here around the end of the week. 🙂

Like the earlier system, this one is dual-core. I seriously considered the quad-core 15″ models; the added size wasn’t an issue, but I just couldn’t justify the extra cost. Maybe next time.

So far, I haven’t noticed too much difference. The new one is noticeably faster at starting programs, but it’s not a fair comparison because it’s got its full 4GB of memory to play with, and the older one’s 8GB is filled by two virtual machines at present. The newer one uses the same 60W power adapter that the older one did, but the design of the end that connects to the computer has been improved (while retaining compatibility). The trackpad on the new one seems to “click” with much less pressure than I recall too — all to the good, the old one required a little too much pressure when that feature still worked. The newer one seems to run noticeably cooler too, though when the fan did turn on while it was updating the OS, it was noticeably louder at its maximum than the one on the older machine; at all other times, both of them are so quiet you can’t even tell they’re running without looking at them.

The real test will come later today. I’ve discovered that the somewhat-slower 8GB that’s in the older machine should work fine in the newer one, and the newer one’s more capacious hard drive should also be faster (same RPMs, but the speed of magnetic media goes up proportionally to the areal density too), so once my data has finished restoring — about half an hour more, using Time Machine — I’ll swap the memory on them and see what this puppy can do. 🙂

It should do quite well. At the time of this writing, the Primate Labs Mac Benchmarks indicate that it’s literally twice as powerful as the older one, with a score of 7049 vs 3505. At worst, it’ll be no slower, and I’ll have a fully operational trackpad and a much fresher battery to work with. And when the new memory comes later this week, it should really fly!

Wish me luck. 🙂

UPDATE, 8:20am: It seems that Apple’s “Migration Assistant” program needs a few lessons about estimating the time left… after the slightly-more-than-an-hour that it originally claimed, it sat at “less than a minute” for over an hour, until I canceled it thinking that something was wrong. I think that was a mistake; it seemed to erase everything that it had copied already. 🙁 Oh well, I’ll let it run; hopefully by sometime this afternoon it’ll be ready.

UPDATE, 10:27am: It has finished moving the majority of my data. I’ll need to move my virtual machines manually, since I’ve excluded them from the Time Machine backups; that will likely take about three hours, even on my gigabit ethernet network. Then I can swap the memory and, if all is well, start working on the new system! 😀

When I started up my CPU monitor program, I was surprised to find that it showed four cores, rather than the two I expected. The CPU must have the Intel “Hyperthreading” feature, giving me two extra pseudo-cores. Nice. Not as nice as a true four-core machine, but nice. 🙂

UPDATE, 5:14pm: My data and the 8GB of memory have been moved to the new system, and I’m very happy with it! As I suspected, it’s very noticeably faster, even when it has to swap memory to disk; once I get the new memory later this week, it should REALLY fly!

One item of note: when I opened the old system, I discovered why the trackpad was having problems. The battery was swollen to half again its normal width, forcing the trackpad up. I looked that problem up, and it’s apparently a common one, at least in the batteries Apple used during that time frame. When I can get to the nearest Apple store (it’s in a city that we have friends in, two or three hours away), I’ll take it in and see what they can do with it. There are only 154 cycles on the battery, so I suspect they may replace it free, despite its age and being out of warranty. We’ll see.

UPDATE, March 8th: The new memory arrived yesterday, to my surprise and pleasure. I installed it as soon as I could shut the machine down… if you had seen how the older system labored to do anything due to memory constraints, you would not believe how fast this new one is now!

This upgrade was worth every penny.


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