Tuesday, June 12, 2012

BOINC Update

It's been a while since I talked about BOINC so here's a quick update post regarding what it's been going. So I used boinc extensively for the first few months but then I stopped for a couple of months. I stopped because I just couldn't get the settings right, where I wanted two processor settings for when the computer was in use and idle. This just wasn't possible with the BOINC manager so I got frustrated and stopped using BOINC. But about two months ago I restarted my BOINC journey, where I tried to only participate in one project that I cared about. Initially I thought it would be the World Computing Project but then I realized the times were just too variable and I went to rosetta@home, where the project times are user configurable online at their website here. Before I also tried to run BOINC only when my computer was idle for a set number of minutes, but I found out this time that I could actually run BOINC as I was using the computer unless I am on youtube or another flash site. I also refined my processor and memory usage configurations, which I will also talk about. But, first for the screenshots. At this point GPU computing using AMD graphics cards on the mac is still at its infancy, so I do not use my GPU to do any computing.

So this is how my project page looks like at the moment. Pretty simple, I removed all the other projects and used rosetta@home for my main project.

Theses are the current active tasks I have, there's a good number of them because I can potentially run 8 tasks at once. Some are "waiting to run" because I've restricted my memory usage, but when the computer is idle there should be 8 tasks running at the same time.

Just a quick screenshot with my credit statistics on a daily basis.

Memory Configuration
So now a quick look at my BOINC settings. When I first ran BOINC I tried to run it even when I was using the computer, and I found out that BOINC was just using too much memory at once (plus I was using firefox), even when the memory at idle was restricted to 50%. Perhaps this was fixed in the latest release (or I just didn't notice it before) but I set memory restriction to 40% at idle and it's been running far better, where if I start using the computer the application would give back some of the memory, where more tasks would be "waiting to run" as compared to "running."

CPU Configuration

Memory configuration was pretty simple, it actually took me a while to figure out the optimal CPU settings, since it had a direct relation to temperature. I would have to change the CPU settings depending on the computer temperature (which I monitor with istat menus). Right now I have BOINC to use 100% of the processor at a 15% run time. I no longer need to change the processor settings, though I do snooze BOINC when I go on youtube because flash is still quite processor intensive. At this point, even with all my usual apps open (WEb browser, Sparrow, Flux, iStat menus, Radium) the processor is at 67 degrees celsius and the fans are at 2000 rpm, with the enclosure being 334 degrees celsius. Previously I thought it was imperative to have the CPU temperature at low 60's at night but over time I realized it didn't matter as long as the fans were at the lowest setting (I do not run SMC fan control). I do monitor the temperature over time, hwoever, and snooze BOINC if necessary.

So there you have it, a quick update on my BOINC status. Happy Computing!

Macbook Pro 15'' (Early 2011) Update

I was initially writing a post regarding the new 15'' macbook pros that came out very recently, but the more I started typing the more I realized that I kept referring how I was doing with my current setup (the early 2011 15'' macbook pro) so I decided to first have a post about my thoughts on the older model. I hope to do an update on my BOINC operations in another post (this one is quite length already).

So about a month ago I reinstalled the operating system, since when I first started using this computer all the data and settingswas transferred using the firewire 800 cable. THis to me wasn't as optimal since I was porting old settings into new hardware. Since it was the summer and I had a bit of free time I decided to erase the partition and reinstall. I've actually come up with a template of what files to backup (I'm going to post this at a later time), so overall the process was fairly efficient. It was mainly just waiting for files to transfer through ultra slow USB 2.0 (I wish I had a couple firewire 800 drives, alas).

Backing up
In terms of backup I actually came up with a new procedure. So I have three hard drives, one 250 GB, one 500 GB, and one 1 TB. Initially I would use time machine on the 250 GB hard drive to back up information on the 500 GB and 1 TB hard drives, as well as data on the macbook pro. Then I was thinking that backup was incremental, since it uses time machine. Though, I found that this method was not as efficient as I had hoped, where some files I rarely change (Ex: family videos). So the 250 GB time machine partition was actually taking up unnecessary space. In the new setup on the 250 GB hard drive I have a time machine partition and a blank partition. I use the blank partition as a one way synching device, to sync data from other drives to this one. This is since I do not require incremental backup for some files while for others (Ex: school documents, system files) do. I am also considering using google drive or dropbox to backup some of my school files online but I have not come to a final decision.

After I made the blank partition I wanted to fine a free application that would do one way synching and I found an app called filesync. Here's a quick screenshot of the application. It's nothing fancy and doesn't come with the spark and dazzle of many mac apps but it does the job and does it well.

The interface is self explanatory. To sync folders one way you select the "add" button where this new dialog comes up.

So it actually enables one way or two way sync. To have one way you choose a "master" file, and select to mirror the folder and its contents (which was what I had selected). Then later you select the "copy" option and the destination. You can do this with multiple files, and when ready click "sync" on the main menu. Then it starts to transfer files. One thing i thought could be improved about the application is that it didn't show the speed or the approximate time where the synching would complete. There was only a box showing which file was transferring and it did not mention where that file was located. But this was not a huge issue for me so I waited for it to finish.

Browsers (Firefox vs Chrome)

After I reinstalled the operating system I was considering whether to switch browsers to google chrome as my main, because its load speed from the dock quicker than firefox. Plus its system performance is far better in terms of memory usage and processor percentage than firefox due to its architecture. I also found that most of the addons that I use on firefox are available on chrome. The adblocking functionality of chrome has also improved significantly since its inception. I also love using greasemonkey and stylish scripts on firefox, but on chrome I could install the scripts as is, without the extension. In the end I transferred my bookmarks over to google chrome, though over time I found some quirks of chrome that weren't exactly favorable.

The first thing I had an issue with as importing bookmarks. I used the built in browser option in google chrome to import my firefox bookmarks, but I found the function to be faulty. Some bookmarks were simply not transferred over to chrome (Ex: unsorted bookmarks folder), and what I had to in the end was export bookmarks using the bookmarks manager in firefox and import the file using chrome. This way all the bookmarks were imported correctly.

Second of all I had issue with was the bookmark manager in chrome. The firefox bookmarks manager was by no means perfect, so the mnanager-in-a-tab was a new experience for me. I personally favor having the bookmark manager as a tab because sometimes I like to compare folders, and having two managers open side by side (windows 7 style) really makes it easy to do so. But I had an issue with the bookmark manager (I'm not sure whether this "feature" is intended or not) where if I delete a bookmark or a folder I would need to refresh the page to see the changes. The first time that this happened it drove me crazy trying to find out what I had done wrong, because I had delete a folder but still saw it on the sidebar. That made me think that the folder was still there, and I had to keep trying to figure it out until I found out I just needed to press the refresh button to notice the changes.

Third (albeit an obvious one) was privacy issues. I really did not like how chrome kept all your history, download history, and other browser data until you clear it manually. There is no extension to clear them automatically, and I found it to be an annoyance. On firefox I had it set to delete everything on exit (even adobe flash information), for the sake of privacy. So theoretically if you go on facebook then close the browser, open it again the facebook will be at the login screen. I know there is an option on chrome to block some sort of third party content, but it was interferring with my youtube script so I had to leave it unselected. I also had to select all the features that would automatically send data to google, for example their instant search options.

Fourth was that the google chrome store is hard to browse for the addon you need (though I suppose this could theoretically be an issue on every browser). Just a couple days ago I tried to find an addon that could close the browser based on a timer that I can set. THis is because sometimes I like watching streams before I sleep and I fall asleep before closing the browser and stream. This would waste bandwidth and system resources (since I have a internet usage limit and I run BOINC at night). I could not find one in the end, though in retrospect it could have just been that such an extension was impossible to create. But I did try for a good 15-30 minutes.

Fifth was the zooming feature in chrome. If there's one thing I know firefox is doing extremely well it is the zoom feature. This is pretty much if a website's font is far too small you could just control/command +, to enlarge the text and page size. In comparison to firefox their zooming feature just falls short. SOmetimes I try to zoom in and the page warps and I can't see part of the page, or the text just doesn't zoom very wel. I know for many this might be an nonissue to but to me it was just plain annoying. I also noticed at times when I zoomed in chrome the website layout would be distorted.

Sixth was tab management. In firefox I have to keep an addon called "tab mix plus" to manage how my tabs behave, and the good thing is that chrome does many of the things by default, like right clicking a link and closing tabs to the right. However, when it came to many tabs I could barely see the tab at the top of the page. Firefox has a solution for this, where you can scroll left and right to see all the tab names and I hope chrome comes up with a solution as well.

As of now I still have chrome as my default browser, because I like opening links from my rss feeds into chrome, which has better memory performance than firefox. But for browsing and actually logging into sites I still use firefox. So right now I use the two browsers side by side. I use safari once in a while to access pages I want to support with ad content, since I have adblocker on chrome and firefox. So an example would be some streams, but I've noticed that when the flash ads come it takes up a lot of processor activity, which I am not very happy about.

General Applications
During every renewal of the operating system I look through my applications folder and decide which apps I didn't really need. Startup applications are especially important since they influence booting time, but right now I have seven start up items. I had fewer items before but as time went on I just kept adding more. They include, BOINC, gfx cardstatus, sparrow, growl, alfred, flux, bettertouchtool, and istat menus.

I've had all of these applications running at startup before, though alfred is a new one (I installed it for the first time after the reinstall). Alfred is similar to quicksilver in that it's an application and file launcher. I switched mainly because I found quicksilver to be slow, even though developer updates were coming. I wanted to see what else was on the app market so I decided on alfred, which had good reviews. I'm sure there are numerous reviews out there, but I mainly use alfred for opening applications, setting up key triggers for launching folders in the finder, and to open and browse finder items. One thing I really like about alfred is that it uses the built in spotlight index, while quicksilver it had its own database.

In everyday performance I'm quite satisfied with the macbookpro, though if I had a wishlist I wouldn't mind having a SSD (I'm eyeing the 256 GB one in the newer model), but a more pragmatic approach would be just to geta 7200 rpm drive instead of 5400 rpm (which I currently have). I have yet to do research on heat issue (which should be minimal from what I've found so far), but I have no plans to upgrade since the current hard drive is working fine. Also, out of 500 GB I've used roughly 292 GB of it, in part due to the windows partition (100 GB), and the rest from the mac partition. I tend to max out my RAM pretty often because of BOINC using a huge chunk of it.

Here's how it looks in activity monitor 90% of the time (sometimes I need to snoozequit BOINC if I really need more memory for the browser).

I find that when the discrete graphics card is on (AMD Radeon 6490M), the computer gets noticeably hotter. Recently I've been running gfx cardstatus to force the gpu as the integrated one, which I did last summer as well. I notice the computer being a few degrees cooler that way, which is good for BOINC (I don't like BOINC running my computer too hot since after all it is a laptop).

For my previous macbook pro I was hugely disappointed in the batter capacity and how fast it degraded. Here's a shot from the coconut battery app.

As you can see the new batteries are far superior to the old sony removable batteries I've had in the past. It's been well over a year but the capacity has only changed by a couple of percentages. The loadcycles for the computer is still fairly low, but I try to put it on batter once in a while and let it run for a bit (until 70-80%) then charge it back up. I also try to calibrate the battery once in a long while, though this is more of a challenge now with the larger battery capacity. It takes a very long time for the battery to finish, really.

As an ending note here's a screenshot of my desktop. I've been using another wallpaper for some time, but I recently looked at apple's collection and I liked the new mountain lion wallpaper due to the cooler colours. I just found it wasn't as "busy" as the lion wallpaper.

So I'd say, one year later, computer is still as snappy, and no hardware issues.

Why not upgrade to Mac OS Lion?
One last point, regarding "upgrading" to lion. In the past I've been pretty eager to upgrade to new releases of Mac OS X, but this time I've been more cautious. I've read many reviews of lion and even though some features are cool (Ex: filevault 2) overall I do not consider it an upgrade over snow leopard. I suppose the upgrade is "necessary" if you are an iPhone perhaps icloud user, because snow leopard sadly does not support icloud (which still baffles me by the way). Because, in the end, despite such enticing features there's just some functionality in lion that I think would drive me crazy. I am not a big fan of the new document saving system at all, where having backup copies of the document is good but taking out the "save as" dialog is not the way to go.

I also dislike the new "mission control" feature in lion, where I see spaces and expose is a far more efficient way of handling open windows and applications than mission control. I've tried out Mac OS Lion at the apple store and it just baffled me how I could move a window to another space, but I could not move the window back. Taking out an easy way to access assigned spaces is also a step backwards from apple.

Having a full screen is a new feature, but I've read so many threads where a secondary display is attached to the laptop, and in full screen it just adds that fabric-like background to the secondary display. THis misstep, to me, is horrifying. How could apple not take this seriously (there is still no fix in lion) and I'm not even sure whether they consider this a real issue.

The loss of rosetta is another thing; I have jam packs and during their installation rosetta is required. It's not even third party software but in lion I would be unable a piece of software from apple itself, which makes me uneasy.

I've considered the pros and cons of installing Mac OS Lion for a long time now (I have a copy of it). Even though I like to be on the latest and "greatest" I feel that snow leopard, despite its age, outperforms lion in terms of providing the optimal desktop experience.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New 15'' Macbook Pros Early 2012 Oh My!

I had a bit of time today and I've been following the WWDC 2012 fairly closely, so I've read about some of the rumors and about what people expect to see. I'm personally not that big of an iOS fan, nor am I that interested in the next iteration of Mac OS X. On a side note, I personally think that by iOS-ifying the operating system, the user experience has been severely compromised. I am still using Snow Leopard 10.6.8 at the moment (I actually reinstalled the operating system about a month ago). But that is another topic, what I would like to compare is my current system, the macbook pro 15'' (early 2011), to the system that just came out, the macbook pro 15'' (early 2012) model. My macbook pro isn't really "oudated" per se, there has been one revision in between, and even for that revision it was just a slight bump from my configuration (so the base model is actually the mid range model from the early 2011 line). To clarify I will be doing a comparison of base models for both years.

I hope to go through all of the specifications of the two machines and then give some of my thoughts and opinions regarding them. Some components I agree are a pure upgrade, and there are no detriments to the overall system. But I do have some queries as to the design decisions apple has made regarding the new model, which I will discuss in detail.

Macbook Pro 15'' (Early 2011) Technical Specifications; taken from everymac.com as well as the system profiler

Processor: Intel Core i7 Quad Core
Processor Speed: 2.0 Ghz
RAM: 4 GB (DDR3) 1333 Mhz
Video Card(s): AMD Radeon 6490M (VRAM: 256 MB)
Intel Integrated HD Graphics 3000
Display: 15.4'' Glossy LED-backlit TFT display
Display Resolution: 1440x900
Camera: Facetime HD

Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth: 2.1+ EDR
Hard Drive: 500 GB 5400RPM SATA (at least mine was)
Superdrive (Y/N): Yes
Battery Capacity: 77.5W
Dimensions: 2.4 cm (height) x 36.4 cm (width
Weight: 2.54 Kg
Sound: Stereo speakers and microphone

-2 USB 2.0
-Gigabit Ethernet
-Firewire 800
-Thunderbolt port (minidisplay port)
-Headphone jack
-Audio in
-SD card slot
-Laptop locking port

Macbook Pro 15'' (Early 2012) Technical Specifications; taken from Apple
Processor: Intel Core i7 Quad Core
Processor Speed: 2.3 Ghz
RAM: 8 GB (DDR3L) 1600 Mhz
Video Card(s): Nvidia Geforce GT 650M (VRAM: 1 GB)
Intel Integrated HD Graphics 4000
Display: 15.4'' Glossy LED-backlit TFT IPS Display
Display Resolution: 2880 x 1800
Camera: Facetime HD

Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth: 4.0+ EDR
Hard Drive: 256 GB SSD
Superdrive (Y/N): No
Battery Capacity: 95W
Dimensions: 1.8 cm (height) x 35.89 cm cm (width
Weight: 2.02 Kg
Sound: Stereo speakers and dual microphones

-Magsafe 2.0
-2 USB 3.0
-2 Thunderbolt port
-Headphone jack (compatible with apple mic/headphone set)
-SDXC port

Processor, RAM, Hard Drive, Video Card
In terms of these three components, the new macbook pro is leaps and bounds over the previous model. It supports the latest processor, increased memory (4 GB to 8 GB), and finally sports a solid state drive. My first macbook pro (before it got replaced) had 2 GB of RAM and for everyday use I consistently maxed out. As for 4 GB, I run BOINC, so I let it use up to 2 GB of memory, which leaves me at near maximum (right now I have 3.87 GB used out of 4 GB). I recently read multiple articles saying that the new macbook pro really isn't user replaceable. That does disappoint me, because components do break down (especially hard drives). Even though the new model comes with a pretty large SSD, it just feels wrong not be able to replace it for whatever reason.

And lastly for hard drive I have a 500 GB hard drive, where I've partitioned 100 GB for windows leaving there rest for mac, and I still have 210 GB available. So in the end I've used roughly 190 GB of hard drive space. Personally I love archiving files, I also keep a 82 GB iPhoto library along with application files, and couple gigabytes of music files for iTunes. If I had 256 GB for total hard drive space I would still partition 100 GB for windows, and move off my iPhoto library to an external drive. All in all, there is no debate it is an upgrade in all three categories. One last note the video card upgrade is a no-brainer,


The "retina" display on the iphone and ipad has gotten a lot of attention, with many hoping it would move on to the mac ecosystem and it has. I fully agree that having a retinal display on the phone makes a huge difference, but after handling the second and third generation iPads I feel that the difference is not as distinct in my opinion. In my mind this is a very good upgrade, but I hope to determine after actually using the new model at an apple store. But, as with other apple devices, I'm sure the addition of a "retina" display adds a lot of hype.

First, the magsafe 2.0 port; for my first macbook pro I had the original magsafe, which very similar to the new magsafe 2. I personally did not have any issues, design or otherwise, with the magsafe connector. j I was very careful with it and did not yank it to unplug the connector. However, I am aware that for other users there have ben issue fo fraying at the connector, which got apple to redesign the magsafe connector to the new "L" shape they have now. Personally I like the original design of the magsafe, because with the current connector that I use there is only one "right" way to connecting it, since if I flip the connector 180 degrees, it would block up the ethernet port. However, as with the original connector I've had no problems with it. Since it just came out, I don't know what new design features are incorporated into the connector but all I know is that the connection is smaller and it reverts to the original magsafe design. I hope to try out the magsafe 2 connector at an apple store, but I am disappointed that the new connector is not compatible with the old one (who would have guessed), so for plugging the old connector into the latest model macbook pro an adapter is needed for the low price of $10.

I personally love using the ethernet port on my current macbook pro, since I love having a direct connection to the router, especially when it comes to gaming. I find that when I download files the speed is far superior to a wireless connection, so I question the removal of the ethernet port on a 15'' machine. Of course, apple now has a dongle for thunderbolt to ethernet, but personally do not appreciate this change.

Now for the two thunderbolt ports and the hdmi port. This part leaves me quite apprehensive about the change. To me, thunderbolt to me is a very niche connector, where the market for it is still very small at the moment due to pricing. I've never used the port myself but I in the past I've considered a minidisplayport to hdmi adapter. However, I do not own a HD TV so buying one would be pointless. This adapter from monoprice was the one I was looking at, and though the price is cheap I have no need for its function.

So back to my original point, if having one thunderbolt port is barely necessary (one is enough if you want to connect to an external monitor), what is the point of having a second one, plus a hdmi port. Actually, I am just bewildered as to why they would include a hdmi port. Minidisplay can easily switch to hdmi (linked already provided), why is there a need to have another hdmi port on the computer? This, to me, just does not make sense whatsoever.

In the end, the addition of some ports (and subtraction of others) leaves apple to provide new dongles, such as thunderbolt port to ethernet. An interesting move is the abandonment of the firewire 800 port, but the hilarious part about this decision is that apple provides yet another dongle for thunderbolt to firewire 800. These multimedia port decision just leaves me so frustrated with apple.

The audio in (or microphone jack) has also been taken out for whatever reason, and is replaced by a headphone jack not unlike that in the current 13'' macbook pro (where you can use apple mic/headphones and it'll still work with the one port). The machine gones with USB 3.0, which is a welcome upgrade (though I still wish it would come with more than 2 USB ports, I can wish can't I?).

Battery and Superdrive
Since there is no longer a superdrive in the new model, and the hard drive has been shrunk from the traditional sata drive to solid state storage, the batter capacity of the new macbook pros has been increased, from about 75W to 95W. This is a welcome change, though even with my current macbook pro I have never run out of battery. I run gfx cardstatus, so when I'm in battery mode I switch over to the intel integrated graphics and the battery life is extended by many hours. Though I suppose that due to the increased pixel density of the screen a larger battery would counter the increased power consumption of the screen.

As for the superdrive, I personally don't mind having a superdrive but Know there are many who absolutely find no use for it. I burn rewritable media once in a while, for backup and also to transfer files to others, and also to watch DVDs once in a long while. So I would not mind having a superdrive, though it increases the heft of the machine. In the end, due to the ailing nature of DVDs it would depend on the needs of the user but it is still a worthy upgrade.

Last thoughts
The weight decrease as well as a thinner body is quite nice. For me with the older macbook pro, I always notice the heft whenever I carry it. I watched the video of designing the new macbook pro on the apple website and the new fan structure was quite awe inspiring. With an discrete graphics card on the lose it really does increase internal temperature of the machine, and having more vents is a straightforward approach when it comes to heat issues. I also wonder about whether the new fans are indeed quieter than the old ones. For the older version when I browser the internet I don't hear the fans unless it's youtube, but when I do it the sound is noticeable. Typically during the summer I try to restrict the GPU to the integrated graphics which helps preventing the computer from getting too hot.