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Comparing Macs

I’ve been using Macs for about 30 years (and Apple hardware for nearly 40 years) and I’ve said this before, but I’m not a latest-and-greatest kind of user. I don’t buy the first version (anymore) or the fastest bestest (ever) and I try to make do with the hardware I have. I use the old Macs for various things around the house/shop. There’s a MacPro3,1 running the laser cutter, and a Macmini2,1 used strictly for playing music and the occasional web search.

I still have two “main” computers I use daily. One is a MacBookPro9,2 that has been my “everyday carry” (when I used to go places) and the other is MacPro5,1 I got for super-duper cheap from a video producer friend of mine. The Mac Pro was stuck on High Sierra due to the lack of a Metal GPU, so I grabbed one recently to keep the old box going. I figured it was time to compare the two computers to see what they could do.

I’ll also mention that I probably don’t do as much heavy computing that I used to do. Things that would be “heavy” for me would be some 3D modeling/rendering, a bit of video/audio editing, and processing/editing RAW photos. As I said, I don’t need the fastest most powerful computer, and that’s good, because I don’t have one.

Here’s a quick comparison of the computers:

MacPro5,1 (Mid 2010) MacBookPro9,2 (13″ Mid 2012)
2 x 2.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon 2.8 GHz Intel Core i5
Intel Xeon E5620 2400 MHz (8 cores) Intel Core i5-3210M 2500 MHz (2 cores)
36GB RAM 1066 MHz DDR3 12GB 1600 Mhz DDR3
Radeon RX 580 8 GB Intel HD Graphics 4000 1536 MB

I used Geekbench 5 to get the following numbers:

Score MacPro5,1 MacBookPro9,2
Single-Core 458 554
Multi-Core 3682 1131
OpenCL 46089 992
Metal 50937 183

Whew! Those are some differences in those numbers. My main concern with these two computers is that I can continue to upgrade the OS for a few years, if possible. I just got the Mac Pro up to Mojave (and will get Catalina on it soon using OpenCore.) I’ve tried a few Mojave installs on the MacBook Pro, but they keep failing. I’ve got a new SSD coming to get that taken care of, so we’ll see how it goes.

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Remap F14 & F15 on macOS

Here’s a fun one. On some Macs the screen brightness keys are actually recognized as the F14 and F15 function keys. Which means when you build your own keyboard with those keys they change the screen brightness. Yuk. I found a post that explained how to change that, which involved going into System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts -> Display, except… it’s not there. (See the image above? Not there.)

But wait, it is there after you plug in a device you built that has F14 and F15 keys. (See below.) So once you plug in a device you built that has F14 and F15 keys, the Display option will appear and you can disable the brightness thing by deselecting things. And yes, you can still totally adjust the screen brightness by using the keys on your normal keyboard.

This post is about 95% for future me, and 5% for someone who needs to figure it out and finds this post. You’re Welcome!

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New New Mac

I recently posted about my New Old Mac so it’s fitting to also mention my New New Mac. I mean, technically it’s not mine, it belongs to my employer, but I’m the one using it every day. It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro acquired in December 2019.

There are a few very striking features of this MacBook Pro. First, it is very thin, and very light. It makes my New Old MacBook Pro feel like a boat anchor. It fact, it’s almost too light. How is this even a computer!? Of course the size and weight comes at a price. When I took it out of the box I looked at it and turned it round and round and only saw Thunderbolt 3 ports. No USB, no SD card reader, no HDMI, no Mini DisplayPort… Nothing else.

So in order to use anything (that isn’t wireless) you need a dongle. Yeah, #DongleLife. It’s a little ridiculous, but as they say “everything is wonderful and terrible”. It is nice being able to use your MacBook Pro as a desktop and just unplug one thing to make it portable and go to a meeting. Of course if you need to connect to anything (that isn’t wireless) at the meeting, you’re bringing a dongle with you.

This isn’t even my full dongle setup. I added a USB cable for an Arduino and I’ve also got a USB thumb drive I use all the time. So after you buy a MacBook Pro you can get yourself a VAVA USB C Hub 9-in-1 Adapter with PD Power Delivery, 4K USB C to HDMI, USB 3.0 Ports, 1Gbps Ethernet Port, SD/TF Cards Reader along with an Anker 4-Port USB 3.0 Ultra Slim Data Hub and $75 USD later you’ve probably got the connections you need.

I suppose there are use cases where these things aren’t needed, but I connect to things all the time. Speaking of connecting to things, the other feature of the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. It’s a context-sensitive control that changes all the time. It’s, neat… I guess. I used it a bit at first but once I added a 4K display, and a keyboard and mouse to my setup I really don’t see the Touch Bar unless I’m using the computer at a meeting with the built-in keyboard. Speaking of keyboard, while I (mostly) love the keyboard on my old 2012 MacBook Pro, the keyboard on the super-thin 2019 MacBook Pro is a little anemic. The keys don’t have much travel, and as someone who has been typing for 40 years, I like a little travel in my keys. Of course I also realize that keyboard have become thinner and less mechanical over the years and it’s just the way things go… march of progress and all that.

So don’t take this post as a review, it’s really just personal observations. I’m sure someday I’ll get used to all the new stuff, but then again, I’m the sort of person who just purchased a serial to USB converter because I want to connect a pen plotter made in 1983 to a laptop computer made in 2012, so I’m probably an edge case…

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New Old Mac

So I got a new MacBook Pro… sort of. My old 2012 MacBook Pro, which I acquired in 2014, served me well. I used it almost daily, and carried it with me almost daily. Yeah, on average 5 or 6 days a week for about five years I carried this laptop with me, to work, to school, to the makerspace, and plenty of places in-between. Sure, things broke along the way, I had to repair and replace the charger a few times, I swapped out the hard drive for an SSD when the prices on 1TB dropped enough, and I moved the drive to the optical bay after the second drive connector cable failure. I think I also replaced the battery… but besides all that, it was good.

Around September 2019 I started having issues with the keyboard. Keys from T to P on the top row of letters began to work intermittently. I came up with a few workarounds including using a wireless keyboard that fit directly on top of the built-in keyboard, and yes, I did try to clean the key, but after a lot of research determined the keyboard needed replacing. You can get a replacement keyboard for fairly cheap, and it comes with the tools you’ll need to remove the 50 screws after you disassemble nearly the entire computer…

So my plan was to do this, eventually, but I had a few work commitments that required I had a working computer, and I didn’t want to start the process unless I had time to complete it, and I was short on time so… I researched replacing it, and eventually decided to get an Apple MacBook Pro 13.3-inch Laptop, Dual-Core Intel Core i5 Processor 2.5Ghz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD… which yes, is the same model I had, except for the RAM/SSD specs…

I got the new one, moved over my RAM and SSD, and was up and running nearly seamlessly. I miss the days when you could do this with Apple hardware. I think everyone who remembers those days misses those days. I invested in 12GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD and they worked FINE, so to just throw that away by getting a new computer that could not use them seemed stupid…

And yes, I know new computers are faster, and do more things, like… faster… but it wasn’t worth it to get a new Mac, and have to pay a premium for RAM/SSD which I have, and that work, and damn Apple, you’ve lost your way. Really. Oh, also, I’ve got USB ports, and a Mini DisplayPort, and a built-in SD card reader, and even… FireWire! This machine is fast enough for pretty much everything I do, and it was affordable, at less than one third the price of an entry level MacBook Pro with less RAM and a tiny SSD. (Upgrading to a 1TB SSD in a new Mac would up the prices $600 USD!)

But don’t worry… I’m not avoiding new Macs… in fact I’ll have a follow-up post about a new Mac!

I also discovered that the battery in the new Mac is pretty terrible, and needs replacing, which means I’ll pull the battery out of my old one and swap that as well. It’s like Ship of Theseus over here! Oh, I’m also contemplating just using the old one as a desktop, because without being portable, and using an external keyboard and mouse, it should be a decent machine.

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Apple Wait…

Apple Wait...

At Maker Faire Milwaukee in 2015 I presented a piece titled Apple Watch, and at least one person enjoyed it enough to make me think about creating another piece utilizing the same concept, so for Maker Faire Milwaukee 2016 I presented Apple Wait….

Apple Wait...

Apple Wait… (like Apple Watch) consisted of a Raspberry Pi Model B connected to an Apple Monochrome Monitor from 1988. Instead of just attaching the Raspberry Pi to the monitor with some gaff tape, I added in one more reference to technology, an iPhone box.

Apple Wait...

It seems the box for an iPhone is just the right size to house a Raspberry Pi Model B. Interesting enough, the iPhone 4S and the Raspberry Pi Model B were released about the same time frame. They are very different devices, with different goals, aimed at different audiences. Why not merge the two together? Technology is interesting!

Apple Wait...

For Apple Wait… I took a busy indicator cursor from the olden days of computing on Apple devices and brought it into the modern day, but made it 8-bit and low-rez, because retro is in. If you’re interested in learning more about old things, check out Where did the loading spinner originate?, The Design of Spinning Indicators, Spinning pinwheel, History of the Mac Spinning Wait Cursor, and just for a laugh, The Marble of Doom.

Apple Wait...