Saturday, June 8, 2013

WWDC Monday: turning 2012 obsolete

We all know it's coming as soon as we buy something: it's turning obsolete as soon as it has been released.

A car depreciates the moment you sign the paperwork and drive off the lot.  An electronic gadget starts toward obsolescence the moment it arrives in the real world and can be bought.  Even humans and other living things start to decay after they're born--we live to die.

So, it's no mystery that once new laptop computers are revealed by Apple at WWDC on Monday, mine will be the previous generation.  Oh, no!

As I had said when Apple released the first MacBook Air, the company would develop all of their laptop computers in a similar form for the long term.  They've accomplished some of that but they're still holding on to an earlier type.  I suspect it won't be until 2014 when they cut all ties to past laptop computer designs that are still current at this moment.

More than that, they desperately need to replace the Mac Pro--the tower-encased work horse created for the most professional pursuits of creativity.  Will they still have Xeon processors?  These processors have kept the price abnormally high, but have kept the performance equally high.  Will they be replaced with simpler, 8 core i7 processors?

I believe they must.  Apple have been working toward more reasonable pricing lately.  No, they aren't going into budget-class territory.  There is no reason to fight for the bottom end.  However, they can bring more power at a lower price.

Intel boasts the Haswell series of Core i processors as being less needy for power.  Certainly, whole systems seem too needy, especially when it comes to graphics hardware.  We've gone from 300 watt power supplies to much more than 650 watt requirements for many middle class graphics cards fit to a system.  As the CPU becomes less thirsty, will the GPU just soak up the rest?

When the various Macs were using G4 processors, they needed very little energy to survive, in contrast to the Pentium 4.  Even the PowerPC G5 wasn't incredibly ravenous.  It would be good to see a laptop computer that supposedly can last 7 hours on battery last more than 12.

I was reading something about nVidia's 600 series GPUs being re-badged with higher numbers for 2013.  Whatever Apple decides to use, I'm sure they'll be somewhat more powerful, but careful to conserve battery life.  The 650M graphics hardware in my machine can drain the battery so much faster than the Intel HD 4000 hardware, but then, there is so much difference in performance.  The HD 4000 uses less juice, but is it nearly as efficient?  I'd think it isn't.  Intel bought a third rate graphics hardware company to "help" the industry and they haven't really made a lot of progress with it.  It's still quite laughable.  How AMD/ATI and nVidia continue to dominate without tripping over the patents of each other is amazing.

So, when Monday afternoon (GMT-4) arrives at 13:00, will I cringe that my computer has suddenly shifted into the past?  No, it's quite powerful and will be after any announcement.  It's all perspective, of course.  If you live for tomorrow, you'll miss today.

I've seen the details now and I suspect that my MacBook Pro is safe--there was no replacement today.  The MacBook Air people should be feeling the strain, as those machines were given the newest Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) Haswell processors.  The battery life on the bigger machine has improved to a rated 12 hours.  It's not as good as I would have expected but it's very good.  Once the new (Mac) OS X arrives in autumn, that should help also.

 Speaking of which, OS X Mavericks is the first Apple operating system to make me smile for a while.  They've actually been working on the functionality, instead of spending most of their time on eye candy.

Virtual Memory has long been a problem for Mac OS X.  Considering that Mac OS X has had its roots in the Mach (micro-)kernel project and BSD UNIX, it's a wonder that Virtual Memory would have ever been a problem.  The various BSD-based operating systems (OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD) have been really stable.

Apple, in their infinite wisdom, thought that they could fix the world with an enhancement and it's been hell ever since.  I used to be a PowerMac user with the fastest (Ultra) SCSI hard drives and the virtual memory swapping was always at the wrong time.  I suppose for most people using a web browser and e-mail client, it wasn't a problem.  However, I've been at the edge of free memory far too often--even on my newest machine with 16 GB of RAM.

I'm hoping that this new Memory Compression technique will put things right.  It says a lot about processor power when they can do such a thing.  Back when the Motorola 68000 series processors were new, virtual memory was something only big business machines would do.  Motorola came out with an add-on that allowed virtual memory, but when you consider how slow all of the components were, it was much better to limit memory space to available RAM--16 MB or 4 GB.  Of course, the 16 MB limit of the 68000 was rarely used.  It was more likely restricted to 4 MB by an artificial limit.

Replacing the networking hardware was an expected change, as they were a bit behind the times already.  It's not that everyone has been running to stores to find 802.11ac (Gigabit WiFi) equipment, but the major vendors already have it out there.

In any case, Apple are finally pushing toward the future again, having put it on pause earlier.

Update 2013.07.21: Apple are in the middle of a Back-to-School clearance, so there is no new iPhone, iPod touch, Mac Book Pro, etc. until supplies are exhausted.  I suppose it's good for all involved but once a year changes aren't really enough to keep up with other companies.  I thought that Apple were trying to be more flexible.  Hopefully, they'll also have enough displays for a high density iPad mini, but I wouldn't bet on anything, given all the delays.

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