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#718: Apple Releases Safari 5, A Guide to External Storage, Non-functional Backlit Keyboard

 
     
 

Happy Tuesday,

Steve Jobs took the stage yesterday for his keynote speech at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. As expected, the world was introduced to iPhone 4, and the combination of new features, thinner profile and greener materials makes it a true must-have.

Though Steve didn’t discuss the release of Safari 5, Ben, our new Web Content Producer, has all the details below. If you’re a regular reader of our blog Barkings!, you’ll notice that Ben is posting great stuff almost daily. I’m particularly fond of the new Reader function in Safari 5 that senses the “meat” of a webpage and presents it in a clean, less ad-riddled format.

As always, keep in touch.

Matt
matt@smalldog.com

 
   
     
  Apple Silently Releases Safari 5  
   
 

With Apple’s announcement of the revolutionary iPhone 4 yesterday, it would be easy to overlook the release of Safari 5 that coincided with it. While certainly not as glamorous as Apple’s latest device, the newest version of Safari does bring some changes that will give it a serious leg up in the browser wars.

Performance is easily the biggest deciding factor when choosing a browser, and Apple has upgraded Safari with a faster “Nitro” engine to keep themselves ahead of the game. Apple claims Safari 5 will run JavaScript 30 percent faster than Safari 4, 3 percent faster than Chrome 5.0 and more than twice as fast as Firefox 3.6.

In addition to significant speed boosts, Safari 5 also includes the Safari Reader. This utility automatically detects if you are browsing a page with an article on it, and allows you to view it in a continuous and clutter-free manner. To enable Safari Reader, simply navigate to an applicable page and click the Reader icon in the Smart Address Field. Upon doing so, onscreen controls, similar to those seen when viewing a PDF, will appear and let you email, print, and zoom. Safari Reader even saves text settings so font size is the same if you revisit the page.

Though not apparent by simply glancing at the UI, Safari 5 also includes a robust set of HTML5 tweaks under the hood. The new browser brings over a dozen new features including full-screen mode and closed captioning for HTML5 video as well as HTML5 geolocation. To view some examples of the HTML5 web standard in action, check out Apple’s showcase of demos here.

Other more subtle refinements include DNS prefetching and improved catching. DNS prefetching means that if you are viewing a web page with links, Safari detects them and looks them up behind the scenes. When you click a link, the page loads faster as a result. A web cache is essentially an index of pages previously viewed. Since Safari 5’s cache has been expanded, more pages fit into it and load faster upon being revisited.

Appending the aforementioned features are other upgrades such as a smarter address field, integrated Bing search, hardware acceleration for Windows and an improved web inspector. Safari 5 is available today, and is a free download for Mac + PC. Download it here.

 
   
     
  A Guide to External Storage  
   
 

I’m in love with my hard drives. They really are miraculous devices, storing billions of bytes and copying that data to and from drive to drive at amazing speeds. I realize that the world of external storage is pretty vast, with lots of names and terms and numbers, and thought it would be good to do a quickly summarize the differences between external drives.

The first distinction I make between external drives is their physical size. The case around the actual drive may vary in size but there are only two sizes of hard drives—2.5-inch laptop drives and 3.5-inch desktop drives. Desktop drives require more power than can be supplied via USB or FireWire, and so they are considered “desktop” hard drives because you need to plug them into power separately.

Laptop drives often can run off USB power supplied by a USB port, so they are considered more portable. Just like comparing laptops and desktops, you will generally get more performance and space out of a desktop drive than you would from a laptop drive.

If you ever work with large amounts of video or want to play media off of an external drive, then a faster RPM (revolutions per minute) is worth buying. If you are just trying to keep your files backed up, then a lower RPM drive will work fine. The two specifications of drive speeds on the consumer market right now are 5400 and 7200 RPM.

The third thing to check is the connection type of the external drive. Most drives use only USB, but some drives offer FireWire 400, 800, and/or eSATA. For general backup, USB is perfect because it’s fast, reliable, and can be plugged into almost any computer made in the last 5-10 years.

FireWire is a connection also known as IEEE 1394. As anyone who works with video knows, FireWire is often required to download video from a camcorder or videocamera. Drives that have FireWire are generally more professionally geared because FireWire is a lower latency connection that makes transferring lots of small files faster than USB.

eSATA is a very fast data connection but does not supply power. eSata is the fastest type of connection commonly seen in external drives, but Apple does not build this port into its computers at this time.

 
   
     
  Repair of the Week: Non-functional Backlit Keyboard  
   
 

I picked up a 13-inch MacBook Pro late last week whose backlit keyboard wasn’t working. After discussing the failure with the owner and getting the exact details I needed to properly diagnose the machine, I opened up the unit and checked the LCI (liquid contact indicator) for any evidence of liquid or liquid residue. Not finding any liquid, I took the next step in troubleshooting—resetting the PRAM and SMC.

You might notice that your Apple laptop’s screen brightness seems to change in reaction to changing light conditions. I notice this more dramatically on my unibody laptop in a dark room while watching television. The television is a dominant and constantly changing source of light, so the computer’s screen changes brightness all the time. It’s more prominent in unibody computers because the ambient light sensor is located to the left of the iSight camera on top of the screen—its position makes it more prone than the old-style laptops, whose ambient light sensor was under the speaker grills.

Why is this relevant to this week’s repair? Both the screen brightness and keyboard backlight were non-functional. There are three likely culprits in this repair: main logic board, top case (with integrated keyboard), and ambient light sensor. Because both keyboard backlight and screen brightness are controlled by the ambient light sensor, it made more sense to replace that.

Interestingly, the entire display assembly must be replaced if the ambient light sensor goes bad! It’s an officially non-serviceable module, but Small Dog does offer replacement of some parts inside. If the glass covering your display or LCD is cracked, we can fix that for many hundreds less than Apple pricing.

 
   
     
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