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#763: Hybrid HD Firmware Update, Hybrid Hard Drive Initial Experience, Apple Launches New Support Communities


Happy Tuesday,

It’s looking more and more like Spring every day. The giant icebergs out in the field are mostly melted, and while there is a thin crust of ice on the pond many mornings, the ice floating in it is nearly gone as well. Owen and I try to take a walk along the river most days around lunchtime, and soon enough I’ll be able to join him in the water.

Supply of iPad 2 in each of our locations is improving by the day. Unlike an Apple Store, where you have to get in line—sometimes the night before—if you hope to secure an iPad, Small Dog offers a waiting list. Just swing by one of our stores, and we’ll call you when your order arrives! Remember that Small Dog also repairs iPads that are damaged or out of warranty, and we can facilitate your warranty repairs to Apple for replacement.

As always, thanks for reading, and keep in touch.


  Hybrid Hard Drive Firmware Update Available  

I republished my initial impressions of the Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid Hard drive below. It’s a significant advance in mass storage, with a 500GB traditional spinning platter system and 4GB of SSD cache to speed up everyday operations. I did notice that mine was operating a little warmer than I’d like it to, but then came across an article touting the benefits of the latest firmware upgrade for the drive, available here.

Users report that it brings increased speed, better battery life, and lower heat output making the upgrade a no brainer for me. To install the upgrade burn the firmware to a CD, then start up off the CD into a basic DOS console and follow the instructions. The upgrade took me about 5 minutes, but I did take the time to make sure I had a complete and operational backup before I upgraded.

These drives are listed on our website and are in stock at all three retail locations. Our certified technicians can install the drive for you, and migrate your data over, for just $149. Swing by anytime!

  From the Archives: Hybrid Hard Drive Initial Experience  

I wrote about hybrid articles in two Tech Tails issues, and installed one in my MacBook Pro late last month. Installation is a cinch in any unibody MacBook or MacBook Pro, and is completely doable for anyone. Of course, you should ensure that you’re properly grounded and ESD compliant, and we won’t be held responsible if anything goes wrong!

After installing it, I used Disk Utility to clone my conventional drive to the hybrid drive. That process is detailed below in a separate article, and left me with an exact copy of my old hard drive. It took about an hour. After the clone was finished, I anxiously powered up the computer with the knowledge that any performance gain would probably take a while to materialize.

I was right that it’d take a while to see performance benefits of the new drive. If you recently bought a new Mac or performed an Erase and Install on your hard drive, you might have noticed that the first launches of any application will be substantially slower than subsequent launches. Mac OS X and your hard drive work together to make frequently executed actions faster, but they need time to learn just how they can do that.

The difference between the hybrid hard drives and all others is the size of the solid state cache the drive carries on board. 32 megabytes is traditional for most conventional drives, but the hybrid drive has 4 gigabytes, so the benefits are multiplied. It does take a little time.

Off the bat, I realized the new drive ran a bit warmer than the old drive. This didn’t concern me too much, knowing what I do from Google’s massive and influential study of the causes of hard drive failure. In fact, I wrote about it in 2007. This was, and remains, a small annoyance.

It took about a week for me to really notice speed gains. I didn’t do any statistically relevant testing before and after the swap, but I do know that programs launch faster than they used to, boot time is greatly reduced, and copying folders full of small files is faster. If only this drive could make my DSL faster! Not even more money can do that right now.

This drive is not faster than a traditional hard drive in copying large files. I keep a library of very large disk images on my computer and copy them to and from all the time. That’s not surprising, especially since these images are often eight to twenty gigabytes—far larger than the four gigabyte cache employed by the drive.

Battery life has not changed on my MacBook Pro.

This drive is an incredible value, and I recommend it heartily to everyone. It’s not going to be like putting your system folder in a RAM disk under OS 9 in terms of dramatic increases in battery life and overall system speed, but it’s an almost universally accessible upgrade that makes everyday tasks snappier. I can’t wait for solid state drives to come down in price so more of us can enjoy their myriad advantages. Just as a 500GB laptop drive cost $300 a few years ago, the days of $2 per gigabyte solid state storage are numbered.

  Apple Launches New Support Communities  

If you sought support from Apple’s user discussion forums over the weekend, you may have noticed the service was down for an extended period of time on Saturday. This was due to Apple’s rollout of its completely redesigned forum platform. Rebranded Apple Support Communities, the service, and its encompassing pages, have undergone a complete redesign both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. In an effort to better facilitate a smooth transition for its large base of existing users, Apple has posted a series of tutorials on the Support Communities’ homepage. Covering the basics of creating a new account, asking and rating questions, and more, these tutorials are useful resources for new and existing users alike.

Though the site’s redesign has not received universal praise, many users have already reported it more navigable and useful than its predecessor. Apple implemented a new social-inspired rating/ranking system that allows forum users to “like” posts and rate them based on their helpfulness. Users can also mark individual posts as correct which makes finding accurate solutions faster and more reliable. In turn, posters with a large number of correct answers will receive increased forum privileges and better positioning on the message boards.

Apple’s established message board community is one of the largest and most dedicated in the entirety of the tech realm. As with any forum, not all information is accurate, but there seems to consistently be a higher percentage of correct answers. While not the exclusive nor definitive source of all Apple knowledge, Apple Support Communities can be a valuable asset and provide accurate solutions faster than simply “Googling it.”

  TT SPECIALS | 4/19/11 - 4/28/11  
   Save $50: MacBook Air 11in 1.4GHz 4GB/64GB, AppleCare, Leather Envelope
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