Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
We range far afield this issue, reporting on a possible credit card scam on Mac users, a THINK C bug, why your PowerBook 145 may have an identity crisis, a clever battery swapping gizmo for PowerBook users, and clarifications on CD-ROMs. We also have a detailed performance report on the Performa 600, news of memory prices skyrocketing, an article on an innovative Internet programming group, and rumors of a bifurcated (split) keyboard from Apple.
Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <email@example.com> Comments: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Mark H. Anbinder writes, "Those of you with an eagle eye may have spotted a hint of an unknown Macintosh after this month's release of System 7.1. The Installer script for 7.1, if you click on the "Customize" button, will offer an option to install system software for "Macintosh IIvi/IIvm/IIvx." Is it the Ghost of Macintosh Future? Nope... apparently Apple planned a IIvm, but has said "This string was included when a Mac IIvm was in planning and was never pulled out." We'll be satisfied if this is the worst "bug" left in System 7.1 following its beta-testing period."
Corrected PowerBook 180 prices -- Mark also passes on some new prices for the PowerBook 180, and yes, these were raised at the last minute. The PowerBook 180 4/80 is now $4,109 list, and the PowerBook 180 4/120 is now $4,469 list. Nice screen, but wow, that's pricey.
Allen Kitchen and Allan Bloom recently posted to the Info-Mac Digest, warning readers about a potential credit card scam that may affect many Macintosh users specifically. They report that a company called Elite Concepts is impersonating MacUser magazine and calling MacUser subscribers, informing them (incorrectly) that their subscriptions are about to expire and offering supposedly "special" renewal rates that are in fact higher than the rates listed in MacUser's pull-out cards.
Although I doubt Elite Concepts is legitimate, I was unable to reach anyone at MacUser in time today to confirm anything. However, even if this group is legit, they have two major strikes in incorrect expiration dates and higher than normal prices, and a third, in my opinion, of pushy telemarketing. There's no reason to deal with them, just wait for your many renewal notices from MacUser and take advantage of one of the deals there. If you do get suckered into giving these people your credit card number, call the issuing bank and have them cancel the charge - then confirm in writing for safety - that's one of the advantages of paying by plastic.
Allen Kitchen -- email@example.com
Allan M. Bloom -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Emerson from Symantec recently posted the following useful information about problems with THINK C 5.0.3:
"As many have found, THINK C 5.0.3's global optimizer has several serious bugs that did not exist in version 5.0.2. We are currently addressing these and hope to have a fix available in the near future. In the interim we ask that if you must use 5.0.3 do not use the code motion global optimization. Bugs have been reported (new in 5.0.3, non-existent in 5.0.2) in the handling of volatile (a volatile expression will be optimized out; this is linked to the code motion) and the align_arrays pragma (doesn't work in several cases)."
Tom Emerson -- email@example.com
by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
One of my colleagues recently showed me a PowerBook 145 whose "About This Macintosh" window claimed it was a PowerBook 140. "And," he said, "over there we've got another 145 that claims to be a PowerBook 170!" Sure enough, the two PowerBook 145s each claimed to be a different machine.
When I asked what was going on, a friendly technical support engineer at Apple explained the situation. Because System 7.0.1 was created before the PowerBook 145 was introduced, the software doesn't know how to recognize that model of Mac. (To be specific, the resource list containing strings for the names of all Macintosh models does not include the name of the 145.) So, System 7.0.1 identifies the 145 as the next closest model: a PowerBook 140.
So why did one of them claim to be a 170? The friendly engineer had an answer for that, too! He said that some PowerBook 145s that are sent to Apple for repair and require a daughterboard replacement are currently receiving PowerBook 170 daughterboards because of a shortage of 145 daughterboards. (The daughterboard is the circuit board attached to the PowerBook's main logic board that contains the processor chip and, in the machines that have them, the math coprocessor.) As a result, the machine's circuitry is, for all intents and purposes, that of a PowerBook 170, and it identifies itself as such. (The only difference, I believe, is then the machine's display and the name silkscreened on the front.)
If your PowerBook 145 doesn't identify itself as such, now you know why! Note that System 7.1, released last week, does include a name resource for the PowerBook 145, so 145s running 7.1 do know their names, although 145s repaired with 170 daughterboards will still claim to be 170s. For you ResEdit jockeys out there, yes, you could modify the System file so that it would identify the 145, but modifying the System file is not recommended and what's the point?
Don't go breaking your 145 just so you can send it to Apple and get back something that thinks it's a 170. First of all, you wouldn't gain anything in terms of performance, and second, that shortage of 145 daughterboards might clear up at any time, and Apple will resume repairing the machines with the original components. Besides, if you are at all clumsy about it, you could end up footing a hefty repair bill.
Apple Computer, Inc.
by Tonya Engst -- TidBITS Editor
System utility developer Utilitron has moved into the hardware field with PowerSwap, a simple, yet clever battery-powered device that allows PowerBook 140, 145, 160, 170, and 180 users to swap batteries without shutting down their computers. Even the lightest traveler should find PowerSwap plenty portable, since it is decidedly small at about the size of the 9 volt battery that powers it. According to Fred Hollander, Utilitron's president, the battery should last for about a year in normal use.
Normally you cannot swap batteries in the PowerBooks (excepting the 100 and the Duos, which have internal lithium battery backup) without shutting down the machine, thus erasing your RAM disk if you have one and generally disrupting your work. If you plug in a PowerSwap though, you can simply put the PowerBook to sleep, change the main battery, wake it up again, and continue working with a minimum of fuss.
PowerSwap lists for $39.95, and Utilitron has a special deal that ends at the end of October. Fred generously offered to extend the deal for TidBITS readers who see this article after the end of October, so you can get PowerSwap direct from Utilitron for $25 plus $5 shipping through 10-Nov-92 if you mention this article.
Utilitron -- 800/428-8766 -- 214/727-2329
Fred Hollander -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Our recent article about the new AppleCD 300 had some technical holes in it which Craig O'Donnell, a resident (well, he must live somewhere) CD-ROM maven has helped to fill. Craig has reviewed CD-ROM hardware for MacWEEK for the past few years and keeps people abreast of CD-ROM developments on ZiffNet/Mac.
About the CD formats mentioned briefly in the article, Craig explained, "CD+G puts slowly scrolling graphics or "slide images" in 16 colors up on a screen - it is the Karaoke audio format and is otherwise not commercially sold. CD+MIDI is an audio CD which contains MIDI sequencer data. It is a moribund format. Both of these use the 5% of the bitstream on an audio CD devoted to "subcode." It would be more useful if they put track names and CD title in the subcode!"
In regard to Mode 2 support by the AppleCD 300, and apparently most drives, Craig says, "Mode 2 Form 1 is basically CD-ROM XA and is required for a drive to support PhotoCD, unless the driver software has been specifically written to perform "raw reads" and emulate the Mode 2 Form 1 firmware; this is how Trantor makes the old Toshiba 3201 drive read single session PhotoCDs."
Craig notes that you have to use a special write-many CD for multiple sessions of PhotoCD pictures. In addition, he says, "Commercially pressed disks are "single session" by definition. The first batch of photos on a multi-session CD - up to about 100 total - is also readable by a single session drive." This suggests that you shouldn't concern yourself unduly about multi-session capabilities when buying a drive unless you plan to store photos on CD.
About the features of the older AppleCD 150, Craig wrote, "The AppleCD 150 can read single session PhotoCD, is an excellent drive, and will be even more excellent when its price drops to maybe $459 list." This implies to me that the AppleCD 300's major advantage is its double-speed mode, which will help when the drive reads a lot of data from contiguous parts of the disc. Keep in mind though, that QuickTime appears to be written to cope specifically with 150 KB/second transfer rates in single-speed drives.
Craig O'Donnell -- email@example.com
by Mark H. Anbinder & Adam C. Engst
Elephants beware! The price of memory is shooting up! This is largely due to a tariff levied on Korean-imported memory chips, such as from Hyundai and Samsung. The US Commerce Department just ruled in favor of US memory manufacturer Micron Technology's complaint that the South Korean manufacturers were selling chips for less than it cost to make them. Samsung and others have posted a bond to continue importing chips, reportedly at the same price as before the ruling. As a result of the ruling, Japanese chip prices are going up as distributors bid more and promise quicker payments for materials to build SIMMs.
What this means for users is that SIMM prices will rise and supply will become tight. As with hard drives and other components, major manufacturers like Apple tend to get "first dibs" on parts used in building their computers, so other vendors may be left with the scraps. End-user prices on computers are unlikely to rise as an immediate result of this shortage, especially since Apple buys memory from many different sources around the world, but prices that might have come down in the near future probably won't.
Memory industry insiders are estimating that this backlog, and resulting price increases, will last anywhere from several weeks to several months, with a common estimate of about four months. Chances are fairly good that, for at least the next few weeks, prices will increase steadily. Paul McGraw of APS feels prices will rise quickly, level off for a while, and then gradually descend to perhaps $30/MB, although probably not as far as the $25/MB range of last week. MacWEEK quoted Mike Frost, president of TechWorks, as saying " This could create a shortage like back in 1988 when prices shot through the roof. The savvy corporate buyer will buy supplies now to cover the next several months."
This situation may serve to shake out some of the cut-rate memory vendors, who will be unable to retain customer loyalty as their prices increase dramatically and delays mount. One possible result is that, even when things settle down, the final memory prices may be substantially higher than they are now. This will be due only partly to the increased taxes, and partly to a reduction in competition. Although it may already be too late, don't put off investigating RAM prices if you're thinking about buying memory in the next few months.
Paul McGraw, APS vice-president
MacWEEK -- 26-Oct-92, Vol. 6, #38, pg. 1
by Tom Thompson, BYTE Senior Tech Editor at Large
[Editor's note: Many thanks to Tom Thompson and BYTE Magazine for this, and, we hope, future articles. Tom and BYTE have provided us with this information because of our speedy distribution and because BYTE has limited space for Macintosh coverage. Tom feels that disseminating the otherwise wasted information through TidBITS is an excellent way to share it with the Macintosh community in a timely fashion. We agree, and hope everyone finds BYTE's tests, which would be impossible for us to duplicate, useful. -Adam]
"How fast is that Performa 600?" I've heard this question a lot recently, now that the Performa line has been out for about a month, and the prices of the Mac IIsi and IIci have fallen. Some time ago, I ran BYTE's low-level Mac benchmarks on a prototype Performa 600. These low-level tests exercise various computer subsystems (processor/memory, floating-point, disk, and video) to gauge their performance. We won't have definitive results until we run BYTE's application test suite on a shipping Performa 600 (we're waiting on a loaner from Apple), but these preliminary low-level test results do provide a rough performance estimate. The tests occasionally pin-point substantial system design changes, and measure their impact on the Mac's performance. For example, when a PowerBook 170's floating-point processing at 25 MHz easily bested a 40 MHz Mac IIfx, it didn't take long for Apple's engineers to point out that the System 7.0.1's new Omega SANE routines caused the performance boost.
So where does the Performa 600 stack up? Here are some preliminary results:
BYTE low-level test results Mac IIci Performa 600 IIsi SE/30 CPU Matrix 10.7 14.1 13.4 16.4 8-bit move 51.1 65.5 64.1 82.2 16-bit move 26.7 39.3 33.5 42.1 32-bit move 14.5 26.2 18.2 22.8 Sieve 19.9 19.6 25.1 31.3 Sort 19.9 25.1 24.4 29.8 FPU Math 29.8 136.6 37.5 143.6 Sin(x) 9.9 66.5 12.8 70.6 e^x 10.2 71.7 12.9 94.5 Video TextEdit 3.0 3.5 3.2 4.6 DrawString 1.3 1.3 1.1 2.3 Slow Graphics 19.6 32.3 27.9 26.6 QuickDraw graphics 0.4 0.2 0.2 0.2 Mac IIci Performa 600 IIsi SE/30 Indexes CPU Index 2.17 1.54 1.74 1.39 FPU Index 8.66 1.44 6.79 1.27 Disk Index 1.29 1.74 1.45 1.24 Video Index 1.94 1.55 1.70 1.23
All values are in seconds, unless noted. For each test index, a Macintosh Classic II = 1, and higher values indicate better performance. Disk I/O benchmarks removed for brevity. All systems ran System 7.0.1, except the Performa 600, which ran a beta version of 7.0.1P. Note that (a) the IIci had no cache board and (b) the IIsi was equipped with an FPU.
Discussion -- As you can see in the CPU test suite, the Performa 600 with its 32 MHz 68030 doesn't come close to the 25 MHz 68030-based IIci, and in some instances the 20 MHz IIsi does slightly better. Why is this? Take a closer look at the memory move tests, which measure how fast data can be moved about in RAM. The times fall somewhere between the IIsi's and the 16 MHz SE/30's results. Apple explains that although the Performa 600's CPU is clocked at 32 MHz, the main bus only operates at 16 MHz. This impacts performance, since the CPU must wait for reads and writes to memory to complete. Final performance is hard to gauge here, since the 68030 has two 256-byte on-chip caches. For example, look at the Sieve times, where the benchmark code fits into the 68030 caches. This is the only test where the Performa 600 outpaced the IIci.
The slower bus doesn't make the Performa 600 a slouch in other areas, however. The Performa 600, without an FPU, performed faster floating-point processing than an SE/30, even though the latter has a 16 MHz 68882 FPU. (Remember that the Performa 600 has an FPU socket.) Video timing results were mixed, again due to whether or not the benchmark code fit into the 68030 caches. Looking at all of the indexes, the Performa 600 appears to fall in the Mac IIsi range of processing power. Again, we'll know more when we run application benchmarks on a shipping system.
Even if the Performa 600 does no better than a IIsi in terms of processing power, the computer certainly has other advantages. It has three NuBus slots (versus the IIsi's one adapter slot), a beefier power supply (112 W vs. 47 W), a 5.25" bay for a CD-ROM drive or other SCSI peripheral, and built-in video that supports 16-bit pixels on a 13" monitor - something not even the IIci can do.
Tom Thompson -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Apple definitely thinks of user safety more than most computer companies, and even includes basic ergonomic instructions in its manuals. The new 14" color monitor meets the strict Swedish guidelines for emissions, and if this rumor comes true, among large computer companies, Apple will stand alone at the forefront of ergonomic design.
I've heard that Apple is working on a new mouse with more rounded curves that users might find more comfortable than the current mouse. That's not terribly exciting, but what is exciting is the new keyboard Apple also has in the works, reportedly slated for a January release. The keyboard should list for about $250, which compares relatively well with the $185 Extended Keyboard II, considering the extra hardware that goes into the ergonomics.
Like some of the more esoteric keyboards from small companies, Apple's new keyboard "breaks" in the center, so that the left and right halves rotate around pivot points. You can also angle the sides when it is broken for maximum comfort, and the keyboard even comes with palm rests. Although this is terribly hard to visualize, and I don't have a QuickTime movie for you, I've heard that the design makes typing extremely comfortable.
I can't vouch for this keyboard until I can literally get my hands on one, but writing as one who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome (getting better, but not perfect yet), I think it's an amazing move for Apple. Apple is now the single largest manufacturer of personal computers (surpassing IBM just recently) and it looks good to be the first major company to offer a radical keyboard design that might help prevent repetitive stress injuries (although Apple's rumors make no claims to that effect, and rightly so).
There are a few potential problems with the keyboard. First, no one has ever conclusively proved that split or bifurcated keyboards will help prevent repetitive stress injuries. My feeling is that they can't be any worse than standard keyboards, so that's a moot point. Second, you run into some oddities with split keyboards with the keys in the middle of the keyboard, since many people often actually use both hand for the "g" and "h" keys. I heard that one manufacturer of split keyboards duplicated some keys to avoid that problem.
However, as I said, from a public relations point of view, just having this alternative available will make Apple look good, and the fact that they will reportedly release a PC version shortly after the Mac version will help too. Computer users of all types will know that the only mainstream alternative (hmm...) keyboard comes from Apple, and that can only reflect well on the rest of the company's products.
I also predict that other major computer companies will announce other alternative input devices. Although I'd be surprised if any of them went as far as Infogrip's chording keyboard, there are a number of small companies out there working on split and otherwise ergonomic keyboards. I imagine they would be happy to license their designs to Compaq or IBM. And then everyone wins.
by Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor
Macintosh has inspired a strong sense of community among its users, and the Macintosh programming world is no different. Perhaps the best example of this is TopSoft, Inc., a group of programmers who have collaborated for the last several months on some innovative projects, and recently incorporated as a nonprofit entity. TopSoft, a group of people most of whom have never met one another, was organized by Steve Jovanovic in late 1991, and uses the Internet to exchange electronic mail, source code, and prototype programs.
TopSoft's original goal was to have a good time and learn about Macintosh programming while creating a free utility that would be widely useful and take full advantage of System 7's features. The resulting program, which is nearing its planned release date, is FilterTop. This modular, extensible utility is intended to be the ultimate file-manipulation tool.
Among the filters planned for inclusion with the program or as later enhancements are BinHex and uuencode/decode, compression and decompression, batch file-type and creator modification, and graphics and sound converters. TopSoft plans to provide as many as 100 filters along with the software when it is released, and the designers hope that other programmers will jump in with new filters soon after. The program features a drag-and-drop architecture that allows it to determine on its own, much of the time, what the user is likely to want the program to do. This means that, for the most part, FilterTop requires little or no user interaction. In situations when a decision needs to be made, or additional information needs to be obtained, FilterTop filters use the program's standard interface to communicate with the user.
The program does this through a "superfilter" capability that allows users to construct a chain of filters, similar to the UNIX pipeline concept, that take a file, perform several operations on it in a row without a need for user interaction, and return a file in the form that the user needs. For example, a user who receives lots of files via Internet email might construct a superfilter that strips linefeed characters from a UNIX-style text file, deBinHexes or uudecodes the file depending on which format the material is encoded in, then decompresses the file from either the StuffIt or Compact Pro format. As this example shows, the superfilters offer not only a pipeline from one filter to the next, but the "intelligent" processing built into the program. Superfilters can even be saved as "applets," custom applications that allow users to impart the full-blown drag-and-drop functionality to their favorite filters and filter combinations.
FilterTop will be released with a full set of C source code that users may modify and recompile if they wish, using THINK C 5.0 or MPW C++, and a developer's kit that will show programmers how to create their own FilterTop-compatible filters from scratch using C or Pascal.
System 7 "studliness" is one of TopSoft's primary goals, so FilterTop supports a wide range of Apple events. As a result, it works well with Frontier, the scripting environment from UserLand. Because of its heavy reliance on System 7's features, FilterTop will require System 7.
TopSoft is also working on another ambitious project at this time. TopSoft C is a fully-featured C/C++ compiler, based on Eric Sink's freeware Harvest C along with Stan Shebbs's and Brent Pease's port of the Free Software Foundation's GCC version 2.
Readers who are interested in getting involved with TopSoft or helping beta-test products should contact the group via Internet email. TopSoft is also interested in hearing from users of non-English Macintosh systems who may be able to help localize FilterTop and the other programs for other languages. For general information write to <email@example.com>, and for FilterTop write to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue