Mac Switching update, Sat 24 Sep

I finally figured out the biggest problem I was having with the MS Digital Media Pro keyboard: it was the positioning of the Zoom Slider just to the left of the keys. What it touted as a useful feature, was actually destroying my ability to type properly.

You see, on a normal keyboard, the resting position for my left hand has my pinkie and ring finger touching the side of the keyboard. My middle finger rests on the tab key, my index finger on or near the letter A, and my thumb on the Alt. With the Zoom Slider taking up about an inch of space, my left hand’s resting position was thrown off-balance, and suddenly my left fingers start striking keys off-center, and picking up the wrong keys altogether. Not good.

Luckily for me, Alan has given me a loan of an old MS Internet Pro keyboard he had sitting around in his garage, which is identical in layout (and feel!) to my old MS Internet (not Pro) keyboard, but with the added goodness of a USB connection. It didn’t quite work straight away:

  • The underlying keyboard layout must be slightly different from the MS Digital Media Pro, and so the .rsrc file I’d downloaded from Phil Gyford to remap keys didn’t work completely any more (some keys were still correctly mapped, byt the # and ~ had reverted). So I spent some time with Ukelele to create a new .keylayout XML file, and it does the job nicely.
  • The version of the MS Intellitype software I have (5.1?) isn’t fully backwards-compatible with this keyboard, and won’t toggle the Windows/Alt key mappings to match the Apple-standard layout. Fortunately Tiger has this option built-in to its own keyboard settings: just go to System Preferences -> Keyboard & Mouse -> Modifier Keys, and switch them around there.

So keyboard-wise, I think I’m finally all sorted.

Other stuff:

  • Now that I’ve been working with it for a week or so, I feel confident saying that the Mini (PowerPC G4 1.42GHz / 512MB / Radeon 9200) is definitely slower than my PC (Athlon 2500+ / 1GB / Radeon 9600 in the PC). At first I wasn’t sure if it was just the strageness of it all, but I think I’m over that now. Web pages load take more time to render, photos take more time to display. With the difference in CPU architecture, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I guessed that the Mini wouldn’t be as fast. Maybe giving it 1GB of memory instead of 512MB might make a difference, but I’m not really all that bothered, because it’s fast enough–at least, for now.
  • I’m still flipping back and forth between browsers. Safari seems to be faster than Firefox, but it doesn’t have all the Firefox extensions I am used to. Same for Camino, but with the added disadvantage that it doesn’t ask for confirmation when closing down multiple open tabs. (If anyone knows how to turn that alert on…let me know.) I haven’t given Opera a proper shake yet, but I’ll give it more of a try soon.
  • File transfers between the Mini and the PC over our wireless network (54G) are ridiculously slow. 64MB in 20 minutes is 54 kilobytes per second, not megabits. Rebooting the router temporarily brings everything back up to full speed, but that’s a stupid solution. PC-PC transfers over the network are unaffected, and as fast as they always have been. However, even if I can get the wireless connection working properly, I could do much better with a direct Mac-PC connection over Firewire. I hadn’t known that Firewire supports direct TCP/IP connections without the need for a router, but it does. That’s very cool, and will probably lead me to get a firewire hub, seeing as the Mini only has a single port.

Oh, and the Mini has acquired a proper name: Miles. My PC is called Frankenstein, or just Frank for short, because it was originally assembled from spare parts way back in 1995, and has been in continuous operation since then. (There isn’t a single original component left, though.) Abi’s laptop is called Clank, after the Ratchet & Clank videogame. “Miles” is a reference to Miles Vorkosigan, the diminutive hero of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar books. It’s a size thing.

4 thoughts on “Mac Switching update, Sat 24 Sep

  1. Some of the speed difference you are seeing is due to the slow laptop drive in the mini. Use of one of the 3rd party external HDs over FireWire makes a difference in performance. Many of these units include additional USB or FireWire ports.

    http://www.123macmini.com/accessories/guide/enclosures.html

    http://www.budget-ha.com/index.php/content/view/22/1/

    There are also a number of firms who will swap out the slow factory drive for something faster internally.

    http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/mac-mini/

    None of this is going to make a mini scream, but it might be worth your $.

  2. DAG–thanks for those links! I actually have an external FW drive sitting around, acting as a big backup device for my PC and the rest of the home network. I think it’s only a 5400rpm drive, but I might experiment with it and see what kind of a difference it makes. An external FW drive would certainly be a cheaper option than cracking the case and replacing the internal drive with a fast 2.5″ one.

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