Wednesday, July 25, 2012

OSX Mountain Lion, 2012 Macbook and USB Attached SCSI UASP

Anandtech first reported that the new 2012 Ivy Bridge Macbook Pros support the USB 3.0 Attached SCSI protocol (aka UASP). I decided to test it for a spin and try it out for myself.

You can think of UASP as a supercharged version of USB 3.0. Faster and better bang for the buck (lower CPU utilization).

UASP promises faster transfer speed with SCSI like protocol, eliminating the previous BOT (Bulk-Only Transport) method of USB transfer. Prior, USB was notoriously known for sucking up CPU resources during copies. There is quite a bit overhead with BOT and UASP solves this. In short, USB 3.0 devices with UASP are faster than regular, traditional BOT USB 3.0 implementations.

You need a host and a device that both support the protocol to realize any benefits of UASP.

The only USB3 - SATA dock that I know of that supports UASP is the Thermaltake Blac X 5G which I have in my possession. The dock requires a firmware upgrade to unlock the UASP features.
It is a rather nice dock that is similar to the Voyager Q but only supports USB. You can use 2.5 and 3.5" drives. It also comes with some handy drive covers to keep it clean and tidy looking.

I previously used quad interface  (firewire400/800/esata/usb) NewerTech Voyager Q but I had so many problems that I switched to the Blac X. The Blac X doesn't get much notice in the Mac community and the Voyager Q's popularity is due to the fact OWC sells it as their main SATA dock.

For mid 2012 Macbook Air/Pro/Retina owners, it is now time to look at the Blac X.

My initial impression of the Blac X wasn't that favorable due to the fact it perform rather so-so under Lion (OSX 10.7). It was not giving me the speed improvement compared to using a Seagate USB3.0 to Sata Go-Flex adapter. In fact, I was ready to return it until Mountain Lion was released.

Mountain Lion (OSX 10.8) changed all that. I don't have a reasonable explanation but it is definitely faster. Possibly, Apple had  more resources to optimize their USB 3.0 drivers for Mountain Lion rather than concentrating on Lion. Whatever the reasons, the Blac X 5G's performance under 10.8 is very good.

First, compared to other docks and SATA interfaces I've used, CPU utilization running test and large copies were under 5% versus 7-10% on others. Could this be UASP at work?

My tests consisted of using a Crucial M4 Sata 6 SSD. I tried formatting HFS+, exFAT and FAT32.

My initial tests under Lion was a bit of a disappointment as seen below. 135.5 MB/s reads from a SSD.

With a Go-Flex adapter, I had better performance under Lion

With a 5400 rpm Toshiba Drive (the one that came with my Macbook) and the Blac X perfomed like any other dock. This may be due to the bottleneck of the 5400rpm drive because the using a Go-Flex adapter gave me similar results.

Go Flex adapter with the same 5400 rpm Toshiba.

For platter drives, as I mentioned in my other posts, USB 3 and Firewire 800 are pretty close. It is only with SSDs you see the major benefits of USB 3.

With Mountain Lion now officially released, I decided to do the tests again.

Here it is with the Crucial M4 again. As you can see, it is a big improvement. 268.2 MB/s reads and 179 MB/s writes via USB 3. The Blac X 5G is definitely now worth the investment.

Compared to the Go-Flex,there is little change between Lion and Mountain Lion. As you can see the, the Blac X is definitely much faster now under Mountain Lion.

There you have it. Mountain Lion brings in some new speed optimizations for Macs with USB 3.0.

Update 2012-10-07.

It seems 10.8.2, it is even faster. Read my update with video here:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Adding USB 3.0 to a Thinkpad T420 with Ubuntu

This is a simple guide for those Thinkpad T/W owners with expresscard slots hoping to use USB 3.0 in  Ubuntu 12.04.

I wanted to add USB 3.0 to my Thinkpad T420 so I decided to pick up a cheap 34mm NEC controller based expresscard USB3.0 adapter on Amazon.

The NEC based USB controllers have been supported by the Linux kernel since version 2.6.31. However, in Ubuntu 12.04, it isn't quite a plug and play affair. I had to run the following command to get my laptop to recognize the PCI expresscard.

 sudo modprobe acpiphp  

Once you do that, you can check to see if the system sees the device by typing in:

 lspci | grep USB  

Once you see the NEC USB 3.0 controller, you are pretty much good to go. You will need to do this after every reboot unless you modify your GRUB boot loader. Also, I had to disconnect and re-connect a few times before my laptop could see the card.

Next, there is the issue of power. Some portable USB 3.0 devices need power and the particular adapter I have uses a USB pass through cable to connect to a free USB port. Unfortunately, this was a trial-an-error. Certain ports of my laptop did not generate enough power for a 2.5" HDD drive. The only one that worked for me was the lower esata/usb combo port. Furthermore, there is one thing that these expresscard manufacture fails to mention is that you only have enough juice to power one USB 3.0 device. USB 2.0 will only have about 5 volts worth of power so it make sense that only one port will be powered.

Now for some speed benchmarks. The expresscard USB adapter did make a difference.
As you can see below, with a Seagate Go Flex, I got almost twice the read speed using USB 3.0

USB 3.0 w/ 1TB Seagate Go Flex HDD 5400 rpm portable drive. The results are acceptable considering the source is a platter hard drive.

USB 2.0 w/ 1TB Seagate Go Flex HDD 5400 rpm portable drive. As you can see, USB 2.0 is very slow.

I also wanted to test it with an SSD and I got some decent results.

USB 3.0 w/ 128GB Crucial M4 SSD. These results are almost as a good as plugging a drive to the eSATA port.

I did not test the card in Windows so I can't comment on the Windows performance. However, if you are an Thinkpad Linux user, I strongly suggest getting an expresscard USB 3.0 adapter for your older rig. It is well worth the investment.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Transform the Galaxy Nexus into a desktop computer

With a simple adapter and bluetooth, you can convert a Samsung Galaxy Nexus into a full desktop computer.

You will need a micro USB  to MH/HDMI adapter, a HDMI compatible monitor, and a set of bluetooth keyboard and bluetooth mouse. I use the Apple keyboard and bluetooth mouse.

This will basically mirror everything you see on the phone to the monitor. If you don't have an HDMI monitor, you can use a HDMI to DVI adapter like the one I use on this 24" Samsung.

The screen res will be what is on the phone, 1280x720. Some apps don't work quite right due to the fact they require or shift from landscape to portrait mode. For example, pulling up Netflix's movie browser looks like this:

Overall, it is a silly demo to show off your friends and colleagues. Running ICS on a large monitor is not really that intuitive  when you consider the oversized icons and UI elements designed for a 4.65" phone. The phone should have outputted a 1920x1080 display which would have been my preference.
Now, if this could dual boot into something like Ubuntu, then I can see the value of it. The original Atrix and their webtop was a very promising idea in 2011. Since, it the concept and execution has sort of fizzled into obscurity.

One last note, the MHL adapter requires power. You will need to use the existing micro-usb power adapter to power it. This sorts of kills the whole idea of using the Galaxy Nexus as a portable presentation machine. In comparison, the iPhone 4S and iPad 2/3 can be docked with a 30pin-HDMI adapter and run on battery alone.

LINK for MHL adapter:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Last of the UMPC/MID BenQ S6

This post may be 4 years too late.  MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices) and UMPC (Ultra Mobile Portable Computers) have been overtaken by new, lightweight tablets like the iPad. In 2008, this particular model went for a pricey $420 euros or roughly $450 US.

Retailers have recently unloaded some N-O-S (new old stock) inventory of the Benq S6 (BenQ has since gone belly up) at an amazing price of $60 shipped. They had this in cold storage somewhere for over four years!

So what is so special about this device? Well, long before the iPad, this was one of those few UMPC devices to sport a full x86 processor. It was incredibly small compared to its contemporaries. In theory, you can install any x86 OS that is supported by the hardware such as GNU/Linux or Windows 98.

It runs a 800mhz Atom CPU and an Intel GMA 500 GPU. It also sports a 3G WLAN modem and sports some of the accouterments such as  USB and microsd. Unfortunately, it has an anemic 2GB of SSD storage and 512MB of RAM. Later models came with 8GB of disk storage to accomodate Windows XP. This particular model originally came with Red Flag Linux.

So I bit the bullet and took a gamble. Worst case scenario, I figure I could MacGyver jerry-rig this device into something like a MAME console, in-car 3G wifi hotspot, personal firewall,etc.

I am currently backing up the drive image and I'm going to take a crack at seeing what I can do with it.

There is a renewed interest in the device so I'll post some detail pictures for those interested.

Here are some size comparison. It has a 4.8" screen 800x480 resolution vs a Galaxy Nexus 4.65" 1280x720 screen. Physically, the have the similar viewable area. I was cloning the drive with Clonezilla when I took these photos.

Here it is compared to a 7" Galaxy Tab 2.

Thickness. It is twice the size of the GNEX and approximately as thick as a box of Altoids.

This is the default OS running Red Flag Linux. It has some basic Office apps, MP3 music player, video, photo viewer, Pidgin messaging and a midori like browser. There is about 400MB free but you do have the option of adding micro-sd cards and USB storage. As you can see, this device has some Italian carrier branding. I assume this was one of those devices subsidized by the telco carrier.

I wanted to see if I could upgrade the internals so I opened it up.

Here are the internals. From top-left:  sd-card reader on riser daughter card. Next to it is the copper colored heatsink fan. Then the middle PCB may be the flash storage. It is marked PLOTECH E169497. I will investigate further and check the ZIF ribbon connectors. The module with the black cover on the top right is a removable HSDPA modem pcie card. Then you have the battery cavity. The panel, based on its markings, is a LG panel.

The middle PCB and 3G modem removed.

Top view shows the heat sink's opening and vents for airflow.

There is something underneath the motherboard inside a heat shield. The top riser is the WLAN antenna daughter card. I will investigate further.

As I wrote earlier, this post is about 4 years late. You will be better served with the thinner, sleeker, lowe powered ARM tablets/phablets/phone devices that can play 1080p video with hours and hours of run-time. This is a gadget for those who like to tinker. There are a few people who have installed a  slimmed down XP running on the 2GB drive.

Should you buy one? The forty something geek in me says no unless you are a die-hard tinkerer.

Here is a Youtube video of it in action.

Turn a Galaxy Tab 2.0 7" into a working desktop.

With some accessories, the 7" Galaxy Tab 2.0 can be turned into a productive desktop workstation.
Docked in an Arkon fold-up stand and connected to a Graybean USB OTG hub, the Tab 2 can be propped up with extended storage and input I/O.

The Graybean OTG USB hub supports 3 USB inputs and various sd/tf/mmc cards. I already have other OTG cables but I like the fact this sport several USB ports.

Here, I attached the Tab to a USB docked 2TB SATA drive, various USB sticks, USB keyboard and mouse.

A few notes on this setup:

A power adapter does not come with the hub yet it has a port for external power. You can't even power a keyboard or mouse without external power. I don't know if this an oversight or missing items from my order. Luckily, I had a spare power adapter on hand that worked with this hub.

Next, you can't have more than 3 USB drives connected. I've tried and it will randomly unmount drives until it has two available. The hub's sd card reader will override the internal micro-sd card. This is with a stock non-rooted device. Rooted, you can probably mount more devices.

Everything else works since Android's ICS supports USB HID and storage device. The mouse and keyboard works great. I noticed that many applications do not work as well as their desktop counterpart. For example, in Chrome, you can't right click and open a link in a new tab nor can you create a tab with a keyboard. Scrolling is reverse (aka natural scroll) similar to what you would find in OSX Lion. If you move the mouse down, the page scroll ups. Furthermore, I can't seem to disable the on-screen soft keyboard. It gets annoying whenever I reach an text input area and the soft key pops up.

So far, I use the Tab to type up simple Word compatible .docx notes and use connectbot to turn the Tab 2 into a SSH terminal. I tried a few RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) apps but the 7" screen is too small to make it useable even with a mouse and keyboard. 

I am using an Arkon stand and I think it is amazing piece of accessory for $8. It is compact, folds up easily, and works with 7" and 10" tablets like the iPad. A few people I know who have seen the Arkon stand rushed out and ordered ones for themselves. I seem to prefer using it over propping up the Tab 2 with a folio case.

Overall, this new setup has renewed my interests with the Tab 2.  I prefer the 10" Tablet size and I'm constantly trying to justify the 7" form factor. This now keeps my interest on the Tab 2 from waning.

Arkon Fold-up tablet stand at Amazon
Graybean USB OTG Hub at Amazon

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Google's Offline Maps

On June 6, 2012, Google announced Offline Maps for Android devices. Wow, this sounds great until you actually use it. Like many people, I had the expectations I could ditch my Navigon and Co-Pilot satnav apps on my 7" Galaxy Tab 2. For those expecting to get a free satnav solution for the Asus Nexus 7 device will be in for a big surprise as well.

How it works? You can store offline maps by selecting a coverage area.

For actual usage, it only works as a pre-cache or a backup data source for your navigation route. If you have a route/navigation set, you can use it as a cache in the likely chance you may encounter dropped data connections while travelling. In theory, this works fine if you  have a data connection like I do on my Galaxy Nexus.

If you use it on a WiFi only device like the Galaxy Tab 2 or Nexus 7, you will need to make your route beforehand while you are in the vicinity of a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Now for my complaints. It shouldn't be called offline maps. Rather, it should be billed as a backup cache for your navigation. Sure, you can scroll around the map but thats it. You can't do much else.

You can't find POIs (Points of Interests like your local supermarket/ATMs) while offline. You can't make new routes while offline. In fact, you can't even enter in an address offline. You can't even drop a point on the map and expect it to route to it. In essence, this is a  useless gimmicky feature for wifi only devices.

If you have a phone or 3g/4g tablet, is it still worth it to use? It depends. The base map is only covers a small area so routing a trip from say San Francisco to Los Angeles won't be supported in offline maps. Forget about over-seas usage unless you have data connectivity abroad to initiate a route. The largest size you can cache offline is about 70-80MB which covers a few counties in a major metropolitan area. What about dropped connections? The likelihood of this ever happening in the San Francisco Bay Area is close to zero. You may some some pennies by having the phone access the offline the maps instead of draining your monthly 3g/4g data allotment.

In short, companies like Tom Tom, Garmin, and others have little to worry about Google's offline maps. In short, Google simply increased the cache size to 70-80MB, Before June 6th, you could already pre-cached your route to a 10 mile radius.

Virtualization on the iPad 3 with Parallels 7

When people speak of virtualization on the iPad, they are referring to a remote desktop session to a hypervisor. In short, an iPad remote desktops into a host computer running the virtualize operating system. You can't  quite yet use an iPad as an x86 host hypervisor.

Today, I am going to review Parallels 7 Mobile Access. Parallels 7 is a popular Virtualization application for Mac OSX. The mobile client has been billed as "retina" ready so I decided to take it for a spin.

Why not VirtualBox? I'm a big fan of VirtualBox (VB). I use it on all my computers and I like the fact I can move VMs across platforms. I use VB for testing all my console OS (server builds). However, for rich GUI driven OSes, Parallels is much faster, has better Mac OS integration, and a better user experience. Most notably, it has an excellent mobile client.

In some hypervisors like VirtualBox, you can set up an RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) port and use an RDP client on the iPad to access to virtual machine. The screenshot below shows how one can set up and configure RDP access in VirtualBox. The only problem with this method is that you must be on the same subnet as the VM host; meaning you must be in the same network. Furthermore, your experience will be totally dependent on whatever RDP client you are using. Some of the RDP apps are hit-or-miss on the App store.

Parallels Mobile Access's major key features are tunnelled access and Retina display support. Those may be two compelling reasons to choose Parallels over something like VirtualBox.

The Main menu allows you to instantly access your available VMs.

With a simple signon to Parallel's centralize servers, you can access your VM hypervisor from anywhere. Even behind firewalls, there is a secured tunnelled access (akin to reverse NAT) to your Macintosh from your iPad. Another key unique feature is the ability to start and close VMs. Compared to VirtualBox, you can remotely boot up your VM. VirtualBox can be setup using a 3rd party web based client or you can remotely start up VM from an SSH session but that is a different topic for a different day. In short, Parallels makes it easy to start and stop VM.

Parallels Mobile Access has a good set of multi-touch gestures for things like enabling the soft keyboard, right-click, double click and hiding the touch menus. Overall it works good except with a high res display, you really need to be patient and zoom-in when you deal with vertical scrollbars such as those on web browsers.

In Parallel's Modality or Window mode, you can run the VM's resolution independent of the host computer. What this means is you can pump up the resolution to as high as you want on the iPad.You can run at 1920x1200, 1680x1050 and as high as WQHD (2536x1440). With the iPad's retina screen, you can rub 2536x1440 with amazing clarity. The scaled screenshot below cannot convey the breathtaking clarity and sharpness. Running Linux Mint 13 Cinnamon, the VM display is absolutely gorgeous. Typeface, window transparencies, icons, and graphics are super sharp on the iPad 3's 9.7" HiDPi screen.

Look at the real estate available on a 2536x1440 workspace!

If you are on the same wifi network, you can pair a keyboard to an iPad 3 and have an excellent super-sharp high res mobile desktop experience.

There are many great uses on why one would use an iPad as a hypervisor client. I recently bought some old Macromedia based DVD interactive Disney learning games for my son. I failed to read the box requirement and notice it supports Windows 95-98 and Mac OS9. Running on  a live Window 7's laptop is horribly painful because most modern computers are not good at scaling to 256-colors at 800x600 resolution. On a 15" HP laptop,my son's Disney program takes up 1/4 of the screen and the rest is filled in black. Furthermore, children now are used to point-n-click touch screen tablets. He has a hard time accidentally right-clicking a mouse which often closes/quits his application. For those old apps that run horribly on new hardware, a Virtualize Win98 is the way to go. The iPad helps revitalize and access the old applications.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ubuntu Dual Monitor Rant

Ubuntu needs to fix their multi-monitor capabilities. It is an embarrassment compared to Windows and Mac OSX. I normally dock my Thinkpad T420 to a 30" screen (2560x1600) and there are a few gripes.

First of all, you can't have a different wallpaper on different screens. Okay, this is pretty trivial but the next thing really irks me.

The biggest complaint is the phantom area, the missing void, or the land of no-where.
If you look at my screenshot of my display layout above, the area in red is the phantom zone. Since both monitors are of different sizes (1600x900 and 2560x1600), Ubuntu fails to grasp this. It assumes both have similar workspace sizes so windows and icons float between the two, you can have a browser or terminal window lost in this "phantom zone." More importantly, desktop icons and folders get lost. Since my desktop auto-arranges, all the icons are moved to the top left corner. If you manually move and place the icons, they will get re-shifted back to the phantom zone whenever you dock another screen in.

 I don't know who to blame. X11, Canonical, Gnome? It seems to be the same problem with Linux Mint and other distros I've worked with.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Input devices - trackpoint, magic trackpad, mouses,etc

I use a variety of input devices at work from a Thinkpad trakpoint, trackball, bluetooth mouse, Apple's Magic Mouse, and Apple's Magic Trackpad.

Depending on the operating system and computer I am using, my favorite mode of input changes.
For example, when I am programming on my Thinkpad T420, I prefer just to stick with the rd trackpoint. Even docked at a desktop, I stick with the red nub because I prefer not to move my hands around so much as I am typing.

When I am on a Linux tower workstation, I use Microsoft's ergonomically trackball. In general, I don't like using regular mouses if I can avoid it.

When I am on a Mac, I'll use the Magic Mouse if I am with an earlier build of OSX (10.5-10.6). But if I am on Lion, I use a trackpad. 

As for my current favorite would have to be the any variation of Apple's trackpad - Macbook or Apple's Desktop Magic Trackpad.

In Lion, the multi-gestures is pretty incredible. I can't explain it. Two finger swipes is even more intuitive than using the forward/back page buttons on my Thinkpad. Four finger swipes across virtual workspace makes up for my mac's 13" 1280x800. In fact, Four finger workspace virtual space swaps allows me to be more productive on a 1280x800 screen vs my Thinkpad's 1600x900 screen. Despite the smaller resolution, I can swipe between applications effortlessly. All the gestures on Lion have pretty much awesome. No other company even comes close. I looked at some of the efforts by the Ubuntu team to bring these awesome gestures to the Linux world because I am looking to use my Magic trackpad on other devices beside a macintosh.

Here is a good video on multi-gestures in Lion on youtube:

Apple's Magic Trackpad is a great desktop device and my only wish is for a larger one.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Macbook Pro and 16GB of RAM

I'm going to dispell some myths right now concerning the (non retina) MacBook Pro's maximum RAM upgrade. Apple only officially sells 8GB upgrades.

Since 2011, Sandy Bridge architecture allowed you to install up to 32GB depending on processor. Most of the processors had a max 16GB ram limit. It is supported by Intel's chipset.
Apple does not officially support it as well as many other manufactures. Since there are no dual 32Gb sticks, the most you can install is 16GB (2x 8GB sticks).
This holds true for the Ivy Bridge mid-2012 updates.

I have a mid 2012 i5-3210M MBP 13 running 16GB. The sticks are running DDR3 1600MHz (very fast RAM) and the total cost was $115. My other 16GB sticks running 1333 MHz can be as low as $80 discounted.

I have four or five Virtual Machines running concurrently without a sweat. With my M4 512GB SSD, starting Win8 preview and Win 7 with 4GB each is no problem.

Here are some picture proof. Apple may not officially support and sanction 16GB but it can run.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Run native ARM Android Apps on your Macintosh

Back at Google I/O, Bluestacks made some headlines that announced you could run Android apps on a Mac.I took it for a spin and have something to report.

It is an early alpha so they have to work some kinks out. They have a curated set of 17 apps such as Facebook, twitter, flipboard and Angry Birds. I tried it and quickly removed it. It took 15 seconds to load which is way slow if you are running an SSD with 2 second Photoshop launches.
You can't install any other apps besides the curated apps.

It seems to be an emulator that does ARM binary to x86 translation. I heard of another similar project and decide to find out if it had a better experience.

BuilDroid is that project. Long time Mac users know what Rosetta did for the Mac OSX transition and this takes a similar approach.  If you remember, Rosetta did binary PowerPC translation for x86 and it ran reasonably well. This is the same idea but with a different architecture, ARM.
BuilDroid uses the "ARM binary emulator" from Intel ("libhoudini") to make this all work. Libhoudini is what will help Intel's Medfield ATOM platform enter the Android space.
This wan an genius idea to hack "libhoudini" and make an Android distro that runs inside VirtualBox.

The results? Well, VirtualBox booted the whole OS in less than 5 seconds vs Bluestack's 15 seconds.
You can install Google Play and download Google Apps and other applications from the market. I downloaded various apps and they work reasonably well. It has the full Ice Cream Sandwich OS with settings, notifications, and soft menu. In comparison, Bluestack is just an app launcher.

In fact, BuilDroid is faster than launching and running the Android SDK's simulator builds.

Both are early stage developments but I am leaning toward BuilDroid. I haven't tried BuilDroid on another operating system but I assume it will work just fine since it is running in VirtualBox.


2012 Ivy Bridge MacBook Pro 13 short review

With the retina 15" Macbook Pro stealing the show, the best selling MacBook Pro 13 gets very little fanfare. In fact, there are not many reviews on the net for the new Ivy Bridge refresh. It isn't as exciting as newer laptops on the market and the resolution of 1280x800 is very dated with newer machines now sporting full HD. However, if you are a mac user, this machine is still a viable option for those who prefer the OS X operating system.

Frys recently advertised the 2.5ghz i5-3210M, 4GB Ram, 500GB 5400 rpm hard drive model for $999. This may have been a price mistake but nonetheless, I had Best Buy price matched it. I had about $900 in Best Buy gift certificates and $115 out of pocket, I got myself a new 2012 MBP 13. I already have extras SSD, extra 2.5 drives and memory lying around so I chose the MBP 13 over the Air due to expandability reasons. I now have MBP13 with dual drives (512GB SSD and 7200 rpm Seagate hybrid HDD in cd bay) and 16GB of RAM. No Air can match this. This will be my secondary Mac while I wait for a corporate issue Retina MBP 15 to arrive.

Here is my take on the new device. This machine is a nice welcome upgrade. I'm going to mostly cover expandability/upgrade and the new USB 3.0 performance.  This post might come in handy for those considering 3rd party upgrades for the Macbook Pros.

First of all, I want to comment that Apple has excellent packaging. Compared to my Dells and Thinkpads, no one comes close in terms of packaging. Opening the box, you get a very good first impression. Not that it matters for geeks like us but I did take note.

Compared to previous MBP 13, the only noticeable exterior change are the Thunderbolt port and the new USB 3.0. Otherwise, it looks exactly the same as the previous models.

And pictured below is the reason why I would get an MBP 13 over an comparable Air. Expandability.

Opening the interior, you can see the precision engineering Apple puts into its products. The interior is a fine piece of industrial design.  This corroborates what I've said earlier, Apple takes packaging very seriously and the quality shows. The interior is tight and I can see why Apple decided to go soldered ram/daughter card on the new Retina Macbook Pro. You can't get any smaller with off-the-shelf components.

I replaced the CD burner and place an SSD into the bay. You can get cheap adapters on ebay or use something like the OWC data-doubler pictured below. With every Macbook I've owned, I usually toss out the CD burner for a second drive.

I'm not going to go into CPU and graphics benchmarks because I'm not qualified to do so.With Google, you can probably find reviews of the i5-3210M and geek bench scores online. Coming from a Core Duo 2.5 (circa 2009), this machine is almost two times faster. 

Most important for me is disk I/O. Everything about it is better. SATA 6 all the way (even the CD bay is SATA 6), UHS-1 SD card reader, Thunderbolt, and USB 3.0. I'm going to be using this machine for Lightroom photos, minor final cut editing and managing my 500GB or so music library. I'm usually backing up and copying hundred of gigs worth of data so the fast I/O is important to me. 

Lets get started with my review.

I got a Crucial M4 512GB SSD as my OS drive. Street price is roughly $350 if you know where to look. You can't get this price and performance in any Apple upgrade. I also have a 7200 rpm HDD in the main drive.

Internal Storage Speeds.

The SSD produces an average 512 MB/s read and 250 MB/s writes. This is smoking fast.
Boot times takes less than 8 seconds. Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom starts up in less than 2 seconds. Cycling through 100 20MB Raw Image files is buttery smooth. Again, CPU processing doesn't matter for my needs but with fast I/O, you can clearly see the benefits. Couple with 16GB of RAM, I can now open 5-10 Gigabyte TIFF files with ease that even my old Mac Pro struggles with.

Now for the Seagate Hybrid 750 Momentus XT hard drive. This is a 7200 rpm Hybrid drive with a 32MB SSD cache. Retail is $179 but if you hang out on slick deals and discount forums, you can find them for $80 street price if you know where to look. If I didn't have a few SSDs lying around, I'd probably use this as my primary drive. It is probably overkill for my needs as it is mostly for storing music and videos. 

When you are used to SSD, HDD benchmarks aren't so impressive any more. Still, this clocks better than 80% of the users out there still using 5400/7200 rpm drives. It clocks in at 108 MB/s read and 104 MB/s writes. My old 2009 Macbook with a 7200 rpm drive and SATA (1 or 3) interface could only muster 80MB/s.

External Drive Speeds

Now for the external drive speed observations. How does USB 3 fare? Well, I decided to find out using a Crucial M4 128GB SSD w/ SATA 6. I've tested this drive and normally get 500MB/s reads when plugged in internally. I am also using another Seagate Momentus HDD for the external HDD comparison. All the devices will be connected via Go Flex SATA controller adapters.

Seagate Go Flex drives comes with a variety of SATA adapters including esata and pricey Thunderbolt. I have a few of their adapters - USB2, USB3, and FireWire800.

It is not going to be an accurate comparison because each controller have different characteristics. It is also hard to know which brand of USB2/USB3 controller is the fastest. However, I think this is going to be fair comparison since all the controllers are made by Seagate. I will do a review of the Seagate Go Flex devices in another post. If I can pony up the money, I will also follow up with a Thunderbolt adapter review. After reading many reviews on the Thunderbolt to SSD benchmarks and comparing with my own USB3 benchmarks, I may just stick with USB 3.

Here it is in action. 

USB 3.0

I have to say, I was a big fan of Firewire 800 for years. Before eSata, I only used Firewire 800 due to its inherit advantages over USB 2.0. With the arrival of Thunderbolt, I was hoping manufactures would come up with Thunderbolt docks and enclosures. That hasn't happen yet. USB 3.0 is the most economical external I/O connection. In my general use, it is by far faster than USB 2 and Firewire.

From the screen grabs below, we have 204.4 MB/s read and 152 MB/s reads. This is fast but not as fast as native SATA 6. You also have to remember this is USB 3 connected to a fast SSD. 

USB 3 to HDD won't get these speeds. Also, USB 3 to HDD is very close to Firewire 800 to HDD that I think it is a toss up. So if you are using a portable drive enclosure, your usage may vary.

Here is is with a HDD. 90MB/s and 83MB/s write and reads.

Firewire 800

As you can see in the following screenshot, there is no real benefit to connect a SSD to a Firewire 800 controller or enclosure. You will get the same speed as you would connecting Firewire 800 to a 7200 rpm hard drive.

73-80 MB/s read is typical of what you get from Firewire 800. I've seen  Firewire 800 go up to 80-90 on some high-end controllers but I wanted to stick to using Seagate GoFlex adapters for these tests. Using different controllers, you can get the same speed as the USB 3.0 to HDD I pictured above.

USB 2.0

Like Firewire 800, there is no advantage to connecting a SSD to USB 2.0
38 MB/s read and write is on the very high end of USB 2.0's bandwidth threshold.

So what do these benchmarks tell us?

For mac users, USB 3.0 is a very cost effective and fast I/O. Thunderbolt's advantage that I've seen only comes when you have fast RAID setups. The SSD-Thunderbolt reviews I've seen on the net are in the high 200 MB/s. ESATA still rules for external I/O. Unfortunately, there is no ESATA on macs and it is harder to come by even on PC. I've even had problems with ESATA on my Thinkpad with drop-off and connectivity issues.

If you are using HDD (standard platter based hard drives), Firewire 800 is still a good platform. If you are like me, I would not rush to dump your existing legacy Firewire 800 for new USB 3.0 drives yet. Those docks, enclosures are still good for standard platter drives.

About these benchmarks, I have the luxury of having 4-5 fast SATA 6 SSDs lying around and it is great to see 200+ MB/s speeds. However, for the majority of people, HDD is still a way more cost effective solution. You can pick up 1TB drives for $80 versus $120 for 128GB SSD.

Going forward, I will be investing in USB 3.0 for future proofing.

UHS1 SD Card Reader

Now for the SD card reader. As most photographers know, built in SD card readers on laptops are woefully slow. Most people I know get expresscard/PCMCIA adapters to get a fast SDcard reader. I had to do the same thing for my Thinkpad T420 because the the SDcard reader was so slow.

The MacBook Pro since 2011 now have UHS-1 (Ultra High Speed) readers. If you have a UHS1 card, expect a pleasant surprise. Using a SanDisk Extreme 45 (rated at 45MB/s), I got the rated speed of 45MB/s of my card. I wish I had a 90MB card to compare but I don't.

As you can see by the screen grab, it reads as fast as the card and you don't need to invest $30-40 for a new high speed reader. It is faster than many USB 2/USB 3 sd card readers.

As for the writes, I assume that is the limitation of the card or formatting of the card as FAT32 which causes problems for mac based disk benchmarks. Furthermore, I hardly ever write to SD as I am usually reading files that have been written by my camera.

In conclusion, the MackBook Pro 13" Mid 2012 Ivy Bridge is a great machine. The I/O improvements are very tangible for a mac users who want a portable lower price macbook. The expandability of this machine is more attractive to me than the portability form factor of ultrabooks or Airs. 16GB RAM is my minimum requirements and this book is capable of it. The only drawback is the 1280x800 screen resolution. It is very antiquated. I don't mind so much because I will mostly be docked into a WQHD Cinema  Display 90% of the time.  As I said before in another post, anything is better than 1336x768. 768 resolution doesn't cut it for me.

Now, I can't wait for my Retina MBP 15 to arrive to compare this with.