Backups

One thing about owning Windows machines for so long is that you really get to know how sluggish they become over time.  When you buy them they boot reasonably quickly and do the same upon shutting down.  As time goes on, they take longer and longer to do so.  I’m not sure what it is that affects them; perhaps it’s the numerous updates that they get or maybe its the programs that get installed and uninstalled.  One thing I do to alleviate that (or at least used to) is to backup my data, and reinstall a fresh copy of Windows.  It’s a time consuming process to install all applications and updates again and there’s always the concern that I missed backing up something important.  Still, it can help speed things up a bit.

In getting this MacBook Pro, I wanted to image the drives.  By that I mean I wanted to take the newly started computer and be able to reinstall that, patches and all, with one fell swoop.  I’d like to image the computer once I install the applications I think I’ll use too.  That way I will hopefully spend less time doing the whole refreshing process if it gets to feeling like it’s slow as well.

Because I’m running Boot Camp, I have an OS X partition and a Boot Camp partition so the backup process is a bit more involved.  On the Mac side, there are two programs that seem well known when I do a Google search.  One is Time Machine, which comes with OS X, and the other is Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC), which is a free download (donationware).  In reading various reviews of each, it seems like they complement each other.

Carbon Copy Cloner has the capability of copying the drive to an external drive and even making it bootable.  That way if the main drive died, you could get up and running literally right away.  Subsequent updates will backup files modified since the previous backup and it will store the previous version of the changed file in a separate place so it too could be used to restore if needed.  CCC can also save to a specific directory which is non-bootable but can be handy for me because it won’t get overwritten.  The idea of restoring to a freshly installed state can be made possible by doing that.

Time Machine continuously backs up files to an external hard drive but is not bootable and therefore cannot be used immediately should the main drive fail.  It’s said to be a better solution for versioning files (keeping several versions of files that are being worked on).

Because I do not plan to keep an external drive connected to the MacBook Pro at all times (it’s a laptop), I chose to go with CCC.  I bought a 1 TB Toshiba portable hard drive.  It’s really nice!  It’s very small – MUCH smaller than another 1 TB external drive I bought in 2009.  The Toshiba also doesn’t require an external power source and is USB 3.0 capable, which my MacBook Pro supports.  The transfer is pretty quick but of course not nearly as fast as the internal drive.

I partitioned the drive into two, an 800 MB partition for CCC and a 200 MB partition for other files I want to keep, such as copies of programs I download.  The 800 MB got further divided by CCC to make a restore partition, exactly like the internal hard drive has.  I copied the whole drive over, making it bootable.  I plan to use that one to continuously backup to as I plug it in every few weeks.  I try to target backups to take place monthly but it really winds up being more like semi-annually.  I really need to do better but I’ve been doing it manually so it takes a while.  Additionally, I copied the drive to a directory to permanently keep a freshly installed copy of OS X without any changes.  Once I load programs I plan to use, I’ll copy it once again to a different directory so I will have options as to which one I might want to restore.

Now for the Boot Camp partition, a program used to be widely regarded for backing it up.  It’s called Winclone.  It became abandoned but in reading further, I read it recently got supported again.  It used to be free but it now costs $20.  I figured that’s a reasonable price to pay to save images of the Windows partition.  I stored its image in that 200 MB part of of the Toshiba drive.  The best part of that is that it’s patched and activated.  That’ll save a lot of time when I restore that!  Winclone also compresses the image by not taking the empty space so the image didn’t take 65 GB like the partition takes.  It took much less!

One day I will look into cloud-based backup.  Maybe I could use Time Machine that way?  The versioning feature would be nice, particularly as I write programs.  Of course I write program in Visual Studio which is a Windows product so maybe it won’t help so maybe it won’t help after all.  Can Windows Backup backup to the cloud?

I need to come up with a plan for my desktop.  In reading about Winclone, I read the backup utility in Windows can make images as well.  Since Boot Camp is special the Windows backup can’t really be used on the Mac but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work on the desktop.  When I go to do the whole reinstall process on it, I’ll give it a go.

 

Decision and Reinstallation

After seeing that HP and Dell 15” laptops that are configured similarly to the 15” MacBook Pro can be bought for about $900-$1000 (after discounts), I cannot justify paying the extra $700 (with student discount) to keep the 15”.  Note that those prices are cheaper than even the 13”!  A CNET review even said they expected more at the 13”’s price point.  They favored the MacBook Air at the same price.

I had previously leaned toward the 15” so I removed Boot Camp from the 13”.  After coming to this decision, I did the same to the 15” and had to reinstall Boot Camp and Windows on the 13”.  This time I kept track of the updates.

Repartitioned and reinstalled Windows 7 Professional Service Pack 1
Installed Apple Support Software (Boot Camp)
Restarted
Configured wireless setting
Installed 77 important and 3 optional updates (314 MB)
Restarted
Installed update for Windows Update
Installed 1 important update (41 MB)
Installed 11 important updates (that suddenly appeared after the one) (167.5 MB)
Restarted
No updates found
Installed Microsoft Security Essentials (There are quite a few choices at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/antivirus-partners/windows-7.aspx)
Installed 1 important and 1 optional update (12.5 MB)
Restarted
Done

 

Windows on the 13″ MBP

I decided to install Windows on the 13” to get a feel for it because I’m really unable to make up my mind as to which computer to keep.  I went through the same installation as described above.  The many levels of updates is really something Microsoft needs to work on.  Can’t they withdraw a patch if there is another patch that fixes the first patch?  I mean honestly, having to check for updates over 5 times in succession and actually find new updates that take a long time to install is ridiculous considering I started with the latest service pack.  If I end up writing a program, I will never have a patch for a patch requiring both to be installed.

One big difference seems to be that the 13” did not get nearly as hot as the 15”, even without installing the fan control program.  It got warm but not burning hot.  Of course the Core i5 dual-core chip isn’t nearly as powerful as the Core i7 quad-core chip.  There’s no discrete graphics card generating extra heat either.  It did get hot during the Cinebench and Windows Experience Index tests.

The fan control program on the 15” doesn’t sense the CPU temperature correctly but it does see the two graphics card temperatures.  On the 13” it doesn’t sense either the CPU nor the graphics card temperatures.  The fan does work on manual though.  There only seems to be one fan in the 13” versus two fans in the 15” MacBook.  One oddity is that on even when shutting down the program or restarting to OS X, the fan stayed on high (if it was set to it).  Shutting down the machine and then turning it back on fixed that problem.

 

More Windows Differences

In reading a bit more, it seems to me that not only does Windows use the discrete graphics card, thereby drawing more power, but it also seems to run the CPU at full throttle, providing no power savings.  It has the side effect of running very hot.  The MacBook Pro doesn’t exhibit that behavior in OS X.

Two things I commonly do cannot seem to be done on the MacBook.  One is right-click dragging in Windows.  For example, if I wanted to extract a zip file into a specific folder, I could right-click drag the zip file to the folder.  When I let go of the button, I would get a list of options where I could extract the file.  The default is to move the file.  Since the trackpad has no right button, I can’t find a way to do it.

The other thing that I commonly do is to press ALT-D to get to the address bar in a web browser.  While it still works in Windows, I cannot do it on the Mac which means I have to move the mouse to the address bar, click in the field, then press COMMAND-A to select all, then type.

Update: I just read a web page that says it can be accomplished with COMMAND-L while COMMAND-OPTION-F will jump to the Google search bar.  Good things to know!

I think I’m going to keep the 15” MacBook Pro.  The 13” is certainly lighter and more portable with its smaller size, but I’d really like to move toward having just one computer for everything rather than having two separate computers to serve different purposes.  Having two computers works, especially with file sharing within the network, but it’s less convenient.  On the other hand, I would have to keep a computer on to print anyway unless I wanted to walk the laptop to the printer every time I wanted to print.  I have no plans to buy a wireless printer any time soon.  With the good resale price, the initial price is high but upgrading to a new computer in the future could be offset by the sale of the current one making new ones more reasonable if I should stay with the Macs.

As much as like the portability of the 13” MacBook, I cannot get the idea of using the 15” to replace all computers.  An extra $600 could be worth it rather than replacing the three old desktop later.  Then again, $600 can buy a decent desktop which in turn could be potentially upgraded even later.

 

Windows Experience Index

I updated the previous tables to include the wattage and scores while running the Cinebench tests.  It’s no surprise it consumes more power in Windows since it’s running with the discrete card full-time.  What is surprising is that the OpenGL score is about 8.5 fps faster in Windows 7 than in OS X.  Perhaps the Windows drivers are better than the OS X ones?

I got the following scores while running the Windows Experience Index tests:

Test

MacBook Pro 13”

MacBook Pro 15”

HP Pavilion a6720y

HP Pavilion dv4i

Processor

7.1

7.6

6.9

6.7

Memory (RAM)

5.9

7.7

7.2

5.9

Graphics

6.5

7.1

7.4

4.9

Gaming graphics

6.5

7.1

7.4

6.1

Primary hard disk

5.9

5.8

5.9

5.9

The 7200 rpm hard drive in the dv4i appears to edge out the 5400 rpm drive in the MacBook Pro.  It’s interesting that the MacBook Pro’s scores are lower in Graphics and Gaming graphics than my desktop because the the former easily beats out the desktop in the Cinebench OpenGL score.  I imagine the Windows Index uses Direct X though, which is a competitor of OpenGL.

The MacBook Pro is already pretty quick.  I bet it really flies with an SSD drive.  My laptop, the dv4i, is feeling extremely sluggish recently.  It takes quite a while for the disk activity light to stop when booting.  It’s not just that, even the time to bring up the widgets is unusually long.  Maybe it’s because I installed Visual Studio 2010 recently?  I don’t know but it’s painful to use.  A memory upgrade is very tempting on it for less than $50 but if I’m not going to be using it often, it seems like a waste.  My MacBook Pro on the other hand (for just over $50) might be a good idea to future proof it, especially if I run Virtualbox or perhaps Parallels.  Parallels can use the existing Boot Camp partition which is another reason I went ahead with the Boot Camp install.

 

Boot Camp

Today I decided to try out Boot Camp.  That is a software that comes with Mac OS X and allows a person to install Windows 7.  I downloaded the instructions from Apple’s website and used the Boot Camp Assistant, found in the Utilities folder to get going.  I still really don’t know where the Utilities folder is but fortunately Spotlight, a search feature in OS X, knows how to find it.

You’re supposed to start with checking for updates but since I just did that a couple of days ago, I went ahead and skipped to step 2.  Boot Camp Assistant gives you the option to install Windows from a USB flash drive if you already have a Windows 7 ISO image.  I already burned a disk with Windows 7 Professional with Service Pack 1 so I skipped that.

I went ahead and downloaded the Windows Support Software.  That is a bunch of drivers that Apple put together so Windows will be able to utilize the various things on a Mac such as its specific graphics card, sound card, etc.  It gives you the choice to download it and burn it to a CD or DVD or put it on an external drive.  I chose to put it on a USB drive.  It’s a rather big download and I thought it stalled out after waiting quite a while.  I cancelled it and restarted the download but it appeared to stall again.  I left it and Googled it on my dv4i and found a few people also found it to take quite a while but found it will finish if you just leave it alone.  So I did.  The part where it didn’t appear to be doing anything was when the progress bar was about ¾ full.  I looked up network activity and while it was over 3 Mb/s for the first ¾, it went to virtually nothing afterwards.  After about 30-45 minutes of “not doing anything,” it finished.  What I believed happened is that it downloaded it to the hard drive and spent that 30-45 minutes writing it the USB drive.  My USB drive is a cheapo drive from Micro Center and is pretty slow, especially when writing to it and very especially if there are many small files involved.  The Windows Support Software is 1.08 GB and has 1,120 files in 99 folders.  That’s why it took so long to write to it.

Unfortunately there is no drive light indicator on the Mac so there is no way to tell if any access is going on.  Perhaps there’s a way to do so in software but I haven’t stumbled upon it yet if there is.  That keeps Mac users from doing what Windows users do – complain about the constant disk activity when its noticed.

The next step was to partition the disk.  I spent quite a while trying to think of how much disk space to give it as Boot Camp doesn’t natively seem to support resizing (though there does seem to be other software out there that can).  I’m leaning towards keeping the 15” MacBook Pro and eventually replacing both my desktop and my laptop with it.  I would ideally like to switch OS X as much as I practically can for day to day things.  With that in mind, I chose to give it 65 GB, about ¼ of a hypothetical 256 GB drive (in case I upgrade to an SSD of that size).  In case you’re wondering, it wouldn’t let me choose 64 GB.

As a side note, Amazon is selling Crucial SSD drives with 6 Gb/s throughput right now for:

  • 64 GB        $ 79.99
  • 128 GB    $ 119.99
  • 256 GB    $ 205.29
  • 512 GB    $ 399.00

Windows installed without a hitch.  I immediately installed the Support Software and although it warned me about a failed installation, that warning seemed to go away after rebooting.  I think the reason was it installed USB 3.0 drivers while I was installing the software from the USB drive (I later found that wasn’t he case – I don’t know what the cause is).  I should have copied it to the hard drive and installed it from there.  A look at the device manager revealed no yellow exclamation marks.

Now remember, I installed Windows 7 Professional with Service Pack 1.  There were still over 80 updates in the first of many rounds of checking for updates.  The number of restarts bordered on ridiculous.  I look forward to seeing if Apple makes you reboot as much on the Mac side.  There was a time I restarted and it just did a little something and then restarted itself again.  There was another time that I made it to the desktop and it said I had to restart to continue installing the update (right after a restart).  Like I said, ridiculous.

I installed Microsoft Security Essentials.  I’ve read some decent things about it in reviews so I thought I’d give it a try since it’s free.  I normally install Avast! on my machines.  No product catches everything and products go up and down in ratings.  In the end, no program can save you from yourself.  You have to do your part when it comes to computer security.

It’s too late to do much else today but I do want to note one more thing.  The MacBook Pro normally runs cool or perhaps a bit warm.  When I was in Windows 7 on it, it got HOT.  I mean EXTREMELY hot!  You could fry an egg on the bottom if you turned it upside down.  I know I read that Windows can only see the discrete graphics card and not the integrated one so it is always running with it.  That means the battery life suffers if not running on AC.  I’ll be testing the power draw tomorrow (I added it to a previous post).  The problem seems to be that the fan isn’t being turned on.  I Googled the problem and some posts mentioned a Mac program called “smcfancontrol” that seems to help but you have to boot to OS X, set it, and then boot to Windows.  It would work but it’s inconvenient.  Fortunately someone else posted a link to a Windows program called Lubbo’s MacBook Pro Fan control.  It’s an open source program that lets you set the minimum and maximum fan speeds.  For my particular computer, it turns out that there is a left and right fan.  The left side is where the heat is so turning the fan up on that side solves the problem.  It reads temperatures and is designed to keep the computer within a certain range (which you can set) but unfortunately it doesn’t read the CPU temperature correctly.  It says it’s stuck at the maximum, 90 degrees C.  Speccy, a different software, says the CPU is about 54 degrees right now.  That means I have to manually control the fan but it’s definitely better than nothing.  I guess the plan right now is to keep the left fan at about 4500 rpm normally, which keeps the GPU in the low 40s.  If I were to play a game that taxes the GPU, I will probably have to set it higher, perhaps all the way to the maximum (6000 rpm).  When setting both fans to maximum, I notice the noise but honestly, they’re really not that loud.  My desktop is easily louder when it’s being taxed and I would say my HP dv4i laptop is too.  Since the MacBook Pro is made of aluminum, the heat can dissipate through the body easier than it can through the plastic of my HP.

I have to decide on which MacBook to keep soon as my 14 days will be up in a jiffy.  The 15” is certainly heavier, to the point where it’s really noticeable when carrying it compared with the 13”.  It’s also much larger; the 13” is just right size as far as portability goes.  Having the 15” (at least on the Mac side) beat out my desktop in both CPU and GPU performance makes me think it would be a better gaming machine for current and future games.  I bought Portal 2 a while back but haven’t played it yet.  Since it’s available for both the Mac and PC, perhaps I can try it out to see if I can tell a difference.  Maybe there’s a frame rate tester demo for it.  That would be interesting to check out.  Having such a steep price is still hard to swallow for the 15” though.  The $600 lower price tag of the 13” is quite appealing.

Incidentally, I love Google Docs.  I originally typed this journal into it and find it is pretty cool with its autosave feature.  Having it available across multiple machines is quite nice too!

 

Benchmarks

I downloaded Cinebench 11.5, a benchmarking software which is available for both OS X and Windows 7.  I was thinking if the Windows side doesn’t turn out as well as I think it should, then I might just return the 15″ and keep the 13” for its portability and stick to the desktop for more serious gaming.  I figured the CPU would be better in the MacBook Pro but the two year old discrete graphics card in the dv4i would be better than the integrated graphics in the Pro.  Boy was I wrong.

Computer

OpenGL

CPU

HP Pavilion dv4i

8.54 fps – discrete

1.29 fps – integrated

2.17 pts

13” MacBook Pro – OS X

17.33 fps

2.88 pts

13” MacBook Pro – Windows

17.25 fps

2.89 pts

15” MacBook Pro – OS X

34.97 fps

6.22 pts

15” MacBook Pro – Windows

43.67 fps

6.22 pts

HP Pavilion a6720y

29.39 fps

2.46 pts

The 13” smoked the dv4i in graphics performance and did a bit better in CPU speed.  By comparison, the 15” bested the 13” as expected.  The graphics auto-switches in the 15” so I cannot test the integrated graphics separately.  The CPU score was much higher.  That i7 quad core really seems to shine.

I also put my three year old desktop in for comparison.  It has an ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card (introduced late 2009) and much to my surprise, the 15” Pro beat it in the OpenGL test.  Laptop graphics really have come a long way.  The a6720y has a 2.2 GHz AMD Phenom X4 9550 quad-core processor but unlike the 15” Pro, the former only has 1 thread per core (4 threads total) whereas the Pro has 2 threads per core (8 threads total).  It seems even the 13” Pro is quicker in CPU performance than my desktop.  The 15” Pro just blows it away.

So in short, the 15” Pro can truly be a desktop replacement for me (aside from any Windows specific issues I may come across).  The 13” Pro can’t compete with the desktop in terms of graphics performance even though it comes out ahead in CPU performance.

As long as I’m talking about speed, let me mention the Pros come in and out of standby really fast.  It can come out of standby pretty much as fast as my other computers turn their screen back on after being in Power Save mode.

That makes me think of power consumption.  Here’s the peak wattage used according to my Kill A Watt.  The laptops are measured by themselves.  I measured the computer both with its peripherals (router, external hard drive, external speaker system, and both monitors on) and also by itself.

Computer

idle

OpenGL test

CPU test

HP Pavilion dv4i

19 W

45 W

53 W

13” MacBook Pro – OS X

9 W

36 W

31 W

13” MacBook Pro – Windows 7

15 W

48 W

37 W

15” MacBook Pro – OS X

15 W

58 W

59 W

15” MacBook Pro – Windows 7

22 W

66 W

67 W

HP Pavilion a6720y (with peripherals)

204 W

263 W

266 W

HP Pavilion a6720y (computer only)

136 W

194 W

207 W