Why You Don’t Need To Buy A New Computer

by mystered on Mar.02, 2009

Since the new year rolled around, and some of us attended MacWorld, did you feel like you had to go out and buy a new computer? Many of us did not, for various reasons. Probably the biggest reason was, some of us wanted to save money. Another reason, for some, was that Apple dropped some of the ports on their new Mac laptops.I have a perfectly good MacBook Pro, with 4 GB SDRAM, and speedy 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo. The only thing lacking is an adequate hard disk. When I bought my MacBook Pro, the drives available were 120 or 160 GB. Now, there are internal drives available up to 500 GB!

MacBook Pro Upgrade

Are you happy with your MacBook or MacBook Pro, and not ready to let it go to buy a new model? I found I needed more storage, but I did not want to upgrade and lose some features. Apple changed the connector ports that are available, apparently to drive the professionals to buy the Mac Pro desktop models for production work.

I like to edit video, so I use both the nine-pin Firewire 800 port (for 1.5 TB Video RAID) and six-pin Firewire 400 port (for my Sony DVCAM edit deck or a video camera).  My MacBook Pro is last year’s model, with 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo.

apple-logo_926391On Apple’s new MacBook Pro, shown at Macworld January 2009, there is only a single Firewire 800 port, along with two USB  2.0 ports. On the new MacBook, there is no Firewire port, only two USB ports. I think most people will want to keep thier Firewire ports, because this is a great portable digital editing studio.

You could pay up to $2,500 for a new model Mac laptop, or decide to more affordably upgrade your existing, perfectly good Mac laptop for far less.

What do you think most users need? Lots of memory and storage. It is desirable to have as much memory as possible and the largest possible size hard disk. Upgrading from the original 1 or 2 GB SDRAM, to 4 GB of SDRAM is recommended and easily done.


Many MacBook and MacBook Pro owners had an original 80 GB to 200 GB internal drive, which is barely enough to work with. Recently, inexpensive 500 GB drives have come out. The Seagate Momentus 500 GB drive is 5400 rpm, with a 7200 rpm drive coming out. I have always found the most reliable results from Seagate drives. Apple only ships their new MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops with 200, 250 and 320 GB hard drives. A 500 GB drive 7200 rpm drive would be a premium choice for someone using the Mac as a video editing system.


The Seagate drive goes into a USB or Firewire external case, and is connected to your MacBook or MacBook Pro. The software Carbon Copy Cloner is downloaded. Running Carbon Copy Cloner creates a bootable copy of your old system onto the new hard disk. The the two drives need to be exchanged.

The previous MacBook Pro model is the best mobile studio that has been available for portable production. It has a speedy Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I prefer the 15 inch display model, for easier mobile use. You may prefer the 17 inch model, if the attached screen is the only display that you will be using. I selected the 256 MB of VRAM model to drive larger connected screens, rather than 128 MB VRAM model. The desktop version is currently using 512 MB of VRAM, so more is better for certain graphics-dependent applications. The Motion program, games, other applications, and external displays will use this extra VRAM.

macbookprofcpThe only thing better than the old MacBook Pro, is the new MacBook Pro. More hard disk storage, and a better display make the new model even better than previous models.

I attach my MacBook Pro DVI port to a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display. I prefer the smaller size and weight of the 15 inch model when I travel with my MacBook Pro. Both the 15 inch and 17 inch model now provide both a Firewire 800 and Firewire 400 port. I attach my Firewire 800 port to a hard drive, and my Firewire 400 port to my Sony DSR-11 DVCAM edit deck.     I picked the glossy screen version this time, which has not had a problem with glare, at least with my lighting. My previous MacBook Pro had the non-glossy screen.The previous MacBook Pro models had limitations on how much memory you could increase them to. My MacBook Pro now has 4 GB DDR2 SDRAM, my previous had 2 GB of memory.

This MacBook Pro has a 160 GB hard disk (5400 rpm), and my previous one had 120 GB (5400 rpm), which is just barely enough for production. I have to use external Firewire drives (7200 rpm) for production work. I am considering replacing my existing MacBook Pro drive with a 200 GB or 250 GB internal 7200 rpm drive.

Even with the 160 GB hard disk, I did not have enough room for the installation of Soundtrack Pro audio libraries (21 GB), and some other Final Cut Studio 2 goodies. There is plenty of room for Final Cut Pro 6.0.2, Compressor, Motion, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro, and LiveType.

The new MacBook Pro has options of 200 GB to 320 GB of internal storage. Internal SATA hard drives up to 500 GB are now on the market for installation in the older MacBook Pro.
A colorful Speck plastic case will clip onto the MacBook Pro, protecting it from scratches and dings. Safeware Insurance provides peace of mind from theft or breakage. I am more concerned about those things than the hardware failing, which is what Apple Care covers.

The Digital Production Studio

The Digital Production Studio these days finally is able to go portable. All of my previous production workstations had been desktop computers. I am now doing production on a MacBook Pro, and I love the flexibility of the new component approach.

I first started doing digital video producton with a Mac Quadra 840av, with a 8 MB RAID hard disk array and a Radius VideoVision video system. Then, I worked with various PowerPC desktops, the G3, G4 and G5. The Mac laptop G3 and G4 computers never seemed to have the horsepower to be a serious video production suite.

Then, the MacBook Pro and MacBook came along, and I wanted to see what was possible. The first generation MacBooks introduced the Intel Core Duo chip. The second generation of the MacBooks offered the Intel Core Duo 2, reputed to be 39% faster than the previous CPU, and other new options available.

That is when I decided the portable technology was ready to take the place in my studio of the desktop computer. I got the 15″ MacBook Pro, with 2 GB RAM and 120 GB hard disk. I figured I could add other components to build my video production studio.

One of the specifications for digital video is to use 7200 rpm hard drives. The Apple laptops come with only 5400 rpm drives. You can special order other drives, with different hard disk speeds for your laptop. There is a Seagate 100 GB 2.5″ SATA internal hard drive that has a 7200 rpm speed. The largest 2.5″ hard drive is 200 GB, but only spins at 4200 rpm.

I figured that I could always add a larger capacity and faster hard disk later, as technology improved. In the meantime, I figured I could use my Firewire 400/USB 2.0 enclosures, and use various capacity Seagate Barracuda 7200 rpm drives for production. I have a Seagate 300 GB and a Seagate 500 GB installed in low profile aluminum Mobile Disk Firewire 400/USB 2.0 enclosures. This allowed me to migrate some of my older ATA 100 drives from my PowerPC production environment to my new world.

I waited for the second-generation MacBook Pro, partly because the first generation did not have a Firewire 800 port on the 15″ model. Only the 17″ MacBook Pro had the Firewire 800 port. I tried buying a refurbished 17″ first-generation MacBook Pro, because it had both the Firewire 800 and Firewire 400 ports. But, I ended up returning it right away to the Apple online store, because the aluminum casing was so fragile, that it arrived with the case slightly bent. It seemed too large and unwieldy, so I resolved to buy the next generation 15″ MacBook Pro.

The reason that a video production suite needs both the Firewire 800 and Firewire 400 ports, is that you need to have your digital video deck or camera plugged into a Firewire port, and your Firewire capture drive plugged into the other Firewire port. The new family of MacBook Pros now had the basic minimum number of Firewires ports needed.

Video Studio Configuration

In my video production suite, MacBook Pro boots off of a Maxtor 1.5 TB drive. The Maxtor III 1.5 TB drive system is actually two 750 GB hard drives RAIDed together in a nice compact brick with two Firewire 800 ports, a Firewire 400 port, and a USB 2.0 port. The drive array fits nicely under the MacBook Pro, which is lifted up to eye level using a Griffin laptop stand. The MacBook Pro DVI connector is hooked up to a DVIator interface that supports up to 23″ Apple Cinema Display screens. The DVIator interface is needed to supply power and a USB connector to the Apple Cinema Display. A non-Apple monitor does not need this, as it has it’s own power supply. A non-Apple display, like a 19″ or larger Sharp or Sony LCD only requires a DVI to VGA adapter connector hooked up to the MacBook Pro right-side graphics port.

The entry level MacBook Pro offers only 128 MB VRAM, while the upgraded models offer 256 MB VRAM. The 128 MB VRAM system will support up to a 23″ Apple Cinema Display. The 256 MB VRAM models will support the larger higher resolution displays. Either MacBook Pro VRAM version, or even the MacBook, with only shared memory, will support Final Cut Pro and video production. Any of the MacBooks or MacBook Pros can drive an LCD projector or eternal monitor.

More about Firewire standards. Firewire 400 started us off with digital video. Before Firewire, we had other ways to digiitize the media and control the video decks, but it was harder and more expensive to get the quality and workability that you want in a production environment. Digital video components made it much easier than the previous analog video component systems. Firewire 400 (1394a) was great at 400 mbps, and then Firewire 800 (1394b) came along, at 800 mbps.

Firewire 800 uses 9-pin connectors. Firewire 400 uses 6-pin connectors and 4-pin connectors. There are 9-pin to 6-pin cables that let you connect a Firewire 400 drive to a Firewire 800 port. A Firewire 6-pin connector plugs into the right side of a MacBook Pro and the the 4-pin end plugs into a DVCAM edit deck or miniDV camera. A Firewire 9-pin connector can be acquired that plugs into the Firewire 800 port of a MacBook Pro and the 4-pin end plugs into a DVCAM edit deck or miniDV camera. Camera to camera (or edit deck) cloning of digital tapes requires a 4-pin to 4-pin Firewire cable.

Word of caution. There are some new digital video cameras that are popping up that are hard disk recorder based, and use a USB connector. Cameras like the JVC hard disk recorder will not work with Final Cut Pro and a MacBook Pro. USB was not supported as a video digitizing and controlling connector with applications like Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express or iMovie. You will see a message that it is not compatible with the system.

USB 2.0 now supports up to 480 mbps, so it is used for video digitization by some applications like El Gato’s eyeTV.

One of the upgrades that I appreciate is the second-generation MacBook Pros have dual layer DVD recording. That means you can make a 4 hour DVD, instead of only a 2 hour DVD, like the first Mac Intel units. Using a video capture option, eyeTV is a USB TV channel receiver that makes your MacBook into a Tivo-like recorder. Then, you can record the programs on your internal DVD burner.

One of the deciding factors to jump into an Intel Mac was the ability to use Parallels as a Virtual Machine and install Windows XP and Windows applications. This allows me to run MacOS and run Parallels with Windows XP, and turn on a feature called Coherence. This allows me to have both Mac programs and PC programs open on the same computer.