Apple tweaks MacBooks, Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme and keyboards

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Chicago (IL) – Apple’s
announcements yesterday (and here) weren’t just about desktop refreshes that
updated the hardware inside iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro, bringing them in sync with
reality. The company also slipped through other less headline-making product
refreshes with welcome new features. For example, the CPU clock inside
some Mac notebooks has been bumped up slightly, for the same price. In
addition, an SSD upgrade is now available across the entire Mac notebooks
lineup. Apple also updated wireless base stations with remote disk
sharing, guest networking and dual-band features. Finally, the company
added a new compact wired keyboard model without numeric keypad which now ships by the default with new iMacs.

SLIDESHOWS:

Apple keyboards 2009 March lineup
(9 images)

Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme
March 2009 lineup
(10 images)

 

Time Capsule/AirPort Extreme:  Dual-band, remote drive sharing, guest networking

AirPort
Extreme and Time Capsule base stations have now been given updated hardware to
enable three new features: Simultaneous dual-band mode, remote drive
sharing and guest networking. The enhanced dual-band mode enables base stations to
simultaneously connect with wireless gadgets operating at both
slower 2.4GHz (802.11 b/g) and faster 5GHz (802.11n) bands, which is unlike
previous models that wouldn’t operate on both bands simultaneously.
Instead, users could run a base station in either mode, essentially
choosing between greater compatibility while sacrificing overall
network speed, or by maximum performance and preventing slower wireless
devices from connecting.

“Instead of choosing one of the bands, Time Capsule [and AirPort Extreme] now operates
simultaneously on both bands, and your multiband devices automatically
use the best available band,”
said Apple. “This means all your Wi-Fi devices get the
fastest possible wireless performance and the best possible range.”

While
it would be easy to dismiss dual-band as a barely noteworthy addition, anyone with an
iPhone + Mac or Apple TV setup will quickly learn to appreciate this new feature.
No longer will the performance of your wireless network degrade because
the base station is forced to choose the 2.4GHz “mixed mode” in order to
accommodate to a slower iPhone or iPod touch, preventing your Apple TV from smoothly streaming a HD movie from iTunes
Store.


DUAL-BAND:  THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
The new Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme feature updated circuitry that can operate at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, meaning maximum performance at all times — even if a slower 802.11b/g device like iPhone connects to your network. The two gadgets also work with all Mac and Windows desktops and notebooks, as well as iPhones and iPod touches.


Remote drive sharing is really handy, but it needs a $99/year MobileMe subscription to work. The feature enables MobileMe
subscribers to remotely access files stored on a built-in Time Capsule
drive, or to an external drive hooked up to a AirPort Extreme base stations
at their homes, simply by registering a base station with their
MobileMe account. The procedure makes the authorized station’s drive appear
in the OS X Leopard’s Finder sidebar just like other attached drives,
enabling you to access remote files from anywhere over the Internet.
Apple says that it’s “like having your own personal file server wherever you go.” We’d add that it’s like getting a 500GB/1TB iDisk in your MobileMe account. [Admittedly the data there is only accessible at broadband speeds which are typically less than 1 MB per second. This compares to conventional hard drives which typically access data in excess of 10 MB per second on average, with bursts up to 40 MB per second or more. Hard drive access will also be reduced when using the Internet connection for such things as streaming video or audio, using torrents, or when direct-downloading a file.]

The guest
networking feature enables you to create a secondary network,
password-protected or not, that can be used for Internet-only guest
access while still keeping the rest of your network private. This will
be particularly useful when a friend stops by and demands to connect
his iPhone or MacBook to your network, but you’re reluctant to give him
network credentials. Guest networking also isolates printers, shared
drives and other connected devices from the rest of your network. This
way, you’re completely safe while a friend can still connect to a
network and access the Internet.

You need a new version of AirPort Utility 5.4.1 utility (OS X , Windows) to create a guest network. Apple also posted the AirPort Client Update 2009-01 update
for Intel-based Macs running Mac OS X 10.5.6 that fixes issues with
roaming and network selection in dual-band environments. Note that only updated
Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme models offer the new dual-band, guest
networking and remote drive sharing features. However, the latter will
be enabled on previous-generation Time Capsules and Extreme routers as
well by the means of soon-to-be-released firmware update
7.4.1 for the base station that will add a MobileMe button to the Advanced tab of the base
station’s configuration and thus enable remote drive sharing via
MobileMe.


SHARE DRIVES OVER THE INTERNET
The new remote drive sharing feature pairs up with your paid MobileMe account to let you access the contents of a hard drive attached to the AirPort Express or Time Capsule over the Internet, as if it were a local drive.


As before, the new Time Capsule comes in two flavors,
depending on the size of a built-in server-grade hard drive: a 500GB
model for $299 and a 1TB model for $499. The gadget also works in
tandem with OS X Leopard’s Time Machine feature to enable automated
wireless backups of an entire system, including the ability to travel
back in time to retrieve deleted files. The new AirPort Extreme sells
for $179, as before.

Both Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme also pack an
802.11n router, support up to 50 simultaneous users on a network, have
four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and one USB port for wireless printer or
hard drive sharing. Unfortunately, neither of the two base stations
yet support wireless music streaming to an external speaker via
AirTunes feature found on their wall socket adapter-sized AirPort
Express counterpart.


TIME CAPSULE PORTS
Updated Time Capsule and AirPort Extreme wireless base stations both support up to 50 clients on a network and feature four Gigabit Ethernet ports and a USB port to wirelessly share printers and drives attached to it. You can also hook up a printer and an external hard drive via USB hub to share them at the same time. 

Read on the next page:The new compact wired keyboard, higher-clocked CPUs in some Mac notebooks, SSD upgrades across entire MacBook lineup.

New compact wired keyboard

Apple also
tweaked its aluminum keyboard by adding a new compact wired keyboard
model which lacks a numeric keypad. The new compact keyboard sports
similar dimensions and keys configuration as the wireless model.
Apple’s aluminum keyboard line now looks as follows: The new wired
compact keyboard ($49), full-size wired keyboard ($49) and compact
Bluetooth-enabled wireless keyboard ($79). What’s lacking, though, is
full-sized wireless keyboard that we hope Apple will soon add to
complete the picture. Wired and wireless Mighty Mouse still sell at $49
and $69 respectively.

Prospective buyers of new iMacs should
note Apple no longer ships new all-in-one desktops with full-sized
wired keyboard as before. Instead, customers get the compact wired
keyboard by the default, but it can be replaced with full-sized wired
model at no additional cost if you’re purchasing your new iMac at the
Apple online store
. New Mac minis ship without a keyboard and a mouse,
but online shoppers can fit the computer with the wireless Mighty Mouse
and wireless keyboard bundle for an extra $129, which is a saving of $19 over their retail
prices. The new Mac Pros ship with full-sized wired keyboard and wired
Mighty Mouse by default. Note that both wired keyboard models sport two USB ports on each side while the wireless model does not.


SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
New iMacs ship with Apple’s new compact wired keyboard that lacks numeric keypad, although it can be swapped for a full-sized wired model at no additional cost.

A faster high-end MacBook Pro, SSD upgrade now for all Mac notebooks

The
high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro model now comes with a 2.66 GHz CPU, up
from 2.53 GHz before, which brings the notebook in line with the new
entry-level 24-inch iMac model in terms of CPU clock. You can also
build-to-order this MacBook Pro model with a 2.93 GHz CPU for an extra
$300, up from previous 2.8 GHz build-to-order option. With this CPU
upgrade, your MacBook Pro matches mid-range 24-inch iMac model that
also costs $300 more than the entry-level 24-inch model.

The CPU inside
the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro is still clocked at the same 2.4 GHz
as before and cannot be upgraded. The move also brings high-end 15-inch
MacBook Pro in line with 17-inch model that also runs a 2.66 GHz CPU,
with a 2.93 GHz upgrade for an extra $300. Apple now also offers SSD
upgrade options to all Mac notebooks, not just 17-inch MacBook Pro as
before, with an exception of the white 13-inch MacBook model. SSD
upgrades will set you back $300-$450 for a 128GB SDD or $750-$900 for a
256GB SSD upgrade, depending on the Mac notebook model.


MORE SPEED AND SSD UPGRADES ACROSS THE LINE
Apple bumped up CPU clock in high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro and made SSD upgrades available across entire MacBook lineup, sans the 13-inch white MacBook model.

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