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Mac Magic

Monday, October 4, 2004;

This is a bye week for my Web chats, so you can be productive this afternoon (or not), and I can waste my time reading random blogs instead of typing away like a madman for an hour and a half. Sound good? I thought so too.

My question of the week is for readers in the Washington area; your answers can help us do a better job with this fall's guide to wireless phone service. The question is simple: Where does your phone often lose service? Tell me the location (if it's in a high-traffic area where you wouldn't expect to find a dead zone, so much the better) and your carrier. Send your tips to rob@twp.com; the wireless plan guide will run in a few weeks.

_____Recent E-letters_____
The (Wireless) Dead Zones (washingtonpost.com, Oct 11, 2004)
Not-So-Portable Media Center and Mozilla's Thunderbird Update (washingtonpost.com, Sep 27, 2004)
Apple's iMac G5 and Mozilla's Firefox Update (washingtonpost.com, Sep 20, 2004)
E-letter Archive

iMac G5 Processor Settings

I have a few Mac-specific follow-ups this week -- one on a recent review, one on a rather old one. Among all the e-mail I received in response to my review of the iMac G5 two weeks ago, one of the first to catch my eye was one asking if I had adjusted the processor-speed settings on the computer to switch them to the "Highest" performance option.

Of course, I had not. I hardly ever change the default settings on something I review, since few people will do the same in their own day-to-day use. Plus, I figured, why would this setting -- accessible by opening the Energy Saver system-preferences window, then clicking its "Options" button -- make any difference in performance? The normal setting, "Automatic," would ensure that a task that needed more processing power would get it, right?

Wrong. As the Mac-news site Macintouch reported this week, changing that setting can offer a dramatic boost in performance -- on the order of 40 percent in its benchmark tests. Now, benchmark tests being what they are, that may not add up to much in everyday use. Most computer processors, PC or Mac, spend the vast bulk of their lives barely idling; browsing the Web, reading e-mail and playing MP3s don't exactly quicken the pulse of a Pentium or a PowerPC.

But if you plan on editing large JPEG files or making your own movies, the extra speed available with this option will make a big difference. The one tradeoff of selecting "Highest" processor performance is more noise from the fan, which can never enter its quietest modes. Even then, though, it's no more annoying than any PC desktop, and less annoying than a good lot of them (say, the IBM desktop in front of me).

I suspect that Apple will stop the "Automatic" setting from slowing things down so much in a second iteration of iMac G5 models or, maybe even sooner, in a software or hardware tweak. But in the meantime, this trick might save iMac users a lot of waiting time when they work on their next production in iMovie.

.Mac Boosts E-mail Storage

My second Apple note of this week: The company has finally discovered there's such a thing as Gmail and Yahoo Mail! Make that, it's finally noticed that its users can get 100 megabytes or more of Web-mail storage for free, while its $100/year .Mac service -- for all its other benefits -- had offered a scant 15 megabytes of online mail storage.

Last week, just in time for the first .Mac subscribers to start paying their annual renewals, Apple upped the .Mac mail quota to a potential maximum of 250 megabytes. This storage is normally split 50/50, with half reserved for .Mac messages and the other half going towards a user's iDisk online file-storage space, but you can adjust it either way.

Apple also added spell-checking to the .Mac Web-mail interface, as well as an option allowing users to set up mail aliases to hand out to people you might not trust with your real account (for instance, you could create a "junkmailforme@mac.com" address and use that when you buy things online). All of these changes make .Mac look like a much better deal than it did a few weeks ago, when it was in danger of becoming as uncompetitive as it was when Apple first began charging for the service.

RSS Recommendations

Lastly, I will pass along two reader recommendations for RSS (Really Simple Syndication) newsreader programs, suggestions I got after asking if anybody could name a decent RSS client for Windows. Both are free, open-source downloads; both seem fairly cleanly designed, and both... well, I haven't spent enough time with either to make up my mind on which one I like better.

The first program is called FeedReader (Win 95 or newer); the other is named RSSOwl (Win 98 or newer, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris). I'll try to get some more use out of them, and you may yet see one of them show up on our reviews page in the coming weeks.

Shameless self-promotion: If you're interested in setting up an RSS feed of my column, check out the RSS button on the left side (under the ad) of the current Fast Forward review of the new BlackBerry, or check out washingtonpost.com's RSS resource page.

-- Rob Pegoraro (rob@twp.com)

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