Sunday, November 21, 2010

One Bump in an Otherwise Smooth iMac Upgrade

I recently upgraded my 24" Core 2 Duo iMac to a 27" i7 iMac.

My usual rule of thumb is not to upgrade till the new machine will be twice as fast as the old one. But that rule is getting harder to judge. For a single thread, the i7 is not twice as fast. But with 8 threads (4 cores plus hyper-threading) it definitely has the potential to run much more than twice as fast. The iPhone MacTracker app shows the new machine with a benchmark of 9292 versus the old machine at 3995. I'm not sure what benchmark that's using.

I've been thinking about upgrading for a while but as winter arrives and I spend more time on the computer, I figured it was time. Another motivation for the upgrade was to be able to test the multi-threading in jSuneido better.

I really wanted to get the SSD drive to see how that would affect performance. But that option is still very expensive. Especially since I'd still need a big hard drive as well for all my photographs. So I didn't go for it this time. I'm not sure how big a difference it would have made for me. My understanding is that it mostly speeds up boot and application start times. But I generally boot only once a day and tend to start apps and then use them for a long time. It would be interesting to see how Suneido's database performed on an SSD.

I did upgrade from 4gb of memory to 8gb. Most of the time 4gb is fine, but when I run two copies of Eclipse (Java and C++), Windows under Parallels, Chrome with a bunch of tabs, etc. then things started to get noticeably sluggish. With the new machine things don't seem to slow down at all. And I can allocate more memory and cores to my Windows virtual machine. I also upgraded from a 1tb hard disk to 2tb. I hadn't filled up the 1tb, but I figure you can never have too much hard disk space and the cost difference wasn't that big.

Migrating from one machine to the other went amazingly smoothly and quickly - the easiest migration I've done. With Windows machines I never try to migrate any settings or applications since you need to clean everything out periodically anyway. I'm sure even with OS X there is a certain amount of "junk" accumulating (e.g. old settings) but it doesn't seem to cause any problems.

I used OS X's migration tool but I wasn't sure what method to connect the machines - Firewire, direct network connection, network via LAN, or via Time Machine backup. In the end I went with migrating from the Time Machine backup, partly because it didn't tie up my old machine and I could keep working.

Some estimates from the web made me think it might take 10 or 20 hours to migrate roughly 600gb, but it was closer to 2 hours - nice.

The one speed bump in this process was my working copy of jSuneido. I keep this Eclipse workspace in my DropBox so I can access it from work (or wherever). Because I migrated from a Time Machine backup, my new workspace was a few hours out of date. DropBox on the new machine copied these old files over the newer ones. Then DropBox on the old machine copied the old files over it's newer ones. So now both copies were messed up. No big deal - DropBox keeps old versions, I'd just recover those. Except I couldn't figure out any easy way to recover the correct set of files without a lot of manual work. (I could only see how to restore one manually selected file at a time, with no way to easily locate the correct set of files that needed to be restored.) No problem - I'd get the files back from version control. Except for some reason I couldn't connect to version control anymore. Somehow the unfortunate DropBox syncing had messed up something to do with the SSL keys. Except the keys were still there since I could check out a new copy from version control. Eventually, after a certain amount of thrashing and flailing I got a functional workspace. I still ended up losing about 2 hours of work, but thankfully it was debugging work driven by failing tests and it didn't take long to figure out / remember the changes.

Although the new 27" display is only about 10% bigger than the old 24", the resolution has increased from 1920 x 1200 to 2560 x 1440 - almost a third bigger, and quite a noticeable difference. But because of the higher DPI resolution, everything got smaller. As my eyes get older, smaller text is not a good thing!

After all these years, with all the changes in display sizes and resolutions, you'd think we'd have better ways to adjust font sizes. Most people simply resort to overriding the display resolution to make things bigger, but that's a really ugly solution. But I can see why they do it. There's no easy way in OS X to globally adjust font sizes. You can only tweak them in a few specific places. Windows is actually a little better in this regard, but still not great. And even if you manage to change the OS, you still run into applications that disregard global settings.

And history continues to repeat itself. iPhone apps were all designed for a specific fixed pixel size and resolution. Then the iPad comes along and the "solution" is an ugly pixel doubling. Then the higher resolution retina display arrives and causes more confusion. When will we learn!

Even Eclipse, that lets you tweak every setting under the sun, has no way to adjust the font size in secondary views like the Navigator or Outline. This has been a well known problem in Eclipse since at least 2002 (e.g. this bug or this one) but they still haven't done anything about it. I'm sure it's a tricky problem but how hard can it be? Is it really harder than all the other tricky problems they solve? Surely there's something they could do. Instead they seem to be more interested in either denying there's a problem, arguing about which group is responsible for it, or reiterating all the reasons why it's awkward to fix.

Of course, it's open source, so the final defense is always - fix it yourself. Sure, I'll dive into millions of lines of code and find the exact spot and way to tweak it. I think it might be just a little easier for the developers that spend all there time in there to do it. I won't ask them to fix the bugs in my open source code, if they don't ask me to fix the bugs in their open source code.

On the positive side, Eclipse's flexibility with arranging all the panes virtually any way you want lets me take advantage of the extra space. It's a little funny though, because even with a big font, the actual source code pane is only about 1/3 of the screen. It's nice to have so many other panes visible all the time, but there are times when it would be nice to hide (or "dim") all the other stuff so I could focus on the code.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the upgrade.

Note: No computers were killed in this story :-)  Shelley is taking over my old iMac and her nephew is taking over her old Windows machine.

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