I’ve recently added a new non-spinning disk to my system and decided to give Lion’s disk recovery system a try: how did it actually perform, where were there problems, and how were they resolved?
I was incredibly impressed with the general functionality of the Internet-based recovery mechanism. After adding the new disk I was asked to connect to a local wireless network and then basic recovery data was streamed into RAM. From there I successfully downloaded and installed the OS, and restored files and settings from encrypted network storage. Total time to restore the OS and about 200GB of data: 3.5 hours.
Were there any problems? Yes, though only one is truly significant to my mind. While the password for logging into the OS remained the drive encryption that I’d set up through the OS (i.e. Filevault 2) had to be re-intitialized. When I attempted to do so I received warnings that the disk could not be encrypted.
This constituted a major problem for me.
The solution was relatively simple, though annoying. Apparently the Internet-based recovery process fails to install a recovery partition on the disk. Without this partition Filevault 2 cannot be enabled. The solution was to reinstall Lion from within the OS. This doesn’t change any settings and, effectively, is just used to create the disk-based recovery partition. After the partition is set up Filevault 2 can be enabled without a problem.
I don’t have a particular issue with having to jump through some hoops to re-enable the disk encryption. I do, however, have issues with the fact that there are no warnings that this security setting isn’t enabled/carried through when re-installing Lion and importing data and settings from a Time Capsule. In effect, if I wasn’t poking around settings to ascertain whether they had been carried over I likely would have never known that the disk hadn’t been encrypted. This is a particularly serious information flow error as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully Apple will integrate some kind of a notice system in the future to alert users about which settings were and were not carried over, as well as more verbosity concerning why Filevault 2 cannot be enabled after an Internet-based OS restoration.
A recent Ars Technica article got me interested in a neat piece of donation-ware called gfxCardStatus. See, contemporary 15” Macbook Pros have two GPUs. One is discrete and the other is integrated. The theory is that when you’re on battery power you’re more likely to hop over to the integrated GPU to save battery, though whenever you need the power of the discrete GPU you have a seamless transition over to it.
This is really cool in principle. Unfortunately it never seems to work out very well.
Ars notes that there are a whole series of frameworks that cause OS X to transition to the discrete GPU. Many of these frameworks are routinely used by such graphic-intense programs as Twitter, Reeder, and Skype. Consequently, if you have these open you don’t enjoy the battery savings associated with the integrated GPU.
The proposed solution is gfxCardStatus, which lets you force the OS to use either the discrete or integrated GPU. You can also let OS X run things and maintain dynamic switching. This is handy: it increased my battery life some by letting me choose the GPU I wanted to run.
The program is less handy insofar as it breaks the ability to use a second monitor. While annoying to troubleshoot in an office setting, it’s incredibly problematic when I can’t connect to a projector when giving a presentation.
I don’t know if this is a regular or abnormal problem. I do know that it’s a deal breaker for me: a little more battery life doesn’t - can’t - justify breaking core OS functionality.
Rob Graham has a good look at the challenges facing SandForce controllers - which are used by a large number of the solid state hard drives on the consumer market - as related to disk encryption. I highly recommend reading it but, if you just don’t have the time, here’s the key takeaway: “The problem with a SandForce controller is that all its features are lost when using full disk encryption, but all its downsides remain. Thus, if you plan on using an SSD for your notebook computer, you should plan on getting something other than a SandForce controller.”
It’s a big deal whenever Apple refreshes the design of their products. It isn’t just that the media goes nuts, but that other parties (read: the media) tend to swoon about Apple’s decision and the company’s competitors get ready to ape Apple’s new paradigms.
Unfortunately, the switch to the newly designed Airport Express seems like a terrific step in the wrong direction from a design perspective, while simultaneously being in the right direction from a product alignment perspective. Let me explain.
While some sites have stated that the older Express routers were ‘wall warts’, anyone who’s travelled with one of these routers can speak to their functionality. They were easy to pack, easier to set up, and incredibly reliable. The ‘warts’ were also useful when setting up wifi printing or Airplay functionality at home. In both of these latter cases, it was easy to move the router to where you wanted either the printer or speakers and didn’t necessitate cluttering up the space with unneeded cables.
The new form factor is better visually linked to Apple’s existing routers and Apple TV products. On these grounds, Apple is (arguably) bringing a superior branded identity to the Airport Express line, ensuring that anyone who sees the router will immediately think ‘Apple’. This has significant marketing and branding resonance but, unfortunately, it comes at the expense of device efficiency.
Good design is tightly linked with beauty, usability, and efficiency. In the case of the newest iteration of the Airport Express, Apple has prioritized the corporate image over product efficiency; the Express is a less efficient product on grounds that it assumes more physical space that has previously been needed. The incapacity to link these priorities is suggestive that the newest Apple router is a failed product from a design position, regardless of the popularity or sales of the new iteration.