Categories
Apple Computers Software

How to tell if an application is Apple Silicon native

If you are using one of the new M1 Apple Silicon Macs, you may be wondering how to tell if an app you have is optimized for Apple Silicon. There are a couple of ways to deduce this.

  1. Get Info: The first option is to use the “Get Info” option in the Finder. Navigate to the app’s location (usually in /Applications), click on the app, and the use Command-I. Under the “General” heading will be listing for “Kind:”, with three possible options – Application(Universal), Application(Intel), Application (Apple Silicon). The Intel and Apple Silicon options should be self explanatory. The “Universal” option means that the app is a “fat binary”, containing the code for both Intel and Apple Silicon versions. “Fat Binaries” have more coverage than an app compiled for either architectures, but they are also nearly twice the size of a standard binary.
  2. Activity Monitor: If the app is already running, you can open the Activity Monitor (located in /Applications/Utilities). Here you will see a list of all running applications. In the column labeled ‘Architecture’, you will see either Intel or Apple Silicon listed. Activity Monitor shows you the code that is being executed, so even if the application is a fat binary, it will only show the platform code that is currently being run.
Categories
3D Apple Computers

More benchmarks: Blender – MacBook Air M1 vs. MacBook Pro 16″ i9

A few other comparative benchmarks on the new MacBook Air M1 (16GB/512GB configuration), pitted against a MacBook Pro 16” (i9/64GB/4TB/Radeon 5500M-8GB).

Blender (running in Rosetta 2 on the M1). Demo files can be found here.

Fishy Cat (1 frame):

  • MacBook Air M1: 1 min 35 sec
  • MacBook Pro i9: 37 sec

Mr. Elephant (1 frame):

  • MacBook Air M1: 2 min 18 sec
  • MacBook Pro i9: 1 min 13 sec

Racing Car (1 frame):

  • MacBook Air M1: 13 min 22 sec
  • MacBook Pro i9: 8 min 52 sec

Now, of course this is hardly a fair fight. The i9 MacBook Pro has a discrete GPU (in this case, a Radeon Pro 5500M with 8GB). And Blender is being run via Rosetta. But in the wake of the ridiculous walloping all the Intel Macs are receiving by these entry level M1 machines, I thought it’d be nice to share an area where the Intel Macs are still (at least for the moment) worth their money.

Categories
Science

End of a scientific era: So long Arecibo

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, one of the symbols of our scientific search of the cosmos was the Arecibo Observatory, located in Puerto Rico. This huge radio telescope and it’s massive dish was a formidable sight to behold. This telescope has searched the skies for 50 years for the National Science Foundation. In 1974, the telescope was used to transmit the ‘Arecibo Message’, a simple message pointed in the direction of the globular cluster Messier 13 (approx. 25,000 light-years away) built in binary code (0s and 1s) that sent a bitmap image that included numbers, stick figures, chemical formulae and a rendering of the telescope itself.

It was further used later by the SETI and METI projects in the search for extra terrestrial life.

In the last few years it had become damaged, and it has been deemed too risky to repair. So the huge telescope will be destroyed. No one knows if there will be a replacement built in its place.

So pour one out for the iconic telescope. It brought us closer to first contact. It served as an amazing backdrop in a Bond film. It was a symbol of scientific exploration here on earth that will never be forgotten.

Image Credit: Todd Van Hoosear
Categories
Apple Developers Software

Apple reducing App Store commission fee for small businesses

Apple today announced that they will be reducing the App Store commission rate from 30% to 15% for developers who earn less than $1 million USD from the App Store. This comes as Apple has been under pressure from developers like Epic Games and Spotify, who have called Apple’s 30% commission unfair and anti-competitive.

The reduced fees will apply to both app sales and subscriptions. Once a developer’s sales expand beyond the $1 million USD mark, then all additional sales are subject to the 30% rate.

John Gruber writes in his article:

Let’s say a new developer enters the program (and thus qualifies for the 15 percent commission) and their apps are on pace to generate $1.2M in sales. At 15 percent, $1.2M in revenue would generate $1.02M in earnings — putting them over the threshold, so their entire earnings the next year would face a 30 percent commission. If their sales remain flat the next year, the same $1.2M in revenue would earn them only $840K at 30 percent. They’d have to generate $1.5M in revenue to earn the same profit that $1.2M in sales brought them the year before. Basically, if the end of the year draws near and a developer in the Small Business Program has revenue approaching $1.2M, they’re incentivized to pull their apps or reduce their prices to keep from going over the threshold.

John makes an interesting point. The $300k difference between $1.5M and $1.2M means the difference between being able to pay for an entire developer’s salary for a year. For a small business, it’s a legitimate concern.

And kudos to John for finally figuring out that higher taxes on earnings can disincentivize people and businesses from wanting to produce. Though I’m sure the comparison will be lost on him.

Categories
Apple Computers

Apple Silicon Macs are here, and wow.

Ok, I’ll admit my previous post about the release of Apple Silicon powered Macs gave the impression that there wasn’t much exciting about the CPU switch, but boy, was I wrong.

I’ve had my hands on the M1 powered MacBook Air (with 16GB RAM/512GB SSD) for just a few hours now, and after putting it thru it’s paces, I’m floored.

I’ve run two benchmarks – XcodeBenchmark and Bruce X. These are more akin to real world benchmarks. I’m not knocking Geekbench of Cinebench, but these benchmarks involve actual applications that people will use, and actual projects that simulate what real world performance will look like. And after running each of these, and comparing it against my $4400 MacBook Pro 16″ i9/64GB RAM/4TB SSD machine, I’m floored.

Bruce X Benchmark

  • MacBook Pro i9 2.4ghz/64GB/4TB SSD: 16.03 seconds
  • MacBook Air (M1) – 16GB/512GB SSD: 11.69 seconds

XcodeBenchmark

  • MacBook Pro i9 2.4ghz/64GB/4TB SSD: 223.016 seconds
  • MacBook Air (M1) – 16GB/512GB SSD: 127.713 seconds

Again, these are real world benchmarks using real projects for Xcode and Final Cut Pro. And the MacBook Air doesn’t even have a fan. During the Xcode benchmark, the MacBook Pro’s fans spun up and were quite loud. The MacBook Air was dead silent. Of course, during sustained CPU usage the fan will be a benefit, as it will keep the CPU cooler, whereas with the MacBook Air M1, the CPU will throttle down to prevent the computer from overheating.

Here’s another comparison: I have a Logic Pro X project I’m working on that contains about a twenty tracks – 16 of which are audio tracks, the other 4 are software instruments, and of course, there are various effects applied to all the tracks. This project couldn’t play smoothly without stuttering on my MacBook Air 2020 i5 16/512GB machine. On the M1 MacBook Air, it plays as smooth as butter.

App performance isn’t the whole story though. The entire OS feels much faster. Apps (those that are Apple Silicon enabled) open incredibly fast. I’ve only tried a few apps that weren’t optimized for Apple Silicon, and the results have been great. For example, the original Pixelmator, which I still use for day to day graphics tasks, isn’t optimized for Apple Silicon. It opens quickly, and using it feels just as fast and performant as it does on my i9 MacBook Pro. Every app is different, of course, but Rosetta 2 looks like another incredible feat of engineering from Apple.

On the software development front outside of Xcode, things are a different story. There isn’t much of my everyday work toolchain that is ready for Apple Silicon yet. Stuff like HomeBrew, NodeJS, Docker and other web technologies are not quite ready for Apple’s new chip, and anyone who works with these technologies would be advised to wait before upgrading to the new machines.

But for everyone else – come on in, the water is fine.

The short of this is: If you are using your Mac for Xcode, Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro X, you are going to be blown away at what these Macs with the M1 chip are capable of.

Amazon is currently dropping $50 off the price of the M1 powered MacBook Air and Pro.

Categories
Apple Computers

Apple Silicon Macs are here, and meh.

Some quick takeaways from the Apple event today that heralded the release of the first Apple Silicon Macs.

  • Apple is still including 720p cameras in the Air and the 13″ Pro. In the age of COVID where everyone is doing virtual meetings, this is disappointing. I’m not entirely faulting Apple here, as a 1080p camera that can fit in a thin laptop LCD doesn’t exist yet (as far as I can tell, I haven’t seen one in a laptop display). Apple is claiming that the M1 chip can improve the quality of the picture in sharpness and shadows.
  • Apple is using the M1 chip in the Air, 13″ Pro, and the mini. The low end Air is using a 7-core GPU vs. an 8-core GPU in the higher end air. But apart from that, there’s no differentiation given between the models. This falls in line with Apple trying to keep the specs of it’s hardware as vague as possible. But it makes you wonder if the performance of the higher end Air and the 13″ Pro are going to be comparable. The Air doesn’t have a fan, so it will be constrained thermally compared with the Pro, but for workloads that are not sustained, it should be just as powerful as the Pro. We will see once the real world benchmarks start appearing.
  • All three of these machines max out at 16GB of RAM. The RAM is built in to the CPU itself, which should mean RAM throughput should be quite fast. But it also means no user upgradeable RAM (which allowed people buying a Mac mini to save a good bit of money handling the RAM upgrade themselves). For the Air, topping out at 16GB is fine. For the 13″ Pro, it’s acceptable – this is the low end 13″ Pro, after all, the one with only 2 Thunderbolt ports… the real 13″ Pro (with 4 ports and better RAM upgrade options should come later). For the Mac mini, it’s a letdown. You can configure the last Intel Mac mini with up to 64GB RAM. 16GB just isn’t enough to handle things like opening 100GB Photoshop files, or opening Final Cut Pro projects that are several gigabytes in size. Now, maybe Apple has optimized the architecture of these news to more efficiently page out to the SSD, but for real pros, there is no substitute for having ample RAM. I’m anxiously awaiting to see how well these RAM constrained Macs can perform with large files. We will see.
  • None of these Macs can utilize an external GPU. That’s a bummer.
  • The Mac mini is once again available in Silver, and not Space Gray like the last version. I suspect this might be because Apple is going to have a ‘Mac mini Pro’ available at some point in the future, which would (theoretically) have higher RAM options.
  • With Apple utilizing RAM on the chip, they have buyers over a barrel. Apple can charge whatever they want for a RAM upgrade (and at present they are charing a $200 differential between 8 and 16GB). This isn’t going to sit well with many users (myself included). This makes me very nervous for an Apple Silicon Mac Pro or iMac. These machines are geared towards people who usually demand gobs of RAM, and don’t want to pay Apple exorbitant fees. If these machines don’t have user upgradeable RAM, there’s going to a lot of disgruntled Pro users.
  • All three M1 Macs can drive Apple’s 6K display.
  • The M1 Mac mini features two Thunderbolt 3/USB-4 ports, and 2 USB-A ports. This is a downgrade from the last Intel Mac mini’s 4 Thunderbolt and 2 USB-3 ports. No Thunderbolt 4.
  • All the new Macs feature Wifi 6.
  • I’m surprised the Touch Bar survives on the 13″ Pro. I was convinced Apple would drop it. But it seems it does serve a purpose in differentiating the Air from the 13″ Pro. Even with powering the Touch Bar, the 13″ Pro gets significantly better battery life than the Air. A slightly chunkier chassis goes a long way towards more battery capacity.

Apple Silicon looks like it’s going to be extremely competitive with Intel chips on the low end. Hopefully they can outshine Intel on the high end end as well.

Categories
Apple Smartphones

iPhone 12 Pro Review

The iPhone 4/5/SE form factor makes triumphant return.

A few weeks in to using my iPhone 12 Pro, and the one word that’s sticking out to me that I could use to describe Apple’s iPhone’s is consistency. Each yearly upgrade brings a few small changes. Gone are the days when a new release would contain revolutionary features that made it a must have upgrade. The iPhone 12 Pro packs a few notable upgrades in it’s chassis, but if you are using an iPhone Xs or an 11 Pro, there’s not a lot here that’s in the ‘must have’ territory of an upgrade. But what is here is good, so let’s break it down.

5G (finally) arrives

Apple took it’s sweet time with bringing 5G to the iPhone, and I don’t fault them one bit for being one of the last manufacturers to add 5G to their devices. First off, 5G is a battery drain. And while the 5G modems have gotten better with their power consumption, they still draw more power than the 4G modems. Apple tempers this with the ability to use ‘Smart Data’ mode, where the phone intelligently determines if you are performing a task that would benefit from 5G. If you are, then it turns on 5G. If you aren’t, it turns 5G off. Additionally, you can drop back to 4G all the time or force the phone to use 5G all the time. How much 5G affects your battery performance will entirely come down to your usage, and whether or not you are in a 5G capable cell. But the speed increase with 5G can be significant, so it’s a welcome addition.

iPhone 12 vs the 12 Pro

After viewing this years iPhone offerings, I initial thought I was going to go with the iPhone 12 over the 12 Pro. But after having the Pro for a few days, I returned it and opted for the Pro. However, I think that most people will be better served by the iPhone 12.

First off, the two phones form factors are identical. They both can use the same cases. The key differences between the two models comes down to these points:

  • The iPhone 12 weighs less than the 12 Pro. This is primarily due to the 12 using an Aluminum frame, while the 12 Pro uses a Stainless Steel frame. The 12 Pro is a smidge lighter than the 11 Pro, but overall, I preferred the weight of the 12 over the 12 Pro.
  • The screens on each are the same dimensions and resolution. The 12 Pro however, can handle Dolby Vision HDR playback, and boost to a slightly bright setting.
  • The iPhone 12 Pro gains the Telephoto lens. Most people will be served well with the 12’s wide and ultra wide lenses and won’t miss the Telephoto. Being a big camera nerd, the Telephoto lens was one of the key reasons I opted for the Pro.
  • The 12 Pro also has a LiDAR scanner. I could care less about Augmented Reality applications, but the LiDAR scanner plays a big part in helping the 12 Pro cameras focus faster in low light.
  • The 12 Pro is reported to have 6GB of RAM vs 4GB for the 12. The extra RAM will mean more apps can stay open at a time, and you’ll see snappier results when switching from app to app.
  • And finally, the 12 Pro will have the ability (in a later software update) to shoot photos in Apple ProRAW. There’s really no technical reason why the 12 couldn’t do this as well, but Apple feels the need to lock certain features, even if they are software based, to justify the higher cost phone.
  • Color options. The Pro gets you graphite, silver, gold and Pacific Blue (which seems to be the most color judging from the stock outages). The iPhone 12 gets you White, Black, Blue, Green and (Product) Red. The blue is a brighter shade than the Pacific Blue, and is my favorite color out of all this years models. I really wish Apple had used this blue on the Pro. Keeping with last years differenatiation, the iPhone 12 back is glossy with the camera hump using a matte glass, and the 12 Pro back is frosted matte glass and the camera hump is glossy. The 12 Pro Stainless Steel frame is a fingerprint magnet.

So again, being the camera nerd that I am, I opted for the 12 Pro over the 12.

But I suspect that most people don’t care or wouldn’t use the telephoto lens all that often, and would be better server with the iPhone 12.

Cameras

So, if you’re considering the 12 pro over the regular 12, most likely it’s because of the telephoto camera, the (promised) ability to shoot RAW, and the addition of Dolby Vision HDR, a video format that captures more dynamic range (10 bit vs. 8 bit for regular video footage).

Dolby Vision footage does look nice, but be warned that you need a device capable of interpreting and outputting Dolby Vision to see it in action. The iPhone 12 Pro/12 Pro Max can playback video recording with Dolby Vision, and you can stream 4k Dolby Vision to AppleTV. But if you share your Dolby Vision footage to another iPhone user who doesn’t have a 12 Pro/12 Pro Max, they won’t see the increased dynamic range. And uploads to YouTube won’t retain that information either. So while it’s a nice feature, apart from making the footage you shoot look nicer on your phone, you won’t be able to share that improved footage beyond the iPhone 12 Pro phones. I’m sure as time goes on more and more devices will be able to handle Dolby Vision, and maybe even sites like YouTube will accommodate it. But for now, it’s a cool feature that has no real practical application.

MagSafe is reborn

Everyone laments the passing of MagSafe charging cables for the Mac laptops. MagSafe made the power adapter cable magnetically attach to your computer, which made plugging and unplugging a bit easier.

Apple has resurrected the MagSafe brand for the new charging system for the new iPhones. If you’ve used “wireless” chargers, you know their biggest problem is that if you don’t place the phone precisely in the right area, it will not charge. If you have your phone charging next to your bed and accidentally nudge it slightly, you could wake up with a phone that isn’t charged.

MagSafe solves this by using magnets to precisely place the charger in the correct spot on the back of the device. Apple is extending this magnetic attachment to cases and to accessories like the wallet attachment. I’m sure you’ll also see lots of the 3rd party accessories pop up in the future that take advantage of MagSafe. And who knows – maybe MagSafe will return to Macs in the future, or expand to iPads. It certainly fits in with Apple’s push to remove ports when possible.

The downside is there’s a very real possibility a future iPhone might do away with the Lightning Port in favor of all wireless connectivity and charging. I still think there’s plenty of applications beyond charging that require a physical cable, so I’m hopeful this doesn’t happen anytime soon.

Pros

  • 5G is here if you have access to it in your area
  • New “ceramic shield” glass looks to be much strong than prior glass
  • LiDAR helps low light focusing and allows for portrait mode in similar low light conditions.
  • Dolby Vision makes 10 bit video HDR recording possible, albeit with limited playback options.
  • MagSafe is wonderful, so long as it’s not a harbinger for a port less iPhone in the future.

Cons

  • No 90 or 120hz refresh rate displays
  • Battery life is slightly less than the 11 Pro, mostly due to 5G.
  • No more EarPods in the box
  • No more charging brick included in the box (now a $19 accessory)
  • Color options on the Pro are more staid than the iPhone 12 (subjective, I know).
  • Only the 12 Pro Max gets the full sensor shift OIS. 12 Pro Max also gets a ‘longer’ Telephoto lens (65mm vs. 52mm on the Pro).

Summary

The iPhone 12 is the better bargain. The more pocketable weight along with the ‘grippier’ feel of the phone makes it the better feeling phone for most people. However, if you use your iPhone as a content creation tool, and feel you need the telephoto lens and video/software improvements (like Dolby Vision and ProRAW), along with the increase in RAM, the 12 Pro is a great tool that won’t disappoint. Users on the X or Xs will see the most benefit in upgrading. If you already have an 11 Pro, there’s not a lot here for you to upgrade to. You are better off waiting for 2021, which will include all the features in the 12 Pro, and possibly 120hz refresh rates.

Categories
Apple Computers Software

Thoughts on Apple Silicon

WWDC has come and gone, and the rumors were largely true: Apple will begin a migration to its own CPUs (which Apple is currently just calling ‘Apple Silicon‘) sometime later this year. This move had been rumored for a few years now, so it came as a surprise to absolutely no one. Apple has long strived to control the entire widget, and with this move, it will remove Intel from the product matrix, giving Apple near total control over it’s Mac’s technological composition.

Now, Apple didn’t say anything about future Macs, apart from telling us they will use Apple Silicon. But if you watched enough technical presentations from WWDC, and paid attention to some of the details, there are some pretty obvious tells.

One of the biggest tells was Apple declaring in their keynote video that future Apple Silicon based Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps directly. These apps will be available in the Mac App Store automatically, unless Developers check a box that will restrict them from appearing there. Now, many iPad apps have been gaining mouse/trackpad input support, so these apps running on an Apple Silicon Mac will probably perform as good on a Mac as they will on an iPad. But what about iPhone apps? These apps generally do not have input device support beyond touch. How will these apps function on a Mac?

Touchscreen Macs.

Apple has been saying for a decade that adding touch input to a Mac was a bad idea. But during that same time, Apple has brought mouse/trackpad/keyboard/pen input to the iPad, something it said was best controlled with touch. So all the while Apple has been claiming that the Mac with a touchscreen would be a terrible compromise, they were bringing the Mac-ness of using a keyboard/mouse/pen to the iPad. So it clearly thinks that an iPad with expanded input support beyond touch is now a good idea.

If you’ve used the macOS Big Sur beta, you’ve no doubt noticed some of the big changes to the user interface/experience. Much of the UI looks more like iPad OS now. Apple is pushing for the Macs icons to use the same ‘squircle’ shape that the iPad/iOS use. It’s made the menu bar’s top items more spaced out, as if to allow for a larger touch target. They’ve applied the same spacing to the menu bar icons as well. The modal save/don’t save/cancel dialogs now feature larger buttons, as if to accommodate fingers instead of mouse cursors.

Control Center in macOS Big Sur. It sure does look like a lot of these UI elements are optimized for touch, doesn’t it?

So basically, Apple has made numerous UI enhancements that all seem to drive towards one goal – better input with something as imprecise as a finger.

Now, maybe we won’t get touch support when the first Macs with Apple Silicon ship later this year. Nobody knows which Macs will go first, but if it is a Mac with a built in screen, there’s a strong likelihood that it will feature a touchscreen.

There’s one other observation I’d like to make. Just a few years ago, Craig Federighi said during a keynote that Apple was not merging iOS and macOS. Well, they may both remain distinct OSes particular to their own hardware, but Apple has definitely gone just about as far as merging them as you can go without actually merging them.

The Proof:

  • iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur share a common design language.
  • With Apple Silicon, you can now develop for both platforms in one app codebase, using SwiftUI.
  • You can easily bring your UIKit iPad app over to the Mac, thanks to the work of project Catalyst.

And if the above two scenarios don’t work for your iPad app scenario, you can just run the iPad app as-is on your Apple Silicon based Mac.

Now, there are still some major distinctions between the two platforms. For instance, the iPad still lacks a window manager. It is reliant on the App Store for installing new apps. The iPad security model is more restricted than the Macs. It doesn’t have legacy hardware support for the devices like the Mac does. There is still a feature chasm between the two platforms. But that chasm has grown considerably smaller. It’s small enough now that comparing the high end of the iPad (the iPad Pro), and the low end of the Mac (Macbook Air), can make choosing one of these devices for a particular task difficult. Once the Macbook Air/Pro can run all of the same software that you can run on an iPad, along with software that’s not restricted to the App Store, the chasm will be even smaller between the two platforms.

That sure does sound like the two products have merged to me.

Oh, and one final thought. The TouchBar is a goner. There was no mention of any improvements to the TouchBar API during WWDC. With touchscreen capability coming to future screen enabled Macs, the TouchBar becomes relegated to the long list of Apple technologies that never quite made sense.

Now, if we could just get Apple to add the AppleTV remote to that list.

Categories
Computers Software

Intel NUC and Linux for Web Development

More and more over the years, I find myself using Linux for day to day development. And why not? Most of the tools I use are available for Linux, and Linux is free and totally customizable. But can a developer who has long used macOS for his day to day tasks cut it on a Linux system? Let’s find out.

Tools

First, let’s cover what I use in my day to day work. Being a web developer, the tools I use daily consist of:

  • Visual Studio Code for my IDE. Sometimes, I use Sublime Text. But for the last year, it’s been 95% Visual Studio Code.
  • Docker for virtualization of development environments.
  • Slack for team communication and collaboration.
  • Google Meet and the G-Suite for all of the company daily meetings and document and file sharing. We make extensive use of Google’s web apps – Docs and Sheets, primarily.
  • My employers online tool is the Atlassian suite of products – Jira, Confluence and Stash. Being web based, using these on Linux isn’t an issue.
  • Various assortment of command line utilities including Docker, PHP, Ruby, NodeJS, Python, MySQL and MongoDB.
  • Chrome/Chromium, Firefox for browsing.

So every bit of software I use daily is available for Linux, and generally works as well as it does on a Mac. Visual Studio Code and Slack are both Electron apps, and while they work well on Linux, there’s a couple of caveats I’ll get to later in the article which you will want to be mindful of.

Hardware

I first gave this workflow a test run using an older i7/6700k based desktop machine I’ve had for awhile. It was plenty powerful for what I run, and felt confident that I didn’t need a machine with a dedicated GPU, and could instead get by with something small and power efficient, so long as it had sufficient RAM (32Gb) and decent CPU performance. The Intel 10th generation i5 NUC fit that bill. I opted for 32GB of RAM (2 x 16GB SO DIMMS). I could have gone whole hog with 64GB of RAM, but I think for my needs, 32GB is plenty of headroom. I went with a Crucial P1 1TB SSD. It’s not the fastest PCI NVMe SSD in this class, but it was much cheaper than the Samsung EVO, and offered plenty of performance for a coding workstation.

I already had a couple of LG 4K Displays I was intending to use for this setup, but, as I’ll explain later, I had to use a different solution with this system.

Setup of the hardware is simple. You remove four screws on the bottom of the NUC, and pull of the bottom. You have 2 DIMM slots in which to install the RAM, and the NVMe slot for the SSD. I opted for the tall version of the NUC chassis, so I could also install a 2.5″ SSD later on if I so desired.

After installation, I powered up and installed Ubuntu Linux 20.04. Ubuntu has long been my distro of choice, and the 20.04 release is one of the best releases of this OS ever. Upon booting up, I checked that the Wifi and graphics worked OK, and then opted to do minimal install. This is one of the things I’ve come to appreciate with Ubuntu in the last few releases. I don’t need or want all the bloatware of an office suite and a dozen other tools I’ll never use. The minimal install option allows me to get the basic system and a browser running quickly, at which point I can install only the things I’ll need.

Quirks

This setup was not without it’s issues. First, was my monitor. I have an LG 27″ 4K display I intended to use with this machine. Running at 100% or 200% scaling works fine. Ubuntu/Gnome has had fractional scaling for a few releases, but it’s far from perfect. Unfortunately, the area it suffers the most is with Electron apps, of which both Visual Studio Code and Slack are. Both will randomly switch to 100% scaling, which means their interfaces get really small. This can be fixed with a restart of the app, but it happens frequently, so it’s annoying.

The other issue with the 4K display happened when trying to play back videos on YouTube in 4K. They weren’t super choppy, but they weren’t super smooth either. The Intel UHD integrated graphics in the Intel NUC10I5FNH1 seem to struggle in Linux beyond a 1080p display resolution. In addition to the video issues, the UI in GNOME wasn’t smooth either. Ditching the 4K panel and instead using an older Dell 24″ 1080p display returned video and UI responsiveness to acceptable levels.

So now things are setup and running smoothly. I’ve passed my first day of using this system for work, and I’m pretty happy with it. I’m not surprised that both VS Code and Slack run so well on Linux. I had tried both of these apps on Linux prior to going down this route, since they are the core of my toolset. And of course, all the command line tools I use work just as well on Linux as they do on MacOS, even if sometimes (Docker) they are a bit more involved to install and setup.

The only area that’s currently giving me a bit of grief is with the VPN. My company uses Pulse Secure to connect to our VPN, and while there is a Linux Pulse VPN client, it relies on several package dependencies that are abandoned and have not been updated for Ubuntu 20.04. I’m currently using OpenConnect in it’s place, and while it does work, it’s not nearly been as stable and as consistent as Pulse VPN was on my Mac. I’ll post an update once I get this bit ironed out.

So far, the biggest inconvenience I’m encountering is my lack of 1Password for Linux. I use it on all my iOS devices and Macs, and have everything synced thru iCloud. Those aren’t options on Linux unfortunately. I’ve used Enpass before, and it’s an OK cross platform solution, but since I’ve ditched Dropbox for iCloud, there’s no real way to keep the Linux machines and the iOS devices in-sync.

Are you using Linux for your day to day work? What challenges are you experiencing in your workflow? Have you felt the pros outweigh the cons? Let me know down below in the comments.

Categories
Audio Videography

Comica Boom X-D D2 versus Rode Wireless Go

Comparable wireless systems in price, with a clear value winner.

If you are looking at the Comica Boom X-D D2, you are probably also looking at the Rode Wireless Go as well and trying to decide between the two. While about the same price, the Comica Boom X-D D2 offers more bang for your buck. First, you are getting 2 transmitters in this set, versus the 1 transmitter with the Rode Wireless Go. Additionally, you are getting an LCD display on each transmitter on the Comica Boom X-D. The LCD transmitter shows battery strength and signal output. The Rode Wireless Go transmitter has 2 blue LED lights – one for battery (which only tells you if the battery is active, it doesn’t relay how much or how little battery you have left on the transmitter), and it’s pairing status with the receiver. Additionally, Comica includes 2 lavalier microphones in the set. This allows you to hit the ground running recording interviews and other multi person situations. You’ll have to purchase the lavalier microphones separately if you go with the Rode Wireless Go. Both systems come with dead cats (fuzzy attachments to dampen wind noise) for the units, but the Comica Boom X-D dead cats are easier to attach and have a more solid connection than the Rode Wireless Go, which is constantly being knocked off when I use it. 

The Comica Boom X-D’s wireless range isn’t quite as long as the Rode Wireless Go. The Comica is rated at  165 feet/50m  where as the Rode Wireless Go is rated at 230 ft/70 meters. I tested both out at 100 feet range, and both were still very strong at this distance. I don’t see much need for going beyond 100 feet, but if you work in an area where you record subjects over 165 feet away, the Rode might be for you.

Recorded signals with both systems set to 0 db resulted in a hotter output from the Rode Wireless Go. But the Comica Boom X-D was plenty loud enough, and only required a few db boost in post to get it to match the signal output of the Rode Wireless Go. Both sound clear and full. 

Both charge via USB-C and feature built in batteries. That makes both essentially disposable when the batteries inevitably fail. The Rode Wireless Go battery is rated at 7 hours, and the Comica Boom X-D is rated at 5 hours. The Rode charges in about 2 hours, and the Comica charges a bit quicker, at around 100 min.

Overall, if I could only have one of these systems, I’d choose the Comica Boom X-D. It’s not quite as loud as the Rode, and it’s range is a bit shorter, but it’s a solid system that gives you more flexibility in recording (with the extra transmitter and the included lavalier microphones). The LCD display on the transmitters is the feature that seals the deal. Not having the signal information on the transmitter on the Rode Wireless Go is a source of constant frustration when I use it, and it’s inclusion on the Comica Boom X-D makes using it much more enjoyable. 

Pros: 

  • Complete system with 2 transmitters and 2 lavalier microphones for what you would pay for 1 transmitter and no cavaliers microphones on the Rode Wireless Go.
  • LCD display on the transmitters provides easy to read, useful information
  • Dead cat attaches easily and isn’t easy to detach (like the Rode Wireless Go)
  • USB-C charging is convenient and quick

Cons:

  • Range, while good, isn’t quite as strong as the Rode Wireless Go
  • At 0db, the signal out of the Comica Boom X-D isn’t as strong as the Rode Wireless Go
  • No way to replace the battery, making this a disposable product.