Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Experience with Lion Part II

I recently wrote about my first experiences with Mac OSX Lion.

Now that I've been running Lion exclusively for a few weeks, I've learned a lot about my Macbook Air and the lifecycle of Apple products.

There are 4 variations of the Macbook air in use today:

Generation 1 - the 2008 Air with a sluggish 1.8" hard drive or an equally slow but expensive Toshiba SSD drive with 50 MB/s reads and 14MB/s writes.  It had a real world battery life of 2.5 hours.

Generation 1.5 - the 2009 Air that replaced the Intel GMA X3100 integrated Graphics Processing Unit with a Nvidia GeForce 9400M to support a 1280x800 pixel display.   The Toshiba SSD drive was replaced with a slightly faster Samsung 128 SSD.

Generation 2 - the 2010 Air that was SSD-only (Samsung 128C).  SSD performance improved beyond that of magnetic spinning hard disk drives. A new Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU enhanced graphics performance and the Air's screen resolution was increased to 1440x900 pixels.  The CPU was slower than in the previous models, but in practice it often performed better, because, unlike the old Airs, the newer ones didn't have to throttle down the CPU speed to keep the system from overheating.  Generation 2 included two USB ports, but peripherals were still limited by the maximum performance of the 480Mbps USB connections. In addition, Apple introduced an 11.6" model.

Generation 3 - the 2011 Air is based on the latest Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs, which include hardware support for AES encryption and a Graphics Processing Unit on the CPU silicon.  The Mini DisplayPort connector which supported external displays in previous generations  was transformed into a Thunderbolt port, which drives external displays and provides I/O at 10 Gig/s.

I purchased my Macbook Air at the end of 2009, so I have a Generation 1.5 - a 2.13 Ghz Core 2 duo with 2G of RAM and a Samsung 128 SSD.

I installed Lion and fully encrypted the filesystem with Filevault2.

In practice Generation 1.5 does not have the CPU power and I/O necessary to sustain Filevault2 and application performance for I/O intensive operations such as Mail 5.0.

Here's a study of the I/O degradation caused by Filevault2 on the Generation 2 Air - a 44% decrease.   Generation 2 lacks the hardware AES encryption support (used by Filevault2) of Generation 3.

Generation 1.5 is even worse.  

The end result is that Mail 5.0  on my Macbook Air could not process the typical 1500+ emails I receive each day and encrypt/decrypt the filesystem simultaneously.   Deleted emails reappeared.   Emails that I moved between folders unmoved.    Only a reboot brought my Inbox up to date.

The solution - I reinstalled Lion without encryption and now Mail 5.0 works well, but running I/O intensive applications simultaneously like Skype 5.3 and Mail 5.0  is still problematic.

I do not store protected health information (or even personally identified information) on my laptop, so encryption is optional.

The Generation 3 Macbook Air with its I5 or I7, hardware AES support, and faster SSD drive is absolutely good enough for Lion, encryption, and I/O intensive applications.    However, the Generation 1.5 is not.    Running Lion and one application at a time is about all it can support.

Moore's law is alive and well at Apple,  with doubling of CPU capabilities every 18 months.   You should upgrade to Lion warily if you are running anything but the latest Air.


Lyle said...

Thanks for this info John, very useful. While we use the FileVault a ton, I've personally found encrypted sparse images made with Disk Utility to make more sense. I don't like wasting CPU cycles encrypting and decrypting scratch files, programs, etc, and keep all documents in the encrypted space. People with limited CPU power might find this approach useful and simple - you just mount them like any external drive - and it supports Spotlight and all the other built in functions.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy these OSX Lion posts, as I myself switched to OSX two weeks ago (I bought the 7/11 13" Air with the base i5) after being an exclusively Windows OS user since '95. I would be interested in your thoughts on:

- UI: Since OSX is essentially focused on making the user experience enjoyable, I am curious about what you think of the iOS-integration focus of Lion; specifically the iOS-like gestures, Launchpad, and other features. I find myself enjoying Lion's gestures a lot.

- OSX versus Windows: It is obvious why anyone would prefer Apple's famous hardware engineering; but what is less obvious is why you (one of the country's leading IT gurus) are running OSx on your Air and not Windows, which seems to be the OS of choice in the IT world where people like to "tinker" with the ins-and-outs of their consumer PCs. Perhaps a discussion about how your preference came to be would be interesting to your readers.

- Recommendations on when to use FileVault2: I use my Air for travel, meetings, and all personal uses; but like you, most of my personal and work documentation is in the cloud, minus a few random files of no value to anyone else. Do I have a use case for full HD encryption?

- AV/AT: Do you recommend that average consumers use additional security software on their Lion machines, such as Symantec's Norton IS offerings?

GreenLeaves said...

Thanks for mentioning the hardware AES on Gen 3. I am very close to migrating away from my Fujitsu Lifebook with XP and with the TPM chip that I use to protect sensative data.
I have been eyeing the new Air as I probably will want to run a virtual environment to retain XP for some unique Windows apps.
Based on the performance specs and the hardware encryption I will most likely be taking the next step, just as soon as I see the new generation of Pros.

Anonymous said...

John - In the last few years your daily email inbox has increased by 250%. I liked your 2007 post on email triage http://goo.gl/CbzOi

I get about 10% of the emails you do, but always feel behind.

Would you consider an updated post one email management - in particular, to you batch email process a few times a day? Constantly scan your BB? etc.