iToilet Seat

Road Hog Rorschach: does this look like a computer to you? Didn't think so.














Home Sweet CardBus, thanks to MCE





Hog's Eye ViewHog's Eye View





Margi Display to Go

Feature August 21, 2000
Road Hog: Home Sweet Hog

Fab gear for back at the shack

by Tim Wilson
Man About Town™
[email protected]

My, my, my. It looks like Road Hogs have a new definition for living large, at least when they're at home. The expansive folks at Mobility Electronics have created a docking station that lets you use your Hog with an attached keyboard, mouse and monitor. So what? Big deal, you say. Ah, read on my Hogs, as this is just the beginning.

The product at hand is the EasiExpansion T35-PowerBook, which you see pictured here. We'll have a word with them about that name later, redolent as it is of Easy Bake Oven. This is not a toy, although, now that I think about it, any toy that makes its own snacks kicks ass. Making snacks is a feature worth adding, no question. I'm thinking EasiExpansion T35 SnackMaster.

As it is, there's plenty of ass-kicking here. The EasiExpansion T35 starts with two 5.25 inch drive bays. With two IDE controllers, you can actually add 4 devices in these bays. You have more devices you want to add? Good. There are also three 3.5 drive bays and an integrated 2-port USB hub. Here's what really flipped me out, though: 3 full-length PCI slots. My, my, my.

By way of explanation to those in the audience who don't speak Hog, we love our PowerBooks. Of all the Macintoshes we use, these are often our favorites, enough so that we take their name, Road Hog, for ourselves as well, Road Hogs. These are serious, working machines, with plenty of the power we need for serious work. We're looking for PIE named Key Lime, not portable computers, thank you very much.

Among the features we love best is the apparently endless expandability of the PowerBook, which has clearly taken a major step forward with the EasiExpansion T35. It may well get us considerably closer to being able to use our PowerBooks for ALL our computing, which is what most of us, when we're honest, really want.

Right off the bat, we could tie into our Avids and Media 100s when we're at home, or our Digital Voodoo 10-bit SDI cards, or our Pinnacle Cine cards for editing uncompressed HD video. How about an ICE card for accelerated rendering and previews in After Effects? The possibilities are really almost endless. At only $599.95, this is less than the cost of an expansion chassis for many desktop computers, which in fact the T-35 was originally designed for. You could theoretically keep one set of cards in the box, and simply move the connection from your G3 laptop to your G4 desktop as needed.

The T35 is, alas, not for every PowerBook. The key to connecting is a 32-bit CardBus slot. The good news is that that's all there is to it — slide a PC card into the slot and go. Mobility Electronics uses an award-winning PCI Split Bridge technology boasting a 1.25 Gbps full-duplex data transfer rate. That's over 100 times faster than USB, over three times as fast as FireWire, and ME actually hopes to double this soon, to 2.5 Gbps duplex (meaning that it can pass that much information simultaneously in both directions across the bridge).

The first G3 PowerBooks, though, featured 16-bit PCMIA slots, as did the 2400/180 and the 3400. Don't give up, yet, though, because there's hope, which I'll tell you about in a bit.

I should point out that Mobility Electronics' website says that the T35 works with "all FireWire PowerBook models," which at this point, is precisely ONE model. Since the only point of connection is through the PC slot, and the page describing the split-bridge technology says that it will work on "virtually any" PowerBook, it seems to me that this has to be a boo-boo, but I haven't been able to confirm this yet. I will most definitely have news for you on this next week.

At around 15 pounds before you load it up, this is definitely a product for your Hog at home, but it looks like a winner from here.

MCE CardBus Upgrade Service
Ah, our good, good friends at MCE, Mac Components Engineered. Many are the problems they've helped Road Hogs solve over the years, and I'm especially fond of this one. For only $99, owners of older Hogs can take advantage of all the latest toys offered by 32-bit PCI cards.

It's not just a matter of having twice as many bits to work with, either. That relates to how much information passes through the bus. With 16 bit architecture, though, the processing for the information that passes through is handled by the CPU. PowerBook CPUs have enough other overhead to deal with that this isn't any fun at all.

The 32-bit architecture adds a dedicated CardBus microprocessor running at 33MHz, which means additional computing power independent of the CPU, which is left free to do the kinds of ciphering that CPUs do best.

There's probably some kind of trickery that somebody could perform to make the slots go faster, but it still wouldn't take care of the dedicated microprocessor. That's where MCE comes in. Ship your PowerBook to them, and for $99, they take care of all that for you. They even offer some bundles with things like USB and FireWire cards, and, for 2400 owners only, a discounted deal on the G3/320 Interware Booster. You can find details on all this at MCE's website.

Hog's Eye View
Been itching to hook up an Apple Cinema Display to your Hog? You know you are. Sure, Apple makes sells them for desktop G4s, but these bad boys have Road Hog written all over them. Egregiously powerful, heart-stoppingly beautiful, and priced to make the peecee weenies cry. Ugly monitors with crappy pictures? Plenty of peecee vendors will hook you up cheap. The Cinema Display is gorgeous, and if you haven't seen one in action, you really can't imagine how beautiful its pictures are.

But thanks to a proprietary connector, you can't use these things with just any computer, not even with just any Mac. Thanks to the Margi Display-to-Go 4MB CardBus card, though, you can hook one up to your Hog. The DVI interface is actually one of two available. The other is VGA, which generally bites — hey, it's a peecee standard, which just means universally interoperable biting. But the fact is that VGA out works just fine for certain kinds of video projectors, so you may want to use it in certain situations.

Latter day Hogs have VGA out, of course, but the built-in flavor is better for desktop mirroring than for true 2 monitor operation of the sort that desktop Mac users have known for over a decade.

A detour here into how annoying Windows is when it tries hardest to imitate Macs. Have you seen how lame their implementation of dual monitors is? Oh...my....god! You can have two monitors, all right, but dialog boxes open smack in the middle, with half on each screen! Unbelievably pathetic, even by Windows standards. And don't even think about adding 3 monitors. Hell, just for grins, I added 5 to my Mac IIci in 1991 just to see if I could, and the answer was, and is, bring 'em on, boys. It's not nice to make fun of the weak and the feeble, so I'll lay off NT....for now.

The Display to Go adds true dual monitor operation though, in resolutions up to 1280x1024 in millions of colors, including a number of resolutions for letterbox displays. The top letterbox resolution of 1600x1024 is only available in thousands of colors, but I have no doubt that the cries of Road Hogs everywhere will induce them to up their VRAM to 8MB and beyond at some point. In the meantime, you're good to go for the Cinema Display on your Hog today, for only $299. And yes, you can get it on sale right now at MCE for only $279.

Road Hog Tip of the Week
I use my Road Hog to do presentations just about every week, and the odd desktop mirroring has occasionally gotten on my nerves. What gets shown on the projector is my desktop, but it's the part of my desktop that sits to the left of my laptop's display. I could move it to the right side, but if you've read many of these columns, you know I tend to have everything in my life leaning left. I don't have any particular beef with any Road Hog whose monitors dress right, although I'm reminded of my Aunt Fanny's reply to the observation that "it takes all kinds." "No, honey, it HAS all kinds. It don't TAKE all kinds, it just HAS all kinds."

There's no great crisis from having a monitor on one side or the other, really, but it can be annoying. Aside from the disorientation of looking at the laptop screen in front of me and seeing nothing useful, the fact is that some projection monitors just aren't all that sharp. And I'm not doing PowerPoint nonsense, either, I'm doing real work, so being able to read all the numbers would be very helpful.

But, in keeping with the true spirit of unity that I seek to engender here, I'll share a tip that I stumbled across this week in my quest to do something about that monitor hanging off to one side or the other. I opened up the monitors control panel to see what I could do. You know the one I'm talking about - the control panel that features two little icons of the monitors, so that you can drag them to configure their relationship to each other. (Don't bother looking for it if you don't have two monitors hooked up - Macintoshes are smart enough to only offer this choice if you actually have it.)

Well, klutz that I am, I accidentally dropped one monitor icon on top of the other. Lo and behold, it stuck there, and I was able to have the exact same display on my laptop screen and the projector screen! There really were two monitors, though, and some things that looked like they were right next to each other actually weren't, a problem easily remedied by restarting. Some of you Road Hogs may have known this all along, but it was news to me, and darn good news at that.

So the Tip of the Week is also the Lesson of the Week, that, in the end, there is no right, there is no left. There is only One, and its name is Road Hog. Go in peace to love and serve the Hog.

Tim Wilson, Man About Town™, is the Producer of Plug-in Central, one of the Core Connections here at Digital Media Net. Saddle up and write him at [email protected].

Post a message in the Creative Mac World Wide User Group.

Visit Our New Sections!