First Look: Apple Thunderbolt Display

The Apple Thunderbolt Display may just be the cleverest display ever. Macworld Lab received our new display Friday morning, and we immediately set out to test the new features.

The Apple Thunderbolt Display connected to a MacBook Air. A Thunderbolt RAID array (the Promise Pegasus R6, right), and a FireWire 800 RAID array (the Promise SmartStor DS4600, left), are connected to the display.

The $999 Thunderbolt Display’s specifications are impressive, but not much different from Apple’s 27-inch LED Cinema Display ( ) released last year. Both feature LED backlit displays with a resolution of 2560-by-1440 pixels, the same brightness rating of 375 cd/m2, MagSafe power connector for charging a laptop, and three USB 2.0 ports. The Thunderbolt Display has a FaceTime HD camera, while the Cinema Display has an iSight camera.

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Even more Thunderbolt results

With Speedmark 7 development behind us, Macworld Lab can once again focus on other Mac-related performance stories. On the top of the list of projects is a follow-up on previous Thunderbolt performance stories (Thunderbolt versus FireWire and USB 2.0, Target Disk Mode and more). This time around, we look at Lion versus Snow Leopard performance, MacBook Air performance, and update our eSATA comparison results using a 6Gbps ExpressCard from StarTech.

In our testing, we used the Thunderbolt-equipped Promise Pegasus R6. We also used a Promise SmartStor DS4600. (We don't have access to a non-Thunderbolt to an array that's similar to the R6.)

Snow Leopard versus Lion

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Macworld's new Speedmark 7 benchmark suite

Now that the Mac OS has entered the Lion era, its time to bring Macworld’s overall system performance test suite, Speedmark, up to date. With this latest version, Speedmark 7, we’ve updated all of the applications to their current versions, increased files sizes that some tests use, and changed our 3D game test to a more recent title.

One thing that doesn’t change is 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini from 2010 that serves as Speedmark’s baseline system to which each Mac’s performance is compared. By keeping the same “100” system as the previous version of Speedmark, it should be easier to compare older systems tested with Speedmark 6.5 to the systems tested with the new Speedmark 7.

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Customized Core i7 Mac mini offers iMac-like performance

Want iMac-like performance, without having to buy an iMac? You can get such a machine from Apple if you customize the new Mac mini. Macworld Lab has tested a build-to-order (BTO) Mac mini, and the results in some of our tests are very close to that of a standard configuration 21.5-inch 2.5GHz Core i5 iMac ( ).

The BTO Mac mini we tested doesn’t come cheap, however. To put together the machine, we took the standard configuration 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 Mac mini ( ), and upgraded the processor to a 2.7GHz dual-core Core i7, which adds $100 to the original $799 price. We also replaced the standard 5400-rpm 500GB hard drive with a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), which costs $600. That brings the total price of the BTO Mac mini to $1499, which is $300 more than the 21.5-inch 2.5GHz Core i5 iMac. (Both the BTO Mac mini and the standard-configuration iMac had 4GB of RAM during our benchmark tests.)

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Review: Canon Pixma MG5320 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One Printer

Canon Pixma MG5320 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One Printer color MFP
The Canon Pixma MG5320 Wireless Inkjet Photo All-In-One Printer costs a reasonable $150, hitting the pricing sweet spot at the consumer-oriented end of the color inkjet multifunction category. It also manages to lift itself above the crowd a bit by adding CD/DVD printing capability, plus some other improvements.

The ability to print on specially coated CDs or DVDs is still pretty rare. The Pixma MG5320 comes with a caddy that inserts into a slot above the output area; also included is an adapter for 3.15-inch discs. Canon offers no on-machine storage for the caddy, which is inconvenient. And the disc-printing process involves a specific sequence of steps that is confusingly covered in two places: under the loading/unloading media discussion in the Printing section of the documentation, and under the layout and printing explanation in the documentation for the bundled Easy-PhotoPrint EX software. The printer also takes a few minutes to prepare itself to print on a disc.

Paper handling is generous for an MFP in this price range. The MG5320 has a bottom drawer for holding up to 150 sheets of letter-size plain paper; a rear, 150-sheet vertical tray takes everything else. Duplex (two-sided) printing is automatic. The 50-sheet output tray is adequately sized, and it opens automatically when you send a print job. Other features include both USB and wireless connectivity, a USB/PictBridge port, and slots for MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, and SD Card.

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WD My Passport Essential 500GB USB 3.0

Western Digital’s My Passport Essential is a portable hard drive that fits easily into your jeans pocket. It’s simple to use, really quiet, and offers read speeds that closely rival other drives in its category.

Shaped like an iPod classic and with rounded corners for a clean look, the device measures 4.3 by 3.3 by 0.5 inches and weighs just 0.4 pounds. Only three clues let you know you’re dealing with an external drive: the Western Digital logo on the bottom right corner, a pinhole-sized activity light on the left, and the USB 3.0 port on the bottom.

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Lab tests: Build-to-order Core i7 MacBook Airs

How fast is a MacBook Air when it's powered by an Intel Core i7 processor? Now that we've posted performance reports for the standard-configuration MacBook Airs, it was time to turn our attention to testing the optional, build-to-order (BTO) configurations of Apple’s latest line of ultra-portable computers.

The brains of the mid-2011 MacBook Airs are ultra-low-voltage Intel Core i5 processors: in the 11-inch model it runs at 1.6GHz, and in the 13-inch model it's 1.7GHz. Macworld Lab ordered both an 11-inch and a 13-inch MacBook Air with faster 1.8GHz Core i7 processors. Upgrading the 11-inch 128GB model to use the Core i7 processor will cost you $150. Upgrading the 13-inch will set you back $100. So what does the extra money buy you in terms of performance? (Keep in mind that the stock Core i5 processors in the Airs already include Hyperthreading and Turbo Boost, two performance-enhancing features, so the difference between the original and upgraded processors is mostly slightly greater clock speed and 1MB more L3 cache.)

The 11-inch upgrade

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