... and if you thought the American Northeast's Winter was odd, try Alaska's. (via Slate)
The Pacific Ocean near Alaska has been record-warm for months now. This year is off to a record-wet start in Juneau. Kodiak has recorded its warmest winter on record. A sudden burst of ocean warmth has affected statewide weather before, but this time feels different, residents say. In late February, National Weather Service employees spotted thundersnow in Nome—a city just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “As far as I know, that’s unprecedented,” Thoman told me. Thunderstorms of any kind require a level of atmospheric energy that’s rarely present in cold climates. To get that outside of the summer is incredibly rare everywhere, let alone in Alaska.
Climate scientists are starting to link the combination of melting sea ice and warm ocean temperatures to shifts in the jet stream. For the past few winters, those shifts have brought surges of tropical moisture toward southern Alaska via potent atmospheric rivers. This weather pattern has endured so long it’s even earned its own name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The persistent area of high pressure stretching from Alaska to California has shunted wintertime warmth and moisture northward into the Arctic while the eastern half of the continent is plunged into the deep freeze, polar-vortex style.
The Hearthstone train never stops! The next large update for the game will feature the Blackrock Mountain adventure, a new campaign made up of five wings, with one being released each week over five weeks. The adventure will have 17 bosses total, 31 new cards, and other items like a new game board and pre-order exclusive card backs. The adventure begins in April for 700 gold per wing, or $6.99 per wing. You can also pick up the whole package for $24.99. It’ll be available on PC, Android tablets, and iPad, but Blizzard also showed off a phone build of the game, and promised that the Android and iPhone version would arrive in the “next couple of months.”
The Dow is a stupid index — a poor investment and an inaccurate gauge of the market as a whole, due to the arbitrary nature of its membership, and its bizarre use of price-based indexing. The S&P 500 is better in both regards. But it does seem somewhat poetic that Apple is taking AT&T’s spot in the index — Apple’s decade of amazing growth is built on the iPhone, and the iPhone came to market through a groundbreaking exclusivity deal with AT&T.
To be clear, I think AT&T did well through that agreement — the iPhone helped them narrow Verizon’s lead here in the U.S. But what’s telling is the way Apple turned the tables and maintained control over everything: handset design, software design, software updates, the App Store, pricing.
30 signs that you probably didn't know that these 3-word phrases are the most important article titles in your life!
People are understandably excited to see what's inside Paul Revere's time capsule when it's opened tonight in Boston. The capsule was first interred in a cornerstone by Revere and Samuel Adams in 1795, and many news outlets are playing up the idea that the contents are a complete mystery. Except that it's not. Because it was already opened at least once before back in 1855.
The 5K Retina iMac is out, and it looks incredible so far on paper — so incredible that I’m seriously considering selling my new Mac Pro to get the Retina iMac instead. In fact, the case for the Mac Pro for anyone but advanced video editors, 3D modelers, and heavy OpenCL users is now weaker than ever.
The iMac starts at $2500 and the Mac Pro starts at $3000, but you shouldn’t buy the base model of either.
The best bang-for-the-buck CPU options are the 4 GHz CPU in the iMac and the 6-core in the Mac Pro. I recommend a minimum of 16 GB RAM — go 32 if you can — and a 512 GB or 1 TB SSD. The iMac offers Fusion Drive, but an all-SSD configuration is so much faster and more consistent that you should really get one if you can afford to.
With my recommended midrange configurations for each, the iMac certainly isn’t cheap, but it has a clear price advantage over the Mac Pro, especially since it includes its own display:
- Retina iMac with 4 GHz, 16 GB, 512 GB SSD, M295X: $3500
- Mac Pro with 6-core, 16 GB, 512 GB SSD, D500: $4300
Mac Pros generally hold their value better over time, and whatever monitor you use with your Mac Pro can likely be kept and reused through multiple computers. But that’s a big price difference to overcome.
Intel’s next CPU cores (Broadwell) are significantly delayed, so in the meantime, they released a few more high-end Haswell models. The Retina iMac’s 4 GHz option is the Core i7-4790K, which is currently the fastest CPU in the world for most single-threaded tasks.
Since the Xeons in the Mac Pro are based on the even older Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, they’ve been lagging behind even the previous iMacs for single-threaded apps. According to early Geekbench reports, the 4 GHz, 4-core Retina iMac appears to be 25% faster than the 6-core Mac Pro in single-threaded tasks and only about 15% slower in multi-threaded tasks. That’s incredible.
We don’t know how the iMac’s GPUs are yet, but based on past choices, the iMac is likely to be better than the Mac Pro for games, but significantly worse for OpenCL and professional 3D applications.
The old Mac Pros had a huge advantage in expandability: they had up to 8 RAM slots, 4 internal hard drive bays, 4 PCI-Express slots, 2 optical bays, and tons of ports on the back. The new ones only have… tons of ports on the back.
The Mac Pro is still more expandable than the iMac in some ways. It has 6 Thunderbolt ports across 3 buses for more monitors and high-bandwidth external storage capacity, and it supports up to 64 GB of RAM instead of the iMac’s 32 GB ceiling. Otherwise, the differences are small.
5K versus 4K displays
This difference is much bigger than it sounds. It’s the same, proportionally, as the difference between typical 21- to 24-inch and 27- to 30-inch monitors: “4K” computer monitors have 8.3 megapixels, while “5K” has 14.7 megapixels. Without software scaling to simulate higher density, the “right” size for a 4K monitor tops out at 24 inches, while a 5K monitor looks right at 27 to 30 inches.
It’s a huge difference.
Waiting for an external Apple 5K display for Mac Pros or other Macs?
If I had to guess, you’ll have a long wait, and they won’t work with any Mac sold to date.
Panel yields may be tight for a while, and external displays are a low priority for Apple. The original 27” iMac’s groundbreaking LCD panel wasn’t available in an external display from Apple for almost a year after its release. But that’s not the biggest problem.
Pushing this many pixels requires more bandwidth than DisplayPort 1.2 offers, which is what Thunderbolt 2 ports use for outputting video signals. (I wrote about this a few times.) Doing it right will require waiting until DisplayPort 1.3 in Thunderbolt 3 on Broadwell’s successor, Skylake, which isn’t supposed to come out for at least another year — and Intel is even worse at estimating ship dates than I am, so it’s likely to be longer.
It may be possible to use two DisplayPort 1.2 or Thunderbolt 2 cables to power a 5K display, but only if the GPU could treat each port as its own full-bandwidth DisplayPort 1.2 channel, the sum of which represented one logical display, and had the panel combine and properly sync the two at the other end.1 I don’t think any of the current Macs can do this, including the Mac Pro — MST to run 4K panels at 60 Hz only seems to be supported within individual ports, not spanned across two.
I’d estimate — granted, I’m wrong a lot — that Apple won’t ship a standalone 5K display until at least 2016, and it won’t work with any of today’s Macs, including the 2013 Mac Pro.
Waiting for the Dell 5K monitor?
Dell’s shipping a 5K monitor soon using two DisplayPort 1.2 cables. It’s slated to cost $2500 — the same as the iMac’s starting price.
We don’t know whether it will work with the current Mac Pro yet. Just like the theoretical Apple external 5K monitor, it will rely on tricks like MST to be treated as one big monitor, which may be unsupported or buggy on the Mac Pro.
It’s also a Dell.2 Dell monitors used to be great, but their quality has been inconsistent and declining in recent years, and they’re certainly not known for their visual appeal or classy materials.
Waiting for Broadwell iMacs or Haswell-EP Mac Pros?
Broadwell-K CPUs suitable for iMacs are due out in about a year. Broadwell’s main improvement over Haswell is reduced power consumption, and while this matters a lot in laptops, it won’t be as important in desktops. I’d expect maybe a 10–15% performance improvement in a Broadwell iMac update next year.
If the Mac Pro gets updated to new CPUs anytime soon, they’ll be the new Haswell-EP Xeons. The midrange 6-core model, likely to remain the best bang-for-the-buck option, will likely use the Xeon E5-1650 v3. Here’s how it compares to the 4 GHz iMac CPU — the iMac still holds a big lead in single-threaded tasks, and doesn’t lose the multi-threaded test by too much considering it only has 4 cores.
You can also see how well the iMac’s i7-4790K performs against the new 10-core Xeons in AnandTech’s benchmark — it’s competitive in everything but the most parallel tasks.
So it’s unlikely that the relative performance between the iMac and Mac Pro will change in the near future. The iMac will remain close or faster in single-threaded tasks, and the Mac Pro will beat the iMac at multi-threaded and OpenCL tasks, with the multi-threaded gap being larger if you get the (much more expensive) 8- or 12-core Mac Pro.
Heat and fan noise
The Mac Pro is ridiculously quiet. With any ambient noise at all, you simply can’t hear it. And that’s true no matter what it’s doing — even under full load, I never hear it. The unified heatsink with the single giant, slow fan is remarkably good.
The Retina iMac uses the same internal design as the previous 27-inch iMac with heatpiped heatsinks cooled by one medium-sized fan, and the Retina’s overall thermal load seems similar. Apple claims the Retina iMac is only 15 dB in “wireless web” use — just 0.5 dB louder than the Mac Pro — although neither specify noise levels at sustained heavy loads, where I’d expect the iMac to be noticeably louder than the Mac Pro based on these designs.3
If you’re very concerned about minimizing heat and noise, consider your options carefully. The upgraded CPU and GPU, and choosing Fusion Drive instead of all-SSD, will each increase the amount of heat (and therefore fan noise).
Mac Pros use Xeons, server-class chipsets, error-correcting RAM, and workstation-class GPUs, all of which are designed more conservatively and with more strict tolerances than the consumer-grade components in laptops and iMacs.
In practice, I’ve always found the consumer-grade parts in laptops to be slightly buggy. Occasionally, they won’t come out of sleep properly, or they’ll kernel-panic for no apparent reason. But that may only happen a handful of times over the entire lifetime of the machine, so it’s not a huge problem — but an important difference to some.
I’d also worry about the amount of heat in the enclosure, especially so close to the screen. That’s going to be an expensive screen replacement if it’s out of warranty. Since AppleCare is so cheap on iMacs and this is a first-generation product, I’d get it.
So who’s the Mac Pro for?
At this point, not a lot of people:
- People who heavily use OpenCL apps
- People needing as much parallel CPU power as possible, such as professional video editors, who can afford the 8- or 12-core CPUs
- Anyone using a lot of Thunderbolt devices
- Anyone who needs a lot of monitors, an HDMI output, or two built-in network interfaces
- People who need the quietest computer possible under any load
- Roles in which a kernel panic or other slight hardware glitch may be very costly
This list keeps getting shorter over time. I think I finally fell off of it.
Many 4K monitors use this trick, called MST, to split themselves into logical left/right halves and run at their full resolution and framerate by acting as two monitors. In practice, MST is finicky, buggy, and poorly supported. This theoretical two-Thunderbolt-cables idea for 5K would be even more complex, and it may not be reasonably possible at all without weird sync issues like tearing between the two logical halves. ↩
I informally polled owners of recent 27” iMacs on Twitter about fan noise, and the consensus was that they’re near-silent the vast majority of the time, with the fans only becoming slightly audible under sustained parallel loads like video encoding. ↩
Joshua Robinson, reporting for the WSJ:
The world’s most popular sporting event uses a more democratic than meritocratic process for choosing referees. While the World Cup’s 32 teams must play their way into the tournament through a grueling two-year qualifying process, FIFA, the sport’s governing body, pulls referees from more than 40 countries out of a sense of fairness to all of its member associations. It is similar to how basketball’s world governing body plucks officials from around the world to work the Olympic tournament.
It’s a contrast from the meritocracy that determines who officiates the postseason for major U.S. sports.
So even if they’re not crooked, they’re in over their heads.
So if you’re an ardent believer in anonymity, be careful: If you reveal something important enough to be legally protected on one of these platforms, your anonymity might not be secure. The only secrets you can safely reveal on these platforms (and even then, only as long as they’re not crimes) are your own.