Volume Number: 22 (2006)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: KoolTools
by Jordan Ticktin
Mac mini's use 2.5" hard drives, so they are limited on the capacity (160GB as of this writing). But, the mini is capable of so much more. So how do you get the mini more storage? Simple. You add an exterior hard drive. One example is Newer Technology's miniStack.
What It Is
Newer Technology's miniStack is a hard drive solution for your Mac mini, but it also gives you the ability to act as a USB and FireWire hub. It has 3 USB ports, 3 FireWire ports, a USB uplink port, 2 different types of connections to the Mac mini, and a security slot to secure the miniStack to your desk with a Kensington MicroSaver Security Cable.
Figure 1: The miniStack V2 with all of its slots showing.
The miniStack takes up virtually no space because it fits seamlessly together with (under) your Mac mini.
Figure 2: Newer Technology's miniStack (with Mac mini on top)
The power management system is designed to work with your mini, and conserve power. When the miniStack's switch is set to on, it will turn on and off whenever your Mac mini does.
There are two different ways to connect a miniStack to a Mac mini: via USB and via FireWire. The miniStack gives you a couple of choices to optimize for your scenario.
1. You flip the connection switch to auto in which case you will connect with either USB or 1394 (FireWire) to the Mac mini ... automatically choosing as appropriate;
2. Or, you flip the switch to 1394a and you connect the miniStack to the Mac mini though only FireWire, which will make it run faster.
The miniStack reviewed is the second generation design. In version 2, you no longer have an option to manually set the fan speeds; the miniStack automatgically controls the fan to keep the unit cool. It also has a large passive heat sink to radiate heat away from the hard drive.
To give you more flexibility in your setup, one of the USB ports and one of the FireWire ports are now on the left side instead of the back. Newer Technology touts the miniStack as 34% faster than the mini's internal hard drive.
Depending on what you want, there are a couple of ways that you can purchase this product from Newer Technology:
1. If you want it without a hard drive (no software included): $79.95
2.If you want it with a hard drive in it (EMC Retrospect Backup and Intech HD Speedtools included):
- 80GB $119.00
- 160GB $139.00
- 250GB $159.00
- 320GB $189.00
- 400GB $269.99
- 500GB $295.99
- 750GB $499.99
This product has a two year repair/replacement warranty.
What We Thought
To put this product to the test, we thought we'd try it as a small file server ... that is a physically small server that has three quarters of a terabyte of disk space. After running it for several weeks under Mac OS X Server, we were quite satisfied with the results.
Obviously, a Mac mini is not a high throughput machine, nor is an external FireWire drive as efficient as an internal drive, but that's no fault of the miniStack. If you need a physically small file server, that's relatively quick, can have a good amount of disk space, and doesn't need high throughput, a mini combined with a miniStack is a great solution. (Although remember, the mini's 2.5" internal drive is not intended for server use ... so make sure you back up your boot drive.)
Or, if you just want a ton of disk space for your mini, this is simply a great solution ... not just because it's elegant, but because of all the additional ports it has as well.
For more information on Newer Technology's miniStack, visit <http://www.newertech.com/ministack>.
CompuRover AW Bag
by MacTech Review Staff
For any serious photographer, functionality is the key to finding a great bag. But what happens if you are both a serious photographer, and a heavy laptop user ... as many of us are. Carrying a SLR setup along with a laptop is a bag challenge if you are on the go, particularly if you are looking for a backpack.
The CompuRover AW backpack from Lowepro is a great quality pack that allows you to carry relatively heavy equipment. This three-compartment backpack is designed to carry a digital pro SLR with lens attached, 2-4 additional lenses, a 17" notebook computer, digital accessories, and any additional personal items. Better still, because the backpack has a waist belt, the weight sits on your hips, not on your shoulders. Carrying 30 pounds of camera and computer equipment is not an issue, as we did recently to test the bag.
Although the placement of the camera pocket is at the bottom of the bag, there is enough padding to protect the camera lens if it is facing downwards. While initially the camera section seemed to be in a funky position, it became clear quickly in use that this was designed for quicker access ... with the option of zipping, buckling, or both to close the case. In addition, there's a built-in trekker tripod mount for attaching tripods up to 10 lbs.
If you spend hours hiking or walking with your equipment, as we did in testing this bag, then comfort is paramount. We found the waist belt is very comfortable, even under weight. In fact, the more weight, the better the bag felt. The shoulder straps are well padded. And, of particular comfort was the extra padding between your back and where the laptop goes. The only thing that we wished for was to be able to pull some of the adjustment straps at the top of the shoulder straps even tighter, but this is a minor nit.
There's no doubt that the CompuRover AW is well built, sturdy, and even water-resistant. One of the coolest things that we found was it's built in all weather cover which acts like a "poncho" for your back pack, securing it with a elastic band around the edge. Better yet, the bag was particularly easy to take on and off, even fully loaded.
In case you are wondering where the laptop goes, there's a side-access laptop pocket that we slid a 17" PowerBook into. Being flat against your back, it was very comfortable, not to mention fast to access at airport security checks.
The backpack's top pocket is smaller than expected for such a big bag, but that's the price you pay for all that padding around the camera and laptop pockets. The price (US$229.99) and slightly excessive weight of the bag are drawbacks, but well worth it when you realize that you are protecting several thousands of dollars in equipment. In fact, the padding was so good that when we were caught in the recent upgraded airport security, we felt comfortable checking the bag as luggage (although we don't recommend this).
If you are not going to mostly fill this bag, then it's overkill, and you'd be better off with a different option. But, if you need to carry a laptop and SLR setup, then you need a way to carry that weight, and this bag is a great solution. More information available from <http://www.lowepro.com>
PDF Shrink 4.0
by MacTech Review Staff
Working here at MacTech Magazine, in a production environment that deals with massive image files, and emailing each other PDF files for review can be a bit daunting. We needed something that could quickly compress a PDF that did not include having to use a utility to compress it so that it would be immediately viewable in email clients. Yet, we wanted something that would preserve the PDF format. This is when we found PDF Shrink from Apago Inc.
What is it?
PDF Shrink boasts as much as a 90% size reduction of most PDF files, but it all depends on what is in the file, and the options for compression. Apago posts actual results of compression when creating PDFs from a variety of different applications. Of course, your mileage may vary.
PDF Shrink 4.0 includes optional encryption of PDF content, support for JPEG 2000 image compression, and a wizard for creating customized settings, if technical terms like compression codec and "dots per inch" make you squirm and scratch your head in frustration.
Since images make up a rather significant part of the size of a PDF file, this software can modify the resolution and compression level of the images to match different requirements. Fonts also unnecessarily increase PDF file size, so PDF Shrink 4.0 has been designed with an option that allows you to remove embedded base 14 fonts, if required. Another cool option in PDF Shrink, is being able to delete unused elements such as metadata, thumbnails, and duplicated data.
A new encryption feature in PDF Shrink 4.0 protects your documents. Select from several options, such as whether to allow changes and printing and content extraction to restrict use or add a password to prevent unauthorized access. All you have to do is tell the Shrink 4.0 how you intend on using your PDF, and it selects the appropriate settings for you. There is also an Advanced mode for directly specifying your settings.
To use PDF Shrink, you can choose from a number of different settings. Either drag-and-drop a PDF to the application icon or dock, or drag-and-drop to a setting. You can also print through PDF services, create a droplet, or use AppleScript.
What we think
One of the things we like best about PDF Shrink is it's speed and easy to use interface. Being able to just drag and drop a PDF file onto your favorite setting is incredibly easy and time saving.
If we could change anything, it would be to have more options for image compression, but there are other tools, including ones from Apago that serve this well. This is a very useful product and well worth the price for most people's use.
PDF Shrink 4.0 retails at US $35. Upgrades from earlier versions of PDF Shrink for current users available for US$14. Visit <http://www.apago.com/upgrade/> to purchase upgrade. However, if you bought PDF Shrink after May 1, 2006, the upgrade is free.