Activity Monitor System Memory Meanings

Ever wondered what all the different memory types are that are shown in the pie chart at the bottom of the system memory tab in your Mac OS X Activity Monitor? If you’re used to the memory usage information that Windows shows, then the OS X descriptions might be a bit confusing. The reason for this is because there are actually more types of memory shown.

OS X System Memory Activity Monitor
OS X System Memory Activity Monitor

OS X Memory Types

  • Free
  • Wired
  • Active
  • Inactive

In Windows all you see are what is free and what’s in use.

So what are these two extra types of memory that OS X shows?

Free Memory

This is exactly what it sounds like. Free memory is memory that hasn’t been written to yet. This will generally be at it’s highest straight after you turn on your computer.

Read moreActivity Monitor System Memory Meanings

Why use iTunes for your iPod?

Photo by maury.mccown
Photo by maury.mccown

I know a lot of people don’t like iTunes and the restrictions on iPods and iPhones that require you to use iTunes to utilise all of their functionality, or even just to synchronise your music. That’s a fair call (and yes I know you can set it up to bypass iTunes for music but I’m not going to go into that today), I’ll admit that it was one of the things that turned me off getting an iPod for a long time. I still don’t have an iPod as my phone doubles as my MP3 player, but I think there are some good reasons why iTunes gives the iPod, and Apple in particular some big advantages over competitors.

User Experience

iTunes gives Apple complete control over the user experience, right from purchasing music, through to letting them listen to it on their computer and finally to listening to it on their MP3 player, their iPod. This has given them the ability to expand their market and improve the service simply by upgrading the software for free. If there is a problem with the device itself that can be fixed by a firmware upgrade, again it can be controlled through iTunes in a (usually) quick and simple process, thus fixing the problem without users having to go through a potentially complicated firmware upgrade as can be the case on some other devices.


Every device either dies off or has a new model replacing it sooner or later, quite often it’s only a year from the original release that a new version is out. Through a managed software interface like iTunes, you can increase the longevity of your device to some degree as new features are added that your device may be able to use. This has become particularly relevant since the release of the newer iPods and the iPhones that support applications and video as well as functionality can be added through applications.

Ease of use

I’m sure most people have had issues with iTunes at one point or another, but the simple fact is that it’s intended to make the process of keeping the content on your iPod up to date easy, and for the most part, it is easy. Stick a CD in and it will import it for you and then you can just synchronise it straight to your iPod the next time it’s plugged in, or download music from iTunes and synchronise it. Movies and applications are the same. Just jump on the computer, buy them, download them, set them to be synchronised and iTunes will take care of the rest next time the iPod or iPhone is connected.

A few other reasons Apple wants you to use iTunes

It gives them an extra revenue stream if you purchase through iTunes, and since they’re providing the service for you and you’ve already got everything in place both software and MP3 player, they are perfectly positioned to advertise it to you. After all, wouldn’t it be so much easier to not have to go anywhere to get your music or movies and just with the click of a few buttons have them sent straight to your iPod or iPhone?

I don’t know how much information Apple gather about your activities using iTunes, but I would be certain that they garner some level of usage statistics from what you download from iTunes and what you synch to your iPod. It would be quite useful from a marketing perspective to have access to that sort of data.

Misc Thoughts and Summary

In my opinion, iTunes is a stroke of genius both for end users and for Apple, it has so many advantages, along with the disadvantages of not being in direct control of your data from any computer. Whether you want to use it or not is up to you, there is an option to allow you to use your iPod like a regular hard drive. I’m not sure if this is still available with iPod Touches or iPhones, from memory when I was setting up an iPhone 3GS for a friend, there was an option to set it to behave like a hard drive, but I really don’t remember if the option was greyed out or not. If you have one, could you let me know in the comments if they can be set that way? Thanks, that would be great!

Anyway, as I was saying, whether you like iTunes and the control Apple have over the user experience is up to you, but in my opinion it is a great way to do it, compare it to other systems that existed when Apple began, and even systems that are around now. There really isn’t any other option that is as simple and smooth (for the most part).

What do you think about it, if you’ve got something to add, I’d love to hear it!

Cooler Master X Craft 250 (eSATA and USB)

Cooler Master X Craft 250 RearCooler Master X Craft 250 Hard Drive TrayCooler Master X Craft 250 Hard Drive In TrayCooler Master X Craft 250 SetupCooler Master X Craft 250 In Action

I got the Cooler Master X Craft 250 (eSATA and USB) when I was planning the hard drive transplant for my Macbook Pro, and after my excellent experience with the Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite, I was quite happy to get the baby brother, the 250 Lite and give it a try.

The 250 shares the simplicity of the bigger 350, however a single screw needs to be undone rather than a push button in order to open it. This isn’t really a problem though, and in case you don’t have a Phillips head screwdriver small enough for it, it comes with one!

Once you have the screw undone, the rear of the case slides out bringing with it the hard drive tray which allows you to easily slot the hard drive in. The power and data connections for the hard drive are built into the tray, so basically once you slot it into the tray, it’s connected, it’s just a matter of checking to make sure it is completely on.

By this point, if you are like me, you are getting very excited to get it back together and get started on mirroring your Macbook hard drive onto it. Putting it back together is as quick as taking it apart, just slot the tray back into the enclosure and do the single screw back up. You don’t need to screw the hard drive itself onto anything as the enclosure and tray hold it in place so that it doesn’t wobble around or anything.

Now, you plug it in via USB and discover it doesn’t work, regardless of what computer you try it on.

I was very disappointed about this, but the enclosure will not draw enough power via a single USB connector like other 2.5″ enclosures will. You have to use an additional power USB cable that plugs into the DC input on the enclosure. I assume that this is because it also supports eSATA, so it requires the DC input to power it when using eSATA. Now, while eSATA is significantly faster than USB 2.0, this does not help me at all as I don’t have eSATA on my laptop and I don’t have the eSATA on my desktop set up as all 8 of my SATA ports are in use by internal hard drives.

I haven’t been able to find any way around it, I just have to use two USB cables whenever I want to use it, which means I have to carry two cables around, which simply means, I don’t use it anywhere near as much as I used my old IDE 2.5″ enclusure which was powered off a single USB cable.

As you can see from the photos, this case is a very schmick case, just like it’s big brother, the 350 and shares many similar design elements, but requiring two USB cables is a really big nuisance.

It should also be noted that this works on OS X, XP and Vista without needing to install any special drivers, it is recognised straight away. It also comes with a nice little carry case that fits the drive and a single USB cable perfectly, but will not hold the second cable without stretching it to a point where the drive just slides out. So what is otherwise a great little package is really let down by the need for the second USB cable. If you are looking at getting a 2.5″ hard drive external case, I would still suggest going with the X Craft 250, but get the plain USB version, my understanding is that it is powered off a single USB cable. I only got the eSATA because it was the only one in stock and was only marginally more expensive.

If you don’t mind the second USB cable than it is a great little enclosure that is very simple to setup and use.

Using Time Machine On my Macbook Pro

Time Machine PreferencesI recently set up an external hard drive to use with Time Machine on my Macbook Pro. As nice as the wireless backups of an Apple Time Capsule would be, I don’t need it and thus can’t justify spending the extra on one.

My Macbook Pro had a 120gb hard drive in it at the time and my external hard drive is 750gb, so I figured it should be fine for a backup drive. I turned on Time Machine and once the 750gb drive had been initialised and formatted, it immediately told me that the drive was suitable to use for backing up. It asked if I would like to use it with Time Machine and I said yes.

After that I simply had to specify if I wanted to use the whole drive for backups or only part of it. Once I told it I wanted to use the whole drive thats all that there was for me to setup and it took care of the rest.

Time Machine automatically keeps hourly backups for a 24 hour period as long as the drive is connected. After 24 hours, it keeps daily back ups for a month, and then weekly backups from there on until the back up disk is full. Since it only backs up changes from the original backed up image, it means that it can take quite a while to fill the back up drive. Since I’m running Windows XP in a virtual machine on my Macbook Pro and I suspend it when I’m not using it rather then shutting it down, both the XP disk image and the suspended image are the cause of my largest back ups. Subsequently I back up a minimum of 8gb for pretty much every back up, yet I’ve still only used 360gb of my backup disk in a month.

Accessing your back ups is a breeze. All you have to do is either double click on the Time Capsule disk image on the desktop, or click the “Time Machine” icon in the menu bar and click “Enter Time Machine” from the drop down menu.

Time Machine will slide in over the screen with your current hard drive state shown in a Finder window in the foreground. Behind the current Finder window are a series of smaller Finder windows that gradually get smaller and smaller as they disappear into the background. Each of these windows contains the state of the hard drive at a particular time in chronological order with the most recent behind the current window and the oldest way back in the distance.

Clicking any window will take you straight to that back up, or you can move between back ups using the arrows or the time line. The time line is probably the easiest method for getting a specified back up since it lists the back up times and dates and allows you to quickly jump to a particular time.

To restore a backed up file, all you have to do is go to it and click restore, Time Machine does the rest for you. It really is extremely easy to use and a great way of allowing back ups to be accessed and restored.

Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite (USB)

Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite
Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite
Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite Opening The Case
Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite Base
Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite Circuit Board and Hard Drive
Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite Back Panel

The Cooler Master X Craft 350 Lite is an external USB (there is an e-SATA version as well) enclosure for 3.5″ hard drives. It has a fairly schmick design and comes with an upright stand, however, if you have more than one, they are designed to be stackable as well.

I picked one up about a month ago along with a 750gb Samsung 3.5″ hard drive to setup as a basic back up system for my Macbook Pro using Time Machine. Since it’s just for back ups, I’m not really worried about the aesthetics of the case, it just needs to do the job, and what attracted me to the X Craft is that it was the cheapest in stock at Umart that was not a generic brand. However, as luck may have it, it’s also one of the nicest looking external enclosures and the design is very reminiscent of many of the Cooler Master computer cases.

The design is excellent and setting it up is extremely easy. The bottom and front of the enclosure are mesh, so the hard drive is well ventilated. The top and sides of the case are aluminium, making it a reasonably good heat conductor. This means the heat from the hard drive is fairly effectively transferred, and the circuitry is well ventilated. If you use the upright stand that puts the enclosure on its side, the vents on the bottom of the case are much more effective. In general it doesn’t get very hot at all.

As I mentioned earlier, they are stackable if you have more then one of them and they look like they should fit together very nicely and the rubber feet on the bottom of them should hold them together well (it sticks to the table nicely too). The stand was a little bit confusing at first since it doesn’t click into place, however once I figured it out, it’s a great idea. It is solid aluminium with rubber feet, so it is very slip-resistent, and both sides of the enclosure have runners along them that the stand slides onto. There are a couple of rivets that hold it in place on the stand once it is on, however, if you need to take it off, its as easy as tilting it slightly to one side and sliding it forward and its straight off. While I don’t have a need to remove it from the stand, I think this is a great idea since you don’t have to touch any screws or even any clips to take it on or off the stand, but nor can you easily bump it out or off of the stand.

Speaking of screws, you don’t even need to use a screwdriver to set it up. On the back of the case there is a button, pushing this will allow you to slide the back panel backwards slightly. Once it is back, you simply lift the aluminium cover off of the top and you are in.You don’t have to screw the hard drive in either, there are four suspension stands that line up with the four screw holes on the bottom of standard 3.5″ hard drives. First off, you plug in the SATA connector and power cable, then you just stick the hard drive on top of these stands, making sure that each one fits inside the appropriate screw hole. If you look at the inside of the aluminium cover, you will see a thermal strip and some rails. Take the covering off the thermal strip to help the heat transfer from the hard drive, and then stick the cover back on. You will notice that the rails sit perfectly around the hard drive and thus hold it in place on the stands. Slide the back panel back in and it will automatically clip on.There you have it, very quick and easy installation.

My Macbook Pro recognised the external drive immediately and allowed me to format the drive and then straight up let me use it as a “Time Capsule” with Time Machine. I’ve been running it like that since.

It has been very stable and very reliable, I haven’t had any problems with the connection, which is particularly important since it gets unplugged and plugged back in on a regular basis as my laptop is regularly coming and going with me. It in general keeps the hard drive quite cool, which is something I was a little worried about since it doesn’t have any active cooling.

Overall, it’s a nice little box and well worth the $38 I paid for it. I highly recommend it if you are in need of a cheap, external case that looks good and runs cool. It is available in black or silver.