mobile music machine

I’ve been playing with the new laptop a bit more this weekend; I installed Steam under Vista and got my Steam games copied over, played some Plants vs Zombies under Wine, and while I’ve so far had no luck getting Mac OS X running in a VM, XP is just fine, as you’d expect.

I’ve also installed some of my usual array of music-making tools: Hydrogen, Ardour, a whole pile of effects plugins, and some soft-synths. I tried getting a music setup running on the old Mac, but JACK refused to co-operate with the on-board audio, throwing xruns even with very conservative latency settings. I never did find the cause — I assume it was a driver issue — but for whatever reason, those same drivers work beautifully on the new laptop, running down to about 8ms of latency without a problem. With a good whack of CPU power, this thing should make a great portable music machine.

OF course, I could’ve built a music setup on the old machine under OS X, but it didn’t seem to cater terribly well to an intermediate user like myself: GarageBand seems a bit like a toy, and I don’t have hundreds of dollars to splash out on a decent DAW and a set of plugins. Besides, I’m used to working with the Linux tools now, so I might as well stick with them.

switching sides

Is Apple the “light side” or the “dark side” these days? I’ve lost track, but either way, today was New Laptop Day at the office for me, and after six years of rocking a Mac laptop, I’ve switched back.

The machine I’ve switched back to is a Dell Latitude E6400, and it’s not entirely unlike the MacBook Pro it replaces — it’s quite small and light for its 14.1″ screen, has a great (matte!) screen, and a metal housing. The keyboard’s perhaps the best I’ve ever used on a laptop, and the whole thing feels very solid and looks surprisingly good in an understated, businessy way.

There are some nice little touches, too. It’s nice to have a tray-loading DVD drive again after years of clunky, noisy, unreliable slot-loaders, for instance. There’s a DisplayPort port, but there’s also plain old VGA, so I don’t have to fiddle with adapters to plug it in to current displays/projectors. There are four USB ports, one of which doubles as an eSATA port, and another of which can be configured to charge connected USB devices from the laptop’s battery, even when the laptop is off; the BIOS lets you set a threshold on how low this feature is allowed to run the battery down.

I’m of course running Ubuntu on it, and it’s significantly better as an Ubuntu machine than the MacBook Pro was, mainly due to the trackpad. It’s not as nice as the Mac’s, and it lacks that fancy two-finger scrolling, but it does have three physical mouse buttons, and it’s much less likely to be triggered by my palms while I’m typing. Every piece of hardware I’ve tested so far has worked out-of-the-box. The Intel video that I opted for isn’t super-fast, but it’s enough for World of Goo, and it does a great job of handling external displays on-the-fly, which NVIDIA still hasn’t implemented.

So far, then, I’m very happy with my switch back. Time will tell if I end up missing the shiny Mac hardware, or Mac OS X, but so far, it’s not looking likely.

thoughts that move

I’ve been listening to a rather interesting album this morning — Thoughts That Move, by a Brisbane artist that goes by the name of Hunz. It’s interesting for a number of reasons:

  • It’s free to download
  • It’s really rather good, if you like electro-pop-type-stuff
  • It was recorded during February for the RPM Challenge
  • It was produced using Renoise, a modern tracker, and Hunz has posted the Renoise files online for anyone to download and check out

All of my early music was made on a tracker (the legendary OctaMED SoundStudio on my old Amiga), so I’ve been meaning to check out Renoise for a while, especially as it’s one of the few commercial music apps available for Linux. I think I’ll definitely be giving it a spin now.