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Apple testing USB security key support for Safari

 

Apple’s latest Safari Technology Preview includes support for the WebAuthentication API, which allows users to validate website login credentials via hardware security keys that typically come in the form of a USB stick.

Safari

Apple’s Safari web browser.

According to release notes covering Apple’s Safari Technology Preview version 71, which was released on Wednesday alongside iOS and macOS software updates, the new WebAuthn capability supports USB-based CTAP2 devices.

Developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the FIDO Alliance, WebAuthn is an effort to standardize and enhance the user authentication process across various systems and online gateways. The specification Apple is testing — Client-to-Authenticator Protocol 2 — is a product of the wider FIDO2 standard that enables hardware-backed authentication across the web.

USB-based CTAP2 devices, also known as authenticators or USB security keys, grant a higher level of protection than simple text-based passwords. Instead of relying solely on text-based passwords, which can be stolen or forgotten, the system introduces a physical hardware component into the mix.

Some solutions that rely on the technology require another form of authentication alongside the authenticator. Depending on the system, authentication might involve biometrics, location information, time stamps or password re-entry, among other safeguards. The end result is a strong, multi-factor security protocol that can be deployed across multiple compliant platforms with relative ease.

As noted by CNET, which reported on the Safari Technology Preview earlier today, FIDO2 also supports Bluetooth and near-field communications for hardware authentication, though the current Safari test build is restricted to direct USB connections. The limitation means users will need to insert a security key into their Mac when accessing sites that support CTAP and CTAP2, like Dropbox and Twitter.

WebAuthn in Safari is considered an “experimental feature,” though it could show up in a future version of Apple’s web browser.

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Review: Apple and Blackmagic’s eGPU with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity

AppleInsider takes an in-depth look at Apple and Blackmagic’s Thunderbolt-enabled eGPU, testing the MacBook-accelerating hardware with a gamut of tests from 5K gaming to video editing. We show you everything that sets this eGPU apart from the pack.

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The Blackmagic eGPU, built in cooperation with Apple, might seem pricey at $699, but it comes packing a Radeon Pro 580 GPU, the same chip that comes in the top-spec 2017 5K iMac. By itself, the silicon is worth just under $300, and you can now get it bundled with some other eGPU’s for around $500.

So why would anyone want to pay extra for this particular unit from Blackmagic and Apple?

For one, the Blackmagic is the first eGPU to support Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C monitors like LG’s 4K and 5K UltraFine displays, meaning well-heeled MacBook Pro owners can turn their portable rig into something closer to a desktop.

If you don’t have or don’t plan on buying an LG UltraFine display, the Blackmagic also works with any USB-C or HDMI monitor. DisplayPort screens are also supported with the help of a separate adapter.

In addition to the two Thunderbolt 3 ports, the Blackmagic packs in four USB 3.1 ports and an HDMI 2 slot, besting a number of competing eGPU boxes. The extra inputs and outputs can be used to connect external storage drives, keyboards, mice, or simply charge an iPhone.

The Blackmagic works with any Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac, and it provides 85 watts of charging for your MacBooks. For now, the setup is a macOS-only affair, as the eGPU does not yet support Windows 10.

From a design standpoint, it’s undoubtedly the best-looking eGPU we’ve ever seen, and it’s built with high-quality materials.

This leads us to one of the biggest reasons why you would choose this eGPU over another model: incredibly quiet fan noise and low temperatures. It features a large fan that sucks air through the bottom and pushes it out of the top, just like the late 2013 Mac Pro.

It’s incredibly quiet, even at full load, a major upgrade from competing hardware that gets increasingly loud as operating temperatures heat up. In fact, the Blackmagic is so quiet that we forgot it was on while playing a demanding session of Fortnite at 5K resolutions.

Performance

The eGPU drastically improved the gaming performance of a base model 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. With the MacBook’s internal Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 running at maxed-out resolution and high video quality settings, we were able to achieve around 15 frames per second while playing Fortnite. Those speeds dropped down to 7fps at times and the laptop’s fans were on full blast.

We turned the settings down to around 1080p at medium graphics settings and saw frame rates rise to around 40 to 45fps, but we still experienced frame drops that made the game unplayable.

Connecting the Blackmagic eGPU and LG’s 5K display, we set the game’s resolution to 5K, or 5,120-by-2,880 pixels. Graphics quality (obviously) improved and frame rates were hovering at around 30fps. Unlike the MacBook Pro’s integrated graphics chip, the eGPU was able to keep things much more consistent, with no frame drops that ruined gameplay.

Dropping graphics settings to medium boosted frame rates to about 40fps, and everything still looked great.

We also hooked it up to a regular 4K display using a Thunderbolt 3-to-DisplayPort cable and saw around the same 35fps at 4K “Epic” settings.

Throughout testing, both the Blackmagic eGPU and the MacBook Pro were whisper quiet.

Photo & Video Editing

If you’re a photo editor, an eGPU won’t really make a difference, since apps like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom mostly rely on Mac’s CPU for heavy lifting. We were hoping to see an improvement while editing 42MP RAW images in Lightroom, but the lag is still there despite some assistance from the eGPU.

Video editing, however, is a different story. In Final Cut Pro X, the Blackmagic eGPU allows the 13-inch MacBook Pro to export a five minute 4K h.264 clip with added effects in less than half the time of the integrated GPU. That puts the smaller MacBook Pro’s performance nearly on par with the base 15-inch MacBook Pro. Interestingly, in some cases the 15-inch MacBook Pro gets slower when using the eGPU.

For example, when attached to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the eGPU cut processing time in half for a one minute 4.5K Red RAW clip with added effects. However, the 15-inch MacBook Pro was almost twice as slow when combined with the eGPU.

Stabilizing a 4K clip on the 13-inch with eGPU was basically just as fast as the base 15-inch MacBook Pro, both with and without the eGPU. To our surprise, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the eGPU was faster in the Bruce X 5K benchmark, finishing almost three times faster than the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s discrete GPU.

We tested 4K 60fps Canon Cinema RAW Lite footage in a one minute project with color corrections and a LUT applied on the 15-inch MacBook Pro, with and without the eGPU. We saw a vast improvement not only in export speeds, but timeline smoothness as well. We went from not being able to play back the footage in full resolution to smooth playback in 4K, in both 24fps and 30fps.

Benchmarks

We performed benchmarks by attaching the Blackmagic to a base model 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro and a top-of-the-line 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro with 2.9GHz i9 CPU, 4GB Radeon Pro 560X graphics, and 32GB of DDR4 memory.

Geekbench 4’s OpenCL test shows us the raw graphics performance of each GPU, and as you can see, it’s a massive improvement over the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s GPU.

We also ran the Unigine Heaven gaming benchmark and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Blackmagic eGPU greatly outperformed the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The 13-inch model fell behind by a couple of frames when compared to the 15-inch with the eGPU.

Conclusion

Our testing shows the Blackmagic eGPU is not really worth the extra money if you already own a 15-inch MacBook Pro, are not a video editor and intend to use the hardware without an external monitor.

On the other hand, if you own an LG UltraFine display or a 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro, the solution is definitely appealing. With the 13-inch MacBook Pro, you get added portability when on the go and a quad-core, 8GB Radeon Pro 580 workstation in the home or office, nearing the performance levels of a 15-inch Macbook Pro with i9 CPU.

Overall, the Blackmagic eGPU is a specialty product that makes a lot of sense for a smaller group of people. It’s more expensive than other solutions using the same GPU, and it’s not upgradable. If you need Thunderbolt 3 support and would like a near silent experience, however, there’s nothing else like it.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

Blackmagic’s eGPU sells for $699 and is available through the company’s website and Apple.com.

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Over 4 million people participate in Apple’s software beta programs

 

Apple CEO Tim Cook reveals that an extraordinarily large number of people are taking part in the company’s beta program, which covers early versions of iOS, macOS and the company’s other major operating systems.

Apple WWDC 2018

In an investor conference call following Apple’s release of fiscal quarter three earnings on Thursday, Cook said some four million people are running beta software on their iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV devices.

“In June, we hosted an extremely successful developers conference that previewed many major advances coming this fall to our four operating systems: iOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS,” Cook said. “Developer and customer reaction has been very positive and we have over four million users participating in our new OS beta programs.”

The number of beta program participants is not something that Apple typically releases, so it’s unclear how that number compares to past years. Also unknown is how the participation statistics break down by operating system, and whether developers are included in the number.

Apple frequently touts both the growth of the App Store and its contributions to the app development profession as a whole, so it’s a good guess that the four million figure for software beta participants in one year is among the largest ever for Apple, if not for the history of computing altogether.

At WWDC, Apple unveiled iOS 12, Mac OS 10.14, watchOS 5 and TV OS 12, and has periodically released beta editions of each in the weeks since. The full releases are scheduled for this fall.

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Apple issues third macOS Mojave beta to public beta testers

 

Following Apple’s release of a fourth macOS Mojave developer beta, the company on Tuesday pushed out a third evaluation version of the upcoming Mac operating system to members of its public beta program.

macOS Mojave

The third macOS Mojave public beta is identical to the latest developer version, which includes few major changes save for compatibility with Apple’s latest MacBook Pro hardware.

Apple’s forthcoming Mac operating system incorporates a number of user interface enhancements and productivity tools designed to better take advantage of underlying software technology. An updated Quick Look, for example, provides direct access to photo and video editing tools, as well as Markup capabilities.

Related Finder upgrades include customizable, contextual Quick Actions that save users time on common tasks like resizing images, adding passwords to documents and creating a PDF file from multiple photos.

A new Stacks feature clears up desktop space by automatically grouping files, folders and other documents into stacks, while the screenshots mechanism has been enhanced to more efficiently process images and video captures.

Expanding on existing Continuity tools, Continuity Camera lets users take a photo on an iPhone and insert the image directly into a macOS app like Pages or Keynote. Also revamped is the Mac App Store, which borrows heavily from the successfully redesigned iOS App Store.

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Apple will in a future version of macOS enable developers to port iOS apps into versions that run on macOS. Initially, however, the company is testing the technology with first party apps like News, Stocks, Voice Memos and Home, the latter of which allows users to control their HomeKit accessories from a Mac.

Users who wish to take part in the beta testing process can sign up for access through the Apple Beta Software Program webpage, which also offers downloads for upcoming iOS 12 and tvOS 12 builds.

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Hands on with the new Apple and Blackmagic Thunderbolt 3 eGPU

Along with Thursday’s 2018 Macbook Pro refresh, Apple also announced a partnership with Blackmagic Design which resulted in a new external GPU with an 8GB AMD Radeon Pro 580 GPU —and AppleInsider has it on the test bench.

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Blackmagic says that the $699 unit should boost speeds by as much as 2.8 times on the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and up to eight times on 13-inch systems.

As with the rest of the external GPU units we’ve examined, it connects through Thunderbolt 3, and is designed to connect to an external display for maximum performance boost. However, the Blackmagic one is the first that will accelerate a Thunderbolt 3 display without relying on hacks or other hardware workarounds —more on that in a bit.

High quality design, space grey aluminum shell

The Blackmagic’s eGPU is dense, as compared to others AppleInsider has tested. The weight is about the same, but the unit is condensed, taking less desk real estate than the Mantiz or assorted Sonnet units.

The top and bottom vents look to be plastic but are also well made, The body’s space grey anodizing matches the MacBook Pro pro quite closely.

The design is reminiscent of the 2013 Mac Pro with an intake vent at the bottom and an single large fan at the top. Unfortunately, also just like it, the eGPU lacks the ability to take an upgrade in the future.

The first eGPU to support Thunderbolt 3 displays

Monitor connectivity is provided by HDMI 2.0 for the most part. While other units have incorporated a pass-through Thunderbolt 3 port, the Blackmagic eGPU is the first to use the port to accelerate a downstream monitor, which we can happily confirm. Neither Apple nor Blackmagic mention native USB-C monitor support so that’s something we will be looking into.

Blackmagic eGPU ports

Along with the Thunderbolt 3 ports we have 4 USB 3.1 ports which run at Generation 1 speeds. As such, they are limited to 5Gbps.

One omission is a DisplayPort output, meaning those that have an older display that doesn’t have an HDMI port may be out of luck. Active HDMI to DisplayPort adapters can be expensive, and problematic, and the about $90 it costs to get one probably isn’t worth the effort.

This is where the differences between USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 come in to play. Thunderbolt 3 is USB-C, but not all USB-C devices are Thunderbolt 3 —so we’re not sure yet how USB-C alternate modes which allow for easy monitor connectivity will work with the eGPU.

This all said, We do have a USB-C to DisplayPort cable and adapter on order. If the eGPU will connect to a monitor with a USB-C alternate mode, it will be the saving grace for those that need to connect with anything else than HDMI or Thunderbolt 3.

This thing is quiet!

One of the biggest complaints we’ve had with the many external graphics enclosures we’ve reviewed is the noise. Typically, you have a fan for the power supply, one to three fans on the graphics card, and another fan or two for the enclosure which results in a constant drone that doesn’t go away, and gets worse when the system is under load.

After plugging the eGPU into our 2018 Macbook Pro and our LG 5K display, we started trying to figure out how to turn it until we realized it was on, and just super quiet. Apple quoted a sound level of only 18dB and they weren’t kidding.

Foregoing upgradability and designing the GPU and other components as a coherent whole allowed Blackmagic to use larger heatsinks and a single large fan which keeps everything very quiet, even under load.

As for connectivity, our LG UltraFine 5K display worked flawlessly connected to the Blackmagic Design eGPU. Now a single Thunderbolt 3 cable will allow users to connect to an external display, external graphics, have a mix of USB 3.1 and USB-C ports, and charge a laptop with 85 watts of power coming from the eGPU.

Performance

Launching Geekbench 4, our 2018 13-inch Macbook Pro with Touch Bar with Iris Plus 655 scored 32,991 in the OpenCL compute score. After plugging in the eGPU, and selecting the Radeon Pro 580 inside the device from the menu resulted in a score of 110,507, practically the same score as our top-of-the-line 2017 5K iMac with an internal Radeon RX 580 GPU.

We’ll do more testing for the full review.

Having access to a graphics card with this much performance along with the new quad-core CPUs in the 2018 Macbook Pro could mean that some 15-inch Macbook pro users could now downsize to a the smaller model. It would be more convenient when on the go, and there would be a performance gain when at the desk versus using a 15-inch with no eGPU.

This comes at a cost, though. The Blackmagic eGPU is $699. This is $200 more than the current retail price on the Gigabyte eGPU we looked at not all that long ago, for the same performance. The former is quieter, but the latter is yet smaller —but has a power brick, and is much louder.

AppleInsider has been living with eGPUs for some time, and have lived with the noise and size. So, we have a lot more testing to do to see how a setup like this works in the real world, and stacks up against other GPUs, and how it fully lines up against a 5K iMac.

Where to buy

The Blackmagic eGPU, which is available only at Apple, sells for $699 with free shipping or in-store pickup.

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The Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro is well implemented, but serves no useful purpose

With the 2016 MacBook Pro came polarization of the user base. It wasn’t just over USB-C, but also Apple’s new Touch Bar as well.

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The TouchBar’s debut

The Touch Bar was intended to appear and function as a dynamic OLED strip of virtual keyboard keys, unconfined by the physical structure of mechanical keys. Optimally, all the keys are context-sensitive, changing not just appearance but size based on what app the user is in, and what the user is doing.

The old key functions aren’t quite gone. If you hold down the FN key, the Touch Bar reverts to a standard strip of 12 function keys and the ESC key. If you boot into Windows, the Touch Bar reverts to displaying virtual FN keys.

After nearly 21 months of use, the verdict is still out on the Touch Bar here at AppleInsider. It’s not a universal tool, and we don’t use it for everything. Mileage may vary, user to user.

We said once that the the Touch Bar will take some time to mature and find its best uses. Out of the box, it hasn’t really fulfilled its promise, but still has potential.

More on that potential in a bit.

Lacking as a video or audio editing tool

We do a lot of video work, as you can probably tell. The idea of a digital, customizable control panel that gives quick access to shortcuts was, and is, intriguing.

Anything that can speed up workflow is a welcome addition. We gave Apple the benefit of the doubt and tried our best to incorporate the Touch Bar —but it just didn’t’ stick.

Touch Bar use is literally limited to display brightness and volume adjustments. In Final Cut Pro, you have buttons to use as shortcut but none of them are new or innovative and each one of them can be accessed faster by using the keyboard. We did learn a few more shortcuts that we didn’t know about previously, but we just looked up the keyboard commands for them.

The best video editing feature of the Touch Bar is seeing the video timeline and being able to scroll. But, for maximum efficiency and speed, you’re better off sticking with the keyboard plus mouse or trackpad.

In general use

We don’t have any complaints about the hardware at all. It is quick, and updates rapidly. The images are crisp and clear, and the touch sensitivity is second to none. It’s just not that good in actual use.

The Touch Bar has its uses for non-editors, but they are few and far between. Safari has a few niceties in Safari with open tabs, but given that you’re looking at the screen to surf, this isn’t the most convenient thing.

As we said talking about the 2017 MacBook Pro as a whole a year later, our Touch Bar use is generally limited to display brightness and volume adjustments. With some options, Touch Bar forces users navigate an extra menu to find certain settings, like adjusting the keyboard backlight and skipping audio tracks, tasks that take one simple keypress on standard function keys.

Some of these are Apple’s user interface choices. Apple itself doesn’t give users that much in the way of configuration options in this regard, but there is a way forward.

Third parties to the rescue!

Regarding potential, a third party app called Better Touch Tool allows users to completely customize the Touch Bar. In short, the bar can become a custom keyboard extension, with just about every parameter configurable for any given app.

At a touch, Better Touch Tool can also run Apple Scripts, and return a value to the Touch Bar. So, there are already info-dense tools available for it, including weather and stock tools.

So, all those things that Apple didn’t include for customization, Better Touch Tool can do.

There’s a lot more that it can do, even for trackpad users. It’s free to try out for 45 days, or it’s included in a Setapp subscription.

There is another one we like called called 2Touch which isn’t quite as robust, but leverages Apple’s accessibility options to give the user a few more choices for the bar.

Probably not going away

We can’t imagine a scenario where Apple decides to pull the Touch Bar. In all likelihood it will continue to offer a lower-end MacBook Pro with function keys, but won’t make it optional across the line.

The Touch Bar could be great. It’s got the ability to be great, as we’ve demonstrated. And, as we’ve said before, it has more to do with making the Mac easier for iOS users, than helping existing Mac users.

We can’t help but feel that the Touch Bar is a transition to something else. While we’d prefer that tactile keys don’t go away, between the short travel on Apple’s Butterfly keyboard and the Touch Bar, we’re starting to wonder if Apple wants to build a machine without a physical keyboard, and one with all virtual keys.

We’ll see in the fullness of time, of course. But, like many other courses Apple has set, there’s likely a destination on the horizon —we just can’t see what it is yet.

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A year with MacBook Pro: reviewing Apple’s 2017 pro laptop models

Apple was rumored to refresh its MacBook line at WWDC 2018, but with the event come and gone with nary an announcement to be heard, we know we have to wait a bit longer for new hardware. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how our 2017 MacBook Pros have fared over the past 12 months.

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Let’s start with one of the biggest concerns aired when Apple redesigned its top-tier laptop in 2016: dongles. A good swath of negative MacBook Pro reviews cite a distinct lack of ports as a primary issue with the line, noting most models require a seemingly endless number of USB-C dongles. Depending on the model, MacBook Pro comes with two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, each of which relies on the USB-C connector format.

At first, USB-C solutions were scarce, but if you take a look at Amazon today, the online marketplace is flooded with cables, adapters, high-speed SD Card readers and more. The affordable AmazonBasics brand offers practically every kind of USB-C cable users need. The accessories are so inexpensive that we have replaced every single cable we typically use with a USB-C version.

Thanks to fairly quick adoption of USB-C technology, dongle hell is pretty much over.

The keyboard

All 2017 MacBook and MacBook Pro models feature Apple’s second-generation butterfly keyboard mechanism, which definitely improved over the first-generation’s butterfly keys in terms of feel and reliability. However, it took less than a year for some major flaws to be revealed.

Apple’s design keeps key travel very short and leaves internal switches unsealed. Over time, dust and other small debris like bread crumbs can begin to collect inside the keyboard mechanism, eventually blocking internal contacts to render affected keys useless.

Apple is already facing multiple class action lawsuits due to this problem, but luckily we have yet to experience similar issues with our 2017 MacBook models.

While Apple has already launched an extended repair program for those afflicted, Apple has two options to fix this issue in future refreshes. The company can individually seal each key or create a new mechanism that is more resilient to debris.

As for the key switches themselves, we like them, but the extremely shallow travel takes some getting used to. Our fingers still get tired after a long day of typing,

To Touch Bar or not to Touch Bar

2017 marked the second year that Apple’s dynamic Touch Bar was made available on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. To be honest, we’re glad we have the base non-Touch Bar model. Let us explain.

One of the best Touch Bar features is quick, secure, and easy unlocking with integrated Touch ID, but after using the feature for a year we have reverted back to entering our password via the keyboard. Of course it depends on your passcode, but for us typing is just faster.

The same goes for the Touch Bar itself. A year later, our Touch Bar use is literally limited to display brightness and volume adjustments. Sometimes it’s a little bit annoying, because Touch Bar forces users navigate an extra menu to find certain settings, like adjusting the keyboard backlight and skipping audio tracks, tasks that take one simple keypress on standard function keys.

If we had the choice of saving some money by opting out of the Touch Bar, we would do so in a heartbeat, in fact, that’s what we did for our 13-inch MacBook Pro.

My one wish is that Apple would replace Touch ID with Face ID. Windows Hello works like a dream on the Dell XPS 13, it’s basically the perfect way to unlock your laptop, so I’m just waiting for Apple to bring Face ID to their Macs.

Trackpad

Let’s quickly mention the massive trackpad, which receives a little bit of hate from some Windows users. We can tell you that once you use this trackpad, it will be incredibly hard to go back.

Windows machines are far behind the MacBook Pro’s trackpad, which has user-adjustable force-touch input and feedback. The best part is that the clicking feel is even across the whole surface of the trackpad, unlike most, if not all Windows laptops. You can right click from anywhere by simply using two fingers, so you don’t need extra buttons.

MacBook also boasts incredibly quick gestures for almost any command within the macOS user interface. Swiping up with four fingers, for example, launches Mission Control, while a pinch gesture with four fingers invokes Launchpad.

Hardware

Moving on to hardware, MacBook Pro’s speakers are very good for their size, much better than most Windows laptops that we tested, including Dell’s XPS 13.

As for performance, the base 13-inch MacBook Pro is just as fast as the day we got it. It obviously floors the similarly priced 12-inch MacBook, and in regular use it performs basically the same as the base 15-inch MacBook Pro. This is borne out in nearly identical single-core processor benchmarking scores between the two machines.

The 15-inch does, however, excel at multi-core tasks like video editing.

We recently compared the base 13-inch MacBook Pro with the new Dell XPS 13 laptop, which for us is one the best Windows laptops available. It packs Intel’s 8th-gen i7-8550U Coffee Lake processor, so CPU performance is far better than the MacBook Pro’s, especially in multi-core.

However, Apple chooses to pay more for CPU’s with powerful integrated graphics like the Iris Plus Graphics 640 chip in the base 13-inch Pro. This results in a 20 percent boost to graphics benchmarking scores compared to the XPS, despite the MacBook Pro being an older laptop.

When we use apps that are optimized by Apple, like Final Cut Pro X, the MacBook Pro edits way above its class when compared to a Windows machine using Adobe’s Premiere Pro.

Design-wise, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is almost perfect. The aluminum chassis is in a whole different realm compared to Windows laptops. It’s basically flawless, all-around. The size is perfect for traveling, it’s not too heavy and not too light. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is definitely nice for the extra screen space, but it’s a bit more difficult to travel with.

The 13-inch Pro’s display is gorgeous and we love the black bezels around it. Our favorite feature is the taller 16:10 aspect ratio, which affords more real estate when compared to the standard 16:9 ratio on most Windows laptops. That extra vertical screen space is what you want when browsing the web.

If you’ve got the extra cash, definitely pick up the base 13-inch MacBook Pro instead of the MacBook Air, which is long-overdue for a redesign.

Wish list

First and foremost, we obviously want the latest processors, but most of all we want quad-core chips instead of the current dual-core CPU’s.

We would also like an updated keyboard with more travel and, more importantly, a reliable architecture that doesn’t break when a little dust gets in. It would also be nice if Apple could slim its screen bezels and fit a 14-inch display into the same, perfect form factor.

Of course we can wish for some unrealistic things like a nice dedicated graphics chip and support for 32GB of RAM, but at this price point and form factor, MacBook Pro is nearly perfect as it is.

If you’re in the market for a 2017 MacBook Pro, be sure to check out our Price Guides for the latest deals and special offers. Current discounts of up to $400 off are available with our exclusive coupon.

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First details emerge about new batch of Intel processor security flaws

Details of the first of the second wave of Spectre-style vulnerabilities in Intel processors has been published earlier than expected, with the “LazyFP” vulnerability potentially allowing an attacker to access sensitive data, such as cryptographic keys.

Part of a secondary collection of processor vulnerabilities discovered following the Spectre and Meltdown disclosures, LazyFP (CVE-2018-3665) was originally found by researchers working for Amazon and Cyberus Technology earlier this year. As part of the process of responsible disclosure, details of the flaw were provided to Intel and other related firms, with a release to the public scheduled after a defined period of time had taken place.

In May, it was reported Intel had successfully negotiated with researchers to delay the release by a few weeks, but wanted to push it further back, potentially until July. According to Cyberus, the embargo was set to lift in August, but rumors of the vulnerability forced an earlier disclosure, possibly to try and pressure Intel and other vendors to work faster in creating and implementing a solution.

While the LazyFP whitepaper explaining the issue is being withheld, following a request by Intel, some details about how the vulnerability works have been issued.

LazyFP centers around the use and abuse of the Floating Point Unit (FPU), and associated registers in the processor. To enable multitasking, the FPU needs to be able to store its state in order to switch between tasks.

Using what is described by Intel as a “Lazy FP state restore technique,” the restoration of an FPU’s state can be delayed until an instruction operating on it is executed by a new process. “Eager FPU switching” saves the state on a context switch without any delay, whereas the “lazy” version is an optimized way that accounts for processes that don’t use the FPU all the time.

While the details of the attack are not explained, it is suggested it is based on the manipulation of the FPU and how it holds data while the Lazy FP technique is used.

According to Intel’s advisory report on the vulnerability, it has a severity rating of “moderate,” and is described as affecting “Intel Core-based microprocessors,” but not specific models. There is also no mention of which operating systems are affected by the vulnerability.

It is unknown if Apple has been affected by the flaw, but as all current Macs and MacBooks use Intel processors and have done for a number of years, it is still plausible. Apple usually posts details about the vulnerabilities it fixes in its software on its security updates page, but there doesn’t appear to be a reference to the latest disclosure as of yet.

Revealed in January, the Meltdown and Spectre chip flaws in Intel and ARM-based processors allowed the creation of a number of exploits in systems using the components. All Mac and iOS devices were found to be affected by the issue, but Apple advised at the time it had already mitigated the issues for current operating system versions, and was working to develop other fixes.

The more recent batch of eight similar security flaws were found to be caused by the same design-related issue, and includes four classified by Intel as “high risk.” While seven of the eight are thought to have the same impact as Spectre, the eighth is thought to be a greater threat against enterprise systems, in being able to allow attackers to exploit a virtual machine to attack the host.

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macOS Mojave will include ‘Plug & Play’ support for HTC Vive Pro headset

 

Apple will make it easy for owners of the HTC Vive Pro to use their virtual reality headset with their Mac, with the company advising it has worked directly with HTC and Valve to add support for the peripheral to macOS Mojave.

Announced during the Metal for VR presentation during WWDC 2018 last week, spotted by Road to VR, Karol Gasinski of Apple’s GPU Software Architecture Team confirmed the support for the HTC Vive Pro, adding it will be “plug-and-play” with macOS 10.14.

“We’ve been working very closely with both Valve and HTC to make sure Vive Pro is supported in SteamVR runtime on macOS,” Gasinski advised.

The HTC Vive Pro uses a pair of 1440 by 1600 AMOLED displays with a pixel density of 615 ppi, a 37-percent increase in pixel density and a 78-percent increase in resolution compared to the previous Vive headset. The headset also includes stereo cameras mounted to the front, allowing it to be used in mixed reality applications, and also supports SteamVR Tracking System 2.0, which can increase the available space the headset can be tracked within.

Support for VR headsets was included in macOS High Sierra, alongside similar changes enabling the use of external graphics card enclosures to improve the graphical power of the connected Mac. Last year, Valve launched SteamVR for macOS, extending the framework from PC to work with compatible Macs, and simplifying development for games to work across both platforms.

Under Metal 2, Apple’s graphics architecture builds on top of the existing version of Metal, with features including GPU-controlled pipelines, accelerated machine learning training, and improved processing of ray-triangle intersections for rendering. More importantly, Metal 2 also includes specialized support for Mac systems using external GPUs and for VR headsets.

Apple’s push to adopt Metal 2 has come under fire from developers, after it was revealed OpenGL and OpenCL will be depreciated in macOS Mojave. Apple confirmed in developer documentation that the older cross-platform graphics technologies will be gradually phased out, which could cause issues for multi-platform development, as well as for older OpenGL-based games to remain functional in future macOS releases.

Though the additional support for the HTC Vive Pro was made during WWDC, it isn’t included within the initial betas of macOS 10.14 provided to developers. It is likely that support will be included in a future developer beta build, ahead of the operating system’s expected release in the fall.