It’s official, I am a switcher. A splitter. An ex-Windows user (at home, at least). Today I bought my first Mac since the SE that still haunts our basement storage room in its cute gray carrying bag. Come Friday, I will be an official Mac user!
How did it come to this? It’s not really Microsoft’s fault. I use Vista every day for work, and have come to terms with it (most of the time). And much of my work revolves around Server 2003 and other Microsoft server and storage technologies, which I have come to respect. No, it’s not because of Microsoft’s software; it’s all about hardware.
Attrition was the instigator. My home machines have been slowly dying, killed off by old age. Last to go was my home-brew Celeron 4-powered desktop, which recently ate its second power supply, and the fact that my work laptop kicked the bucket last week. This left me with an ancient Pentium III laptop to struggle with, until Dell fixed the work lappie (it cooked its CPU!). But I like to keep work separate from pleasure, so I saw this as a sign that I had to get busy and get a new home machine.
But what to get? I do lots with the home PC – video editing, photo manipulation, web work, and writing. I’ve always relied on a desktop for these things, and have built a series of them from components over the last decade. But I’ve become less interested in tinkering with hardware lately and more interested in having something that works. And while there are certainly hundreds of choices for sweet pre-built and supported rigs, I finally admitted to myself that I would use a laptop more than a desktop, so the field was narrowed.
But what laptop to get? There’s such a variety these days, from the ultra-light to the budget/mainstream to the workhorse to the crazy. I’ve always liked my Dells, but the XPS M1210 I rely on for work hasn’t been as stellar a performer as I had hoped. I used to be an ultra-light aficionado, with original HP OmniBooks (300 and 800CT) and Toshiba Portege 3010 haunting my past, but this class could never keep up with demanding apps like video editing and encoding.
Yes, it had to be a powerful “desktop replacement” machine with fast storage, lots of RAM, and good video hardware. Hello, MacBook Pro! Not being totally insane, the 15-incher would have to do. And not being made of money, I was looking for a good deal. Although Apple just updated the line in February, the modifications were slight – a smaller and cooler Penryn CPU, a larger hard disk, and that weird too-small multi-touch trackpad.
So I decided to pick up an “outdated” mid-2007 model instead, saving 20% in the process and still getting a killer machine. I went with the 2.2 GHz model, betting that the 4 MB of cache in its Merom core would bring it close to the performance of a 3 MB-equipped 2.4 GHz Penryn, and would certainly be good enough for my use. I don’t think I’ll miss the additional 128 MB of VRAM in the new ‘Books either, and the old model still has the 800 MHz Santa Rosa chipset and LED backlight.
Looking around, I found that Mac Connection and Amazon both had good prices on older gear, but MacMall had the lowest price (after a $150 rebate) and wouldn’t charge sales tax. They talked me into a $100 RAM upgrade (to 4 GB), though I balked at their $40 installation charge. It may be harder to swap a hard drive in a Pro, but RAM is simple to install. I’ll live with the 120 GB 5400 RPM hard drive for a while. But I’ve already got a 160 GB drive on the shelf, and might even skip that in favor of a 320 GB or even 500 GB Samsung at some point.
And Mac OS X? Well that will be a learning process for me. I like the idea of UNIX internals, being an old-school UNIX-head, but am concerned about just how good the OS integration is. Is it lipstick on a warthog like so many other “desktop UNIX” systems? It sure looks pretty, and I love the bundled applications, so we shall see.
And I can always run Vista or XP, since the machine will definitely be a dual (or triple or quad) booter. I went ahead and picked up VMware Fusion at the same time, hedging my bets on the state of Mac applications.
So tune in over the next few months and I’ll let you all know how it progresses. At the very least, I got a killer new laptop!
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Macintosh PowerBook Pro image courtesy of Apple. Macintosh SE image from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Danamania.