Laptop Flipflop


Those who’ve been my companions over the past few months know that I’ve decided to buy a laptop. After conducting extensive research into the choices available I finally settled on an Apple Powerbook. Having made this choice all I had to do was wait until mid-June when I’d have the money to purchase the machine in question.

So, what was I resolved on buying? That’s a difficult question to answer. Although I’d decided on the Powerbook, I vacillated between the 12″ and 15″. It would be no lie to say that I leaned towards the 15″, so here are the specs:

Processor: 1.33 GHz PPC
L2 Cache: 512K
Bus Speed: 166 MHz
RAM: 512MB DDR (333 MHz)
Display: 15″ 1280×854
Video: 64MB ATI Mobility Radeon 9700
Hard Drive: 60GB 4200 RPM
Optical Drive: CD-RW/DVD: 8x DVD (r), 24x CD-R (w), 16x CD-RW (w), 24x CD (r)
Wireless: 802.11a/b/g + Bluetooth
Ports: Modem, 10/100/GB Enet, 2 USB 2.0, line in, headphone out, 1 FW 400, 1 FW 800, 1 PC Card Slot (Type I/II), DVI, VGA, S-Video, Composite
Casing: Aluminum
Size (LxWxH): 9.5″ x 13.7″ x 1.1″
Weight: 5.7lb
Battery life: 3 hrs
Price: $2600 USD+ tax

Now, here’s the shocking news. Over the past month I’ve slowly begun to reconsider my purchase. Yes – that’s correct – the man who was dead set on buying a Powerbook is now considering another machine entirely. But why?

A number of reasons contributed to my choice, with some weighing heavier on my mind than others. First, I asked myself a serious question: “Am I willing to spend over 2600 USD on a machine that I won’t be able to run a huge slew of software on?” I then asked myself another question: “How interested am I in using Linux?” The answers to these queries served to sow the first major seeds of doubt in my mind. I then started to consider other factors that I’d noticed while using Paul’s computer over the road trip. For example, I noticed that the bottom of Paul’s Powerbook got uncomfortably warm when I used it – to the point that I no longer attempted to place it on my knees. I noticed that the Mac OSX interface, although beautiful and polished was somewhat less responsive than my Linux installation (hard drive speed?) and that initial program load was lengthy. Finally, I was less than enamored with the battery life.

Now, here’s the weird part – despite these observations, I really did want to buy a Powerbook. Why? I’ve never owned a Mac and I’ve always been in love with its UI. I think most serious geeks (at some level) have an admiration for the OS X interface and the complete package that Apple puts together. Most of us just don’t want to drop the big bucks for it. There’s more than that though. Everything just…worked. For example, when I plugged in my camera, iPhoto automagically recognized it and had intelligent options for downloading images. iTunes was well developed… Not only that, at a purely geekish level, I had a ‘thing’ for the Quartz window system. Oh yeah.

However, the first seeds of doubt had been planted and I decided to cast around for…’alternatives’. Just to take a look, you know. I decided off the bat to buy from a major notebook vendor, reducing the field to: Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Sony and Toshiba (for completeness sake I also checked out Asus, Acer, Sharp, Panasonic and NEC). I had a few requirements. First, since I deemed battery life to be an issue, I decided to go for a Pentium-M laptop (one of the Centrino components). That cut down my field significantly. I also decided that battery life was a concern and that I wanted a non IEG vid card (i.e. ATI/nVidia). When I considered just these three requirements, the field thinned considerably and I was left with Asus, Acer, Dell, HP and IBM. I’d heard poor opinions about both Acer/Asus wrt. technical support so those got scratched despite their impressive specs.

Out of a crowded field, only 3 remained standing – Dell, HP and IBM. Now came the _extremely_ painstaking part. I whittled down the list of models based on the price I was willing to pay and started to mix/match features against each other. Tough slogging let me tell you – many a review was read, much time was spent browsing the online stores and I scoured the net trying to find the cheapest prices I could. In the end it came down to three machines: the HP nc6000/8000, the Dell Latitude D600/D800 and the IBM Thinkpad T42.

My gosh, what a difficult choice. In the end, I scratched the HP machine because I’d heard quite a bit about how their laptops were flaky. This left the lone two heavyweights – Big Blue and that king of the assembly line – Dell.

Which one did I pick? Did I decide to go for a Wintel machine…or does the PB come out swinging? Stay tuned ;-)


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  • My opinion? Dell. Why? If something goes wrong, you can have it fixed and back in two days. When my fan died, that’s what happenned.

  • Why’d you buy the laptop Paul? I’m having discussions with Allister and looks like he won’t be in the market. Some of the arguments he makes do make a lot of sense, so I’m wondering what the rationale behind _your_ purchase was.

    Also, if possible, point MikeyG and Teehan this way so I can hear their opinions on the matter too.

  • I’m writing this before reading your next post, so keep that in mind:

    My first good computer was an IBM. It sucked big time. Horrible customer support, and shoddy equipment. I vowed never to buy an IBM again. My brother and I each purchased identically Dells next (the only difference being I had an Ethernet card at the time). The computer was powerful for it’s time, and lasted (and still lasts) a good many years. Plus, Dell builds their computers to be easy to upgrade. You don’t have any screws to keep track of when you open the case. Heck, my brother hooked up a DVD burner, has left the case open so that it sits on his comp (a temporary thing yes).

    The kick@$$ desktops are what got me to pick a dell laptop. PLUS, the cost was decent, the features customisable, and heck, when the fan broke (probably my own fault for hitting it or something) they repaired it in 2 days. At which point I learned how easy it was to take apart my own laptop. They built it for hellah easy harddive and disk drive removal, along with RAM upgrading. I found a site on how to take apart my laptop so I could even replace the keyboard.

    Plus, if you get one with a pentium 4 processor, it’s linux compatible. I think.

    Toshiba… avoid it. Heat sinks melt. Same with HP. Mine didn’t.

    That is all :)

  • Here are the main reasons I decided to go for Apple instead of IBM or Dell:

    – Performance was not terribly important to me and I thought it would be acceptably fast
    – I had no exposure to UNIX before and I thought using OSX would be a good way to ease my way into it. If my laptop used Windows it would have been difficult to pry myself away from it I think.
    – I had just got my Nortel Scholarship so price was not really a limiting factor
    Most important were non-technical reasons/
    – The design is just beautiful. It’s like having a shiny new car… as soon as I bought it I grinned just looking at it. I still do.
    – So many great features, like backlit keyboard, built-in wifi and bluetooth, USB ports on both sides
    – It;s just cool to have a Powerbook. It turns heads. This is not the sort of thing you can quantify but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Other brands (dell, IBM) didn’t give me the same feeling.

    Problems I’ve encountered:
    – having a lot of apps open makes it sluggish at times, especially if iPhoto is one of them
    – battery life is OK… 3 hours… not superb
    – it does run a bit warm if it’s on your lap
    – the trackpad is not perfect, it tends to be a bit sketchy at times and my thumb often brushes against it
    – MS Office for Mac is buggy

    Good stuff:
    – it’s just so goddamned slick. the interface is great and there are so many features (like Expose) that make it feel like a polished product.
    – lots of software available via X11
    – still hasn’t lost its lustre!

    I don’t regret my purchase; while it has been an adjustment I think there is something to be said for the excitement of trying new things. Whether this is what you are looking to do or not is up to you, of course.

  • I had Unix experience, and continue to get it daily without having a powerbook. In fact, installing a *nix system on a computer might be the best way to jump right in.

    For me, the scholarship also meant my intent to get a laptop would change slightly: form getting a $1000 Dell, to getting a MUCH pricier dell… still loving the 2.8 GHz processor. The only thing I went slightly cheap on was the video card, which ended up being a 32 meg ATI Radeon (another product I will continue to purchase, as my desktop is equiped with the first Radeon, and was only limited when Enter the Matrix came out… and even then it could play it with low detail settings)

    It has built in Wifi, and so does anything with a centrino.

    Mine DOES get quite hot… but only if it’s plugged in. Otherwise, power management keeps the heat down to a manageable level… but that might be because I don’t have a centrino, I have a desktop pentium 4 processor.

    Problems with my dell:
    -Fan died… but probably my fault… but then dell fixed it no problem
    -The ‘a’ key on my keyboard is messed up… again, probably my own fault.
    -It’s a little heavy for a laptop. My brother bought an old Toshiba for $200 that’s smaller and lighter
    -Only an S-video out… would prefer RCA as well. But it does have “firewire”.
    -Ghetto touchpad. But you do get used to it, and an external mouse is always an option.

    Good things:
    -EASY to take apart and put back together. Upgrades are really easy.
    -The blue “fn” key for built in laptop features like volume, and screen brightness.
    -Battery life: I’ve had it going for 4 hours or so at one point… I’ve never had it die on me yet.
    -Customer support. Yes, their call centre is in India, but they are quite qualified, and were quite helpful and friendly.
    -It doesn’t turn heads like a powerbook, but at least I have full motion with my screen backwards without having it touch the ground.

    Anywho, I gotta get going. Just look at the time. L8r