June 2, 2004 by Allen George
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
Size (LxWxH): 9.5″ x 13.7″ x 1.1″
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 ;-)