My Little Corner of the Net

Hi, I’m a Mac! (or It’s a Unix System! I know this!)

I finally gave in and bought myself a Mac.  My five-year-old Toshiba laptop served me well, but with several pieces of the plastic case broken off and what appear to be memory issues slowing things down, I decided it was time for an upgrade.  At more than three times the price of a similarly specced Windows-based machine, getting the Mac took some justifying, but in the two-or-so weeks since I got it, I’ve been incredibly happy with my decision.

I ordered the 15″, 2.3 GHz MacBook Pro from the Apple in Education site.  It was shipped to me directly from China and took about a week from the time I placed my order to arrive with standard shipping.  With the educational discount (one of the perks of working for a university) the computer came to just under $2,000 after taxes and shipping charges.  I also got a $100 gift card to use toward apps or iTunes, which is a nice perk.

While the initial price difference between Apple and most PC laptops seems outragous, it doens’t take long to notice the features that make Macs stand out:

  • Unix – I’m a Unix guy—I’ve been building web applications to run primarilly on Unix servers for about 15 years.  I can script my way out of just about any situation in Unix and I frequently catch myself trying to use vi commands in Notepad.  Apple was the first vendor to successfully create a mainstream desktop Unix enviornment that is easy for even non-techies to use but that also gives power users the tools they need to get things done.  Having Unix at my fingertips makes developing and testing code so much easier. 
  • Power up – My Toshiba notebook takes about three or four minutes to boot up from hibernation on a good day, followed by another minute or two after I reenter my password before I can do anything.  This is consistent with most of the Windows machines I’ve used over the years.  The Mac wakes up from sleep mode instantaneously, allowing me to log in and get back to work in seconds.  This is great when hopping between meetings—there’s no need to carry an open laptop from room to room just so as not to have to wait to be productive.
  • Battery – Apple claims that the MacBook battery gets up to seven hours of performace.  Although I’ve yet to see numbers quite this high (performance varies, of course, because of system configuration and running programs), five plus hours of use is not out of the question.  Considering that I’ve yet to own a Windows laptop that got more than two hours between charges, I won’t complain about five.
  • MagSafe connector – I’ve broken more laptop power supplies by tripping over cords than I’d like to admit.  I’ve had to replace the power connectors on a couple of laptops as well.  The Mac’s MagSafe power adapter is perfect for a klutz like me–if I get tanlged up in the cord, it simply detaches from the computer as I walk away.  Likewise, the magnetic lid lock means no plastic hooks the break off when my suitcase gets knocked over in an airport waiting area, as happened last year on the Toshiba.
  • Virtualization – While the Mac may have cost as much as three computers, it is, in a way, three computers.  With VMWare, I’m able to run Windows and Linux on top of the Mac OS.  At work it isn’t uncommon for me to have three or four virtual machines running at the same time and, with the 16Gb RAM upgrade I installed the other night, I suspect I’ll be able to do the same with the MacBook, though I’ve yet to try.
  • Display – Apple is the only major vendor still using 16:10 widescreen displays on laptops.  Most current Windows notebooks are now shipping with 16:9 displays with most 15″ models having a maximum vertical display of 768 pixels.  My Toshiba laptop, which has an early 16:10 widscreen display, has a vertical resolution of 800 pixels which I often found too small—I did not want to upgrade to something even smaller.  Apple’s base screen comes in at 1440×900 on the 15″ model or up to 2560×1600 with the new Retina display.  While the Retina display was a bit out of my price range, I did opt to upgrade to the 1680×1050 high-res display.  While I can see the spaces between pixels if I look really hard, the dispaly is crisp, sharp, and bright.  Windows 7 actually looks better on this screen than on any other laptop screen I’ve seen it on.
  • USB – I discovered, quite by accident, that the USB ports continue to be powered while the Mac sleeps, similar to a desktop.  This let’s me use the laptop to charge devices like my phone in a pinch–even with the computer closed–letting me charge my phone and tablet while I charge the computer, even if I’m short of electrical outlets.  A downside, though, is that the Mac only includes two USB ports while the Toshiba (as well as most PC laptops, from what I’ve seen) has four.  This isn’t a huge deal because I rarely ever need more than two at once.

Apple reports that the MacBook accommodates a maximum of 8Gb of RAM, which they offered an upgrade to for $90 when I placed my order.  Checking online, I found that the architecture will support well over 8Gb though currently the highest you can go is 16Gb since no one is making DDR3 SODIMM modules in with more than 8Gb on them.  I found and ordered a 16Gb Corsair Vengeance upgrade kit (note: affiliate link) for about $85 on Amazon and upgraded myself.  I definitely recommend the upgrade as it makes the computer much snappier, though it does come at a small cost in battery life.

Macs aren’t perfect.  If I want to plug mine into a monitor or a projecter, I need to cary around a 6″ long dongle to connect the device’s VGA port to my Mac’s Thunderbolt port.  The dongle is just big enough to be inconvenient but small enough to forget somewhere–and at $30, I’ts not something I want to be loosing.  And yes, that’s $30 for something that every other laptop gives you for free.  I’ve also noticed that the all-aluminum case, while very rugged, does tend to get very warm, especially when I have the computer in my lap.

I’m definitely not an Apple fanboy–no more than I am a Windows or Linux fanboy.  I like certain features of many different systems and despise certain other ones.  Still, Apple packs a lot of nice features into their tiny little aluminum boxes.  Is the high price worth it?  Maybe not to everyone, but I’m happy with my decision.

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