I’ve never been that much of a fan of laptops mostly for 2 reasons. The first is that it’s not particularly feasible to build one yourself should have the desire to do so and for someone who’s hand built every PC he’s ever owned this was a bit of a sticking point. The second was that I never really had a use for an on the go computer that lacked the power of my home PC, apart from those times beloved LAN parties where I’d lament hauling the heft of my PC around. Still I’ve been the owner of several of these devices for various reasons, most of them work related unfortunately, so it’s not like I haven’t had experience with this platform. However I found myself in a rather peculiar situation where I was in need of an Apple computer and a portable device for travelling. Whilst I didn’t rush out and buy one right away it did finally come time for me to bite the bullet and purchase an Apple product and thanks to my contracting company’s financial arrangements the 15″ Macbook Pro was the same cost as Mac Mini with all the required trimmings. So I ordered myself one and just on a week later it arrived at my door in all it’s Apple splendour¹.
As always Apple is the master of utilitarian packaging with the box containing nothing more than what’s required to use the machine. Honestly after being showered with with miscellanea from all the computer bits and pieces I’ve bought for machines it’s always a bit of a shock just how little Apple includes with their products, even the really expensive ones. Still apart from the adapters and possibly the free games I’ve never really used most of those things, but it’s still nice to be lavished with “freebies” when you’re shelling out this amount cash. Hell even my $800 Gigabyte T1028 came with a free carry case.
The laptop itself is very easy on the eyes with Apple’s distinctive industrial minimalist design philosophy distilling away any unnecessary aspect. Even with the entire main body being machined out of a single piece of aluminium it still has a decent heft to it weighing in at about 2.5KG. The keyboard (whilst it takes a little getting used to if you’re used to more traditional laptop keyboards) is well built, backlit illuminated and has a good feel about it. I had no problem bashing out 1000s of words on it over the course of the past month and have yet to meet any sticky or unresponsive keys. The screen is quite nice and whilst I was initially going to go for the matt screen my game developer friend convinced me otherwise. It has given me some trouble in high light situations but it hasn’t been as bad as I had thought it would be. Overall the Macbook Pro gives a very solid first impression.
However it’s not all roses with the new Macbook pro. The first thing I noticed was the power brick. Now whilst I like the magsafe power connection (saved me a couple times from dragging the brick along the ground) the power brick itself is made in a way that you can’t use standard figure 8 cables with it thanks to an in the way connector. It’s mostly an aesthetics thing as the supplied connectors (a direct wall plug and 2m cable) serve to complete the power brick’s shape. Similarly there’s a distinct lack of interconnectivity ports with only the bare minimum being provided. Sure it’s adequate for the most part but there have been several times when I’ve wanted to plug in more than 2 USB devices (thumbdrive, iPhone, camera) and had to store things temporarily on the hard drive in order to get what I want done. Still both of these are minor complaints compared to what I consider the biggest flaw of them all: the aluminium body.
For the first month or so it’s life my Macbook Pro sat on top of my regular PC where I’d remote into it to get any work done. There were only a few times when I actually used it as a laptop and never for extended periods of time. However when travelling there were many times I’d be in front of it for an hour or so and that’s when I started to notice just how sharp the edges are on the bottom half of this laptop. After a while of using it I noticed just how much they were digging into my arms and any further use just made it worse. The only solution I’ve found is to use it on your lap with the keyboard angled down about 45 degrees so that my arms don’t touch it. This also brings with it the problem of it heating up your nether regions to ungodly temperatures making a cushion or laptop stand mandatory.
On the specification front I’ll admit that I was expecting a lot when I bought the Macbook, considering I shelled out for the fastest 15″ model with a 2.66 i7 and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M. Being as I received this laptop during the height of my Starcraft 2 addiction I decided I’d install said game on it to give the graphics card hardware a workout. The game plays buttery smooth on my nearly 2 year old main PC so I had thought it would be cake for my shiny new Macbook. Unfortunately at the same settings the framerates I was getting was almost half of that of my aging rig² even with the newest drivers from NVIDIA. A few tweaks later had it running better (definitely playable) but it still paled in comparison to the machine it sat atop of. I had also copied across my World of Warcraft installation but since my account is currently inactive I’ve yet to give that a go but I’d hazard a guess that it would be quite playable.
Battery life is actually quite astounding, especially when you’re using OS X. With mild usage I was easily able to get 6~7 hours on a single charge and even with 1080p video playing I was still able to eek out just under 4 hours, enough for 2 movies on long flights cross country. Strangely enough even a base configuration of Windows with all the Bootcamp drivers struggled to get close to half that, although I think that’s related to Windows not being able to switch to the low powered graphics as the native OS X does.
The Macbook Pro is everything I’ve come to expect from Apple. It’s well designed, minimalist and over all expensive when compared to similar offerings from other companies. With size, weight and battery life being critical factors for many it unquestionably excels in these areas. However it is marred by it’s high price, underwhelming performance and lack of interconnectivity options. Still the trifecta small size, comparatively light weight and uncanny battery life do make the laptop suitable for a wide range of people and I can’t deny the build quality that’s gone into this Macbook Pro. So if you’ve got the cash to burn or can swing a finance deal like I did the Macbook Pro will do you well, just don’t expect it to perform on par with it’s similarly priced cousins.
¹Just in case anyone was wondering why I’m doing the laptop review separate to the operating system review it’s because they’re 2 very distinct products and warrant being investigated on their own merits. Plus the Macbook can run Windows so there’s no real reason to lump it in with OS X.
²It’s specs are Core 2 Duo E8400, 4GB RAM and a Radeon 4870 just so you know 🙂
My parents always used to tell me that bad things came in threes. When I thought about it there was always 2 other bad things that would’ve happened around the same time so it seemed to make sense. Of course it’s just a convenient way of rationalising away coincidences as something bad will always end up happening to you and the rule is so loose that those three things could cover quite a large time period. Still yesterday seemed to be one of those days where I had at least three things go completely tits up on me in quick succession, sullying what would have been otherwise quite a cheerful day. The common thread of this whole debacle was of course computers; the one thing I get paid to be an expert on are most often the cause of my troubles.
The day started off pretty well. My MacBook Pro had arrived yesterday and I cheerfully went down to the depot to pick it up. A quick chat and a signature later I had my shiny new toy which I was all too eager to get my hands onto. There was enough for me to do at work that I wasn’t completely bored yet I had enough time to not feel pressured about anything. A few good emails from close friends ensured that my not-so-secret project was on track to actually be useful to some people, rather than just me deluding myself into thinking that. It all came undone about 15 minutes before I was about to leave work and cascaded on from there.
Part of the environment I’m responsible for went, for lack of a better word, completely berko. People couldn’t access machines whilst others just refused to start. After spending an hour trying various solutions I knew that I wouldn’t solve this problem within the next 3 hours so I decided to set up some things that would hopefully get the system to rectify itself and ran out the door as quickly as I could. After getting stuck in traffic for nearly an hour I was finally at home and ready to unbox my prize that I had been waiting a long time for, and it was well worth it.
Whilst I’ll do a full review of the MacBook Pro a little later (once I’ve got to know it better) I will say that it’s quite a slick piece of hardware. After fooling around in OSX for all of 20 minutes I fired up BootCamp and started the unholy process of installing Windows 7 on it. To Apple’s credit this process was quite smooth and in under an hour from first unboxing it I was up and running without a single hiccup along the way. After declaring that a success I decided that I should reward myself with a little Starcraft 2, and that’s when my PC got jealous.
You see I have a rather… chequered record when it comes to my personal PCs. They almost always have their quirks in one way or another, usually from me either doing something to them or not bothering to fix or replace a certain piece of hardware. My current desktop is no exception and up until recently it randomly suffered from a hard drive that would erase the MBR every so often along with being slow as a wet dog in molasses. Before that it was memory problems that would cause it lock up not 10 seconds into any game and before that it was a set of 8800GTs that would work most of the time then repeatedly crash for no apparent reason. Anyone who talked to me about it knew I had a habit of threatening the PC into working which seemed to work surprisingly often. I wasn’t above parading around the gutted corpses of its former companions as a warning to my PC should it not behave, much to the puzzlement of my wife.
For the most part though the last couple months have been pretty good. Ever since upgrading the drives in my PC to 2 Samsung Spinpoint F3s (faster than Raptors and cost almost nothing) I’ve had a pretty good run with the issues only being software related. The past few days though my PC has decided to just up and shut itself down randomly without so much of a hint as to what went wrong. Initially I thought it was overheating so I upped the fan speeds and everything seemed to run smoothly again. Last night however saw the same problem happen again (right in the middle of a game no less) but the PC failed to recover afterwards, not even wanting to POST.
You could say that it was serendipitous that I managed to get myself a new laptop just as my PC carked it but to me it just feels like my trouble child PC throwing a jealousy fit at the new arrival in the house. My server and media PC both know that I won’t take any of that sort of shenanigans from them as I’ll gut one of them to fix the other should the need arise. My PC on the other hand seems to know that no matter how much shit it drags me through I’ll always come crawling back with components in hand, hoping to revive it.
My house is a testament to that adage that a mechanic’s car will always be on the verge of breaking down. My PC deciding to die last night was frustrating but it then also let me indulge in some good old fashion hardware ogling, filling my head with dreams of new bits of hardware and what joys they may bring. My quick research into the problem has shown there will probably be an easy fix so it’s not all bad. Still at 10:00PM last night part of my head was still screaming the rule of three at me, but I managed to drown that out with some good beer and an episode of Eureka.
Now to prepare the sacrificial motherboard for the ritual tonight… 😀
Apart from work issued laptops I’ve never really owned my own personal portable computer. A couple years back I did purchase a $300 laptop off ebay in the hopes of transforming it into a carputer however the unfortunate happened and it gave up the ghost a couple weeks after I bought it. Since then I’ve shunned most laptops as I’ve never had a reason outside work to have one, but all that changed recently when several different cosmic forces conspired against me to push me towards my ultimate decision, the MacBook Pro.
Coming up at the end of the year I’m getting married (yay!) to my lovely fiance. We’re going on our honeymoon to location X (no one but me knows where it is, ha!) and if it’s one thing that I’ve learnt from my friends who’ve travelled the world is that pictures and memories will only take you so far. When the first of my group of friends jetsetted overseas he was presented with a travel journal to chronicle his trip. This was long before any of us considered blogging or similar as it was still really in its infancy back then. So I resided myself to get some kind of portable computer to take along with us, not for entertainment just to write in of a night time. Hence I decided that I needed something that was light and compact with a decent battery life. At this point in time I was looking pretty squarely at a netbook as they tick all the boxes and are cheap to boot. I was thrown a requirement curve ball not too long afterwards however.
Enter my budding web application Geon. After showing it around to everyone the consensus was that the end game I was aiming for would be shot in the foot if I didn’t target the iPhone. Since I can write off one phone a year as a business expense the prospect of buying an iPhone isn’t such a bad prospect for me (and really if I don’t want to use it my fiance will gladly take up the opportunity) so I’d resigned myself to getting one once I had matured Geon to a level where I felt iPhone uses would want it. Thinking that such a widely used device would have development environments available for all platforms I set off looking for one so I could have a play.
Oh how wrong I was.
Turns out the iPhone SDK is only available to those who have a Mac to develop on. There is talk of some people running it on Windows using some creative hacks however it doesn’t appear to be all roses for them and 99.999% of the resources I found online make no mention of anything else other than a Mac environment. The cheap option here would be to buy a second hand mac mini but since I’m in the market for a Mac of some description and a laptop it’s going to be better to get something that can cover both requirements.
So I’ve resigned myself to get a MacBook Pro and whilst I initially struggle with the idea of shelling out so much cash for a laptop I’ve come to appreciate what I’ll end up getting. For the same specifications the MacBook Pro is incredibly small and light. Couple that with the new battery which lauds 8 hours of life (I’d be happy with 4 when specs like it has are involved) and it’s a pretty decent machine. Plus thanks to Boot Camp I can happily hide MacOS away if I want to delude myself into thinking I bought a silver Dell or something for a while.
I’m even slightly tempted by the 128GB SSD upgrade option for $288. That’s not too bad with all things considered.
Now where did I put that turtleneck……