Can I buy a MacBook?

May 26, 2006

Me? A computer nerd's nerd? I'm seriously considering upgrading from my aluminum PowerBook G4 to a MacBook (MB) instead of a MacBook Pro (MBP). What the hell is going on? It's actually quite simple: by almost all accounts, the MB is awesome.

If you've looked at the benchmarks,1 the MB nearly equals or bests the Pro line in almost every relevant category. That jarring statistic, coupled with the ~$1100 price difference, has really caused me to pause and think about which machine I should get.

Before going any further, I should qualify the "~$1100" statement above. The MB configuration I want can be had for $1368, and a comparably-equipped MBP for $1999. The difference in price here is probably not enough to keep me away from the MBP (and its sexy body, 128MB video card, ExpressCard slot, better display, etc). However, if I were to go with the MBP there is simply no way I could stop myself from bumping up the HD to the 7200 rpm model and the video card to the 256MB version (and I'd get an extra .16GHz to boot). Add in all of that and we're now looking at $2,499 (about a $1100 difference). I should point out that the prices I'm quoting include the cheapest memory options available; everyone knows that you upgrade the memory yourself as Apple's prices are ridiculous. While on the topic, I don't think I'd get less than 2GB of RAM (the upper limit) this time around.

Though the MB unarguably gives you phenomenal bang for your buck, there are three main things that have heretofore stopped me from purchasing the new model; the first two fall out rather nicely, but the third might be a hurdle I'm not willing to attempt to jump.

Display

While the widescreen MB display is nice, I'm afraid that the lack of screen real-estate would really start to bother me after a while. Moreover, I loathe "glossy" screens and there is no option to get a matte-style (read: normal) screen with the MB (who the hell wants to deal with the ghastly reflection on those things?). Luckily, for me at least, I don't see either of these things being a big problem, because now that I'm out of school, whatever machine I buy will be pumping pixels through my Apple 23-inch HD Cinema Display 99% of the time (I just need to get a mini-DVI-to-DVI converter). So, it seems to me that I'll only use the MB's screen when I travel (and for bar studying this summer). It's a non-issue.

Keyboard

Much has been made about the MB's keyboard and its non-abutting keys. I, for one, think it looks a bit odd and had some reservations about it when the first pictures started surfacing, but after having typed on the machine quite a bit the last few times I've gone into the Apple store, I don't think it will be too big an issue. Regardless, whatever hangups I might have about the keyboard are mitigated by the same factor mentioned above, namely, the fact that I'll have the lid closed and the machine connected to my cinema display, which requires me to use an external keyboard. It's a non-issue.

Graphics Power

Finally, I'm most concerned about the integrated graphics card on the MB. There's no question that it's plenty powerful for everyday tasks, and can handle both heavy-duty video editing (something I'm not interested in... yet) and photograph post-processing (what I'll eat up most of the CPU cycles with) without issue, but what I'm uneasy about is gaming (both on Mac OS X and Windows using Boot Camp or whatever virtualization software [hopefully] ships with X.5). No, I'm no longer a big PC gamer and haven't been for a while (but at one time in my life... I don't even want to get started), but I'd like the option to be there if and when I feel like experimenting, and, well, that's pretty much an impossibility with the MB.

Conclusion(?)

I thought that typing this out would help me with my decision, but, unfortunately, I'm still stuck. One thing I did realize is that I'm probably not being honest with myself when I start harping on the MB's graphics card and my inability to play PC games because of it. Truth is, I doubt I'll ever get back into PC gaming (what with my Nintendo DS Lite, Sony PSP, and imminent Nintendo Wii purchase to keep me entertained).

Am I willing to pay ~$1100 more for a much better, though likely not pushed, video card, larger screen, and the über-sexy aluminum enclosure? I'm sad to say it, but probably. You know, I could just tell myself that once I start working I'll buy the rumored quad-core Mac tower (or whatever insanely-powerful machine they come up with) and will then have no real need for the MBP extras. Hell, if I can convince myself of that, then I should probably just drop the video card from 256MB to 128MB, accept the 5400 rpm drive, and eat the $631 ($1999-$1368; the difference between the MB and the similarly-spec'd MBP; see above). That way, I could get the "pro" machine (and live with myself :) and then still convince myself later that I need the more powerful tower. Decisions, decisions, decisions.


  1. Benchmarks from Ars Technica, Creative Mac, and MacWorld.   

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