I’ve been rethinking my PC-buying plans.

For years now – ever since the first TiBook, in fact – I’ve been planning on buying a 15-inch PowerBook as my next PC. They are, without a doubt, the sexiest pieces of laptop hardware on the market. Gorgeous, well-built, industrial-strength BSD-based OS, beautiful interface, great apps, sweet little details like backlit, ambient light-sensitive keyboards. Every time Apple releases a new model it becomes my new de-facto object of desire.

Nonetheless, I’m starting to reconsider this plan. A number of factors have contributed:

  • It’s a bad time to buy a Mac portable. Apple is in the midst of a major shift, unhitching their wagon from the lagging PowerPC architecture and moving to Intel. The new MacBook is a sweet machine, but it actually drops a few features (like Firewire 800 and S-Video out) that the old PowerBooks had. Now that Intel-based Macs are out it makes no sense to buy a PowerBook; but it seems safe to assume that Apple will be ironing out transition issues for the next few model revisions.
  • My mental image of my ideal usage pattern has shifted. Formerly I had a workstation+laptop model in mind, with a powerful workstation for serious work and a lightweight portable for doing less demanding tasks while lounging in the back yard or in bed. However, now that I’ve had an [obsolete] laptop to work with for awhile, I’ve realized something: I want my laptop to be my primary workstation. The laptop, underpowered as it is, has been a revelation in convenience. In fact, in that it has meant being around Stacey when I would otherwise have been down in the basement working at the computer, it has been nothing short of a marriage-saver.

    I’ve also realized that weight isn’t really a big deal for me. I don’t travel very often, nor do lug a laptop to the corner coffee shop. And having used a monstrous Toshiba widescreen laptop at work for the past few months, I don’t really mind having a heavy laptop resting on my knees.

    Consequently, I’m no longer looking for a svelte, lightweight machine to supplement a desktop PC. I’m looking for a desktop replacement.

  • For all their excellent design, Macs have screwy keyboards. They are missing some perfectly useful keys like “backspace”. And, of course, the built-in touchpad has only one button. Yes, I know, I can attach an external mouse; but that defeats the purpose of a LAPtop.
  • I’m not a big-time gamer, but it would be nice to be able to boot native Windows for the occasional LAN party. Yeah, maybe a MacBook will be able to boot Windows, but I’m not really interested in trying to make it work.
  • Apple’s built-in Airport Extreme cards aren’t supported by Linux. I don’t know if this is still an issue with the new MacBooks.
  • I’m a pixel whore. I’ll take screen real-estate over CPU speed any day. Even the 17″ PowerBook, which is not an option for reasons stated above, can’t match the 1900 horizontal pixels that some of the latest widescreen PC laptops support.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I just can’t afford the “Apple tax”. All that lickable design doesn’t come cheap. The simple fact is that I can get a lot more bang for my buck if I buy a Dell or an HP. And I don’t have a lot of bucks.

So what do ya’ll think? Should I give up my dreams of Mac-based computing for the near future? Does anyone have laptop recommendations?

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  1. I’m not a Mac user but I have heard lots of the sexiness of OSX. In either case, here’s details about my home computing environment:

    Linux router (AMD Athlon 900MHz w/ 256MB RAM) with a few hard disks in it providing NFS/CIFS volumes for LAN parties and personal storage

    Desktop machine in my bedroom (AMD Athlon64 3000+ w/ 1GB RAM and dual 120GB SATA HDDs) dual-booting Ubuntu 5.10 and Windows XP

    MythTV server/frontend hybrid in the living room (AMD Duron 800MHz w/ 1GB RAM and a single 200GB HDD) running Ubuntu 5.10 and doing the MythTV stuff with a PVR card (Hauppauge WinTV PVR-350)

    I have a work laptop, although I don’t use that at home (my bedroom computer is sufficient). But I find it more than adequate, even in the few instances where I need it at home. It’s a Dell Latitude D600 (512MB RAM/40GB laptop HDD)
    I like Dell’s laptops. This one uses Centrino, and Linux supports its wireless perfectly with the ipw2100 driver. I don’t think this laptop has any features I can’t use.
    Also, I custom-compiled a kernel with the Software Suspend 2 stuff, and I must say it works well. The ‘hibernate’ script did take some configuration, but it works well. (73 day uptime so far)

    But anyway, my ideal picture of a computer power user’s home includes a well stocked router/fileserver, either wireless or CAT5e (or both in my case), and any computer they damned well please. Major storage goes on the server, and the desktop/laptops can waste their power pushing fast CPUs/video cards, rather than hard drives.

    1. Good to know about the Dell. I’ve been looking at Dells; they are offering some enticing prices, and I’ve been more or less happy with the Dell desktop I bought years ago.

      Having installed Linux on a number of machines, do you have any preferences in video card manufacturers?

      1. I’ve always used ATI. The latest ATI drivers are being a bitch with Ubuntu 5.10, not sure why. But previous releases of the driver worked well. I ran Unreal Tournament 2004 in linux at the last few LAN parties I attended when I was still running Ubuntu 5.04, and it performed well.

        There is one quirk I’ve found with ATI cards employing TV-Out capabilities. XVideo-driven apps (eg mplayer -vo xv) doesn’t display on the TV-Out port; it displays a big single-color block all over the screen, but you don’t see video overlayed. It overlays properly on the VGA output. Using the standard x11 or opengl drivers work fine.

        This Dell laptop uses an ATI Radeon Mobility M9 chipset. I don’t have any experience at all with nvidia’s drivers, come to think.

  2. not that my opinions matters that much…

    since I’m only a user of pc’s.. and not really someone who gets into the intracies of them…

    In any case.. I know that I love my G4 powerbook and have found it to be a wonderful thing… then again.. I’ve always been a mac-o-phile… and pc’s have never really liked me… When I was forced to get a pc laptop for a work situaion–the one I got had a major hardware failure in it–the cpu was bum–and had to be returned… then i got the next one–which proceeded to have 4 major hardware failures (cracked motherboard, 2 hard drives with bad sectors, and a floppy drive that crashed and was repaired incorrectly..).. so that got replaced.. then the last pc laptop I got to replace the second one is still alive with us–but it has had at least 2 major software crashes (windows 98) that forced me to wipe the drive and reinstall–and it is to puny to upgrade…

    After all this.. i just like the mac because they have always been more reliable for me…

    Of course.. if you are going to run linux–then you shouldn’t have the software problems at all.. and I’m sure you have the ability to customize your machine really well–thus a pc might be a better bargain for you… For me, the macs are just ideal…

    of course.. your point about the switchover is big for me.. I would wait at least for the second models to come out..

  3. I’ve found that I can do everything I need to do on an obsolete laptop. Of course it is a really well built thinkpad that has been upgraded (very cheaply I might add) up to the max the machine can take or was designed to ever do with all the add-ons.

    It does great. A print server and maybe a good scanner are the only things I’d like. Maybe a RAID netowrk drive and a DVD-burner in a box in the corner for extra stuff and to serve as a game server.

    Other than that. I don’t ever want to sit in a desk again.

  4. I *did* read the whole things!

    You need to take a lesson from your wife how to spell “y’all”! :-p

  5. I have a Toshiba P25, it’s a 17″ Desknote. It is 2+ yrs old and still fairly competitive (though I bought it right before USB 2.0 version came out).

    For $1,400 it came with a P4 2.4g, 512mb RAM, USB, Firewire, 40gig drive, TV out. 32mb GeForce, …. oh and a wonderful 17″ widescreen. I don’t think I will ever go back to a desktop except to build a server with a nice 1+ Terabyte raid storage.

    On the flip side, the other day I saw brand new at Staples an HP 17″ laptop for $1,100.

    – Saj

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