Longtime Thinkpad-using IT professional about to make the switch to MacBook.
January 5, 2009 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Longtime Thinkpad-using IT professional about to make the switch to MacBook. Could use help navigating options.

I've read the most recent few AskMe questions debating the pros and cons of the various generational MacBook flavors (here, here).

I've been an IT manager at various levels for the past 15 years, and have used and supported nothing but Thinkpads for the past 10. I love them, and have no complaints.

By anyone's definition, I am a power-user. In addition to all of the business and development applications I use on a daily basis, I've recently begun to delve more deeply into fairly lengthy video-editing projects.

In two weeks, I am starting graduate school in a non-IT discipline. I have in the neighborhood of $2,000 to spend on a new laptop that will serve as my one-stop shop for (primarily web-based) school, IT consulting, and video editing. I have pretty much made my decision that I'm going to get one of the aluminum-cased MacBooks or MacBook Pros..

My question for you Mac expertss is, given a budget of $1,800 - $2,200, what configuration would you opt for? I'm a little lost as to the revision history of the Macs since the first aluminum-cased machines were released, and it is making following the discussions on relative value difficult.

A couple of additional questions: Is it possible to get a matte screen on the newest 15.4 Macbook Pro? Is AppleCare as solid an investment as the equivalent (excellent) Lenovo warranty?

Thanks for your help!
posted by Roach to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
FWIW, Macworld is happening right now, and there's a broad consensus that there will be a new Macbook Pro announced tomorrow during the keynote.
posted by mkultra at 12:48 PM on January 5, 2009


You want the Macbook Pro, not the Macbook. The most important reason is the non-integrated GPU.

As for the trim: just buy the cheapest one. Upgrade the RAM yourself (Apple charges way too damn much).

No, you can't get a matte screen. AppleCare is, I'm told, a decent investment. I didn't buy it. And when my wife bought it for her new Mac, and tried to activate it, they informed her that her machine was a refurb (no it wasn't) and that they couldn't activate it. I don't know what that says about their customer service, but whatever.
posted by Netzapper at 12:51 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


What you would want to get is the 15" MacBook Pro stock model. Check to see if you qualify for education discounts that will bring the price down by $100 to $1899. Upgrade the RAM to 4GB on your own for about $100. There currently is no matte-screen option on the MacBook Pro, but eventually, the accessory makers will come to market with an anti-glare filter that works well for it.

AppleCare is a solid investment in most cases. $349 will extend the warranty to three years from initial one-year that comes with the machine. If you have hardware issues not relating to accidental damage, you'll receive prompt service at the Apple Store or a nearby authorized Mac repair center. If you're highly technical, it might not be so worth it since you would be able to replace components that might break, but pricing and availability of those when you need them is subject to change. Apple doesn't offer any in-home or in-office support plans to end users, so if that was a component of the Lenovo warranty, that's one way in which it would differ.

I currently own the model in question and I for the most part really like it. In many instances though, the hyper-glossy glass display kills me (like right now as I write this in a well-lit room).
posted by cgomez at 12:53 PM on January 5, 2009


If you're doing video editing, you can skip over the regular macbooks (graphics are too weak)and head for the Pro line. It's just size and monitor options from there.

AppleCare is totally worth it; it's the only add-on warranty that's ever done me any good.
Milk the extra three months out of it by not activating it until your newMac is 89 days old - all models come with 90 days of AppleCare; you're just buying an extra three years of it. (after that you're kinda on your own, though.)
posted by bartleby at 12:54 PM on January 5, 2009


The MacBook Pro. It's light, fast, and and durable. You can also run WindowsXP on it via Parallels or VMWare Fusion.

Get your extra RAM from Trans Interantional, not Apple.

You will not be disappointed. Time Machine alone makes moving to OS X worthwhile. Painless and easy backups of everything on your computer. Sold!

Not to mention ever having to deal again with IE6, IE7 and the millions of trojans, adware, and other ridiculous crap that festers in Windows-based computers.
posted by camworld at 12:57 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it possible to get a matte screen on the newest 15.4 Macbook Pro?

No.

Is AppleCare as solid an investment as the equivalent (excellent) Lenovo warranty?

Yes, AppleCare has a very solid reputation. They are notoriously generous in fixing things that may or may not have even been manufacturing errors. Keep in mind that you have a full year (iirc) to purchase the warranty though. That means you can hold off when you buy, if anything comes up in the first year, buy AppleCare then and then ship it off.

I have a 15" MBP w/ matte screen (bought refurbished) and I can't say I am happy to see it go. The new case makes up for it though. A good place to ask and peruse mac information is the MacRumors forums. The people there tend to be quite obsessive about these types of issues. Initially I would err on the side of the Macbook Pro because it has a discreet video card, but do yourself a favor and make sure you have enough left over to get a full size monitor or two (19" at the very least) and a real mouse for video editing. Taking that into consideration, I would probably get a regular Macbook, stuff as much RAM in there as possible (aftermarket) and spend the rest of my cash on two nice displays.
posted by sophist at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2009


Actually, scratch that. I just realized there probably isn't an easy way to run dual displays from a laptop, especially one with integrated video.
posted by sophist at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2009


Time Machine alone makes moving to OS X worthwhile. Painless and easy backups of everything on your computer. Sold!

It's kinda funny. I've used TM, and lots of my clients have used TM, and lots of my friends have used TM. Many of them really like it and use it for browsing back for older revisions of files.

And yet, none of them report success with actually recovering from a systemwide error with Time Machine. Not one of them. System crashes, filesystem gets fux0r3d, they go through the Time Machine restore process, and they wind up with a whole harddrive full of files whose permissions, users, owners, and locations are incorrect. Backed up programs, especially, do not seem to come back happy. It's far less work to just reinstall from scratch and then retrieve specific files from Time Machine.
posted by Netzapper at 1:06 PM on January 5, 2009


Get the new unibody MacBook Pro for the better video card. These machines can accept up to 6GB of RAM (despite Apple's published max. limit of 4GB). The extra RAM will help tremendously with any virtualization you want to do via Parallels or VMWare (or Boot Camp, but I suspect you'll like the actual virtualization better than multiple-booting). Just imagine being able to install and run in its own sandbox any x86 environment you want, simultaneously, even. Set up a test Linux server with Apache. Build a Win2003 or WinXP environment. You want to test out the newest Ubunutu? Create another virtual machine and install it. Easy as pie.

Re: AppleCare. You're going to get mixed opinions on this. Some people love it; others hate it. My opinion is that it's worth it for any laptop but less so for desktop Macs. It's a bit expensive, but I've had it save me and my clients more often than not in the many years I've been using/supporting Macs. One very important distinction is that AppleCare will not help you with accidental or cosmetic damage. If you drop the MBP and break the LCD, all the AppleCare in the world isn't going to get you anew LCD. If you're concerned about this, there are 3rd-party insurance outfits that can help you. I've had good luck insuring Mac laptops with Safeware.

I believe that you'll discover you like Mac OS X. You're a power user and probably have some familiarity with Linux / Unix. When you realize that Mac OS X is actually an incredibly powerful OS with a pretty and functional GUI on top, you'll really start to like it. Search AskMe for any one of the several "Which Mac OS X apps should I install?" questions for hints on where to start with the best apps out there for productivity, tech work, sysadmin, etc.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 1:22 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all of the input so far!

So I take it that this machine is not the latest generation, given that it has a matte screen?

It also only has 3mb of L2 cache and DDR2 SDRAM rather than the 6mb cache and DDR3 present in this model.

So for $500, a guy loses the preferred matte screen but gains a bigger cache and faster RAM. Interesting potential tradeoff. Hmmm.
posted by Roach at 1:24 PM on January 5, 2009


So for $500, a guy loses the preferred matte screen but gains a bigger cache and faster RAM. Interesting potential tradeoff. Hmmm.

And a dedicated GPU, which makes a much bigger difference in video editing than RAM or cache.
posted by mkultra at 1:26 PM on January 5, 2009


I'll echo everyone else and say get the 15" Macbook Pro.

Mainly I'm posting to say that contrary to Netzapper, I have happily used TM to restore a whole system. About 6 months ago my Macbook's hard drive died. When I got the replacement (yes, get Applecare too, by the way) I simply plugged in the new disk, hooked up the external drive and put in the Leopard DVD.

The Leopard installer recognised that I had a Time Machine drive attached and away it went. About an hour later, everything was exactly as it was when the system was last backed up; music, files, software, e-mails, everything. Never had any permissions error, but I guess I'm not saying that others haven't experienced bad things! Just to clarify that it can work..

Although I have read that you shouldn't simply drag and drop (or directly clone the backup drive for that matter) files onto a new drive as the permissions won't get set properly - you have to use the TM software.

Hopefully it never has to come to that, though!
posted by gkhewitt at 1:26 PM on January 5, 2009


Don't get your RAM from that Trans International site linked above, their prices are awful. Keep an eye on Dealnews and Slickdeals; I just got 4 GB of RAM for ~$35 on a deal I found through Dealnews. You sound tech savvy, so I'm sure you can figure out what type of RAM the MBP is using and what you'll need to get.
posted by sinfony at 1:29 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


mkultra, the machine he's linked to has an Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT, which is a perfectly reasonable dedicated graphics chip.
posted by sinfony at 1:30 PM on January 5, 2009


And yet, none of them report success with actually recovering from a systemwide error with Time Machine. Not one of them. System crashes, filesystem gets fux0r3d, they go through the Time Machine restore process, and they wind up with a whole harddrive full of files whose permissions, users, owners, and locations are incorrect.

Um, maybe they're just doing it wrong? I support many hundreds of Macs in my workplace and that many more plus some in my private consulting and have successfully restored from Time Machine many times after a HD failure. Yes, I've had permissions problems on some files after a restore, but this is relatively easily fixed for anyone who has basic understanding of permissions in Mac OS X. And yes, on a very few occasions, an application didn't restore fully (I'm looking at you, bloated buggy Adobe CS3 suite). But far more often than not, Time Machine has worked exactly as advertised, allowing me to restore my or my cients' computers to a "last backed up" status after a HD failure. I think if TM were actually fundamentally broken, as you imply, there'd be much louder howls of derision and whinging than there are. Instead, what I see are the same complaints about permissions not restoring properly, TM getting "stuck" on backing up a corrupted file, or TM not being configurable enough out-of-the-box (run every X hours instead of every hour, etc.).

Time Machine isn't perfect. It's certainly not an enterprise-level backup system. But for home users who want to simply have an incremental backup of their data to an external volume, it works wonderfully, 999 times out of 1000. If the OP really wants sophisticated backup, he can always build himself an rsync environment or pay through the nose for the new Retrospect, or Atempo, or Veritas, etc. etc.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 1:32 PM on January 5, 2009


Netzapper: Your AppleCare story is extra confusing, because one of the benefits of buying refurbed machines from Apple is that you can buy the standard AppleCare plan for them.

Perhaps it was not purchased through Apple, and therein lies the difference?
posted by crickets at 1:38 PM on January 5, 2009


Concerning AppleCare:
Get it off of eBay. I got AppleCare for my MacBook Pro for less than $195. Totally worth it. Since then, my entire computer has been replaced. (Well, kinda. At first I got a new CPU, GPU, Keyboard, Handrest, Audio Card, Screen, and Logic Board. Then I had more problems and they replaced the entire machine with one of the new Unibody MBPs. :) )


Concerning RAM:
On the new Unibody MBPs, Apple charges $150 to swap out to 4GB of RAM. You decide if that's bad or not.


Concerning the Unibody Vs. Older MacBook Pro:
The shiny screen isn't all the horrible. If I could get Matte, I would. But I don't think it's worth getting a lower-end computer because of it. Also, keep in mind that you'll need to get new FireWire cables because the Unibody MBPs only have 9 Pin FireWire (assuming you don't have them already.) (This is also just an inconvenience.)


Overall, I would suggest getting one of the newer MacBook Pros. (And getting AppleCare.) Whether you want to trick it out at the beginning (buying the $2500 vs. the $2000) or wait until you can afford more RAM, a larger HD, etc. is up to you.


Welcome to Mac OSX! :)
posted by 47triple2 at 1:42 PM on January 5, 2009


If want want a bigger discount on your machine, do to things:
1. Get the educational discount as previously mentioned. [$100]
2. Signup for the Apple Developer Connection program [student membership] ($99) and then use the Once-In-A-Lifetime developer discount. This is an up-to $600/20% off deal.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:06 PM on January 5, 2009


I can't tell from your question if the video editing is work/gradschool related. If not, I would dissent from the rest of the people here and suggest getting the highest end macbook. A mostly upgraded macbook with applecare will just about max out your budget. It looks like a similar MBP (same CPU) in terms of memory, hd space, will be at least $300-400 more, and a fully upgraded MBP will be at least 1k more. While the regular macbook does have an integrated graphics card (nvidia 9400m), it is a big step forward from the old intel ones. The MBP has the same integrated card, as well as an additional (non-integrated) 9600M GMT. To switch to the non-integrated one, as I understand it you have to reboot, and you will lose an hour of battery life while using it. According to apple, you get between 1.5-2.3x performance gain for 3d tasks over the integrated chip. Maybe it would be different/better for video editing (and maybe there are qualitative as well as quantitative gains), but that just doesn't seem worth it to me if it is a hobby. You will likely be really busy in grad school, especially if (as it sounds like) you will be continuing with your old job. I think you should at least try to find some serious benchmarks that compare these two chipsets for the tasks you will be doing (I don't know if such benchmarks exist).

Also, I personally prefer the form factor of the macbook. It is more reasonably sized for actually taking with you.
posted by advil at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2009


Again, thank you all.

The video editing is a hobby, but one I plan to take seriously. I've produced and premiered one feature length documentary and things are ramping up to do it again. I have some decent non-linear editing chops and would really like to be able to assist our team's primary director/editor. Matching up with him platform-wise is part of the motivation here.

I'm definitely excited at the prospect of using VMWare etc. so the 6gb allowance is good news.

I will be continuing with my old job, but will have my trusty Thinkpad T-42 for the main day-to-day stuff there.

You've helped a lot, and I'm thinking the 15" 2.4Ghz Unibody Pro is the way to go, with self-upgraded RAM and the smallest 7200rpm HD I can get for onboard stuff.

How does one go about non-shadily buying AppleCare through eBay?
posted by Roach at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2009


netzapper and cgomez nailed it. If glare is a big problem for you (it is for me, but when using just the notebook I can usually move around and adjust, and when at home I use a flat monitor so its not an issue) there are after market anti-glare films, although I haven't tried them myself. Congrats though, having been a longtime Thinkpad user who made the switch two years ago I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, and that you'll find the new Trackpads finally make up for IBM's awesome Touchpoint.
posted by furtive at 2:40 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and thank you whoever suggested to get AppleCare off eBay, you just saved me $227!
posted by furtive at 3:03 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I have the gloss MBP screen, and I like it. I am also a long-time thinkpad user (I use a T60 to this day) and I wanted a matte screen. I got the gloss screen cause I got a really good deal on the machine. The gloss Apple screen is actually super nice, I've grown to prefer it. Its not like one of those glarey Vaio gloss screens where you can see yourself all the time. If you are near an Apple store and you haven't actually used a MBP with a gloss screen, you should check it out before you nix it. Also, congratulations on being one of the handful of people for whom the insane MBP tax on the current generation may actually be worth paying.

The other thing about switching to MBs is I think the quality on Thinkpads is slipping. The new Txxx series seems kind of janky to me (I have a friend who just got one). Even my T60 has been a lot flakier than my last T4x series.
posted by jeb at 4:32 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know what that says about their customer service, but whatever.
posted by Netzapper


Your one instance says nothing at all about their customer service. Let's just say it's pretty good.

all models come with 90 days of AppleCare; you're just buying an extra three years of it.
posted by bartleby


True, but the warranty goes a whole year, and you can buy applecare up to that point.
posted by justgary at 4:34 PM on January 5, 2009


One month later, adding the "resolved" tag.

I bought the 15" 2.4 Unibody with the 7200 RPM HD and 4 gb RAM. My misgivings regarding the glossy screen were for naught. I love it.

Thanks for all your help!
posted by Roach at 9:31 AM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


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