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Whether and how to buy a Macbook Pro coming from the land of windows and linux
November 28, 2007 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Help me with my orientation on whether and how to buy a Macbook Pro 17" high resolution.

I'm a total Apple newbie but otherwise seasoned Wintel/Lintel power user/software developer.

I'm considering buying a Macbook Pro 17"

I'm daunted by the amount of information I will have to sift through to find my bearings in this new universe. Your level headed seasoned advice is highly appreciated.

The information I need most is:
- quality of Macbooks product & Apple support at the moment? Am I starting a few years of flawless execution and great support with a Macbook Pro 17" wide, OS X 10.1.4? Or a long road of trouble? (I've been using a Dell Latitude for the last years and that has been working flawlessly for 2+ yrs, 6+ hrs a day)
- Will I burn myself if I actually put the laptop on my lap? My current laptop has a Pentium M CPU 1.73 GHz. Designed for mobile use and low power consumption. I have no experience with what kind of heat a 2.4 GHz Intel Core Duo generates.
- Compatibility issues between US & EU. I'm planning on buying the macbook in the US and using it here in the continental EU. What problems will I encounter?
-- wrt voltage I think I can just get a different main adapter (voltage transformer). Is that true?
-- Pal/NTSC. Will that bite me in any way? I don't see anything pointing in that direction in the specs but I'm not sure....
-- can one use commodity peripherals (monitor, external usb drives, ...) with a Macbook Pro? Or is Apples strategy hardware locking and do I pledge all my other acquisitions to Apple if I do this?
- I'm told that if I get the US version of the OS X 10.1.4 I still can get localized input. Dutch has some special characters like ë, é, è, à, similar to the way German has the ß or the characters that are used in French spelling. Will that work?
- glossy or antiglare? I have no idea what to prefer.
- what's the best way to get up to speed with system administration issues with OS X 10.1.4? Is there 1 or 2 comprehensive books/sites?
- what's the best way to get up to speed with the application ecosystem on that OS? What open source apps, what shareware, etc.
- What put me off of progressing to Vista: the outrageous use of computer resources for no real discernible benefit to me and the way DRM is built into the OS to provide Microsoft with a media delivery channel monopoly. Will that be any better with OS X?

Thanks people!

In my mind there are no perfect choices between windows/intel, linux/intel & apple/intel. A realistic picture of what to expect and not expect is of most use to me.
posted by jouke to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
OS X 10.1.4 is about 5 years out of date and I believe it's no longer supported or upgraded. The current Apple OS is 10.5.1. Will you please clarify that you are or are not intending to use an obsolete operating system?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:25 AM on November 28, 2007


Oops. Indeed 10.1.5. The new Leopard thing to be perfectly clear.
posted by jouke at 10:36 AM on November 28, 2007


Leopard is 10.5. It is currently at 10.5.1.

I had a 17" PB, i loved it. Definately get the 1920x1200 screen. I prefer non-glossy.

They do get hot, I rarely use my 15" MBP directly on my lap.
posted by mphuie at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2007


I treat my 17" Macbook Pro with little respect. It does fine. Quality's about as good as you're going to get with a laptop. Sure, there'll be some duff individual units, but I don't think there are any systemic issues.

It gets hot, yes, but not burning hot. Uncomfortable hot at times, but only if the processor is maxed out. I think the latest models are better with this.

No compatibility issues with US/EU, as far as I'm aware, apart from the markings on the keyboard. You can set the keyboard layout in the software. Possibly something with DVD regions, or available wifi channels, though?

You don't even need a different transformer; the standard one takes any worldwide voltage. You'll need a different physical plug, obviously.

PAL/NTSC -- not an issue. If you want video output it's by S-Video, which is immune to this stuff. Or DVI/VGA.

Any monitor/drive will work fine with it. The vast majority of input devices, printers, etc. too.

Localized input is no problem. You can adjust the locale in software.

Glossy/antiglare is a personal preference. Go and look at some in person if possible.

I'm not aware of any unnecessary system processes going on in OS X.
posted by chrismear at 10:47 AM on November 28, 2007


- Quality of product and support at the moment is very, very good in the US. You may have issues with support in the EU if you bought in the US.
- If you're running Windows, your lap will get hot, but you shouldn't burn yourself. I play Half-Life 2 Episode Two on my 15" running XP and haven't burned myself yet.
- You might need to buy in the EU because of WiFi issues—someone else should really answer this. Also support as mentioned above.
- Your AC adapter/charger will be 120/240V switchable. You can get the World Adapter kit in the US and be prepared wherever you go.
- PAL/NTSC will not bite you in any way.
- You can use most commodity peripherals.
- OS X comes with many, many localized languages. It won't be a problem. Your keyboard will be a US keyboard, so your punctuation and diacriticals may be in strange places.
- Graphic designers should use antiglare. Otherwise, your call.
- No books I'm aware of for Leopard system administration yet. Give it some time.
- OS X is UNIX-certified, POSIX-compliant, supports X11, but doesn't do Java 5 or 6 very well yet. Macports.org has some basic open-source info for you.
- DRM is everywhere. Get used to it. Apple does it with fewer system resources, but their implementation will often limit your options without any warning.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:48 AM on November 28, 2007


- quality of Macbooks product & Apple support at the moment? Am I starting a few years of flawless execution and great support with a Macbook Pro 17" wide, OS X [10.5.1]? Or a long road of trouble?

Apple's support is consistently rated the best in the personal computing industry by Consumer Reports. Even PC Magazine gives them the highest marks. Hardware quality seems to be good, and Apple is more responsive than most companies at fixing hardware problems and issuing recalls.

- Will I burn myself if I actually put the laptop on my lap? My current laptop has a Pentium M CPU 1.73 GHz. Designed for mobile use and low power consumption. I have no experience with what kind of heat a 2.4 GHz Intel Core Duo generates.

My experience with a 15" MacBook Pro is that the heat can become substantial if you are using the 3D card extensively (e.g., playing a video game). I presume that the 17" is not as bad, since it is larger but has essentially the same hardware.

- Compatibility issues between US & EU. I'm planning on buying the macbook in the US and using it here in the continental EU. What problems will I encounter?
-- wrt voltage I think I can just get a different main adapter (voltage transformer). Is that true?


I can't speak to the first question, but Apple does provide a simple converter for the power adapter.

-- Pal/NTSC. Will that bite me in any way? I don't see anything pointing in that direction in the specs but I'm not sure....

I don't think the MacBook Pro includes any kind of TV-out, so you would use an HDMI or VGA adapter anyway.

-- can one use commodity peripherals (monitor, external usb drives, ...) with a Macbook Pro? Or is Apples strategy hardware locking and do I pledge all my other acquisitions to Apple if I do this?

Virtually all of your commodity peripherals will work. Apple has very good hardware support for external devices, especially 'standard' USB devices such as cameras, printers, drives, mice, keyboards, etc. All monitors are supported.

- I'm told that if I get the US version of the OS X 10.1.4 I still can get localized input. Dutch has some special characters like ë, é, è, à, similar to the way German has the ß or the characters that are used in French spelling. Will that work?

Not only will it work, but I find OS X's keyboard shortcuts for extended characters far easier to use and consistent across applications than the Windows equivalents. No more memorizing Alt+Number combinations. For instance, to type a character with an Umlaut/diaeresis, type Option-U then the vowel. For an acute accent, Option-E, then the vowel. For more examples, see this page.

- glossy or antiglare? I have no idea what to prefer.

Personally, I hate glossy screens. I find them unusable in direct overhead light (i.e., most offices and class rooms). They are completely unusable in direct sunlight, in my experience.

- what's the best way to get up to speed with system administration issues with OS X 10.1.4? Is there 1 or 2 comprehensive books/sites?

A lot of people like the Missing Manual series from O'Reilly, but I haven't had to use much in the way of books. The OS X help system is actually helpful and easy to use, and the internet fills in the gaps pretty well.

- what's the best way to get up to speed with the application ecosystem on that OS? What open source apps, what shareware, etc.

Version Tracker has a very comprehensive listing of OS X software. For a lot of open source apps, Fink is the way to go.

- What put me off of progressing to Vista: the outrageous use of computer resources for no real discernible benefit to me and the way DRM is built into the OS to provide Microsoft with a media delivery channel monopoly. Will that be any better with OS X?

Apple is very conscious of the overall user experience, so while it continues to add new graphical effects, each iteration of OS X has been faster and more responsive than the last, and this is true of 10.5 as well. Apple controls the hardware as well as the software, so it is much easier for it to strike a balance between performance and features.

In a sense, DRM is built into Mac OS X to provide Apple with a media delivery channel (iTunes), but Apple itself is not especially wedded to the concept of DRM (see, for instance, its efforts to open up iTunes music content). As between the two, Apple's DRM is a lot less pervasive and burdensome.

posted by jedicus at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2007


Crap. I forgot to close the italics at the end. Oh well.
posted by jedicus at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2007


Wow. You people are fast. A lot of very useful info already.

To summarise the remaining issues that I didn't think of: - issues with
- DVD region,
- wifi and
- getting support.
Can anybody weigh in on that?
posted by jouke at 11:03 AM on November 28, 2007


For what it's worth, consider buying refurbished from Apple's website. I have had 8 (new) Macs over the course of my life, 4 of which were lemons. I went with a refurb model with my MacBook Pro because they are presumed to be "rigorously tested," they cost less and also have a warranty. If you buy new you might risk getting a system with flaws that have been overlooked (example: my boyfriend's 14-year-old son tracked his new MacBook from China only to find that when he got it, the keyboard didn't work. They replaced it, but still - what a hassle.) Ordinarily, if you buy a bum computer, you need to bring it in FOUR TIMES to the Apple store AND identify the problem in front of them before you are eligible for a replacement (I've had two computers replaced this way, and lots of time lost). The quality of Apple's service is kind of a moot point if you're wasting hours of your day hauling your computer in and out of shop. My refurbished Macbook Pro has had no problems whatsoever, and I intend to buy nothing but the refurbished models henceforth!
posted by Lillitatiana at 11:09 AM on November 28, 2007


Wrt getting support there's this info from the faq on buying the extra Applecare Protection Plan:
Q: What does “global repair coverage” mean?
A: If you take your Apple hardware with you when you travel and happen to need repair service, the AppleCare Protection Plan offers global repair coverage. You can either go to an Apple retail store or contact Apple for information on how to obtain service.

At 349$ I'm not sure whether that's worth it though.
posted by jouke at 11:19 AM on November 28, 2007


- Your DVD region will not be set until you insert a replicated disc with a region code setting. If you buy an American MBP and only try to play Region 2 discs, you won't have any problems.
- Apple's warranty is here, and is in Nederlands. Here's the AppleCare terms in Nederlands. For my fiancée who's in college, Applecare's worth it. For me who wants a new MacBook Pro badly, it's not worth it.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2007


DVD region
There's RPC-1 firmware that you can use to flash the DVD drive so that it's region free.
posted by junesix at 11:22 AM on November 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


junesix, that is awesome. Good find.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:27 AM on November 28, 2007


AppleCare global service indeed does mean global service. I've had PB's bought in Switzerland serviced in the U.S. and vice versa. No problems. If you travel a lot, AppleCare is well worth it.

DVDs and regions - one way to get around this is to use VLC Player to play DVDs, since VLC ignores the region flag. That's what I do. You will need to go into System Preferences for DVDs and disable auto-loading to prevent the build in DVD Player from loading, but that's a small one-time step.

WiFi is...easy. (I'm not sure what else to say about that. It just is.)

Support - my advice is if you have a problem and know more or less what the problem is, just take it to an Apple Store and straight to the Genius Bar. Calling the help line and going through all the suggested crap will just waste time, since once you get to the Apple Store the Genius will just go through all the same steps.
posted by derMax at 11:30 AM on November 28, 2007


I forgot to address your question about differences between U.S. and Dutch or German or whatever Mac versions. OS X itself is multilingual, and you can easily install all the language kits you want at any time.

The one difference is the keyboard layout - in the U.S. you will of course get the U.S. keyboard layout. If you are a touch typist it's not much of an issue, though I do buy my Macs in Switzerland because of some keyboard quirks. For the same reason my wife's Macs are all purchased in the U.S.
posted by derMax at 11:35 AM on November 28, 2007


Wow. Everything resolved!
Beers all around for everybody who chimed in. You people are great.
Now I'm very much looking forward to my shiny silver tablet.
posted by jouke at 11:37 AM on November 28, 2007


derMax, personally I prefer the standardised US keyboards.
(Have you ever tried to get your email done in a french internet café on an AZERTY keyboard? Just try to find that @!)

The Genius Bar! In Utrecht? That sounds intrigueing.
posted by jouke at 11:40 AM on November 28, 2007


Just to correct a few small things...

S-Video, which is immune to this stuff
S-Video refers to a level of video quality, and in common usage also the DIN cable plug that separates chroma from luminance. Both NTSC and PAL video signals can utilize S-Video cables, but if you feed an NTSC signal to a PAL-only display device you won't get good results. Video-out on the MBP is software-selectable between NTSC/PAL/SECAM but requires a US$20 adaptor.

You might need to buy in the EU because of WiFi issues
US licenses channels 1-11, whereas 12-13 are also licensed in the EU. See this article for more details. Doesn't look like the locale of a card is easily re-settable.

DRM is everywhere. Get used to it. Apple does it with fewer system resources, but their implementation will often limit your options without any warning.
There are no filesystem-level restrictions on audio or video recordings -- but then again neither are there really in Windows. If you stick to MP3, unprotected AAC or WAV files within iTunes there is for all intents and purposes no DRM to speak of.

You can get the World Adapter kit in the US and be prepared wherever you go.
This kit works fine but is very expensive (~US$60)and gives you all sorts of random plugs you probably won't use. Better to just replace the cord with a standard European one (it will plug right into the white transformer) or get a small plug adaptor from a local electronics store.

I find OS X's keyboard shortcuts for extended characters far easier to use and consistent across applications than the Windows equivalents. No more memorizing Alt+Number combinations. For instance, to type a character with an Umlaut/diaeresis, type Option-U then the vowel. For an acute accent, Option-E, then the vowel.
The problem here is that native writers of other languages aren't interested in this older, Mac-only system of accents and umlauts. (Which I agree is faster and better than the Windows equivalent for occasional use.) Instead, they want to use Dutch (or Swedish, or German) keyboard layouts -- where these characters are often separate, standalone characters rather than diacritical modifications. Luckily, just as in Windows, you can switch your entire keyboard layout to the language you prefer. They physical keyboard will still be different, and the keycaps won't be accurate, but things will work just fine. And you can even get the Dutch keyboard as a service part, if you'd like.

Apple is very conscious of the overall user experience, so while it continues to add new graphical effects, each iteration of OS X has been faster and more responsive than the last, and this is true of 10.5 as well.
I think this is at best an over-simplification. A trend in both Vista and OS X is to offload snazzy visual effects to the GPU, not the CPU. Quartz Extreme and Avalon are both exponents of this. More interestingly, with Apple's Pro apps (Aperture, Final Cut Pro, even iPhoto nowadays) a great deal of the heavy-lifting is done by the GPU, to a greater extent than in the Windows world heretofore. But this is something that may not concern you if you don't use video or photo applications.
posted by squid patrol at 11:56 AM on November 28, 2007


Keep your eye on the MacRumors Buyers Guide as well.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:13 PM on November 28, 2007


Belgian here, writing Dutch, using UK MacBook Pro on qwerty keyboard, using it around the world. Works fine everywhere I go.

DVD region
Not a problem. You choose which region you want to use the first time you insert an encrypted dvd. You can change it for five times in total. If you use third party software like Videolan you aren't even restricted to the region codes as far as I know.

Wifi
US Wifi = EU Wifi = UK Wifi = Wifi.
No quad bands like GSM. Works fine everywhere.

getting support
Never had problems with "grey import" from Apple (except for iPhones of course, but haven't had a problem with that one so far). If you want to be sure, buy Applecare. It extends the warranty and provides world-wide protection. If you want to import it as a private person (ie. slipping it trough customs at the airport), leave the boxes behind and customize it a bit (ie put some photos on it) before getting on the plane.

Power plug: The adapter block is universal and voltage independent. (ie. an american 110V works on mainland europe with 230 V as well) You just need an adapter which you can get at every apple dealer. I even think the iPod adapters fit on the MacBook adapters. If you want you can use a cassette player power cord as well (like here), but watch out that it doesn't melt and burn your house down)
If you want to know more, feel free to send me a mefimail.
posted by lodev at 1:30 PM on November 28, 2007


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