Which laptop for a skinflint graphic designer?
November 6, 2005 1:45 AM   Subscribe

The new 15 inch Powerbook suits my computing needs perfectly, but one of those plus new software would actually break the bank. What's the closest I can get with a Windows laptop?

Thanks in advance for all your help. This purchasing decision is causing a lot of stress - I can't afford to make a bad decision and end up with a turkey.

I am trying to claw my way into the graphic design profession. Money is tight for the time being. To do my job, I need a laptop that's durable enough to withstand all my commuting, powerful enough to run several heavyweight apps at the same time, and with a high screen resolution. Weight is a factor, as is build-quality.

I have done a lot of research (including past ask.mefi threads) but I've not yet found a machine that I feel comfortable with. I feel sure I'm missing something good.

Or is it the case that the Powerbook will pay for itself? I could be receptive to a cogently argued case for chuffing up the extra cash...
posted by godawful to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
Unless you need to drive large or multiple displays, an iBook is a perfectly suitable alternative to the PowerBook. If you can get by with 1024x768, the iBook is plenty of machine for most purposes.

Apple's prices pretty well match Windows laptops of similar build quality, so I don't think switching platforms is going to save you any money -- unless you plan on making so much right out of the gate that you'll be able to replace that cheap Windows laptop when it starts to break down a year from now.
posted by jjg at 1:57 AM on November 6, 2005

If you're going to be a graphic designer, you need a Mac. Also a black turtleneck.

No seriously. You might as well get a Mac, just because the industry is so Mac oriented. If you can't afford a new one, get a second hand one.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:04 AM on November 6, 2005

Response by poster: I don't think I could get by with 1024 x 768. Because I switch apps so often, a high-resolution screen can significantly increase my productivity.

Bear in mind that switching means I have to buy about a grand's worth of new software on top of the machine, at least if I'm going to do things on the right side of the law (which is my preference).
posted by godawful at 2:24 AM on November 6, 2005

If you have to buy new versions of software by switching to Windows, there's your price savings right there.
posted by Rothko at 2:27 AM on November 6, 2005

Response by poster: Sorry Rothko, I should clarify further that I currently have Photoshop, Quark, InDesign and Illustrator for my current Windows desktop. I'd have to buy them for the Mac in order to do my work.
posted by godawful at 2:55 AM on November 6, 2005

Yeah, the cost of replacing all that software is pretty prohibitive. But have you looked into buying OEM software, such as sold here? Can't vouch for any individual sellers, but try a Google search for "OEM". (I've used them, but outside the US.) Another $-saving thought is to buy a refurbished Powerbook from the Apple website, but it sounds like you want the newest version....
posted by rob511 at 3:48 AM on November 6, 2005

I do design only occasionally these days, and I do feel that design applications are pretty much a wash across platforms... but I have to admit that a Powerbook has a certain cachet that scarcely any PC notebooks can match, which makes them a handy accessory for client meetings. Plus, sleep/wake "just works," unlike PC notebooks. Since money is tight, I'm seconding that perhaps you should consider a refurbished Powerbook, e.g. from Small Dog, ExperCom, or Apple itself.

I bought a "reseller refurbished" (heavily used, actually) TiBook G4 from ExperCom earlier this year, and it's been great fun for occasional use... although not enough to make me want to switch from my Windows workstation at home.

$.02: Be careful with "OEM" software resellers as just mentioned -- many of them are black-market sellers... in these days of "product activation" based software (at least on Windows), you could find that you won't be able to upgrade in the future from a less-than-legit install.
posted by skyboy at 3:55 AM on November 6, 2005

i'd say go with an ibm thinkpad. there must be a model with similar display, they're well made (as good as an apple - more reliable in my experience), around the same price (you save because you can reuse your software), and have better support for power saving (better battery life if you choose the right processor, more options over sleeping - either in memory or to disk, and the latter doesn't use you battery).

that seems a much better deal than getting a second hand apple, unless you really have to look the same as all the other self-expressive, creative individuals on the design team (smirk).
posted by andrew cooke at 4:44 AM on November 6, 2005

For ThinkPads, those are no longer made my IBM. They are now manufactured my Lenovo, a chinese company.

Graphic design usually calls for a Mac. But if you are going to go Windows, as much as I hate them, I'd go Dell. They are inexpensive. Just buy the right machine.

Their XPS machines would be an excellent choice. They come with special support for XPS customers, are well built machines, and are generally cheaper than comparable machines.

But in general I would recommend a Mac, if possible.
posted by benjh at 6:38 AM on November 6, 2005

But there are plenty of IBM Thinkpads still available, even refurbished ones straight from IBM.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 6:44 AM on November 6, 2005

Have you looked into contacting Adobe and asking them if they'd exchange the software you have now from Windows to Mac? I don't have first hand experience doing this, but someone I work with once told me Adobe was able to accommodate this.
posted by starman at 6:56 AM on November 6, 2005

the quality of the ibm thankpads are exactly the same as the lenovo ones. and just like the IBM ones, they price is similar enough to powerbooks that you might as well get a powerbook if you're doing media.

godawful, which versions of the adobe apps do you have? CS2, all around, has been the most notable update since photoshop's 5.5 -> 7 (let's all pretend 6 didn't exist). it might be worth it to spring for CS2 and a powerbook if you have mostly pre-CS2 software, especially photoshop. the features adobe is touting for CS2 (especially photoshop, once again) are sparse, but there are some huge changes under the hood that they aren't mentioning on their website. multiple layer selections/operations and hierarchal grouping are major advances. talk to any heavy photoshop user and you'll hear the same thing from them.

quark is on its way out, but it's so heavily entrenched that it'll take years to finally fizzle away into nothing. it may or may not be worth getting, and there's a good chance you can grab a discounted corporate license (but probably only if it's mac!) from a client if you need it.

anyway, whatever you do, buy the baseline 15" powerbook if you're getting a powerbook. take care of the memory and hard drive upgrades yourself; don't get them from apple – their prices are absurd.

on preview: if you have CS2 (or maybe even just CS1,) definitely try what starman said. i have several friends who've been successful with this.
posted by tumult at 7:09 AM on November 6, 2005

Thinkpads are indestructible, but because they're business oriented, their specs aren't usually top of the line. Toshiba makes damn fine laptops, and they're cheaper than comparable Powerbooks. This P35 is about the same as a 17" Powerbook... only $1000 cheaper.
posted by cmonkey at 8:44 AM on November 6, 2005

not to mention the displays on the thinkpads are generally pretty bad when compared to anything else in that price range. i would not recommend one for design work at all.
posted by tumult at 9:08 AM on November 6, 2005

The CS suite can be had relatively inexpensively if you go through educational channels. Do you know anyone at a college or university - even a high school - that might be able to help you out?

That aside, the PowerBooks are very nice machines. Rumor has it that new, Intel based PowerBooks are due by April next year. If you can afford to wait a bit, it might be worth it.

Though you'd still have to invest in the software - I don't think they'll run Windows apps. Still, *all* of us Mac people will have to do that if we don't want to run legacy apps via emulation.
posted by aladfar at 9:12 AM on November 6, 2005

Get the Mac. It's so much easier to interoperate with practically everybody else in the design world, and when you turn up at the print shop with it, it'll Just Work with their network and software. Using Windows in the design world is a pain because it's such a minority platform.

As for the software, hell man, just, er, borrow it. You've already got one licence to run the software, which is more than most people do. And I'm fairly sure there are cross-platform discounts you can take advantage of.

Finally: you could save some hardware cash by buying an iBook or PowerBook 12", then hooking it up to a bigger monitor at the office.
posted by bonaldi at 9:16 AM on November 6, 2005

They are now manufactured my Lenovo, a chinese company.

it's the same company that made them for ibm. powerbooks are manufactured in south korea. is there some reason for discussing this? or do creatives prefer a certain skin tone with their computers?
posted by andrew cooke at 9:27 AM on November 6, 2005

don't buy an iBook. they're underpowered for your needs and the display is pretty bad in comparison to those on the PowerBooks.

also, don't go the "educational" route with software. it's against the license agreement to use the educational version commercially, which is what you'd be doing. in addition to that, the upgrade policy on the educational versions are usually terrible or nonexistent – imagine paying full price for CS3 educational after you paid full price for CS2 educational. you wouldn't have saved any money at all, and you'd have to worry about getting slapped around by someone when they see the big fat FOR EDUCATIONAL USE ONLY watermark on the splash screen for the adobe apps.
posted by tumult at 9:41 AM on November 6, 2005

Have you looked into contacting Adobe and asking them if they'd exchange the software you have now from Windows to Mac? I don't have first hand experience doing this

I have experience doing this, but not in years. When I switched from Windows to Mac (2002), I called Adobe and told them. They looked up my license and sold me the full versions of Photoshop and Illustrator for the cost of an version upgrade.
posted by Manhasset at 9:50 AM on November 6, 2005

I worked for IBM's Personal Computing Division and now work for Lenovo. In fact, everyone who used to work for IBM's Personal Computing Division now works for Lenovo. All the same people are designing and manufacturing the ThinkPads as before.

Also, sorry to disappoint anyone who thought contrary, but almost all notebooks from any company are manufactured in Asia.

If you ask your designer friends, they may be able to hook you up with the software.
posted by xammerboy at 10:49 AM on November 6, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you for your answers. Looks like Apple's back on the menu. Would it be cheeky to ask an additional question - now that I'm throwing financial caution to the winds, should I go for Applecare too?
posted by godawful at 11:15 AM on November 6, 2005

I always recommend applecare on laptops, though I've been lucky and haven't had to use it myself.
Enjoy your new machine!
posted by olecranon at 12:03 PM on November 6, 2005

Tinier parts + greater stresses = inevitable and expensive repairs. So yes--always, always, always AppleCare on a laptop. Mine has paid for itself many times over in repairs, and my mom uses hers constantly for the phone support even on stuff that really has nothing to do with Apple. However, you can postpone the AppleCare purchase another 364 days, so if money's tight just skip it for now.

If you can't afford to replace all of the software immediately, would you be able to meet job requirements using some of the free alternatives (ex The GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus) for a while? As money comes in from one job, you can buy the commercials program needed for the next, etc.

Or if you could manage to get by with the most costly apps running sloooow for a while, VirtualPC would let you postpone buying cross-grades for those. Since you've already got Windows, all you'd need is the base package for around $100.

Buying the software at educational rate may not be an option, but if you can sign up cheap for a unit at some community college, save yourself $100-200 on the laptop itself. Apple doesn't impose any restrictions on you for pay the educational price for its hardware.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:52 PM on November 6, 2005

now that I'm throwing financial caution to the winds, should I go for Applecare too?

I'd recommend AppleCare specifically because you are spending a large amount of money. It doesn't sound like you are in a financial position to handle a potentially large, unexpected bill.

Don't get VirtualPC and expect to do work in it. It will be painfully slow.

whatever you do, buy the baseline 15" powerbook if you're getting a powerbook. take care of the memory and hard drive upgrades yourself; don't get them from apple – their prices are absurd.

If you are going to follow this advice, at least look at the upgrade procedures here before you go down that road. I really doubt you'll save any money at all doing the hard drive yourself.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:34 PM on November 6, 2005

Godawful, just a stray thought, but now you're back on Mac-track....
Would it be possible to upgrade to CS2 (or Quark) from a previous Windows version? That would be completely legit (if allowed), and a big savings.
posted by rob511 at 9:31 PM on November 6, 2005

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