Powerbook or MacBook?
January 19, 2006 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Powerbook or MacBook? Trade offs between the old generation and new generation of Pro Apple laptops.

OK I am a web developer and have always worked on a PC. I am stuck in the ASP (not .Net) era and am far behind the curve on current technologies. My current job has taken me away from much coding and given me more marketing responsibilities. What I really like to do is build websites and I want to play catch up.

So, I made the decision to learn PHP, MySQL, and Ruby on Rails. I am totally self taught and a great book learner so I look at this as a big project for myself to learn by doing.

To help facilitate this, I am buying a new laptop that will be used exclusively for my learning and projects going forward. I had settled on a 17" Powerbook with the 1680 resolution and 2GB of RAM. I knew Macworld was coming so I waited, and even though I didn't expect a new Powerbook replacement, I wanted to see what would come out.

OK so now we have the MacBook. BTW, I don't want to hear any griping about the name, I couldn't give a crap what they call it. I want to get started right away but I don't know what to do.

It seems the obvious choice is to order a MacBook and be safe for the "future", but I have a hard time giving up that 17" size and the extra pixels, and I am also afraid of potential "1st revision" problems of this laptop with the new architecture and all. This will be a desktop replacement basically, so the portability isn't really an issue.

I know getting a Powerbook would basically lock me down to "old technology", but is the extra width and proven system worth that?

I also know that there are rumored "much cooler" things to come from Apple...but like I said, I don't want to wait. I'm already way too far behind.

posted by Chuck Cheeze to Technology (31 answers total)
If you don't need a portable, get a mac-mini or something. You don't need a super-computer for rails, php, mysql etc.

If you do need a portable, I'd get a Power PC. Wait until the macPro comes out and snap an old style power-pc from eBay at a bargain price.
posted by seanyboy at 9:41 AM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: Well, I am not saying I don't need a portable, I will take it with me sometimes, but the size doesn't concern me, is all I am trying to say.

As for a separate monitor, its not an option. My "office" is on the dining room table and my wife doesn't want a bunch of crap on it, just the laptop, no external monitor, etc. (She runs our home business in the real office, no room for me in there)

posted by Chuck Cheeze at 9:50 AM on January 19, 2006

Is there some reason you don't want to get the new iMac? It's about half the price of the Macbook and it'll get you much better performance.

I would think long and hard about buying into a system that is explicitly being phased out.
posted by bshort at 10:04 AM on January 19, 2006

Lots of reasons not to like the new MacBook Pro (via Kottke).
posted by pmurray63 at 10:04 AM on January 19, 2006

I bought a 17" PowerBook G4 a couple of months ago (knowing that the Intels were coming) and I love it. It's plenty fast enough for me, and it was cheap (10% rebate). If you buy one and get 1GB of memory from Crucial (NOT from Apple) it works out a lot cheaper. 1.5GB vs 2GB is no big deal.

I love the 17" though.. having that 1650 width is something you find very hard to give up when using inferior machines! And the resolution of the 15" MacBook Pro is even less than the res of the old 15" PowerBook! (Not to mention lack of dual layer writer, lack of Firewire 800, etc.)

I'd a little wary of the MacBook Pro, as it seems like a rush job. No battery life figures were given, and many apps aren't even on universal binaries yet, although this will change in the next few months. I think the 17" MacBook Pro will kick ass when it eventually turns up.

Personally this is the sort of time where I wouldn't buy a Mac, but instead wait. If you really want to get going though, get a Mac Mini (if you can live on a desk) to tide you over, or perhaps a used PowerBook 17" in the 1GHz area to spread your budget so you can get a MacBook towards the end of the year.
posted by wackybrit at 10:06 AM on January 19, 2006

Oh, and yeah, actually.. get the iMac if you can live with a 'desktop' (though it's still very small!) as it's probably the best in the range at the moment.
posted by wackybrit at 10:07 AM on January 19, 2006

Also, if you really want to get a portable, and you don't care about the impending switch, just get an iBook. It's more than enough of a machine for what you want to do and you won't be as broken-hearted when you're pushed into upgrading in a year and a half.
posted by bshort at 10:07 AM on January 19, 2006

I think the deciding factor for me would be whether the apps I'd be using daily ran fast enough in Rosetta or had been ported already (or are soon to be ported). If they ran too slowly and weren't likely to get ported ASAP, I'd stick with the PowerBook; by the time all the major Mac software's been updated, there'd also have been multiple revisions to the MacBook, thus making it a safer investment. (Note that I freely admit to being superstitious about first-version hardware.)

I think seanyboy's suggestion of a mini might be the safest, most practical way to go, though. Get one now, and get a rev. B or C Intel mini in 12-15 months!
posted by kimota at 10:09 AM on January 19, 2006

I was going to post the same link as pmurray63. However, if you didn't own a Powerbook before the MacBook, then most of the points don't matter that much.
posted by furtive at 10:09 AM on January 19, 2006

Best answer: I'd also be a little concerned about v1.0 hardware. The reports coming in on the MacBook are favorable—AFAIK, you would not be making a grave mistake if you bought one—but there's always the chance that a deal-breaker has not yet been discovered.

Have PHP/Ruby/MySQL been recompiled for Intel yet? If not, have they been benchmarked in Rosetta? I'd want to answer those questions before committing to the MacBook

I think I saw a 17" G4 selling new for a very good price, like $1800. Although the technology is being phased out, that will remain a very usable machine for some time to come. I don't think you'd really go wrong with that.

If you want to get a Mac but are iffy about buying either a soon-to-be-obsolete technology or a promising-but-untested technology, the conservative thing to do would be to pick up a slightly used Powerbook (possibly from some gadget victim who just bought a MacBook). This'll be cheap enough not to be such a big commitment, and powerful enough to last you until v2 of the MacBooks.
posted by adamrice at 10:13 AM on January 19, 2006

Actually, I have a 15" Powerbook (1.25GHz) that I've been thinking about selling. It's in perfect condition and comes with lots of RAM. If you're interested then send an email to the address in my profile.
posted by bshort at 10:17 AM on January 19, 2006

The 17" PowerBook is the size of a coffee table. The upcoming MacBook isn't. That alone would be a deciding factor for me, but if you don't mind lugging around the Great Wall of China in your backpack, the PowerBook is still a fairly decent (if slow) machine.

The installed base of PPC hardware is significant enough that, for the next couple of years at least, you'll have no problem keeping yourself well supplied in software and drivers. There will, of course, be an ever-declining number of commercial software releases with PPC support. PHP, MySQL, Ruby, and Apache, of course, will continue to be compilable on Darwin/PPC, so the primary purpose of your system isn't really effected by the platform change. It seems as though you're planning to use your laptop as a UNIX web development platform with a pretty Aqua text editor.

Of course, if you're planning to do other things with this system, if might behoove you to take a guess as to the lifespan of PPC support for the software you care about.

In all honesty, if you really have your heart set on owning an Apple laptop the size of a welcome mat, I think you should get a cheap used PC laptop and install your favorite flavor of Linux or BSD to tide you over until a suitably gargantuan x86 Apple is available. Either that, or reconsider the importance of having a billboard-sized portable LCD panel.
posted by majick at 10:21 AM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: Lots of great info people. Just a reminder that I do want a laptop here. I love the iMac but it won't work for my workspace.

I don't mind the size of the 17", most of the time it will be sitting on the dining table where I work, but I do travel to clients to show them sites I am working on and have meetings, so having the portability is necessary, but its rare enough that the size is not a big concern. Size is more important in screen real estate for developing sites and applications.

So with that basic question alone, for you people doing the same type thing, is a 15" enough, or is the extra width of a 17" that much nicer to have? Right now I am on a 15" HP wiht a 1024 resolution. I know even the 15" at 1440 will be a huge improvement.

Just to be clear, if I decide the 17" is not necessary, i will buy a MacBook, since the opinion seems to be that they will be good to go, despite the potential of as-yet-uncovered problems.

Thanks again.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 10:29 AM on January 19, 2006

Since you're mostly doing web dev and presentation, you should forego the speed boost and go with the G4 17". You're moving into marketing, so you want the extra screen res. Considering just 15" laptops, the screen resolution on the MacBook is actually smaller (1440x900) than the G4 15" (1440x960).

On top of that, your dev software is probably not available in Universal Binary yet so performance gains from the Intel Core Duo may be dampened by having to run in Rosetta.
posted by junesix at 11:22 AM on January 19, 2006

Have PHP/Ruby/MySQL been recompiled for Intel yet?

Since the UNIX underpinnings of MacOSX are native, I suspect these are too. Rosetta is probably higher up in the API stack.

Also, if it isn't compiled natively, that should be relatively simple to do with the source being available.
posted by tomierna at 11:43 AM on January 19, 2006

I would absolutely get the MacBook Pro over a Powerbook at this point, just to future-proof myself.

That said, if you can't wait, you're out of luck. The MacBooks won't ship until Februrary at the earliest. Here's a crazy idea: you could get a 17" iMac now ($1170 after rebate at Amazon). Then get an iBook for portability when they get Intel chips (presumably around $999). You'd have a computer right away with the 17" screen, plus a laptop, for not much more than the MacBook Pro.

Alternatively, if you can wait till February, you can get the 15" MacBook Pro and use it with an external monitor.
posted by designbot at 11:58 AM on January 19, 2006

You don't really need either a PowerBook or a MacBook for web stuff. A G4 iBook would be cheaper and work just fine.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2006

Then get an iBook for portability when they get Intel chips (presumably around $999).

Keep in mind that this is a possibility, but not confirmed.
posted by cellphone at 12:27 PM on January 19, 2006

Keep in mind that this is a possibility, but not confirmed.

I think most observers would say that the possibility that Apple will not ship an Intel-based laptop at the $999 price point is extremely unlikely.

Have PHP/Ruby/MySQL been recompiled for Intel yet?

Given that all three are installed as part of the OS, I'd say they'd have to be.
posted by jjg at 1:32 PM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: Well i can certainly wait until February....I just don't want to be waiting around until September, you know? Again, an iMac is not an option, I am buying one computer, and it will be a laptop.

The Marketing I am doing is at my day job, not connected to this computer at all. i was just saying that it is why I am behind the curve on current web technologies.

As far as Apache/PHP/MySQL and Ruby through Rosetta, it seems to me that even if they are coming through Rosetta (until they work natively on the IntelMacs) that the processor increase may make them run faster than they do on a G4. And even still, these aren't super intensive programs, so I could deal with them under Rosetta until they run at top speed when they come out with native versions. Wouldn't you think?

So this is basically, for me, a question of screen real estate vs. speed/possible intel cpu issues. For web development, if 1440x900 is enough space, I would lean toward the MacBook. If you all think 1680 is worth that much more, I'd get a Powerbook.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 1:45 PM on January 19, 2006

It depends completely on which apps you need. Some apps run great in rosetta, others (sadly, the ones I rely on--Office, Adobe graphics) do not.

There are lots of apps that are Universal binary, and by the time the MacBook Pro (ick) some of the apps I mention may be as well.
posted by lrivers at 1:47 PM on January 19, 2006

Best answer: There's no particular reason you HAVE to use a Mac to do web development you know.

That said, I would NOT buy a Macbook, not now, especially if my mine goal was to be teaching myself webdevelopment. The powerpc laptops are fine and stable, allowing you to concentrate on your goals as opposed to those of Apple or it's developers. Do you want to be spinning your wheels, waiting for stuff to be ported to Intel or do you wan to get work done? Get a Powerbook and upgrade in a couple of years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:11 PM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: I know I don't HAVE to, but I want to. I know PCs and Macs and like working on Macs. Brandon I think your answer makes the most sense, and appreciate everyone's contributions.

I think a 17" PB is the call here. At least for now, until I change my mind in an hour ;-)

Thanks all!
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 2:50 PM on January 19, 2006

Best answer: If you haven't already actually sat down in front of these machines, I'd strongly recommend checking out exactly what the screens are like to _use_ before you put your money on the table.

Whilst high-resolution screens are good (and certainly my preference), if you aren't used to them or have even slightly too-poor eyesight, you will not enjoy having to squint to see the characters.
posted by coriolisdave at 3:42 PM on January 19, 2006

Response by poster: Good suggestion coriolisdave. Indeed I have checked them out and actually have excellent sight. But great point nonetheless.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 5:01 PM on January 19, 2006

I have a 17 inch PB and I love it.

But, in about 3-4 months, I will be selling it to upgrade.

And I'm tempted to now. So I have the same problem as you really, just that I already spent my money.

It's hard for me to say buy a 17 inch PB. I'd buy it used, and then be prepared to flip it in about half a year, having spent about 100-200 dollars for that time. I have to imagine there are many used quality machines available right now, with all the pent up demand for a faster Mac laptop . . .
posted by visual mechanic at 5:05 PM on January 19, 2006

Whilst high-resolution screens are good (and certainly my preference), if you aren't used to them or have even slightly too-poor eyesight, you will not enjoy having to squint to see the characters.

The zoom in and zoom out accessibility features in Mac OS is really slick. Most application fonts can be enlarged (like web pages). I have a very high resolution LCD (but not a 17" Powerbook) and have most of my fonts children story book size.

I'm conflicted on which one to choose as well. Ideally, I think it would be best to wait and see what people are saying about the new MacBooks when they are more widespread. But it sounds like you are very anxious to get started, so that is tuff.

You do not need a really high-performance mac to use and learn PHP+MySQL+Apache. I use a 1.2Ghz Mac Mini w/ 1GB of ram and I run it as a web server all day. Granted it only sees at most 100 hits a day, but it really runs great. Photoshop and Illustrator run well too.

So maybe you should look into something older initially, and save your pennies for a more significant upgrade in the future.
posted by nickerbocker at 6:16 PM on January 19, 2006

A threadjack:

I have an opportunity to have a $2,500 discount towards a laptop (I've decided on a Mac) until the end of May. What are the chances that other models come out before then? I'm unclear on Apple's product release / refresh schedules.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 7:21 PM on January 19, 2006

Best answer: You don't need a 17" monitor to to web dev. I code web stuff all the time on my 12" powerbook and it's fine. Also, you don't need a superfast machine to do coding either. I'd get the MacBook - you'll be future proof, the screen is plenty big enough, it's more portable, and even if Ruby/Apache/MySQL run a little slower in Rosetta, it shouldn't be that way for too long, and it won't be so slow you get frustrated.
posted by pollystark at 2:29 AM on January 20, 2006

Best answer: I just want to stick my head back in here and clarify something: Apache/PHP/Ruby/mySQL have nothing to do with Rosetta. They will compile just fine to Darwin/86. Just configure, make, make install as usual. There's nothing to port. Apart from potentially some various desktop bits and bobs and a maybe a text editor (though surely all the popular ones have Intel binaries now), you're not going to interact with Rosetta much, and you're certainly not going to be running "BSD layer" stuff through it.

I repeat: Rosetta doesn't enter into this.
posted by majick at 8:54 AM on January 20, 2006

Response by poster: I think I'll flip a coin ;-)
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 12:02 PM on January 20, 2006

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