Laptops: Apple MacBook Pro versus Sony Vaio/Dell/Toshiba. Please help me choose.
June 7, 2007 9:32 PM   Subscribe

It's time for a new laptop. I have very strong thoughts on this subject, but I need your help, suggestions, and guidance.

I am using a three-year-old Apple PowerBook G4. Previously, I had a Dell Inspiron (home) and an IBM ThinkPad (work.) Truth be told, I found the Windows machines' interface more precise (easier to highlight a portion of a web page or text,) and, well, I could run MS Outlook. (I love Outlook, and miss the drag & drop, email to appointment functions.)

I love the ease of use, everything just works Apple "lifestyle," but I also love formatting my harddrive, and even switching the Windows GUI to Litestep.

And, I have to admit, I am shallow enough to allow my self esteem to be improved when I am working on my shiny, elegant Mac in public. Also, I live in Manhattan, and have 2 Apple stores closeby (one is open 24 hours a day,) and "TekServe," a full-service repair shop that does a great job. Makes repairs and emergencies much easier and faster.

So, I can get the new MacBook Pro (with the Santa Rosa chip!) and run Windows and Outlook, or get a Sony Vaio, or Dell, etc., and run Windows and Outlook.

Do you have any suggestions? Is there a great Windows laptop you would recommend? For something this important (I am a writer, and could not function without a laptop) money is a non-issue.

Or, should I get the new Apple MacBook Pro? I love the idea of an imbedded webcam, and I plan on getting the new iPhone. There are some Mac-based OS X programs (BluePhone Elite, iSync, AcidSearch, iPhoto, LaunchBar, OmniOutliner, etc.) that I love and might miss.

Is the MacBook Pro faster than a similar Windows laptop? How fast, via Parallels, is Windows? I work extremely fast, am a whiz with shortcuts and key-combos. Even with a gig of RAM now, I find myself waiting for my laptop to catch up. Speed is of the utmost importance, and I would install as much RAM as possible.

Thanks for your help and advice!
posted by davidinmanhattan to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd just say stay away from Dell. I've had their laptops before and been unimpressed but they worked. I'm currently fighting with a D620 that I'm turning back into IT at the first opportunity.

I was very pleased with the last Thinkpad (T42) I had until it was recently stolen.

Personally, I might soon be thinking different and give the dual OS Macs a go . . .
posted by donovan at 9:41 PM on June 7, 2007

I never ran windows on my MBP but I do run entourage for my work email account, which is IMAP based. it's a bit of a hassle if you have to use that protocol and the VPN client but hey, it's doable. no problems for POP3 email.

having 2GB of RAM in here is plenty. my only real gripe used to be photoshop CS2 but the upgrade to CS3 fixed that pretty well. I mainly use adobe apps, aperture, office, dpp, fcp and safari and I can attest that the thing has plenty of speed. I love safari ever since I installed pith helmet. I'm big on shortcuts myself.

I dig the bright screen on my 15" MBP (this one is the 2Ghz Intel Core Duo but I am being told I'm getting the brand-new one in a month, when the lease expires.) but the battery life sucks shite through a straw. I never stray far from a power outlet. I wished apple would give me a battery that actually lasted 3 hours instead of 1 hour 20 minutes when working full-on.
posted by krautland at 9:47 PM on June 7, 2007

Best answer: You appear to be asking a purely hardware question, but do yourself a favor and tally up the software you listed in your question... 6 Mac apps, 1 Windows app. (plus the iSight, almost definite iPhone integration with iLife apps, etc.) I would lean strongly towards getting your new MacBook Pro, buying Parallels, and running Outlook in Coherence mode. Plus, you can get the new MBP with 4 gigs of RAM. How can you resist??
posted by misterbrandt at 9:48 PM on June 7, 2007

I don't have any suggestions one way or the other, but here's a review of the new MacBook Pro that was written by a Mac newbie. There are also some performance comparisons with other Windows-based machines.
posted by puritycontrol at 9:49 PM on June 7, 2007

I've got the latest MB Pro and it's fucking fast. I had the same G4 as you before... it got stolen so I was forced to upgrade. This one feels four or five times as fast.

I run Parallels in Convergence mode. I wouldn't consider the Dell or the Sony at this point. The Mac leaves all of your options open... Linux, Windows, OS X, dual boot, virtualisation.

This is the fifth mac laptop I've owned. Apart from the screen hinge issues with the snow iBooks they've been utterly reliable. They do like a lot of RAM, 2Gb or so if you are running lots of apps and some virtualisation.
posted by unSane at 9:51 PM on June 7, 2007

Best answer: I'm a very similar user to you, just got a Macbook with plenty of RAM, and run Outlook 2007 in convergence mode on Parallels all day long. It's the right choice.
posted by anildash at 9:53 PM on June 7, 2007

Best answer: I have a PB G4 and I too found it a bit sluggish in the UI department. I've upgraded to a MB Pro 15", 2.3G/2G and it is snappy as all heck. I'm not a writer though, I'm a developer. The stresses I put on the box are more likely to be longish batch operations rather than interactive demands. Windows runs ok on Parallels though I'm only running Win2K under that. The beta of VMWare Fusion is open so at least for the moment that is free to try. It runs Linux great but I have not tried windows under VMWare.

For me the real kicker is Apple Service. The truth is that under the hood Apple's are just PCs now. But having a real store I can go to and get service is really unbeatable. These modern machines aren't as reliable as the older ones were and I pretty much expect a hard drive failure every few years.

Oh, one tip. I'd stay away from the 802.11n enabler for now. It seems to be causing random beach balling for many users.
posted by chairface at 9:54 PM on June 7, 2007

Just get a ThinkPad. They are sturdier than Macs, cheaper than Macs, probably last longer than Macs and run Windows without fiddle. The Mac does music and graphics better though.
posted by caddis at 10:00 PM on June 7, 2007

sturdier than Macs

Debatable. If that's the criteria, get a Toughbook.

cheaper than Macs

ThinkPads are not any cheaper than Macs (example).

probably last longer than Macs

Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on how you use your laptop. I'll bet you'll be reformatting and reinstalling Windows more often under a ThinkPad.

run Windows without fiddle

Macs run Windows without fiddle; Parallels is about as painless to use as software gets.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:12 PM on June 7, 2007

Oh, and the warranty extension on the ThinkPad costs about $80 more than the equivalent Apple warranty extension ($279 vs $199). That pays for Parallels off the bat.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:14 PM on June 7, 2007

I would recommend the HP dv2000 series. If you get them with the experimental coating, it looks every bit as beautiful as a Macbook--more so, I think. And then you can nuke the Vista/XP nonsense and put Ubuntu on it.

The HP is a lot cheaper, too. I got mine for well under $1000, and it works great--and 1GB of addon RAM only costs like $38 nowadays.
posted by nasreddin at 10:28 PM on June 7, 2007

I found dual booting Windows/OS X on my MBP to be a pain. I take a lot of screenshot and since I have no print screen key, doing that under Windows was a pain. Plus the no right click was troublesome.

But, running Windows under Parallels was so incredibly cool I would probably never go back to a Windows only machine.
posted by m3thod4 at 10:59 PM on June 7, 2007

You like elegance? No question then - get a laptop with tablet-pc functionality. Most of it (voice recognition, etc) you will probably have no use for, but the pen-on-screen instead of using a silly fingerpad or carrying around a mouse, is an awesome improvement over standard laptop ergonomics.

Also, being able to go all Transformers on the laptop and flip it into a slate comes in handy from time to time, and will get you far more noticed in public than a macbook. (For this reason, I avoid doing it in public places. But that's me :-)

In fact, even just using it as a standard laptop, merely using the pen on the screen as you work is a more elegant technology than a lot of people are even aware exists until they see you using it.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:05 PM on June 7, 2007

(Forgot to add - I recommend one with a wacom digitiser screen, rather than finepoint. The wacom system has graded pressure sensitivity, the finepoint is binary. However, if you don't do any art or photoshop, you might not have much use for graded sensitivity, in which case finepoint might be better as they also come in widescreen ratios, which seems to be the latest laptop fad/fashion).
posted by -harlequin- at 11:09 PM on June 7, 2007

Best answer: You might want to hold off buying something this weekend, in case Steve Jobs announces something new at WWDC 2007 on Monday.
posted by bobo123 at 11:45 PM on June 7, 2007

Remember that when Apple introduce new technology, they tend to make a hash of it. So I'd leave the LED screen technology alone for at least one or two generations, until its proved itself.
posted by humblepigeon at 11:55 PM on June 7, 2007

The LED screen technology is not new; it's been used in small screens, such as on PDAs, for a long time. Apple does not make their own LCD panels, anyway.
posted by kindall at 12:49 AM on June 8, 2007

Remember that when Apple introduce new technology, they tend to make a hash of it. So I'd leave the LED screen technology alone for at least one or two generations, until its proved itself.

While it's a good idea to take a wait-and-see approach with any major new model (from any manufacturer), the LED MacBooks are more an incremental upgrade than a redesigned model. I've seen nothing so far that suggests the LED backlights are problematic or 'risky' technology. On the contrary, LEDs tend to be very reliable. If they pass testing they are very unlikely to fail far short of their expected lifetime.

My beef with Apple is that the viewing angle of the MacBook Pro screens is not great. I expect more of a product sold to designers and photographers.

If I needed to buy a laptop and "money [was] a non-issue" (as the OP said), I'd still buy a MacBook Pro (and a higher quality display to plug into at the office).
posted by D.C. at 1:10 AM on June 8, 2007

I've seen nothing so far that suggests the LED backlights are problematic or 'risky' technology. On the contrary, LEDs tend to be very reliable.

Time will tell. Bear in mind that we're not talking about the technology. We're talking about Apple's implementation of it. This is the same company who built-in a wifi antenna behind a titanium lid, rendering it almost useless.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:52 AM on June 8, 2007

I'm currently working on getting a Thinkpad, mainly because I want an ultralight one and there don't seem to be any sub-4-pound Macbooks. Although I'm vacillating right this very moment.
posted by amtho at 5:18 AM on June 8, 2007

Thirding Thinkpad. I love mine - it's sturdy and reliable, with a keyboard that's a pleasure to type on. Unlike Macs, you can get great deals online. I've tried other brands, but after all kinds of hardware failures, I'm not messing around with anything other than Thinkpad anymore.
posted by walla at 6:06 AM on June 8, 2007

I work in a research lab. Recently I found myself in a position where my program would purchase a laptop for me. As in, money needed to be spent immediately or it was lost - so like you cost wasn't the primary issue. Stipulation was that it had to be purchased through the University computer store, which meant Dell, Gateway or Apple.

I've played with the Vista betas. It's a lot of glitz but I honestly don't see much of an improvement in usability, security, etc. Like so many Microsoft products, it seems to be designed from the ground up to make things hell for you unless you use nothing but other Microsoft products.

I've run Dell computers at work before (nearly every academic purchase in the last few places I've worked seems to be a Dell) and have been frustrated at the dumb design decisions they have made. Stupid things like adding an entirely unnecessary block of plastic around the front USB port, so that many USB drives physically can't be pushed in far enough to plug in.

I've given up on Gateway a long time ago. They've long had more difficult support options than Dell, especially for aging systems, and I just don't trust that they've fixed that.

As a result, a new MacBook Pro is on order.

I'm a long-time Windows user - the last Mac I used regularly was a Mac Classic as a college freshman. I have a large body of Windows software that I will quite likely still need to use. My home computer runs XP. My old laptop (Acer Ferrari) runs XP. It's been fairly reliable but has given me enough little problems that I am not too upset about giving it to my wife to use. I'll miss the carbon fiber frame and styling (people have seen Macs before - but the Ferrari seems to draw stares and double-takes).

The point I want to make is not that I'm choosing a Mac because the other options suck - I'm sure Dell does make some good systems, but I've come to realize that what I value most is choice and stability. Choice means "can I run whatever software / OS I want?" and with a Mac and Parallels the answer is yes. Stability? That has three components. The first and most important is the hardware, followed by the OS and then end-user awareness and habits. Apple does hardware. It's their meat and potatoes. It's what they do best. Plus, AppleCare + Apple Store ten minutes south of me = no problems. Operating system? OSX is a proven entity - Vista is new, and like any Microsoft OS, it probably won't even begin to have the kinks worked out until after service pack 2 is released in two or three years. Even if there was a Dell with the same hardware options and service plans, the OS would be the nail in the coffin here.

You have a Mac. You're happy with it. When people like me are saying "I'm about done with Microsoft's shit", why would you seriously consider dropping OSX for Windows, when you can get a new MacBook, then run Parallels to get the best of both?
posted by caution live frogs at 6:27 AM on June 8, 2007

Get the Mac, run both. I had a dying 17" PB G4 and just upgraded to a middle-road MacBook and can't believe the speed difference (on a product that costs 1/3 less, too).

People are suggesting Parallels, but I've been happier with VMware Fusion (which will have a better "Coherence" mode of its own before it reaches final). Virtualization software is fast, but if you must, you have Boot Camp on your side for full-speed 3D-accelerated Windows.
posted by stance at 6:30 AM on June 8, 2007

One thing that rarely comes up in discussions about buying Apple notebooks is their gravity-defying depreciation. In other words, you'll be able to sell your notebook when you've finished with it for a decent price. This makes them worth considering above and beyond the equivalent Dell or Lenovo

Case in point: I recently sold my old iBook G4 for £400 (US$800). They can't get enough of them on eBay. Even crappy old Apple notebooks that can barely run OS X fetch a high price.

What makes this even more bizarre is that I bought a recon MacBook from Apple at the beginning of the year for £550. In other words, I got a new Apple notebook for just £150 more than I sold my old iBook for.
posted by humblepigeon at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2007

We buy a decent number of Thinkpads and have been very happy with them. I've been very impressed with the quality of Sony laptops - I have a couple of them and they're very durable and reliable.

You might want to check out Tablet PCs as well. There's nothing really comparable to that in the Mac world yet (other than the custom ModBook, which looks very nice.) There are some other non-traditional designs available, such as UMPCs and handtops, for which there's no Mac alternative - the Sony Vaio UX and oQo machines are very neat.

Other than that, you might as well just get a Mac.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:19 AM on June 8, 2007

Remember that when Apple introduce new technology, they tend to make a hash of it. So I'd leave the LED screen technology alone

FAIK, Kyocera and Compal are the main suppliers of LED-backlit screens right now. And they are supplying both Quanta and Asustek (two of the main assemblers of both Dells and Apples). So all the brand-name notebook supplers are in the same boat with the tech...
posted by meehawl at 10:50 AM on June 8, 2007

If you have a good source of support that's willing/able to do out-of-warranty repairs (dropping or spilling on the computer) I'd say to go with the Mac. The Macbook Pro, even: you mentioned liking the aesthetics, and the metal is also just more resilient to the small, inevitable impacts.

As far as speed goes, Vista's really a disgusting resource hog. Significantly slower than XP.
posted by Lady Li at 11:13 AM on June 8, 2007

I used to use LiteStep. Having that amount of customization is nice, but you just keep tweaking forever. And systems like that seem to be more prone to breakage. This is the part of the reason I use OSX now (and vim instead of emacs, incidentally). The defaults fit me better, it's less to customize, and it is less prone to breakage.

Go with the MacBook Pro. It will cost you ~$200 (vm software + windows) extra to run windows, but the windows machines can't reasonably run OSX.

Parallels/VMWare will be basically as fast as the "real thing". Unless you run out of ram or you're editing video within windows, you won't notice the difference. I would suggest 2GB or more.
posted by easyasy3k at 11:06 PM on June 8, 2007

Response by poster: All,
Just wanted to thank you. Great answers from everyone, and many points I had not previously considered. I will be buying a new MacBook Pro tomorrow!
posted by davidinmanhattan at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2007

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