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August 14, 2007 6:43 AM   Subscribe

New iMac or new Macbook Pro? Details, details

I am currently running a 17-inch powerbook G4 from 3 years ago. While I love my aging powerbook, it is time to upgrade. I am currently looking at the new 2.8ghz 24-inch iMac, or the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro.

I work with (near)pro audio applications (Ableton Live, Logic, etc.), design/photo software (Aperture, Photoshop, Illustrator) and a 45gb iTunes music library. My main focus for the new computer will be (other than homework!) audio production, with much layering.

I can get both computers for reasonable prices, so that is not an issue. (student developer discount for the MBP, and just the education store for the iMac)

Would I be better off with the iMac or the MBP? Mind you, I already have a PB 17-inch, that can serve as my laptop, and while I do recording on it now, it won't hold a candle to either of the new computers.
posted by sindas to Education (11 answers total)
I guess my main concern would be portability -- do you need it, and will it affect your ability to hear things properly? I have a Pro, and I love it to death, but the sound definitely leaves something to be desired. If you use headphones, that may not be a huge issue, but you will almost certainly need external speakers. You're probably aware of this issue from past experience.

Do you have, or have you considered, an AirPort Express connection to a stereo system? My boyfriend introduced me to it, and now I'm considering getting one for my parents.
posted by Madamina at 7:08 AM on August 14, 2007

If you get the iMac, you can probably run Remote Desktop and/or VNC from the PowerBook. I don't know what kind of latency you'd get for real-time apps, but it's a way to get something like the best of both worlds. It depends whether you want the portability of the smaller MBP.
posted by holgate at 7:16 AM on August 14, 2007

If you don't need a laptop, don't get a laptop. That's really all there is to it. You get more bang for your buck with the iMac. A 24" screen is much nicer to work with than a 15" one for starters.
posted by chunking express at 7:16 AM on August 14, 2007

I'll contradict chunking and say you get used to a smaller screen pretty fast, even if the bigger screen is nice. The bigger question in my mind is how essential portability is to you. If the powerbook breaks, will your life end if you have no laptop?
posted by SpecialK at 7:26 AM on August 14, 2007

I use Aperture and Photoshop and say go with the desktop with as much RAM as you can afford; with laptops you get portability with the tradeoffs of (slightly, nowadays) decreased performance, decreased reliability, and increased cost, so unless you need the portability, why get a laptop? If you do need it, then why consider a desktop in the first place?
posted by TedW at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2007

An iMac is cheaper than a spec-comparable MacBook Pro. The MBP's premium comes from the laptop's portability and a few additional features, such as ExpressCard slot and lighted keyboard.

The 17" MBP display is 1680 x 1050, same as the 20" iMac. The 24" iMac has a larger display than is available in laptop form. The 15" MBP's display is smaller than any iMac's. All new iMacs and laptops can drive second displays without difficulties -- I tried this recently with a MacBook (non-Pro) and a 24" Cinema Display, and it worked fine driving three YouTube videos and several other Flash-heavy web pages simultaneously. Well, a little laggy, but acceptable. The MBPs and iMacs have better video hardware and will presumably perform better than acceptable.

I had been dithering over getting a MacBook Pro or MacBook + iMac. The MacBook runs much better than I expected, but I chose the 15" MBP.
posted by ardgedee at 7:38 AM on August 14, 2007

Audio production is much nicer/easier with more screen space. I can get by in Photoshop on my laptop, but Reason is really hard to use on a tiny screen, Logic even more so.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:51 AM on August 14, 2007

Easy call on macbook vs. macbook pro if audio is your thing, because the MBP has digital audio in (optical), but the MB does not. In any case, if you're working with lots of tracks you might want to go for the 7200 rpm hard drive option on the MBP, though you'll probably work with an external FW drive anyway.

Portability is worth the premium if you have only one machine, unless you need the cutting edge of performance. Certainly if you plan to do any location recording work using the computer. Adding a big display to an MBP is cheap enough these days, with 19" LCDs going for $120. Again, if music is your thing, that will be fine with a big cheap second monitor (not for video or serious image processing work, though).
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:53 AM on August 14, 2007

Will you be using your Mac as a performance tool? You mentioned Live, which many people use to play their music on stage - if this is the case you will likely want the MBP.

If not, then the iMacs all have 7200rpm drives. The MBPs have 5400rpm drives with the exception of the 160GB/7200rpm drive option. If you are doing multi-track audio recording (e.g. a recording a live set with a band into Logic) you will want that faster drive.

If you need the fancy drives on the MBP you could maybe do something with eSATA into the ExpressCard/34 slot, possibly even a RAID. I doubt you could find anything fast AND bus powered, though, so if you need these drives to be portable then...

(on preview, what fourcheesemac said)
posted by roygbv at 9:39 AM on August 14, 2007

I pulled the trigger on an MBP two days ago; so I admit to bias.

Anyway: if you need the portability, go MBP + external monitor. if not, go iMac. The hardware is the same as the iMac uses a mobile processor and a full-size hard drive. The video cards are comparable as well. They also accept the same maximum of the same RAM; which you should go to a third party for as they charge waaaaay less than Apple does.

If you want to use a matte screen you're going to want an MBP; the iMacs only come in glossy now, which will affect your design work.
posted by heeeraldo at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2007

CS3 runs damn well on my 15" MBP. Santa Rosa, 4g RAM. Doesn't come close to using all the available memory. If you can get the same specs for cheaper in a desktop, sure, why not go for it though? Really, the expandability of a laptop vs. iMac is essentially nil - the iMac is basically a laptop in size and shape, with an external keyboard. The only major difference is that using the MBP as a desktop replacement means you have a built-in battery backup if the power cuts out on you.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:47 AM on August 14, 2007

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