mac, dell or lenovo?
July 23, 2008 1:00 PM   Subscribe

My laptop recently died, and I need to replace it. I'm thinking of getting the cheapest macbook or an equivalently priced Dell or Lenovo. Help me figure out which.

I'm an architect but make most of my living doing web design/development, though I still do some architectural stuff, renderings, that sort of thing.
70% of the time, I work in pyscripter, e-texteditor, dreamweaver and fireworks. The other 30% it's sketchup, 3ds max, autocad, rhino, piranesi and maya.
I've been thinking of getting a mac lately, as I'm tired of windows and especially as there's a bunch of cool developer apps that are mac only (textmate, etc.).
However, I don't want to spend too much money, as I have a desktop I do most of my actual work on.
I'm thinking of getting the cheapest macbook, which costs USD$1,400 here in Chile. I understand that this will run the PC-only CAD applications I need if I install XP on it.
What I don't know is this: will it be a significantly underpowered machine, especially compared to the Dell (like an XPS M1530 with a 256 MB graphics card and 4GB RAM) or Lenovo (V200 or R61) machines I could get for the same price?
3d rendering power is an issue, but not a deal breaker. I don't play computer games.
posted by signal to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are going to us it primarily to run PC programs then you should get a PC, it will give you more bang for your buck.

Anecdotally I would strongly recommend the Lenovo over a Dell, quality wise.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:09 PM on July 23, 2008

Response by poster: Just to clarify: I won't be using it primarily to run PC programs, just when it's unavoidable (which shouldn't be more than 10% of the time).
posted by signal at 1:19 PM on July 23, 2008

if you are a student OF ANY KIND or teacher, Apple has some great deals. I switched to a Mac- and I'm not going back.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 1:59 PM on July 23, 2008

Dude, don't get a Dell (so sorry, I couldn't resist). A few years ago, I bought the second-cheapest Latitude and it was such a piece of crap. Their customer service is wretched, too. It died after just about 16 months. If software allows, get the Mac with AppleCare.
posted by lunasol at 1:59 PM on July 23, 2008

There are rumours that Apple will be releasing new versions of its laptops by the end of September, so this gives you two useful pieces of info: one, that you could potentially be buying something that's about to become "outdated", if that matters to you... and on the flip side, the existing ones will soon be cheaper to pick up on eBay/Apple's refurb store...

Either way, you're better off waiting until they release the new ones if you decide to go Apple. Hope that helps ;)
posted by jon4009 at 2:00 PM on July 23, 2008

Never had a problem with Dell or IBM.

I would stay away from the Macbooks- their LCDs are fairly washed out and don't display vibrant colors. Not so great for design. Every Macbook I've seen exhibits this, probably a cheaper LCD (Apple did the same with the iBooks). I've tried using a LCD color calibrator to fix it, but it doesn't bring it up to par with the LCD on the Macbook Pros or other PC notebooks.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:12 PM on July 23, 2008

The MacBook screen is woeful, yes.
posted by bonaldi at 3:39 PM on July 23, 2008

You're always potentially buying something that'll be outdated, and to be honest, that's more likely with the commodity PC OEMs, since they roll out new hardware more frequently than Apple's semi-regular product cycles.

I like my new (refurb, slightly outdated) MacBook, though wongcorgi has a point about the LCD. The dealbreaker for CAD, though, is the MacBook's integrated Intel GMA graphics, which delivers a 3D performance hitsufficient to affect OpenGL-intensive work. All that said, I'm a fan of IBM/Lenovo's build quality (much more than Dell) and people have installed hacked-up copies of OS X on Thinkpads.
posted by holgate at 3:51 PM on July 23, 2008

I bought a MacBook last year - lowest spec, but topped out. 2 GB RAM, etc. Great for what I want to do, but there are a few things i need windows for and I tried to use parallels and it was woeful. Even just for the odd website I had to use IE for. I ended up having to get another laptop with windows just to be able to get that side of work done. I'm not an architect but do have a lot of dealings with them in work - they all use Windows machines. IME Macs are much easier machines to work on and have less problems, but they are not all encompassing and it may work out more cost effective for you in the long run to buy a Windows machine...
posted by Elmore at 4:15 PM on July 23, 2008

This question comes up a lot, of course.. Performance wise, you really have nothing to worry about with any laptop over about $1000.

In terms of best value for the dollar, I had this to say in Help me decide what computer to buy:
Basically.. Dell accepts that some customers are unwilling to buy from them at their regular prices. They believe that, as long as they are still making money, it is in their interest to try and make those sales anyway. Hence Dell has occasional, but spectacularly good, one day only specials. On the other hand, Apple believes that maintaining the perceived brand value is more important than catering to customers with low willingness to pay.

You can see very clearly in this thread that they are both right. They both understand exactly what markets they are catering to, and do a very good job of marketing and pricing to attract customers that suit their own business models.
Kind of makes me sick, to be honest :)

Whether you prefer paying for "perceived brand value", or patiently waiting for discounts, which have the consequence of feeding the beast, is completely up to you, of course.
Lenovo is well known for top quality product, but I'm not at all familiar with their pricing strategy, or how to best exploit it. My guess though, given that they are competing directly with PC makers, I don't think they completely ignore PC strategies the way Apple does.
posted by Chuckles at 6:23 PM on July 23, 2008

That was supposed to include a link: differential pricing.
posted by Chuckles at 6:24 PM on July 23, 2008

Response by poster: holgate: The dealbreaker for CAD, though, is the MacBook's integrated Intel GMA graphics, which delivers a 3D performance hit...

by '3d performance hit' you mean that it sucks, right?

Thanks for all the answers, everybody.
posted by signal at 7:46 PM on July 23, 2008

Find something that comes with XP. Vista runs incredibly slowly even on top-of-the-line machines.
posted by oaf at 9:54 PM on July 23, 2008

(I mean that your life will be far easier if you never have to deal with Vista. I would have said the same thing before finding out that it can take an hour or more to install SP1.)
posted by oaf at 9:56 PM on July 23, 2008

Even just for the odd website I had to use IE for.

Sites like this are increasingly rare. If you encounter this problem, you can usually safely get away with telling the site that you are using IE, even if you are not. This Firefox plugin is one easy way to do so.

Running a full installation of XP or Vista using Bootcamp would probably give you better perfromance than running Parallels, to.

And don't buy a Dell if you ever anticipate needing customer service. If you must buy a Dell, do so through their business side rather than their consumer division. Just call yourself a (very) small business. You'll get much better service.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2008

If you do go for hp or dell, go for their business laptops. They are much more reliably built with better components. For a cheaper version always buy refurbished which will serve you better than waiting to buy the "new and updated version".

The recent update for apple laptops will be the centrino 2 brand, with the above requirements core2duo laptops(previous generation) will be able to handle those applications with no problem. As far as video cards, you really do not need anything more than integrated cards since you are not gaming.All recently laptops have the ability to do open gl, M1530 is essentially overkill for your requirements.

Also for lenovo much better off with the Tseries which gain a higher satisfaction rating compared to the R series.

Also I would suggest waiting till september(for getting a macbook) or untill the brand gets updated qith centrino 2 processors and the older (core2duo) are pushed out at a lower price.
posted by radsqd at 1:06 PM on July 24, 2008

Response by poster: As far as video cards, you really do not need anything more than integrated cards since you are not gaming. ... M1530 is essentially overkill for your requirements.

Would you say it's also overkill for working & rendering in 3d cad?
posted by signal at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2008

Response by poster: I ended up getting a Dell XPS m1530, as it gives me the highest bang/buck ratio.
Thanks for all the answers-
posted by signal at 10:58 AM on July 29, 2008

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