But first, a little confession…
Ok, I’ll admit it. You won’t get my usual unbiased advice when it comes to an Apple laptop. I’ve owned an Apple laptop for 15 years, and I cannot imagine life without one. The convenience of being able to carry your work around with you, even if its just pottering about at home, is justification enough in my view.
MacBook Pro: Less money, more RAM, LED backlights
Finally a laptop with desktop performance. MacBook Pro. At long last Apple have a laptop with a processor quick enough to run OS X applications really really fast. The Core 2 Duo Intel chips provide speed very close to the iMac and Mac Pro in most applications. You also get much brighter LED backlit screens, a power cable you can’t damage by kicking it, a really fast video card for gaming, 3D visualization and CoreImage heavy programs like Aperture and Final Cut. Add to that the built-in iSight, Front Row software, SD card reader slot and Dual-layer DVD-Writer, what’s not to love?
All models feature at least 4Gb RAM as standard, which is important as running things in Rosetta gobbles RAM, and Creative Suite 4 and 5 consume RAM at an alarming rate. They also feature a SD (Secure Digital) slot so you can quickly download photos or videos. Lastly, the 13″ MacBook Pro and 15″ MacBook Pro feature an industry first: LED backlighting. Not only is this environmentally more friendly as they don’t use Mercury, but also the backlight should last longer and remain brighter. No more dingy screens aftr 3 years use. The 17″ MacBook Pro is fitted with a glossy 1920×1200 pixel display with optional matt coating for all you photo and video editors.
The Intel Core 2 Duo chips used in the 13″ model run much cooler than the previous Core chips, but also include 4MB of cache to further tweak performance. The 15″ and 17″ models come with a choice of Intel Core i5 Dual Core or i7 Quad Core chips that provide better performance for th esame clock-speed.
Don’t forget the Firewire 800 port, support for Configure-To-Order drives up to 500Gb in size, the groovy (and remarkably practical) illuminated keyboard, the wireless card supports the Pre-N wireless standard. What’s that? In short, Pre-N wireless devices are able to support much greater data transfer rates, over much wider areas than wireless B or G cards. What’s not to love?
If you’ve ever had an aching shoulder at the end of a day lugging around even a slimline laptop like the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air is for you. The Air weighs under 3lb. has an nippy Intel Core 2 processor. It doesn’t have firewire, ethernet or an optical drive, so you might want to budget for Apple’s external Superdrive or the USB to ethernet adapter. They also have “Flash storage” hard drives, so there’s less chance of losing data when the computer gets dropped as there are no “mechanical” parts in the hard disk.
And unlike most of the Windows based ‘netbooks’ or ‘sub-notebooks’ the Air actually has real power. No mediocre Intel Atom chips, or underclocked Core2. The 13″ Air has a full-fat 1.83 or 2.13Ghz Core 2 and the 11″ Air has 1.4 or 1.6Ghz Core 2 chips. Compared to something like a Dell Adamo, they have more power, better ergonomics, much more stylish design and are a fair amount cheaper.
Light, tough, powerful, inexpensive, the MacBook comes complete with everything you may want in a laptop. Wireless, Bluetooth, Video camera, microphone, remote control, crisp 13″ widescreen ultra bright LCD and a bundle of fun software. You also get the MagSafe power lead from its big brother. Finally Apple let you drive an external screen in ‘xtended’ dekstop mode as well. Bundled with OS 10.6, iLife 2009, and capable of running Windows via BootCamp or a Virtualization system, what’s not to love?
Desktop Power in laptop sizes
For a long long time the performance of Apple laptops lagged behind that of PCs. Why? Basically the G4 chip isn’t very “state of the art” any more. However the MacBook Pro changed all that. Intel processors suddenly give Apple portables performance that can match or better that of the G5 powered desktops and iMacs.
Almost all software has been re-writen as an “Universal” binary that will run at full speed on Intel machines. So iTunes, iPhoto, IDVD and iMovie will scream along, as well as the Pro apps like Quark, Photoshop, InDesign, Aperture, Final Cut, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack, Shake, Logic, etc.
Performance in older PowerPC programs like Adobe Creative Suite 2 seems to be about on a par with the G4 1.5ghz machines. So no worse than the best of the old Powerbooks with your old software.
Windows at warp speed
The Intel chip also brings an intersting new possibility; running Windows , either via Apple’s Boot Camp software, or via a Virtualization solution like Parallels. No more messing about with awful Virtual PC performance, Windows will run lightening fast.
Which MacBook is right for me?
A few simple questions should answer this. Is 13″ too small for me? Am I doing presentations on the built-in screen? Do I need a powerful video card for 3D rendering, video? Do I want to use Aperture? If you say 13″ is a bit small, I will be doing presentations on the screen, I’ll do more than dabble with Aperture, or I work in 3D, video or film, you need to get the MacBook Pro. Otherwise the MacBook should do just nicely.
I need ultimate performance!
However some caveats apply. If you need the ultimate performance, for example you work in high-end music, 3D or video production, the latest Mac Pros are much faster. Part of the reason is that laptop hard drives cannot work as fast. Also the Quad-processor Xeon chips in the Mac Pros are faster and there are more of them, and that is essentially what audio and video is all about.
A MacBook or MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with a wireless ADSL router really makes personal computing fun. I do sit in front of TV, downloading pictures from my digital camera into iPhoto, and email them to friends all without having to move. Marvellous.
Some useful links: Portable gear