William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson
nova_one

decision... made!

The only way I'm ever going to be able to live with myself is to take the two systems I covet most and go over them blow-by-blow.

Finishing in second place...

MODEL: White MacBook, Apple
BASE PRICE: CDN$1,350.00 with education discount

  • 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (wow)
  • 1GB RAM
  • 80GB HD 5400rpm
  • 6x Dual Layer DVD Writer
  • Wi-fi + Bluetooth (that's very thoughtful)
  • Intel GMA 950 64MB (yuck!! However, it is reported to be able to handle Vista's Aero Glass. But getting Windows onto this system is tricky, to be charitable.)
  • 13.3" display, 1280x800
  • Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger (probably the most compelling reason to buy)


Pros:
~ It'll work right out of the box.
~ Things you plug into it work right out of the box.
~ It's cute. Sexy, even.
~ Integrated webcam, something that the Dell doesn't have (but the Lenovo did).
~ You get Mac OS X, which has been doing what Vista will do (and more) for years.

Major caveats:
~ It's a bit limited in what it will do; note the 64MB Intel graphics, found only on the cheapest Windows notebooks, or ultraportibles like the Lenovo 3000 V100 I was considering (for the unique advantages of that machine, it would have been an painful - albeit acceptable - trade-off). I mean, c'mon, most $1,000+ mainstream Windows notebooks can do better than this.
~ Dual-booting is tricky and most users will only be able to natively run XP SP2 or OS/X. Other operating systems must be run side-by-side via virtualization, which means a performance hit. I'm pretty sure I'd spend the lion's share of time in OS/X, but I want that to be my choice, not Apple's.
~ Dongles required for VGA output as well as telephone modem.

The White MacBook would have been a compelling buy if it had more robust graphics. It would have been fun anyway; I'm sure I'll buy a Mac someday, but when I do I'll probably have a career, and I'll probably go Pro. (Sad reality: Mac Pro, MacBook Pro = $$$$$)

There's also that problem of Windows. To pay a premium for the privilege of Apple components and OS X, I should be able to run Windows. Well, the short answer is that you can, but only XP SP2, and then only certain formats of it. I don't own a copy of XP in any release or format - I was honestly just planning to use Win98 for my old games - the reasons I can't are several-fold, and would bore you (One reason is serious: these Macs don't use BIOS to chat between the OS and the hardware, they use EFI - this is a good thing, but it leaves older x86 OSs out in the cold and the workaround is that they can be made to emulate BIOS for the purpose of booting into XP. The other reason seems silly: it has to do with the number of CDs needed for installation and a coincidental point in XP SP2 setup where a CD isn't needed for some reason.). Also, they only provide a way to run Windows XP, when I also desire Linux, OpenSolaris, or anything else I can get my hands on.

Again, sorry Apple!

* * *

And, our winner is...

MODEL: Inspiron 6400 Dual Core, Dell
BASE PRICE: CDN$1,199
MY PRICE: CDN$1,399 with $100 "Dell Online Customer" discount*
(* - Maybe it's because I'm on campus now? I bet that's why!)

  • 1.60GHz Intel Core Duo (this would be a noticeable notch down from the Core 2. However, this move will save me money while retaining most of the real-world performance I need. Who cares if ripping a song takes 1:17 instead of 1:10? Most of the time, I'm too distracted to notice anyway)
  • 2GB RAM (by default!)
  • 100GB HD 7200rpm (default is 160GB 5400rpm, this change adds $60 to the price - if I miss the extra 40 gigs down the road, I can always archive things like old photos on a FireWire external hard drive, and they're getting cheaper all the time)
  • 8x Dual Layer DVD Writer
  • Wi-fi a/b/g ($10 more than b/g; I was considering buying draft n at a premium, but now I'll stick with the a/b/g, because I don't even know of any n access points yet, and my house already has g, and I'm not made of money)
  • ATi Mobility Radeon x1400 256MB (ATi will get the job done - I like ATi, and their modern chipsets are compatible with almost every 3-D game ever released. Regular 2-D use should be just that little bit zippier as well. This was "free," and a "$100 value." Just a few weeks ago, it wasn't, and it was dragging my price up.)
  • 15.4" display (So this definitely isn't an ultraportable, but the starting weight was still a reasonable five pounds. I've probably made it heavier.)
  • Windows XP Professional with Express Upgrade to Windows Vista Business (default is Media Centre with upgrade to Home Premium, this change adds $60 to the price but makes networking on college campuses and other secure places a guaranteed slam dunk)
  • Also took the 9-cell battery over the 6-cell (this added $40 to the price but will make perhaps an hour's difference in battery life - bonus: unlike many other laptops, this enhanced battery doesn't stick out the back end of the chassis. Also, that 7200rpm drive will be drawing more power.)
  • Microsoft Works 8 plus Word (the only Office item I really need; I'll be downloading and installing the free OpenOffice.org, which will handle the rest (Excel files, PowerPoint files, etc..) well enough for my purposes. As a frequent typer, it's worth the extra $30 to me to have the Microsoft Word I'm used to.)


Pros:
~ *I* get to pick exactly what I want, and the price is reasonable.
~ This model gets generally good reviews. There are also quite a few people using the same industry standard components.
~ At this configuration, performance will be satisfactory for some time, and I require this to be my primary computer for the foreseeable future.
~ I get dedicated cursor control keys, a boon for writing. You get tired of pressing Function + Left Arrow for "Home."
~ I can run my old games, different OSs, probably do some light (non-HiDef) video editing, and definitely do all the photography work I need.
~ The FireWire is there, not to mention that nifty play-without-loading-Windows MediaDirect setup. We've got the VGA, the modem, a memory card reader - everything I could ever need to connect.
~ It's not a MacBook, but trust me, it's better looking than a lot of notebooks out there. Well, there was one shiny HP budget notebook that I liked, but it didn't have Firewire and there were a few other serious shortcomings.

Concerns:
~ Some people have issues with Dell's customer service. I intend to be as self-reliant as humanly possible, and I have not needed phone support for anything besides ISP-related items and router configuration for some time. Anyway, it does come with 1 year of tech support and parts-and-labour, and that's quite enough for me. Buying 3 years of support seems silly - this laptop will be a dinosaur by then and I'd be dreaming of a new one anyway. No, seriously. And 4 years? Umm, nah. Definitely not at those prices! (over $300!)
~ Windows. However, with this machine I have the wherewithal to tease and configure to my heart's content, a pleasure I've not experienced since my last notebook. (Okay, I've also experienced it occasionally to the detriment of my poor Uncle Shane and the computers of other people I could name. These days I try to be more respectful.)
~ This unit may get a little warm in my lap, especially with the 7200rpm drive. I don't think it'll be any worse than the LG laptops we were using in Ukraine, though.
~ Bluetooth was an add-on option, and I didn't get it. But nor do I own any Bluetooth-enabled devices. I guess I can get it later as a ExpressCard expansion if I really want it.

To quote my psychology professor, I am now supremely confident that this is the best choice for me. It's time to buy. It's $1594.86 with taxes, but it's my plunge into the digital world. I'll be able to do schoolwork at any time that suits me - I'll be able to do anything at any time that suits me. Having my own modern machine is going to be worth every penny, just as it was back in the early 90's - the difference then was that it wasn't my money. =) Now those 10-hour days at the call centre are finally going to pay off.

And maybe now I can sleep at night.
Tags: apple, computer hardware, computers, dell, laptops, notebooks, operating systems, prices, shopping
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