Those of you that read this blog will probably realize that I am not an Apple fanboy by any measure. I like to build PCs and that is a large part of the allure for Windows: it runs on any CPU with any Video card with any NIC, et al.
I have a ‘gaming laptop’ but it is a 17” 9lb behemoth that is not pleasant to carry around. I have been looking at replacement upgrades, but these start at around $1000 (for comparable hardware) and can go up to $4000 (top-of-the-line Alienware)- and with that I a back to lugging around a monolith to occasionally play games on.
Last weekend I was cruising for an open-box/close-out MacMini at Fry’s to try out some Mac only software that was running pretty poorly on a 1.33Ghz iBook G4. None were to be found, so I considered a NetBook as a ‘hackintosh’, but neither Fry’s or MicroCenter appear to have the recommended models that support WiFi, sound, Bluetooth, etc.
At Microcenter, I came across the newer model of the MacBook (unibody plastic, 2.26Ghz Core2 Duo, 2GB RAM, 250GB HD) for $799- which is a full $200 off the MSRP for this particular model. The $200 is an instant rebate- which was formerly a mail-in rebate as I was informed by the salesperson.
This struck me as a bit odd, as Apple is one of the companies that NEVER discounts hardware- this makes this laptop a fairly decent system without the ‘Apple tax’. I purchased one.
First thing I decided to do on the MacBook is upgrade the hard drive; 250GB is miniscule compared to the multiple 1.5TB drives in my main PC. I chanced upon a 500GB 2.5” Hitachi drive on sale for $60 at Fry’s that same weekend. I didn’t want to go with the larger 16MB/7200rpm drives due to heat dissipation concerns. However, as I read more reviews, this may no longer be a concern…
This weekend I purchased 4GB of PC1333 DDR3 SODIMMs for $99 from Fry’s. At this point the MacBook is ‘maxed out’.
BootCamp now supports Windows 7 (via the 3.1 download that contains the updated windows 7 drivers) and is very easy to use. Vista and Windows 7 require NTFS, so the Windows partition will be re-only from the MacOS, but the Windows boot can access the Mac drive. I loaded copies of my pictures and music into the Mac partition so I allocated 150GB to the Windows partition.
This newer version of MacBook support x64 versions of Windows 7, but I saw no reason to use this as the memory maxes out at 4GB and there are no must-have native x64 programs I use in Windows. Installation took a while (seemed longer than normal) and I had to load the 3.1 BootCamp upgrade via USB as after loading the BootCamp 3.0 software from the MacOS CD I did not have the wireless or NIC drivers. The 3.1 BootCamp upgrade resolved all driver issues.
The Apple nVidia driver for the 9400M video was not recognized by the StarCraft II beta software but the latest nVidia drivers resolved this.
World of Warcraft runs 25-30fps in full screen (1280x800) mode with graphics details set to ‘high’. It stuttered a bit when set to ‘ultra’ so I dialed them back. I had similar results on both Windows native and OS X native versions of the game.
To merge the two operating systems, I tried using VMWare Fusion 3 and Parallels 5 for MacOS. VMWare Fusion seems to have some issues supporting Windows 7 and Parallels seems to be much more fluid. For example, after installing VMWare Fusion, I was no longer able to boot directly to the Windows 7 partition as Windows had an error on boot (possibly from the VMWare tools that were installed?); Parallels does not appear to have this issue.
I am currently writing this post via Windows Live Writer running from my Windows 7 partition via Parallels.
All-in-all, I am very happy with the quality of the Apple hardware. It is a very substantial piece of hardware for Windows 7 and it comes with a very good version of OS X (which I am forcing myself to use for the next week or so- save for gaming) and the fairly useful iLife 09 suite.
For about twice the price of a NetBook, you can get a real CPU (i.e. it can play videos from Hulu) and an integrated DVD-RW drive in a slightly larger form-factor. With the video card and the CPU, it is a good compromise between a gaming and a work laptop.
- Good CPU for price (Intel Core2 Duo 2.26Ghz)
- System bottom does not get uber-hot like most other laptops
- LED backlight screen is bright an easy to read
- nVidia 9400M video is sufficient for most Windows games
- x64 Windows support
- Excellent support for sleep/resume function under both OSes
- Easy access for upgrades (8 screws on bottom + 2 additional for HD replacement)
- Nice keyboard
- Good quality 1.3MP integrated above screen
- Multi-touch pad can be configured for right click/scroll/page up-down functionality
- Slot-loading dual-layer DVD-RW drive
- Includes Snow Leopard and iLife 09
- Easy to configure BootCamp
- Bluetooth 2.1 EDR+ 802.11n radio hardware
- Limited to 4GB of RAM
- 1280x800 is a bit low-res for a 13.3” screen
- Only 2 USB ports
- No IR port for use with Apple remotes
- Includes right-angle MagSafe connector (would prefer the straight connector)
- ‘7 hour battery’ is closer to 3-4 hours
- Non-rounded edge around palm rest can be a bit uncomfortable for extended use
This will be my multi-purpose laptop that I keep with me almost always. With my Clear WiMax USB card (or WiFi tether on my Droid) I will be using this for 90% of my normal computer stuff.
If Apple would add in a GPS, a mini-PCIe slot (for a 3G/4G/WiMax radio) and officially make the price $799, they might become a viable alternative to comparable Sony/Toshiba/HP/Dell/Gateway/Asus/Acer systems! :)
Out of curiosity I also purchased a Magic Mouse. This device is a laser mouse with a completely smooth top. The entire top cover acts as a multi-touch pad- so it can be used as a scroll wheel as well as other options- and is very well designed.
So far, I am very happy with this purchase as well; this is the first mouse from anyone other than Logitech or Microsoft that I have found interesting.