Poor auld Tin

I don’t travel well anymore. Oh, I like my car trips, but I don’t care much for flying in this paranoid, bankrupt age and even the train was tiring. I think if the circumstances had been better, or I had reserved a sleeper on the train or the location wasn’t so inaccessible for these forms of mass transportation (Sandpoint is a out of the way), I would have liked traveling better. Now, though, I don’t see myself going any place significant until SxSW in March–and for that I’ll drive.

One casualty of the trip is auld tin, my TiBook. The existing magenta line has now been joined by another, which changes color and comes and goes: sometimes it’s yellow, other times a bright orange-pink. If I press on the lid just so it goes away, but it always returns. My DVD player has also bit the dust and scratches DVDs and the hard drive is just too small and the memory too low. The battery is stuck, but comes undone enough so I can’t depend on it. The viewscreen is failing.

I have a Dell laptop and it’s in surprising good condition, but weighs close to 15 pounds since it’s considered a portable desktop. It should last a good long time, but causes permanent joint damage when I lug it around in the laptop bag. I am partial to the Powerbook. I like the lightness, but more than that, I really like OS X. I don’t think that Apple is a perfect company, but I still admire the move to a new graphical interface built on open source Unix.

Now that I’m working fairly consistently, I can think of actually perhaps even maybe think about replacing things that aren’t working–starting with health insurance for yours truly. This includes taking care of overdue repairs on the car, getting some long-term dental work finished, and even–miracles!–getting replacements for old and tired computer equipment.

Both of my laptops will be five years old this December. For a computer professional who works heavily with PhotoShop, as well as various tweaky technologies, stretching one’s computer to five years is pushing the machine and the user. I think about replacing my primary laptop, but getting another Powerbook gives me pause and the reason is cost: Apple computers cost more than those that run Windows or Linux. A whole lot more.

Or do they?

The assumption I’ve had is that you pay extra, a premium, for Apple over Windows but I wonder how much of this is the fact that much of the Apple machines come pre-packaged with so many items that are bought separately from a Windows laptop. I decided to do a comparison between a Powerbook and a similarly loaded laptop at leading vendor Dell; I wanted to see how much more the Apple did cost.

The Powerbook I looked at is the 1.67 GHz 15-inch G4. I decided to load it up with 1GHz of memory, and am content with the 80GB hard drive. I also accepted the standard ATI Mobility graphics card with 128 MB DDR memory. It comes with ethernet, modem, and airport card pre-installed, in addition to a superdrive that includes a read-write DVD/CD combo. It supports both USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 and 800.

For the Dell, I picked out the Dell XPS M100. It’s also lightweight, and features a variety of processors, as well as a 15 inch monitor. I picked the 1.86MHz CPU, with 1GB of memory, and an 80GB hard drive. I picked the True Life monitor to try and match the equivalent quality of the Apple, which added 25.00.

The Dell also comes with a read-write DVD/CD combo and a wireless card, internal modem, and integrated ethernet. In fact, built-in internet capability is ubiquitous now, and it makes no sense for laptops not to be modem, ethernet, and wireless enabled.

The Dell doesn’t have firewire but does have four USB 2.0 ports. It also comes with a 2 year warranty, while Apple’s is one. Dell also provides in-home support, and I’ve used it before and know it to be good. As for Apple–hee, that’s a funny one.

The price out of the box for the Powerbook at Apple is $2,099.00 US. The price out of the box for the Dell is $1,483.00. If I up the CPU for the Dell, the cost would rise another 200.00 and 400.00 for each upgrade.

Though it’s difficult to compare the two since there are some architectural differences, you can see that the Apple Powerbook is not necessarily that much higher than a comparable one at Dell and other vendors. Laptops do cost more, and if you build the laptop to meet the needs of a photographer or coder or even to work on a web site or weblog, you need a minimum amount of memory and space (and hopefully graphics card if you can afford an upgrade).

So the price difference exists but isn’t extreme. What you then have to look at is how you value the operating system, which is what pulls all the pieces together.

Right now I have a dual boot on my Windows laptop with Ubuntu and Windows 2000. They both work great, but then so does OS 10.3 on my TiBook. I like all three operating systems and code and play and work effortlessly in all three, primarily because I use OpenOffice (or NeoOffice) for office productivity work, and am making increasing use of gimp for photography. Most of my development is PHP and MySQL on Apache, which works in all three environments–as does my browser and most of my other tools. Thanks to open source, one isn’t forced into a specific operating system because of a specific application nowadays. No more, …but it runs Office as the reason to lock into an operating system.

Ultimately, I cannot get over how great it is to have the ease and use of the sophisticated Apple interfacce built on the powerhouse that is Unix. That was the Apple decision that brought me over to the company and led me to buy in the first place; and when it comes to upgrading my laptop, it is this decision that’s keeps me coming back. How much do I value it? Enough to pay about $400.00 extra for the Powerbook over the Dell laptop.

It’s on my list. As is whatever I need to keep my Windows machine happy. In the meantime, I find that if I tap my auld tin here the stripe turns blue. Perhaps its time for a blue theme for my next web site design. Blue and magenta.

This entry was posted in Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Poor auld Tin

  1. Dori says:

    This is going to sound psychotic, but I think that you should either spend more money or less money (huh?).

    – Less Money plan #1
    Buy that Mac, but don’t get the RAM from Apple. They always charge too much, and it’s not worth it. Instead, buy from someone (anyone) else and install it yourself. 512 Mb should cost around $50, and make sure that you get a lifetime warranty because OS X is very picky about its RAM. Cost: about $2050.

    – Less Money plan #2
    It appears that you’re pricing out one of the new 1.67 GHz PowerBooks. They’re sweet machines, no question about it. However, the previous models were also 1.67 GHz and also sweet. The main feature that was added was more pixels on the screen, not more horsepower. If you go to the Apple refurb store, you can buy one of the old ones on closeout for (currently) $1599. It comes with a full warranty. Yes, you’ll need to add RAM yourself again. Cost: about $1650 (with 3rd party RAM).

    – More money plan
    Consider joining the Apple developer program for $500. You can read about what you get for a Select membership here. The important parts: (1) access to the ADC Hardware Purchase Program, and (2) access to the next version of Mac OS X when it’s available. #1 means that you save $400 off that exact same laptop, which means that the out-of-pocket membership cost is only $100. #2 means that a copy of OS X 10.5 (aka Leopard, due around the end of 2006) is included so long as it actually ships in the next 12 months — saving you another $130 or so. Cost: about $2150 (with 3rd party RAM), but with extra benefits.

    I don’t get anything if you do any of the above; I just like giving shopping advice. ;-)

    [Just read the comment below mine, and realized that I should probably mention that I also have the same just-discontinued 15" PowerBook that I'm recommending above.]

  2. Charles says:

    I’ll endorse the previous generation PowerBook, that’s what I’ve got, the 1.67Ghz 15in. It’s a steal as a $1600 closeout. The new model has a higher rez display but isn’t any faster.

  3. Shelley says:

    Dori, Charles, excellent advice. And Dori, thanks for the different options.

    The membership approach isn’t bad, but I’d like to go as cheap as possible, so getting a discounted model and using third party memory would be perfect. Hopefully there will be some about when I’m ready to shop. It would be so wonderful not to have a laptop that determines my web design colors for me.

  4. Phil says:

    I cannot get over how great it is to have the ease and use of the sophisticated Apple interfacce built on the powerhouse that is Unix

    I had several “mmm, nice” moments when I was getting my iMac set up (as well as a “not that different, then” half-hour setting up MS Office), but the jaw-dropping Wow moment came when I launched Terminal and typed ‘ls’.

    “My God, it’s full of inodes!”

  5. Jerry says:

    Hi Shelley,

    Gotta agree on the flying. Air travel used to be one of my favorite things but now I’d rather sit in the car a day longer than mess with it.

    When you price compare do you factor in virus protection and setup time? Maybe it’s not a problem in the network environments you have. I’ve setup win machines for friends and usually they spend extra time and money updating the OS and installing virus & popup protection. Or, they don’t do it right away and then spend a few days trying to clean things up after the fact. It’s been a while though, maybe they come with all of that pre-installed?

    Hey, if you do update your PB (recondition units are great in my experience) send the old one over and let me try to whip it into shape!



  6. Danny says:

    I’ve been using a 5 yr old laptop too, but have shifted to a different strategy. Rather than getting a one-size-fits-all machine, get A. a fast desktop, biggish monitor, Linux, for things that need a lot of power, and B. a small light laptop for small light tasks.

    Dunno yet if it’s going to be a good strategy, part A. certainly succeeded, but I need to do some work before I can pay for part B… (a 12″ iBook planned).

  7. Dori says:

    Remember my comment above about how I like to give shopping advice? Okay, I admit that I have a problem stopping.

    Revised Less Money plan #1:
    Amazon is currently selling that $1999 laptop (1440 x 960 resolution) with a $200 mail-in rebate, bringing the end price down to $1850 after adding RAM.

    Revised Less Money plan #2:
    Small Dog Electronics (an well-thought-of Apple reseller) has the older laptop (1280 x 854 resolution) for $1589. That’s a good price, but they’re also running a promo deal where the same PowerBook is $1629 with the extra 512 Mb of RAM.

    Tell me to stop when I get annoying. ;-)

  8. zo says:

    Shelley, some of your problems are taken care of by not buying Titanium. I went thru two sets of hinges and, as luck and my own stubbornness would have it, two TiBooks before buying what is known, I think–and protest–an AlBook. Actually, have two of the suckers–I heartily agree with Dori, above, have had a long-time Powerbook buying strategy of buying fine machines that were one or two steps removed from Latest–and the long, single hinge is, I believe, going to defeat all my efforts. Maybe the Ti was too light–I never pick up this 15″ by the screen corner–I dunno. I can tell you that aluminum is cold as ice in the morning, and that nothing will ever be as beautiful as the pale brownish tones of those dear, departed TiBooks.

  9. Shelley says:

    Phil, you and me both. I still love it. Best of all worlds.

    Dori, all the buying advice is very welcome. I imagine by other readers, too. Anything that keeps costs down.

    Jerry, I wish I had your tinkering and fixing ability. I’m not bad at electronics, but can’t even get that battery out.

    zo, yeah, i think I would have done better to wait on this machine, but it’s been good for long. Just now, it’s going fast. And oh! to have 80GB of space.

  10. zo says:

    in addition, some of us are not using shelley’s lovely spell check, are we, phil?

    either dame edna or the church lady,
    i’m not sure today

  11. Phil says:

    zo – eh? I mean, no, I’m not – I never use spell-check unless what I’ve written is going to get graded, and even then I’d rather check by eye. However, the immediate pertinence of your observation eludes me.

  12. zo says:

    Phil: “the immediate pertinence of your observation eludes me.”

    Precisely. Tsk tsk tsk. Or should that be just two tsks, I can never remember.

    ” interfacce”

    Now give back to Shelley one of your gold stars. And be a *good* boy.