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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

The Laptop Conundrum

Posted on August 26, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Of all the tech in my home, it is probably a close tie between my Theater System and my laptop which gets more use. On the one hand, we watch A LOT of TV and movies and listen to a bunch of music. On the other, I loves me some computer. But between the two, only one of them actually makes me money. While I’d love you all to dearly believe that I write solely for the purpose of freely titillating and amusing you all, the truth is, the majority of *real* writing is the stuff which brings in the paychecks. And when it’s writin’ time, it’s breaking out the laptop time.

And with that in mind – understanding that the laptop is less a bit of tech and more of an actual money generating tool – you would probably expect that I treat it with the utmost respect. Polishing it with microfiber clothes, and storing it neatly into a well cushioned case and keeping it well away from any jabby, probey, aggressively thrustry fingers of one Miss Lauryn Q. But, no. Sad to say, I have not treated my laptop with the love and car it deserves.

First, there was this little incident at CEDIA almost exactly a year ago. The one where I ran to catch a bus and tripped flat on my face and the laptop went sliding down the concrete sidewalk. Yeah. Not good. Then there was the time when I spilled that full, piping hot cup of coffee onto the keyboard. Sadly, the monitor has never returned to full performance since. Also after almost three years of full-on usage, the battery is starting to suck. Like suck-diddly-uck. I think I get like 2 hours time out of it. And it takes so long to go through the Vista boot-up cycle that I basically have enough battery life on a plane to pull it out, turn it on, open Word, formulate a though or two and then save before “CRITICAL BATTERY WARNING!” scares me into shuttin’ her back down again.

In short, I think it’s time for a new computer.

Now, as much as I know about tech, I don’t really know a lot about computer. You would think, “John, you’re so up on technology and audio and video, surely you know computer!” but the truth is, computer is a whole different animal. Computer changes so quickly, with the new memory this, and the different video card that. For me, computer is a tool, not a passion. So I thought I’d float out a help balloon to my micro-little Twitter-verse and ask for some input from those that might know more about computer. “I'd like to get a new laptop for CEDIA. Light weight, max battery... Any recs?” I tweeted.

Soon the suggestions started rolling back in and they were an overwhelming support for one product:

From @rfregosa: “Macbook Air - it's no contest there days.”

From @XtremeAV: “I will second the Macbook but Pro and not Air.”

From @OmegaAudioVideo: “macbookAir”

From @chrisheinonen: “I use a MacBook Air 11" after always being PC only. With VMWare Fusion I can run PC apps in their own windows. No dual boot.”

So, the Mac clan was weighing in and loudly. Now, I’ve never owned a Mac. It’s not for being a hater or a PC fanboi (are there even such things?) but more because Macs were always a lot more money and there was historically such a divide between what you could do on a Mac and what you could do on a PC. Until recently, many programs were simply not meant to run on Macs. Now you can run Windows on a Mac in emulator or dual boot mode or whatever it is, but that still means buying a more expensive Mac and THEN buying a copy of Windows.

But, armed with these suggestions I headed up to Best Buy last night to pick up some Harmony remotes for our store. And while I was there I headed back to the computer section. And there, all gleaming and white and shiny was the Apple station. So I headed over, and there was the MacAir. Now despite what Gizmodo says, that is one sexy piece of tech. An edge so thin you could shave on it. You want light, you want portable you want to look like a total cool kid while you type away, all on a piece of text that is so thin and light you could use it to fan yourself with on hot summer days? The MacAir is all about ALL of that. But it doesn’t have a disc drive. Which would mean no DVD watching or popping in those press releases discs from the few companies that are still clinging so desperately to handing out releases on CD. And while the drive is solid state, it only has a pretty paltry 128 Gigs, little more than my iPod. And for a 13-inch screen it costs $1299! Damn!

The entry MacBook Pro is a slightly more reasonable $1199, but even though it is more powerful spec-wise, sitting next to the Air it just didn’t look as cool and the 4.5 pounds feels like a frickin’ ton of lead after the 2.3 pound Air. Despite my protests, the Apple salesman assured me that I was indeed cool enough to be a Mac Guy. (Perhaps just wondering aloud if you are cool enough, is one of the signs that you actually are. I’m not sure.) I like that it will do FaceTime with our iPad, and I have heard nothing but great things about them, but be that as it may, I just don’t know if I want to spend $1299 on a laptop.

So I head over to PC land and start nosing around. Immediately the majority of machines feel heavy, cheap and clunky. Seriously, HP and Samsung and Acer and all you other people, just take a few days off work. Spend some time *looking* at Macs. Maybe some Italian sportscars and wander through a museum of modern art. Something. Maybe you’ll get some inspiration to come up with something different than a clunky plastic chassis.

The Blue Shirt that walks up to me and asks what I’m looking for and I repeat my desires for something light, portable, and with good battery life. And HE says I should get a Mac. No matter what PC model we look at, this guy is convinced Mac is the superior way to go. “You know we don’t get commission, right? So it doesn’t affect me one way or the other whichever you buy, but I’m telling you, the Mac is the better machine. Hands down.”

So, as I’m getting ready to leave, I notice this. It’s a Sony. A VAIO. Styling-wise it is pretty sleek. It is also almost a pound lighter than the MacPro. And it has a Blu-ray drive. And a 500-gig hybrid harddrive for faster boots. And it is under $1000. The keyboard, she feels really nice. The trackpad thing – which is still inferior, in my mind, to the good old-fashioned IBM nubbin – works well. It is part of Best Buy’s Blue Label program which means that it includes some extra goodies: 3 years of PC Theft Defense, Intel Wireless Display to beam stuff to my TV, and double the warranty. Plus I found that Sony makes this battery think called the Sheet Battery that will give me FOURTEEN HOURS of battery life and only add a pound of weight.

I don’t know but this is starting to feel like everything I want. On the one hand, I know PC; I know my Ctrl-+ key combos. I know how to work (near) magic in MS Paint. I like MS Word and the mouse double-click and right click. On the other hand, not going with a Mac kind of feels liek spitting in the face of destiny.

Weigh in, people, tell me why I need to pony up to Sony-ville OR abandon all cash and return to the Mac bar...

Categories: August 2011, Computers

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Reply Chris Heinonen
5:55 PM on August 26, 2011 
First, I'd say any special program from Best Buy is going to be a load of garbage, and a way for them to make money on something you can buy from Newegg or Amazon for less. My wife had to get a new computer recently, and is also the same "only had a PC" background, and needs to run certain PC applications no matter what. This was replacing her Sony Vaio Z that her old job was reclaiming and was great (but also $2,000+ to buy).

Her MacBook Air 13" gets here Monday and then she can give some feedback on what she thinks about it. She's never used a Mac for more than 15 minutes and will have to learn from scratch, but that should take a few days to get down. With mine, I love that Time Machine backs everything up to my NAS in the background, and I just close the lid and it goes to sleep (unlike my PC, where some driver would eventually mess up hibernate), and installing the new version of the OS took two clicks and leaving the room for 30 minutes. Also, I only have a 64 GB drive and it doesn't matter since all my pictures are stored on my NAS, or in Picasa, and my music is on the NAS or Spotify, and all things I work on are on Dropbox and stay synced.

If I was going to get a PC, I'd get the Lenovo X220. It has an IPS LCD screen option for only $50 more or something, insane battery life, is fast, and since it's from Lenovo it's built like a tank and when you spill coffee on it again, it should survive OK. it also has the slice battery option, but also a docking station that can support dual 30" LCD monitors (dream big!) and while not sexy, it's like a Middle Atlantic rack in construction instead of an IKEA AV rack.

I'd still get the Mac, since they also have far better resale value in a few years when you need to upgrade and it just works great, but if I was going PC I'd go Lenovo and not anything that Best Buy sells.
Reply John Sciacca
6:52 PM on August 26, 2011 
Awesome comment, Chris. Some background... I have $1000 in Best Buy money, so I'm motivated to buy there. I had my Sony AV rep look at the machine and he says it is a great deal, essentially their same S series configured model at 200 less than they sell it for plus the extended warranty and wireless video. I'm no BB fan but this ACTUALLY seems like a good deal. Plus I've got the "free" cash. I'll check out the Lenovo. I like the coffee proof keyboard! Thanks for the feedback!
Reply Richard Fregosa
6:55 PM on August 26, 2011 
To paraphrase what I read from someone, somewhere - "You?ve wanted them literally for years now, and I think that if you purchase anything else ? no matter how good it is ? that you?re always going to regret not having gotten the ones that you really wanted.?

Now, i'm not exactly a Apple Fanboy or really much of a zealot about many things when it comes to tech. Apple, Android, Commodore 64, Atari, whatever - all I care about is the answer to a simple question - will it make me productive and profitable?

Here's the deal - Your laptop as you stated is one your single most important revenue generating devices - as a small business owner - it's not really about whether device A is better than device b, it's a matter of which will help you make money the most effectively, and also won't break to prevent you from making money - I always advise Integrators about the dangers of lost opportunity costs and the little things that help.

If your reason to not get one is "it's not windows - everything I own or company x gives me runs on windows" that's a cry that hasn't been relevant since 2007 - don't want to buy new software yet? don't use your old PC software on the MAC emulator (it costs like 79 bucks - again, a non issue)

I've had 16 laptops since 1991, I bought my first Macbook Pro in 2008 - over the course of three years it's generated a LOT of income with it and in 3 years I've never worried about whether some driver would fail on me, or would it somehow load another windows update that will automagically cause it to stop communicating with all my control systems or a myriad of other things that used to plague me over the years (always at the worst time like when on-site)

In 2008, it cost me $4000. I spent $149 on a warranty plan. In december of 2010 the motherboard blew up - I called apple - their response - take it to these guys - no worries oh and no charge by the way - 16 hours later it was fixed and back in my hands.

July of 2011 my battery has problems, now mind you my laptop is now officially out of warranty, I call apple - their answer - your new battery will arrive tomorrow, and by the way no charge, thank you for the business.

When you invest in a premium product (it's not different than Custom AV) you are investing not in the service you're receiving at the moment, but the follow up after the sale. Are Apple products expensive as hell, you betcha - have I ever regretted my investment even once - nope.

Side note, the day my MBP went down, I tried to use my old HP 17" laptop, after an hour, I turned it off and went and played with my kids.

Double side note, my new Macbook Pro is coming next week and I can't wait.

Ultimately, pick the one that makes sense for you, you're going to be using it for 2-3 years at least - it's as much an investment in you, your stress levels, and your well being oddly enough.

Good luck,

Reply John Sciacca
7:06 PM on August 26, 2011 
Ah, using my own "twist the knife" logic against me?! Good work, sir! Nicely done. I don't see me using it in my CI business; this is solely a Sciacca personal use purchase. 90+ % of typing and Web surfing. If nothing else your passion for Mac is making me give it extra-extra thought. I guess my license for Word won't work on Mac will it? Does Mac include a good word processing program? Blarg! It's just a computer! Shouldn't be so stressful, right?
Reply Pat Molettieri
7:30 PM on August 26, 2011 
I agree with Chris on the special BB programs are just a scam and nothing more. When are they really looking out for anyone other than themselves. But we aren't here to talk about them. As for my suggestion on which to buy. I and my household have always been a PC family. I have only used a Mac in 1 of my previous jobs and I was never a big fan of it. I have always been a Dell kind of guy for the past 10 years but my faith in them has been going down hill fast since everytime you purhase a new laptop something always go wrong and you have to deal with something else. For instance arrive at CEDIA, boot up your 2 month old laptop and BAMMMM your computer has encountered a VIRUS. How on God's earth did that happen since I just used it before I got on the flight I took to Atlanta and now it has a virus. Shut down reboot and everything works great. Figure that one out. Again not here to talk about them.

So now to why the Mac and not a PC. Well after my wife's laptop again that "D" company name started killing hard drives, battery was basically use less and it was slower than a snail going backwards she wanted to get another "D" computer. I told her to start looking at Mac Book's just because of their build quality and then for photo/video editing, Facetime, size, weight, features and a few others she finally decided to go to the Apple store and spend some time. We were originally looking at the Air but after she and the Sales Associate (won't even call them a sales person since they are so freaking laid back) started talking they came that the best thing would really be the Mac Book Pro for her application. It took some time to get used to but after about a week of using it (mostly night time) it was really a no brainer and glad she got it. With Time Machine running in the back ground and not having to worry about it being backed up that was the biggest thing ever. I have been using it here and there and yes there is getting used to it but the graphics on this thing are amazing and it is not made of plastic like most PC's out there now.

When I start looking for another new laptop again in the next 6 months it will either be between the Mac Book Air or the Mac Book Pro 15". Since I like all my stuff with me at all times it will be the Pro but for the weight savings and size of it the Air looks like a good contender. With VMWare Fusion there aren't any worries with running Crestron programming or really any viruses or lock ups like there are on your standard PC.
Reply Richard Fregosa
7:33 PM on August 26, 2011 
I use the Office for Mac Suite (Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint) for the "value oriented" you can use your windows office software on any virtual machine software (I use VMWare Fusion for to run my Crestron and AMX and D-Tools projects) - if you buy a Mac once you use a feature called "Spaces" everything else will suck forevermore for multi-tasking

Granted - if you can get a laptop for free - well can't ever convince someone that there's anything better than "if it's free it's me"

Reply Chris Heinonen
4:54 PM on August 28, 2011 
Office for the Mac is pretty cheap at $130 for a 3 computer license (at Costco), and if you want I can sell you a license off mine for $45, since I'm only going to use 1-2 of them most likely. I have the Home version and not Pro with Outlook, though. For certain things my Macbook Air isn't as fast as I'd like, but it's the 2010 model and the new 2011 models blow it out of the water in speed, and are really fast enough to be your main machine. Also with Thunderbolt you could add their nice 27" monitor later, keep everything connected to the display (Ethernet, USB devices, etc...) and then hook the laptop up with a single cable and you have a nice desktop. I'll probably get a 27" iMac next year after they refresh for more work, but I certainly won't get a PC again. If I didn't need the PC for bench testing products, I'd go Mac-only.

And your Best Buy money is good on a Mac as well, right? Just say your daughter needs a PC for Kindergarten, get the $100 App Store credit since it's for education and save $50-100 on the cost, as well as a cheaper price for AppleCare, and it really shouldn't be that much more than the PC, and you'll be happier.
Reply Matt Scott (OmegaAudioVideo)
11:13 PM on August 29, 2011 
And finally, I will chime in here. After a crazy weekend, I am now ready to bestow some notebook wisdom on this blog post. So let's kick it off.....

I am a Apple fan boy, full disclosure, but they also make a great product. I am currently writing this post on my MacBook Pro. It's about 5 years old now and still going strong. If you are looking for a light or super light laptop then the MacBookAir is your weapon of choice in the wonderful world of Mac! You are losing a superdrive, but really how often do you use one? If you want something a little beefier, then a MacBookPro is the perfect match for you. You can get it in a 13" or 15" screen size and they a quite light to be honest. Ohh and one more thing.... They look super cool! If you are looking Mac, I can't recommend AppleCare enough. Just as Richard said, It's the best warranty I've ever purchased!

Now if you are looking PC, why again... seriously... key commands..geez, I'd personally stay away from Sony. This is only my personal experience, but I have owned two and both had major issues all of which Sony wouldn't do anything to help with. That being said their current line up looks good, but is it durable... I don't know. If you are willing to look at brands, I second the Lenovo option and also have many customers who love their HP EliteBooks and ProBooks. I don't think you can buy either of these lines at BestBuy, but they are very good machines.

What you really have to decide is if you want to go Mac or not... Until you make that decision, nothing else really matters.

If you've got a $1,000 of free cash at BestBuy, I'd be quite happy to dump that down on a Mac and have the MacBookPro only cost you a grand! Sounds like a great decision to me! Not to mention you're coolness factor with me with definitely rise a notch or two! Hahaha! And that's what really matters, right! ;)
Reply Bradford Benn
9:50 PM on August 30, 2011 
I think I am qualified to offer insight into this question. I just went through a similar situation when I finally had enough with the forced moments of Zen with my four year old Mac Book Pro. Think about that statement, four years old laptop. At work we are on a two year replacement schedule - this machine kept me working fine for four years. The tipping point was that I wanted bigger screen and more power for editing photos.

So to give a little background, work is Windows. Since I am involved with software at work, I run a few machines - both real and virtual. All of them are various iterations of Windows; including the rightfully reviled Vista. At home I have Windows and Mac, with WIndows being run either on an 11 year old machine or as a virtual machine. So home is mainly Mac.

None of this has been without its challenges. Every operating system has its flaws. I can crash Mac, I can crash Windows, I can crash Ubuntu. So it is not a question of will the OS crash - it is when and how will it recover. Of all of them the least crashed and most graceful recovery is the ..... Mac under Snow Leopard.

The key is to pick one and fully go with it, don't look back. I picked Mac for home as I wanted the tool to get out of my way. I also wanted to have it be different than work. There is very little I cannot do on the Mac, and when I hit that issue I use the virtual Windows machine or the real one.

I would recommend the Mac for the following reasons:
1) AppleCare is worth every penny. I have used it three times and they have always been very good about it. Bad Battery - less than 300 cycles - replaced on the spot. Bad logic controller, was in Indy for biz went to store there, they shipped repaired unit back to me. Airport extreme had power surge, replaced no cost or questions. (Purchased at same time as Mac Book so covered)
2) The usable life time of the computer is longer than most Windows machines. I was amazed that I got four years out of the machine. If I did not want a larger screen for photography I probably would have gotten another year.
3) I spent less time tweaking and fighting the OS than I do with Windows or Ubuntu.
4) The quality and construction of the machine is better in my opinion.

It is not without it issues, such as not having a docking station. Connectors on the right hand side which I think should be on the left.

I have even embraced the new Lion OS including trying the gestures, and I got to admit after a couple of days I found myself trying to gesture at the office.

If you want more background including some digs on Apple you might want to check these blog posts I wrote. Having said that I would still recommend a Mac and I just bought one.
Reply BowmanJuanita23
8:07 AM on November 11, 2011 
freelance writer
Reply BowmanJuanita23
8:08 AM on November 11, 2011 
freelance writer