My PowerBook (the last PowerPC model) still serves me pretty well, but I need to do some Solaris stuff, so one of the new Intel Macs is in my future. Not quite ready to unSwitch for day-to-day work yet; it seems the latest Linuxes still have issues with outboard displays and power management [now 37 people are going to write me to tell me how you can make that work, each providing their own multi-step recipe]. So the question is, MacBook or MacBook Pro? The answer isn’t obvious. [Update: So far, 12 commenters recommend the Pro, 10 the MacBook; three say to wait for the next product refresh.]

Fortunately, I have a terrific resource, namely the Mac-users mailing list here at Sun, which is erudite and prolific. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you! Here’s what I’ve gathered so far.

The MacBook has some real advantages: Looks cooler (I am so tired of carrying a silver laptop), weighs less, smaller, longer battery life. [Commenters add: smaller is a bigger deal than lighter, the catch is better, and it feels stronger. On the other hand, both the white and the black get grubby-looking faster than the silver.]

But then so does the Pro: Max 3G RAM instead of 2, and can take a cellular modem card. [Commenters point out you can get cellphone connectivity on the MacBook too, with either Bluetooth or a USB modem.]

There are some other Pro advantages that I don’t think I care about:

  • Lighted keyboard; but my PowerBook has one and I almost never use it. [Commenters generally agree.]

  • Better video card; but people say you can watch and edit video just fine on the MB. [Commenters seem to agree, but not if you’re going to do much Aperture or Second Life.]

  • Bigger screen; but at a desk, I usually have an outboard screen. [Commenters have real issues with the little screen.]

  • Handles a 30" outboard screen; I don’t feel the need to expand beyond my current 24" model, but this might be an issue.

  • Optional matte screen; but glossy’s OK with me. [Commenters mostly agree.]

  • Has FireWire 800 (and I do have one LaCie disk that supports it); but I don’t think the raw data speed is the limiting factor for much of my outboard work.

Unknown · The keyboards are quite different. Since I touch-type demonically fast, this matters. I’ll need to find a MacBook and spend some time typing on its keyboard to see if I can handle it. [Commenters say “no problemo”.]

What am I missing?



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Thijs van der Vossen (Jan 26 2007, at 11:03)

I've been through 4 MacBook Pro replacements with bad panels after which I decided to just get a white MacBook.

More details at http://www.fngtps.com/2006/11/apple-quality-control-broken

Please note I'm from the Netherlands, so it may be they've been shipping all the bad units to us. ;)

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From: Keith (Jan 26 2007, at 11:10)

I've been using a black MacBook since September '06. At first I loved the smaller screen (coming from a vintage PowerBook G4), but it has since become a burden if I'm doing any serious coding or web design work.

The integrated video is acceptable for most anything you want to do for home use.

In my opinion, the keyboard is not as oddly different as folks say; I touch type rather well on it. Though I'm not "demonically fast."

I also run Solaris 10 x86 virtually via Parallels.

I'd go with the Pro. I'm considering giving the MacBook to the wife (she's using the old PB G4) and getting myself a 15" Pro for the increased screen real estate alone.

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From: John (Jan 26 2007, at 11:15)

Are you *sure* glossy is okay? Totally ignoring the issue of reflections for a moment, the MacBook's glossy screen has a much narrower viewing angle than the MacBook Pro's matte screen, IME. I think you should borrow a MacBook for a day or two and try it out to be sure you don't mind it.

Anyway, the real answer is to wait for the MacBook Pro line to move to the new magnetic latch (best feature of the MacBook) before you buy one. Because, as every long-time Mac user knows, each Mac model has but a brief optimal buying window. The existing MacBook Pros are long past their prime, now just patiently waiting to be replaced by their non-tiny-metal-hook-encumbered successors :)

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From: BWJones (Jan 26 2007, at 11:26)

I also touch type rather quickly and have found the MacBook Pro to have a far superior keyboard for that functionality. That said, I traded in my 12in Powerbook for a 15in Powerbook and am regretting the move from a size perspective. If Apple would come out with a new 12in MacBook Pro, I'd be all over it as it is much easier for one to use when traveling, particularly internationally and on long cross country flights. So, given the absence of a 12in Powerbook replacement, from a keyboard perspective, I'd still have to go for the MacBook Pro rather than the Macbook even though I like the smaller form factor.

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From: Chris Ryland (Jan 26 2007, at 11:27)

A capable video card is important for forthcoming goodness in 10.5--don't short-sell the MBP.

Lighted keyboard doesn't really matter, I agree.

30" screens are mighty nice, and starts to look rather small after a year of using it. ;-) If you need a switch, the Gefen dual-link DVI switches are great.

EVDO cards are indispensable for reliable data comm when traveling--no searching for Wifi spots. (I use both Alltel and Verizon, and both seem fine.)

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From: Ben Bleything (Jan 26 2007, at 11:45)

A couple of points. My personal laptop is a last-generation G4 AlBook. My work laptop is a MacBook.

- MacBook's keyboard is very different. I don't like it at all, but it's a personal preference thing; some of my friends love it. I feel like you have to hit the keys exactly right, which is most noticeable with the space bar.

- MacBook IO is painful. Perhaps could be resolved with replacing the internal HDD with a faster one. I'm currently copying files from the internal optical drive to an external USB hard drive, and it's ground my computer to a halt. There's no reason why in 2007 I should have to wait 20+ seconds for a text editor to come to the foreground just because I'm copying files around.

- Glossy screen on the macbook is a win in low-glare environments. I'm surprised how much I like it. The res is kind of painfully low though, particularly when I switch to my pbg4 at home.

Bottom line, get a MacBook Pro. My guess is you'll like the keyboard better, and it gives you more flexibility in all areas. Some of the problems I have with my macbook could be specific to the device instead of endemic of the model, but it's hard to tell.

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From: Hub (Jan 26 2007, at 11:47)

Actually there is no need for a multi-step Linux-that-work-on-laptop how to. Just purchase a model that is known to be well supported. Rule of thumb: with an Intel chipset, including video and wireless. It is roughly similar to the idea of getting a MacBook to run MacOS X.

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From: David Glasser (Jan 26 2007, at 12:00)

The MacBook generally gets better wireless. (Less of a Faraday cage and all.)

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From: Michael Schenck (Jan 26 2007, at 12:04)

I love my black MacBook, however, if you do manage to get Solaris working with bootcamp, you won't have the use of your mouse... so until this is resolved, you may wanna consider virtual machines, which you can get away with on your motorola chip now.

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From: James (Jan 26 2007, at 12:19)

I'm kinda thinking this stuff over myself, since in a few months I'll have to make the choice. (Grad school.) The MacBook's GMA 950 has open source drivers that work splendidly, even if it's not so powerful as the ATI on the Pro; this becomes an issue for booting into Linux.

My understanding, very possibly imcomplete, is that the MacBook Pro's aluminum case decreases the wireless reception quality. E.g., this Macworld review - http://www.macworld.com/2006/02/reviews/mbpromain/index.php - which states that the Pro gets worse reception than the iBook.

And there's durability. The plastic on the MacBook will be more durable, I should think, but the Pro won't show minor cosmetic damages as much. (I've already seen some scratched up MacBooks.)

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From: Jens-Christian Fischer (Jan 26 2007, at 12:22)

If you do any presentations, then take the MacBook Pro. I was recently presenting at a german Rails conference and one of the other speakers had a MacBook. When he plugged into the projector (a 1280*720 projector, more suited for a home theater, but that's what was there), he couldn't do the two screen presentation (preview of next slide on internal monitor) because the MacBook seemingly has too little video RAM to drive two displays of that size...

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From: Michael Boyle (Jan 26 2007, at 12:33)

I have a MacBook and I am very happy with it.

Here's my reaction to the questions you raised:

1. RAM. If you're going to use VMWare or Parallels, that extra gig of RAM might make a big difference. Then again, I get good results with both SLED 10 and Ubuntu on my 'Book with just 1G of RAM.

2. The Black MacBook DOES look cool. Even after a few months with it. As well, the enclosure works really well - no latch or anything like that. Not sure how it compares to the Pro in this respect.

3. Remember that you can bridge via Bluetooth to your cellphone if you need occasional wireless dialup access on your MacBook. Not the best, but if this isn't something you anticipate having to do very often, it may be enough.

4. Surprisingly, the glossy screen isn't a problem at all. I was quite worried about this when I got my machine, and even though I sit right beside huge office windows most of the day, I don't notice glare or anything.

5. Try it out, but the keyboard on the MacBook might LOOK strange, but it's by far the best laptop keyboard I've ever used. Nothing else is even close - PowerBooks, iBooks, many flavours of Thinkpad, etc. It's hard to express just how great the keyboard is. The thing is firm, not mushy at all and you can really pound on it. And there's really no give to the keys - when you get off a key, it goes back to the exact right place - something that hasn't always been true in conventional laptop keyboards. The two minor downsides I've noticed are a) when you're really moving, you can miss the delete (backspace) key and hit the eject key; and b) the arrow keys are just a little flaky (can't explain it better).

Anyhow - the higher top end of the Pro might be more suitable for you (esp the higher RAM limit) but the MacBook is a pretty darned good machine in it's own right.

Good luck!

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From: Ted Martin (Jan 26 2007, at 12:34)

I switched from a powerbook to a Macbook with no problems with the keyboard. The important thing to remember is that while the key shape is different, the key size and spacing are the same, its just that the keys drop straight down and don't flare like they do on a powerbook. I think that the Macbook has a great key action, and like the mechanism they used, I think I've seen a lot of other people online liked it as well.

Another advantage of the Macbook: It's stiffer. The metal books have always seemed to have a certain amount of flex if they are used on a lap or moved while running. I've seen some problems with flex affecting the optical drive when the machine was picked up with a disk spinning.

Cell Modems: This can be a problem, but there is a USB edge/evdo option out now.

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From: James H (Jan 26 2007, at 12:53)

I'm pretty happy with my Macbook (13", CoreDuo). That said, if you buy the base model, I recommend that you buy after market RAM (I maxed out and don't regret it) and hard drive as well as a DVI adapter.

A friend of mine had the exact same Macbook but moved to the Pro notebook edition because he needed the extra power and screen space for photo editing. He also, unlike I, does most of his work in compiled languages (Obj-C, versus Ruby for myself).

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From: Jason McIntosh (Jan 26 2007, at 12:53)

Off hand, the other consideration with the video card is the off-loading of CPU operations onto the GPU. SO, for large graphics operations, the GPU can make a huge difference. A simple example would be running aperature - doing that much photo manipulation could require (for better performance) the GPU with integrated memory.

That's another consideration - the Pro's have dedicated memory for graphics use, while the MacBook's just have the system memory.

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From: Dethe Elza (Jan 26 2007, at 12:55)

Hi Tim,

Wifi range is also better with the plastic-encased Macbook. Putting an antenna behind an aluminum shell doesn't work as well as you might think. I understand Apple has worked to improve this situation, but between my wife's older PowerBook (aluminum) and my MacBook, the difference is very noticable.

On the Pro side, you can get faster processors, but at this point that's overkill. I've found 2GB of RAM keeps things ticking away nicely (even Parallels) and the extra battery life (and lighter weight) are far more important considerations for me.

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From: Colin Ho (Jan 26 2007, at 13:08)

I would add the Pro has:

- better heat dissipation

- faster processor options

- more BTO hard disk options

- larger AC adapter

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From: Bill Humphries (Jan 26 2007, at 13:14)

Dori Smith wrote up a nice side by side comparison back in December: http://www.backupbrain.com/2006_12_24_archive.html#a004992.

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From: Josh Peters (Jan 26 2007, at 13:32)

I own a white Macbook on which I do video editing, drive a 24" monitor, do various web development work on, listen to music with, etc etc etc.

I love it.

I can attest to the surprising performance of the graphics card for most work (even driving a 1920x1200 display there aren't any issues). I also connect it to a regular sd tv with no issues. The laptop runs great without the screen being on (though you have to do some weirdness to get it to turn the screen off; use external power and keyboard and wake the machine from sleep with the lid closed).

The keyboard in particular is quite a step up from the old iBook keyboard. The whole thing feels like a good calculator for typing. The price (versus a MacBook Pro) allows one to purchase a 24" dell monitor or fill out the machine with RAM for the same amount as a standard model MacBook. It's got Bluetooth (which I turn off) so you may be able to use a cellular network but I've no clue as to the speeds.

For my needs, my only want is more FireWire ports. There is only one on the MacBook and my external hard drive has a buggy second port, so my performance is iffy sometimes.

I hope this helps you decide.

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From: Wes W. (Jan 26 2007, at 13:35)

I've gone through the same analysis and ended up with the MacBook Pro. The two final factors that made this an easy choice was the ability to power large external monitors (simultaneously even) and a better keyboard. Since this decision I've had the MacBook Pro a few months and don't regret my choice in the least.

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From: Michael Koziarski (Jan 26 2007, at 13:49)

I replaced my power book with a Mac Book around four months ago, and I couldn't be happier. The only major downside is that powering my cinema display does seem to chew up the RAM.

As far as CPU goes, I've noticed no discernible difference between my mac book, and my co-worker's Mac Book Pro.

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From: dave (Jan 26 2007, at 13:56)

Speaking as a happy MacBook (non-pro to be precise) owner, and keen Mac Rumor site reader:

* The upcoming release of Leopard and it's currently unknown hardware requirements would stay my hand. Relatively recent models (i.e. months, though more likely at the bottom end of the price range) have been rendered, if not actually redundant, slightly less-optimal by newly announced software requirements.

* the announcement of the iPhone has made the fabled resolution independence of Leopard and it's potential DPI boosting effects more likely, again this says wait to me. A 160 dpi (or more) laptop would be the answer to my dreams in many ways.

Apart from that intel Macs are a different world from the last few PPC models, I feel sorry for colleagues that bought slightly before me, so you should be happy regardless. Macs have always been victim to these kind of inflexion points, I think they'll get less and less, but are still noticeable at the moment.

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From: Jason Young (Jan 26 2007, at 14:13)

I've used both. I was using a MacBook as a secondary machine for doing work at home and for travel, while my primary machine at work was a an iMac.

I have used a smattering of iBooks, Powerbooks, Thinkpads, Dells, and even a tablet or two through the years and the 13" MacBook was perhaps the best portable computer I've ever had. It made for one of the best email/text editing/shell client/feed reading/IM computers experiences I've had.

That said. When the time came that I was doing a little more Parallels work, and doing a few Second Life things, I ended up shifting the iMac and MacBook and getting a single 17" MacBook Pro. The difference in screen size really makes a difference for production work that goes beyond using the box as a communication device and text editor (even with an external monitor).

I found the keyboards equally good, if completely different. I very much like the portability of the MacBook, but I love the screen real estate of the MacBook Pro. I found that practically, everything else was equal (and I've honestly run into far more I/O problems with the MacBook Pro, but that may just be because I'm using apps that require more of it).

I think that it really comes down to a situation where in this case, size matters. It's about the portability vs. the screen and whether what you are doing needs the real estate (and you always need it more than you think).

My $1.02.

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From: Sylvain Carle (Jan 26 2007, at 14:19)

<a href="http://www.afroginthevalley.com/2006/10/02/notes-about-the-macbook-13.html">I have been using a Macbook for a few months</a> and I must say that I was a bit scared at first of the "chiclets" keyboard. The one thing I can't stand from the Mac Book Pro is the return key, two rows but only one key wide. I much prefer the MacBook "one and a half" wide return key.

It's one of those "little things" that makes all the difference in daily usage, if it matters to you. Doing a few years with a 12" prior to my 13" (love the 16:9 aspect ratio!) the small form factor is another factor to check out if you travel a lot (the macbook works better in coach than the pro, but you still want to aim for an aisle seat)...

Last thing, the black dress is nice with my other AV and TV equipment when I dock my Mac Book in the den... I know, superficial thing, but if you buy I Mac, you might care about that.

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From: Andrew Cosgriff (Jan 26 2007, at 14:25)

Ben Bleything mentioned "MacBook IO is painful. Perhaps could be resolved with replacing the internal HDD with a faster one. I'm currently copying files from the internal optical drive to an external USB hard drive, and it's ground my computer to a halt. There's no reason why in 2007 I should have to wait 20+ seconds for a text editor to come to the foreground just because I'm copying files around"

I'm seeing exactly those sorts of IO issues with my (Core Duo, not Core 2 Duo) MacBook Pro - copying stuff from my USB compactflash card reader regularly locks up the laptop for a few minutes, or copying a 600MB zipfile (eg. weblogic installer) off my laptop up through the network interface. Half the time I have to give up and power-cycle the laptop 'cause the spinning wheel of death just keeps on spinning. I'll do the Applecare thing soon - when I can afford to be without it for a little while - 'cause it's just unbearable (especially when all the G4s I ever had never gave me these kinds of problems).

Tim, if you were ever considering playing with Aperture (I didn't think so, but...) you'd want the MacBook Pro - it uses the video card for doing much of the image processing, so you'll (apparently) find it slower on a Macbook - it's bad enough on an MBP as it is.

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From: Vineet Bhatia (Jan 26 2007, at 14:37)

i was forever torn between MB and MBP. But, I finally got a MB because of the cheaper price and its sufficient for my day to day tasks (coding, email, blogs, music, etc)

Glossy looks great and the keyboard takes 2 min getting used to.

If you got $$$ then spend it on the MBP. Its definitely worh the extra dough. Altho, if you really want to get the best bang for the $2.5k you might spend on it go for the ADC Select membership ($500) for which you get Leopard (pre-release and when its released) and discounted rates from the ADC hardware store.

- vineet

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From: David Magda (Jan 26 2007, at 15:58)

The extra RAM may come in handy if you ever decide to use Parallels or VMware Fusion. Especially if you want to run multiple VMs simultaneously. (The extra 1GB could mean being able to run 2-3 instances of other OSes smoothly, along with OS X.)

The MB has options for 60, 80, and 120GB drives, while the Pro comes standard with at least 120GB and 17" version (which may be a bit too big for real portability) comes with 160GB. If you want to have a couple of VM partitions (or image files) with snapshots then it can eat up disk space quickly. Don't forget that Mac OS 10.5 will have Time Machine(tm), so extra space for snapshots or backups of your /Users directory may come in handy as well. (If you install Solaris 10 on it I would be interested to see if 10.5 and Solaris can share ZFS partitions.)

Given the data rates in Canada currently I'm not sure how useful a data modem will be (this changes if Sun pays for things or the telecom cartel we have in Canada becomes enlightened suddenly.)

For FW800, how useful is it with digital video? Would the extra speed help downloads from a camera (do cameras even support FW800?)?

The MB weight 5.2 lbs. while the 15" Pro weighs 5.6 lbs. In metric this difference is 181 g. How much is this in "real" terms? I would think that the length-width dimensions would make more of a difference in how portable the machines "feel".

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From: F_D (Jan 26 2007, at 16:46)

MacBook Pro keyboard seems to be about the same in feel as older PowerBook keyboards. My partner recently acquired a MacBook and while I was skeptical about the keyboard at first ... well ... I kind of lust after it now. (And I'm a "demonically fast" typer as well...)

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From: Trygve Isaacson (Jan 26 2007, at 16:46)

A couple of months ago I got a new MBP 17". The questions I still had at purchase time have now been answered with a couple of months of heavy nonstop use and pounding it with XCode, IDEA, and productivity apps:

- Glossy is not a problem for me at all. The viewing angle is narrower than matte, but it's more than wide enough when you are sitting there using it. I have no reflection problems, and the dark colors look really good.

- The 17" size is fine. I was worried it might be too big. I had to get a new case for it (another Taxi model from sfbags.com). I love having 1650x1050 pixels to work with, even though I have a 2nd monitor attached most of the time. Anything less feels cramped. For my use and work style, it was definitely worth it to get the 17" model.

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From: Cala (Jan 26 2007, at 16:52)

2 words. Second. Life. MBP.

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From: bloodnok (Jan 26 2007, at 19:32)

get a sparcbook ...

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From: Don Park (Jan 26 2007, at 22:31)

I was at Doc Searls' Mobile Identity Workshop today and saw some MBs. Frankly, I think they don't age very well. Case of both colors looked rather aged and unevenly so, looking pretty dusty. While silver might be boring, I think it ages better than black or white plastic.

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From: Josh (Jan 27 2007, at 01:40)

I'm in a similar position with an ageing G4 Powerbook that's due for replacement. Personally, I'm hanging on as long as I can because I think the Macbook Pros are due a refresh.

There isn't a great deal to choose between Macbook and Pro right now and the non-Pro models apear to be decidedly better value. My gut feeling is that this is a short-term issue and the Pro range (and form factor) is probably due for an update in the next few months.

Just one thing I haven't seen others mention, at our place the Macbooks get notably better battery life than the Pro machines, although all the Intel models seem to be an improvement on the PowerPC models.

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From: josh (Jan 27 2007, at 04:50)

I never see the point in cellular modem cards. It's a lot cleaner and easier to just use your normal cellphone as a modem via bluetooth - you don't have to carry another card around with you and have it sticking out of the side of the machine. My Nokia N80 generally gives me a decent connection - I'd estimate around 500-1000kb/s. Why would you want the hassle of a separate card ? Setting up a bluetooth modem takes about 30 seconds with the bluetooth preferences.

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From: Paul Hoffman (Jan 27 2007, at 15:44)

The screen size is fairly important for those us us with aging eyes. I very much like my MacBook, but I find myself squinting more, even after increasing font size in many places.

The MacBook not-really-PCjr keyboard is just fine to my fingers. I have felt worse on high-end PC laptops.

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From: Chadwick (Jan 27 2007, at 19:52)

Lot's of good comments here. I want to contribute because I just made this decision last week. Finances weren't a problem, but I still went with a black MacBook over the Pro.

I'm very happy with it for many of the reasons stated above, however there are two things that bug me:

1). Fingerprints. The matte finished in the black MB will result in lots of greasy fingerprints. This seems to be unavoidable. My half-joking solution is to just rub the whole thing down until it's one giant fingerprint.

2). Display. While I'm usually driving the thing with an external display (works beautifully for this), the built-in display is rather small, and the short dot pitch puts it just at the threshold of 'too small.'

Overall, a stunning upgrade over my old TiBook (yeah, I held out for a long time).

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From: Mr. Wobbet (Jan 28 2007, at 15:45)

A while back you commented that you would work in the mode where you were controlling you desktop machine from your laptop in order to take advantage of your desktop's horsepower but with the convenience of your laptop.

Recognizing that the laptop isn't intended to be your primary workstation I can only ask "Does the MacBook provide you enough resolution to work comfortably in that scenario?"

I'm in the same situation where my primary workstation is a desktop and the MacBook's resolution wasn't sufficient for the amount of time I spent remoting to it. It wasn't the horsepower of either the CPU or the GPU, it wasn't the screen quality... It was all about the pixels.

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From: Alan Coopersmith (Jan 28 2007, at 21:34)

If you're planning to run Solaris or Linux natively (i.e. via BootCamp, not Parallels), then you'll get much better support on models with Intel graphics, for which Intel open sourced and

actively maintains their drivers (see http://www.intellinuxgraphics.com/ or their well integrated presence in the X.Org community), than with ATI graphics, for which ATI has still not allowed publication of open source drivers for the Radeon X1000 and later series chipsets (see http://airlied.livejournal.com/31180.html and http://news.com.com/2061-10791_3-6104655.html - though both from last summer, nothing has changed yet).

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From: Bob W. (Jan 29 2007, at 04:46)

Mac OS 10.5 ("Leopard") will be out 'this spring' and the upgrade will be around $130, so unless you want to spend extra $$$ on an upgrade after buying your notebook, wait. (Apple's policy is for free upgrades only if you've bought your computer within 2 weeks of the release of a new OS.)

The Macbook was last updated 85 days ago, the Macbook Pro 100. They average a refresh every 180-200 days, so if you wait for Leopard you will also likely see a refresh of the MBP, possibly both machines.

So wait.

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From: walter (Jan 29 2007, at 09:55)

I agree with the last poster....might be a good idea to wait. And perhaps your Sun Mac colleagues can find out more about this juicy bit:

http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=2446

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From: Ask Bjørn Hansen (Feb 03 2007, at 18:07)

My wife has a MacBook, I have a MBP (from before the MacBook came out).

I'd suggest that the extra ~$1000 for the MBP most certainly isn't worth it. You have an external screen (take it to the office) or smaller is important (travel with it) - either way the MacBook wins.

- ask

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author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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January 26, 2007
· Technology (85 fragments)
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