Sunday, April 11

Why I did not buy a MacBook Pro

On the ride back from Philly Code Camp 2010.1 yesterday, I purchased a new laptop from's SMB section using my aging Windows smartphone. My current primary work machine is a 2.5ish year old Dell Vostro 1500. It has served me well, but its time is past. The backlight is dim and the performance just doesn't hold up to my needs anymore. Plus 15.4" and 1440x900 really is not enough real estate, though I do plan on sitting at my desk in my home office more, and running video out to a 24" Dell panel I've hardly used since I purchased it, also 2.5ish years ago.

I had been considering a new laptop for six months or so. I had really wanted to hop on the Apple bandwagon with a beefy MacBook Pro, and boot or virtualize Windows on it, because I would love to be running a BSD derivative as my base OS, and as a tech pro I would like to get to know the Apple bit of the technology world better. In the end however, I could not justify a ~50% premium in price for something that did not even meet, much less exceed, the specs of the lower cost Dell I ended up with.

With development as a primary activity, and code and other client and user group/etc. presentations as a secondary consideration, I had a few requirements and preferences:

1. i7 processor strongly preferred.
2. 8GB+ RAM capacity.
3. 17" screen.
4. No more than 7 pounds.
5. 7200RPM+ disk or SSD. Prefer dual HDD capacity for RAID0 capability. (Visual Studio bottlenecks on disk more than one might think. Will VS2010 be better? I also prefer RAID0 for VM performace.)

With those details in mind, a MacBook Pro 17" 2.8GHz Core 2 Duo (old tech!) starts at $2499.00. The Dell Studio 17 i7 3.06 GHz I picked up cost significantly less than $2499 - fully loaded. Here's the breakdown:

17" MacBook Pro ($2499.00)
3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (+$300)
8GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 2X4GB (+$600)
500GB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm (+$50)
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
MacBook Pro 17-inch Hi-Resolution Antiglare Widescreen Display ($50)
Basic 90/1 year warranty, no additional paid support

Total: $3499.00 (before tax!)

17" Dell Studio 17 purchased via Dell Small Business (can't seem to find original price for SMB, sorry)
SMB discount (-$250)
Intel Core i7 820QM 1.73GHz (3.06GHz Turbo Mode, 8MB Cache)
8GB, DDR3, 1333MHz, 2 DIMM
Backlit keyboard
17" multitouch display with webcam and facial recognition
1TB (2x500GB) 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive
8X DVD+/-RW Dual Layer Drive (no Blu-Ray option with SMB :(
9-cell battery
802.11g (I haven't had a lot of good experiences with 802.11n ... I may upgrade the mini pci-e half card down the line, but I have a strong preference for wired LAN in general)
2-year support (which seems to be just about the reliable, performance-friendly lifetime of a midline Dell like my old Vostro 1500; I hope to get 3 solid years out of this higher-end i7 at this point. I will consider renewing the warranty in 2 years.)

Total: $2169.00
With tax: $2342.52

And at that price, I added a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse to the package for another $79.

From what I have read and been told in conversation, Apple doesn't use particularly premium components in their machines. How in the heck can they justify that sort of premium price, with inferior specs/capacities?

One of my colleagues at Apprenda recently picked up a Studio 16 with SSD and is very happy with it. At Philly Code Camp 2010.1 yesterday, one of the volunteer staff had a 2-year old Studio 17. It was still in great shape, and he had been very happy with it -- no complaints. That sealed the deal for me -- no MacBook Pro unless I win the lotto sometime soon and have cash for personal toys.