07/30/2005: "laptop thoughts"
I've been in contact with the university, and hopefully I should know whether I'm doing a year of school or looking for a new job sometime next week. It's getting down to the wire - the program starts on September 12th - and there's lots of ground to cover between now and then. I have to confirm that my parents are willing and able to front the tuition, I have to arrange some kind of loan that will cover my family's living expenses between the start of school and when I can next find employment, and I have to figure out what computer I'm going to get. Over the past couple of days, it's this latter issue that has been at the forefront of my mind.
Normally, I'd think that shopping for a computer would be a fairly easy task - go see what's available, decide what features you actually need, see if there's any deals to be had, and buy something, right? I wish it were that easy. Were I still content to use PCs that might be the case, but now that I've gone over to the Mac side, I really don't want to go back at all, if I can ever help it.
(I'm really looking forward to the Intel-based Macs that are due out in 2007. From what I've been reading, they will not only be able to run OS X, but any other Intel-based operating system as well. This means that I can finally realize my long-held dream of being able to run the CAD software I use for my work on a Mac. Now, if they'll only port it so I can run it natively in OS X...)
So I'm on a budget, need a laptop, and Apple's the only game I want to play. My options are thereby kinda limited. I can buy a brand-new PowerBook G4 for $1889 (all funds in loonies) and have the baby brother to my wife's laptop. Alternatively, I can give up some speed and get the equally capable G4 iBook for $1249. That's still quite a chunk of cheddar, but I'm hopeful that I'd be able to qualify for the Apple business lease, which would turn a 4-figure purchase into 24 much smaller, more manageable monthly payments. I could also do the educational discount thing, but that only lops a paltry $50 off the cost of the iBook. Woo-hoo.
Of course, there is the fact that my wife has a perfectly good 15" PowerBook G4 that is just barely 6 months old. Assuming I can sweet-talk her and show her the logic of the situation, I might be able to use that and simply purchase her a replacement computer for her use over the next 10 months. I have my old monitor from my PC in the basement, so it's been suggested (thanks RH) that I buy the uber-affordable Mac mini for $629, borrow a Mac keyboard (thanks RH), purchase a mouse, and voila, brand-new Mac for use at home. (As the minis have been recently updated, there are a limited number of older models that are retailing for around the $599 mark, if I wanted to shave my costs down even more.)
The only problem with that idea is that the PowerBook was my wife's birthday present from her parents, and thus she may not be as open to the idea of passing it over to me for nearly a year as I'd like to hope she would be. Fair enough, it's hers. I realize that at some points sentiment will trump other priorities (in this case, financial), and likely this will be one of those times. I won't really complain all that much - after all, it means that she'll keep her computer, and then I'll have *mine* too!
One avenue I'm very seriously considering is going for a used computer. In the PC laptop world, that would be totally unthinkable to me. So many brands, so many different combinations... doing any proper research would be exhausting, and likely not get you very far. With Apple computers, it's different. (No pun intended, really.) Aside from some Apple clone desktops many years back (which are now too old to even be considered as a desktop option, were I going that route) only Apple produced Apple computers. Thereby, the product history is relatively simple, and is quite well documented. One site that has been my primary resource in researching older laptops is Low End Mac. From there, my laptop search really got started.
I'm just guessing, but I'm assuming that all I'll need a laptop for is Internet access, word processing, and possibly presentations. That really doesn't call for all that much power, so I allowed myself to explore back in time a bit farther than I would otherwise. What I found was the G3 PowerBook, specifically the last incarnation thereof that went by the code name Pismo. Although being relatively old - the series was introduced in 1997, and the Pismo in 2000 - it seems to have an excellent record of being a reliable, durable machine. What's more, it's processor upgradable. So for under $700 (used Apples keep their value quite well) I could get a high-end Pismo, and for another $300 upgrade it to the current generation processor. Either way, it will quite happily run the latest version of OS X. But if you've done the math as I did, an upgraded Pismo comes scarily close to the price of a newer portable - something that will likely come with a much higher bus speed, more standard RAM, a bigger hard drive, etc., etc. It is precisely this reason that I'm no longer considering a Pismo.
So, what am I considering? Lots. There are new-in-box G4 iBooks on eBay that I'm watching. A great Canadian used Mac site that goes by EhMac.ca has some interesting TiBooks, which are newer (2001-2002) G4 PowerBooks that were made with a titanium outer casing. I don't know why, but titantium really turns my crank. It would be super cool to own one of those. Of course, there are the iBooks as well, any of which from 2001 and on would likely suit my needs. In other words, I don't really know what I want at this point. I have ruled out the Pismo, but anything newer than that is fair game at this point. I think I have to sit down and decide which features are more important, for example perhaps I should forego getting a TiBook or 14" iBook and concentrate on the 12" screen portables, and put the savings from the smaller screen size in to RAM and hard drive capacity.
It would be a lot easier to decide if I knew two things: if I was getting into the program (of course), and if I had the spec sheet that they send out telling me what a laptop would need to do. Unfortunately, they are being reluctant to give me that information. They have acknowledged that it's getting "pretty late in the game" to not know my fate for September, so I've asked them to provide me the specs that I might pre-select a laptop in case I get in. Sadly, they don't seem to be going for it quite yet. Even without the spec sheet, I can't imagine anything (other than proprietary PC-only software) that would prevent me from using an Apple for this course.
Having said that, there was a flyer in today's paper from FutureShop (I think) that has a Toshiba notebook for $899. It has everything I'd need, including a DVD-R, half a gig of memory, huge hard drive... but running Windoze. Sigh. That's about the same price I'd pay for a low-end early TiBook. I suppose, barring the spec sheet requiring a PC laptop, that it's going to come down to whether I want to be as cheap as possible and get away with the basics, or whether I'll allow myself to spend more. Even then, I'll have to decide whether the more I spend will go to features (favouring a newer, cheaper PC laptop) or whether I'll simply be able to move up the Apple portable history. Only time will tell.