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05/28/2006: "thinking about different"

I know it's a long way off, but my brain likes to grab hold of something and think long-term every once in a while. In this case I've been thinking about laptops, specifically for use at school. There are a few options I have, and I've got a lot of time to noodle them, but I just wanted to get them down here and maybe they'll leave my brain alone for a while.

Essentially, I have three options, one of those having two sub-options; upgrade, borrow, or buy. And I'm not sure where I stand right now.

Not that I need to know where I stand right this second, as I won't be starting school for another 400 sleeps (or so). Loads of time to think, not to mention for the technological offerings to change.

So, first things first, upgrade. I have a PowerBook G3 Firewire, often referred to as "Pismo". It's getting on in years, but it's known as an extremely durable machine. It's processor upgradeable, it can handle loads of memory (or, at least enough for my purposes), it runs (and is running) the latest operating system... and I own it outright. Perfect for school, no? Well, not really.

It still has the original 9GB hard drive, and it's teetering on the brink of full. That needs to be upgraded if I'm going to be doing any work on it. According to my local Apple-authorized dealer, that will set me back about $200 total, including parts, labour, and data transfer. I could also opt to upgrade the processor as well from the G3 at 400MHz to a much zippier G4 at 550MHz. That will make this sucker really fly, to the tune of about $200US for a DIY upgrade kit, or about 20% more if I send it in to be done for me. The weak link in the whole chain right now is twofold; the battery is original (and doesn't hold a charge much more than 90 minutes, if even that long) and the video memory is capped at 8MB. That means that I'm tethered to my AC adapter, and limited to what I can do graphically. (Trying to watch any trailers at usually bog the machine right down.) A new battery would be about $150 (likely more), and as for video memory, I'm out of luck right now. There is rumour that Daystar Technologies (who currently has one of a handful of processor upgrades for this machine) is working on a video upgrade, but I have to expect it'll be in the same range as their processor upgrade cost-wise. So to totally bring my Pismo up to snuff I'd be looking at shelling out close to $800, on top of the original purchase price. I could do one further upgrade, and fix the part of the case that has a crack in it. The top plate has a crack by the lower left-hand side of the keyboard (and, come to think of it, a smaller one at the bottom middle of the trackpad button too). I don't think it's hurting anything, but if I'm going to upgrade the Pismo because it's rugged, I should proabably make sure that it's as rugged as possible, especially if it's going to be going back and forth with me for 10 months 5 days a week (or more).

So to upgrade everything is spitting territory from a used G4 iBook, and not far off from a brand-spanking new MacBook. Do I save the $500 over new by upgrading, or do I take advantage of all the technological upgrades (built-in iSight, Intel processor, scrolling trackpad, etc.) the newer models have? This is another option - buy new. But that option doesn't end there.

I could simply decide to get a lease on a new MacBook and get something that will flat outrun my Pismo, and be much more future-friendly. However, if I'm looking at price point, I also must consider purchasing a Windows-based laptop as well. More and more I'm seeing sub-$1000 laptops for sale, many of them having more features than the MacBook. Typically that will be a bigger hard drive and a dual-layer DVD burner, but at the same time the processor will be something lesser than the Intel Core Duo in the Mac, like an AMD or just a plain Celeron.

Part of the reason I'd even consider a Windows computer is the fact that I could conceivably run CAD software on it. I'd have to make sure the video card was up to snuff, and that I maxxed out the memory, but I could do it. Short of taking my chances with Boot Camp and then finding a copy of Windows to install, running CAD is the one thing I can't do on a Mac (yet). However, that's about the only thing, and now that we're solidly a Mac family (both Jannette and I have one, and my dad has a couple as well) it would be a real strain to go back to Windows and deal with all that ugliness again.

The last option I have isn't really up to me, it's up to Jannette. That would be to borrow. She's got a very nice 15" aluminum PowerBook that was her birthday present from a year and a half ago. It's a perfectly good computer, and would be a great school computer. There is even the possibility that my dad, when upgrading his desktop later this year, will give us his current 17" iMac G4. It's equivalent to her laptop, and could serve as her at-home computer while I'm borrowing her laptop. However, the laptop is squarely HER computer, and I'm not going to compel her to let me borrow it. She loves the portability of her laptop, and to once again tie her down to a desktop would be cruel. Yes, she could borrow my Pismo for portability, but it just wouldn't be the same. I like the "borrow" option only because it involves no computer purchase at all - we have everything we need, even if we don't get the iMac from my dad. But that's not reason enough to try and co-opt her birthday present out from under her. If she offers it, I'll use it, otherwise, I'm back to upgrade or buy.

Honestly, I think I'd prefer to buy. While keeping a 5+ year-old machine running is laudable, I'm not sure I want to be running up against its limitations during school. Not to mention investing twice the purchase price of such an old machine just to bring it up closer to current standards - not even meeting them - seems a bit silly. Especially as the video upgrade is only a rumour at this point, and not even a product.

Once thing I have to keep in mind is that I still have 15 months until school starts. That is a long time in computer hardware terms, and who knows what will be coming out in that time. The current MacBooks will be upgraded a few times in that period - maybe even redesigned? Apple hasn't finished rolling out new products, and I'm sure their product line won't be stagnant between now and September 2007. At that point the Pismo will be downright long in the tooth, although still entirely servicable. Time to put this thinking point on the back burner and see what happens.

Ah, crap... my brain just decided to remind me that there's a 4th option - buy used again. Maybe a 1-year-old MacBook, or a 2- to 3-year-old iBook or even 12" PowerBook? Argh. I'd best go think about cars or something - maybe that will distract my brain from computers for a while.

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