Swimming with the Razorfishes

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New Toy

So the new PowerBook MacBook Pro arrived a few weeks ago. Just in time, apparently, because when I brought the old one to the Apple Store to get the display hinge fixed, the genius told me, "dude, your logicboard is toast!" And, indeed it was. The thing was buzzing and grinding, one of the USB ports wasn't working, and while he was trying to diagnose the problem, one of the FireWire ports stopped working, too.

But that was the old one. Lets talk about the new one.

This is the fifth (I think) Apple laptop that I've owned. In a world of computer hardware that encourages somewhat diminished expectations, Apple laptops tend to be an exception. Each laptop I've purchased gets a little better. These incremental improvements give the (at least initial) impression that the $2500 you just spent hasn't been a huge mistake. Note that I haven't bought any of the "consumer" models (MacBook, iBook, etc...), so this might be a contributing factor; there have been some real clunkers in those lines.

About the MacBook I bought. First the basics: 2.16 GHz core 2 duo, 160 gig drive, 2 gig of RAM. I opted not to get the glossy screen, as I think they look like ass. The screen itself looks great and seems to calibrate accurately. The display and hinge are two of the things that change most noticeably between models. This hinge feels somewhat more substantial than previous designs, and the display is a bit brighter (though much brighter and much more accurate color than just a few models ago). The display is more rigid than past models, and the screen is slightly recessed in the display. I hope that these design changes prevent the annoying keyboard marks that appear on screens after time.

The MacBook Pro is slightly thinner than my last one (keep in mind that I'm upgrading from G4 PowerBook), but the difference is quite noticeable, particularly when the display is open. The keyboard is much like the last few models, which is to say pretty good. This model's keyboard might be a little firmer than past models. The keyboard backlight is much brighter, however, which makes it useful in a wider range of ambient light.

The trackpad has changed quite a bit from the G4 PowerBook days. It seems about 50% wider, which is nice, but has a number of features my old one didn't:

  • Placing two fingers on the trackpad and dragging scrolls windows horizontally and vertically.
  • Placing two fingers on the trackpad, pressing Control and scrolling zooms the screen in and out.
  • Placing two fingers on the trackpad and clicking is the equivalent of secondary clicking (right-clicking or Control-clicking).

All of these become natural motions once you do them a few times. The screen zooming is particularly nice, as I could never remember the key-combination for it. These changes, plus clicking the "Use F Keys to Control Software features" (to avoid turning off keyboard illumination when I want to step over something in the debugger) makes the MacBook much nicer for java development.

Performance needs to be considered two ways: things compiled for x86 and things compiled for PowerPC but emulated by Rosetta.

  • x86-compiled code runs beautifully; system software and native applications run noticeably faster. The Java VM is a smooth, wonderful environment to work in, with Eclipse and NetBeans (finally) on par with the the Windows and Solaris VMs.
  • Rosetta-emulated code seems to run about as fast as my 1.5 GHz G4 ran it natively. While a little disappointing, it is a remarkable achievement to be able to run my PowerPC version of Photoshop on this new laptop.

Classic (obviously) does not work in Rosetta, so these Intel macs drive the last nail into MacOS 9's coffin. I haven't run a classic app in years, but I'm sure this will cause a problem for someone.

Perhaps the best measure of the MacBook's (and MacOS X's) quality is that this upgrade was uneventful. Transfer 30 gig of files from the old PowerBook, reinstall a few things, and I was up and running. I avoided the first version of Intel MacBooks because they seemed to come out too quickly; I hope this revision has outgrown the battery and random shutdown issues.

Oh, and the old PowerBook? I my AppleCare was still active on that one, so I got a new screen and logicboard. New PowerBook for free -- woo hoo!


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