Life: Deciding on a laptop

As I’ve continuously whined about past few months in various places around the net, I need to buy a new laptop. Yes. I haven’t bought the darn thing yet. I’ve been doing all my computing on school desktop (by remote connection) and the Asus EEEpc 701 ‘netbook’, which comes equipped with Xandros linux (buggy as a sin would be an understatement), 7in screen, 516mb RAM, and 4GB SSD (which I complement with another 4GB SD card). The little laptop have been surprisingly useful, and I don’t know what I would have done without it by my side. Only if the default OS was a bit more stable… The system is more shaky than a vial of nitroglycerin on a centrifuge.

I’ve actually ordered my laptop on the net already, Lenovo Thinkpad T400. It’s scheduled to ship sometime in the week of Nov 12th, so I will be receiving it near the end of the November, which would be roughly a month from now. Yes. While Lenovo builds some decent quality laptops, they certainly suck big time at customer service and shipping arrangements.

The problem is, Apple released their aluminum MacBook line a week or two ago. And from what I’m seeing, the performance on that machine is amazing. The integrated graphics on that machine trumps the dedicated graphics card on quite a few laptops of similar class, and actually does slightly better than the T400 with dedicated video memory I have on order. I’ve  stopped by at the Apple Store on Broadway to take a look (at 11 PM, those guys are open 24hrs), and the weight/design impression is fantastic. Even better, if I decide to pick up the new MacBook, I don’t have to sit around sucking on my thumb for a month. Oh, and then there’s OS X. Aesthetics wise, I hate OS X and its outdated brushed aluminum look, but the system is built on top of UNIX, so it affords some unique advantages for someone in the field of sciences. The wealth of biology-oriented scientific softwares in OS X and native mathematica integration is staggering, and user even has an option to utilize OS X variety of apt-get software repository for installing some of the more obscure and specialized softwares and frameworks. Extensive software development environment like the Xcode is included free of extra charge, and you are allowed to reinstall the OS as many times as you want. (learn from this, MS!!!) The rumors of impending update to the OS X that would allow users to utilize the GPU component as a secondary (primary?) processor for calculation-intense tasks doesn’t sound too bad either… If done properly, it might even be possible for regular MacBook to have near workstation quality number crunching capabilities.

There are several disadvantages in getting the MacBook/OS X, though. The first issue is software compatibility. OS X library might have grown by leaps and bounds in past few years, but it still pales in comparison to what is available on windows platform. Things get progressively worse when you try to use web services/programs in foreign language, i.e. entirely different software culture and financial ecosystem. Take, for example, QR-Code. QR codes are almost universally available in Japan and used in some other Eastern Asian countries to lesser extent. Windows have hundreds of different scripts and programs for generating and reading QR codes. Quick search of google nets us three or so read-only programs for OS X and it is not certain whether they are actively maintained or not. How about interactive fiction utilizing the infocom Z-machine? (My secret passion…) Gargoyle program on windows runs nearly all possible formats used in IF, while OS X needs about two, maybe three of such programs installed on same machine for maximum compatibility. Some people would say that I can run windows on a Mac machine using bootcamp or a virtualization software, but frankly I find the notion of running multiple OS on a single computer to be unrealistic on usability perspectives. Theoretically it might sound like a great option, but the prospect of turning off a computer and ending all my working sessions just to use another program or two is certainly not attractive to me.
The price ratio is also something of an issue. In my configuration of the T400, I get 1440×900 resolution 14in screen, built-in 7in1 card reader, three USB ports, express card slot, 6 hours of wifi-using battery life, 2.2 ghz processor, bluetooth, and WiMax/WWAN upgrade capacity. All of it for 1180 dollars. If I choose to go with the MacBook, I get two USB ports, bluetooth, 1280x 800 resolution on 13in screen, 2.0ghz processor, and 3~4 hours of wifi-using battery life. All of it for whopping 1400 dollars including taxes. That’s roughly a 200 dollar difference, with the machine obviously lacking in feature set costing more. Mac aficionados out there will tell me that the OS X itself (with its unlimited reinstallation capabilities), variety of built in software tools, the iLife suit (which looks quite amazing), and UNIX based performance boost/stability offsets the 200 dollar premium, and they might be right (build quality is stacked in favor of the Thinkpad, since Thinkpads have industry-approved build quality record under their belt already). But then I know a good number of free, open source programs available for the windows platform that can do all of those things… Perhaps not better than the Mac software, but certainly adequate. Aesthetics-wise, as I’ve stated above above, I am not very fond of the OS X design and its ‘Aqua’ theme, and I personally find how they shove the ‘dock’ interface down their user’s throats to be insulting and grotesque. Windows has such issues as well, but at least I am familiar with some very hard-core theme-patching under the windows platform. It doesn’t hurt that I know precisely how I want my computer/OS to look design-wise (and yes, I don’t think T400’s black box look is ugly, contrary to popular opinion).

I guess for the time being, my ideal machine would be T400 capable of running OS X out-of-the-box. I am aware of certain projects like OSx86 that tries to tune OS X so that they can run on non-native hardwares, but they are just too darn clunky to be used on a mission-critical work laptop. Maybe I should install Ubuntu within the windows partition of the T400?

Whatever the case, logic dictates that I should wait for a month for my cheaper and faster T400 to arrive. It’s only that I get constant urge to cancel my order and just go pick up a MacBook like some primal impulse beyond the reach of civilized consciousness… (insert witty H.P. Lovecraft reference here)

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